The recent debate on the “ancient constitution” and its application to Spanish American history is somehow related to the way in which we describe the normative practices of a past society. In the case of the Hispanic Monarchy, the attempt to identify a normative content for the expression “ancient constitution” becomes illusory when we notice that, in the 18th century debates, appeals to history were used by actors with radically divergent expectations, whether reformers or absolutists. Even the drafters of the 1812 Constitution believed it necessary to legitimize its creation by appealing to the “fundamental laws” and to the “ancient constitution” of the monarchy, something that, on the other hand, was denounced as a mere imposture. Given this state of things, it can only be inferred that expressions like “ancient constitution” or “historic constitution”, rather than designating an institutional object of the past, fulfilled a rhetorical function destined to sustain the position of those who used them. This statement, however, does not imply a denial of the functions that the traditional legal order performed limiting and legitimizing acts of power and disputes settlements. In this essay, taking advantage of recent historiography and 11analyzing different testimonies of the time, we attempt to offer a plausible reconstruction of the elements that could be considered essential of that traditional order, regardless the rhetorical sense with which appeals to the past or to the “ancient constitution” were used.
Ancient Constitution; Traditional Constitution; Spanish Monarchy; 18th Century