Destiny Perez is a sophomore at Florida International University studying International Business to receive a Bachelor’s in Business Administration. Her passions are dancing and singing. When she’s not in practice or studying, you can find her spending time with her family or somewhere near the ocean.
IDA: Spanish Influence on American Law
by Destiny J. Perez of FIU on April 24, 2022
Every country has their own systematic way of being run. Some do it more efficiently, while others are a bit more extreme and unreasonable. No matter what form of government a country has, there are and will always be laws. Laws play a huge role in keeping a country running in an orderly fashion. Organized legal codes date all the way back to 1771 BCE, when the king of the Babylonian Empire created the first legal precedent for his people. Since then, laws have been a huge part of all civilizations.
Spain has seen a large amount of change in its government system and laws over the last few centuries. Their strong Catholic beliefs led them to make decisions that really harmed the progress of the country and set them back several times. Amongst many others, two of the actions that made Spain fall behind in comparison to other countries were their defeat in the Spanish Armada against England, and the several times they tried to have people of other religions convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Over the centuries, every change they had in the country led to new laws and precedents.
INFLUENTIAL LAWS IN SPAIN OVER CENTURIES
- The Fuero Juzgo was framed in the mid 7th century by the Visigoths and translated in the 13th century to Spanish. It abolished the dualistic approach to lawmaking, granted legal incorporation, and confirmed local customs or privileges. These laws allowed settlers to choose their own judges and govern themselves while setting the rights and obligations they would have to follow. After revising the Fuero Viejo in 1254, Alfonso X wrote Las Siete Partidas in 1265. This document was not confirmed until eighty-three years later in the year 1348. Alfonso’s work combined all of Spain’s previous law with elements of Canon and Roman Law. One of the main things taken from Roman law was the separation of branches of law. The three branches included civil law, the law of peoples, and natural law. When Ferdinand and Isabella came to power, they promulgated codes in 1490 and 1502. These codes attempted to bring order and decrees to declare priorities in case of conflicts. In other words, set precedents. However, their codes were not effective. Later, the Spanish and Portuguese tried issuing recompilations of Alfonso’s Las Siete Partidas which set the foundation for what Spanish law is presently.
- The Laws of the Indies were then passed in 1542. After Christopher Columbus found the New World, there needed to be order set for the land to function properly and add to Spain’s value. This set of laws freed the Native Americans from enslavement to the Spanish crown once their owners passed away. After they were freed, the Indians would owe the crown tribute in goods instead of in labor. The Nueva Recopilacion of 1567 remained basic Spanish codification for two hundred years and the later Recopilacion de las leyes de las Indias of 1680 were an attempt to have the laws and administrative regulations pertaining to the Spanish holding in the New World all in one document. Explorers had many rules to follow, and the whole purpose of almost the entire code is to honor Spain by continuing to expand it and take over as much land as possible for the country.
- The Novisima Recopilacion of 1805, was yet another step in the wrong direction for Spain. It was an arrangement of Castilian and other Spanish legislation that mixed medieval and modern law. What became the Spanish national law was basically a different version of Castilian law and expanded under the absolute monarchies. During this time, there was a new genre of law also being passed more quietly, that was non-Castilian law. Today, ten of Spain’s fifty provinces still retain these local laws. Even currently, there is quite a division between the people. Most Spanish citizens consider themselves from Spain while others identify themselves as from Catalonia.
- The Constitution of Cadiz of 1812 was the start of a very complex electoral system. The unification of the Spanish Kingdom would take a lot of compromise over many things, most importantly over pre-existing laws in the different regions. These laws of this Constitution allowed Spaniards in the Americas and the Philippines to have government representation. It established a short-lived democracy and called for the codification of all the branches of Spanish law. King Ferdinand overthrew the Constitution of Cadiz only a year after it was put in place, but it came back a few years later during a liberal revolution.
- In 1889 the Spanish Civil Code was enacted. It was a piece of legislation that was derived from several sources. It came about after the Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil (civil procedure code of 1881), and Ley Organica del Poder Judicial (a government to the judiciary) were used as two instruments in which civil procedure in Spain is codified. Some of the influences on the Spanish Civil Code were Castilian law, Canon law, Customary law, and Code Napoleon. This code set regulation for Spanish civil law.
- The Ordinances of Bilbao of 1737 were the first codification of commercial law but were not completely revised and repromulgated until 1885. In this code, there is great influence of 19th century German legal scholarship. The format was more of a broader European work than a civil code. Over the years they have been amended, but the three 19th century codifications of civil, commercial, and procedural law remain in Spain today.
- The creation of the Spanish Constitution came after General Franco’s dictatorship because Spain was able to rapidly change. When King Juan Carlos took over, he quickly started to transition Spain to a democratic monarchy. In the post-Franco era, the changes seen in the country allowed public law to become liberalized. After Spain entered the European Union in 1986, they had to completely remodel their company and corporate laws, legislation affecting financial institutions, and the sales and issuance of securities.
INFLUENCE ON THE NEW WORLD
The first time Spanish Law directly affected the United States was fifty years after the discovery of Las Americas. When the Laws of the Indies were passed. This set of laws needed to be passed due to the way the Spaniards handled their entry to the new land. The United States, or the New World as the Spanish called it, already had people in its lands when the “Spaniards discovered it.” The Native people already had their own societies and systems of law built to their liking before the Europeans arrived. Many Native American tribes were very affected by the conquest of the Europeans. Once the Spaniards would find land that they wanted, it became a never-ending fight (whether physical or diplomatic) until the land was theirs. Harmony between the Europeans and the Native tribes could have been achieved had the Spaniards recognized that the tribes already had their beliefs, legal systems, and ways of life. Since they chose to overlook all of it and either make the Native Americans more like them or get them out of their way, what came next throughout the years was ugly.
The Native people had organized their government by leaders instead of rulers. Decisions for the people were made through consensus instead of decree. The people of the tribes were directed more by a sense of community and unity rather than individualism and greed. When the Spaniards wanted more land, there were attempts at diplomacy, but they usually resulted in European benefit. Several times the Native Americans fought back, which caused several of the wars between the conquistadores and the Native people seen throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Before being almost completely conquered by the Europeans, the Native Indians had to submit to a lot of laws the Spaniards passed throughout all that time. The Recopilacion de las leyes de las Indias of 1680 were nine books written by Antonio de Leon Pinelo, among other writers, that set laws for all different aspects of life. The laws were made for both the Spanish settlers to follow, as well as the Indians. Some of the topics discussed in the books were: the military, local government and services, the native population and its treatment, taxes and their collection, related staff having to do with the enforcement of justice, and the oversight of trade to and from the Indies. Eventually, the Native people could not control the spread of European power and by the 1750s they had minimal land and were stuck between the settlements of multiple European powers.
FRAMEWORK OF THE UNITED STATES
After the American Revolution ended in 1783, it was time for the founding fathers to put together what would be the legal precedents for the newborn country. Luckily for us, we had the failures of so many government systems before us to be the blueprint of exactly what not to do. Spain was one of the countries that the United States could use as an example to create a new system that was not susceptible to the same pitfalls as them, and that they did.
Many legal ideas that were put in the Constitution of the United States have direct correlation from Spanish law. Spanish law was largely influenced by the legal system the Romans had in place centuries ago. The first legal document of Spain, the Fuero Juzgo, had large Roman influence which we can now see translated in American law. Two of the subjects in this document were the allowing of local customs or privileges within Spain, and the ability for a people to govern themselves. The United States promulgated the idea of local customs through allowing different states within the country to have different laws. Every state has a different legislature and team of leaders. This allows for each of the fifty states to have their own bills passed if they fall within the frames of the United States Constitution. The ability of people to govern themselves is one of the things the United States does best. The country is a representative democracy, which allows their citizens to choose their government leaders and have a say in law passings. Continuing in that same direction, the United States was also influenced by the Constitution of Cadiz. Being passed in 1812, this Constitution was the first to recognize sovereignty as coming from the people instead of the king. The United States considers itself a sovereign nation because they are independent and governed by their own people. This comes from the ideas seen in the 1812 document.
The United States is a special country that in its short living has become the strongest power in the world. The legal system a country has in place directly affects every single citizen of the nation. The laws set in place in this great nation are not necessarily perfect, they do have their flaws. However, every citizen has equal representation, freedom, and opportunity to succeed, which is more than what can be said for our ancestors.
Many of our ancestors, no matter what part of the world they are from, ended up in the United States to find those three things. The Spanish were a great influence on this nation because they did not succeed with every attempt they had to put a new legal order in place. In fact, they failed more times than they succeeded. They also tried with all their might to keep our lands under their rule. They did not believe that we could be prosperous on our own. Being that our nation was discovered by explorers that were funded by the Spanish, we should be filled with pride at how much our country learned from their mistakes as well as their successes. The framers of our great nation did everything in their power to create a country that would be far different than the lands they came from. Here we are, 241 years later, living in the country that every other nation of the world looks up to in every aspect.
With that said, nothing is perfect. No system in the world is perfect (especially a legal system), but we are blessed to have the one we do.
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