On Sovereignty (X)

The Last Cortes of Aragon

***La versión original en español del artículo se puede encontrar en este enlace. La traducción al inglés la ha realizado uno de los miembros del Círculo Camino Real de Tejas con la supervisión de los traductores del Gremio San Jerónimo***

Today we continue the series on sovereignty in our newspaper archives, which we have been publishing regularly. In this case, it is the transcription of the tenth part, originally published in the February 13, 1855 issue.


It remains for us to refute another argument used by liberals in order to prove the sovereignty of the people, an argument that has blinded many people of good ideas and undeniable enlightenment. Whether in fact or in law, it is the custom in several monarchies that, either at the birth of the heir to the throne, or at his puberty, or at the time appointed by the reigning monarch, or at the death of the latter, certain deputies of the kingdom, or the representatives of certain corporations and classes, meet to recognize and swear in the immediate successor to the crown; from which they deduce, as a necessary consequence, that it is the nation that places the scepter in his hand, confers on him his powers, and invests him with all the authority which he subsequently exercises.

Such a conclusion could not be more erroneous. The oaths to which we have referred, whatever the apparatus and solemnity with which they are celebrated, have no other objective than to verify, as it is commonly said, the identity of the person, to make sure that the one who is presented to them is the one who is called by law or by custom to succeed to the throne. Moreover, in order to prove that they have no other objective than this, once the recognition has been made, there follows no ritual which indicates that they confer on him his power or his faculties. The power which belongs to the monarch derives from the very nature of the dignity with which he is invested: it is inherent in the office. The formality of the oath is added in order to make the obligations of the subjects more sacred and inviolable, on a par with those of the monarch himself, since the latter, in turn, swears to govern according to the laws of the kingdom. We have used the expression —in order to verify the identity of the person— because this act has a consequence with another somewhat similar one, which is also considered necessary in the case of princes of the royal family. It is known that when these are born, they are called to the palace and summoned to a certain place of the same by the dignitaries, the diplomatic body, and other distinguished subjects, to be witnesses of the birth and the ceremonies that follow, with convenient and just formalities, in order to avoid impersonations. But no one would say that those present make the heir, nor do they delegate any kind of power to him. In the same way, when the oath is taken, the crown is not given to the prince; what is done is the recognition that the one present is the same one whose birth some of those present attended, the same one who, according to the custom or laws of the country, must occupy the throne, and the same one whom they will henceforth consider as king and obey.

Also invoked in support of national sovereignty is the famous formula Vos facemos rey, used in the swearing in of the monarchs of Aragon, a formula that has been abused by those who disturb public order since the beginning of the French Revolution. A modern author, now a historian (D. Javier de Quinto), in a work written on the subject, has discovered that there is much that is fabulous in the aforementioned formula. We will refrain from doing so, and instead we will go on to the origins of the Aragonese legislation, pointing out what can be said in favor of the sovereignty of the people.

The most important modern historians of the Kingdom of Aragon agree that around the year 734 of the Common Era, when the people of Sobrarbe were cut off and surrounded in a valley by the Saracens under the command of Abdelmelec, the troops of Gasco-Navarre came to their rescue under the command of a captain of unknown origin and homeland (although his friend and companion was known as Iñigo Arista), with whose help they defeated and dispersed the enemy. Freed from this danger, and fearing that when the new campaign began the Arabs would return upon them with greater force, and also knowing the necessity of appointing a chief to whom the country would obey, thus avoiding the evils of anarchy resulting in eight years of interregnum, they decided to elect a king. To this end, the leaders met in Arhuest (now Pueyo de Aragues). There, the ambitions of the chiefs, who had aspired to the supreme command since the death of the first leader, Garci-Jiménez, were renewed. These debates would have ended badly had not one of them had the good fortune to propose that, since they were forced to choose one of their own to lead the government, they should establish, before the election took place, the conditions under which the elected leader would receive the crown and that he would swear to observe them. Once the proposal was accepted by those present, it is said that they agreed on these conditions, which, according to a contemporary historian (D. Braulio Foz), are reduced to three, which form the basis of the Aragonese Constitution. Here they are: «First, that the king should not decide anything important in peace or war without the advice of the lords or nobles; second, that he should not give lands or a hand in the government to foreigners; and third, that if he governed badly, they could elect another king». They immediately proceeded to the election, which fell to one of their equals and companions in arms, named Iñigo Arista, that brave captain to whom they owed their salvation and triumph. They presented him with the terms, and he swore to observe them inviolably.

Let us leave aside the question of whether things really happened as just described; we are willing to assume that they did. What does this prove? It will only prove that there was a territory in the world, the size of a province, where the magnates and chiefs of the troops, without any consultation with the people, elected a king and gave him the supreme command under certain conditions. It will prove that the government of Aragon, in its beginnings, was not the work of the poor people, who, like everywhere else, were vassals, or rather slaves, attached to the land, but of the aristocracy, who arranged that one of their persons should bear the title of king, and perpetuate that dignity in his family conditionally, that is, in such a way that if in any case he failed to do what he had promised them, they would not be bound to obedience. Thus, the famous Pact of Aragon was not a pact of the citizens with the monarch, but of the aristocratic body with its head.

It is true that, in time, deputies from the cities took part in the swearing-in of the Aragonese kings; but these deputies were not legally elected by the people, but rather certain councilmen who, by custom or privilege granted by the monarchs themselves, had acquired the right to attend the Cortes. In any case, even if we were to gratuitously concede what the liberals assume with regard to the Kingdom of Aragon, which has disappeared, it would not prove what they claim. Because the fuero, the charter or constitution of a particular people, is of no use in good logic to establish the principle of popular sovereignty. If the organization of a particular government were to serve as a rule for all others, the immemorial practice of all Oriental governments, of all those of Africa, and even of those of the savage tribes, could also be invoked in favor of the most absolute despotism.



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