Dia de la Constitucion—Constitution Day—is a national holiday in Mexico, and it marks a significant event in the nation’s history. On February 5, 1917, a new constitution was drawn, using the original document, but adding and modifying various points.
The original Federal Constitution of Mexico was drawn up in 1824, following several unsettling years after the country’s declaration of independence from Spain, in 1821. First, came an attempt at monarchy with Agustin Iturbide, who was declared emperor in 1822. But for a nation divided over the type of government they wanted, this did not go over well. Iturbide was executed after a year, ending the first Mexican empire, and paving the way for a representative government. The Empire was abolished, and a provisional government was set up.
The first constitution declared the sovereignty of the nation itself. But it also granted sovereignty to the states in internal matters, allowing them independence in managing their own affairs. This quickly became a problem, when several provinces decided to implement their own laws. Queretaro, for example, decided to expel all gachupines—Spaniards who had come to Mexico. It took the intervention of the federal government to quash this mandate. There was also great debate about which city would become the capital of the nation, until finally settling on Mexico City. Another contentious matter was the executive branch, and the eventual decision was to have a president and vice-president, modeled after the United States. Mexico became a representative, federal republic with the official, and only religion declared to be Roman Catholic.
A lot of political upheavals took place after the first constitution was drafted in 1824. The country had gone under monarchic rule once again, in the person of Emperor Maximilian, a puppet ruler installed by Napoleon III. Just like Iturbide, Maximilian was executed, thus ending forever any monarchic dreams the conservatives may have held. There followed many turbulent years filled with disputed governments, until the thirty year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz was finally ousted in 1910. Another several years of civil wars continued, until finally in 1917, under the leadership of President Venusitano Carranza, a new Mexican constitution—formally called the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States—was drafted.
It also established a free, mandatory, and secular education. The new constitution laid the foundation for land reform with the creation of the ejido system, land jointly owned by community members for agricultural use; breaking up the extensive landed estates of wealthy Spaniards. Workers’ rights, including eight-hour days and the right to strike, also became part of the new constitution.
Another important article was the one establishing the separation of Church and State, with the State having supremacy. It provides for obligatory registration of all churches, and religious groups, and puts great restraints on priests and ministers in matters of political involvement—ineligibility to hold public office, and major restrictions in campaigning on behalf of politicians.
It is the first “social constitution” in the world, laying out the rights of workers, and individuals, and considered a most progressive documents. Other nations continued the trend, applying similar principles. According to Leonel Carbonell, Mexican legal expert, a constitution needs to evolve, and there have been many reforms to the 1917 document to reflect the needs of a new society. One such example is an amendment only a few years back, giving internet rights. Or the current talk about protecting one’s genetic heritage—another “right” that could not have even been conceived
in 1917. A constitution cannot, and ought not, lag behind the times. It needs to continue to adapt to new societies, and new world views. Let us celebrate Constitution Day honoring what has been given to this nation, with the understanding that it is an ever evolving, organic piece of writing.
Mexican President Venusitano Carranza, 5-1-1917 to 5-21-1920