Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución)

A good constitution is infinitely better than the best despot.

Thomas Macaulay

Copy of Mexican flagSan Miguel was extremely busy over the weekend with the celebration of Candlemas and the beginning of the flower show as well as several musical concerts. It was also a 3-day weekend that on Monday celebrated one of the Fiestas Patrias (national holidays). Officially, 5 February is the holiday but it was celebrated on the Monday closest to the official date. Two constitutions are celebrated, those of 1857 and 1917.

Constitution of 1857

Due to its many anticlerical positions, the clergy avowed this Constitution would be excommunicated. I’m not really up on liturgical law, but somehow I would think the constitution would have had to have been baptized and perhaps have taken part in holy communion before being excommunicated, Pope Pius IX spoke out against the new constitution and Archbishop Lazaro de la Garza y Ballesteros stated that Catholics could not swear allegiance to the Constitution. Nevertheless, the Constitution was ratified on 5 February 1857. The need for constitutional revision had been  hastened by the overthrow of dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in 1855 and thus was a Constituent Congress convened in October of that year.

Several factions, ranging from radical to moderate to conservative, argued the contents of the future constitution; President Ignacio Comonfort aligned himself with the conservatives and more conservative moderates; a coup led by conservatives almost took place, and several liberal politicians were jailed, including the President of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, Benito Juárez. Comonfort was eventually ousted and fled to the United States. Juárez became President of Mexico, serving five terms. His tenure was marked by resistance to the French occupation of Mexico, overthrow of the Second Mexican Empire, and the restoration of the Republic.

This constitution replaced that of 1824 and established individual rights, such as the freedoms of: speech, conscience, the press, and assembly, as well as the right to bear arms. It also:

  • Reaffirmed the abolition of slavery
  • Eliminated debtor prison
  • Eliminated cruel and unusual punishment, including the death penalty

Constitution of 1917

A result of the revolution that began in 1910 and which overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, this Constitution forbade, among its 103 articles, creation of a list of prohibited books, established the foundation for a mandatory and lay education; and led the way to land reforms.

Francisco Madero was an early leader of the revolution and became president in November 1911; he, in turn, was overthrown and executed in 1913 by the dictator Victoriano Huerta, who had been supported by U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson and others. Huerta’s dictatorship was challenged by Venustiano Carranza’s Plan of Guadalupe, which called for:

  • Creation of a Constitutional Army
  • Huerta’s ouster
  • Restoration of constitutional government

In reaction to the occupation of Veracruz by the United States, the constitution prohibited foreign citizens from owning land at the borders or coasts. The vicious repression of labor strikes was answered by the Constitution’s recognizing the labor sector. The Constitution established equality regardless of race or gender, gave workers an eight-hour work day and the right to:

  • Strike
  • A day’s rest per week
  • A proper indemnification following unjustified termination

Because the Catholic Church had supported the Huerta dictatorship, the framers of the new constitution restricted the power of the church. The anticlerical components of the Constitution included:

  • Public and private schools must be secular and free of religious instruction
  • Churches were denied any legal status
  • Local legislators could limit the number of ministers
  • Denied to ministers the freedom of association, the right to vote and freedom of speech

The constitution prohibited:

  • Ministers and religious publications from criticizing the law or government
  • Worship outside of a church building
  • Religions from participating in education – essentially outlawing Catholic schools or even religious education in private schools
  • Ministers or religious groups from aiding the poor, engaging in scientific research, and spreading their teachings
  • Churches to own property and transferred all church property to the state – thus making all houses of worship state property
  • Foreign-born ministers

The 1917 Constitution redistributed much of the land to peasants via ejidos, or farm cooperatives, which are still in place and comprise nearly half of Mexico’s farmland.

Amendments in 1992 granted all religious groups legal status, gave them limited property rights, and removed restrictions on the number of priests.

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