Puerto Rico History - 1865 Overseas Commission
The 1821 Quinones-Varela proposal corresponded to the prevailing tendency of the liberal school that, given the examples of the United States, France, and Spain, a constitution of fundamental laws comprised the essence of a rational system of government. Thus, the breakdown in identification between two totally different areas, the ineffectiveness of the reforms envisioned by the Constitution of 1812, the difficulties encountered in representation at the Cortes due to distance, and the desire to escape the vagaries of peninsular politics - these factors served to discourage the previous tendency toward assimilation and equalization of province and colony within the monarchy, and gave impetus to the theory which recognized autonomy as the vehicle for the affirmation of the Puerto Rican personality and the expression of a regional spirit.
The Overseas Commission considered and accepted the proposal, and with its approval by the Cortes in March 1823, the last hurdle appeared to have been overcome. The final decree necessary for the introduction of a charter of autonomy for Puerto Rico, however,was never promulgated. On April 7 of the following year the Duke of Angouleme invaded Spain, thus fulfilling the terms of an agreement signed in 1822 by the representatives of the Quadruple Alliance at the Congress of Verona with the secret consent of Ferdinand VII, the objective being the restoration of the absolute regime in Spain.
In spite of its fate, the Quiniones-Varela proposal was of exceptional importance. In contrast to the events leading to the decree of January 1809, Puerto Rican liberalism had taken the initiative in the determination of the course of island politics. This trend was reinforced when, in April 1837, the Spanish Cortes once again confirmed the doctrine accepted in 1823, that of extensive autonomy for colonial governments.
Years later, on November 25, 1865, don Antonio Canovas del Castillo, Overseas Minister in the O'Donell Cabinet, published a decree, requesting that the representatives of Puerto Rico and Cuba come to Madrid in order to propose to the government these special laws to which both islands were entitled under the Spanish Constitution. The decision to explore insular conditions received a direct stimulus in a declaration made by general Francisco Serrano Dominguez on his return from Cuba, in which he emphasized the need for reform in the Spanish Antilles.
The newspapers, too, played an important role. Demands for reform appeared in such papers as the Revista Hispano-Americana and La Patria in Spain ; El Siglo in Cuba and El Fomento of Puerto Rico, written by distinguished intellectuals and politicians of both the peninsula and the Antilles.
The Commission sessions began toward the end of October 1866; the liberal commissioners from Puerto Rico, don Jose Julien Acosta, don Segundo Ruiz Belvis, and don Francisco Mariano Quinones, proceeded to submit three reports. One dealt with the social question,petitioning immediate abolition of slavery with or without indemnification or work regulations. Another report on the economic question stated as one of the first objectives, trade between Puerto Rico and the peninsula, and free entry of foreign shipping to Puerto Rico. If granted, the commissioners proposed that a maximum of 6 percent of the net product of agricultural, commercial, and professional incomes be added to the system of direct, taxation as a substitute for customs duties. Or, in the absence of free trade, the commissioners demanded reforms in the following areas: a substantial reduction of the tariffs as well as exemptions for the basic necessities, such as wheat and grain ; equal navigation rights ; the abolition of licensing and of all merchant privileges; greater freedom in the realms of loading and unloading of goods, and fishing and marine industry; the unlimited purchase and repairing of ships from abroad.
The third report dealt with the political question. Noting the special circumstances of the island, its distance from the peninsula, and the differences to be expected in its form of government, the report pointed out that the new order must be based on recognition of equal rights for Puerto Ricans as enumerated in the Spanish Constitution: inviolability of human dignity, of home and property, and freedom of expression and opinion, of assembly, of petition, and of labor. It went on to propose the bases for an autonomous form of government in Puerto Rico, following the general outline of the Quiliones-Varela proposal of 1823, and influenced by the principles which had formed the backbone of the political transformation of Canada since 1849 and were to achieve total acceptance in the British North America Act of 1867.
This trend was to continue practically unchanged, except for brief periods in 1870, 1873, and 1883 when the liberals were forced to accommodate their position to the assimilationist tendency proclaimed by the governments of the metropolis. Toward the middle of February 1886, a group of noted leaders from the southern part of the island, concerned with the increasingly precarious situation of the liberal party, began to reorganize the liberal forces under the banner of autonomy with Baldorioty de Castro as their spokesman.
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