A Country Plundered for 300 Years: 19th Century to New Regime – Old Ways


In 1814, at the end of the Peninsular War (known in Spain as the “War of Independence”), which was followed by the restoration of the absolute monarchy under King Ferdinand VII, the Spanish economy was in ruins. Lack of capital and the general misery severely restricted the country’s purchasing power. Spain could find few markets in which to place its wares, a problem intensified by the fact that its American colonies, invaded by the English and French, had rebelled in order to become independent. Despite all this, in 1830, Catalonia, with a population of 1,200,000 and average income of 225 reales per inhabitant, was the fourth most powerful trading center in the world.

Two concepts of trade

After the death of Ferdinand VII in 1833, the first Carlist War (1833-1840) broke out in Spain between the defenders of absolutism on the one hand and liberalism on the other. In 1835, a revolutionary process aimed at accelerating reforms to dismantle the old order, including the tax system, was unleashed. During this process, the Barcelona bourgeoisie called for the abolition of accumulated taxes, since the result of adding modern and medieval taxes together resulted in a figure that represented two-thirds of overall production. Reform to this end was not introduced until 1845.

Bombs in response to economic revolt

With liberalism installed in power, a struggle between two economic movements became clear. These were, one the one hand, protectionism, whose supporters wanted restrictions on imports, and, on the other, the free trade movement, which opposed state intervention in international trade. Catalan industrialists were, in general, in favour of protectionism. However, the centralist policies of General Baldomero Espartero, appointed regent until Queen Isabella II came of age, entailed opening up Spanish borders to British products, direct competitors to those made in Catalonia.

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