January, 2014. St. Augustine, Florida. Another Monument to Government Muddle

Posted on January 25, 2014

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St. Augustine’s history is convoluted and confused, mirroring the ups and downs of ruling families and their armies that caused so much political and cultural turmoil throughout Europe during the centuries following Spain’s claim on La Florida. As a colony of Spain, the city was a mirror image of this turmoil –  a political pawn handed back and forth between Spain, France and England.

And there’s an unusual monument in the city’s central plaza that speaks to the uncertainty under which its residents lived until Florida finally became part of the United States.photo (2)

After centuries of being ruled by kings who had absolute power, the forceful arrival of Napoleon in Spain created unexpected changes for the Spanish, including the hope of establishing a constitutional government.   And, on March 19, 1812, the Spanish parliament in Cadiz did in fact write the first Spanish constitution.

A decree was then issued to all towns throughout the Empire to build monuments in commemoration of the new constitutional government. They were also instructed to re-name their main plazas La Plaza de la Constitucion.

St. Augustine, the capital of the Spanish colony in Florida, constructed theirs in 1813.  However, in September of 1814, news that the constitutional government had been overthrown came from Havana. Spain was once more a monarchy.

A second decree was issued – a Royal Decree – ordering all towns to tear down the constitution monuments they had just finished building.

Perhaps sensing Spain was losing its grip on its northernmost colony, St. Augustine’s officials resisted the order and refused to tear down what they had just built at considerable effort and expense.  Just five years  later, in 1819, Spain did in fact turn Florida over to the United States.

It is believed that St. A’s monument is the only surviving, unaltered monument in the world honoring Spain’s fleeting experiment with constitutional government.

PlazaAs a side note, the plaza in which it is located is the oldest public space in America, laid out by Spanish Royal Ordinance in 1573. It was laid out to the compass points in a prolonged square where the length was 1-1/2 times the width. Lengths and widths based on proportional rations were thought to be imbued with harmony and spiritual meaning.

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Posted in: Travel - Florida