Spanish ex-, Spanish liberals?

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 7 02:10:13 UTC 2010

I am about to post one more piece that deals directly with years
1813-1816. This may (or may not) further clarify the matter. There is no
doubt, as Dan Goncharoff has already pointed out, that the Liberales was
the first political party nominally referred to by that denomination in
any language. Best I can tell, they were formed in 1812 and became
prominent very quickly in opposition to the "anti-liberal" Serviles
party. Perhaps there were other parties, but I don't have the
information, at the moment. The name of the party might have been known
to some British military officials prior to 1815, but the earliest
publication I found that mentions them is a report on "pestilence" in
Cadiz--the report is from 1815, but the events described therein took
place late in 1813, with the Liberales being a strong minority party in

But there are earlier instances of individuals being identified as being
liberal(s) (noun) in the political sense. There is no association with a
specific party, just a designation of being a liberal.

There is little doubt that the combination of Spanish and French
references (not to mention the Latin origins of both) played directly to
the reshuffling of the party system in the English Parliament, as
described in the OED entry. So there may be some reason to claim a
contribution of Spanish to the formation of the Liberal Party, as such,
but not the political use of "liberal" as either adjective or noun, in

Since I lack the capacity to analyze French and Spanish sources, I
cannot, in good conscience, make any statements regarding the claim as
to which language used the word "liberal" in the political sense first.
I would rather blame it all on Latin and leave it at that. But the
primacy in formation of a Liberal Party does go to Spain. But these seem
to me to be quite different.

I'll post the full message, with citations, a little later.


On 4/6/2010 5:00 PM, Federico Escobar wrote:
> Thanks, Victor, for a brisk and illuminating search through some of the
> available evidence. I do agree that the statements seemed questionable, and
> hence my interest in posing them to the list as queries. I agree with your
> conclusions: there seems to be a touch of filial piety in these claims, more
> so since the Spanish-speaking world is often very concerned with the
> influence of English on Spanish (and so allegations of counterinfluence have
> been espoused as nostrums for the anxiety of influence). Your reading of the
> use of "Liberales" in British politics (quoted by the OED) is also very
> cogent.
> The historical angle you brought to the discussion of the word "liberal" was
> particularly pertinent: the fact that Spain had used the word "liberal" in a
> political sense first does not mean that English owes its political meaning
> of the word to Spanish. Historical predecence does not guarantee linguistic
> indebtedness, and it was the latter argument that was put forth by the
> people I cited. (The case of Spanish "modernismo," often mentioned in
> discussions of the rise of modernism, is revealing in this regard.) Also,
> borrowings sometimes follow such a circuitous route that it is suspect to
> brag of a direct lineage to a remote origin (like the Basque angle on the
> word "Iroquois" --omitted by the OED--). Your prudent search for a more
> direct Spanish-English connection than was supposed by the quotations was
> useful.
> Thanks again,
> F.

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