Learn about the history of how the old Constitution of 1857 was safeguarded

Although forty years had passed since its reform, it had governed the life of the Mexican people for more than half a century. Let us explore these events together.

Learn about the history of how the old Constitution of 1857 was safeguarded
Cover of the Federal Constitution of 1857. Images and text: AGN

One hundred years after the promulgation of the old Constitution of 1857, the General Archive of the Nation received in custody the original copy of this statute from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A communication from Eugenio de Anzorena, General Director of Account and Administration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addressed to Manuel B. Trens, then Director of the General Archive of the Nation, transports us in an instant to the act of cession of the historic Magna Carta. Although forty years had passed since its reform, it had governed the life of the Mexican people for more than half a century. Let us explore these events together.

The Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States of 1857, sanctioned by the General Constituent Congress on February 5, 1857, was drafted during the presidential term of Ignacio Comonfort. The main objectives that encouraged that generation of legislators was to establish the individual guarantees of Mexicans, reaffirm the abolition of slavery and freedom of expression; establish the division of powers into Executive, Legislative and Judicial, end the death penalty charges and eliminate the taxes imposed by the alcabalas and internal customs.

This Constitution had a strong influence of the liberal ideology that predominated in the constitutional congress created in 1856, which was called by means of the Plan de Ayutla, once the regime of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was over. The sessions of the Congress were prolonged for a year due to the differences between those who wanted to reestablish the Constitution of 1824 and those who wanted to rewrite the statute.

Finally, on February 5, 1857, the constitution was sworn in and remained in force for 60 years. Important normative bodies were added to it, such as the Reform Laws, which Sebasti√°n Lerdo de Tejada would later seek to elevate to constitutional rank. However, we must keep in mind that constitutional ordinances were rarely complied with to the letter.

The old Constitution of 1857.
The old Constitution of 1857.

We must remember that during this period the Second Empire was established with a new constituent order, the regime of Porfirio Diaz assumed it formally although with many nuances in practice and the outbreak of the armed struggle in 1910 inaugurated an interstice where legality and the instituted powers were questioned, with important efforts to erect new legal bodies such as the proposals of the political plans, laws dictated in localities or regions, as well as those of the Convention of Aguascalientes.

After the confrontation of political projects in the military field, this period of armed struggle led to the installation of a new Constituent Congress headed by Venustiano Carranza. The latter, as head of the Executive power, decreed the reform of the Constitution of 1857 for that of 1917, also on February 5, but in 1917.

Carranza decreeing.
Carranza decreeing.

With the 1917 Constitution established to legally govern the country, the old statute remained under the protection of the Executive Power through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, in recognition of the role of the General Archive of the Nation as the guardian of central documents in the history of the nation, the decree issued on October 29, 1957 communicated the transfer of the original copy of the Constitution of 1857 by the will of the then President of the Mexican Republic, Adolfo Ruiz Cortines.

Within this document, which is preserved in the reserved collection of Gallery 5 of the General Archive of the Nation, it is stated that the old Magna Carta has measures of 33.7 x 22.5 cm, a red leather binding with golden borders and engravings and figures in the form of a shield in the center, golden, white and green, with the inscription "Constitution of Federal 1857", completely handwritten on one hundred pages, which from 88 to 96 contain the autograph signatures of the constituents of 1857.

Inauguration of the General Archive of the Nation, Historical Photographic Section.
Inauguration of the General Archive of the Nation, Historical Photographic Section.

The document of delivery to the AGN ends by informing that the archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would keep two copies, one microfilmed and the other in positive, as well as a photostatic reproduction. Since then, the General Archive of the Nation has been a faithful custodian of the Constitution of 1857, as well as the various Constitutions that have governed the country since its conformation as a Federal Republic until our current Magna Carta.