No. 523.
Mr. Cushing to Mr. Fish.

No. 245.]

Sir: Among the extreme measures of the revolutionary period which followed the dethronement of Queen Isabel, were several which seem to be inspired by mere hatred of religion rather than any intelligent idea of sound public policy.

One of these measures was the prohibition of canonical marriages, or at least the deprivation of all such marriages of any effect on the civil status; in other words, bastardizing of the issue of any such marriage.

This law was utterly repugnant to the conscientious convictions of a great majority of Spaniards.

We can imagine its influence in this respect in supposing an attempt by law in the United States thus to exclude marriages from the scope of religious sanction. Such an attempt, it is true, was made in one of the American colonies at an early period in our history, but soon yielded place to more tolerant and elevated sentiments of public policy.

The revolutionary law in question was not only repulsive to the public conscience, but was the source of constant embarrassment in all questions of civil status and descent, and in many questions of administration, such as pensions, and more especially in enlistments or conscriptions for military service.

The law has been amended by recent decree since the accession of Don Alfonso, copy and translation of which are annexed.

I have, &c.,

[Page 1099]
[Inclosure in No. 245—Translation.]

Decree of January 22, 1875, providing for the inscription of the offspring of canonical marriage in the civil registry.

[From the “Gaceta de Madrid” January 23, 1875.]

Ministry of Grace and Justice.


The royal order, of February 11, 1872, which directed the inscription in the civil registry, as natural children, of all those born in canonical wedlock, although in apparent conformity with the spirit of modern laws, has deeply wounded the dignity of the Catholic marriage institution, causing continual perturbations in the family and in society.

The government cannot remain indifferent to these, and although it occupies itself preferently in the reform of the law of civil marriage which is shortly to be made public, yet, giving heed to the incessant clamor of public opinion, which grows more emphatic day by day, it can do no less than anticipate a resolution which may harmonize the legal status of the children born in Christian wedlock with that which public conscience indisputably recognizes as theirs.

If, in order to respond to the necessities of the reparatory policy initiated by the government, the rights of the church are to be reconciled with those of the state, it is indispensable to recognize in the Catholic marriage-rite all the effects which were attributed thereto by our national laws, our immemorial customs, and the never-abandoned religious faith of Spaniards.

With this object, and to repair in an equitable manner the offensive condition which the existing law to-day imputes to children born of such marriages when their parents do not comply with the recent formalities of the civil registry, it is indispensable to establish simple, short, and expeditious steps whereby these children may regain a legitimacy which is to-day denied to them by the law, although Spanish society has never ceased to recognize it.

Founded, therefore, on these considerations, the King, and in his name the regency-ministry, has accorded the following:

  • Article 1. Children born of exclusively canonical marriage, whose inscription in the civil registry may be competently solicited, shall be inscribed as legitimate children, provided that the marriage of their parents be legally shown.
  • Art. 2. In order to effect the inscription to which the preceding article refers, the declaration will, however, suffice of any one of the persons mentioned in the fortyseventh article of the law of civil registry; but said inscription shall have a provisional character until the interested parties present the marriage-certificate of the parents. This document shall be noted and recorded in the manner which may be determined by the regulations.
  • Art. 3. The children of exclusively canonical marriage inscribed until now as natural children, shall be inscribed forthwith at the instance of the parties as legitimate, rectifying for this purpose the entries thereof which may have been recorded.
  • This rectification may be solicited within the term of one year, by the parents and other persons specified in the forty-seventh article of the law above mentioned, by means of the baptismal certificate of the child registered as natural.
  • A special instruction will determine the form in which this document shall be noted and recorded, and in which the inscriptions in question shall be rectified whenever the interested parties shall have allowed to pass the time fixed for so doing.
  • Art. 4. Children born of canonical marriages subsequent to the date on which the existing law took effect, who shall not have been inscribed in the registry, shall be inscribed as legitimate in the form prescribed by the foregoing articles, their parents or guardians, who shall apply for their inscription within the term fixed in the preceding article, remaining free from all pecuniary responsibility.
  • Art. 5. The children to whom the preceding articles refer do not need to be presented for registry when the person designated by the law to make such presentation shall exhibit the corresponding certificate of baptism.
  • Art. 6. Shall be considered for all civil effects as legitimate children from the day of their birth, those born of exclusively canonical marriage, who, in virtue of the provisions of this decree, shall obtain their inscription in the civil register as being legitimated.
  • Art. 7. All enactments contrary to the provisions of this decree are here repealed.

The president of the regency-ministry,

The minister of grace and justice,