Malaspina was not merely an explorer of geography; he was an explorer of ideas. He studied philosophy as a student, sailed with a collection of books by contemporary thinkers, economists, and fellow explorers, and wrote and published his own philosophical works. He reflected on the role of people within society and was outspoken about his negative impression of colonialism and the Spanish colonial administration. His outspokenness may have landed him in prison.
Although he was honoured upon his return from his expedition to the Pacific Northwest and his circumnavigation of the globe in 1794, it was only a short time later that Malaspina was taken into custody. On November 22, 1795, the order for his arrest was signed, and “the criminal Malaspina” was taken to barracks in Madrid. His trial proceedings, held five days after his arrest papers were signed, took just one hour. Malaspina was stripped of his titles and sentenced to ten years and one day in the Fortress of San Antón, located on a rocky Spanish island.
Manuel Godoy, chief minister of Spanish King Charles IV, led the accusations made against Malaspina. Malaspina condemned the Spanish system that forced the Criollos, colonials of Spanish descent, into slavery, working fields on behalf of Spanish owners. Observing the French Revolution, he warned that revolt was inevitable in the Spanish colonies if conditions were not changed. These criticisms, in writings titled the Axiomas politicos sobre la América and Discurso, included statements against “Government and Religion” and his plans challenged Godoy’s position, in addition to the very system of Spanish government. The writings verged on treason. The conspiracy charges against Malaspina also implicated the Marchioness La Matallana, one of the Queen’s ladies, and Manuel Gil, who had edited Malaspina’s works.
Although most of the results of Malaspina’s expedition to the Pacific Northwest were not published until 1885, small portions that focused on cartography and hydrography were released in 1802. These early publications highlighted the work of Galiano and Valdés and referred to the disgraced Malaspina not by name, but as “commander.” In 1803, after serving seven years of his sentence, Malaspina was released from prison and expelled from Spain. He was taken to Genoa, Italy, which was under the control of Napoleon at the time. Malaspina settled quietly near his Mulazzo birthplace, ending both his ocean journeys and his writings.