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    Spain Liberal Rule
    Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

    The regency had come to depend on liberal support within the army during the first Carlist war, but after the end of the war against the traditionalists, both the Liberals and the army tired of Maria Cristina. They forced her to resign in 1840, and a liberal government assumed responsibility for the regency.

    The Liberals were a narrowly based elite. Their abstract idealism and concern for individual liberties contrasted sharply with the paternalistic attitudes of Spain's rural society. There was no monolithic liberal movement in Spain, but anticlericalism, the touchstone of liberalism, unified the factions. They theorized that the state was the sum of the individuals living within it and that it could recognize and protect only the rights of individuals, not the rights of corporate institutions, such as the church or universities, or the rights of the regions as separate entities with distinct customs and interests. Because only individuals were subject to the law, only individuals could hold title to land. As nothing should impede the development of the individual, so nothing should impede the state in guaranteeing the rights of the individual.

    Liberals also agreed on the necessity of a written constitution, a parliamentary government, and a centralized administration, as well as the need for laissez-faire economics. All factions found a voice in the army and drew leadership from its ranks. All had confidence that progress would follow naturally from the application of liberal principles. They differed, however, on the methods to be used in applying these principles.

    The Moderates saw economic development within a free market as the cure for political revolution. They argued for a strong constitution that would spell out guaranteed liberties. The Progressives, like the Moderates, were members of the upper and the middle classes, but they drew support from the urban masses and favored creation of a more broadly based electorate. They argued that greater participation in the political process would ensure economic development and an equitable distribution of its fruits. Both factions favored constitutional monarchy. The more radical Democrats, however, believed that political freedom and economic liberalism could only be achieved in a republic.

    The army backed the Moderates, who dominated the new regency in coalition with supporters of Isabella's succession. Local political leaders, called caciques, regularly delivered the vote for government candidates in return for patronage and assured the Moderates of parliamentary majorities. The Progressives courted the Democrats enough to be certain of regular inclusion in the government. State relations with the church continued to be the most sensitive issue confronting the government and the most divisive issue throughout the country. Despite their anticlericalism, the Moderates concluded a rapprochement with the church, which agreed to surrender its claim to confiscated property in return for official recognition by the state and a role in education. Reconciliation with the church did not, however, win the Moderates conservative rural support.

    Modest economic gains were made during the administration of General Leopoldo O'Donnell, an advocate of laissez-faire policies, who came to power in 1856 through a pronunciamiento. O'Donnell had encouraged foreign investors to provide Spain with a railroad system, and he had also sponsored Spain's overseas expansion, particularly in Africa. Little economic growth was stimulated, however, except in Catalonia and the Basque region, both of which had already possessed an industrial base. Promises for land reform were broken.

    O'Donnell was one of a number of political and military figures around whom personalist political parties formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most of these parties failed to survive their leaders' active political careers. O'Donnell, for example, formed the Liberal Union as a fusion party broad enough to hold most liberals and to counter the drift of left-wing Progressives to the Democrats. After several years of cooperating with the one-party parliamentary regime, the Progressives withdrew their support, and in 1866 a military coup toppled O'Donnell.

    In 1868 an army revolt, led by exiled officers determined to force Isabella from the throne, brought General Juan Prim, an army hero and popular Progressive leader, to power. Isabella's abdication inaugurated a period of experimentation with a liberal monarchy, a federal republic, and finally a military dictatorship.

    As prime minister, Prim canvased Europe for a ruler to replace Isabella. A tentative offer made to a Hohenzollern prince was sufficient spark to set off the Franco-Prussian War (1870- 71). Prim found a likely royal candidate in Amadeo of Savoy, son of the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel II. Shortly after Amadeo's arrival in Spain, Prim was assassinated, leaving the new king, without a mentor, at the mercy of hostile politicians. The constitution bequeathed to the new monarchy did not leave Amadeo sufficient power to supervise the formation of a stable government. Mistrustful of Prim's foreign prince, factional leaders refused to cooperate with, or to advise, Amadeo. Deserted finally by the army, Amadeo abdicated, leaving a rump parliament to proclaim Spain a federal republic.

    The constitution of the First Republic (1873-74) provided for internally self-governing provinces that were bound to the federal government by voluntary agreement. Jurisdiction over foreign and colonial affairs and defense was reserved for Madrid. In its eight-month life, the federal republic had four presidents, none of whom could find a prime minister to form a stable cabinet. The government could not decentralize quickly enough to satisfy local radicals. Cities and provinces made unilateral declarations of autonomy. Madrid lost control of the country, and once again the army stepped in to rescue the "national honor." A national government in the form of a unitary republic served briefly as the transparent disguise for an interim military dictatorship.

    Data as of December 1988

    NOTE: The information regarding Spain on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Spain Liberal Rule information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Spain Liberal Rule should be addressed to the Library of Congress.

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    Revised 04-Jul-02
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