A brief history of Spain – Part 24, The Restoration

Alfonso XII, Canovas and Sagasta

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Antonio Canovas del Castillo

The Carlists were defeated, and a period of relative calm ensued. Most officers in the army distanced themselves from the excesses of liberalism and embraced the restoration of the conservative coalition of monarchy, church, and large landowners.

A new constitution was established in 1876, conservative in nature and a modern version of the 1845 constitution. Moreover, the open nature of this constitution allowed for reforms and contributed to political stability. The 1876 constitution, the seventh since 1812, would become the longest-lasting in Spanish history. It lasted until 1931, excluding the years when dictator Primo de Rivera sidelined it. Civil liberties were guaranteed, but rights such as freedom of the press, association, and expression were limited by additional legislation. Initially, only 5% of the population had suffrage, but by 1890, universal male suffrage was restored.

Antonio Cánovas del Castillo

A key figure of the Restoration was the born in Malaga “realpolitiker” Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. He founded the conservative party representing the nobility, large landowners, senior military officers, clergy, and the business oligarchy. His adversary, and yet a close friend in private, Sagasta, established the Fusion Party, based on the left-liberal parties of the 1869 constitution.

Cánovas sought to achieve stability in the country through pragmatism rather than ideology. It could be as liberal as circumstances allowed. Carlists, regionalists, and republicans were initially excluded because their ideologies were believed to hinder peace and unity. Cánovas was a staunch opponent of the abolition of slavery in Cuba.

The ‘pieceful turn’ and ‘caciquismo’

To prevent conflicts between conservatives and liberals, it was agreed that they would alternate in power (The Pact of Pardo, “el turno pacifico”). To ensure the turno pacifico, widespread electoral fraud was employed. In Madrid, manipulation with candidate lists occurred, while in rural areas (Andalucia, Galicia), ‘caciquismo’ played a significant role. “Caciques” (a term still commonly used today) were locally powerful individuals or families who distributed positions and money within the Ayuntamientos (municipal governments). During elections, the Caciques proved useful by recruiting votes through bribery or favours. Moreover, it was also not uncommon for the deceased to cast their votes, sometimes involving entire cemeteries. Whereas living individuals were often subjected to pressure to vote differently than intended or to abstain from voting altogether. In 1886, the election results were mistakenly published in the newspaper a day before the elections.

Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XII died at the age of 28 in 1885 after contracting cholera during a visit to the victims of a major earthquake in Andalucia. He had been a monarch connected to his people, and his reign brought stability to the country. Alfonso was succeeded by his second wife, Maria Cristina of Austria (another Maria Cristina as regent), who gave birth to their son, Alfonso, six months after his death. Then, in 1902, at the age of 16, Alfonso XIII became the king of Spain.

Cogesa Expats

Enormous corruption

In 1892, universal male suffrage was restored, although women’s suffrage was not yet on the agenda. In theory, Spain was one of the most democratic countries in the world. However, given the enormous corruption accompanying elections at the time, there was a significant discrepancy between theory and practice. Moreover, what was universal suffrage worth for a population where only 25% could read?

The Republicans and the Workers’ Movement (anarchists and socialists) were legalised again in 1881 during a ‘turno’ of Sagasta. The Republican Party quickly fragmented into different factions. In 1903, some factions merged to form the Union Republicana. Regionalism/nationalism, particularly in Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia, continued to play a significant role despite Cánovas’ centralising tendencies.

An unexpected turn

Although social and political unrest slowly increased beneath the surface, Spain appeared to be heading towards the end of the 19th century with relative peace under the strong leaders Cánovas and Sagasta. However, the situation took an unexpected turn. In 1896, a bomb exploded during religious festivities in Barcelona, resulting in numerous casualties. Over 300 people, including anarchists and innocent bystanders, were arrested and interned in the Montjuïc fortress. To extract information about the perpetrator, the prisoners were subjected to cruel torture practices, resulting in permanent disfigurement and even death for some unfortunate individuals.

The international press became aware of the situation and campaigned for the release of the prisoners. Cánovas, who was responsible for the mass arrests and tortures, paid little attention to the criticism from certain groups within his own country.

The deaths of Cánovas and Sagasta

A year later, in 1897, Cánovas was assassinated by an Italian anarchist. Revenge for the murders of the anarchist detainees in Montjuïc was said to be the motive. Sagasta died a few years later of natural causes.

In 1975, a monument honoring Cánovas was erected in Malaga, and in 2009, a commemorative plaque was unveiled in the council chamber of the town hall. In Madrid, there is still an impressive statue of this tough, conservative politician who brought peace to Spain during difficult times.

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