Progress Of Liberal Ideas
Revolutions Of 1848
Rivalry Of Austria And Prussia
Napoleon III And Italian Unity
Fall Of The Second Empire—franco-german War
The German Empire
The Third French Republic.
The Eastern Question
Decadence Of Spain
Russia's Increase In Power And Influence
Read More Articles About: Modern Europe
Decadence Of Spain
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
There is a pathetic side to the vanishing from the list of great powers of the Nation that at one time was the most powerful in the world. Time was when Spain's flag waved from every Continent, and Philip II was the most famous conqueror of his day. It was the Emperor Charles V who first made the proud boast that on his dominions the sun never set, nor was it an idle word, but a plain statement of fact. At its greatest extent the Spanish Empire spread so far beyond the limits of the peninsula that the original boundaries of the Spanish State inclosed its smallest possession. The sway of Charles was acknowledged, not only over Spain, of which he was the hereditary monarch, but in a large part of Southern Italy, in Sicily, in Portugal and in the Netherlands, while as Emperor he ruled over a considerable portion of the present possessions of Austria and all the small States, which, almost from the dawn of authentic history, have been grouped under the general name of Germany. In America the Spanish power was acknowledged over a territory so vast as to make the mightiest Empires of antiquity seem contempti-
ble by comparison. Charles claimed for his own the 8,000,000 square miles of North America and the 7,000,-000 of South America, a grand total of 15,000,000 square miles on this side of the Atlantic, while his possessions in Africa, Asia, and the innumerable islands that, in every sea, acknowledged allegiance to the Spanish throne, brought up, with the European States, the area of the Empire to a grand total of not fewer and perhaps more than 17,000,000 square miles. Never before nor since has so vast a territory been governed by one man. The Czar of Russia rules a territory a little more than half the size of that which owned the sway of Charles; the British flag floats over much less than two-thirds that area; the Roman eagles, in the golden days of Trajan, were honored over a territory only one-sixth as large as the dominions of Charles, while the Empires of Greece, and Assyria, and Babylon, and the great States founded by the Moguls and Genghis Khan, were petty by comparison with the Spanish dominions. Over too different political commonwealths have been carved out of the Spanish Empire, and still the process is going on.
Yet the Nineteenth Century has seen the completion of the story of the loss of this great Empire. No, country was probably ever so cursed with fanatical and imbecile Kings as Spain was during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Each seemed, if possible, a little worse than his predecessors, a little more stupid, a little more bigoted, and a little less able to see facts that were obvious to all others. Provinces and dependent States were in constant insurrection, many of which were successful, and Spain's possessions fell a prey to her more wisely ruled neighbors. The Eighteenth Century was a period of almost uninterrupted disaster. Two unsuccessful wars were waged with England; during one, Gibraltar became an English possession; during the other, when Spain took sides with France after the Revolution, the Spanish fleet was destroyed, all the ports of Spain were blockaded, and the country reduced to abject misery. But these great misfortunes were small when compared to those which came in the first quarter of this century. The attempt of Napoleon to force a French King upon the Spanish people led to a guerrilla war against the invaders which raged for years in every nook and corner of the peninsula, and, though successful, left the country a barren waste. The officers of Wellington's army have left accounts of the pitiable condition of Spain and its inhabitants as witnessed during their campaigns against the French. Throughout whole Provinces not a farm was under cultivation; heaps of ashes and standing chimneys marked the sites of towns and villages, and a few ragged, starving wretches, picking up acorns in the forests, represented the population.
Such was the state of Spain at the end of Napoleon's wars, and worse was to come, for three years after Napoleon had been sent to St. Helena, mutterings of revolt were heard in the American colonies. By 182o the whole of Spanish America was in open insurrection.* Heroic attempts were made by the Government to put clown the rebellions that had sprung up all over the Spanish colonies, but from Mexico to Chile the whole country was up and armed, and the few troops that could be sent from Spain accomplished nothing. The same policy afterward was prosecuted in Cuba that of extermination was attempted in America, but the Spaniards were too few to exterminate whole Nations, and, though the war was prosecuted with as much vigor as could be shown by a degenerate race, before the close of 1826 the Spaniards had been driven from every position on the mainland of America and their splendid Empire was gone. Since then the decline of Spain has been still more marked than before. Revolution has succeeded revolution; a war with France in 1823, civil wars in the Basque country, the Carlist war and other struggles have tended to weaken the Nation, while industries are paralyzed, agriculture is at a standstill, and, after the war with America banished the Spaniards from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, of its former greatness Spain retained only the pride of recollection.
So rapid a decline and a fall so great have not taken place without attracting the attention of philosophical minds, which have exerted themselves to discover and explain the causes of the decay of an Empire that comprised more territory within its limits than any other known to the historian. It is interesting to observe that, in general, the historians have explained the phenomenon according to their own prejudices. The Protestant uses the decline as an object lesson against the prevalent religion of Spain, finding a full and satisfactory explanation in the Inquisition and the suppression of the freedom of religious opinion; one Catholic historian, on the contrary, attributes the decadence to the leniency in dealing with heresy in its early stages, affirming that had Charles V exerted due diligence in stamping out the Reformation in Germany, Spain would be to-day what she was then, the greatest power on the earth. The political economist teaches that the enormous wealth brought from America, instead of enriching, really impoverished Spain, since it induced neglect of home industries and generated an extravagance which became the ruin of the Nation. Pride of character and an arrogance that excited the. hatred of all foreigners and the antagonism of all foreign States; the warlike habits of the Spanish people, confirmed by eight centuries of constant conflict with the Moors, draining the country of its best men and leaving only the weakly and infirm, each and every one of these causes, together with innumerable others, have been upheld by able advocates. Explain it as we may, the fact remains, that from whatever cause or causes, the Spain of today is but a phantom of the Spain of three centuries ago; the splendid Empire of Charles V and Philip II has not melted away. It has been violently rent in pieces, and not a leading power in the world but has grown great, in some degree, at the expense of Spain.
The history of Spain in the Nineteenth Century has had but slight connection with that of the rest of Europe. It has been a story of civil wars, usually brought about by the wickedness of the Bourbon rulers. An absolute monarchy, reestablished in 1814, broken only by an interval of two years, 1821-23, lasted until the death of Ferdinand VII, in 1833. Then followed a long period of disturbance, during which the followers of Don Carlos, the brother of Ferdinand, fought against the succession of his infant daughter. Modern ideas and the old monarchical rights were in continual opposition until the Regent, Christina, succeeded in binding the Liberal party to her daughter Isabella's cause by granting a constitution in 1837. The very doubtfulness of Queen Isabella's title to the throne afforded, or seemed to afford, a guarantee of her fidelity to the constitution. The Spanish Generals, in consequence, espoused her cause with enthusiasm. Both France and England sided with the dynasty which supported the principles of constitutional monarchy, and at last, after a warfare waged with varying fortunes and unvarying ferocity, Don Carlos quitted Spain in despair in 1839, and the question of his succession was considered to be finally settled in favor of Isabella II, a child not yet in her teens.
The new dynasty was not conducted with prudence. Three months after the death of her husband, Christina remarried they called it that although it was not recognized for eleven years. Her spouse was a young and handsome dragoon, named Munoz, who was made Duke de Rianzares because of his connection with royalty. But Christina did not confine her affections to the man she made Duke. There were other men equally favored, and it was amid such influences that Isabella reached her majority, which, as she was Queen, was when she was thirteen years of age. One of her first acts was to ratify the marriage of her mother, made eleven years before.
Isabella II had been educated in a school of vice, and she did credit to her bringing up. From the first, even at the tender age of thirteen, she began the series of gallantries, as they are called in the case of Queens, which have made her notorious, and which finally forced her from the throne. Absolutism crept into the Government, the constitution was abolished, and the press was restricted. It was thought that it was time for Isabella to marry and Louis Philippe proposed that his son should marry Isabella's sister, while Isabella should be given to her cousin on her father's side, Francisco d'Assizi, who could never be a father. He thus hoped to secure the successor for his own son, and finally succeeded in overcoming the opposition to the marriage, after a long diplomatic conference, known as the question of the "Spanish Marriages," in which all Europe took part. Isabella almost immediately proceeded to compensate herself for the mariage de convenance, and Marshal Serrano was the most conspicuous of her favorites. While yet a bride she used to address him as her "bonita Francisco," and the court generally believed he stood in the place of her husband. Meanwhile her mother, Christina, while nominally no longer Regent, really ruled the country. Isabella bore a son in 1851, and, in spite of her husband's impotence and the general belief that Serrano was the boy's father, as the child was born in wedlock he ascended to the throne in due time. That son was Alfonso XII, the late King of Spain, and father of Alfonso XIII, the child who has nominally ruled since his birth, six months after the death of his sire.
To the amazement of Europe, and the disgust of her own subjects, Isabella ruled and reveled for thirty-five years. Her throne even withstood the revolutions of 1848, the effects of which were scarcely felt in Spain. Yet the liberal spirit grew, while the smouldering discontent gave rise to another Carlist insurrection. Don Carlos, the first pretender, died in 1855. But a second pretender rose in his son, Don Carlos, Count de Montemolin. In 1860 an attempt was made at Valencia to stir up another Carlist insurrection, in consequence of which the pretender and his brother, Ferdinand, were arrested, but liberated after they had signed a renunciation of their claims to the Spanish throne.
At last the scandals and absolutism of Isabella's reign were too much for her subjects, and revolution broke out. The war with Morocco accomplished little, while the Spanish expedition against Mexico in 1861 failed, and the war with Chile, Peru, and Ecuador (1864 and 1865) proved Spain's weakness. General Prim and Marshal Serrano the former favorite, succeeded by innumerable lovers, had been exiled placed themselves at the head of the revolutionists. Isabella fled, as all Spain was demanding her dethronement, and Madrid opened its gates to the victorious Generals. Isabella fled to Paris, where she has lived since the same life, and although now (1899) sixty-six years of age, she still has her lovers.
In 1868 began one of the most stormy periods in the history of Spain, which was torn with civil war, resulting from the claims of the factions of the revolutionists. It was in this year, too, that the Ten Years' War in Cuba began.
The men at the head of affairs proclaimed a constitution and then tried to find a ruler for Spain. The nephew of the former Don Carlos and the present pre-tender hastened to offer himself; not finding his offer welcomed, he incited uprisings in 1869, 1870, and 1872, which were speedily repressed. The constitution of February 18, 1869, provided for a monarch, but there was none. In the meantime the real ruler of the country was the Minister-President and Minister of War, Count Prim. Esparteto. Don Fernando (father of the King of Portugal), King Louis of Portugal himself, the Duke of Aosta (son of Victor Emmanuel), Prince Thomas of Genoa, all in turn refused. The Duke of Montpensier, brother-in-law to the ex-Queen, would have accepted, but the temper of the country was against Bourbons. One of those offered the throne was Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, who at first accepted, but then refused, and the tender of the throne to him furnished Napoleon III with the pretext for the Franco-German War, that ended so disastrously for France. Finally, after two years without a ruler, Marshal Prim succeeded in inducing Duke Amadeo, second son of the King of Italy, to accept the crown, and the Cortes elected him (November 16, 1870) by a vote of 191 to 98. Before the new King took the oath of office (January 2, 1871) Marshal Prim had been assassinated, and he lost his strongest support. Amadeo was unable to secure a Ministry because of the division of the parties in the Cortes, and after three years of insults, he resigned (February 8, 1873). The Carlists then again appeared on the scene, while, seeing that some government was necessary, a Republic was established immediately, with Fogueras as President of a Council of Ministers, in which Castelar was Minister of Foreign Affairs.
When the Spanish Republic of 1873 came into being it found itself face to face with this issue: What sort of a shape, centralized or Federal, shall the Government take? Shall it follow the model of France or shall it adopt that of the United States? The third French Republic, the one which is still in existence, had just been created, and its establishment was one of the forces which gave direction and impulse to republican sentiment in Spain. The question of the shape which the Government should take had not presented itself to the Spanish Republicans until the moment when the actual work of building the Government's framework had arrived. This unreadiness was due in part to the suddenness of Amadeo's abdication. But it was also due to an absence of practical statesmen among the Republican chieftains. To use an American illustration, the Spanish Republicans of 1873 had many Samuel Adamses and Patrick Henrys, but they had no George Washingtons, Alexander Hamiltons, or Thomas Jeffersons.
Most of the rank and file of the Republicans wanted a government on the United States model. Practically the whole of their best-known leaders favored the French form. The Federal plan, of course, would give more local liberty, and this is why the Republican masses desired it. The centralized system would furnish greater stability and security to the Nation, and for this reason the Republican chieftains advocated it. If a Federal system was formed, with autonomy for each province, its friends believed that conscription could be evaded and some of the National taxes dodged or at least they could be reduced. These were among the reasons why the more intelligent and experienced Republicans opposed federation. They said that if local home rule were granted, the army and navy would soon fall to pieces, the latter through the refusal of some or many of the provinces to make appropriations for its support, and the former through the failure to furnish it either money or men. Moreover, the opponents of federation contended that under a Federal system some of the provinces near the Pyrenees might secede and join France, the Basque Provinces in the same quarter would be likely to choose Don Carlos as a ruler, while some of the states bordering on the Mediterranean might set up a republic for themselves.
These were the ideas and arguments of the two great factions into which the Spanish Republicans were thrown when Amadeo's sudden abandonment of the throne brought the Republic to the front. The Conservative faction the centralizers as distinguished from the Federationists, the advocates of the French Governmental plan as against the United States system beat the Radical element. That is, the programme of the Intransigente party, or the ultras, for a Federal Republic with home rule on the American plan for the different provinces, was defeated. In defeating it, however, the "red demagogy of socialism" united with the "white demagogy of Carlism" in making the seven months' life of the so-called Republic of 1873-4 one of the most turbulent periods in Spain's history in the present century. Margall, Salmeron, and Castelar followed each other quickly as heads of the Republic between June 8, 1873, when Margall was chosen, and January 3, 1874, when General Pavia dispersed the Cortes, Castelar re-signed and the Republic collapsed. "Glass, handle with care!" was the label which Castelar, at the beginning of Amadeo's reign, in 1871, placed upon the young imported Italian monarch's regime. This inscription would do for an epitaph for Castelar's Republic.
After the Cortes had been dispersed by Pavia, a military dictatorship was set up under Marshal Serrano, and another Carlist war began. Serrano took the field in person, but was unable to break through the strong lines of the Carlists at Sommorostro in the battles of March 25 and 26, but receiving reinforcements, he renewed the attack and forced the pretender's forces to abandon all their positions, raise the siege of Bilboa and evacuate Portugalete (May 1). Concha, in command of the army of the North, was defeated in a three days' battle (July), and fell fighting on the field. But the Carlists neglected to make proper strategetical use of their victory, and were barbarous enough to shoot a number of their prisoners. Don Alonzo, brother of Don Carlos, on capturing Cuenca (July 15) gave it over to plunder, fire, and sword. Meanwhile Serrano had been unable to collect a sufficient force to drive the enemy back to the French frontier.
Unexpected allies were raised for Marshal Serrano by the Carlists' disregard of the laws of civilized warfare. The pretender had caused (June 30, 1874) Schmidt, a former Prussian captain, while acting as correspondent of German papers in Concha's head-quarters at Estella, to be shot, upon his falling into his hands, although he was a non-combatant. This action, and the generally barbarous methods by which the Carlists waged war, led Bismarck to take diplomatic steps against them. The legitimists in France had been aiding the pretender and he had also been supplied with funds by ultramontanists in Austria and Rome. Bismarck induced the other powers to give Serrano official recognition, and the French Government enforced a real neutrality. Germany, by sending ships of war to the Bay of Biscay, took active steps to prevent the smuggling in of contraband of war.
Meanwhile, the Nation was without a real head, while the Carlists still won scattering successes, which were due in no small part to, the fact that many people would have welcomed any King. So in Murviedro (December 29, 1874) General Martinez Campos, who, like most of the officers, was an adherent of the deposed Bourbon dynasty, proclaimed the son of the ex-Queen Isabella King with the title Alfonso XII. The proclamation was received with joy. The army accepted him immediately and the politicians, seeing that resistance was useless, acquiesced. Serrano resigned the Presidency and a Regency was formed with Canovas del Castillo as its chief (December 31). Alfonso accepted, and, on January 15, 1875, when not quite eighteen years of age, entered Madrid to assume the monarchy.
The Carlist revolt was finally suppressed in 1876. The Spanish Government had 100,000 soldiers in the field, while the pretender, who had retreated to the Valley of Roncesvalles, could muster scarcely 2,000 men. Resistance was hopeless under such circumstances, and February 28 Don Carlos crossed the French frontier, his followers were disarmed, he himself was invited by the French Government to take up his residence in some other country, and the insurrection was at an end.
The several constitutions which Spain has had influenced the formation of the one which was promulgated in June 30, 1876. It was prepared by the Government and adopted, after discussion by an Assembly chosen under limited suffrage, a year after the accession of Alfonso XII. The rights of individuals and the sacredness of private property were insured and the right of free speech and of Assembly were guaranteed to all. The Kingdom was made a constitutional monarchy. This is largely in theory, however, as ambiguous or qualifying clauses place the real power in the hands of the Sovereign, although all his decrees must be countersigned by at least one of his Ministers, and he is dependent upon his Ministry.
Worn out by civil war, Spain took a respite from disorder during the rule of Alfonso XII. When he died his daughter succeeded him until the birth of a posthumous son, who was born (May 17, 1886) after the Queen Dowager Maria Christina had been declared Regent. A devoted mother, she has done her best to secure her throne for her son, and has favored the Liberal party, which has seemed to afford the best guarantee of his retention on the Spanish Throne. Confidence in the wisdom of the Queen-Regent and her Ministers led to the raising in rank of the diplomatic representatives of Germany, Austria, Italy, and England from that of Minister to that of Ambassador, thus placing Spain nominally among first-class powers. Trial by jury was introduced by the Senate and put in force in Madrid, May 29, 1889. Yet the reign has been marked by many internal disorders. Don Carlos protested against the recognition of the baby King, and (September 19, 1886) there was an insurrection in Madrid. Inundations through-out the central and southern parts of the peninsula (September, 1891) rendered over 100,000 persons homeless. Widespread rioting was excited by the Octrois duties (July 17, 1892). A cargo of dynamite, exploding in the harbor of Santander (November 4, 1893), killed about 1,000 people, and wrecked part of the town. This led to the proclaiming of martial law, with Captain-General Campos in charge of the military forces, but before the Anarchists were punished, the explosion of a bomb in a theater at Barcelona (November 7) killed thirty and injured eighty persons, while another explosion in the harbor of Santander (March 22, 1894) sacrificed thirty lives.
Meanwhile the Kingdom has been harassed by financial difficulties. The series of insurrections in Cuba culminated in the war beginning in 1895, which sacrificed so many lives, and cost Spain so much treasure. The war with America, which grew out of the Cuban dispute (1898), led to a further expenditure of blood and treasure, and the destruction of the best ships in the Spanish navy. The close of the Nineteenth Century found Spain bankrupt, and stripped of its colonies, staggering under a heavy debt, which it seems impossible to pay. The public discontent was expressed by frequent riots in the capital and larger cities. The necessity for a firm military control caused the destinies of the country to play for a time into the hands of General Weyler, notorious for his cruelty in Cuba. He was the only soldier able to cope with the difficulties besetting the coronation of the young king, who attained his legal majority in 1902. On the first outbreak in Barcelona, in February, Weyler promptly proclaimed martial law in the disaffected province. The troops encountered stubborn oppoposition and fought pitched battles with the undisciplined rabble, shedding enough blood to justify anew the epithet "Butcher" applied to Weyler in Cuba. Under such unfavorable auspices the young king began his reign and the Queen Regent was relieved of responsibility but not of solicitude for his welfare as the ruler of a turbulent people.