History of Spain


A brigadier's pronunciamiento that called Isabella's son, the able British-educated Alfonso XII (r. 1875-85), to the throne was sufficient to restore the Bourbon monarchy. Alfonso identified himself as "Spaniard, Catholic, and Liberal," and his succession was greeted with a degree of relief, even by supporters of the republic. He cultivated good relations with the army (Alfonso was a cadet at Sandhurst, the British military academy, when summoned to Spain), which had removed itself from politics because it was content with the stable, popular civilian government. Alfonso insisted that the official status of the church be confirmed constitutionally, thus assuring the restored monarchy of conservative support.

British practices served as the model for the new constitution's political provisions. The new government used electoral manipulation to construct and to maintain a two-party system in parliament, but the result was more a parody than an imitation. Conservatives and Liberals, who differed in very little except name, exchanged control of the government at regular intervals after general elections. Once again, caciques delivered the vote to one party or the other as directed--in return for the assurance of patronage from whichever was scheduled to win, thus controlling the elections at the constituency level. The tendency toward party fracturing and personalism remained a threat to the system, but the restoration monarchy's artificial two-party system gave Spain a generation of relative quiet.

Alfonso XIII (r. 1886-1931) was the posthumous son of Alfonso XII. The mother of Alfonso XIII, another Maria Cristina, acted as regent until her son came of age officially in 1902. Alfonso XIII abdicated in 1931.

The Cuban Disaster and the "Generation of 1898"

Emigration to Cuba from Spain was heavy in the nineteenth century, and the Cuban middle class, which had close ties to the mother country, favored keeping Cuba Spanish. Cuba had experienced periodic uprisings by independence movements since 1868. Successive governments in Madrid were committed to maintaining whatever armed forces were necessary to combat insurgency. Hostilities broke out again in 1895. The United States clandestinely supported these hostilities, which required Spain to send substantial reinforcements under General Valerio Weyler. Reports of Weyler's suppression of the independence movement, and the mysterious explosion of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor, stirred public opinion in the United States and led to a declaration of war by the United States in April 1898. The United States destroyed antiquated Spanish naval units at Santiago de Cuba and in Manila Bay. Despite a pledge by Madrid to defend Cuba "to the last peseta," the Spanish army surrendered after a few weeks of hostilities against an American expeditionary force. In Paris that September, Spain gave up Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

The suddenness and the totality of Spain's defeat as well as the country's realization of its lack of European support during the war with the United States (only Germany had offered diplomatic backing) threw Spain into despair. The disaster called forth an intellectual reevaluation of Spain's position in the world by the so-called "Generation of 1898," who confronted Spaniards with the propositions that Spain had long since ceased to be a country of consequence, that its society was archaic, and that its institutions were outworn and incapable of moving into the twentieth century. These words were painful for the proud nation.

The traumatic events of 1898 and the inability of the government to deal with them prompted political reevaluation. A plethora of new, often short-lived, personalist parties and regional groups on both the left and the right (that broke the hegemony of the two-party system and ultimately left the parliamentary structure in disarray) sought solutions to the country's problems. By 1915 it was virtually impossible to form a coalition government that could command the support of a parliamentary majority.

Some politicians on the right, like the conservative, Antonio Maura, argued for a return to traditional authoritarianism, and they blamed the parliamentary regimes (kept in power by caciques) for corrupting the country. Maura failed in his attempt to form a national Catholic party, but he inspired a number of right-wing groups with his political philosophy.

Regionalist movements were organized to free progressive Catalonia, the Basque areas, and Galicia from the "Castilian corpse." Whether on the left or on the right, residents of these regions stressed their distinct character and history. An electoral coalition of Catalan parties regularly sent strong parliamentary contingents to Madrid to barter their votes for concessions to Catalonian regionalism.

Alejandro Lerroux was an effective, but demagogical, political organizer who took his Liberal splinter group into the antimonarchist camp. He formed the Radical Republicans on a national, middle-class base that frequently allied itself with the Catalans.

The democratic, Marxist-oriented Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol--PSOE), founded in 1879, grew rapidly in the north, especially in Asturias, where a trade union, the General Union of Workers (Union General de Trabajadores--UGT), had most effectively organized the working class.

The Federation of Iberian Anarchists (Federacion Anarquista Iberica) was well organized in Catalonia and Andalusia and had many members, but in keeping with anarchist philosophy, they remained aloof from participation in the electoral process. Their abstention, however, had a telling effect. They practiced terrorism, and the anarchist trade union, the National Confederation of Labor (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo--CNT), was able on several occasions to shut down Barcelona. The aim of the anarchists was not to take control of the government, but to make government impossible.

The African War and the Authoritarian Regime of Miguel Primo de Rivera

Spain was neutral in World War I, but the Spanish army was constantly engaged from 1909 to 1926 against Abd al Krim's Riff Berbers in Morocco, where Spain had joined France in proclaiming a protectorate. Successive civilian governments in Spain allowed the war to continue, but they refused to supply the army with the means to win it. Spanish losses were heavy to their fierce and skillful enemy, who was equipped with superior weapons. Riots against conscription for the African war spread disorder throughout the country, and opposition to the war was often expressed in church burnings. Officers, who often had served in Morocco, formed juntas to register complaints that were just short of pronunciamientos against wartime inflation, low fixed salaries for the military, alleged civilian corruption, and inadequate and scarce equipment.

Conditions in Morocco, increased anarchist and communist terrorism, industrial unrest, and the effects of the postwar economic slump prompted the pronunciamiento that brought a general officer, Miguel Primo de Rivera (in power, 1923-30), into office. His authoritarian regime originally enjoyed wide support in much of the country and had the confidence of the king and the loyalty of the army. The government lacked an ideological foundation, however; its mandate was based on general disillusionment with both the parliamentary government and the extreme partisan politics of the previous period.

Once in power, Primo de Rivera dissolved parliament and ruled through directorates and the aid of the military until 1930. His regime sponsored public works to curb unemployment. Protectionism and state control of the economy led to a temporary economic recovery. A better led and better supplied army brought the African war to a successful conclusion in 1926.

The precipitous economic decline in 1930 undercut support for the government from special-interest groups. For seven years, Primo de Rivera remained a man on horseback. He established no new system to replace parliamentary government. Criticism from academics mounted. Bankers expressed disappointment at the state loans that his government had tried to float. An attempt to reform the promotion system cost him the support of the army. This loss of army support caused him to lose the support of the king. Primo de Rivera resigned and died shortly afterward in exile.

Spain History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress