The Fueros and the Carlist Wars: A History of Basque Politics in the 19th Century

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The Decline and Partial Restoration of the Fueros (1839-1868)

Under General Espartero, a new decree (1841) was issued for the 3 Basque provinces: General Juntas and Councils were abolished, civil governors would be appointed to the Basque provinces from Madrid, tolls were changed to the seaports, and tax exemption and exemption from conscription and civil law were maintained.

Another new law was issued for Navarre called Ley Paccionada (16 Aug 1841). Through this law, Navarre ceased to be a kingdom and became a province, the old Cortes of Navarre and the tax exemption were abolished, Navarre lost its legislative power, and tolls were set up on the Pyrenees border with France. The province could still raise taxes, and a fixed amount, a quota, was paid to the central state.

Moderate Liberals in the government restored the Fueros partially under a decree by the minister Jose Pidal thanks to Pedro Egaña: General Juntas diputaciones and some other foral powers were reinstalled, tolls were kept at the border with France. In exchange for keeping the foruak, Basque jauntxo and handiki abandoned the Carlist cause and gave their support to the moderate liberals. The rural population remained peaceful.

During this period, the foral regime achieved greater development than ever before thanks to foru aldundiak.

The Revolution of 1868 and the First Carlist War

The revolution of 1868 put an end to the reign of Isabella II. The democratic six-year plan would launch a democratic revolution: the constitution of 1869. Progressives established a democratic monarchy, supported freedom of worship, and did not touch the foral regime. Political changes led to a new rise of Carlism, and many Basque moderates shifted against them. In the 1869 elections to the Cortes, all Basque MPs were Carlist.

As Isabella was not the queen, Carlists had the hope that one of them would be appointed king. But the declaration of the constitutional monarchy made it clear that Carlos VII had no chance. Amadeo’s democratic monarchy failed because he had no support.

The first attempt to establish a federal republic in Spain failed as a result of the division of the republicans. In 1874 the uprising of Martinez Campos and other soldiers put an end to the republic, and Alfonso XII (son of Isabella) was proclaimed king.

The Second Carlist War (1872-1876)

The Basque Country was the territory where the war was mostly fought. The Carlist state was developed with its own administration where the provincial councils foru aldundiak were the basic institutions. The agricultural areas were predominately Carlist and the most important settlements remained in favor of liberals. The causes of the 2nd Carlist war were mainly:

  • The establishment of a democratic revolution and secular state
  • Freedom of worship established in the Basque country as an attack on religious beliefs

The Carlists carried out skillful propaganda in the press, as well as in the churches, and the majority of the population of the Basque country considered liberals a movement against Catholicism and the foral regime. The Carlists, on the other hand, did not accept the reign of Amadeus of Savoy, nor the First Republic. From 1854-1856 the civil confiscation of Madoz damaged the situation of Basque farmers by selling public lands without giving them the opportunity to buy them. They would start organizing military attacks based on the principles of "God, Homeland, Fueros, and the King," and would launch a war for the re-establishment of the traditional monarchical regime.

The uprising started in 1872. Serrano and Carlists signed the Treaty of Zornotza, but it was broken with the proclamation of the republic. Then, Carlists took Basque provinces and Navarre, but it was a failure. In 1875, Liberals defeated Carlists, and anti-republican conservatives started supporting Liberals. By 1876, with the fall of Lizarra, Liberals won and Charles VII was exiled. The new government of Canovas del Castillo reduced Basque privileges and asserted the Unity of State.

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