Isabella II: Reign, Politics, and Downfall

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Isabella II reigned between 1843 and 1868. Her reign meant the consolidation of Spain as a liberal State. She always preferred the moderates to rule and she called them to government in 1844.


The moderates ruled for a decade. The strong man of this period was General Narváez. In this period a liberal conservative and centralized State consolidated, with the support of the aristocracy, the Church and the conservative bourgeoisie.

A new Constitution was written in 1845: sovereignty was shared between the monarch and the people and the State identified with Catholic religion. All the State, except from the Basque Provinces and Navarre, was submitted to the same laws. Tax collection was improved, a Criminal Code was approved and the Guardia Civil was created to maintain order in the rural areas.

In 1848 a new party appeared: the Democrats. They wanted universal suffrage and some of them were republicans. After Narváez´s resignation, corruption and scandals weakened the moderate governments. In June 1854, General O´Donnell, a moderate, led a military uprising in Vicálvaro (Vicalvarada) against the moderates’ authoritarianism and corruption and issued the Manzanares Manifesto, demanding political reforms and Constituent Cortes. The progressives joined the uprising and the popular support to the revolt obliged Isabella II to appoint a new government presided by Espartero in October 1854.


The strongest men in this period were the generals Espartero (progressive) and O´Donnell (moderate). A new political party was created: the Liberal Union, led by O’Donnell. They wanted to be a center option between moderates and progressives. The new government was formed by the progressives and the Liberal Union. Their main decisions were mainly economic and favoured the bourgeoisie: Civil Confiscation of Madoz, Railway Act (1855), banking laws. The Cortes also wrote another Constitution in 1856, but it didn’t come into force.

As the government decisions didn’t improve the lives of the common people, there were many strikes and protests. In 1856 Espartero refused to use the National Militia against protesters and resigned. The queen appointed O´Donnell prime minister, who strongly repressed revolts. That was the end of the Progressive Biennium.


The moderates alternated power with O´Donnell´s Liberal Union. With the moderates in power, conservatism went back and so did all the laws passed during the Moderate Decade. Spain tried to recover prestige in some adventures abroad: Indochina, Mexico and Morocco. But in the 60s decade a triple crisis increased protests. The government answered using violence and the Queen and the moderates became increasingly unpopular. In 1866 the opposition parties (progressive and democrats) signed an agreement in Belgium, the Pact of Ostend, to overthrow the monarchy, establish a provisional government and call elections to Constituent Cortes. When General O’ Donnell died, the Liberal Union also joined the conspiracy. In September 1868, the revolution against the monarchy started in Cádiz. Some military men issued a manifesto, rose up against the government, defeated the royal troops in the Battle of Alcolea and boards appeared in many cities giving support to the revolt. Queen Isabella II exiled in France and that was the beginning of the so-called Democratic Sexenio (1868-1874).

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