The Restoration Period in Spain: A Political Analysis

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After the failure of the six democratic years, Cánovas del Castillo, the Prime Minister, led the Restoration process. He proposed Alfonso XII, son of Isabel II, as king of Spain and after the pronunciamiento of Sagunto by Martínez Campos in 1874, he became king and accepted to be a constitutional monarch. Moreover, Cánovas became regent and established a new system, the Canovite System.

Canovas convoked elections, under the democratic suffrage of the 1869 constitution, to Cortes in order to legalise and define a new monarchy. One of the first measures of the new government was the suppression of the left wing parties and labour movement, only those who accepted the principles of the constitutional monarchy had the right to free activity.

The 1876 Constitution:

Canovas himself drafted a new constitution (he left the presidency for 2 months and came back for elections), based on the conservative constitution of 1845 and some aspects of the 1869 constitution:

-Legislative power was shared between the king and Cortes, sovereignty resided with the king, giving him the right of veto.

-The Parliament was bicameral

-Catholicism was again the religion of the state, however it was allowed the practice of other religions in private.

Bipartidism and “Turno Pacifico”:

Canovas wanted to agroup the country’s social elites in order to dissolve the pronunciamientos. He created his Liberal Conservative Party (1875) and organised the system known as “Turno Pacifico”, in which the King  was the arbiter and his role was to appoint liberal conservatives (Cánovas) and progressives (Sagasta) alternatively in the government. 

This political system was possible thanks to “caciquismo”. Civil governors, under the instruction of the Minister, would enter negotiations with the local caciques to make sure the candidate was elected. If this didn’t function they would do “pucherazo”, this means that they would buy votes to win the elections.

The system was a success, conservatives and progressives shifted turns regularly until the end of the century. 

Conservatives (Cánovas) approved the constitution, limited suffrage and imposed rigid control on liberty press. They also centralised local and provincial administration in order to benefit the elites. Moreover, they ended the Cuban and the Third Carlist wars, abolishing the Basque Fueros and establishing “Kontzertua ekonomikoak”. 

Progressives (Sagasta) tried to undid repressive measures and brought back the reforms of the previously democratic sexenium. They also expanded freedom of press and introduced universal male suffrage (1890), however, this system was working thanks to “caciquismo”


Carlisms went into a serious decline after its defeat in 1876, the succes with the new system and the attraction of the catholics. As a result, they developed personal divisions and had problems in the party, thus they organised a faction of Integristas. 

Republicans never represented a threat to the parties of “turno pacifico”, as they were divided into small parties. However, after the crisis of Restoration influence under Lerraux and Ibañez it became an organisation.

There were also worker movements, such as syndicalism (UGT), socialists (Pablo Iglesias), anarchists, federalists (Pi y Margall), communists and Basque (Sabino Arana) and Catalan (Combo) nationalists.

In 1895 with the independence movement in Cuba and the Philippines which concluded with the Spanish-American war and the loss of the colonies in 1898, Spain started to lose power while the rest of Europe was gaining more and more. This Led to the creation of the Generation of 1898, a literary and subjective movement; and Regenerationism, an objective and scientific one with Joaquin Costa at the head, which gave different solutions to solve Spain’s economic problems. This disaster led to an economic crisis that increased the amount of demonstrations and the power of the opposition from Republicans, Carlists, the labour movements, the regionalist movement and the Army. After the deaths of Cánovas (1897) and Sagasta (1903) neither party was able to perform the regime. The parties became increasingly fragmented. This led to the breakdown of the turno by 1913.

Nevertheless, the question of Morocco added another challenge to the system. Morocco came to an alternative way of imperial grandeur, because of its resources. Spain achieved Morocco and became a protectorate, but the control of the area was a big problem. This question of Morocco was the cause of two crises: 1909 Tragic Week, a whole week of clashes in Barcelona due to conflicts in the army with the reservists; and the Disaster of Annual in 1921.

Moreover, the growing polarization of Spanish society, the impact of the 1st World War, some economic and social changes as well the overproduction crisis were reflected in the crisis of 1917. There were three simultaneous challenges threatening the government: a military movement (Defense juntas) the sole successful, a political movement (parliamentary assembly) and a social movement (general strike). The political system found its end somewhere between 1923/1931. The instability of the last period and the ideology spread by Joaquin Costa led to the coup d’etat of Primo de Rivera which imposed a dictatorship backed by Alfonso XIII. Even so, the bad decision of Primo de Rivera finished with his resignation in 1930. Finally after another attempt of dictatorship made by Dámaso Berenguer elections were held; republicans and socialists parties were the winners. The king left the country and the Second republic was established.

This text is a passage from the book “Oligarquia y Caciquismo”, which was written by Joaquin Costa in 1901. Even if it is a primary source, it could be considered also secondary as he gives his views and opinion, by means of analysing the political system in Spain at that time. Regenerationism is the name given to a movement for the reform of spain’s polity that developed in the 1898, which is reflected in the period when this book was written. The book was published in 1902, during the Restoration period, when “turno pacifico” was going on. Also, it was 4 years after the Disaster, when Spain lost its last colonies.

Analysing the content, we find that the text is a clear analysis of the current political system in Spain. First, he lists the elements that constitute the system: the oligarchs (members of the nobility that held power), caciques (local political bosses that used their influence in order to change citizens’ will and this way manipulate the elections) and civil governor (the medium and instrument of communication). Then, he evaluates the leading class as “a foreign faction that had occupied by force Ministries, captaincies, the telegraph, railways, bulwarks and fortresses in order to impose taxes and collect them”. Finally, he denounces the corruption of the electoral system: he describes the manipulation in the elections, declaring that the ones that falsified the voting were the ones that had power and authority, and that they did it by means of abusing the power that they had been granted.

The Liberal Conservative Party was set up by Canovas in 1875, and was one of the two that took part in the “turno pacifico”. As its own name points out, it was the conservative one between the two of them. The Liberal Fusionist Party was set up by Sagasta in 1880 and was the other one that took part in the “turno pacifico”. As it own name specifies, it was the progressive one between the two of them.

In this text, Costa described the bipartidism and the “turno pacifico” system and how it really worked. After the unrest of the Democratic Sexenium, the conservatives came to power, with Canovas at head. Canovas wanted to create a new system in which the military would no be involved in politics, and in which different political parties could take part in government without resorting to uprisings, revolts and revolutions. Therefore, Canovas promoted the unification with the Liberal Fusionist party led by the progressive Sagasta, signing the Prado Pact (1885), that established a system called “turno pacifico” in which both parties would be appointed alternatively, managed by Maria Cristina, the regent since Alfonso XIII was not still of age.

This system went on working smoothly as the rural caciques managed to ensure that the prepared results were delivered. So, the Restoration system between 1875 and 1898 was a period of political stability and economic growth. However, in 1898 Spain lost it last colonies “the disaster”. This brought about regenerationism. The movement first came to prominence through a series of writers who criticised Canovas’ restoration. They lamented Spain’s economic and moral decline, and banned the corrupt political institutions, in particular the oligarchic and caciquism system of government. Costa, the author of the text, created a political party that called the “National Union”, but it was a failure: he understood that Spain needed a charismatic leader with unlimited powers for a brief period before returning the country to parliamentary rule.

Despite all this, and even though there were two important political deep crises in 1909 and 1917, the 1876 constitution and the turno system went on until 1923. The death of the Restoration was provided by the tensions unleashed during and after the First World War. Besides, Spain suffered the question on Morocco in which it lost territories and which had great influence in Spanish political life, as it was the cause of the two major crises mentioned before that lead to the instauration of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship.

Therefore, we can say that this one of the most interesting sources of the period as it describes the corrupted political system that Spain had at that time. However, Costa did not only criticise the failures of the restoration, he tried to find out solutions in order to make Spain more developed.

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