The Tumultuous First Spanish Republic (1873-1875)

This coalition was weak, and the liberals soon divided into two factions. The more moderate group, loyal to the partnership, followed Sagasta. The more doctrinal faction, led by Ruiz Zorrilla, formed the Radical Party and joined forces with the Democrats Cimbri.

Given the government’s legislative failures, Sagasta called for new elections to try and secure a majority. The result favored the Sagastinos. However, a scandal involving the misappropriation of government property forced Sagasta to resign in May 1872. After a short-lived government led by Serrano, Amadeo placed his trust in Ruiz Zorrilla, the leader of the Radicals. New elections resulted in a landslide victory for the Radicals. However, the comfortable majority did not translate into a stable and effective government due to two growing problems that plagued the country: the war in Cuba and the Second Carlist War.

The colonial conflict stemmed from the Spanish Revolution of 1868 and was a consequence of the negligence and lack of attention that Liberal governments had shown towards Cuba. The Long War, as it was called, began with the Cry of Yara on October 10, 1868, and ended ten years later with the Peace of Zanjón. This peace was merely a truce, as the root causes of the dispute remained unresolved.

The dynastic conflict began with the Carlist pretender, Charles VII, who sought to claim the throne. Don Carlos instigated a series of uprisings in the northern regions. However, the government defeated the Carlists at Orquieta, forcing their surrender with the signing of the Convention of Amorebieta.

The instability caused by these conflicts, while detrimental to the regime, was not the immediate trigger for its downfall. The catalyst was the confrontation between the monarch and the government over the appointment of Hidalgo de Quintana as Captain General of Catalonia. Hidalgo had participated in the rebellion at the barracks of St. Giles in Madrid in 1866. His appointment sparked rejection within the army, leading to a challenge against the government. Ruiz Zorrilla was determined to punish the military and presented a decree to Amadeo for his approval. The king faced a difficult choice: signing the decree would alienate the military, while rejecting it would alienate the few politicians who remained loyal. Amadeo chose to sign the decree and abdicated on February 11.

The First Spanish Republic (1873-1875)

Following Amadeo I’s abdication, an assembly was formed to vote on amending the Constitution and legalizing a republican form of government. The proclamation of the First Republic resulted from an opportunistic alliance between Republicans and Radicals, who were swayed by Figueras‘ argument that a republican solution was the only way to save the country.

Figueras was appointed President of the Council, which included three Republicans (Pi y Maragall, Salmerón, and Castelar) and five Radicals.

Republican leaders faced opposition from two sides: the Radicals, who desired a unitary republic rather than a federal one, and the extreme Federalists, who advocated for a Federal Republic. This confrontation led to the replacement of the Radical-Republican coalition with a ministry composed solely of Republicans, forcing new elections. The elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for the Federalists, who appointed Pi y Maragall as President of the Council.

Pi y Margall‘s appointment as Prime Minister, intended to control the Federalists’ excesses, instead gave free rein to those who sought to push their doctrines to more radical extremes. These excesses led to the phenomenon of the cantons. Anti-centralist riots spread from Andalusia to the Levant, leading to the proclamation of independent cantons and the removal of authorities loyal to the central government. The situation escalated with the outbreak of an insurrection in Cartagena. The proclamation of the Canton of Cartagena was bolstered by the crews of the warships Almansa and Vitoria, and the Iberia regiment.

To address the crisis, Pi y Margall presented a draft Constitution to the Assembly. This Constitution proposed a federal republic comprising various states, including Cuba and Puerto Rico alongside peninsular regions. The bill failed to pass, leading to Pi y Margall‘s resignation.

With the support of the royalists, Nicolás Salmerón was elected president. He quickly implemented forceful measures to quell the Cantonal Revolution. However, Salmerón‘s use of military force drew criticism from the Left in Parliament, forcing his resignation.

The Cortes entrusted the presidency to Emilio Castelar, who favored the monarchy and sought reconciliation with the Holy See. This marked a significant shift to the right for the Republic. Castelar‘s conservative approach provoked opposition from the left, leading to the government’s defeat in Parliament twice and raising the possibility of restoring the federal system. Faced with this threat, Manuel Pavia, the Captain General of Madrid, stormed Parliament on January 3, effectively ending the Constituent Assembly of the First Spanish Republic.