The Portuguese First Republic lasted for less than 16 years before it was replaced by a military dictatorship on May 28, 1926. These 16 years were characterised by political upheaval, by roaring inflation, assassinations and banishments.
As we celebrated the national holiday on October 5, I asked myself again: if the First Republic lasted for only 16 years, was it a failure? What are the achievements of the Implantation of the Republic which we should remember on October 5?
The Republican Party in Portugal (PRP) had been founded in 1876 with its base in the ideals of the French Revolution of 1789 – liberty, equality and fraternity. The Ultimatum Crisis of 1890 saw its support increase and it provided support for the Revolt of January 31, 1891 in Porto.
The PRP was in a small minority until 1908, but in both Lisbon and Porto public support for the party grew to over 60% of voters by 1910, while votes in the rest of Portugal were controlled by “caciques” (party bosses) opposed to republicanism.
Republicans objected to the expense of maintaining the monarchy which they characterised as old-fashioned, oppressive, incompetent and shameless, while republicanism stood for patriotism and “government by the people and for the people”.
In particular, PRP objected to the humiliation of Portugal by British colonial interests in Southern Africa, which the King was unable to prevent.
The republican movement was strongly anticlerical and opposed the alliance between church and constitutional monarch. Their liberal republican regime could prosper only if church and state were separated, and a civil registry established.
The regicide of February 1, 1908 was a major turning point in the history of Portugal. There was, particularly in Lisbon, an increasing disgust at the rotation of power between the two major political parties, with the King as referee in the middle.
D Carlos agreed with João Franco to suspend Parliament, an action which united political opposition, whose anger was now directed at the King himself.
After the assassination of the King and his elder son, the crown devolved on the young D Manuel II.
In the unstable 18 months of his short reign, there were seven different governments, and the inexperienced D Manuel was unable to control the slide towards the foundation of the Republic and his exile.
Although PRP had only 14 out of 153 deputies in Parliament in 1910, in the very first election in 1911 after the overthrow of the monarchy, the party won 229 seats out of 234. We must infer that, overnight, the new regime had become immensely popular.
In power for less than 11 months, the Provisional Government´s first measures were conciliatory, announcing an amnesty to all who had supported the King during the revolution.
The core objective of the new regime was the separation of church and state. Led by the energetic Afonso Costa as Minister of Justice, only three days after the proclamation of the Republic, the new government restated the laws introduced by the Marquês de Pombal expelling the Jesuits in 1759, and those of Joaquim António de Aguiar closing the religious houses in 1834.
The convents were forced to close, and all religious property was assigned to the state. Monks, nuns and friars were forced into exile, and even the professorial chairs in Canon Law were abolished, as was the need to take a religious oath on matriculation at the university.
Religious holidays were suppressed, only Sunday remaining as a day of rest. The armed forces were prohibited from participating in religious festivities. Priests were forbidden to wear their vestments outside their churches. Religious education in schools was ended, all religious oaths were banned, and the state became responsible for all civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths.
The Law of Separation of State and Church was promulgated on April 20, 1911, and was welcomed by the intellectuals and by the working classes. Costa’s aim was to eradicate the Catholic Church and its influence in Portugal within three generations.
Portuguese bishops published a pastoral letter defending the church and its doctrine, but the government prohibited its circulation. The Bishop of Porto disobeyed, and Afonso Costa summoned him to Lisbon and sacked him.
Marriage was declared a civil contract; wedding ceremonies had to be celebrated in a civil registry; the rights of men and women in marriage were made equal; and divorce became legal for the first time. Legal protection was instituted for infants, illegitimate children and the aged. Aristocratic titles were abolished, the press was freed from censorship, and the right to strike was established.
The Republic introduced a new national flag, a new national anthem, a new currency (the escudo), the monarchical municipal guards were replaced by the GNR. They even reformed the orthography of the Portuguese language.
Was the First Republic successful in its aims, and should we remember the Implantation every year? In spite of the dictatorship of the Estado Novo, Portugal is still a democratic Republic, with its new flag and national anthem; the civil nature of its constitution has not changed; and the separation of church and state has persisted. In spite of its short and turbulent life, the politicians of the First Republic radically changed the course of Portuguese history, and it is right that 110 years later we still celebrate the reforms which they introduced.
By Lynne Booker
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Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association. [email protected] www.algarvehistoryassociation.com” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>target=”_blank”>[email protected]www.algarvehistoryassociation.com