The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/Plea for a Republic in Spain
PLEA FOR A REPUBLIC IN SPAIN
Born in 1832, died in 1899; after the uprising of 1866, fled from Spain; became a Republican leader in 1868; Foreign Minister in 1873; later in the same year President of the Executive.
Before replying to Minister Sagasta's speech, I desire to say that my public life forbids me to defend myself against personal attacks such as the gentleman seems to delight in. The minister of government was extremely kind in speaking of my address as brilliant, but extremely severe when he declared it to be wanting in truth. Neither criticism was just. Gentlemen, I should not have to defend my own speeches if they had the splendor and beauty attributed to them by Mr. Sagasta. I should be content to let them shine, confident, with the most eloquent and greatest of ancient philosophers that "Beauty is the splendor of truth."
After all, if there be any grand quality in this Assembly it is eloquence—the expression of grand sentiments and sublime ideas in fervent language. I have heard such speeches come from every side of the Assembly and I should like to hear one, in the language of moderation, from the government. Discussions carried on in that manner, with eloquence and good judgment, give us hope for the future; for the laws of history do not permit a dictatorship to fasten itself upon a people whose faces are lighted by the fires of eloquence.
Mr. Sagasta defended the dictatorship, and in doing so he drew an awful picture of our social condition, talking of crimes and criminals, and telling you that our education in the past had been very bad, and that the corruption of to-day was very great. And what have the republicans to learn from that? For three centuries, yes, more than three centuries, our Church has been an enemy to the human conscience.
For many centuries it has been inimical to the national will. Consequently, if there is anything very bad or vicious here to-day, it is owing to institutions with which we have nothing to do. And more, this evil, this viciousness, owe their existence to a lack of respect among the people for law. This lack of respect for law is born of the systematic abuse of power by our arbitrary government. Judges nominated by a party and appointed to revise the electoral lists; schools, so-called, for filling convents and military barracks; the jury outlawed; public life closed to the democracy; political corruption extending from above down in all directions—this is the product, and these are the products, of a sore and wounded people painted by Mr. Sagasta, people who are the natural offspring of a long heredity of crime and error. It is impossible to cure the people if the system be not changed.
Well, deputies, what form of government has come to Spain since the September revolution? The republican form has come and is still here. It so happens that you have not been able yet to implant monarchical institutions in its place. After being fifteen days in power you declared yourselves for the monarchy. Did the monarchy come? After the elections you declared yourselves monarchists and us outlaws. Did you create the monarchy in the primaries? When the Assembly convened, the monarchy was proposed. There we had great battles. Has the monarchy been established? The Conservatives, altho they have not said so, have, I believe, agreed upon a candidate; the Radicals, more loquacious, have named theirs; but have you, separated or united, produced a monarchy?
The Conservatives have a candidate who really represents the latest privilege granted to the middle classes. Why is it that they do not bring him here? Because they know that this is a democratic monarchy, based, as it is nominally, on universal suffrage, and because the candidate has not had, and never will have, the votes, the indorsement, the backing of the people. And you? You want a monarchy to keep up appearances; a monarchy in order that Europe may say: "See how prudent, how God-fearing, how wise, how intelligent are the Spaniards: they have a disguised republic!"
After a provisional government and a provisional regency you want a provisional monarchy also. You do not expect or want to be strong in the right, in liberty, in the will of the people or in national sovereignty. All you want is a king who shall represent the predominance and the egotism of a party. You ought to know that as the candidate of the Conservatives can not come here without the consent of the people, your candidate can not come without the consent of the Conservatives. Do you believe that your candidate will last if all the Conservative forces do not support him? Notwithstanding all that the Conservatives have declared to their representatives here, not one of them has said that he renounces his dynastic faith. Therefore, deputies, you can not establish the monarchy.
On Saturday, I pictured to you, in colors more or less vivid, the prestige which monarchical institutions have enjoyed in our country, and for this the minister of state upbraided me without understanding my arguments. I ask you to concentrate your attention for a moment upon the parallel which I am going to present and which may be called a summary of this speech. I said the other afternoon that to establish monarchical institutions it was necessary to possess monarchical faith and sentiment. One must have the poetry and the traditions of monarchy. I said this because I know that, altho the Assembly, and the official authorities can make laws, they can not decree ideas or sentiments, those real and solid foundations of institutions. Formerly, in other times, kings were representative of the national dignity, and now from those same benches we have heard that they sold their native soil to a foreigner and even prostrated themselves at his feet, the people in the meantime answering the enemy With the 2d of May and the siege of Saragossa.
Formerly art sketched the apotheosis of Charles V. with Titian's brush, or the ladies-in-waiting of Philip VI. with the brush of Velasquez. Now it sketches the image of the communists of Paris, of the victims of Charles V., or the ship in which the Puritans took the soul of a republic to the bosom of virgin America. Formerly, the gala days of the people were the birthdays of kings and the anniversaries of the beginning of their reigns. Now, the great days of celebration are the 10th of August, the 30th of July, the 24th of February, and the 29th of September—days which mark the expulsion of kings. Formerly, when a navigator landed in America, or an explorer went into the interior of a new country, the purest piece of gold, the largest pearl, the clearest diamond was reserved for the king. Now, your minister of the treasury claims from the king even the clasp which holds the royal mantle about his shoulders.
As there is no possibility of establishing the monarchy, as no candidate acceptable to all can be found, it is necessary, it is indispensable to get rid of the suspense, and I say that we should establish a republic. Have you not said that the forms of government are accidental? Gentlemen, you know the republic I want. It is a federal republic. I shall defend the federal republic. I am a federal, but, deputies, understand one thing: the republic is a form of government which admits many conditions, and which has many grades. From the Republic of Venice to that of Switzerland there is an immense scale. Adjoining Mexico, where Church and States are separated, there is Guatemala, where the clergy have great power. Close to the decentralized and federal Argentine Republic is the Chilian Republic, another decentralized country enjoying great prosperity, its paper money being quoted in all the markets of Europe as high as that of England.
Consequently, amid this great affliction, this trouble, this unstable equilibrium, which surrounds you, you can establish a form of government which is of the people and for the people, a form in harmony with the institutions you have proclaimed, and with the sentiment which all of you guard in the bottom of your hearts.
Have you not observed in history the inability of an assembly or any other power to establish a form of government in conflict with great ideas? Remember the eighteenth century. Never had a monarchy attained more power, never was absolutism so strong, never was the destruction of obstacles in the way of kings more complete. Philosophy ascended the throne with them, ascended with Charles III. and Aranda and Tombal. It ascended with Joseph I., with Frederick the Great, with Leopold of Tuscany. All seemed to conspire to establish the same idea, the idea of a philosophy and a liberalism. And did they succeed? No, they were the Baptists of the Revolution. They repented late, and the philosophy they had thrown at the feet of the thrones came to naught.
And what happened? Some were sentenced by the Assembly. The crowns of divine right were melted into cannon balls by the soldiers of the Revolution. What does this signify? That great powers can not place absolutism above philosophy any more than you can build monarchical institutions on individual rights. Therefore, I beseech you to establish the republic. You are assured of our patriotism, our great interest in the country, our abnegation. Cato committed suicide because he found a Caesar. Radicals of Spain, do not commit suicide because you can not find a monarch.
- From a speech delivered in the Spanish Cortes, December 18, 1869, when Castelar was one of the few Republicans who had been returned to that body. A contemporary translation revised for this collection.