Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

Spain and Her Colonies

Although the present King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, is the great-great-grandson of Charles IV, Don Carlos V, the "pretender," is also a great-grandson of that monarch, and has probably a more strictly legitimate claim to the throne than its occupant. Yet again, the mother of Alfonso XIII, the Queen-Regent Christina, although frequently alluded to by some of her subjects as "that Hapsburg woman," can claim an unbroken line of descent from Isabella and Ferdinand, through Ferdinand I, second son of "Juana Loca" and, Philip of Burgundy. Thus the ancestry of his maternal parent may be said to legitimize this titular King of Spain, while his posthumous birth "has excited a feeling of pitying loyalty which may help to secure the Bourbon dynasty in the last kingdom which is left to it."

Spain, under the regency, has been governed by a constitutional monarchy, which was proclaimed in 1876. By its Constitution, the king is inviolable; he is the executive, and the power to make laws is vested in him and the Cortes, which comprises a senate and a congress, coequal in authority. The senators are of three classes: First, those by their own right, as grandees of the kingdom, privileged through their titles and possessions; in the second place, those nominated by the Crown; in the third, those elected by the communal and provincial states, the church, universities, etc. Congress is composed of deputies, at the rate of one to every fifty thousand in the population; though since 1878 Cuba has been entitled to one in every forty thousand of free inhabitants paying taxes to the amount of twenty-five dollars annually.

The whole country is, or should be, represented in the legislative power, and by the Constitution mutual checks are placed upon both king and Cortes; for while the former issues his decrees; yet they must be counter-signed by one of his ministers, and he can not marry without their approval. Further details of government are divided amongst the ministers—of war, marine, agriculture, commerce, public works, justice, finance, colonies, foreign affairs, and a president of the council.

Thus, while the king might be morally responsible for an unpopular law, yet he could not be held accountable through his inviolability, and the odium of it would fall upon the ministers of his appointing, who might placate popular resentment by resigning. This explanation will account for the frequent changes in the ministry, not only during the reign of Alfonso XII, but under the regency. After the death of Alfonso XII, and after the queen regent had taken the oath of allegiance to the Constitution, a ministry was formed under the leadership of the great Liberal, Senor Sagasta, to whom the Conservative Canovas promised his support, as well as the Republican Castelar. Beneath the shadow of their great calamity, all parties nobly rallied to the support of the queen with a loyalty which was, if anything, intensified; by the birth of the infant Alfonso XIII, on May 17, 1886. But in September of that year a revolt broke out under General Villafranca, in which ten thousand men were more or less implicated, and which was suppressed only after great exertions on the part of the loyal troops. The premier, Sagasta, had pledged himself to reforms of many kinds, but he had the greatest difficulty in redeeming them without the support of the Government officials, who were as corrupt as they were numerous; for, since the times when Spain owned vast colonial possessions, there had always been a corrupt official class revelling in the uncounted millions that overflowed from the colonial treasury. Even so late as 1888 it was estimated that nearly three million dollars were embezzled during that year by civil employees, and thus the annual deficit was vastly enhanced.

So, Liberal and Conservative ministries alternated every little while, sometimes Canovas being in power, and again Sagasta. The position of prime minister to the regency was at best a thankless task, and only the highest patriotism could induce one to accept its onerous duties. In r893, for instance, Senor Sagasta was stoned by a mob at San Sebastian; and in 1896, on the 7th of June, that upright and patriotic statesman, Senor A. Canovas del Castillo, was assassinated by an Italian anarchist; at the same time, other anarchists were attempting to excite a revolution by means of bombs and dynamite. The trivial pretexts upon which a ministry might be overthrown are illustrated in an incident of the queen regent's journey from Madrid to Valencia on matters of state. She intrusted her nominal powers to the Infanta. Isabella, as also the military watchword; but the latter concluded that she would take a little journey, and she in turn informed the military governor, General Campos, that the "watchword" would be given him at the proper time by her sister Eulalia. Thereupon General Campos announced that, inasmuch as Eulalia was married to the Duc de Montpensier, who held only the military rank of captain, he, a general, could not, of course, receive the countersign from a subordinate! The Minister of War being appealed to, General Campos resigned, and the affair was not concluded until after the resignation of the entire ministry, and Premier Sagasta had twice surrounded himself with a new body of advisers. It would seem, indeed, that etiquette, not patriotism, was paramount at the court of Spain! Next to etiquette, superstition perhaps holds rank; for quite recently the bones of a thirteenth-century saint were carried through the streets of Madrid, followed by a procession of eight hundred priests, in order that a threatened drought might be averted and the war with Cuba concluded.

At the beginning of the year 1898 Spain's colonial possessions in America comprised Cuba and Puerto Rico, the former with an area of about 45,000 square miles, and a population then estimated at 1,600,000; the latter, about 3,600 miles in area, and with 813,000 inhabitants. In Asia, the Philippine Islands, about 2,000 in number, 114,300 square miles in area, and with a population of about 8,000,000; the Carolines and Palaos, 560 square miles in area, and 36,000 population; the Sulu Islands, 950 square miles, and 75,000 inhabitants; and the Marianne or Ladrone Islands, 420 square miles in area, and with 10,000 population—a total of 164,830 square miles, and 10,521,000 people. In Africa and off its west coast, several small colonies, aggregating 3,650 miles in area, and 461,000 population. A grand total in America, Asia, and Africa of about 168,480 square miles, and 10,982,000 population. Thus, notwithstanding her enormous losses in the past, Spain still held foreign possessions, at the opening of 1898, with an aggregate area nearly seven-eighths that of the mother country, and a population more than half as large.

Three centuries and more ago Spain swayed the world, the possessions pertaining to her great empire being vaster than those to-day controlled by Great Britain. Her losses began near the close of the sixteenth century, under Philip II, when her North African provinces slipped away; under Philip III she lost Naples, Sicily, and Burgundy; early in the seventeenth century she lost the Netherlands; a little later, the rich Spice Islands of the East; in 1640, Portugal; in 1659, the Pyrenean provinces of France; in 1704 Gibraltar fell into British hands, and has been retained by Britain ever since; in 1800 Louisiana was ceded to France, and that vast territory was forever lost when it was sold by Bonaparte to the United States in 1803. The first quarter of the nineteenth century saw the severance from Spain of all her South American colonies, Central America, Mexico, and the Floridas; the year before its close she lost her last remaining islands in the West Indies—Cuba and Puerto Rico; and in Asia, the Philippines and the Sulus.

Rapidly reviewing the barbarous colonial policy of Spain—a policy which has been consistently cruel and rapacious ever since it was inaugurated in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella—the only wonder is that she so long retained such vast and distant possessions, separated from the governing country by broad oceans, and containing peoples so numerous and dissimilar. The first large island discovered by Columbus, which still retains its native name of Cuba, was inhabited by Indians of gentle nature, courteous and kind. They were numerous also, and cultivated the most fertile portions of the island. For nearly twenty years after the discovery Cuba was left in peace; but when the settlements were founded, the barbarities of Haiti and the Bahamas were re-enacted, the Indians were enslaved, and reduced to such a condition of misery that hundreds killed themselves in despair. It was not many years, in truth, before they had entirely disappeared, having been murdered, directly and indirectly, by the despicable Spaniards.

To fill their places, the Spaniards imported negro slaves from Africa, who were treated, like the Indians, with excessive cruelty, but who were more tenacious of life than the unfortunate aborigines, and their descendants constitute a large proportion of the Cuban population at the present time. One of the largest and wealthiest of Spain's islands beyond the sea, Cuba early became a prey to Spanish adventurers and English freebooters. For more than three hundred years, except for a short period in 1762, Cuba has been in the clutches of Spain, her lands cultivated until within a few years by slave labour, her revenues plundered by rapacious officials. Gradually there has grown up a native population, distinct from the "peninsular" Spanish—a population speaking the same language as the immigrants from the home country, yet differing from them, inasmuch as about half the islanders have mulatto or negro blood in their veins, and are looked upon and treated by the "peninsulars" as inferiors.

During more than three hundred and fifty years the natives patiently submitted to oppression and extortion in every form; but the political disquietude in Spain was soon reflected in her colonies, and long after the loss of Mexico, Central and South America to the motherland, Cuba attempted to break the chains that bound her to Spain. There was an uprising of the blacks in 1844, and in 1851 a filibustering raid under General Lopez, a Venezuelan, who was killed in his third invasion of the island, as well as several filibusters from the United States. An offer to purchase the island, shortly after, made to Spain by the President of the United States, met with no favour, as Spanish pride and interests were against it.

The most serious revolt against the Spaniards occurred in 1868, consequent upon the distracted condition of Spain during the revolutionary proceedings which exiled Isabella II. The leader of this revolt, Carlos de Cespedes, was subsequently elected president of a republic which the insurgents finally set up, and for ten years, during which at least seventy-five thousand Spanish soldiers perished in the island, and the natives suffered every conceivable indignity from the "peninsulars," the war was waged, only to be concluded by a deceitful promise of reforms which were never granted. General Martinez Campos, then the Captain-General of Cuba, and authorized representative of Spain, signed the "capitulation" of El Zanjon in 1878, by which the insurgents were induced to surrender, under a pledge that their demands should be acceded to; but Senor Canovas, then Prime Minister of Spain, refused to recognise this treaty, and so all their terrible sacrifices came to naught. It was but natural that the patriots should feel resentful; but they remained quiescent for seventeen years, at the end of which period, in February, 1895, the long-smouldering embers of revolt again burst into flame.

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