Mr. Hale to Mr. Seward

No. 62.]

Sir: I send you to-day the Gaceta de Madrid of the date of the 22d of the present month, which is the recognized official paper of the Spanish government, for the purpose of giving you in full the proceedings of the government in a most grave and important matter. You will see by this that by a stroke of the pen every municipal corporation in Spain is dissolved. This is done not by law, but by a royal decree, which it is declared shall govern with the force of law; not until it has been submitted to the Cortes, but until it shall have obtained the consent of the Cortes. This measure is the more significant for the reasons which the proposer of it, Luis Gonzalez Bravo, the minister of the interior, assigns as rendering it nesessary, to wit., that these manicipalites were generally in the hands and under the control of parties in opposition to the government.

This measure, coupled with the repeal of all constitutional guarantees, which was effected by the Cortes just after the rebellion of last June was suppressed, leaves Spain, at the present moment, governed by as simple and unmixed a despotism as can well be conceived of—a despotism against which there is no organized opposition, and which is supported by a standing army of about one hundred thousand men.

With much respect, I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

Administration of government—Exposition to her Majesty.


Lady: When, on the 30th of July last past, by order of your Majesty, and in accord with the council of ministers, I discharged the difficult office of fixing the nature and the extension of the policy which, in what regarded the domestic affairs of the monarchy, the present administration thought of developing, I succeeded in defining with the exactness and clearness that was possible, as well the weighty reasons on which such policy is founded, as also [Page 581] the grave importance of its first conditions and of its most urgent necessities. At that time it was the purpose only to indicate the opinions of the administration to which your Majesty had vouchsafed your confidence. No one, upon reading the royal order to which I have referred, doubted the intentions of the government; sincere men appreciated, as was right, the energetic attitude of the responsible councillors of the Crown, and their firm resolution to repel with the strongest efforts the attacks of the revolution. We continue in the same attitude; and in consequence of the vigorous will originating therefrom, I have the honor to submit, for the approval of your Majesty, two determinations of great weight, not only because of the matter which constitutes the affair, but also because of the manner in which it is proposed to adopt them.

The ministers of your Majesty came into power, no one is ignorant of it, on an occasion the most critical and dangerous. The responsibility they accepted therewith is proportionate to the difficulties they are obliged to overcome. The enemy they resist breaks all restraints, and only halts in the presence of greater power. It would be a sad thing if the government should believe at any moment that it would be necessary to fortify itself in the exercise of its prerogative by exceeding the limitations of the law, that it should be deterred by a fear of which those who, without truce or weariness, are combatting against it, do not even give any signs in their terrible projects. The minister who subscribes hereto, in concert with the council of which he forms part, does not hesitate to ask your Majesty to deign to establish by decree a reformation of the laws on the organization and attributes of the municipalities and for the government and administration of the provinces.

It may not, perhaps, weary the attention of your Majesty to recall to your memory the state in which the nation was when the municipal corporations now existing were formed on their true bases; that it was but short interval of time until the epoch at which discussion closed and the law of the 25th September, 1863, was sanctioned and went into effect. It is necessary, however, to say something on this point, although in a very few words.

Through the effect of political vicissitudes, and of the movements and modifications of opinions and of parties which for some years past have been taking place, the spirit of legitimate conservatism and of enlightened opposition which constitute the natural patrimony of every government, whatever may be the opinions of the politicians that compose it, had considerably diminished, and with great alteration, as well in the relations which constitute unity and harmony among the higher authorities of the nation, as among those who regulate the administrative functions of the various agents of the government, and establish the discipline in virtue of which these owe to the superior authority faithful aid and absolute obedience. Through this cause the municipal administrations had fallen generally into the power of the persons who, in place of scrupulously doing their duty and maintaining those relations in their purity, in accordance with the spirit and letter of the law in force, availed themselves of the advantages which the representation of the people in municipalities holds out to arrive at ends touching political actions alone, and contrary, therefore, to the purposes of all well-regulated government. Let there be added to this the influence, which I need not characterize, of the deplorable confusion which has been reached in what concerns the controversies of public life, in midst of the discords which are destroying the composition of old parties, and by the effect of the new denominations to which these discords have necessarily given birth. Under favor of such shocks of ideas and of passions and of this evident decomposition, revolutionary tendencies, slowly and cautiously at first, openly afterwards, and with singular haughtiness, came to constitute an imposing organism, and each time made greater and more dangerous demonstrations of their daring pretensions. The revolution, which, by alleging imaginary offences, made a pretence for withdrawing from the pacific field of parliamentary elections, in which it would have been beaten, in spite of all, in consequence of the want of purpose which many of its secretaries, apparently with good reason, imputed to it, displayed its ability and energy in getting possession of the municipalities and provincial corporations. I do not believe it necessary to remind your Majesty of the unity of the impulse and endeavor with which the revolutionary bands entered into the contest in order to appropriate to themselves those influential springs of the general administration, almost at the same time when they proclaimed from the offices of their committees, with the slightest reserve and in the midst of the murmur of banquets, war without quarter on the fundamental institutions of the country, and against the dynasty of your Majesty, by which they are personified. In the strifes to which this movement, electoral and agitating at the same time, gave origin, it must be confessed concert and audacity were displayed on the part of revolution, while on the part of authority there was scarcely perceived any but a few feeble efforts of ill-regulated, timid, and inefficient resistance. It could not be otherwise; the conservative classes of society, and the parties which usually give their support to government, were at variance among themselves, weakened by distrust and doubt, overcome by fearful examples of rebellion, such as never had been seen in Spain, overwhelmed by the unexpected demonstration of Loja, and the bold and significative publications of the elysian fields. That followed which might be expected. Revolution obtained possession of many important municipalities, and triumphed in the deputations from almost all the provinces. With such elements it had ready all that it was possible to desire; the organization of its executive in supreme committees supplied with advantage its absence from the Cortes; its predominance in the municipalities, in the deputations and provincial councils, formed the network for its local agents; [Page 582] the prerogative of choosing officers of 6,000 reals of salary and under, and that of proposing for others greater remuneration than the new law conceded to the deputies from a province, facilitated the means for filling up the ranks of its subalterns. There existed then a state, moved by the genius of insurrection within the legitimate state, which in vain relied upon and endeavored to sustain subordination to lawful authorities. If the purpose is looked at, the combination could not be more fruitful nor more able; what has originated therefrom, and others which have contemporaneously been established, your Majesty knows; unhappily no one is ignorant of it, and many are still bitterly grieving over it in the bosoms of their inconsolable families. The strength of the government being dislocated in what concerns civil order and in policy, symptoms of such weakness soon showed themselves even in the sacred retreats of the administration of justice. It then began to develop itself with frightful rapidity in a real disorganization of the state. The government, notwithstanding its most patriotic purposes, had gone on losing the high control of the moral influences, that of material forces and of arms, and finally there came a time when this ancient and powerful monarchy was saved, not so much through the noble and brave efforts of those who hazarded themselves in her defence as good men, as through God’s providence, which in infinite mercy took compassion on us and blinded the understanding of the revolutionists. To break up the remnants of all these combinations, which still subsist in not a few of the municipalities, deputations, and provincial councils, are addressed, without any disguise of their purpose, the two grave measures which, after long and mature deliberation with the rest of the ministers, and sanctioned by their accord, as I have already said, I propose to your Majesty, well knowing and facing without fear the weight of responsibilities which they lay upon me, and from which the whole ministry rely upon being freed in the judgment of all impartial and judicious persons, and almost of the whole nation, to whose highest advantage they dedicate themselves.

Yes, lady, it is necessary that the existing municipalities, elected during a period of moral and political perturbation, appointed under the influence of fears which each day are passing away, should be entirely dissolved, and be replaced by municipalities which, obeying the inspirations of cooler and purer thoughts, may limit themselves by the purposes of the law which may regulate their organization and define their attributes. It is needful that the instruments of municipal administration be not chosen for the value of their revolutionary character, but for their habits of order, for their worth, and the disposition they evince for the discharge of the simple duties that may be confided to them. Men of peaceful habits grieve and keep aloof from any co-operation in public matters when they see, in not a few settlements, that the agents of the municipality have been favored only in regard to the military services they may have rendered at some barricade, or in promoting some outbreak; nor does the present temper of public opinion admit that there should be, for any longer time, individuals in the councils many of whom have, by their errors and deplorable illusions, abused their influence and the initiative which the law conceded to them for other purposes, by favoring more or less directly revolutionary conspiracies.

But inasmuch as the total renovation of the municipalities cannot be realized without modification of the existing law, which, although founded on sound principles, needs, nevertheless, to be corrected in some of its provisions, the government, which must in every respect meet its responsibility before the Cortes, for such cause deems it advantageous to make at this time the amendments which, in its judgment, are on this head recognized as proper by persons of the highest scientific authority in the matter.

It is also indispensable to the ends of our governmental plan, not only that the provincia deputations should be completely renewed, but also that, in the future, their action should henceforth be circumscribed within the limitations that never should have been passed; and; that whilst the purposes and aspirations of certain proclivities are unchanged, and the attitude of the times is not improved, it will be necessary to maintain and strengthen them at anycost. Your Majesty will see in what manner the subscribing minister, in concert with his colleagues, understands these limitations. Many of them will, without any doubt, meet the approval of no small number, even among those whom we consider our adversaries. Others have for foundation, as I have already shown, the strong urgency which is felt through all classes of society for re-establishing with vigor the essential elements of authority. Some, in fine, limit themselves to restoring the systematic fitness of different points of law, which have not been properly adjusted, and which, therefore, seem foreign to the enacting principles of its fundamental articles, and the primordial purposes which the legislator ought to propose to himself, and, in fact, intended.

We have unfortunately reached a time when there is no political question which should be considered as of light consequence. This, whose solution I have to-day the honor to submit to the high judgment of your Majesty, would, on any occasion, be of great weight and consequence. At the present moment it takes the breadth and gravity of the risk which has occurred, and is concealed from no one, and which it is necessary to be set aside by the manly decision of our country. The present ministers of your Majesty believe, with stronger reasons than those which could have swayed many of their predecessors, that to attain not merely the confirmation and permanence of these institutions, but their salvation, and that of the conntry itself, and to shut off at once the series of rash hopes, it is in every respect necessary that the government should act exclusively as the representative, which it [Page 583] is, of the general interests of the nation, and should rise superior to the narrow views and exhausted preoccupations of the diverse partialities which are in antagonism in the field of politics.

Applying this great maxim, which has served as a polar star from epochs the most remote to all governments and to all nations when they have had to conquer the greatest difficulties and to control great misfortunes, the subscribing minister most respectfully proposes to the approval of your Majesty the following decree.

Madrid, October 21, 1866.

Lady A. L. R. P. de V. M.




In conformity with what has been submitted to me by the minister of government in concert with the council of ministers, I have decreed as follows:

The laws on the organization and attributions of ayuntamientos, and on the government and administration of the provinces, are abrogated, according to the terms which are expressed in the adjoining projects of law, which shall rule as laws of the kingdom until the approbation of the Cortes be obtained to those which will be presented to the next legislature.

Under the royal rubric.
The minister of government,