Mr. Gushing to Mr. Fish.
Madrid, January 5, 1875. (Received February 8.)
Sir: I hasten to lay before you such appreciations of the present political situation as are suggested by personal observation and information derived from trustworthy sources. I assume that the new govern merit possesses some elements of stability which have not belonged to any other in Spain during the last six years. It has the general sap-port of the army, that army being the most numerous which any Spanish government has had under arms since the epoch of its independence. The officers, from the highest to the lowest, are animated by the conviction that they have more to hope, whether in the sense of their own permanence or of honors, from monarchical than from republican institutions. And the army in Spain, when the officers are united, is more potential than any and all other interests, as the world has seen, both in all the great modifications of administration during the reign of Queen Isabel and in the subsequent changes of dynasty [Page 1085] or government; for, in the whole history of the reign of Isabel, the men who pre-eminently controlled events as responsible statesmen were above all successful generals, Espartero, Narvaez, O’Donnell, Serrano, Prim. Meanwhile all the public authorities throughout Spain (that is, excepting the seat of the rebellion) have either sent in their adhesion to King Alfonso, or have retired passively and unresistingly to give place to appointees of the new government. Add to this that Alfonso has been acclaimed, either by such troops as were in garrison or by the people, or by both combined, in all the cities and large towns; of Spain. These internal occurrences, as it is admitted here on all hands, impart appearance at least of exceptional strength to the new government. There is another important fact in this relation. I have had opportunity, within the last two days, of ascertaining the condition of the common people of the lower wards, (barrios bajos,) that is to say, the operative classes outside of official circles; and I find that although at heart they are indifferent to the change as a question of political principle, and, indeed, many of them adverse, yet they are so thoroughly disgusted with everything which has happened or been done in Spain during the last few years, and especially with the suicidal misconduct of all the leading men, including the republicans, who have figured in affairs since the dethronement of Isabel, that they cheerfully accept the present counter-revolution. Moreover, it is to the epoch of the dethronement of Isabel, and to the men who produced it or succeeded in power, that the people attribute the origin of the superlative calamities under which Spain is now overwhelmed namely, the insurrection in Cuba and the civil war in the Basque provinces and Navarre. And I learn from the consuls of the United States, as well as otherwise, that the same sentiment of acquiescence in the present change, induced by mere disgust for what has gone before, operates in the provincial cities of Spain, notwithstanding that some of them are in conviction republican. The change of government, it is true, has been brought about by military pronunciamento; but it is not competent for any party in Spain to find fault with others in that respect. All parties, one after the other, have had recourse to conspiracy, violence, and usurpation in order to attain their personal or party ends. It was by military violence that Prim, Serrano, and Topete overthrew Queen Isabel. It was by military violence that Serrano became President by the will of Pavia. And although, on the abdication of Amadeo, the proclamation of the republic was not the act of this or that general, yet it was brought about by a not less flagrant violation of order and of constitutionalism, as we understand it, a mere legislative assembly of two branches having formed themselves into a constituent convention in imitation of the worst examples of the French revolution, and having then proceeded, by mere usurpation and surprise, to impose a new government on Spain. So that neither the militarism nor the illegality of the movement tends in the least degree to repel the acceptance of it in any part of the country. And quite as little repulsion is produced by the suddenness of the movement or the brief time occupied in its consummation. On the night of the 11th of February, 1873, all Spain went to bed a monarchy and woke up to its astonishment a republic. In like manner on the 2d of January, 1874, the republican dictatorship of Castelar disappeared in a night to give place to the conservative dictatorship of Serrano. Hence, on the morning of the 31st of December, 1874, it did not appear at all extraordinary to the Spaniards in waking up to find that the republic had vanished and the monarchy returned with the dramatic celerity of a [Page 1086] change of scenery at the opera. In truth, all the great actors in public affairs during the last six years, Prim, Serrano, Ruiz Zorrilla, Figueras, Pi y Margall, Salmeran, Castelar, have lost consideration as political guides, or as governors, by the absolute failure of each successively to prevent or terminate civil war, to maintain domestic order, to regularize the public finances, to promote industry and commerce, to protect private persons and property, to introduce liberty without anarchy or conservatism without despotism, or in any other respect to establish good government in Spain. The people are beginning to conceive that revolutionism, as a principle or theory of government, is the climax of nonsense and absurdity, seeing that that is to convert the desperate remedy for a mortal disease into the daily food of its life, and thus, under pretense of curing the occasional ills of the body-politic, to condemn it to inevitable death and dissolution. In a word, weary of empiricism, demagogy, and anarchy, Spain seeks refuge once more in the hoped-for repose of its traditional institutions of religion and hereditary monarchy. Whether the people of Spain will thus attain the political tranquillity which they seek remains to be seen. The difficulties before them are too serious to be disregarded. In the first place comes the question whether the restoration will be moderate, liberal, clement, and simply conservative, or whether it will be reactionary, illiberal, sanguinary, destructive, ultramontane, and despotical. Such are the conflicting interests which now agitate all men in or near to the seat of power, and which conspicuously appear even in the constitution of the new ministry. And the conflict in question is unavoidable. Half of Spain, though riot distinctly republican, still is liberal; and another half of Spain is hardly less intensely Catholic and monarchical than it was in the time of Philip II. These irreconcilable interests or sentiments stand at present regarding each other in attitude of armed truce, but cannot long avoid coming into collision.
Thus, while, in his manifesto, Alfonso is made to profess ideas of constitutional administration in accordance with the spirit of the age, yet almost the first political act he performs is to signify devotedness to Pio Nono, (implying acceptance of the new syllabus of the Vatican,) as might well have been expected from the godson of the Pope. The relation of religious questions to political ones, conspicuous as it now is in Italy, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, is still more/so in Spain. In the desamortization of the property of the church, the government promised to make provision for the clergy, secular and regular, including the ex-claustrated monks and nuns, many of whom had as good title to the property in their possession as any other proprietor in the country; but thus far this solemn engagement has not been fulfilled, to the consequence of almost universal discontent and disaffection on the part of the clergy. Don Alfonso will of course be called on to pay up all the long arrears of this national indebtedness. Then the clergy and their friends will undoubtedly exact the repeal of the new laws of civil marriage and registry, so as to restore to the church one of the potential elements of its authority, namely, its control of the three great stages of human life—birth, marriage, and death. More important than all which is the purpose to restore Catholic unity in Spain, which strikes deep into the very heart of many of the gravest practical questions of government. Next comes the question of the public finances, a problem apparently absolutely insoluble. If the people of Spain could be reconciled to paper-money or a legal-tender legislation like ours, she would be relieved at once of her financial difficulties. But that seems impossible, [Page 1087] whether the fact be attributable to the remarkable prudence of the people in money matters, or to their impracticability, or to the limited scope of their national resources. Nothing short of a reign of terror administered by men of the stamp of Robespierre, Couthon, and Saint Just, with the guillotine en permanence behind them, could force paper money into currency among the rural proprietors and peasants of Spain. And thus it is that she continues to stagger under the effort to do what no other modern government has proved able to do, not even Great Britain with the treasures of the Indies in her lap, namely, to carry on a great and protracted war without paper-money, (or its equivalent in other forms of credit,) and by means of the mere proceeds of annual taxation. I do not see how this state of things is to be remedied by the simple accession of Alfonso XII. Again, the energies of Spain are being exhausted, on the right hand and on the left, by her endeavors to put down two obstinate insurrections, one in the Peninsula and one in Cuba. To fail in either of these undertakings would be fatal to the new government. And these insurrections are the gigantic perils which confront Don Alfonso. As to the Carlist war, it does not as yet appear that the accession of Don Alfonso abates in the least degree the violence with which it rages in the Basque provinces, in Navarre, in Catalonia, in Aragon, or in the Maestrazgo. It is reported that Don Alfonso, immediately after his coronation here, is to proceed to Logroiio and assume in person (with the Conde de Cheste to counsel him) the command of the army of the north. He will have generals enough to act under him or for him. And history is not without furnishing examples of men like Alexander, Octavius, Caesar, Charles V, the Prince de Condé, Bonaparte, who seem to be born generals, or who, at least in youth as early, or almost as early, as Don Alfonso commanded great armies and won brilliant victories by a sort of intuitive instinct or genius of war. But no signs of any such extraordinary and abnormal qualities appear in Don Alfonso. His presence with the army of the north may impart impulse to military movements, as that of the pretender does, among the Carlists. But in the present case there is no reason to expect that the course of military events will depart from the ordinary channel. According to actual appearances, it will be a matter of hard fighting, with generals of respectable but not supreme capacity on either side, and the enemy a people of mountaineers, who have never yet been effectually conquered by any of the invaders who have successively attacked them—Romans, Arabs, Goths, or modern Spaniards. And yet, not to succeed on the present occasion will be fatal to the personal prestige and to the political strength of Don Alfonso.
And then as to Cuba. Is the task before him an easy one there? The government of President Serrano has professedly been doing everything in its power, during a period of about six months, to send 12,000 men to Cuba, and thus far has barely succeeded in dispatching by driblets one-third of that number.
I think the difficulty has been in persuading or forcing either officers or men to go to Cuba, there to encounter chances of death beyond all imaginable perils of the battle-field. Can the government of Don Alfonso overcome these embarrassments? And yet it must do so. I pause in this connection to hint only at what will be said more explicitly in another dispatch, namely, the idea which seems happily to be gaining ground among the Alfonsinos that, in the matter of Cuba, they have to count with the United States. Prominent also among the troubles of the hour is one of the chronic evils which afflict Spain, namely, the general avidity for office—empleomaniá as it is commonly [Page 1088] called here. The embarrassments which the Government of the United States suffer in this respect are sufficiently serious; but they are as nothing compared with those which weigh down the government of Spain. We have so many fields of ambition in the governments of the separate States; so many diversities of attractive and lucrative occupation in our numerous private business corporations, and in the marvelous development of our commerce and manufactures; we have such boundless opportunities for successful enterprise in the opening up and cultivation of the new Territories and States, that only a relatively small proportion of our society looks to the General Government for the means of advancement and support. In Spain it is otherwise. The number of business corporations is comparatively small; commerce and manufactures are in a languishing state; commonplace agriculture is the principal occupation of the people, and no outlets for discontent exist except beyond sea in the two Spanish Antilles and the Philippine Islands, constituting but a feeble resource for the country, which formerly had its field of emigration embracing nearly the whole of both Americas. Thus it is that such a multitude of persons seek for employment in the public offices, civil or military, of the government. The evil is aggravated by the frequent vicissitudes of party and administration, every change involving the general dismissal of those previously in office and the substitution of new appointees in their stead; each party, and each faction of a party, having a long tail of dependents, who compose its only strength and at the same time its incurable weakness. Nor is that all. For the most part, those who, in each one of these changes of party, go out of office, fall into the class called cesantes, who, while thus retired, are entitled to pensions. Even the transient ministers of the republic, some of them in office only a couple of weeks, are entitled to and receive a life-pension of 30,000 reals. Thus we have now the cesantes of all the parties which have successively been in power during the late revolutionary epoch, dating back to the time of Isabel. All these wrecks or dregs of so many defeated parties settle down for the most part at Madrid. Here, whilst out of office, they are chronic conspirators against every government, and one of the potential causes of the ephemeral character of the successive administrations of the country and of its never-ending political perturbations. At the present time they throng the avenues of office to such degree as almost to render the transaction of the public business impracticable, and to become an intolerable burden, not only to the ministers, but to every person who has real or supposed political influence or presumed access to any of the ministers. Thus one person, the editor of “El Eco de España,” complains that, independently of personal applications for assistance, in obtaining office, he has, in the lapse of three days only, received five hundred letters, of written applications for his influence, all which it is physically impossible to answer and attend to, or even to read. Of course, very few of this host of aspirants for office will obtain it, and all who do not will fall into the putrescent condition of conspirators against the new government.
Finally, let me mention one other cause of serious apprehension for the future, and that is the family question. It would be very difficult for any person who contents himself with reading the proclamations, manifestoes, and speeches of the men who produced the overthrow of Queen Isabel, to understand the inducements which impelled them to such action. On the surface, it seemed to be mere personal discontent or baffled ambition, especially on the part of the soul of the movement, Prim. During the last ten years of the reign of Isabel, Spain had been [Page 1089] materially prosperous, and far better off in every respect than she has been any day since then. Administration, then as now, consisted of a never-ending succession of ephemeral factions, occasionally held in check by the vigor of such men as General Narvaez and General O’Donnell; but every faction out of power was loud in denunciation of the corruption of the particular faction in power, to the necessary logical conclusion of there being little to choose between any of the factions.
And sure it is, whatever of misgovernment in public affairs may have existed during those ten years, it could by no possibility have exceeded the disasters without number which have since that time been crowded into the political life of Spain.
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I am, &c.,