Mr. Francis to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Lisbon, April 29, 1884. (Received May 19.)
Sir: The question of the revision of the constitution of Portugal has been the subject of great interest and earnest discussion among publicists and in the national legislature for many months past. The reforms contemplated by such revision and accompanying laws proposed by the [Page 448] ministry were quite fully set forth in my No. 40 of March 13, 1883. Early in the present session of the Cortes the House of Deputies voted by a large majority in favor of the initiatory measure for the adoption of the governmental reforms. After six weeks of debate in the House of Peers it received the final sanction of that body on the 22d instant by a vote of 69 yeas to 14 nays. The reforms embrace primarily the reconstruction of the House of Peers. This is the constitutional feature. At present there is no limitation to the number of peers. They are appointed by the King. They have already attained to one hundred and forty in number. The pressure for appointment to the peerage has been a source of embarrassment to His Majesty. Besides, His Majesty felt that questions of much importance to the state and eliciting great popular interest, and sometimes passion, might lead, in case of a vital disagreement between the two houses—the peers opposing and defeating the measures of the popular branch of the national legislature—to the suggestion involving not a little danger to the throne, of a kingly peerage baffling the popular will and so encroaching upon the liberties of the people. To remove this danger, to relieve His Majesty of embarrassing responsibility, and so afford greater security to the throne, while conceding larger scope to the popular will, the amendment of the constitution was proposed by the ministry whereby the number of peers would be limited, two-thirds to be appointed by the King and one-third to be elected by the people, the hereditary principle to be abolished. This is certainly an advance forward in the policy of liberalization. The legislative reforms relate to the conditions of suffrage, whereby all male subjects (except for disabilities of crime or non-residence), who have arrived at the age of twenty-one years and have an income equivalent to 100 millreis a year shall be entitled to the franchise privilege; minority representation to a limited extent is assured, and other provisions are made to place the elections upon, an improved basis.
Under the action of the Cortes an election will take place at a time to be appointed by the Government, not later than August, when members of the house of deputies will be elected specially upon the issue of the reforms. As early as September the new Cortes will assemble and pass upon the details of the measures which will thereafter go into effect. This work must all be accomplished before the body meets in regular session, January 2, 1885.
So far the fact is established that the reforms are to be effected unless the Government is defeated at the forthcoming special election—an improbable event. It only remains for the new Cortes to settle details, which will doubtless be done substantially as the Government desires.
I have, &c.,