Days Of The Republic

The kings men mustered sufficient good grace to accept the situation until they had time to reorganise and a middle class, liberal government took over the country. But it soon became evident that Republican moderates were soon to be caught between the forces of traditional Spain, which regarded its defeat only as a temporary setback, and the expectations of a desperately underprivileged mass. The key issues were land reform, the power of the church and the army, and regional devolution.

The church was separated from the state by the new Republican constitution. Religious orders were forced to register and allowed only enough wealth for their personal needs. Civil marriage was instituted and divorce legalised. These measures did not persecute the Church but were certainly an attack on an institution with power far in excess of its following. Conservatives were outraged, the Catholic Church was the heart of Spain and of Spanish civilisation.

The next act which deeply offended conservatives was the granting of home rule to Catalonia. A referendum on home rule in the province received an overwhelming majority in favour, and in 1932 the historic Catalan 'Generalidad' (Catalan government) was restored. But centralists regarded any tampering with the traditional structure of Spain as treason, and believed themselves to be justified in fighting back by any means possible.

President Azana introduced legislation to thin out the top heavy military structure, but the provisions enabled thousands of officers to retire on full pay and plot against the Republic. The forces of Eternal Spain in fact began their plotting only weeks after Alfonso's departure. Monarchists schemed, and Cardinal Segura was said to have travelled around the country in secret with a project of selling church treasures to help fight the Republic.

On the other hand, the Republic was unable to wholly satisfy the peasants and the poor. No government could solve the appalling conditions of the landless peasants by what amounted to purchasing odd strips of land from landowners with whatever funds were available, but the liberal Republic had ruled out appropriating the land without payment. In the 1930s vast tracts of land were left uncultivated while the country suffered from a food shortage. In Estramadura and Andalucia the landless peasants had never tasted meat and lived in adobe huts with a hole for a window. For years they would bear their lot and then it would all spill over and there would be a violent uprising, desperate and doomed. The rural police force - the civil guard - were so hated by them that extraordinary violence could be set off. In 1932 four civil guards who tried to prevent a meeting by force were hacked to pieces by the enraged villagers. The whole community insisted on taking collective responsibility for the deed.

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