Republic of Portugal Is Proclaimed

The proclamation of the establishment of the Republic of Portugal began that nation’s ill-fated first experiment with democratic rule.

Summary of Event

In the late nineteenth century, successive governments in Portugal were beset with difficulties that were primarily economic in nature. Portugal had been unable to balance its budget since it lost Brazil to independence in 1822, and the legacy of civil war added to the national debt. Attempts to develop Portuguese African territories into an economic asset had contributed to loss of government prestige because British achievements in South Africa had forestalled Portuguese success. Republic of Portugal, establishment
Portugal, establishment of republic
[kw]Republic of Portugal Is Proclaimed (Oct. 5, 1910)
[kw]Portugal Is Proclaimed, Republic of (Oct. 5, 1910)
Republic of Portugal, establishment
Portugal, establishment of republic
[g]Portugal;Oct. 5, 1910: Republic of Portugal Is Proclaimed[02670]
[c]Government and politics;Oct. 5, 1910: Republic of Portugal Is Proclaimed[02670]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 5, 1910: Republic of Portugal Is Proclaimed[02670]
Braga, Teófilo
Carlos I
Manuel II
Machado Santos, António
Costa, Afonso Augusto da
Arriaga, Manuel José de
Pais, Sidónio

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the rise of a small socialist party pointed up the need for extensive reform within Portuguese society. Government tenure was based on corruption, and all elections were decided in advance at Lisbon in imitation of the Spanish “cacique” system. The members of a small Republican movement protested against this corruption, but most of their anger was reserved for the Roman Catholic clergy. The distinguishing characteristic of the movement, which was founded by Teófilo Braga, a scholarly, intellectual liberal, was a virulent anticlericalism.

Carlos I, who had become king of Portugal in 1889, could not cope with these problems, and his ministers could not solve them. By 1905, the clamor for reform led many observers to believe that the monarchy would soon be overthrown. In 1908, Carlos and his heir were assassinated. Assassinations;Carlos I[Carlos 01] Carlos’s second son, a young man with neither the training nor the inclination to rule Portugal, ascended the throne as Manuel II. The Republicans increased their agitation, and, together with the Carbonaria, a secret society of radicals led by António Machado Santos, they were mainly responsible for the overthrow of the government. These groups forced Manuel into exile and proclaimed the Republic of Portugal on October 5, 1910. Braga was named provisional president, and a constituent assembly was called to draft a republican constitution.

From the beginning, the Republic of Portugal was plagued by problems. The Portuguese Republican Party split into factions: a moderate group led by Machado and a radical group that separated and became the Democratic Party, led by Afonso Augusto da Costa, the minister of justice in the new regime. Political fighting between the Democrats and moderate Republicans occupied time and energy that might otherwise have been devoted to constructive reform. With the support of his colleagues, Costa undertook a massive anticlerical Anticlericalism;Portugal campaign even before the Cortes Gerais (the Portuguese parliament) drafted a constitution. The state was separated from the Roman Catholic Church, clerical property was nationalized, the Jesuits were expelled, all monastic orders were dissolved, and complete state control of all education was decreed. After this first onrush of anticlerical activity, the moderate Republicans decided to defend the church and thereby increased the tensions between the two parties.

In 1911, a constitution was drafted and promulgated. Primarily a moderate document, it established a republican parliamentary system of government. Strikes by labor were permitted, and industrial turmoil increased as the proletariat demonstrated against the government’s inaction regarding labor and social reform. The monarchists also began to agitate, and royalist plots caused great concern to the Republicans during the early years of the republic.

Manuel José de Arriaga was named president of the republic after the constitution was in place, but he could do little to provide political peace. Costa’s Democrats alternated in power with the moderate Republicans, but the main issue between the two parties concerned anticlericalism. Scant attention was given to fiscal problems or social reform.

In 1916, the Portuguese government joined the Allies in declaring war on Germany and sent troops to the western front. Historians have speculated as to the motivations for Portugal’s sudden entry into World War I. The most likely explanations include fear of potential German annexation of the African colonies of Portuguese West Africa (now Angola) and Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), the traditional Portuguese alliance with Great Britain, and Portugal’s desire to differentiate itself from its Iberian rival, Spain, which was neutral in the war. Portugal was ill prepared for war, and tensions within the nation increased. In December, 1917, the Portuguese army decided to intervene in politics. In a coup led by Major Sidónio Pais, the military overthrew the government and established a dictatorship, installing Pais as president. This desperate act still did not solve Portugal’s problems.


As admirable as the first Portuguese experiment in democracy was (and it should be remembered that in 1910 Portugal became only the third republic in Europe, following France and Switzerland), it possessed a fundamental flaw: The Portuguese people as a whole did not accept the republican constitution. The new constitution represented only one part of Portuguese society, the liberal, anticlerical current; it tended to exclude others, particularly those with more conservative viewpoints, such as many who resided in Portugal’s rural northern provinces. Rather than being seen as a neutral vehicle through which parties of both left and right could vie for elective power, the republican constitution was perceived as a vehicle only for the promotion of a moderately liberal, anticlerical viewpoint. Thus the coups of Pais and later strongmen were seen less as violations of a democratic order than as partisan interventions against an already partisan system.

The Republic of Portugal was not a total failure, however. First of all, it permanently overthrew the long-established Bragança Dynasty and a tradition of Portuguese monarchy dating back eight centuries. Unlike in Spain, where the Bourbon Dynasty was restored in name and later in fact, Portuguese monarchists never returned to power. Most important, the first republic served as a crucial precedent for the time, after the overthrow of the military government in 1974, when Portugal was finally ready to become a stable multiparty democracy. Republic of Portugal, establishment
Portugal, establishment of republic

Further Reading

  • Anderson, James M. The History of Portugal. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. Concise history includes a time line, biographical sketches of important persons, glossary, bibliographic essay, and index. Chapter 8 is devoted to the period of Portugal’s first republic.
  • Bragança-Cunha, Vicente de. Revolutionary Portugal: 1910-1936. London: James Clarke, 1937. Useful source for facts and opinions, although outdated in analytic terms and prejudiced by a monarchist viewpoint.
  • Gallagher, Tom. Portugal: A Twentieth-Century Interpretation. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1983. A spirited, razor-sharp account of twentieth century Portuguese politics.
  • Livermore, H. W. A New History of Portugal. 2d ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976. The standard history of Portugal available in English. Provides a reliable, if unexciting, account.
  • Opello, Walter. Portugal: From Monarchy to Pluralist Democracy. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991. Situates Portugal’s first republic in the context of the political developments of the twentieth century.
  • Schwartzman, Kathleen. The Social Origins of Democratic Collapse: The First Portuguese Republic in the Global Economy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989. Takes a sociological look at unstable democracies, using republican Portugal as an example.
  • Wheeler, Douglas L. Republican Portugal: A Political History, 1910-1926. 1978. Reprint. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. A thorough history of the years of Portugal’s first republic.

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