Portuguese First Republic

Portuguese First Republic

History of Portugal

caption=President Sidónio Pais
The Portuguese First Republic ( _pt. Primeira República) spans a complex 16 year period in the history of Portugal, between the end of the Constitutional Monarchy marked by the 5 October 1910 revolution and the 28 May coup d'état of 1926. The last movement instituted a military dictatorship known as "Ditadura Nacional" (National Dictatorship) that would be followed by the corporatist "Estado Novo" (New State) regime of António de Oliveira Salazar.

The republic

The Portuguese First Republic has, over the course of the recent past, lost many historians to the New State. As a result, it is difficult to attempt a global synthesis of the republican period in view of the important gaps that still persist in our knowledge of its political history. As far as the October 1910 Revolution is concerned, a number of valuable studies have been made (Wheeler, 1972), first among which ranks Vasco Pulido Valente’s polemical thesis. This historian posited the Jacobin and urban nature of the revolution carried out by the Portuguese Republican Party (PRP) and claimed that the PRP had turned the republican regime into a de facto dictatorship (Pulido Valente, 1982). This vision clashes with an older interpretation of the First Republic as a progressive and increasingly democratic regime which presented a clear contrast to Salazar’s ensuing dictatorship (Oliveira Marques, 1991).

A republican Constitution was approved in 1911, inaugurating a parliamentary regime with reduced presidential powers and two chambers of parliament (Miranda, 2001). The Republic provoked important fractures within Portuguese society, notably among the essentially monarchist rural population, in the trade unions, and in the Church. Even the PRP had to endure the secession of its more moderate elements, who formed conservative republican parties like the Evolutionist Party and the Republican Union. In spite of these splits the PRP, led by Afonso Costa, preserved its dominance, largely due to a brand of clientelist politics inherited from the monarchy (Lopes, 1994). In view of these tactics, a number of opposition forces resorted to violence in order to enjoy the fruits of power. There are few recent studies of this period of the Republic’s existence, known as the ‘old’ Republic. Nevertheless, an essay by Vasco Pulido Valente should be consulted (1997a), as should the attempt to establish the political, social, and economic context made by M. Villaverde Cabral (1988).

The Republic repelled a royalist attack on Chaves in 1912.

The PRP viewed the outbreak of the First World War as a unique opportunity to achieve a number of goals: putting an end to the twin threats of a Spanish invasion of Portugal and of foreign occupation of the colonies and, at the internal level, creating a national consensus around the regime and even around the party (Teixeira, 1996a). These domestic objectives were not met, since participation in the conflict was not the subject of a national consensus and since it did not therefore serve to mobilise the population. Quite the opposite occurred: existing lines of political and ideological fracture were deepened by Portugal's intervention in the First World War (Ribeiro de Meneses, 2000). The lack of consensus around Portugal’s intervention in turn made possible the appearance of two dictatorships, led by General Pimenta de Castro (January-May 1915) and Sidónio Pais (December 1917-December 1918).

Sidonismo, also known as "Dezembrismo" (Eng. "Decemberism"), aroused a strong interest among historians, largely as a result of the elements of modernity that it contained (José Brandão, 1990; Ramalho, 1998; Ribeiro de Meneses, 1998, Armando Silva, 1999; Samara, 2003 and Santos, 2003). António José Telo has made clear the way in which this regime predated some of the political solutions invented by the totalitarian and fascist dictatorships of the 1920s and 1930s (Teixeira, 2000, pp. 11-24). Sidónio Pais undertook the rescue of traditional values, notably the "Pátria" (Eng. "Homeland"), and attempted to rule in a charismatic fashion. A move was made to abolish traditional political parties and to alter the existing mode of national representation in parliament (which, it was claimed, exacerbated divisions within the "Pátria") through the creation of a corporative Senate, the founding of a single party (the National Republican Party), and the attribution of a mobilising function to the Leader. The State carved out an economically interventionist role for itself while, at the same time, repressing working-class movements and leftist republicans. Sidónio Pais also attempted to restore public order and to overcome, finally, some of the rifts of the recent past, making the Republic more acceptable to monarchists and Catholics.

The vacuum of power created by Sidónio Pais' assassination (Medina, 1994) on 14 December 1918 led the country to a brief civil war. The monarchy’s restoration was proclaimed in the north of Portugal on 19 January 1919 and, four days later, a monarchist insurrection broke out in Lisbon. A republican coalition government, led by José Relvas, coordinated the struggle against the monarchists by loyal army units and armed civilians. After a series of clashes the monarchists were definitively chased from Porto on 13 February 1919. This military victory allowed the PRP to return to government and to emerge triumphant from the elections held later that year, having won the usual absolute majority.

It was during this restoration of the "old" Republic that an attempted reform was carried out in order to provide the regime with greater stability. In August 1919 a conservative President was elected – António José de Almeida (whose Evolutionist party had come together in wartime with the PRP to form a flawed, because incomplete, Sacred Union) – and his office was given the power to dissolve Parliament. Relations with the Holy See, restored by Sidónio Pais, were preserved. The President used his new power to resolve a crisis of government in May 1921, naming a Liberal government (the Liberal party being the result of the postwar fusion of Evolutionists and Unionists) to prepare the forthcoming elections. These were held on 10 July 1921 with victory going, as was usually the case, to the party in power. However, Liberal government did not last long. On 19 October a military "pronunciamento" was carried out during which – and apparently against the wishes of the coup's leaders – a number of prominent conservative figures, including Prime Minister António Granjo, were assassinated. This event, known as the "night of blood" (Brandão, 1991) left a deep wound among political elites and public opinion. There could be no greater demonstration of the essential fragility of the Republic's institutions and proof that the regime was democratic in name only, since it did not even admit the possibility of the rotation in power characteristic of the elitist regimes of the nineteenth century.

A new round of elections on 29 January 1922 inaugurated a fresh period of stability, since the PRP once again emerged from the contest with an absolute majority. Discontent with this situation had not, however, disappeared. Numerous accusations of corruption, and the manifest failure to resolve pressing social concerns wore down the more visible PRP leaders while making the opposition’s attacks more deadly. At the same time, moreover, all political parties suffered from growing internal faction-fighting, especially the PRP itself. The party system was fractured and discredited (Lopes, 1994; João Silva, 1997). This is clearly shown by the fact that regular PRP victories at the ballot box did not lead to stable government. Between 1910 and 1926 there were forty-five governments. The opposition of presidents to single-party governments, internal dissent within the PRP, the party's almost non-existent internal discipline, and its constant and irrational desire to group together and lead all republican forces made any government's task practically impossible. Many different formulas were attempted, including single-party governments, coalitions, and presidential executives, but none succeeded. Force was clearly the sole means open to the opposition if it wanted to enjoy the fruits of power (Schwartzman, 1989; Pinto, 2000).

By the mid-1920s the domestic and international scenes began to favour another authoritarian solution, wherein a strengthened executive might restore political and social order. Since the opposition's constitutional route to power was blocked by the various means deployed by the PRP to protect itself, it turned to the army for support. The armed forces, whose political awareness had grown during the war, and whose leaders had not forgiven the PRP for sending them to a war they did not want to fight, seemed to represent, to conservative forces, the last bastion of "order" against the "chaos" that was taking over the country. Links were established between conservative figures and military officers, who added their own political and corporative demands to the already complex equation. The Revolution of 28 May 1926 enjoyed the support of most army units and even of most political parties. As had been the case in December 1917, the population of Lisbon did not rise to defend the Republic, leaving it at the mercy of the army (Ferreira, 1992a). There are few global and up-to-date studies of this turbulent third phase of the Republic’s existence (Marques, 1973; Telo, 1980 & 1984). Nevertheless, much has been written about the crisis and fall of the regime and the 28 May movement (Cruz, 1986; Cabral, 1993; Rosas, 1997; Martins, 1998; Pinto, 2000; Afonso, 2001). The First Republic continues to be the subject of an intense debate which is impossible to summarise in these paragraphs. A recent historiographical balance sheet elaborated by Armando Malheiro da Silva (2000) is a good introduction into this debate. Nevertheless, one can distinguish three main interpretations. For some historians, the First Republic was a progressive and increasingly democratic regime. For others, it was essentially a prolongation of the liberal and elitist regimes of the nineteenth century. A third group, finally, chooses to highlight the regime's revolutionary, Jacobin, and dictatorial nature.

Heads of state and government

The Portuguese First Republic was an unstable period in the History of Portugal. In a period of 16 years (1910-1926) Portugal had 8 Presidents of the Republic, 1 Provisional Government, 38 Prime Ministers and 1 Constitutional "Junta":


*Teófilo Braga (1910-1911)-(President of the Provisional Government)
*Manuel de Arriaga (1911-1915)-(First elected president)
*Teófilo Braga (1915)
*Bernardino Machado (1915-1917)
*Sidónio Pais (1917-1918)
*João do Canto e Castro (1918-1919)
*António José de Almeida (1919-1923)
*Manuel Teixeira Gomes (1923-1925)
*Bernardino Machado (1925-1926)


*João Chagas (4 September 1911-13 November 1911)
*Augusto de Vasconcelos (13 November 1911-16 June 1912)
*Duarte Leite (16 June 1912-9 January 1913)
*Afonso Costa (9 January 1913-9 February 1914)
*Bernardino Machado (9 February 1914-12 December 1914)
*Victor Hugo de Azevedo Coutinho (12 December 1914-28 January 1915)
*Joaquim Pimenta de Castro (28 January 1915-14 May 1915)
*Constitutional Junta (14 May 1915-17 May 1915)
**José Norton de Matos
**António Maria da Silva
**José de Freitas Ribeiro
**Alfredo de Sá Cardoso
**Álvaro de Castro
*José de Castro (17 May 1915-29 November 1915)
*Afonso Costa (29 November 1915-16 March 1916)
*António José de Almeida (16 March 1916-25 April 1917)
*Afonso Costa (25 April 1917-8 December 1917)
*Sidónio Pais (8 December 1917-23 December 1918)
*João Tamagnini Barbosa (23 December 1918-27 January 1919)
*José Relvas (27 January 1919-30 March 1919)
*Domingos Pereira (30 March 1919-30 June 1919)
*Alfredo de Sá Cardoso (30 June 1919-21 January 1920)
*Domingos Pereira (21 January 1920-8 March 1920)
*António Maria Baptista (8 March 1920-6 June 1920)
*José Ramos Preto (6 June 1920-26 June 1920)
*António Maria da Silva (26 June 1920-19 July 1920)
*António Granjo (19 July 1920-20 November 1920)
*Álvaro de Castro (20 November 1920-30 November 1920)
*Liberato Pinto (30 November 1920-2 March 1921)
*Bernardino Machado (2 March 1921-23 May 1921)
*Tomé de Barros Queirós (23 May 1921-30 August 1921)
*António Granjo (30 August 1921-19 October 1921)
*Manuel Maria Coelho (19 October 1921-5 November 1921)
*Carlos Maia Pinto (5 November 1921-16 December 1921)
*Francisco da Cunha Leal (16 December 1921-7 February 1922)
*António Maria da Silva (7 February 1922-15 November 1923)
*António Ginestal Machado (15 November 1923-18 December 1923)
*Álvaro de Castro (18 December 1923-7 July 1924)
*Alfredo Rodrigues Gaspar (7 July 1924-22 November 1924)
*José Domingues dos Santos (22 November 1924-15 February 1925)
*Vitorino de Carvalho Guimarães (15 February 1925-1 July 1925)
*António Maria da Silva (1 July 1925-1 August 1925)
*Duarte Leite (1 August 1925-18 December 1925)
*António Maria da Silva (18 December 1925-30 May 1926)

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