Manuel Azaña
Manuel Azaña Díaz was a Spanish politician. He was the first Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Spain
The President of the Government of Spain , sometimes known in English as the Prime Minister of Spain, is the head of Government of Spain. The current office is established under the Constitution of 1978...

 of the Second Spanish Republic
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

 (1931–1933), and later served again as Prime Minister (1936), and then as the second and last President
President of Spain
Today, Spain is a constitutional monarchy. King Juan Carlos I, the current monarch, is Head of State. The Head of Government has the official title of President of the Government....

 of the Republic (1936–1939). The Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 broke out while he was President. With the defeat of the Republic in 1939, he fled to France, resigned his office, and died in exile.

His early career

Born into a rich family, he was orphaned at a very young age. He studied in the Universidad Complutense
Complutense University of Madrid
The Complutense University of Madrid is a university in Madrid, and one of the oldest universities in the world. It is located on a sprawling campus that occupies the entirety of the Ciudad Universitaria district of Madrid, with annexes in the district of Somosaguas in the neighboring city of...

, the Cisneros Institute
University of Alcalá
The University of Alcalá is a public university located in Alcalá de Henares, a city 35 km northeast of Madrid in Spain. Founded in 1499, it was moved in 1836 to Madrid. In 1977, the University was reopened in its same historical buildings...

 and the Agustinos of El Escorial
El Escorial
The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a historical residence of the king of Spain, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 45 kilometres northwest of the capital, Madrid, in Spain. It is one of the Spanish royal sites and functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum, and...

. He was awarded a Lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

's licence by the University of Zaragoza
University of Zaragoza
The University of Zaragoza or sometimes Saragossa University is a university located in Zaragoza, in the Aragon region of Spain...

 in 1897, and a doctorate
A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

 by the Universidad Complutense in 1900.

In 1909 he achieved a position at the Main Directorate of the Registries and practiced the profession of civil law notary
Civil law notary
Civil-law notaries, or Latin notaries, are lawyers of noncontentious private civil law who draft, take, and record legal instruments for private parties, provide legal advice and give attendance in person, and are vested as public officers with the authentication power of the State...

, and traveled to Paris in 1911. He became involved in politics and in 1914 joined the Reformist Republican Party led by Melquíades Álvarez
Melquíades Álvarez
Melquíades Álvarez Gónzalez-Posada was a Spanish Republican politician, founder and leader of the Reformist Republican Party , commonly known just as Reformist Party....

. He collaborated in the production of various newspapers, such as El Imparcial
El Imparcial
El Imparcial, founded in 1918, was a Puerto Rican newspaper.In the 1970s Miguel A. García Méndez bought the newspaper. The building where the newspaper was run then was destroyed by political sabotage in a fire...

and El Sol. During World War I he covered operations on the Western Front for various newspapers. His treatment was very sympathetic to the French, and he may have been subsidized by French military intelligence. Afterwards he directed the magazines Pluma and España between 1920 and 1924, founding the former with his brother-in-law Cipriano Rivas Cherif
Cipriano Rivas Cherif
Cipriano Rivas Cherif was a Spanish playwright and director, owner of the Caracol Theatre Club and one of the pioneering directors of the Spanish theatrical avant-garde in the early twentieth century...

. He was secretary of the Ateneo de Madrid
Ateneo de Madrid
The Ateneo de Madrid is a private cultural institution located in the capital of Spain, originally founded in 1835. Its full name is Ateneo Científico, Literario y Artístico de Madrid .-History:The roots of the Athenæum trace to the ideals of Francophiles and liberals of the early 19th...

 (1913–1920), becoming its president in 1930. He was a candidate for the province of Toledo
Toledo (province)
Toledo is a province of central Spain, in the western part of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It is bordered by the provinces of Madrid, Cuenca, Ciudad Real, Badajoz, Cáceres, and Ávila....

 in 1918 and 1923, but lost on both occasions. In 1926 he founded the Acción Republicana ("Republican Action") party with José Giral
José Giral
José Giral y Pereira was a Spanish politician during the Second Spanish Republic.He had degrees in Chemistry and Pharmacy from the University of Madrid. In 1905 he became professor of chemistry in the University of Salamanca. He founded Acción Republicana with Manuel Azaña...


A strong critic of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, Azaña published an energetic manifesto against the dictator and King Alfonso XIII
Alfonso XIII of Spain
Alfonso XIII was King of Spain from 1886 until 1931. His mother, Maria Christina of Austria, was appointed regent during his minority...

 in 1924. In 1930, he was a signatory of the "Pact of San Sebastián
Pact of San Sebastián
The Pact of San Sebastián was a meeting led by Niceto Alcalá Zamora and Miguel Maura, which took place in San Sebastián, Spain on August 17, 1930. Representatives from practically all republican political movements in Spain at the time attended the meeting. Presided over by Fernando Sasiaín , the...

", which united all the republican and regionalist parties in Spain against Primo de Rivera and the King.

On 12 April 1931, republican candidates swept the municipal elections. This was seen as repudiation of Primo de Rivera and the monarchy. Two days later, the Second Spanish Republic
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

 was proclaimed.

In the government

Niceto Alcalá-Zamora
Niceto Alcalá-Zamora
Niceto Alcalá-Zamora y Torres was a Spanish lawyer and politician who served, briefly, as the first premier minister of the Second Spanish Republic, and then — from 1931 to 1936—as its president....

, prime minister of the provisional government of the Republic, named Azaña Minister of War on April 14. Alcalá-Zamora resigned in October, and Azaña replaced him as prime minister. When the new constitution was adopted on December 9, Azaña continued as prime minister, leading a coalition of left-wing parties, including his own Acción Republicana and the Socialists
Spanish Socialist Workers' Party
The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party is a social-democratic political party in Spain. Its political position is Centre-left. The PSOE is the former ruling party of Spain, until beaten in the elections of November 2011 and the second oldest, exceeded only by the Partido Carlista, founded in...

 (PSOE). (Alcalá-Zamora became President of the Republic.)

Azaña pursued some of the major reforms anticipated by the republican program. He reduced the size of the Army and removed some monarchist officers. He also moved to reduce the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, abolishing Church-operated schools and charities, and greatly expanding state-operated secular schools. The Cortes also enacted an agrarian reform program, under which large private landholdings (latifundia) were to be confiscated and distributed among the rural poor.

However, Azaña was a "middle-class republican", not a socialist. He and his followers were not enthusiastic for this program.
The agrarian law did not include state-funded collective farms, as the Socialists wanted, and was not enacted until late 1932. It was also clumsily written, and threatened many relatively small landholders more than the latifundists. And the Azaña government did very little to carry it out: only 12,000 families received land in the first two years.

In addition, Azaña did little to reform the taxation system to shift the burden of government onto the wealthy. Also, the government continued to support the owners of industry against wildcat strikes or attempted takeovers by militant workers, especially the anarcho-syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo
Confederación Nacional del Trabajo
The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo is a Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions affiliated with the International Workers Association . When working with the latter group it is also known as CNT-AIT...

(National Confederation of Labor or CNT). Confrontation with the CNT erupted in bloody violence at Casas Viejas (now Benalup), Castilblanco
Castilblanco is a municipality located in the province of Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain. According to the 2005 census , the municipality has a population of 1146 inhabitants....

, and Arnedo
Arnedo is the third largest town in La Rioja, Spain. It is located near Calahorra, and has a population of about 14,500 people.Its economy is based on the shoe industry.-History:The area of Arnedo has been inhabited as early as the Neolithic Age...


Meanwhile, Azaña's extreme anti-clerical program alienated many moderates. In local elections held in early 1933, most of the seats went to conservative and centrist parties. Elections to the "Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees" (the Republic's "Supreme Court") followed this pattern.

Thus Azaña came into conflict with both the right and far left. He called a vote of confidence, but two-thirds of the Cortes abstained, and Alcalá-Zamora ordered Azaña's resignation on 8 September 1933. New elections were held on 19 November 1933.

These elections were won by the right-wing Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA) and the centrist Radical Republican Party
Radical Republican Party
The Radical Republican Party , sometimes shortened to the Radical Party was a Spanish political party founded in 1908 by Alejandro Lerroux in Santander, Cantabria by a split from the historical Republican Union party led by Nicolás Salmerón....

. Radical leader Alejandro Lerroux
Alejandro Lerroux
Alejandro Lerroux y García was a Spanish politician who was the leader of the Radical Republican Party during the Second Spanish Republic...

 became prime minister. Azaña temporarily withdrew from politics and returned to literary activity.

Azaña's self-imposed political retreat lasted only a short while; in 1934 he founded the Republican Left
Republican Left (Spain)
The Republican Left was a Spanish left-wing republican party founded in 1934.The party was founded in 1934 following the left's defeat in the 1933 election, by the merger of Manuel Azaña's Republican Action, part of Marcelino Domingo's Radical Socialist Republican Party and Santiago Casares...

 party, the fusion of Acción Republicana with the Radical Socialist Republican Party
Radical Socialist Republican Party
Radical Socialist Republican Party , sometimes shortened to Radical Socialist Party , was a Spanish radical political party, created in 1929 after the split of the left-wing in Alejandro Lerroux's Radical Republican Party...

, led by Marcelino Domingo, and the Organización Republicana Gallega Autónoma (ORGA) of Santiago Casares Quiroga
Santiago Casares Quiroga
Santiago Casares y Quiroga was a Spanish politician who was Prime Minister of Spain from 13 May to 19 July 1936....


On 5 October 1934, the PSOE and Communists attempted a general left-wing rebellion. The rebellion had a temporary success in Asturias
The Principality of Asturias is an autonomous community of the Kingdom of Spain, coextensive with the former Kingdom of Asturias in the Middle Ages...

 and Barcelona
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and the capital of Catalonia, with a population of 1,621,537 within its administrative limits on a land area of...

, but was over in two weeks. Azaña was in Barcelona that day, and the Lerroux-CEDA government tried to implicate him. He was arrested and charged with complicity in the rebellion.

In fact Azaña had no connection with the rebellion, and the attempt to convict him on spurious charges soon collapsed, giving him the prestige of a martyr. He was released from prison in January 1935. Azaña then helped organize the Frente Popular
Popular Front (Spain)
The Popular Front in Spain's Second Republic was an electoral coalition and pact signed in January 1936 by various left-wing political organisations, instigated by Manuel Azaña for the purpose of contesting that year's election....

 ("Popular Front"), a coalition of all the major left-wing parties for the elections of 16 February 1936.

The Front won the election, and Azaña became prime minister again on 19 February. His government included the PSOE and Communists. This alarmed conservatives, who remembered their attempt to seize power only 17 months earlier. The Azaña government proclaimed an immediate amnesty for all prisoners from the rebellion, which increased conservative concerns. Socialists and Communists were appointed to important positions in the Assault Guard and Civil Guard.

Also, with the Popular Front victory, radicalized peasants led by the Socialists began seizing land on 25 March. Azaña chose to legitimize these actions rather than challenge them. Radical Socialists vied with Communists in calling for violent revolution and forcible suppression of the Right. Political assassinations by Communists, Socialists, and anarchosyndicalists were frequent, as were retaliations by increasingly radicalized conservatives.

However, Azaña insisted that the only danger to the Republic was from the Right. On 11 March, the government suppressed the Falange
The Spanish Phalanx of the Assemblies of the National Syndicalist Offensive , known simply as the Falange, is the name assigned to several political movements and parties dating from the 1930s, most particularly the original fascist movement in Spain. The word means phalanx formation in Spanish....

. He appeared unwilling to suppress or even to acknowledge the violence of the Left.

Azaña was a man of very strong convictions and has been called "the last great figure of traditional Castilian arrogance in the history of Spain
History of Spain
The history of Spain involves all the other peoples and nations within the Iberian peninsula formerly known as Hispania, and includes still today the nations of Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal and Spain...

." As a "middle class republican", he was implacably hostile to the monarchy and the Church. The CEDA, which was pro-Catholic, he therefore regarded as illegitimate, and also any and all monarchists, even those who supported parliamentary democracy. But Socialists and Communists, who were sound on these two issues, were acceptable, even as they called for "bolshevization" and the suppression of all "fascist" parties and newspapers, or spoke openly of armed insurrection.

Many historians consider the Popular Front's electoral victory as the first event in the immediate chain of events that led to the military rebellion against the Republic on 17–18 July 1936.


When the Cortes met in April, it removed President Alcalá-Zamora from office. On 10 May 1936, Azaña was elected President of the Republic; Quiroga succeeded him as prime minister. The Socialists and Communists extended their positions in the government. Azaña by this time was profoundly depressed by the increasing disorder, but could see no way to counter it.

Azaña repeatedly warned his fellow Republicans that the lack of unity within the government was a serious threat to the Republic's stability. But he did nothing to check the growing power of the radical Socialists. The political violence continued: there were over 200 assassinations in February through early July.

By July, the military conspiracy to overthrow the Republic was well underway, but nothing definite had been planned. Then
on 13 July, José Calvo Sotelo
José Calvo Sotelo
José Calvo Sotelo, 1st Duke of Calvo Sotelo was a Spanish politician prior to and during the Second Spanish Republic...

, leader of the small monarchist group in the Cortes, was "arrested" and murdered by a mixed group of Socialist gunmen and Assault Guards. Azaña and Quiroga conspicuously failed to act effectively against the killers.

This was the last straw. On 17 July, right-wing elements in the Spanish army proclaimed the overthrow of the Republic. The rebellion failed in Madrid, however. Azaña replaced Quiroga as Prime Minister with his ally Diego Martínez Barrio
Diego Martínez Barrio
Diego Martínez y Barrio was a Spanish politician during the Second Spanish Republic, Prime Minister of Spain between 9 October 1933 and 26 December 1933 and was briefly appointed again by Manuel Azaña after the resignation of Santiago Casares Quiroga, on July 19, 1936 - three days after the...

, and the government attempted a compromise with the rebels, which was rejected by General Mola
Emilio Mola
Emilio Mola y Vidal, 1st Duke of Mola, Grandee of Spain was a Spanish Nationalist commander during the Spanish Civil War. He is best-known for having coined the term "fifth column".-Early life:...


At this time, most of the Spanish army had not joined the rebellion. A strong stand by Azaña in favor of maintaining the constitution against threats from any sector might have restored order.

But Azaña did no such thing. Instead he brought in yet another prime minister, Giral, and the government began to "arm the people"; that is, distribute arms to Socialist and Communist party militias. In the next few days, the Republican state began to unravel. Socialist and anarchosyndicalist radicals ran wild, taking up arms, forming unofficial militias, and attacking anyone considered a "fascist", including businessman and priests. In many areas the "Reds" or anarchists became the effective rulers, while Azaña was paralyzed.

Most of the remainder of the army went over to the rebels. By 4 September, the rebel forces were approaching Madrid. Giral was replaced by the Socialist leader Francisco Largo Caballero
Francisco Largo Caballero
Francisco Largo Caballero was a Spanish politician and trade unionist. He was one of the historic leaders of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and of the Workers' General Union...

. From then on Azaña was an impotent figurehead, passively approving the actions of the Socialists and Communists who now made up the government. On 13 September, he authorized Minister of Finance Juan Negrín
Juan Negrín
Juan Negrín y López was a Spanish politician and physician.-Early years:Born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Negrín came from a religious middle-class family...

 to move the nation's gold reserve to wherever Negrin thought it would be secure. Negrin shipped it to the Soviet Union, which claimed it in payment for arms supplied to the Republic; Azaña said nothing.

In 1938, Azaña moved to Barcelona with the rest of the Republican government, and was cut off there when the rebel forces drove to the sea between Barcelona and Valencia.

When Barcelona fell to the rebels on 26 January 1939, Azaña fled to France. He passed through the Pyrenees
The Pyrenees is a range of mountains in southwest Europe that forms a natural border between France and Spain...

 on foot on 5 February 1939.

On 3 March, he resigned as President of the Republic, rather than return to Madrid with the rest of the government. Both Nationalist and Republican commentators have condemned this decision as "desertion".

Last days

Azaña lived in exile
Exile means to be away from one's home , while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return...

 in France after the war, being trapped there by the Nazi German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 occupation regime
Military history of France during World War II
The military history of France during World War II covers the period from 1939 until 1940, which witnessed French military participation under the French Third Republic , and the period from 1940 until 1945, which was marked by mainland and overseas military administration and influence struggles...

. He died on 4 November 1940, in Montauban
Montauban is a commune in the Tarn-et-Garonne department in the Midi-Pyrénées region in southern France. It is the capital of the department and lies north of Toulouse....

. The Vichy French authorities refused to allow his coffin to be covered with the Republican flag
Flag of the Second Spanish Republic
The Flag of the Second Spanish Republic, also known as , was the official flag of Spain between 1931 and 1939 and the flag of the Spanish Republican government in Exile until 1977.-History:...

 and he was covered instead with the flag of Mexico, whose then current government sympathized with the Spanish republican cause.

Azaña's writings

In his diaries and memoirs, on which he worked meticulously, Azaña vividly describes the various personality and ideological conflicts between himself and various Republican leaders, such as Largo Caballero and Negrín.

Azaña's writings during the Civil War contribute much to the study of the workings of the Republican government during the conflict. Along with his extensive memoirs and diaries, Azaña also produced a number of well-known speeches. His speech on 18 July 1938 is one of the best known of these, in which he implores his fellow Spaniards to seek reconciliation after the fighting ends, emphasizing the need for "Peace, Pity, and Pardon."

Curiously, Azaña also wrote a play during the Civil War, La velada en Benicarló ("Vigil in Benicarló"). Having worked on the play during the previous weeks, Azaña dictated the final version while trapped in Barcelona during the May Days
Barcelona May Days
Barcelona May Days were a period of civil violence in Catalonia, between May 3 and May 8, 1937, when factions on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War engaged each other in street battles in the city of Barcelona.Clashes began when units of the Assault Guard – under the...

 violence. In the play, Azaña uses various characters to espouse the various ideological, political, and social perspectives present within the Republic during the war, hence portraying and attempting to explain the rivalries and conflicts that were damaging the political cohesion of the Republic.

During the many years of his political activity Azaña kept a diary. Diarios completos: monarquía, república, Guerra Civil was published in 2003.

Select bibliography

  • Lagarrigue, Max. "Manuel Azaña en Montauban. La ultima morada del presidente de la República española, Manuel Azaña", in .

    External links

    Manuel Azaña Association
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