The First Portuguese Republic (Portuguese: Primeira República Portuguesa; officially: República Portuguesa, Portuguese Republic) spans a complex 16-year period in the history of Portugal, between the end of the period of 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 sixteen years of the First Republic saw nine presidents and 44 ministries, and have been described as consisting of "continual anarchy, government corruption, rioting and pillage, assassinations, arbitrary imprisonment and religious persecution".
As far as the October 1910 Revolution is concerned, a number of valuable studies have been made, first among which ranks Vasco Pulido Valente’s polemical thesis[title missing]. 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. 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.
A republican Constitution was approved in 1911, inaugurating a parliamentary regime with reduced presidential powers and two chambers of parliament. The constitution generally accorded full civil liberties, the religious liberties of Catholics being an exception.
The First Republic was intensely anti-clerical. The leaders of the Republic were secularists and, indeed, were following liberal tradition of disestablishing the powerful role the Catholic Church once held. Historian Stanley Payne points out, "The majority of Republicans took the position that Catholicism was the number one enemy of individualist middle-class radicalism and must be completely broken as a source of influence in Portugal." Under the leadership of Afonso Costa, the justice minister, the revolution immediately targeted the Catholic Church: churches were plundered, convents were attacked and clergy were harassed[by whom?]. Scarcely had the provisional government been installed when it began devoting its entire attention to an anti-religious policy, in spite of the disastrous economic situation. On 10 October – five days after the inauguration of the Republic – the new government decreed that all convents, monasteries and religious orders were to be suppressed. All residents of religious institutions were expelled and their goods confiscated. The Jesuits were forced to forfeit their Portuguese citizenship. A series of anti-Catholic laws and decrees followed each other in rapid succession. On 3 November, a law legalizing divorce was passed and then there were laws to recognize the legitimacy of children born outside wedlock, authorize cremation, secularize cemeteries, suppress religious teaching in the schools and prohibit the wearing of the cassock. In addition, the ringing of church bells to signal times of worship was subjected to certain restraints, and the public celebration of religious feasts was suppressed. The government also interfered in the running of seminaries, reserving the right to appoint professors and determine curricula. This whole series of laws authored by Afonso Costa culminated in the law of Separation of Church and State, which was passed on 20 April 1911.
The republicans were anticlerical and had a "hostile" approach to the issue of church and state separation, like that of the French Revolution, and the future Mexican Constitution of 1917 and Spanish Constitution of 1931. On 24 May 1911, Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Iamdudum which condemned the anticlericalism of the new republic for its deprivation of religious civil liberties and the "incredible series of excesses and crimes which has been enacted in Portugal for the oppression of the Church."
The PRP had to endure the secession of its more moderate elements, who formed conservative republican parties such as 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. 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[clarification needed] of this period of the Republic’s existence, known as the ‘old’ Republic. Nevertheless, an essay [title missing] by Vasco Pulido Valente should be consulted, as should the attempt[title missing] 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. 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. 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. 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. 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, unofficially called Partido Sidonista, "Sidonist 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 on 14 December 1918 led the country to a brief civil war. The monarchy’s restoration was proclaimed in the north of Portugal, as the Monarchy of the North (Monarquia do Norte), 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" 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. 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 formulae 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.
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. During 1925 there were two attempted military coups - on April 18 and July 19. The military prosecutor was general Oscar Carmona, who refused to fulfill his duties and advocated acquittal of coup plotters.
The Revolution of 28 May 1926 against the last Republican Party government of António Maria da Silva 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. There are few global and up-to-date studies of this turbulent third phase of the Republic’s existence. Nevertheless, much has been written about the crisis and fall of the regime and the 28 May movement;.
The First Portuguese 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:
The First Republic continues to be the subject of an intense debate which is impossible to summarise in these paragraphs. 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 classical liberal regimes of the nineteenth century. A third group, finally, chooses to highlight the regime's revolutionary, Jacobin, and dictatorial nature.
Most historians have emphasized the failure and collapse of the republican dream by the 1920s. José Miguel Sardica in 2011 summarized the consensus of historians:
Sardica, however, also points up the permanent impact of the republican experiment: