Moderate vs. Radical Liberals

Portugal Table of Contents

Pedro survived his victory by less than three months. After his death, fifteen-year-old Maria da Glória was proclaimed queen as Maria II (r.1834-53). Despite their victory over the absolutists, the liberals were themselves divided between moderates, who supported the principles of the charter, and radicals, who wanted a return to the constitution of 1822. Maria's first government was made up of moderates headed by the duke of Palmela, whose government collapsed in May 1835. He was succeeded by the duke of Saldanha, whose government fell in May 1836. In July 1836, radicals were elected from Porto by advocating a return to the constitution of 1822 as a way of resolving Portugal's economic crisis. When these deputies arrived in Lisbon, they were met by demonstrations supporting their cause. The following day, the moderate liberal government collapsed and, in September, the radicals, led by Manuel da Silva Passos, formed a new government. The radicals nullified the Constitutional Charter and reestablished the constitution of 1822 until it could be revised by a constituent cortes to make it more compatible with changed social and economic circumstances.

The actions of the radicals resulted in a violent reaction from the moderates, who saw their power threatened and considered the charter the symbol of the liberal victory in the War of Two Brothers. As a compromise, the Constituent Assembly, convoked in March 1838, attempted to reconcile the constitution of 1822 and the Constitutional Charter. In April 1838, Portugal's third constitution was approved. The document abolished the royal moderative power and returned to liberalism's classical tripartite division of government into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. It reaffirmed, as did the 1822 constitution, that sovereignty rested with the nation. It abolished the Chamber of Peers and substituted a Chamber of Senators, and it established direct election of the Chamber of Deputies, although only selected citizens were allowed to vote. The monarch's role was enhanced and the Chamber of Senators was restricted to leading citizens, or notables.

The radicals, now called Septemberists after the September 1836 revolution, held office until June 1841. On that date, they were replaced in a bloodless coup d'état by moderates, who abolished the 1838 constitution and restored the charter. António Bernardo da Costa Cabral, who organized and led the revolt, took various measures designed to reform Portugal's political, economic, and social systems. Some of these measures, especially new sanitary regulations that prohibited burials in churchyards, stirred the rural countryside, still Miguelist, into active resistance against the liberal government in Lisbon.

The women of the Minho region, who had traditionally played an important role in churchyard burials, began to demonstrate against the authorities. Supported by the rural nobility and clergy, the Maria da Fontes, as this movement was called, spread throughout the rural north. Unable to suppress it by force, the government of Costa Cabral fell on May 20, 1846. The new government, a confusing hodgepodge of radicals and moderates, rescinded the cemetery regulations. The government divided when the duke of Palmela, who was its prime minister, called for new elections in October, hoping to unite the moderates, themselves divided into two factions. This sparked a reaction by the Septemberists, who were particularly strong in Porto, where they rebelled and set up a provisional junta. The duke of Saldanha, Palmela's replacement, attempted without success to suppress the Septemberist rebellion, which by now had spread beyond Porto to other areas. With the country on the brink of a second civil war, Queen Maria sought help from the Quadruple Alliance, consisting of Britain and France, as well as Spanish and Portuguese liberal elements. After the alliance imposed a naval blockade and sent troops, the Septemberists capitulated, Saldanha resigned, and a peace agreement was signed on June 29, 1847. Costa Cabral returned to power.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress