Canovas Del Castillo, Antonio
CANOVAS DEL CASTILLO, ANTONIO (1828-1897), Spanish statesman, was born in Malaga on the 8th of February 1828. Educated in his native town, he went to Madrid in 1845, bent upon finding means to complete his literary and philosophical studies. His uncle, Don Serafin Estebañez Calderon, found him a situation as clerk in the Madrid-Aranjuez railway, but Canovas soon took to journalism and literature, earning enough to support himself and pay for his law studies at the Madrid University. During this period he published his two best works - an historical novel, Las Campanas de Huesca, and the history of the decay of Spain from Philip III. to Charles II. under the house of Austria. He became a politician through his Junius-like letters to the "Murcielago" - The Bat, a satirical political journal - and by drawing up the manifesto of Manzanares in 1854 for Marshal O'Donnell, of whom he always remained a loyal adherent. Canovas entered the Cortes in 1854; he was made governor of Cadiz in 1857, sub-director of the state department in 1858, under-secretary at the home office in 1860, minister of the interior in 1864, minister of the colonies in 1865, minister of finance in 1866, and was exiled by Marshal Narvaez in the same year, afterwards becoming a bitter opponent of all the reactionary cabinets until the revolution of 1868. He took no part in preparing that event. He sat in the Cortes Constituyentes of 1869 as a doctrinaire Conservative, combating all Radical and democratic reforms, and defending the exiled Bourbons; but he abstained from voting when the Cortes elected Amadeus king on the 16th of November 1870. He did not object to some of his political friends, like Silvela and Elduayen, entering the cabinets of King Amadeus, and in 1872 declared that his attitude would depend on the concessions which government would make to Conservative principles. After the abdication of Amadeus and the proclamation of the federal republic, Canovas took the lead of the propaganda in favour of the restoration of the Bourbons, and was their principal agent and adviser. He drew up the manifesto issued in 1874 by the young king Alphonso XII., at that time a cadet at Sandhurst; but he dissented from the military men who were actively conspiring to organize an Alphonsist pronunciamiento. Like Marshal Concha, marquis del Duero, he would have preferred to let events develop enough to allow of the dynasty being restored without force of arms, and he severely blamed the conduct of the generals when he first heard of the pronunciamiento of Marshal Campos at Sagunto. Sagasta thereupon caused Canovas to be arrested (30th of December 1874); but the next day the Madrid garrison also proclaimed Alphonso XII. king, and Canovas showed the full powers he had received from the king to assume the direction of affairs. He formed a regency ministry pending the arrival of his majesty, who confirmed his appointment, and for six years Canovas was premier except during the short-lived cabinets of Marshal Jovellar in 1875 and Marshal Campos for a few months in 1879. Canovas was, in fact, the soul of the Restoration. He had to reconstruct a Conservative party out of the least reactionary parties of the days of Queen Isabella and out of the more moderate elements of the revolution. With such followers he made the constitution of 1876 and all the laws of the monarchy, putting a limited franchise in the place of universal suffrage, curtailing liberty of conscience, rights of association and of meeting, liberty of the press, checking democracy, obliging the military to abstain from politics, conciliating the Carlists and Catholics by his advances to the Vatican, the Church and the religious orders, pandering to the protectionists by his tariff policy, and courting abroad the friendship of Germany and Austria after contributing to the marriage of his king to an Austrian princess. Canovas crowned his policy by countenancing the formation of a Liberal party under Sagasta, flanked by Marshal Serrano and other Liberal generals, which took office in 1881. He again became premier in 1883, and remained in office until November 1885; but he grew very unpopular, and nearly endangered the monarchy in 1885 by his violent repression of popular and press demonstrations, and of student riots in Madrid and the provinces. At the death of Alphonso XII. he at once advised the queen regent to send for Sagasta and the Liberals, and during five years he looked on quietly whilst Sagasta re-established universal suffrage and most of the liberties curtailed in 1876, and carried out a policy of free trade on moderate lines. In 1890 Canovas took office under the queen regent, and one of his first acts was to reverse the tariff policy of the Liberals, denouncing all the treaties of commerce, and passing in 1892 a highly protectionist tariff. This was the starting-point of the decline in foreign trade, the advance of foreign exchanges, the decay of railway traffic, and the monetary and financial crisis which continued from 1892 to 1898. Splits in the Conservative ranks forced Canovas to resign at the end of 1893, and Sagasta came in for eighteen months, Canovas resumed office in March 1895 immediately after the outbreak of the Cuban insurrection, and devoted most of his time and efforts, with characteristic determination, to the preparation of ways and means for sending 200,000 men to the West Indies to carry out his stern and unflinching policy of no surrender, no concessions and no reforms. He was making up his mind for another effort to enable General Weyler to enforce the reforms that had been wrung from the Madrid government, more by American diplomacy than from a sense of the inevitable, when the bullet of an anarchist, in August 1897, at the baths of Santa Agueda, cut short his career. On the whole, Canovas must be regarded as the greatest Spanish statesman of the close of the 19th century. He was not only a politician but also a man of the world, a writer of considerable merit, a scholar well versed in social, economic and philosophical questions, a great debater, a clever lecturer, a member of all the Madrid academies and a patron of art and letters.
(A. E. H.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)