Previous page Page 4 of 4  
Index |  History |  Highlights |  WhatWhenWhere
To the 14th century
Exploration and trade
16th - 19th century
20th century
     Last of the Braganzas
     From republic to New State
     Portugal in Europe

Bookmark and Share
Last of the Braganzas: 1834-1910

The reign of Maria II is marked by the struggles between liberal and conservative factions which are characteristic of political life in many nations at this time, though here there is a local dimension here in the split between those who want the people's constitution accepted by John VI in 1822 and those preferring the charter imposed by his son Pedro in 1826.

Maria is succeeded by two sons (Pedro V, Luís I) and then by a grandson (Carlos I). During the reigns of Luís and Carlos the dominant theme in Portuguese politics is the expansion of the Portuguese empire in Africa.


Meanwhile republicanism is a growing force within Portugal in the late 19th century. The first decade of the new century brings the assassination of Carlos I and his heir, Luís Filipe, as they ride in an open carriage in Lisbon in 1908.

The identity and precise motives of the assassins are unknown, but their act destablizes an already shaky and unpopular monarchy. Manuel II, the younger son of Carlos, rules only two years before a republican revolution sends him into exile in England - bringing to an end nearly three centuries of the Braganza dynasty.


From republic to New State: 1910-1968

The early years of the republic are violent, with sudden swings between rival groups and the assassination from time to time of leading politicians - particularly after 1918. (The nation joins the allied side in World War I, sending troops to fight in Africa and on the western front in Europe.)

An increasingly unstable situation during the 1920s is followed by a military coup, in 1926, which plunges Portugal into a long period of right-wing dictatorship. António Óscar de Fragoso Carmona becomes leader of the military government.


After crushing an uprising in 1927, Carmona wins the support of the nation in a plebiscite and is elected president. It is a position to which he is re-elected every seven years until his death in 1951. But from as early as 1928 real power is in other hands.

In 1928, confronted by economic chaos, Carmona hands control of the nation's finances to an economics professor from the university of Coimbra, António de Oliveira Salazar. Puritanical by nature, a man of simple and self-denying habits, Salazar is a strict authoritarian who rapidly brings the nation's finances into good order and then applies the same strong medicine to the Portuguese themselves.


From 1932 he is prime minister with absolute power in all departments. In the following year he introduces a constitution as the basis for his Estado Novo (New State). Relying on a secret police, press censorship and a large army, his regime blends the coercive powers of a fascist state and of the Catholic church. In World War II he follows Spain in maintaining neutrality.

Like other totalitarian rulers, Salazar is better at building railways, bridges and power stations than at educating the people or improving the economy at an everyday level. When he suffers a stroke in 1968, and is replaced as dictator by his colleague Marcelo Caetano, Portugal is the poorest and most backward nation in western Europe.


In Salazar's repertoire of certainties, one of the most passionately held is the conviction that Portugal must not relinquish any part of its remaining empire. The Indians cock a snook at this by marching into Goa in 1961. Later in the 1960s the Portuguese army is forced to expend much effort in resisting independence movements in Angola and Mozambique.

Discontent with this unending commitment lies behind a military coup which topples Caetano in 1974, bringing to an end four decades of Salazar's New State.


Portugal in Europe: 1974-1999

In the early years after the revolution of 1974 Portugal has a bumpy ride in its gradual return to democracy and to a role among the nations of western Europe, after nearly half a century of dictatorship and isolation. Two counter-coups are attempted during 1975, and violent feuding between the emergent political parties makes stable progress difficult at first. But the determination to join the European Union soon concentrates the collective mind.

Portugal becomes a member of the EU in 1986. Its economy is in sufficiently stable shape for it to be one of the first eleven states to adopt the Euro as a common currency in 1999.


The outstanding figure in Portuguese political life since the revolution has been Mario Soares. A Socialist, imprisoned twelve times during the Salazar years, Soares becomes foreign minister in 1974 and oversees the rapid winding up of the Portuguese empire (a process which brings a million or more refugees to Portugal).

In 1976 Soares becomes the first Portuguese prime minister in half a century to be democratically elected (serving in this role in 1976-8 and again in 1983-5). In 1986 he becomes head of state as president, being re-elected for a second five-year term in 1991. In 1996 he is followed in this role by Jorge Sampaio, also a Socialist and previously the mayor of Lisbon.


Previous page Page 4 of 4  
Up to top of page HISTORY OF PORTUGAL