A Central Junta (1854)

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This draft is apparently the initial version of the third article in the Revolutionary Spain series. It contains many deletions which are not reproduced in this publication. The title of the draft belongs to Marx.

Madrid having been evacuated by the French, it was to be expected that Napoleon would soon re-appear at the head of a more powerful army. Measures of common defence became then inevitable, and it was generally felt that the Polyarchy of the Provincial Juntas, whose dissensions grew even more clamorous after the success at Beylen, must give way to some sort of Central Government. The juntas, however, anxious to retain their hold upon Power, resolved, upon the proposal of the Junta of Sevilla, to select each from their own body two deputies the reunion of whom was to constitute the Central Government, while the Provincial Juntas remained invested with the internal government of their respective government. Thus a Central Junta, composed of 34 deputies from the Provincial Juntas, met on September 26, 1808, at Aranjuez and remained at the head of affairs till January 29, 1810. This Central Junta was driven by the Invader from Madrid to Sevilla and from Sevilla to Cadiz. While they waged a war of edicts from the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, the pass of Samosierra was forced by the French, and while they amused the people with vigorous proclamations from Sevilla, the passes of the Sierra Morena were lost and Soult's army inundated Andalusia.

During the reign of the Central Junta, the Spanish armies disappeared from the soil, ignominious defeats overset each other, and the disastrous battle at Ocaña (November 19, 1809) was the last pitched battle which the Spaniards fought, from that time confining themselves to a Guerrilla warfare.

When "His Majesty"—this was the title assumed by the Junta—fled from Sevilla, Cadiz offered the only asylum, and if the Duke of Albuquerque, instead of marching his corps upon Cadiz, had in obedience to their orders proceeded to Cordova, his own army would have been cut off, Cadiz must have surrendered to the French, and there would have been an end of any Central Power in Spain. Where heroic resistance is exceptionally met with, it is not the regular armies, in the open field, but only on the part of assieged towns as at Saragossa and Gerona.

These few reminiscences from the Spanish war of Independence suffice to characterise the Central Junta. The expulsion of the French army from the Spanish soil was the great object of their installation and in that object they signally failed. Under revolutionary still more than under ordinary circumstances the successes [of] armies reflect the character of the Central Government. The mere fact of the abandonment of the regular warfare for Guerrilla exploits proves the disappearance of the national centre before the local centres of resistance. Whence this failure of the National government?

The very composition of the Central Junta certainly not suited the task imposed upon them. Being for a dictatorial power too many and too fortuitously mixed together, they were too few to pretend to the authority of a National Convention. The mere fact of their power being delegated from the Provincial Juntas, incapacitated them to overcome the self-governing propensities, the bad will, and the capricious egotism of these Juntas. The two most marked members of the Central Junta: Florida Blanca—the octogenarian minister of the enlightened despotism of Charles III—and Jovellanos, a well-intentioned reformer who from overconscientious scruples as to the means never dared to accomplish an end—were certainly no match for the terrible crisis the country was placed in.

The sense of their own weakness and the unstable tenure of their power with respect to the people kept them in constant fear and suspicion of the generals to whom they were obliged to entrust the military commands. General Morla, himself a member of the Central Junta, went over into the Bonapartist Camp, after he had surrendered Madrid to Napoleon. Cuesta, [who] had begun with arresting the Leonese Deputies to the Central Junta and with forging plans for the restoration of the old authority of the Captains General[1] and the royal audiencias[2], also seemed afterwards to win the confidence of the Government in the same measure as he lost the battles of the country. Their distrust in Generals la Romana and Castaños, the victor of Beylen, proved well founded by the open hostility the former shew them in his address to the nation, d[e] d[ato] : Sevilla, on October 4, 1809, and the other by his conduct towards them when he became a member of the Regency. The Duke of Albuquerque, who of all the Spanish generals of that epoch was perhaps the only man to conduct a great war, seemed to be singularly gifted with all the dangerous qualities of a military dictator, a reason quite sufficient to remove him from all important commands. We may then give full credit to the Duke of Wellington writing to his brother, the Marquis of Wellesley, on September 1, 1809:

"I am much afraid, from what I have seen of the proceedings of the Central Junta, that in the distribution of their forces they did not consider military defence, and military operations, so much, as they do political intrigue, and the attainment of trifling political objects."

The first popular government of Spain seemed overawed by a presentiment of the prominent part military men were destined to act in internal commotions. Devoid as they were of all truly revolutionary force by their very composition, the Central Junta could not but resort to petty intrigues in order to check the ascendancy of their own generals. On the other hand, incapable to resist the pressure of popular clamour, they often forced the generals into precipitate actions where the success could only be expected from most cautious and protracting stay upon the defensive.

  1. The captain-generalcies—administrative areas established in Spain in the sixteenth century in which the supreme military and administrative authority belonged to captain-generals.
  2. Supreme Courts of Appeal in Spain and Latin America.—Ed.