Bernardino Machado’s second manifesto to Portugal’s republicans
Cambo-les-Bains, 24 December 1927
The coup of 28 May 1926
My policy has always been one of national unity, and now more than ever I would pursue this with fellow republicans at this critical moment of our public life. However, because of this I wish to clear up some disagreements that some recent newspaper articles have indicated was my position in May 1926. It is important that we clearly define our common goals.
In the parliamentary republic, the president, while elected by a single party, was not at the service of that party, but at the service of the whole nation.
This is clearly stated in the constitution, which incorporates sufficient dispositions to ensure this is the case. It would be wonderful if, as a rule, the parties understood everything before the election, or at least if they all complied with the result of the election. However, we can say that this was generally the case, and what is more important, through everything, we exhibited an elevated understanding of national politics. Not only did I have the honour of being twice elected president on the votes of both the republican left and right, but I was a candidate of both groups. No-one, I believe, can legitimately suggest that in the exercise of such an important duty I did not strive always not to confuse constitutional support for a ministry with personal preference for the party in office. I formed the 1916 sacred union government and, as everyone knows, on my own initiative I would also have done so in 1926.
I did not immediately interfere in the dispute within the chamber of deputies in May 1926 because it was not within my competence to do so straight away; rather, that was a job for the chamber, to whom responsibility for ensuring its authority was upheld within the country and therefore for its own discipline. I was obliged to consider the reasons why the representatives of the nation were unable to stop the passionate excesses of their controversies. Nothing could be more essentially unconstitutional, nothing more harmful to the dignity and prestige of the regime than its subordination, while the nation’s supreme magistrate, would disappear, its authority lost. And parliament, left to the mercy of the violent demands of the parties left without any constitutional checks capable of moderating them, would no longer function normally.
Worse still, it would lead to the suppression of the constitution. The day on which the country, tired and irritated by the stubbornness of its leaders, acts, it will move from one extreme to the other, and on which we have presidents submissive to the intemperance of the party conflicts, there will appear, in the name of order, a dictatorship. Such a situation is still fresh in our memories of the calamitous scenes of incessant ministerial resignations and parliamentary dissolutions that took place under the monarchy that which resulted in royal despotism. The passive policy of the head of state towards the conflicts between the parties of the rotativismo period was converted into an absolutist policy that was exercised over them as a consequence of the aggrandisement of royal power supported within the army. This led to the fall of the monarchy.
The president of the republic needs to proceed with his hands free to exercise his difficult task. Without his independence, the balance of power is upset and there can be no guarantees for public liberty. I was not subordinated to any party, I simply did my duty, but I had to do so rigorously in order that the nation’s public laws were upheld in all aspects of the representation of its internal and external relations.
Our army, the imperturbable incarnation of the sacred force of Portuguese democracy, also did its duty, as it did with such bravery during the Great War, without giving any party the least hope of being able to achieve power through force of arms rather than through the ballot box, or attempt to extinguish parliament. Those who believe the subservience of the head of state towards party disorder could have prevented the rebellion of 28 May are very wrong. That would have been too high a price that would not have saved the institutions. Such weak presidential authority would only serve to encourage and over-excite the restlessness, fanning the flames of insurrection. For those who want a dictatorship, this is also the victory of a principal that rewards the greatest excesses. No! I was incapable of bowing to the tumultuous desires of the parties to open the doors to militaristic advances.
It was the eve of 1July. The parliamentary session was over and the president of the republic, now relieved of pressures, did not fail in his overarching obligation to act quickly. It was no longer a case of a insuperable differences between the opposition and the government in the chamber of deputies, but rather of the need for parliament, during an extraordinary session, to pass the budget by the end of the economic year, while the government, evidently unable to count on its majority to overcome the obstructionism of the opposition within the timescales allowed for the passage of the budget, was forced to submit its resignation.
It was automatic, and the constitution was upheld.
Why did the insurrectionists not wait three days for the constitutional solution? How can they explain such unjustified convulsions? Because the republican officers who dreamed of settling the party strife have in their delusion, through their rise to the government of the nation, consolidated the republic while lacking the serenity of mind to dominate and overcome the conspiratorial wave of the enemies of the institutions are involved. The subversive tribunal at the Sala do Risco has had its effect. The inhibitory influence of this nefarious solidarity was soon seen in the Commander Cabeçadas’ inability, despite all of the powers legally invested in him, to organise a strong government of men of status who, inspiring general confidence, could loyally preside over an extended campaign of free discussion for the secure restoration of constitutional normality. In the meantime they marched on Lisbon, and the republican vanguard, defeated, became prisoners of the dictators that are at the head of all the public bodies. When will they break their chains?
This is a tremendous lesson that must be deeply inscribed in the memories of all patriots! Partisan discord between republicans will always embolden the forces of reaction and provoke the outbreak of military sedition. And, because of this, it is only through the reconciliation of all of us that we will be able to restore our national sovereignty. I ardently believe in the value of our civic pride to honourably overcome the most distressing provocations.
The heroic courage evidenced on 3 February foreshadows our triumph: upon it the future of the nation depends.Bernardino Machado