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Manuel Azaña y Díaz

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Manuel Azaña y Díaz (January 10, 1880 - November 4, 1940) was the President of the Spanish Second Republic whose attempts to form a Liberal government were halted by the Spanish Civil War.

Educated at the Augustinian Colegio María Cristina near Madrid, Azaña left it with strongly anti-clerical convictions. He studied law in Paris, but his early career was mainly literary. He dabbled in journalism, translated The Bible in Spain by George Barrow and works by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, and wrote and autobiographical and anti-clerical novel ‘’El jardin de los frailes’’ (1927, The Garden of the Monks) A biography of Juan Valera, a major 19th century Spanish novelist earned him a Nobel Literature Prize in 1926.

After his election as President (1930) of the Ataneo, a literary and political club in Madrid, he began to organize a Republican movement in opposition to the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera. He was a member of the revolutionary committee that signed the San Sebastián Pact (August 1930) that in April 1931 became the provisional government of Spain. As Minister of War in the Provisional Government, he conducted a purge of the army. The dominant figure in the constituent Cortes (Parliament) of 1931, he was the driving force behind its anti-clerical provisions during the discussion of the new constitution. When, as a result of these articles, Niceto Alcalá Zamora resigned as Prime Minister (October, 1931), Azaña succeeded him.

Azaña’s premiership, which lasted until September 1933, has been much criticised, especially for the draconian Law for the Defense of the Republic (1931) and for the severity with which the government acted during the civil disturbances in January and August 1932 and in January 1933. In addition, the enthusiastic innovations of his inexperienced ministers made the years 1931-33 the most successful series of reforms in the short life of the Second Republic.

Azaña was driven from office in the autumn of 1933 by a combination of centre and right wing parties. In 1934 he was arrested on suspicion of having abetted an uprising in Catalonia. After his acquittal, he was increasingly looked to as a savior of the Republic, and he decided to run for the Presidency after the deposition of Alcalá Zamora by the Popular Front. Elected in May 1936, he tried to prevent the left wing parties from gaining complete control but was able to do little before the outbreak of the Civil War. He reacted to the nationalist uprising by appointing the moderate Diego Martínez Barrio as prime minister in an attempt to widen support for the republic. The attempt was a failure, and control of policy soon passed from Azaña’s hands though he remained in office as a figurehead. After the victory of the nationalist forces of Franco, he went into exile to France, where he later died.