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Alcalá Zamora and the Failure of the Spanish Republic, 1931–1936


In the Series
Studies in Spanish History

Stanley G. Payne’s most recent authored books include Franco: A Personal and Political Biography (with Jesús Palacios) (Wisconsin, 2014); The Spanish Civil War (Cambridge, 2012); and Civil War in Europe, 1905–1949 (Cambridge, 2011). He is the recipient of the Elizabeth Steinberg Prize (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004); the Marshall Shulman Prize (American Association for Advancement of Slavic Studies, 2005); and was co-editor of the Journal of Contemporary History from 1999 to 2015.

The Second Spanish Republic (1931–36) was the only new liberal democratic regime to emerge in Europe during the 1930s. Historians, however, have focused primarily on the Civil War of 1936–39 that followed, devoting much less attention to the parliamentary regime that preceded it. This book deals with the history and failure of the democratic polity in Spain through a detailed examination of the initiatives of its president, Niceto Alcalá Zamora. As civil servant, lawyer, politician and writer, by 1931 he had become one of the most successful men of Spain. He played the leading role in the downfall of the monarchy and the inauguration of the Republic, which he served for eight months as initial prime minister and then as the first president.

Stanley Payne’s study argues that the failure of the Republic was not inevitable but depended on the policy choices of its president and the key party leaders. Alcalá Zamora’s professed goal was to “center the Republic,” stabilizing the new regime while avoiding extremes, but he failed altogether in this project. The Constitution of 1931 stipulated the “double responsibility” of parliamentary government both to the president and to a voting majority. Though Alcalá Zamora resisted strong efforts from the left to cancel the results of the first fully democratic elections in 1933, he subsequently used his powers recklessly, making and unmaking governments at will, refusing to permit normal functioning of parliament.

This first critical scholarly account of the presidency of Alcalá Zamora casts new light on the failure of democracy in interwar Europe and on the origins of the Spanish Civil War.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-858-9
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: April 2017
Page Extent / Format: 200 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


Preface by Series Editor Nigel Townson

1 A Monarchist Liberal (1877–1923)
2 From Monarchist to Republican (1923–1931)
3 The Battle over the Constitution (1931)
4 The Reformist Biennium (1931–1933)
5 The Elections of 1933 and the Victory of the Center and Right
6 The Center Governments and the Revolutionary Insurrection of 1934
7 Government by the Center-Right (1934–1935)
8 Alcalá Zamora Puts an End to Parliamentary Government (1935–1936)
9 The Ouster of Alcalá Zamora (1936)



The Spanish Republic and Civil War, 1931–39, continue to be rich subjects of historical curiosity, interpretation, and inspiration. Recent revisions of well-established understandings of the origins of the Civil War have been very significant and provocative, especially as to the responsibilities and actions of key political figures and ideological parties and groups. Payne, now emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin, has authored numerous major works in Spanish history over five decades, such as The Spanish Civil War and Spain: A Unique History. He has not been reluctant to offer firm contradiction to cherished views, and this book is no exception. Partly a political biography of Alcalá Zamora, president of the Republic from 1931 until his deposition in 1936, this is also a sharply critical analysis of the multiple failures of the Republic. Payne clearly details the dilemmas of a veteran political leader — a moderate, centrist figure faced with multiple and dangerous challenges and antagonists. The author readily allows that Zamora was a man of high ideals, yet his actions, too often flawed by manipulation and deception, undermined the Republic. A remarkably detailed account of a tragic failure, best suited to readers very familiar with the subject.
Choice, reviewed by N. Greene, Wesleyan University

Payne contributes decisively to clarifying /some/ of the most notable events in contemporary Spanish history.
Jesús Palacios, La Razón, 17 April 2016

Detailed, rigorous, well-documented…, once more demonstrating the talents of a great historian.
Luis Palacios, Revista de Libros, 13 July 2016

This history explains why the Second Spanish Republic failed by examining the life and policies of its prime minister and president Niceto Alcalá Zamora. The book demonstrates that although Alcalá Zamora helped bring about the end of the monarchy, he and other leaders made bad policy choices that led to the failure of the republic and set the stage for the Spanish Civil War. This is the first biography of Alcalá Zamora published in English. It includes b&w historical photos.

In this short but penetrating biography, Payne examines Alcalá Zamora’s contribution to the collapse of the
Republic. Making full use of the president’s diaries and other papers, which were stolen in Republican Madrid in 1937 and rediscovered only a decade ago, the American historian is not reluctant to list Alcalá Zamora’s personal qualities: unlike his successor, Manuel Azaña, he lived modestly, refusing to take up residence in the presidential palace. Moreover, the president’s aim of “centering the Republic” against the extremes of left and right was a noble one. Nevertheless, he was also a vain politician who was quick to take offense, and he was ultimately unsuited to the arbitrating role assigned to him by the Spanish Constitution of 1931. This stipulated that governments needed the confidence of both the parliament and the head of state, and Alcalá Zamora arbitrarily used his power to meddle in the internal affairs of political parties to exclude from office those who provoked his displeasure. One particular victim was Alejandro Lerroux, the veteran leader of the Radical Republican Party, whose own vision of a moderate and inclusive Republic was much more electorally successful than that of Alcalá Zamora.
Julius Ruiz, University of Edinburgh, American Historical Review (December 2018)

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