García Moreno, Gabriel (1821–1875)

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García Moreno, Gabriel (1821–1875)

Gabriel García Moreno (b. 24 December 1821; d. 6 August 1875), president of Ecuador (1861–1865, 1869–1875). Born in Guayaquil into a family of modest means, Gabriel García Moreno completed his early studies at home before going to Quito for his secondary and university studies. He received a doctorate in law at the University of Quito, and in 1846 married the aristocratic Rosa Ascásubi Matheu. In 1855–1856 he took courses in the natural sciences in France at the Sorbonne.

García Moreno entered politics as a liberal, an opponent of General Juan José Flores, and an admirer of the enlightened Vicente Rocafuerte. He gained notoriety as a publisher of three polemical newspapers: El Zurriago (1845), El Vengador (1846–1847), and La Nación (1853). His vehement opposition to the government forced him into exile three times between 1850 and 1856. Life abroad induced him to turn conservative, to become a francophile, and to champion the cause of the Catholic Church.

Upon completing scientific studies in Paris in 1856, he returned to Ecuador and was named rector of the University of Quito. Soon afterward he won a seat in the Senate. When the government became mired in a grave crisis with Peru, García Moreno took part in a campaign that toppled the government and precipitated a period of anarchy in Ecuador.

In May 1859 a junta de notables named García Moreno a member of a triumvirate. He quickly emerged as the dominant leader but soon suffered a military defeat that caused him to flee to Peru. After securing support from the Peruvian president, he managed in a few months to return to Quito and to take charge there. Desperate to pacify the nation, he secretly proposed to establish a French protectorate over Ecuador. France did not respond to the proposal.

By early 1861 the nation was sufficiently pacified for a national convention to elect García Moreno president for four years. He completed his term of office, bullied two successors for the next four years, and then seized power by force. He remained president until his violent death in 1875.

During his first administration García Moreno held power by ruthless repression of the opposition. He reformed the treasury, increased revenues, turned public schools over to the clergy, allowed the Jesuits to return to Ecuador, and defended his nation from the aggressive intentions of Colombia and Peru. His efforts to modernize the university and improve the transportation system gave the impression of continued liberalism, but his repression of criticism and his espousal of unabashed clericalism revealed a shift to authoritarian conservatism. Most revealing was the negotiation in 1862 of a controversial concordat with the Vatican that surrendered the patronato (government authority over clerical appointments and revenues), permitted church censorship of school texts, and called for reform of corrupt religious orders. A subsequent campaign to spiritualize the clergy helped turn the church into a strong pillar of the state.

The authoritarian Constitution of 1869 allowed García Moreno to become a legal dictator and to press his religious fervor to surprising extremes. Non-Catholics were denied civil rights, substantial sums of money were donated to the Vatican, and in 1873 the nation was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In secular affairs, García Moreno founded an astronomical observatory, a new military academy, and a polytechnical school. Public works included many new roads, especially a good cart road from Quito to Guayaquil, initiation of railroad lines, and a large prison in Quito.

While García Moreno was arranging his own reelection in 1875, copies of Juan Montalvo's La dictadura perpetua, an inflammatory indictment of the Ecuadorian dictator, arrived in Quito. Soon afterward a group of young liberals, probably incited by Montalvo's words, cut down the president with machete blows. This bloody act ended the dictatorship but turned García Moreno into a martyr of conservatism.

See alsoEcuador, Constitutions; Flores, Juan José; Jesuits.


George Howe, "García Moreno's Efforts to Unite Ecuador and France," in Hispanic American Historical Review 16, no. 2 (1936): 257-262.

Luis Robalino Dávila, García Moreno (1948).

Severo Gomezjurado, Vida de García Moreno, 10 vols. (1954–1971).

Benjamín Carrión, García Moreno: El santo del patíbulo (1959).

Richard Pattee, Gabriel García Moreno y el Ecuador de su tiempo, 3d ed. (1962).

Additional Bibliography

Castillo, Ocarina. Gabriel García Moreno, o, El orden de la piedad intolerante. Caracas: Fundación CELARG: Ediciones FACES/UCV, 1998.

Ponce, Pilar. Gabriel García Moreno. Quito: Editorial El Conejo, 1990.

Ruiz Rivera, Julián Bautista. Gabriel García Moreno, dictador ilustrado del Ecuador. Madrid: Anaya, 1988.

Xavier, Adro. García Moreno: siglo XIX, Hispanoamérica Ecuatorial Barcelona: Editorial Casals, 1991.

                                        Mark J. Van Aken

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García Moreno, Gabriel (1821–1875)

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García Moreno, Gabriel (1821–1875)