Gabriel García Moreno

This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is García Moreno and the second or maternal family name is Morán de Buitrón.
Gabriel García Moreno
President of Ecuador
In office
August 10, 1869  August 6, 1875
Vice President Francisco Xavier León (1869–1875)
Preceded by Manuel de Ascásubi
Succeeded by Rafael Carvajal
Interim President of Ecuador
In office
January 17, 1869  May 19, 1869
Preceded by Juan Javier Espinosa
Succeeded by Manuel de Ascásubi
President of Ecuador
In office
April 2, 1861  August 30, 1865
Vice President Mariano Cueva (1861–1865)
Succeeded by Rafael Carvajal
Interim President of Ecuador
In office
January 17, 1861  April 2, 1861
Preceded by Francisco Robles
Personal details
Born (1821-12-24)December 24, 1821
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Died August 6, 1875(1875-08-06) (aged 53)
Quito, Ecuador
Nationality Ecuadorian
Political party Conservative Party
Spouse(s) Rosa de Ascásubi
Mariana del Alcázar
Religion Catholic Church
Gabriel García Moreno on a 2014 stamp of Ecuador

Gabriel Gregorio Fernando José María García y Moreno y Morán de Buitrón (December 24, 1821 – August 6, 1875) was an Ecuadorian politician who twice served as President of Ecuador (1861–65 and 1869–75) and was assassinated during his second term, after being elected to a third.[1] He is noted for his conservatism, Catholic religious perspective and rivalry with liberal strongman Eloy Alfaro. Under his administration, Ecuador became a leader in science and higher education within Latin America. In addition to the advances in education and science, he was noted for economically and agriculturally advancing the country, as well as for his staunch opposition to corruption, even giving his own salary to charity.[2] However, a contemporary account from a consortium of London publishers, The Annual Register for 1875, reports, "the deceased President was a ruler more feared than loved in the Republic whose destinies he had guided for nearly fifteen years, having governed it rather as a military dictator than as the head authority of a Liberal Constitution.”[3]


Gabriel Garcia Moreno was born in 1821, the son of Gabriel García y Gómez, a Spanish merchant, and María de las Mercedes Moreno y Morán de Buitrón, a member of a wealthy aristocratic criollo family in Ecuador's main port, Guayaquil. Garcia Gomez, his father, initially had been a Spanish merchant who invested in the shipping industry of the Viceroyalty of Peru (then a Spanish colony encompassing what is now Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia) who moved to the New World in order to see his investment yield results. He died, however, when Garcia Moreno was a boy, leading his upbringing to his devoutly Catholic mother. This rearing instilled in the young Garcia Moreno a devout sense of Catholic piety which would influence his later political activity as well as his private life. Garcia Moreno studied theology and law in the University of Quito. Thinking he had a vocation to the priesthood, he received minor orders and the tonsure; but his closest friends and his own interests convinced him to pursue a secular career. Graduating in 1844, he was admitted to the bar. Starting his career as both lawyer and journalist (opposed to the Liberal government in power) he made little headway. In 1849, he embarked on a two-year visit to Europe to see first hand the effects of the 1848 revolution. He made a second trip in 1854-56.

He returned home to find his country in the grip of strident anti-clericals; he was elected a senator and joined the opposition. Although himself a monarchist (he would have liked to have seen a Spanish prince on the throne) he bowed to circumstances and allowed himself to be made president after a civil war the year after his return---so great had his stint as a senator made his reputation. In 1861, his presidential position was confirmed in a popular election for a four-year term. His successor was deposed by the Liberals in 1867. But two years later he was reelected, and then again in 1875. During his period in office, he propelled his nation forward, all the while uniting him more closely to Catholicism.

Personally pious (he attended Mass daily, as well as visiting the Blessed Sacrament; he received Holy Communion every Sunday—a rare practice before Pope Pius X—and was active in a sodality), he made it one of the first duties of his government to promote and support Catholicism. Catholicism was the official religion of Ecuador, but by the terms of a new Concordat, the State's power over appointment of bishops inherited from Spain was eliminated at García Moreno's insistence. The 1869 constitution made Catholicism the religion of the State and required that both candidates and voters be Catholic. He was the only ruler in the world to protest the Pope's loss of the Papal States, and two years later had the legislature consecrate Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One of his biographers writes that after this public consecration, he was marked for death by German freemasons.[4]

García Moreno generated some animosity with his friendship toward the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). During a period of exile, he helped some displaced Jesuits from Germany find refuge in Ecuador. He had also advocated legislation which would outlaw secret societies.[5]

While the politics of his age were extremely convoluted and murky, that he was elected to a second term clearly indicates his popular appeal, both with the Catholic Church and with the masses. His vigorous support of universal literacy and education based on the French model was both controversial and bold.

Through both his parents, García Moreno was descended from noble Spanish families. His father, Gabriel García y Gómez de Tama was a Spaniard from Soria, descended from the house of the Dukes of Osuna, and an official of the Spanish Royal Navy. García Moreno's mother was a member of a wealthy and prominent Spanish-Criollo aristocratic family. Her father was Count of Moreno and Governor-General of Guatemala, before moving to Guayaquil, where he was the Perpetual Military Governor. Among his other relatives were Juan Ignacio Moreno y Maisanove, Archbishop of Toledo and Cardinal Primate of Spain, and his brothers Teodoro Moreno y Maisonave, count of Moreno and justice of the Spanish Supreme Court and Joaquín Moreno y Maisonave, military historian and Chief Justice of the Royal Tribunal of the Military Orders of the Kingdom of Spain.

García Moreno founded the Conservative Party in 1869. He was killed in office by a machete-wielding Colombian named Faustino Rayo. He also lived at the first Hacienda of Ecuador, the Hacienda Guachalá, who leased from 1868 until near his death.

Ecuador after independence

The coming of independence to Latin America saw the formation of two parties in every country: Liberal and Conservative. Conservatives looked toward Europe, and particularly Spain, for social and political inspiration. They wished to retain the Catholic Church in the position which she had from the first settlement; furthermore, they wanted the great estates to remain like those of Europe—self-contained communities which, despite failing to make a great deal of money for their owners, did build social stability. The Liberals looked to the United States as a guide, wanted separation of Church and State, and wished to turn the great estates into money-making concerns, like factories. These two groups had clashed since independence. The Conservatives produced some notable leaders, like Mexico's Agustín de Iturbide and Guatemala's Rafael Carrera. As the 19th century progressed, both parties were faced with the impact of such inventions as the railroad.

From 1845 to 1860 Ecuador was in a position of near anarchy, barely ruled by a series of fleeting regimes, mostly liberal; it was from this precarious, nearly anarchistic situation which Garcia Moreno saved the country.[6]

Economic climate of Ecuador

García Moreno came to the presidency of a country with an empty treasury and an enormous debt. To overcome this, he placed the government on stringent economy and abolished many positions, as well as cutting out the corruption which siphoned off tax money. As a result, he was able to provide Ecuadoreans with more for less. This improved the financial status of the country and attracted foreign investment.[7] The army was reformed, with officers being sent to Prussia to study, and illiterate recruits taught basic skills. Houses of prostitution were closed, and hospitals opened in all the major towns. Railroads and national highways were built, the telegraph extended, and the postal and water systems improved. City streets were paved and local bandits suppressed. These public works projects were accomplished in part through the use of revenues obtained from the trabajo subsidario tax, a tax initially created to aid the funding of local works projects. The trabajo subsidario tax in many ways mirrored the colonial mita labor requirements demanded of Indians by Spaniards. The voluntary contributions law and trabajo subsidario tax, revived in 1854, required that every citizen contribute four days of unpaid work to the state yearly or its monetary equivalent to promote the nation's public works projects.[8] Like its mita precursor, the trabajo subsidario obligation fell most heavily on Ecuador's indigenous populations since these groups were unable to pay to avoid labor. Estate-bound peons were able to find protection from these laws through the help of hacendado or essential paternal landlords. In 1862, in a somewhat contentious move, García Moreno demanded control of these revenues of this tax in order to direct funds towards his ambitions for major infrastructural reform.[9] This created a great deal of local discontent, as this meant diverting funds from more locally based public works projects. Using these funds, García Moreno began his famous highway system project, contracting workers from the trabajo subsidario requirement to build these roads. Although the ultimate results of the project are often praised, García Moreno has been criticized for his use of "forced" labor to build these highways and the overall discriminatory and abusive treatment of indigenous workers during the process of construction. In his chronicle, Four years among the Ecuadorians, Friedrich Hassaurek describes witnessing the building of the road from Quito to Guayaquil. He describes the "lamentable sight" of Indians laboring to build the roads without sufficient tools. Hassurek writes, "[The Indian] does not work voluntarily, not even when paid for his labor, but is pressed into the service of the government for a length of time, at the expiration of which he is discharged and another forced into his place. He works unwillingly, is kept to his task by the whip of the overseer. It is evident that but little progress could be made under these circumstances."[10] Along with a variety of notable public works programs, García Moreno reformed the universities, established two polytechnic and agricultural colleges and a military school, and increased the number of primary schools from 200 to 500. The number of primary students grew from 8000 to 32,000. To staff the enormously expanded health-care and educational facilities, foreign religious were brought in. All of this was done while expanding the franchise and guaranteeing equal rights under the law to every Ecuadorean.

Religious climate of Ecuador

Economic development, however, was only a part of Garcia Moreno’s plan for the new Ecuador; he above all sought to remake the nation into a shining example of a Catholic state. Garcia Moreno, while abroad, had witnessed the violence and chaos, as well as the uprooting of the Church’s spiritual authority, which revolutionary liberalism brought in the Revolutions of 1848, As a result, he became further committed to Catholic principles. The new constitution Garcia Moreno drafted in 1861 increased presidential power to allow for this, and his 1862 concordat with the Church gave it more power over Ecuador it has ever had before or since. Catholicism, in a new 1869 constitution, was made the state religion as well as the only legal faith. Garcia Moreno further strengthened the Church’s interests that same year by signing into effect legislation which outlawed secret societies such as the Freemasons, which those on the receiving end saw as a personal attack.

Garcia Moreno, however, did not merely leave the Church alone but instead sought to reform the behavior of Ecuador’s clergy. Priests since colonial times, in spite of canon law, frequently had held wives and concubines on the side, and monks frequently were in disciplinary trouble for abandoning their vows and engaging in drunkenness. Garcia Moreno, therefore set into effect laws which enforced rigid monastic and clerical discipline. He further set the Church to work by turning education over to the Jesuits, who were well renowned for their work in the advance of the empirical sciences.

Political climate and assassination

Assassination of Gabriel García Moreno, as seen by Pierre Méjanel

The Liberals hated García Moreno, due to the authoritarian and ultraconservative nature of his rule, as well as the fact that he frequently used secret police to silence leftist dissent. In the minds of radicals, Garcia Moreno was a dictator, and the liberals also were enraged that he kept his grip on power after 1865 by installing presidential puppets, yet seizing the presidency again in 1869. Meanwhile, other politicians, who previously had been free to exert their influence over government for their own personal gain, now were opposed by a man determined to stamp out all corruption within Ecuador. This opposition from the more radical left compelled Juan Montalvo to write the pamphlet La dictadura perpetua (The Perpetual Dictatorship), which inspired the movement to assassinate Garcia Moreno. Therefore, when he was elected a third time in 1875, it was considered to be his death warrant. He wrote immediately to Pope Pius IX asking for his blessing before inauguration day on August 30:

I wish to obtain your blessing before that day, so that I may have the strength and light which I need so much in order to be unto the end a faithful son of our Redeemer, and a loyal and obedient servant of His Infallible Vicar. Now that the Masonic Lodges of the neighboring countries, instigated by Germany, are vomiting against me all sorts of atrocious insults and horrible calumnies, now that the Lodges are secretly arranging for my assassination, I have more need than ever of the divine protection so that I may live and die in defense of our holy religion and the beloved republic which I am called once more to rule.

García Moreno's prediction was correct; he was assassinated in the steps of the National Palace in Quito,[11] struck down with knives and revolvers, his last words being: "¡Dios no muere!" ("God does not die!"). Faustino Rayo assaulted him with several blows of a machete, while three or four others fired their revolvers.[12][13]

On August 5, shortly before his assassination, a priest visited García Moreno and warned him, "You have been warned that your death was decreed by the Freemasons; but you have not been told when. I have just heard that the assassins are going to try and carry out their plot at once. For God's sake, take your measures accordingly!" [14] García Moreno replied that he had already received similar warnings and after calm reflection concluded that the only measure he could take was to prepare himself to appear before God.[15]

"It appears he was assassinated by members of a secret society," observed a contemporary review of public events.[16]

Gabriel Garcia Moreno received Last Rites just before he died. Pope Pius IX declared that Gabriel Garcia Moreno "died a victim for the Faith and Christian Charity for his beloved country."


Partisanship, more than any other factor, appears to be the divider in the controversy surrounding Garcia Moreno’s legacy. Liberal opposition did and does continue to portray him as a tyrant by emphasizing the more authoritarian policies of his regime. Under Garcia Moreno’s presidency, his beliefs and goals alone directed government policies, an easily undermined structure for a stable government, and the legislature often was reduced to a rubber stamping body. Even when confronted with evidence of the good which was done under his presidency, most opponents then and now still would likely argue that the end does not justify the means, and further point out the morally ambiguous ways in which Garcia Moreno retained control: a secret police, the installation of political puppets, etc. In more modern times, particularly in modern republics, another complaint would be voiced as well, that being the establishment of a state religion, instead championing the individual's right to religious liberty. In Garcia Moreno’s defense, as conservative supporters point out, however, there are three factors which lessen this criticism. First, Garcia Moreno, unlike many rulers throughout history, made this move not for the sake of power, but rather in order to build a new moral identity for the nation; second, he believed, based on a career of watching warfare within Ecuador, that only a shared spiritual identity of Latin American-style Catholicism could bring peace to a land ravaged by strife between Liberals and Conservatives as well as former Spanish socioracial classes, and in many ways it worked during his regime; third, Article 10, the section of the 1869 constitution which restricted religious practice to Catholicism was, strictly speaking, a comparative continuity with the past, even though it is morally questionable, for Ecuador already was overwhelmingly Catholic with the exception of a Jewish minority and foreign Protestants living in the land (Nevertheless, the liberal objector still could point out the ends do not justify the means and that Garcia Moreno simply could have appealed to the history of Ecuador, as separated from other former colonies in South America, for this goal.). Furthermore, the 1869 constitution also assured citizens’ right to innocence until proven guilty, prohibited arrests without warrants, and ensured the people’s rights to free speech and assembly (though one may question how well this was carried out), so as longs as it respected religion, morality and decency.

Tomb of President Gabriel García Moreno


  1. "Gabriel García Moreno". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-02-18.
  2. The Nineteenth Century Outside Europe, p. 326, Taylor & Francis
  3. The Annual Register, a Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for the Year 1875, Annual Register of 1863 to 1874, ed. Edmund Burke, London: Rivingtons, Waterloo Place, 1876, p. 341
  4. Maxwell-Scott, Mary Monica, Gabriel Garcia Moreno, Regenerator of Ecuador, p. 152. London 1914
  5. Henderson, Peter V. N. "Gabriel Garcia Moreno and Conservative State Formation in the Andes" p. 28 University of Texas Press, 2008 ISBN 0-292-71903-5
  6. The Nineteenth Century Outside Europe, p. 325, Taylor & Francis
  7. The Nineteenth Century Outside Europe, p. 326, Taylor & Francis
  8. Larson, Brooke. Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810-1910. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 114-115
  9. Henderson, Peter V. N. Gabriel García Moreno and Conservative State Formation in the Andes. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008, 84-85
  10. Hassaurek, F. 1831-1885., and C. Harvey Gardiner. Four Years Among the Ecuadorians. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967, 111
  11. Ayala Mora, Enrique. "Gabriel García Moreno y la gestación del estado nacional en Ecuador" (PDF). Escenarios Alternativos. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  12. "Gabriel García Moreno". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-02-18.
  13. Ayala Mora, Enrique. "Gabriel García Moreno y la gestación del estado nacional en Ecuador" (PDF). Escenarios Alternativos. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  14. Berthe, P. Augustine, translated from French by Mary Elizabeth Herbert Garcia Moreno, President of Ecuador, 1821-1875 p. 297 ,1889 Burns and Oates
  15. Berthe, P. Augustine, translated from French by Mary Elizabeth Herbert "Garcia Moreno, President of Ecuador, 1821-1875" p. 297-298 ,1889 Burns and Oates
  16. Burke, Edmund Annual Register: A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad, for the year 1875 p.323 1876 Rivingtons

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Francisco Robles
President of Ecuador
Succeeded by
Rafael Carvajal
Preceded by
Juan Javier Espinosa
President of Ecuador
Succeeded by
Manuel de Ascásubi
Preceded by
Manuel de Ascásubi
President of Ecuador
Succeeded by
Francisco León Franco
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