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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Chapter xxxiicharles iii and england


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XXXII

CHARLES III AND ENGLAND, 1759-1788

[Sidenote: Greatness of the reign of Charles III and principal factors therein.]

Under Charles III, Spain reached the highest point she has attained since the sixteenth century. In many respects the internal situation was better at this time than in the great days of the _siglo de oro_, but Spain's relative authority in Europe was less, because of the striking advances which had been made by the other powers. One of them, England, was particularly dangerous, and it will be found that Spain's foreign policy in this reign was directed primarily toward meeting the possibility of war with that country. Other difficulties, such as those with Portugal and Morocco, particularly with the former, were cogent factors because of the relations which England bore, or was believed to bear, to them. Contrary to the impression usually to be derived from the histories of the American Revolution, Spain was intensely hostile to England throughout this reign. To oppose that country the Family Compact with France was formed, and continued to be the basis of Spain's foreign policy, although it early became manifest that France would honor the treaty only when it suited her purposes. In the end the policies of Charles III were crowned with success,--not so great as Spain could have wished, but sufficiently so to make

this reign the most pleasingly satisfactory to Spaniards of any since the days of Isabella, next to whom Charles III has some claim to rank as the greatest Spanish monarch of modern times. This becomes the more worthy of belief when one investigates the sweeping character of and the success attained in the social, political, and economic reforms of the period. These were at the basis of Spain's victories in European councils, for they provided the sinews of war. Nevertheless there was one drawback. The reforms in the Americas, following the precedent of nearly three centuries, were undertaken more with a view to the production of revenues for Spain than for the contented development of the colonies themselves. Spain also ran counter to a new force in world history, which she herself was obliged by circumstances to assist in establishing itself. The spirit of world democracy was born with the American Revolution, and appeared in France soon afterward. This meant that the autocratic basis of Spanish greatness was presently to be destroyed. The success of the American Revolution was to be related in no small degree to the loss of Spain's colonial empire. The failure of the French Revolution was to produce a powerful despot who was to bring Spain, under Charles IV, to the lowest point she had reached since the days of Charles II. Nevertheless, the reign of Charles III is to be considered as something more than a brilliant moment in history without ultimate effect. The internal reforms were of permanent benefit to Spain and even to the Americas, capable of utilization under the more democratic systems of the future. Finally, the part played by Spain in the successful issue of the American Revolution deserves to bulk large, even though she could not look with sympathy upon a movement which, she clearly saw, might bring about her own ruin.


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