The Greatest Catholic President
~ PART I ~
Few Catholics today know the story of Gabriel Garcia Moreno. This devout and holy man, blessed with a keen intellect and noble character, briefly reestablished the shining light of Christendom in a small corner of the New World during the nineteenth century. His contemporary, one Charles Darwin, had been at work in some islands in that same area of the globe, known as Ecuador, developing his false theory of species evolution that would become the philosophical bulwark of the godless societies of the future. In the meantime in the Old World, another contemporary, Blessed Pope Pius IX, was suffering through the forced seizure of the Papal territories, during the creation of a unified Italy.
Garcia Moreno's role in Catholic history is so significant that the Blessed Virgin Mary foretold his coming more than two centuries before his 1821 birth. During the Church-approved apparitions of Our Lady of Good Success, an unusually specific prophecy was given to a holy Conceptionist nun in Quito, Ecuador, on January 16, 1599. On that date, Our Lady revealed to Venerable Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres details of the life of a future president of the Republic of Ecuador - a country which did not even exist at the time. Our Lady of Good Success, whom the Archdiocese with the permission of Rome would crown Queen of Quito, spoke the following oracle:
"In the nineteenth century a truly Christian president will come, a man of character whom God our Lord will give the palm of martyrdom on the square adjoining this Convent of mine. He will consecrate the Republic to the Sacred Heart of my Most Holy Son, and this consecration will sustain the Catholic Religion in the years that will follow, which will be ill-fated ones for the Church. These years, during which the accursed sect of Masonry will take control of the civil government, will see a cruel persecution of all religious communities, and it will also strike out violently against this one of mine."
Background and formative years
One of the smallest South American countries, Ecuador became an independent and sovereign republic on May 18, 1830. Previously, it had been part of "Gran Columbia" after Simon Bolivar liberated that territory from Spain in 1819. Secessionist movements soon followed, resulting in the establishment of the breakaway countries of Ecuador and Venezuela in 1830.
The Roman Catholic background of the newly independent Ecuador was reflected in its first constitution, which proclaimed that "The religion of the State is Catholic, Apostolic, Roman." The government claimed the right of patronage or "patronato", a prerogative inherited from the Spanish colonial era. Patronato gave the State the power to unilaterally appoint church officials and bishops. Initially, this practice was not inimical to Church interests during the period when the Spanish colonies were ruled by loyal Catholics, but it became detrimental during the later eras of anti-clerical rule.
For the first fifteen years of its existence, Ecuador's politics and government were dominated by the figures of Vincente Rocafuerte and General Juan Jose Flores. Flores was president intermittently on four separate occasions for much of that period. He ruled with an iron hand, operating out of the nation's capital of Quito, located in the central highlands.
The highlands, or Sierra, consist of a great plateau lying between two parallel north-south chains of the Andes Mountains. The Sierra encompasses the mid-section of the country and is politically the most aristocratic and conservative. Though located near the equator, its elevation gives the highlands a spring-like climate most of the year. The fertile coastal areas to the west, and the under-developed Amazon basin to the east, the Oriente, comprise the other two segments of the nation. The main city of the liberal, mercantile coastal region is the important port of Guayaquil. The Galapagos archipelago, made famous by Darwin, also belongs to Ecuador.
In 1845, a youthful and relatively unknown writer, intellectual and lawyer by the name of Gabriel Garcia Moreno allied himself with a coterie of revolutionaries concerned about the increased dictatorial powers wielded by General Flores. This group, which included Rocafuerte, successfully overthrew the Flores administration and forced the disgraced president into exile. However, the half-dozen rulers who followed Flores were weak leaders, and the country descended into chaos. During this time Moreno's influence, power, and reputation for uprightness steadily increased - along with his ability as a civilian leader in armed conflicts. By 1859, when the last of the autocrats who had succeeded Flores was deposed, it was Moreno who headed a provisional 3-man Junta that took temporary control of the reins of government in order to put down an armed rebellion. He was then only 37 years old.
The final battle, which saw the Moreno-led triumvirate win control of the port city of Guayaquil from the rebels, took place on September 24, 1860. This was the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, also known as Our Lady of Ransom. Recognizing that the victory was owed to God, Moreno proposed that the army of the Republic should henceforth be placed "... under the special protection of Our Lady of Ransom, and that every year on this great anniversary the Government and army should assist officially at the services of the Church."
At the beginning of the next year, the provisional leaders resigned their commission, ceding their power to the nation's parliamentary Assembly. Garcia Moreno was subsequently appointed interim President until the electors could meet. The Assembly also accepted his proposal, and even went further by declaring Our Lady of Ransom the Patroness of Ecuador.
This has been only the briefest outline of a complex series of intrigues, skirmishes, civil wars, coup d'etats, and overall instability that characterized Ecuador's early history, and which led to Moreno's formal election to his first term as president of the nation in 1861. In fact it was this very instability and confusion that led the populace to support the one and only man considered capable of ending the turmoil and uniting the nation.
During these formative years, both for the republic and for the man, Moreno had became convinced that the Catholic religion was the only sure foundation for the growth and progress of the nation as well as for himself. He had undergone many personal trials and persecutions, including exile to foreign lands, which forged and strengthened his character and re-affirmed his faith in Christ.
An incident while he had been an exile in France was instrumental in his spiritual formation. As a youth Moreno had once considered entering the priesthood, and had even received Minor Orders. However, at the age of twenty he decided instead to pursue a degree in law, which he completed in only three years. He remained loyal to the Faith, although his interest and involvement with Catholicism was on an intellectual rather than a practical level. One day, while strolling with some of his companions in Paris, the conversation turned to religion and to the Church. His friends, who were secularists and atheists, began to attack Catholicism. Moreno took up its defense, and effectively countered their objections and arguments.
Exasperated, one of the group challenged Moreno's personal commitment to the Faith he was so forcefully defending. "When did you last go to Confession?" he disdainfully asked the Ecuadorian. Moreno bowed his head, acknowledging the truth behind the insinuation. The sudden realization that he had become lukewarm in the practice of his religion invoked deep compunction, and his former love for God and Christ was aroused anew. The inner conversion was immediate, and he replied to his companion, "You have answered me by a personal argument which may appear to you excellent today, but which will, I give you my word of honour, be worthless tomorrow."
That very evening, after falling on his knees at home in prayer, penance, and self-reflection, he went out, found a priest, and made his Confession. The next morning he received his Lord in the Holy Eucharist. From then on, daily Mass and prayer, especially the Rosary, became a life-long commitment. He had put his hand to the plough and never looked back. It was literally an overnight transformation, changing him from a lukewarm into a fervent Catholic.
Moreno spent much of the remainder of his Parisian exile engrossed in spiritual reading and study. He plunged into the twenty-nine volumes of Histoire Universelle de l'Eglise Catholique by the Abbe Rohrbacher, reading the entire opus an incredible three times over. Studying this work gave him an understanding of the nature of the relationship between the Church and the State that had been the foundation of Christendom - a relationship which respected the unique rights and privileges of the Church as the official religion and moral compass of the State. The laws and conduct of the secular government must be compliant with the Gospel of Christ, meaning that the State is in essence subordinate to the Church.
Two episodes that reflected his firm and yet compassionate character occurred during the last phases of the civil war that had been won under the Moreno-led triumvirate. Some of the troops of the Provisional Government had been bribed by the opposition to renounce their loyalty to the administration. One evening they surrounded a building that was housing Moreno, and took him prisoner. They demanded under threats that he resign his position with the government. Moreno refused as a matter of principle, and for this stance he was to be executed on the morrow by the rebels.
On what was to be the last night of his life, he commended his soul unto God. However, being a man of action as well as prayer, he began to remonstrate with the lone guard assigned to him, in order to make him understand that this offence against an official of the government of Ecuador was treasonous. Moreno succeeded in arousing the man's remorse, and the guard fell to his knees, begging forgiveness. He then freed Garcia Moreno on the spot. The leader made his escape, stealing past the rest of the rebels, who were asleep in a drunken stupor after a night of pillaging and revels.
Then, after a few short hours, Moreno returned with a band of loyal troops and rounded up the insurgents, who were taken completely by surprise. Several of their ringleaders were arrested and condemned to death for treason, by a council of war convened on the spot. Moreno gave them time to prepare for death and sent for a priest. One of the men was spared after evidence was presented that he was innocent, but the rest suffered the consequences of their acts.
It was this type of firm but just action that caused his enemies, and some historians, to paint a picture of Garcia Moreno as a cruel and ruthless tyrant and dictator. But these rebels had been found guilty of desertion and treason against the State during a time of war, and any weakness on Moreno's part would send the wrong signal to any other insurrectionists. Furthermore, he only had the leaders executed, while the rank and file of the rebellious soldiers were not only pardoned, but allowed to rejoin their lawful commanders. A tyrant would not have acted in this way.
The second episode occurred as a prelude to the final battle at Guayaquil that brought victory to the Provisional Government in the civil war. The city of Guayaquil and much of the coastlands were in opposition hands, under the control of General Guillermo Franco. In an attempt to avoid further bloodshed of his countrymen on either side of the conflict, Garcia Moreno composed an admirable epistle to Franco, proposing that both he and Franco resign their respective commissions. The two leaders would retire into temporary exile, while the rest of Ecuador, both the coast and the interior, would submit to the authority of the Provisional Government based in Quito. In this way the disastrous civil war would be ended. The two men would return after stability had been established. Unfortunately, Franco refused this generous and noble proposal, going so far as to imprison the messenger who had carried the letter to him.
Following this setback, Moreno next had recourse to the Diplomatic Corps, composed of those foreign dignitaries and ministries stationed in Ecuador at the behest of their countries. Their pleadings also failed to move Franco, who wanted war and not peace. In the end this attitude was his undoing, and after a humiliating defeat at the hands of Moreno and his patriots at Guayaquil, Franco was forced to flee to Peru.
This willingness of Moreno to step down from his leadership role in the Provisional Government for the good of the nation was followed by similar self-effacing gestures in subsequent years. Yet, his leftist detractors and opponents continued to paint him as a man of ruthless ambition - a dictator and a despot - a betrayer of his nation who deserved assassination. However, it was actually his deep-rooted Catholicism and his effort to establish Ecuador as a Catholic Republic that was the underlying reason for the leftist and Masonic opposition to his regime.
First Term: 1861- 1865
It was after the defeat of General Franco, on January 10, 1861, that Garcia Moreno and the other two Provisional leaders resigned their powers. In short order, the freely elected National Congress chose Moreno as President. This was the culmination and reward for his personal fifteen-year struggle combating the corrupt rulers who had exploited Ecuador ever since it had shed the yoke of Spain's monarchial rule. Initially he refused the honour, but yielded to the pleadings of his friends. The pie was sweetened when the legislature guaranteed him the power to unilaterally negotiate a Concordat with Rome, without the necessity for congressional ratification. The assembly also granted favourable treatment to a number of projects close to Moreno's heart: reform in the areas of education, finance, and the army, and also the creation of a modern system of transportation.
During the deliberations for an updated constitution, he persuaded the legislature to resist the strong influence of the liberals, who were threatening to put an end to the traditional union between Church and State in Ecuador. Thus, the revised constitution continued to uphold the status of the Holy Roman Catholic Church as the official religion of the nation.
Decades of misrule had led to financial chaos, an undisciplined and dissolute army, and a government bureaucracy riddled with incompetent and corrupt political appointees. Moreno acted with unyielding firmness and determination to tackle these many problems. He quickly reversed these negative trends by successfully moving Ecuador in the direction of fiscal responsibility, military discipline, and honest government.
He felt, however, that the most serious problem he faced was the educational system, which had become almost totally secularized under the previous Masonic-influenced anti-clerical regimes. In contrast, he wished Ecuador to be a paragon of Christian civilization, and understood that the key to this regeneration was the moral education of youth. The progressivist governments had stricken all mention of God and Christian morality from the schools which had been originally established in the colonial period, under the aegis of Catholic Spain. Moreno realized that the quickest and most efficient way to steep the schools in the teaching of the Christian religion was to introduce missionaries and Catholic educators from Europe. He thus began an extensive and successful effort to recruit foreign religious and to reform the schools.
When Moreno first assumed the presidency, there were no major carriage roads in all of Ecuador. People and goods travelling between the seaports and the mountains of the interior, including the capital of Quito, were dependent on horseback and mules. When he proposed to build a carriage road over 250 kilometers in length from Guayaquil to Quito, crossing the lowland swamps and climbing the rugged slopes of the Andes, many considered it a folly. He overcame the resistance, doubts, and open opposition of his countrymen by his determination and genius, and transformed the grumblers into enthusiastic admirers. To accomplish the feat, he employed thousands of workmen, accompanied by a priest and doctor day and night. Ten years later, during his second term in April of 1873, the task was finally completed. Almost at the same time, four other major carriage roads linking the country from the north to the south, and from east to west, were also completed. The effect on commerce and agriculture was profound, since now goods and produce could efficiently reach the seaports, and from there to America and Europe. The income of the State also rose dramatically, doubling within a few years.
Concordat with Rome
However, the most momentous accomplishment of his first term as president was the signing of a Concordat between Ecuador and Rome. Towards the end of 1861, Moreno dispatched a "Minister Plenipotentiary" to the Holy See, with full powers to execute the Concordat with Pope Pius IX on the rights and responsibilities of the Catholic Church in Ecuador. In the words of the vintage Catholic Encyclopedia, "The purpose of a concordat is to terminate, or to avert, dissension between the Church and the civil powers." It is both a civil and ecclesiastical law binding upon both powers, regarding matters which concern both.
After months of negotiations, the document was signed in the fall of 1862 in Rome, pending Moreno's final approval. Its essential elements were, first, to reaffirm the position of Catholicism as the only religion of the State, "... to the exclusion of all other forms of worship, and of all societies condemned by the church." Secondly, all levels of education, from primary to university, are to be regulated by Catholic principles and morals. All books dealing with religious education as such must be approved by the Bishops.
The role of government would not be limited to simply being a protector of religion, but the State was "... obligated to employ all proper measures for the propagation of the faith and for the conversion of the people found in that territory, and favour the establishment of the missions." The civil government must also do its part in preventing the introduction into education of writings contrary to right faith and morals.
In addition, the law of patronato was suspended, with the Church having full liberty in matters relating to the administration of dioceses, property, and convocation of synods. The government was not to interfere with or prevent the Catholics of Ecuador from communicating directly with the Holy See. Regarding any vacant bishopric, three candidates selected by the bishops would be presented to the nation's President, who had three months to choose among them, after which time the choice would fall on Rome.
While a young priest, the future Pope Pius had travelled to South America and was astonished at the vast geographical area of many of the dioceses, which seemed to him to be much too large to be administered effectively. Thus the Holy Father, on his own initiative, included in the Concordat the announcement of the creation of three new bishoprics for Ecuador, a number that within twenty years would increase to seven additional dioceses. In the words of the Pope to the Minister Plenipotentiary, "Your zealous President wishes to regenerate his country: tell him that to succeed, he must plant the Cross. Wherever a Cross is placed, people group around it ..."
There were many other clauses in the document, but these were its main provisions. Moreno's representative returned from Rome with the completed Concordat, in expectation of its formal ratification in Quito in the presence of a Papal representative. But then, a most interesting and unexpected complication occurred.
Moreno refused to approve the agreement, because provisions for the reform of the clergy were inadequate. He was fully aware of the laxity and often scandalous behaviour of the clergy, both secular and religious, whose corruption was encouraged during the anti-clerical governments. Moreno had desired that a Pontifical Delegate be assigned to Ecuador, with full powers to effect the necessary reforms, and to order the secularization of priests unwilling to comply. The Concordat had included clauses for the re-establishment of ecclesiastical tribunals, but the President knew that without vigorous enforcement measures, efforts at reform would be useless.
Moreno therefore sent his Minister back to Rome. There the astonished Pope was informed that the President would not sign the Concordat, since he was convinced that without addressing the reform of the clergy, the document would be a dead letter. Pius IX had omitted the clauses related to this issue because he had felt that sending a pontifical Delegate with enforcement powers would be too harsh a measure. His Holiness instead had favoured an approach of gentle persuasion. The Ecuadorian Minister explained to him that Moreno knew first-hand the seriousness of the clergy crisis in his country, and that if the Holy Father were fully aware of the circumstances, he would concur with the President's judgment. Impressed by Moreno's determination and commitment, and by his boldness in refusing to sign the Concordat without the additions, the Holy Father acceded to the request for clergy reform.
Consequently, on April 22, 1863, the Concordat between the Holy See and the Republic of Ecuador was officially promulgated throughout the nation. Following a Pontifical Mass at Quito, the President and the Papal Delegate signed the document amid great pomp and ceremony, including artillery salvos and the simultaneous hoisting of the flags of the Papacy and Ecuador.
In the famous 1889 biography of Moreno by Fr. Augustine Berthe we read: "By this act of Christian policy, an act without parallel in the history of modern nations, Garcia Moreno raised himself above all statesmen since the days of St. Louis." Fr. Berthe adds, "... he restored true liberty to his country by placing her once more under the government of God."
During this time, the opposition was not idle. Radicals and secularists were actively spreading propaganda among the people that the Concordat was a disastrous violation of the rights of the State. Making full use of the activist press, they succeeded in having a majority of anti-Concordat liberal Catholics elected to the popular Assembly. For many weeks the leftists, some of whom were sworn enemies of Moreno, attacked the president and his treasured Concordat in Parliament.
Moreno was determined to have no part in a revocation of the agreement. In a speech to the Chambers defending the document, he concluded with, "If the majority of the House should censure the acts of my administration, I will immediately resign my powers, praying Divine Providence to replace me by a magistrate fortunate enough to ensure the repose and the future well-being of the Republic."
But Divine Providence acted in an unexpected way to save the President and the Concordat. War was suddenly declared on Ecuador by its neighbour New Granada. The very men who had been deriding Garcia Moreno moments ago now turned to him in the hour of need, realizing that only his strong leadership could save the nation. Within a few months, the aggressors were repelled on the battlefield by government forces. During this time of danger, serious opposition to the Concordat had been conveniently withdrawn.
In defending the agreement, Moreno had opposed the will of the majority of the popularly elected members of the House. But, as his biographer astutely points out, "As President he considered that his duty was, not to obey the people, but to guide and direct them. The revolution tows the country into an abyss. The counter-revolution marches ahead of the people, by the light of the Church, to enlighten and to save them."
Prevented by the Constitution from succeeding himself, Moreno's term in office was over in 1865 after four years of service. However, he did propose a successor whom he hoped would continue his policies and support the Concordat. In the election that spring, his candidate roundly trounced the choice of the liberals and radicals. Moreno had only a few months left in his term of office.
Believing they now had only to deal with a "lame duck" president, a band of revolutionaries and plotters seized Ecuador's only warship near the port of Guayaquil. After murdering the captain and crew, the insurrectionists proceeded to commandeer two more ships, and anchored a good distance from the main port. Moreno was hundreds of kilometers away in the Quito area when news reached him of the rebellion. He immediately undertook a forced march with only one aide-de-camp, and three days later arrived in Guayaquil in the middle of the night. At the mere mention of the name of Garcia Moreno by the messenger who reported his arrival, the conspirators who had stayed behind in the city fled in haste.
Overcoming a string of obstacles, Moreno was able to obtain an English vessel, which he outfitted with four large cannons. Steaming out of port, he engineered a brilliant rout of the three ships of the rebels. As his victorious gunboat was making its way back to Guayaquil, a trial was held on board, at which the leaders of the captured insurgents were tried and convicted as pirates. Their sentence was death, the customary fate of such criminals. After meeting with a priest and making their peace with God, over two dozen men were executed.
Later, in the city itself, a prominent citizen was summoned to appear before President Moreno. Papers had been discovered on board one of the rebel boats that implicated the man in the treasonous plot. He was a lawyer and understood the penalty for sedition, but did not deny writing the letters. Moreno had no choice but to condemn him. Even the president's own eighty-year-old mother begged her son to show clemency. His reply was, "My mother! ... ask of me what you will, but not an act of weakness which would lose the country." He knew that only a show of strength in the face of treason and armed rebellion would ensure the peace and security of the nation. Of course his detractors - the leftists, Masons, radicals and liberals - accused him of being nothing short of the most ruthless of despots.
Moreno's successor in the presidency, Jeronimo Carrion, assumed office in the fall of 1865. The Constitution prevented the outgoing president from leaving the country for one year, unless authorized by Congress. Moreno, seeking the freedom to travel freely, asked for the authorization. However, in what was in essence a great tribute to the man, Congress refused the permission. His presence in Ecuador was considered essential to the security of the nation, which faced ongoing dangers, both domestic and foreign. Who else would be able to confront the plotters from the left, or stand up to armed threats from neighbouring nations? By an overwhelming majority, the Parliament voted that "... a man so necessary to the safety of the Republic" must be prohibited from leaving during the coming year.
However, President Carrion proved unable to stand as firmly as did his predecessor against the machinations of the liberals. In order to appease them, he countermanded the order of Congress, and sent Moreno out of the country as minister to Chile, which was at war with Spain. Moreno's inveterate enemies saw this as a double blessing. First, the hated Catholic conservative would finally be out of the country, and secondly, it was an opportunity for the conspirators to arrange matters so that he would not return alive to Ecuador.
In the summer of 1866, Moreno set out from Guayaquil with a small entourage that included his eight-year-old niece. Numerous warnings had reached him that his life was in danger, but he resolved to place his trust in God. The first stop on the way to Chile was a diplomatic visit to Peru. The steamer from Guayaquil dropped them off at a port city. From there a train carried the party to Lima, where an official delegation was awaiting their arrival. At the station, Moreno was the second of the group to descend the platform, and he turned around to assist his young niece. At that instant, shots suddenly rang out, with two bullets fired at his head. Although wounded on the forehead, he spun around toward his assassin and grabbed his arm, just as the culprit discharged his revolver a third time. Had he cowered and fled instead of boldly turning on his assailant, the third shot might have been fatal, instead of being deflected. The police seized the shooter just at the moment that he was again aiming his pistol at Moreno's head.
Upon hearing of the incident, the president of Peru sent his personal carriage to bring Moreno to the Presidential Palace. In spite of this official commiseration, justice was not to be done. The assassination attempt had been ordered by the lodges. Unfortunately, the judges were also Freemasons, and they deliberately delayed the trial long enough for memories to fade and witnesses to disperse. Moreno later resumed his journey to Chile amid the disgraceful news that the would-be assassin had been acquitted. Such was the scope and power of the revolution.
On the other hand, his six-month diplomatic mission in Chile was an outstanding success, and he concluded a number of important treaties between that nation and Ecuador. Upon his arrival he had been hailed as a hero for his bravery under fire. Consequently, no one dared to violate his safety and well being during his pleasant and fruitful stay in that country.
When he returned to Ecuador, he found the Carrion administration in a state of collapse following a complex chain of political intrigues and manoeuvres. In order to avoid a takeover of the nation by the radicals, Moreno was besieged by the conservatives to engineer a rescue of the State. He quickly formed an alliance with his political friends and was able to convince Carrion to resign in favour of Javier Espinoza, a good Catholic who was esteemed by the people. Espinoza was to finish the remaining eighteen months of Carrion's term.
Saviour of Ibarra
Once again Moreno's decisiveness had restored stability to the nation. However, by this time he had made up his mind to withdraw from public life, and to retire to his hacienda in the north. After his first wife had passed away, he remarried a young bride, but they had recently mourned the death of their little girl. His intention now was to lead a quiet life at the hacienda with his devoted wife, amid the quiet woods and meadows. He would make use of his extensive knowledge of agriculture to cultivate the land and tend his herds. Although not a rich man, here he could lead the life of a gentleman farmer - a terrateniente - surrounded by the bounty that nature had lavished on Ecuador. However, it would be the force of nature itself that would conspire with God to return him to the path marked out by his prophetic destiny.
Only a few short months after establishing himself at the hacienda, the urgent report reached him of a severe earthquake and volcanic eruption in the northern province of Imbabura. The upheavals, which lasted for four days in mid-August of 1868, had devastated the provincial capital, Ibarra. More than half of its ten thousand inhabitants were killed. Many of the survivors were seriously injured or still trapped in the rubble. But instead of being rescued, they were cruelly robbed and plundered by roving gangs of bandits and impoverished indigenous peoples, pouring out of the mountains. The government at Quito predictably turned to the one man who could effectively restore order out of this chaos, Gabriel Garcia Moreno. The retired patriot quickly accepted his appointment as civil and military governor of the entire province of Imbabura, and set off for Ibarra at once.
He divided the troops under his command into two parts - one to undertake a search and rescue in the rubble and succour the wounded, and the other to fight off the pillagers. He sent out an appeal for food and supplies, which began arriving from all of Ecuador, including his own hacienda. With the advent of the provisions, "price gouging" merchants also made their appearance. Moreno, with his usual firmness, dealt with these types by having them publicly flogged! It only took about a month for him to restore order and stability to the devastated area. A tent city was established for the survivors, who were already designing the plans for a rebuilt capital city. Upon his departure, Moreno was hailed by the people as "the saviour of Ibarra." In fact, the ladies of the area later presented him with a medal set in diamonds with that very inscription.
Although warmly congratulated by public officials of every stripe, behind his back the liberals and socialists continued their personal vendetta against him. Presidential elections were on the horizon, and the conservatives began a popular movement to draft him as their candidate. The response was overwhelming. Moreno, who had resumed his retirement at his hacienda, reluctantly accepted the nomination, but only after making clear the basics of his platform: "Respect and protection for the Catholic Church; firm adhesion to the Holy See; education based on faith and morals ...". Officials would be appointed according to their merits and ability, rebellions against order would be summarily suppressed, and peaceful relations would be maintained with allies.
In stark contrast to these noble aspirations, the opposition journals portrayed Moreno as "a tyrant, an assassin, a hypocrite, a violator of laws, and the executioner of honest men." The radicals were not about to rely on the results of the upcoming elections, and began plotting the overthrow of the government of reigning President Espinoza. The conspirators had picked a date in January of 1869 to launch their revolt in the key cities of the nation. President Espinoza, as well as most of the citizenry, realized there was a conspiracy afoot. Unfortunately, Espinoza was too weak and vacillating to take the necessary steps to stop the rebellion. In order to prevent the violent overthrow of the republic, Moreno's friends and supporters converged on his hacienda. They implored him to return with them to Quito to lead the effort to suppress the impending insurrection.
After careful deliberation, the would-be gentleman farmer agreed. In a series of daring manoeuvres he quickly took personal control of the army at Quito. In the meantime the leading citizens and government officials formally deposed Espinoza, and declared Moreno the Acting President. They also planned to convene a national convention to revise the constitution. Moreno accepted the interim presidency on the condition that, "...once order is restored and the Constitution reformed, I will resign my powers.. Even if I were again elected, I should refuse the presidency."
After a series of forced marches, he unexpectedly appeared with his troops at the liberal hotbed of Guayaquil, and prevented the planned uprising by immediately placing the entire province under a state of siege. In short order other cities renounced the progressives and swore their loyalty to the Acting President. As a result, the rule of law was affirmed in the entire nation, and the leaders of this latest conspiracy were either exiled or tried by military tribunal.
Garcia Moreno had saved the nation from civil war without a single shot being fired! He had accomplished this victory by the sheer force of his genius, charismatic leadership and iron-willed determination - but first and foremost by his trust in the Almighty. His praises were loudly proclaimed throughout all Ecuador, but his humble reply was, "Our gratitude should be addressed to God. It is He alone who has saved us ... Therefore to God alone be love, honour, praise and glory, forever and ever. Amen"
During his interim presidency, he outlined his expectations for the new constitution. He had two objectives: that the constitution would reflect the religious faith of the citizens, and that it would mandate the full powers needed to suppress and check the continued assaults of the revolution. He had no moral qualms about proposing strong executive powers for the government, since was committed and determined to fulfill his oath of refusing to sit for the presidential elections once his interim term was completed.
The radicals, however, wary of the scope of the new constitution, once more plotted a violent takeover of the country. The revolt again centered in Guayaquil, but this time the loyalists were able to crush the insurgents without relying on Moreno's direct involvement. Nevertheless, this latest uprising convinced the populace and the deputies that he must renounce his oath and stand for election, since all their hopes for maintaining the stability of the nation were centred upon his leadership.
To conclude next month with Moreno's second term of office, including his comprehensive social reforms and consecration of Ecuador to Christ.