Gabriel Garcia Moreno--Regenerator of Ecuador - Mrs. Maxwell Scott




The President

By the return of Moreno to office the power of the Revolution was crushed; but before the six years' peace which crowned his efforts had settled upon the country, the Sects made a despairing effort. A plot was formed once more to assassinate Moreno, and once again the remorse of a certain Sanchez revealed the intended crime in time. The conspirators were arrested and condemned to death, but were pardoned by Moreno at the intercession of a friend, and their sentence commuted to eight years' banishment. The ringleader, the wretched Cornejo, after making a scene and imploring forgiveness, had no sooner reached the frontier than he published an odious pamphlet against his benefactor declaring "that the assassination of such a monster was only an act of legitimate defense." While Cornejo's band were attempting the death of the President, another group of Revolutionary youths was attacking Senor Ordonez, the Governor of Cuenca, and their leader, Jeronimo Torres, piercing the portrait of Moreno with his lance, declared that on that very day the President would cease to live. This émeute was likewise crushed, and Ecuador remained at peace.

The President could now turn his thoughts to the welfare of the nation. His first and greatest work was to consolidate the new and Christian Constitution which had been prepared by himself before his election, and which had been almost unanimously ratified by the nation.

It bore this Inscription: "In the Name of Almighty God, One and Three, Creator, Preserver, Legislator of the World"; and its chief provisions were as follows: The Catholic Religion to be the religion of the State (this did not mean intolerance, as no other religion had followers in Ecuador); secret societies were forbidden; a power of vetoing dangerous laws was given to the Government, and they were empowered to place any province in which rebellion arose in a state of siege. The President was to be assisted by a Council of State, without whose consent he could not take any important step; and finally, the President was to hold office for six years and to be eligible for reelection once.

It would take a volume to relate all that Moreno achieved for Education and Science, especially when we consider the difficulties of race and climate to be encountered. "How were these people, apathetic by temperament, and who considered their climate, their sun, and their mountains sufficient excuse for inertion, to be persuaded to study?" asks Moreno's biographer. "Where find money to build colleges and schools? Where find professors to teach?" But Moreno was not discouraged. He had, as we know, during his first term of office planted many schools and established religious in many places.

In 1871 a new law came into force, by which primary education was made obligatory on all except the very poor, and in a few years five hundred new schools were created. Passing to higher education, Moreno built a magnificent new Jesuit College at Quito, which he wished to dedicate to St. Joseph, but which the Archbishop christened St. Gabriel in memory of its founder.

Not satisfied with this, the President was most anxious to reconstruct the University on a truly Catholic and scientific basis. According to the Concordat the Bishops were to have full authority over Education in all its branches. Books on Religion and Sacred History were to be chosen by them, and literary or scientific works were to receive their approbation. As for the professors, Moreno nominated learned men, but, above all, good Christians. In Theology the teaching of the Angelic Doctor reigned supreme. Even before Leo XIII had reinstated in honor the Summa of St. Thomas, the Dominicans of Quito were wont to discuss this thesis: "To extirpate from modern society the errors which infest it, nothing is more necessary in the present day, as in past centuries, than to teach the doctrines of St. Thomas in the Theological Courses."

The new University embraced schools of Medicine and Fine Arts, while the latest instruments for scientific research were procured from Europe regardless of expense—on one occasion when the President's representative in Paris observed to him that one of the purchases cost 100,000f., he only replied, "Buy the very best, and do not disturb yourself."

The capital was also entirely transformed during his term of office by the restoration of public buildings and well-paved streets: and if we ask ourselves how all this was achieved, for the President borrowed no money and levied no new taxes, we must reply again that this was a period of peace for the country, and a great economist has said, "Be wise in your politics, and your finances will be in good order."

Finally, he erected near Quito a magnificent Observatory. In company with scientific men such as Humboldt and Secchi, he considered that the position offered special advantages for an International Observatory, which might become the first in the world, "by its position at 3,000 meters above the sea, the admirable clearness of the sky and transparence of the air, its situation on the line of the Equator in a healthy and delightful climate which enjoys a perpetual spring." Moreno made overtures to several of the great powers, to France, England, and America, inviting their collaboration, but none responded, so he determined himself to undertake this great work in the interests of science. In five years the Observatory was completed, and Padre Menton, Padre Secchi's illustrious companion at the Roman Observatory, was about to be installed as its head, when the tragic death of its founder intervened, and the Revolutionaries before long closed the edifice. The key of the arch was gone, and the building crumbled to pieces."

In the course of fifty years the Revolutionaries and Freemasons had created nothing in Ecuador, whereas during his six years' administration Moreno succeeded in bringing his country from a state of profound ignorance into one of advanced progress in science and learning. In addition to the works for the mental progress of the nation, which I have only too briefly indicated, Moreno turned his attention to other reforms. He reduced the strength of the Army, but made it more efficient by instituting constant manoeuvers and establishing a school for Cadets. He secured a Chaplain for each Regiment, who likewise gave the men religious instruction and advice. The Criminal Code was thoroughly revised and made more stringent, and any judge or magistrate who acted corruptly was removed from office.

The prison system was based on humane and charitable lines, and in 1875 Moreno had the consolation of announcing to Congress that only fifty condemned prisoners remained in gaol. But while showing great mercy to prisoners, and encouraging them to amend their lives, Moreno was very severe towards any one he found wantonly oppressing the poor and unfortunate. During his journeys through the provinces, he was often approached by the poor people with their grievances. He would greet them kindly; then, seated under a tree, like St. Louis, he would listen to their complaints and give judgment.

One day some Indians related that a rich proprietor, wishing to complete and enlarge his property, had included some bits of land belonging to them. Being too poor to have recourse to the law, they had waited for the President's arrival to make their claim. In a case of justice all men were equal in Moreno's eyes, and he condemned the gentleman to make restitution of the lands and removed him from his official position.

Moreno had a great insight into character, and quickly discovered the truth in difficult cases. He possessed likewise a wonderful power of making a wrongdoer render justice to his victim, even when the Law itself was powerless. A poor widow came weeping to him, to complain that ten thousand piastres had been extorted wrongfully from her. Moreno at once bade his treasurer give her the money. "And who will repay it?" "So-and-so," he replied, naming the thief. "Place the amount to his account." Sending for the man, the President reproached him for his crime and made him repay the sum.

On another occasion a poor woman came to him and declared that she had been robbed of her all. In order to educate her children she had sold her little property for a sum of one thousand piastres, which the purchaser had promised to pay her in a month's time, but for which he had made her give him a receipt on the spot. At the end of the time, as the money did not come, she had begged for payment, but the wretch merely showed her the receipt duly drawn up and sent her away. Convinced of the truth of the story, Moreno was indignant, but as it was a delicate matter to prove, he considered for some time how he could cause restitution to be made, and, finally, fixed on an ingenious method of rendering justice.

Calling the man before him, he asked if it was true that he had bought the land from the poor woman, and was answered in the affirmative. Moreno remarked quietly that the woman complained of his delay in paying the sum agreed, upon which the delinquent swore that he had paid, and had a receipt in due form. Of course, Moreno expected this reply, but, assuming a look of surprise: "My friend," he said, "I was wrong to suspect you, and I owe you reparation. For long I have been looking for an honest man to fill a new post that I am about to create. I appoint you Governor of the Islands of Gallapagos, and as so great a personage cannot travel unescorted, two agents will accompany you to your house, where you will at once make your preparations for departing." With a terrible look he then bade the man go. The latter, half-dead with fright, and picturing to himself with horror the prospects of his life in the desert Islands of Gallapagos, sent for the widow, gave her the money, imploring her on his knees to obtain his pardon. This was quickly done. "I had, however, named him Governor," said Moreno, smiling, "but as he does not care for the dignity, tell him I accept his resignation."

To carry out his prison reforms Moreno found two men after his own heart—a Chaplain and a Governor. The latter, a man of intelligence and firmness, was to enforce the rules and to lend his assistance to the Chaplain in his task of softening the rude natures committed to his care. The prison changed its character, and became turn by turn a school and a workshop. Don Abel de Corral, a young Priest devoted to his work, taught his strange pupils Christian doctrine and the laws of the Decalogue, "with which they seemed but little familiar," and all the elements of a Christian life, adding lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. After that came instruction in various trades, each prisoner learning that for which he had most aptitude. The Governor, Don Francisco Arellano, seconded the Chaplain with zeal, and although obliged to be severe with the idle and rebellious, he ever showed himself the father and friend of his "dear prisoners" as he called them.

To encourage them in their progress, spiritual and temporal, the President promised not only that the terms of imprisonment should be shortened, but that their entire sentence would be remitted to those who deserved it. Nor were his hopes vain, for as they returned to the knowledge of their religion, these poor victims of ignorance and vice became entirely reformed.

At the close of the year, the President, with his Ministry and other great personages, followed by a military escort, went to the prison to preside at the examinations, which comprised Christian Doctrine, Church history, and various branches of secular knowledge. Moreno himself questioned these new-fashioned scholars, who were for the most part of mature age. After having warmly congratulated them on their progress, he rewarded some of them by commuting their sentences, and to one who had distinguished himself above all by his devotion to duty, the President gave his liberty. The prisoners applauded with tears of joy.

Another class of criminals had likewise to be sought out, these were the brigands and thieves who infested the country, and who in extremity could seek refuge in the mountains. Even close to Quito organized bands with good chiefs and settled points of rally defied the cleverest of the Government officials. The President made choice of one of these, and promised him a great reward if he should bring him the most redoubtable of the brigand chiefs, authorizing him to take policemen or soldiers to assist him. A few days later the chief was captured and brought before Moreno, quite expecting to be sentenced to instant death. What was his surprise when the President received him kindly, made an appeal to his feelings of religion and honor, and finally promised him his protection if he would change his life. The only penalty he imposed was that the prisoner should spend an hour daily with a Religious whom he named, and come to see himself morning and evening. Touched to the heart the brigand was entirely converted. When he was assured of this change, Moreno placed some of the police under his orders, and charged him to bring him his former companions. Sometime afterwards the whole company were in the charge of the Governor and Director of the Prison, and the pest of brigandage which had for long desolated the country was at an end.

To understand the result of Moreno's efforts, we must mention the consoling fact that after he had erected at great expense a new and healthy prison to replace the old one, it proved to be no longer needed.

"As," he told Congress "the building can contain five hundred prisoners in five separate divisions and as, on the other hand, the Municipalities have not means at their disposal to construct a prison in every province, consider in your wisdom whether it would not be desirable to bring hither the convicts and ordinary prisoners. They would be under the eye of the Supreme Court, and we should see disappear the barbarous and filthy cells—very hotbeds of vice, where the criminal suffers without amending, when he does not evade by flight, the punishment he has merited." Alas, a few days after he uttered these words, the Protector of the prisoners was cruelly murdered and the faithful Arellano was dismissed from his post by the Revolutionary Party, who had no sympathy with the work of regeneration.

The results of his reforms in connection with the army were remarkable, and his care for the young recruits was minute. He did not consider that he had the right to take young men who had been educated in piety and virtue, and to make sorts of monsters of them, without the knowledge of God or virtue." He obtained the institution of military chaplaincies from the Pope, and each year, besides the usual services of the Church and religious instructions, a Retreat was preached for the soldiers, which bore excellent and consoling fruit.

The following anecdote illustrates the delicacy of feeling shown by one of the young officers trained in Moreno's Cadet school. While making his nightly rounds, a certain lieutenant of infantry found lying in the street a great bundle of banknotes which he took to the President next morning. They proved to belong to a commercial traveler—a stranger. In his delight at recovering his money, the latter offered a hundred piastres to the finder, but, to his surprise, the officer refused to accept them in spite of his reiterated offers, and even of the friendly insistence of the President himself, who said: "You have no reason for refusing a gift which is willingly offered to you in recognition of an honorable action."

"Senor Presidente," replied the young man, "it is precisely my honor which makes me refuse. I have only done my duty and I merit no recompense."

"Very well," returned Moreno, much touched, "but I also have the right to bestow something upon you which you cannot refuse"—and he raised him to the rank of captain.

Another incident of a sadder nature is related, in which we recognize Moreno's sense of responsibility and his just severity, united to his natural compassion of heart. One of his former servants, in whom he took a great interest, became a soldier, and in a moment of anger struck his commanding officer. An attempt was made to prevent his being brought before the Council of War, but the President declared that the law must not be evaded, and the man was condemned to death. Moreno was then besieged by petitions on behalf of the unfortunate man, but, convinced that it was absolutely necessary for military discipline to support the judgment of the council, he remained inflexible. "I desire to pardon," he said, "but my conscience forbids." On the morning of the execution the President withdrew to a church in the suburbs that he might escape the sound of the firing, and remained there in prayer until all was over.

By one of the ingenious methods he employed for bringing back men to an honest life, Moreno turned a well-known robber into an excellent soldier. This man was in prison expiating his crimes, when he received word from the President that if he would reform his life and acquire habits of industry and honesty his penalty should be shortened. The prisoner was touched and became a different man. On leaving prison he was taken to Moreno, who said to him: "If I give you your liberty you will go back to your old ways; you will fall again into the hands of the law and we shall be obliged to shoot you. As I wish to spare you this disgrace and to make you an honest man, I will enroll you in the army. Be a good soldier, and you will earn promotion." The new recruit proved most satisfactory, and eventually became an officer.