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

Youth of the Hero

The better Portion didst Thou choose Great Heart.

—Cardinal Newman

O Constancy!

Where thou art wanting all our gifts are naught,

Friend of the Martyrs—both of those who die

And those who live; beneath that steadfast eye—

The breastplates and the beaming helms were wrought

Of all our far-famed Christian Chivalry.

—Aubrey de Vere

Gabriel Garcia Moreno was born at Guayaquil, one of the chief ports on the Pacific coast, on Christmas Eve, 1821, and was the youngest child of Don Gabriel Garcia Gomez, a native of Villaverde in old Castille, and of Donna Mercedes, daughter of Don Manuel Ignatius Moreno, Knight of the Order of Charles III and perpetual Director of the Chapel of Guayaquil. Both were devout and amiable, and they were much blest in their children. Gabriel had four brothers and three sisters, most of whom were already settled in life when he was born. Great family sorrows overshadowed his childhood. His father sustained heavy pecuniary losses, and died suddenly, leaving his family in poverty and desolation. Gabriel, whose early education had been entirely undertaken by his mother, had just begun to go to school, but the poor widow could no longer afford the expense. In this difficulty a friend, Father Betancourt, undertook the boy's education, and found in him an eager and intelligent pupil.

Even in these early years Gabriel was initiated into the political troubles of his country, for before he was nine years old Guayaquil had passed through four successive forms of Government, while bombardments and street fights served to familiarize him with danger and added to his acquired courage. Strange to say, he who was to be the bravest of the brave was timid and fearful by nature, a weakness which his father strove, and successfully, to overcome by very heroic methods. On one occasion Senor Garcia Gomez made his son stand, alone, on a balcony during a terrific storm, and on another, he sent him to light a candle by a corpse at night.

Alluding to his native town and its frequent revolutions, Gabriel once said, "I know of only two good things in it—my Mother . . . and bananas." His devotion to his mother was indeed one of his chief characteristics through life.

When the time came for Gabriel to go to the University at Quito, a sister of Father Betancourt's living in that city offered him a room in her house from which he could attend the classes, and in September, 1836, he left home to begin what proved to be a brilliant scholastic career; during his first year at the University he won the esteem and regard of his masters and the friendship of his companions. He took up a course comprising philosophy, mathematics, and natural sciences, and showed such talent that the Government placed a free Burse at his disposal on condition that he should continue the professorship of grammar while still following the course of philosophy.

His great and very practical piety struck everyone, and at this time he fancied that God called him to the ecclesiastical state, actually receiving the Tonsure and Minor Orders. His mother rejoiced at this hope, and his eldest brother, already a priest, had offered to pay the expenses of his training, when Gabriel suddenly became absorbed by a passion for science which seemed for the time to close his thoughts to all other hopes and plans. He determined to learn everything, and from his strength of will we can understand how he succeeded afterwards in becoming at the same time a great orator, a profound historian, an excellent linguist, a poet, and an incomparable statesman." At this early age he lived the life of a student and recluse, his only relaxation being the study of foreign languages and especially of English and French.

At the age of twenty, although his piety had in no way diminished, Moreno was advised to abandon the idea of becoming a priest, and was told he could serve God more effectively in public life: that he could be "A Bishop in the World"—strangely prophetic words for one who was eventually to help his country to be a truly Christian state and re-unite her to the Holy See. Moreno therefore chose the Law for his profession and at twenty-three obtained the rank of doctor. He did not long practice, but he never refused to plead the cause of the poor and oppressed. Accomplished in the best sense of the word, Moreno also possessed great personal attractions; tall and with regular features, intelligence beamed in his large, dark eyes, while his frank and loyal expression won all hearts. An intrepid and somewhat fiery character almost led him on one occasion into a youthful duel, but in other ways it aided him to train himself to great endurance.

In 1848 he married Dona Rosa Ascusabi, a young lady of noble birth. She was clever and charming, and their union was one of great happiness, saddened only by the storms of public life and the many separations which Moreno's duties rendered necessary.

We must now try to understand the political position of Ecuador, which for years had been, and still was, absolutely revolutionary, and the history of which is very confusing to the historian. At the beginning of the Republic, General Flores, one of Bolivar's chief officers, had been elected President, to be succeeded by a mere adventurer named Roccafuerte. In 1844 Flores, who again resumed office, determined to make a coup d'etat and to secure a new constitution which would make him absolute ruler. To this the people might have agreed had not Flores, who was in league with the Freemasons, shown great intolerance against the Catholic Church and its ministers. For this reason the country rose en masse to oppose him, and patriotic societies were formed in every town and village to organize resistance against the new laws.

To such events Moreno could not remain indifferent. He was but twenty-three, but in consequence of his ability, eloquence, and high character, he was quickly surrounded by young men of the best families whom he prepared for active resistance. When the protest of the clergy against their exclusion from the Legislative Chamber was treated with contempt, and the Government issued a ukase commanding everyone to take an oath to the Constitution, civil war broke out in earnest. The Patriots seized Guayaquil and a Provisional Government was formed consisting of Olivedo Roca Noboa, and other eminent persons, who pronounced sentence of banishment upon Flores. The latter at first endeavored to stand his ground with his troops at Elvira, but, at last, unable to resist the army and the nation, he capitulated, stipulating that he should lose neither his dignities nor his property, and should go into exile for two years.

Moreno had been foremost in this crisis. Struck by the influence he exercised the Provisional Government confided to him the delicate task of levying a special tax to pay the troops, as the Treasury was empty. He was completely successful and absolutely refused all payment for his services, counting personal sacrifices as nothing if he could help to rescue his country from the despotism of her late rulers.

During the next troubles caused by the illegal election of Roca as President, Moreno essayed to unmask the corruption of the Ministry by starting a humorous paper called El Zurriago (The Whip) which by its original and powerful satires delighted the Patriots while arousing much indignation in the opposite camp.

The discontent of the people was daily increasing, when a fresh turn of events caused all parties to unite against a common danger. General Flores had quitted Ecuador, humiliated but not discouraged, and in his exile he planned, with the support of Spain, to equip a body of mercenary troops and reconquer the country. Reports of his intention reached Ecuador and caused alarm there, and throughout the South American States. Moreno saw that the moment had come to sacrifice party spirit and to unite for the defense of the country, and he offered his services to the President, who gladly accepted them.

He started a new paper—The Avenger—which appealed to the patriotism not only of Ecuador but to that of all the States, boldly calling them to arms. The appeal was answered by a burst of enthusiasm from all the Republics. So warlike was the league that the ships and men which Flores had collected ready to start from England were forbidden by Lord Palmerston to set sail, and the Ex-President was forced to give up his expedition.

His followers in Ecuador still hoped for success, however, and before long raised the standard of revolt in Guayaquil. Garcia Moreno was sent to restore order and in a week he crushed the conspiracy and re-established peace. He once more refused any reward for his services. He had served Roca from patriotic motives, but wished to accept nothing from a Government that he despised. In a new paper El Diabolo in which its misdoings were severely criticized, he explained his own position. "I am neither a ministerialist nor a place-hunter" he wrote, "never having chosen to sell myself for money, nor am I a soldier boasting of the blows I have given or received. I am simply the friend of an unfortunate people who have no defenders against the devils who oppress them, and I will fight to the death against those who martyrize or betray them."

About this time a new figure appears in our history. General Urbina, socialist and adventurer, who, after being twice exiled for intriguing against the State, finally succeeded in becoming influential owing to the election of his friend Noboa to the Presidency in 1850.

Moreno took no part in these fresh troubles, for, wearied by the political warfare, he had left for Europe in the previous year. He travelled through England, France, and Germany, living on his own meager private fortune, and earnestly studying the political state of those countries, all of which were suffering in a degree from the revolutionary outbreak of 1848. What struck him most was the return of France to religious ideas as the only possible hope for the country, and he went back to Ecuador firmly convinced that religion alone can save nations, and that a country without it must be the prey either of autocrats or of anarchists.

On his return voyage he met, at Panama, a body of Jesuits who had just been expelled by the irreligious Government of Granada. He at once offered them a refuge in Ecuador, and Noboa received them gladly, although it was not till after a violent discussion that the Chambers ratified his consent. The people welcomed the Fathers with enthusiasm, and they were installed in the former Jesuit House in Quito.

Urbina immediately began to plot for their banishment and inspired the Government of Granada to demand it, but in vain. The Freemasons then published a furious pamphlet against the Society. To this Moreno wrote a magnificent reply entitled Defenso de los Jesuitas from which we have only space to quote a few noble words: "You pretend to exterminate the Jesuits out of love and for the greater glory of the Catholic Church. Falsehood and lies: you only strike at the Jesuits to attack Catholicism. It is an historical fact that all the enemies of the Church abhor the Society of Jesus." And again: "Ecuador will hold fast to the faith of our fathers. To defend it the clergy and people will not be deceived or yield to apathy or indifference. We will march to the fight under the guidance of Divine Providence. If, like the Hebrews, we have to pass through the Red Sea, God will open a path to His chosen people, and on the opposite shore we too shall lift up our voices in a hymn of triumph and deliverance."

This Defense silenced the Freemasons and was read throughout Ecuador. Urbina however bided his chance, and seizing the President in July, 1851, sent him to sea in a sailing vessel, in which he was kept wandering about for months while Urbina had himself installed as President. Under his rule theft, pillage, sacrileges, and murders became the order of the day and the Jesuits were again expelled.

At the time Moreno was laid up owing to an accident, but he once more tried to stem the horrors by his pen and started a weekly paper called The Nation. Urbina forbade the publication of a second number, on pain of arresting the Editor. Moreno published it without a moment's hesitation and two hours later he was arrested in the Plaza Mayor of Quito amidst the tears and indignation of the people. He was at once banished to Peru, but being promptly elected as Senator by the city of Guayaquil he returned to take his seat, but was again arrested by a flagrant breach of the Constitution and re-banished to Peru. He spent eighteen months at the Port of Payta devoting his time to study. "Once in solitude," says his biographer, "the passion for knowledge took possession of him anew," and made him forget everything else. Once only he broke the silence with which he had surrounded himself to publish an energetic protest, when the wretched Urbina, in order to give some coloring to the decree of banishment, accused him of having conspired against the State.

In spite of the unsettled state of Ecuador and of all the horrors that had accompanied the different revolutions, Moreno did not despair of his Country's future. Owing mainly to his own efforts the people had not allowed themselves to be entirely dominated and although for the moment they seemed apathetic there were signs that they would make fresh efforts to preserve their religion and their liberty. In a dim way Moreno probably now also saw his own destiny shaping itself, and felt that he must prepare for the high duties which might await him. He determined once more to seek light and practical knowledge in Europe. He therefore quitted Payta and set sail for France towards the close of 1853, reaching Paris a month later.