Born into a rich family, he was orphaned at a very young age. He
studied in the Universidad Complutense, the Cisneros Institute and
the Agustinos of El Escorial. He was awarded a Lawyer's licence
by the University of Zaragoza in 1897, and a doctorate by the Universidad
Complutense in 1900.
1909 he achieved a position at the Main Directorate of the Registries
and practiced the profession of civil law notary, and traveled
to Paris in 1911. He became involved in politics and in 1914 he
joined the Reformist Republican Party led by Melquíades
Álvarez. He collaborated on newspapers like El Imparcial
and El Sol. He directed the magazines Pluma and España
between 1920 and 1924, founding the former with his brother-in-law
Cipriano Rivas Cherif. He was secretary of the Ateneo de Madrid
(1913-1920), becoming its president in 1930. He was a candidate
for the province of Toledo in 1918 and 1923, but lost on both
occasions. In 1926 he founded Acción Republicana with José
strong critic of the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, he
published an energetic manifesto against the dictator and King
Alfonso XIII in 1924. He later participated in the Pact of San
Sebastián in 1930, which would form the nucleus of the
future republican government that arose after favorable results
to the republican candidacies in the municipal elections of April
12, 1931, and the subsequent abandonment of the country by King
was named Minister of War in the provisional Government of the
Second Republic on April 14, and replaced Don Niceto Alcalá-Zamora
as provisional prime minister (in October of the same year), due
to Alcalá-Zamora's resignation over the subject of the
religious question. As prime minister of the Republican coalition
government with the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), he
carried out the main reforms anticipated in the republican program:
the reformation of the Spanish Army - to determine its size in
agreement with the capacity of the country, the agrarian reform,
and the education reform - suppressing religious activities and
promoting public ones.
issues, along with the existing social agitation in a large extent
of the country would carry him into conflict with various factions,
especially with the Roman Catholic Church and parts of the army,
finally leading to the events of Casa Viejas, Castilblanco y Arnedo,
which forced his resignation on September 8, 1933. The triumph
of the coalition formed by Alejandro Lerroux's Radical Republican
Party and the Confederación Española de Derechas
Autónomas (CEDA) of José María Gil-Robles
y Quiñones on November 19, 1933, caused him to temporarily
withdraw from politics and return to literary activity.
political distance lasted only a short while, and in 1934 he founded
the Republican Left party, the fruit of the fusion of Acción
Republicana with the Radical Socialist Republican Party, led by
Marcelino Domingo, and the Organización Republicana Gallega
Autónoma (ORGA) of Santiago Casares Quiroga. In 1934 serious
revolutionary events took place in Asturias and Barcelona. Accused
of instigating the riots, he was jailed on board the destroyer
Sanchez Barcáiztegui anchored in the port in Barcelona,
but was later acquitted.
his release in January 1935, he initiated a political campaign
that gave rise to the creation of the Popular Front, a major left-wing
coalition that won the elections of February 16, 1936.
May 10 of that year, he was elected President of the Republic
after the removal of Alcalá-Zamora, a position that he
occupied during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). His futile
attempts to warn the different republican political forces about
the dangers from its lack of unity left him isolated in the government.
memoirs would faithfully reflect conflicts with governing Republican
leaders like PSOE's Francisco Largo Caballero and Juan Negrín.
With the fall of Barcelona on January 26 and Gerona on February
5 1939 to Francisco Franco's Nationalist troops, he fled to France
(the same day as Gerona's fall), and later submitted his resignation
as President of the Republic.
lived in exile in France, being trapped there by the Nazi German
occupation regime. The Vichy French authorities refused to allow
his coffin to be covered with the Republican flag.