In 1926, to end chronic political instability in Portugal (there had been 40 cabinets since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1910), the Portuguese military seized power. Salazar was then briefly minister of finance. Recalled to the same post in 1928, he received the full financial authority he demanded, and in short order he placed Portuguese finances on a firm foundation. Over the next few years, Salazar gradually increased his power until, in 1932, he became premier of an authoritarian government. From that point until 1968, Salazar dominated Portuguese affairs.
Under a new constitution ratified in a 1933 referendum, Salazar reorganized Portugal as a corporative unitary republic rather than pluralist state. A national assembly elected by heads of families served as the legislative body. A corporative chamber advised the assembly about social and economic matters and represented syndicates of various corporations. The Catholic Church also had widespread influence. Salazar's National Union Party was the political voice of the so-called Estado Novo (new state), which combined eighteenth-century enlightened despotism with Christian morality but also had fascist and democratic trappings. This system came to be known as clerical fascism; it was subsequently a model for the Nationalists in Spain and for Austria.
Profoundly religious, Salazar was also an ascetic and bachelor. Unlike most dictators, he lived frugally on a modest salary and was utterly uninterested in the accumulation of personal wealth. Salazar also remained virtually unknown to his people. Although he admired fascism and supported the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, he also intensely disliked Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, and he maintained diplomatic relations with Portugal's longstanding ally, Great Britain. Unlike Francisco Franco in Spain, Salazar kept his country strictly neutral during World War II, until, under British and U.S. pressure, he agreed in October 1943 to lease bases in the Azores. These proved vital to the Allied cause in the Battle of the Atlantic. Nonetheless, Salazar maintained that the nation was neutral, and Portugal profited from selling goods to both sides. Portugal emerged from the war in a much better position than Spain, and it was readily admitted to the United Nations and invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Although Portugal was a police state, Salazar always tried to preserve some of the elements of a democratic facade. Increasingly, in his last years in power, Salazar was forced to devote substantial financial and military resources to maintaining Portuguese control over its overseas empire. A disabling stroke in 1968 finally forced him to give up power. His successor, Marcelo Caetano, introduced some reforms. Salazar died in Lisbon on 27 July 1970.
Spencer C. Tucker
Ferro, António. Portugal and Her Leader. Trans. H. de Barros Gomez and John Gibbons. London: Faber and Faber, 1939.; Garnier, Christine. Salazar: An Intimate Portrait. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1954.; Kay, Hugh. Salazar and Modern Portugal. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1970.