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In ordering the execution of a famous scientist, Francisco de Caldas, during the war for South American independence, Spain's General Pablo Morillo was quoted as saying "Spain does not need wise men" (in the English translation).

Some questions follow:

  1. Could Morillo have been misquoted or misunderstood?

  2. Wikipedia (not the most reliable source) claims that Morillo's contemporaries shared his views, such as they were. Did 18th and 19th century Spanish leaders generally feel that "Spain does not need wise men."?

  3. If "yes" to question 2, has any historian comparable to Edward Gibbon (perhaps not Gibbon himself, who might have been too old) cited such attitudes as a reason for Spain's decline in the 18th and 19th centuries?

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    Actually, Spanish decline (whose existence is debated by historians) happened way before the 18th century. More like in the 17th. – Felix Goldberg May 5 '13 at 21:25
  • You're right, it STARTED in the 17th century. But it CONTINUED in the 18th, and even 19th centuries. – Tom Au May 5 '13 at 21:29
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    Btw, this seems like a dark and complex story. Turns out that Caldas was not just a scientist but also an active duty officer with the rank of colonel; on whose side he fought and how is impossible to discern from his wiki entry which is written in really bad English. As for Morillo, he seems to have been a Liberal guy (not quite the same as liberal, but nevertheless..). Wikipedia does not shine as a source on this one, I am afraid, raising lots of questions but clarifying few if any... – Felix Goldberg May 5 '13 at 21:29
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    @MarkC.Wallace: "Identify" is a stonger word that I intended. Changed to "allude to." And changed "the" to "a." – Tom Au May 6 '13 at 12:51
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Caldas had time to appeal his death sentence and his final arguments indicated his potential value to the Royal Crown as a scientist. However, more than his military or political activities, was his value as a scientist (geography and astronomy) that was feared most were he to escape death and continue to aid the Revolution.

My belief is that Morillo's words were said mocking a desperate Caldas, rather than expressing a generalized sentiment in Spain.

However, the fact that Spain based its growth on wealth from Conquered gold, rather than Industry and Knowledge, may have been the cause for Morillo's sentiments.

It is my opinion, that it was the Spanish Inquisition, paired with the artificial acquisition of wealth, what led to Spain's decline.

Reference: ¡Soy Caldas!...

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