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

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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The decline of Spain I think it was in the end of XVIII. century.

1º The Absolutist regime was becoming obsolete and needed to modernize to the parlamentary regime and the economic liberalism.

2º The continue war against UK damage spanish economy a lot. The merchant fleet was nearly destroyed, the textile industry, in spite of the success, was sinking. The agriculture and mining production was weak.

The politicians with landslide support started the reform, however, the french revolution, slowdown the reforms.

The example was the Count of Floridablanca, liberal politician and lawyer. He was the prime minister in the last absolutist monarchy government favour to liberal reform. However, before the reforms started, the king decided to substitute the prime minister for the Count of Aranda, a military stadist. However, due to Count of Aranda was alarmed in order to intervene in French revolution (he take into account that spain was not ready fot that adventure), was subtitute to Manuel Godoy, a politician that rejected any kind of reform and was decided to invade france. The decisions made from the king was Due to he thaught that spain needed a military leader in order to face French revolution and Napoleon. A great mistake that the king committed because spain was not ready for any war.

The plan of invasion of Godoy to invade was really bad planned. Spain invade french south with 55000 men poorly equipped joining in the war. The war started with victories but temporary because the french army DOUBLED the size of spanish expedition army. General Antonio Ricardos sent a urgent letter to madrid asking for reinforcements, however, the letter arrived to late. That was the spanish situation of the communications between head government and the army, really BAD. Manuel Godoy passed from being the prime minister that attacked france to ask for peace rapidly, he lost all his reputation and he became the future loyal servant of Napoleon´s brother.

At the end, spain was invaded by french army. The war against Napoleon put the spanish administration even worse than before. Later the transition was more caotic and with civil war. A lot of time lost, that provocked a late industrial revolution.

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