Garcia Moreno Refuses His Presidential Salary, Until Ecuador’s Finances Are Balanced

April 21, 2014

Gabriel Gregorio Fernando José María García y Moreno y Morán de Buitrón, President of Ecuador.

Gabriel Gregorio Fernando José María García y Moreno y Morán de Buitrón, President of Ecuador.

Garcia Moreno set to work immediately to clear out this Augean stable of a country where revolution had reigned supreme for over a quarter of a century. The specialty of all revolutionary governments is to consume without producing, not to help the people to live but to live at their expense. The first thing they do is to lay hold of the property of the Church and to drive away every honest man from administration. Then their followers fill up all vacant places of government and fatten themselves at the expense of the people unto the ruin of the nation, which wakes up, after a time, to find itself without religion, without honor or credit, or money, and with bankruptcy at its gates. To console the people they talk of progress and liberty.

Photograph of Garcia Moreno.

Photograph of Garcia Moreno.

Such was the miserable state to which the revolutionary party had brought Ecuador when Garcia Moreno took the reins of power. His first care was to make an entire change in the public functionaries, and to take in only men of proved honesty who were capable of carrying out his great designs. He insisted also on strict regularity and laborious work in all those under him, of which he was the first to set an example. The financial state of the country was deplorable. Money had been recklessly borrowed until no more could be raised, while the people were crushed under the weight of exorbitant taxation. No accounts had been kept, and there was not even an attempt to control the expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer under Robles had concluded a report on the Budget of 1857 with the words: “I have undeniable proofs that the national finances are in a state of perfect chaos, which makes it impossible for me to render any trustworthy accounts to the House. And that is the only result I have arrived at, after months of fruitless toil.”

Francisco Robles García was President of Ecuador from October 16, 1856 to September 17, 1859.

Francisco Robles García was President of Ecuador from October 16, 1856 to September 17, 1859.

Garcia Moreno, however, was determined to sift the whole matter to the bottom, and devoted himself to the terrible task of verifying all the debts contracted by the Republic during the last twenty years, the forced loans, which had been raised again and again without any record being kept, and all the iniquitous fiscal proceedings which had resulted in a debt of four million piastres(*). Having at last mastered this part of the subject, he introduced the French system of bookkeeping, with a clear account of the exports and imports, and with a Board of Control to check any frauds in the Executive body. Next came the turn of the stockjobbers and gamblers in the funds, many of whom were made to disgorge their ill-gotten gains, while the public functionaries who were convicted of sharing in this nefarious traffic were indignantly dismissed. Garcia Moreno himself gave a noble example of disinterestedness. Though he had little or no private fortune, he would never touch the twelve thousand piastres which was the annual salary voted for the President. He remitted one-half of it to the Exchequer, and the other half to the public charities.

Silver peso Ferdinand VI Coin. This Spanish dollar was the basis of the United States silver dollar.

Silver peso Ferdinand VI Coin. This Spanish dollar was the basis of the United States silver dollar.

(*) piastre, aka Spanish silver dollar, was a silver coin upon which the original United States dollar was based. It remained legal tender in the United States until the Coinage Act of 1857. In 2013 US dollars, a piastre would be worth about $20.

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Rev. Fr. Augustine Berthe, Garcia Moreno: President of Ecuador 1821-1875, trans. Lady Herbert (Dolorosa Press, 2006; reprint of original published in London: Burns and Oates, 1889),156-7.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 378

 

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