Dr. Manuel Azaña Diaz (Alcala de Henares (Madrid), Spain, 1880 - Montauban, France, November 3, 1940) was the second and last President of the Second Spanish Republic. He had previously served as Minister of War in the first government of the Second Spanish Republic (April-June 1931), and as Prime Minister between June 1931 and September 1933, prior to becoming President of the Republic (May 1936 - April 1939).
Born into a rich family, he was orphaned at a very young age. He studied in the Complutensian School, the Cisneros Institute and the Agustinos of El Escorial. He became a Lawyer by the University of Zaragoza in 1897, and a doctor by the Central University of Madrid in 1900. In 1909 he achieved a position at the Main Directorate of the Registries and the Profession of Notary. In 1911 he traveled to Paris. He became involved in politics and in 1914 he joined the Reformist Party led by Melquiades Alvarez . 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) and 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 Giral.
A 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 on the part of King Alfonso XIII.
He was named Minister of War in the provisional Government of the Second Republic on April 14, 1931. He 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-Socialist coalition government, he carried out the main reforms anticipated in the republican program: The Reformation of the Army, to determine its proportions in agreement with the capacity of the country, the Agrarian Reformation, the Reformation of Education, suppressing relgious activities and promoting public ones, etc.
Those issues, along with the existing social agitation in a large extent of the country would carry him into conflict with various factions, specially with the 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 Partido Republicano Radical and the Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA) of José Maria Gil-Robles on November 19, 1933, caused him to temporarily withdraw from politics and return to literary activity. This 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 Party Radical-Socialist, 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 helping instigate the events, he was jailed on board the destroyer Sanchez Barcáiztegui anchored in the port in Barcelona. He was later acquitted.
After his release in January 1935, he initiated a political campaign that gave rise to the creation of the Popular Front, a leftist coalition that won the elections of February 16, 1936.
On 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. His memoirs would faithfully reflect conflicts with governing Republican leaders like Francisco Largo Caballero and Juan Negrín. With the fall of Barcelona on January 26 and Gerona on February 5, 1939 to 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. He died in exile in Montauban, France on November 3, 1940, the Vichy French authorities refusing to allow his coffin to be covered with the Republican flag.