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National Union (Portugal)

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National Union

União Nacional
PresidentAntónio Salazar (first)
Marcelo Caetano (last)
Founded30 July 1930 (1930-07-30)
Dissolved25 April 1974 (1974-04-25)
HeadquartersLisbon, Portugal
Youth wingMocidade Portuguesa
Paramilitary wingLegião Portuguesa
IdeologyClerical fascism
Portuguese nationalism
National conservatism
Social conservatism
Lusitanian Integralism
Political positionRight-wing to far-right[1][2]
ReligionRoman Catholicism
Colours     Blue      White
Party flag
União Nacional Flag.svg

The National Union (Portuguese: União Nacional) was the sole legal party of the Estado Novo regime in Portugal. It was founded in 1930 and dominated by António de Oliveira Salazar during most of its existence. Unlike in most single-party regimes, the National Union was more of a political arm of the government, rather than holding actual power over it.

The National Union was formed as a subservient umbrella organisation to support the regime itself, and therefore did not have its own philosophy. At the time, many European countries feared the destructive potential of communism. Salazar not only forbade Marxist parties, but also revolutionary fascist-syndicalist parties. In 1934, Salazar exiled Francisco Rolão Preto as a part of a purge of the leadership of the Portuguese National Syndicalists, also known as the camisas azuis ("Blue Shirts"). Salazar denounced the National Syndicalists as "inspired by certain foreign models" (meaning German Nazism) and condemned their "exaltation of youth, the cult of force through direct action, the principle of the superiority of state political power in social life, [and] the propensity for organising masses behind a single leader" as fundamental differences between fascism and the Catholic corporatism of the Estado Novo.[3]

The Portuguese corporatist state had some similarities to Benito Mussolini's Italian fascism, but considerable differences in its moral approach to governing.[4] Although Salazar admired Mussolini and was influenced by his Labour Charter of 1927,[5] he distanced himself from fascist dictatorship, which he considered a pagan Caesarist political system that recognised neither legal nor moral limits. Salazar also viewed German Nazism as espousing pagan elements that he considered repugnant. Just before World War II, Salazar made this declaration: "We are opposed to all forms of Internationalism, Communism, Socialism, Syndicalism and everything that may divide or minimise, or break up the family. We are against class warfare, irreligion and disloyalty to one's country; against serfdom, a materialistic conception of life, and might over right."[6]

Unlike Mussolini or Hitler, Salazar never had the intention to create a party-state. Salazar was against the whole-party concept and when in 1930 he created the National Union he created it as a non-party. The National Union was set up to control and restrain public opinion rather than to mobilize it, the goal was to strengthen and preserve traditional values rather than to induce a new social order. Ministers, diplomats and civil servants were never compelled to join the National Union.[7]


The party was founded in 1930 during the period of the Ditadura Nacional. Officially it was not a political party, but an "organisation of unity of all the Portuguese". Salazar in the speech that launched the party was vague in terms of its role and he incorporated all the parties supporting the dictatorship, whether republican, monarchic or catholic. Its first organic principles expressly declared that “all citizens, regardless of their political or religious beliefs” would be admitted as long as they adhered to the principles of Salazar’s speech of 30 June 1930.[8]

The first party leader was the Interior Minister Colonel Lopes Mateus. The composition of the Central Commission indicated that the party was meant to support the regime rather than militate for it.[9] Salazar became President and Albino dos Reis, a former member of the Cunha Leal ULR, was nominated Vice President. The first Central Commission was composed by Bissaia Barreto, , João Amaral, a judge and an Integralist monarchist, and Nuno Mexia, who had been linked to the Union of Economic Interests (União dos Interesses Económicos) in the 1920s.[9] Appointment to lead the party meant either ‘retirement’ or a prestigious pause from government duties.[9] The absence of youth was a characteristic of the National Unionr, particularly in the 1930s. At the first Congress, 68% of the delegates were over 40 years old.[10]

According to historian António Costa Pinto The National Union is an example of extreme weakness among dictatorships with weak single parties. There was no internal party activity until 1933. From 1934 onwards, after the creation of the regime’s new institutions, the UN embarked on a period of lethargy from which it did not emerge until 1944. This lethargy can be partly explained by the affirmation by the regime that it did not attribute great importance to it, beyond its utility as an electoral and legitimating vehicle.[8]

The Estado Novo also created state bodies for propaganda, youth and labour, but they were not connected with the party.[11]

Organisational authors of the party were not inspired by the fascist model and when its leaders referred to fascist dictatorships, it was almost always to point out differences.[11]

In 1938 Salazar himself recognised that UN activities “were successively diminished until it had almost been extinguished”. It was with the end of World War II that the National Union came to life again. In October 1945, Salazar announced a liberalisation program designed to restore civil rights that had been suppressed during the Spanish Civil War and World War II in hopes of improving the image of his regime in Western circles. The measures included parliamentary elections, a general political amnesty, restoration of freedom of the press, curtailment of legal repression and a commitment to introduce the right of habeas corpus. The opposition to Salazar started to organise itself around a broad coalition, the Movement of Democratic Unity (MUD), which ranged from ultra-Catholics and fringe elements of the extreme right to the Portuguese Communist Party. Initially, the MUD was controlled by the moderate opposition, but it soon became strongly influenced by the Communist Party, which controlled its youth wing. In the leadership were several communists, among them Octávio Pato, Salgado Zenha, Mário Soares, Júlio Pomar and Mário Sacramento.[12]

The opposition Movement of Democratic Unity was legal between 1945 and 1948, but even then the political system was so heavily rigged that it had no realistic chance of winning.

The party won all seats in elections to the National Assembly of Portugal from 1934 to 1973. Opposition candidates were nominally allowed after 1945, but prematurely withdrew in the 1945 and 1973 legislative elections. In 1970, two years after Salazar had been replaced as leader and prime minister by Marcelo Caetano the name of the party was changed to Acção Nacional Popular ("People's National Action"), and subsequent to Salazar's retirement faced formal competition in the 1969 legislative election, nevertheless winning all constituencies in a landslide.[13]

The party had no real philosophy apart from support for the regime. The Portuguese Fascist leader, Francisco Rolão Preto defined the National Union in 1945 as a “grouping of moderates of all parties, bourgeois without soul or faith in the national and revolutionary imperatives of our time”.[14]

As a result of its lack of ideology, it melted away after the Portuguese Revolution of 1974. It has never been revived, and no party claiming to be its heir has won any seats in the Assembly of the Republic in modern Portugal.

List of Presidents

No. Portrait Name
Term of office
1 Dr. Oliveira Salazar - Ilustração Portugueza (06Set1942).png António de Oliveira Salazar
30 July 1930 (1930-07-30) 27 September 1968 (1968-09-27)
2 Marcello caetano.jpg Marcelo Caetano
27 September 1968 (1968-09-27) 25 April 1974 (1974-04-25)

Electoral results

Corporative Chamber
Logo Election year Leader Overall votes Percentage Seats won +/–
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1934
António de Oliveira Salazar
476,706 (#1) 100%
100 / 100
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1938
António de Oliveira Salazar
694,290 (#1) 100%
100 / 100
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1942
António de Oliveira Salazar
758,215 (#1) 100%
100 / 100
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1945
António de Oliveira Salazar
Unknown (#1) 100%
120 / 120
Increase 20
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1953
António de Oliveira Salazar
Unknown (#1) 100%
120 / 120
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1957
António de Oliveira Salazar
Unknown (#1) 100%
120 / 120
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1961
António de Oliveira Salazar
973,997 (#1) 100%
130 / 130
Increase 10
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1965
António de Oliveira Salazar
Unknown (#1) 100%
130 / 130
União Nacional logo, 1938 version.svg 1969
Marcelo Caetano
981,263 (#1) 87.99%
130 / 130
Acção Nacional Popular logo, 1970.svg 1973
Marcelo Caetano
1,393,294 (#1) 100%
150 / 150
Increase 20


  1. ^ Griffiths, Richard (2000). An Intelligent Person's Guide to Fascism. Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd. p. 133. ISBN 9780715629185.
  2. ^ Leite, Naomi (2017). Unorthodox Kin: Portuguese Marranos and the Global Search for Belonging. University of California Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780520285057.
  3. ^ Kay 1970, p. 55.
  4. ^ Kay 1970, pp. 50–51.
  5. ^ Wiarda 1977, p. 98.
  6. ^ Kay 1970, p. 68.
  7. ^ Gallagher 1990, p. 167.
  8. ^ a b Costa Pinto 2000, p. 141.
  9. ^ a b c Costa Pinto 2000, p. 145.
  10. ^ Costa Pinto 2000, p. 147.
  11. ^ a b Costa Pinto 2000, p. 143.
  12. ^ Rosas, Fernando (dir.) (1995). Revista História (History Magazine) – Number 8 (New Series)
  13. ^ "Portugal, 1969" (PDF). PORTUGAL - Assembly of the Republic - Historical Archive Of Parliamentary Election Results. Inter-Parliamentary Union ( Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  14. ^ Costa Pinto 2000, p. 135.