The Spanish Civil War was truly finished (in my opinion) when the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975. He had prepared a successor, a young man of the Bourbon dynasty, to carry on his policies. The 37 year old, Juan Carlos, ascended to the throne as King of Spain, on November 27, 1975, just two days after Franco died.

Many in Spain, especially those in the military, expected him to simply endorse whatever the Fascists decided to do. They were wrong. King Juan Carlos I immediately began a policy of legalizing several political parties that were decidedly anti-fascist, and clearly distancing himself from fascist world leaders (like Augusto Pinochet of Chile).

He also dismissed the prime minister, Carlos Arias Navarro, and replaced him with Adolfo Suarez, who was popularly elected in the next election the next year–the first free election since before the Civil War.

His finest hour, however, was on February 23, 1981 when fascist members of the “Guardia Civil” broke into parliament with their guns and attempted to overthrow the government. They said they were acting with the approval of the king, but King Juan Carlos got on national TV and announced his disapproval of the coupe and his approval of a multi-party freely elected government. The coupe fell apart and liberty in Spain was preserved.

Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 in the midst of some scandals, so his reputation today is a bit sullied. But he was the man of the hour in the late 70’s and early 80’s to bring Spain out of the dark ages of totalitarianism, and into the light of freedom.