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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Antonio José de Sucre

Guillermo Antonio Sherwell

Press of Byron S. Adams
Washington, D. C., 1924

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 13

p143 Chapter XII

Bolivia. The Creation of a Country.

Thayer's Note: For following the geography in the text, the map provided by the author at the end of the book may be useful; it opens in a separate window.

Glory had crowned Sucre, but he was unchanged by all his honors. Olañeta still remained, but any conflict with him would be insignificant. Sucre again asked Bolívar to relieve him from his command. In a communication to the Liberator he stated his desire to go to Cuzco and Arequipa to put those cities in order and then to set sail from Quilca. But the Liberator had different plans and declined to release him.

On December 29th Sucre entered Cuzco, where he took the royal banner which Pizarro had carried in the conquest of Peru. This banner was sent to Bolívar, who gave it to the city of Caracas, where it is still preserved.

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Pizarro's Banner (Front)
The Original is in the Municipal Building of Caracas

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Pizarro's Banner (Back)
The Original is in the Municipal Building of Caracas

Of the several Spanish flags which were also sent, the Government of Colombia presented one to Cumaná, the birthplace of Sucre, to be kept as a token of the victor of Ayacucho.

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Banner of Upper Peru
The Original is in the Municipal Building
of Cumaná

Perhaps it was in Cuzco that Sucre conceived the idea of making an independent country of Upper Peru. Both Peru and Buenos Aires coveted this region, and it was possible that it might become the cause of conflict between the two countries. Furthermore, all the commanders of the Peruvian division were from Buenos Aires, and all its officers from Peru. To avoid complications, on reaching the  p144 River Desaguadero, Sucre decided to cross the border with Colombian troops only.

"We have to operate in a country," — he wrote to Bolívar — "which does not belong to Peru nor does it appear to want to belong to anybody but itself. I foresee that we are going to get into a bad mess, but since you permit me to be frank, I shall tell you that the first time I find myself in confusion because of insufficient clarity of instructions, I shall retire from command . . . I serve only because of my friendship for you, and my fervent desire is to retire as soon as this campaign is ended, and the Spanish army is destroyed. The greatest reward for my services would be a passport for Guayaquil." (January 8, 1825.)

Olañeta had written Sucre a cordial letter in December. Sucre supposed him to be on the side of freedom, and even did not include him in the capitulation of Ayacucho to let him receive honors as a liberator. But later Olañeta sent troops to attack Sucre. The latter, after exhausting all conciliatory measures, decided to subdue the Spaniard by force.

On leaving Cuzco, January 19, 1825, he left General Gamarra with instructions to deal severely with the Spaniards who availed themselves of the generosity shown after Ayacucho to intrigue against the independence of Peru:

"You will fulfill," he ordered, "the duties imposed upon us by the capitulation, but in no  p145 way shall you permit any enemy to abuse the benevolence with which we have treated him, or disregard the magistrates or the laws of the republic."

During his advance to Upper Peru sad news reached him from his home. His father had died in July of the preceding year. He asked for a leave of eight months so as to go to Cumaná and attend to the division of the estate, which, according to his father's will, could not be done until he personally did it. But he could not be replaced and this sacred duty remained unfulfilled.

Cochabamba joined the cause of independence while he was advancing toward Puno. He arrived here on January 26th, and was at La Paz in the middle of February. Meanwhile, Lara was sent to Arequipa to prevent the arrival of any help for Olañeta. Córdoba was left at La Paz and at the end of March Sucre in person started the campaign against Olañeta.

But there was really no campaign. Sucre occupied Potosí on March 30th, and on April 3rd he received news that Olañeta had died fighting against a part of his own army which had revolted in favor of independence. A few scattered royalist detachments which remained soon surrendered.

On February 9, 1825, Sucre had convoked at La Paz a general assembly of the inhabitants of the five provinces of Upper Peru so that they might decide  p146 whether they were to belong to Peru or to Buenos Aires or should be autonomous. This assembly was first scheduled to meet on April 19th, but was delayed because at the time of the elections some departments had not yet been entirely freed from the Spaniards. Sucre's action in this respect had been taken on his own initiative. The Liberator disapproved of this convocation. He wanted Sucre to have command of all the territory occupied by his troops. But Sucre's idea was to be merely a liberator, letting the people decide their own final destiny.

Sucre's attitude on this occasion was as definite and frank as it had always been. In a letter to Bolívar, written in Potosí on April 8, 1825, after informing the Liberator of Olañeta's death and of his sending Colonel O'Connor to accomplish the submission of the royalists still in arms, he writes of the postponement of the assembly and urges Bolívar to come direct to Potosí and not to Cuzco, as he had planned. On the following day, having received a letter from Bolívar expressing disapproval of the convocation, he answered with energy:

"You write that the convocation of this assembly is a practical recognition of the sovereignty of these provinces. But is this not the system in Buenos Aires, where each province is sovereign? Salta, Córdoba, Tucumán, La Rioja, Santa Fe, and the others, have they not independent and sovereign governments? Why should a province with fifty thousand  p147 population be governed independently within that federation, and five departments with more than a million inhabitants not be permitted to assemble here to provide for their preservation and the establishment of a provisional government until they provide for the unity of their general government? . . . I saw you yourself ask an assembly at Guayaquil to decide regarding a province of eighty thousand."

He then reiterates his decision to retire as commander of the United Army and to keep only the direction of the Colombian troops. His resignation as head of the Colombian army had already been sent to Bogotá, since Bolívar did not consider himself authorized to receive it in view of the decree mentioned above.

But Sucre simply had to stay. He could not be spared, either as general or as statesman. He sent Bolívar a copy of his message to the assembly, and in the accompanying letter he writes:

"You will find a thousand mistakes, because it is the first document of the kind I have ever written. You have put me in a peculiar situation, for I myself laugh when I talk of political matters. As I have told you again and again, I do not understand them and do not want to understand them."

But his actions were eloquent in contradicting this affirmation.

 p148  Bolívar finally agreed that Sucre's action in convoking the general assembly was proper, and he approved the decree. Sucre again postponed the meeting so as to give Bolívar time to arrive, and also in order to obtain the approval of Argentina. This approval was given in a law of May 9, 1825, recognizing the right of Upper Peru to decide its own destiny. Bolívar, however, decided to go to Cuzco and at last the assembly met without him, on July 5, 1825, at Chuquisaca. The assembly passed a decree recognizing a new republic composed of the provinces represented. It was to be named Bolivia, in honor of the Liberator, and its capital was to be Chuquisaca, the name of which was changed to Sucre.

Finally the Liberator came to La Paz, August 18, 1825. His reception was splendid. Bolívar and Sucre competed in modesty, as is shown by the following incident, related by Rey de Castro. Bolívar was presented with trappings for his horse, heavily embroidered with gold, and with gold spurs. He was also presented with a crown of gold and precious stones. He passed both presents to Sucre. The latter at once sent the trappings to General Lara, who was in Arequipa; the crown he gave to Córdoba.

Sucre governed with practically dictatorial powers up to May, 1825, when the constituent assembly met. During this time he organized the public  p149 finance, established direct taxation, and systematized the revenues. He ordered the opening of roads, created tribunals of justice, dictated a law of responsibility for the judges and a law of judicial procedure. The administration of justice was made independent of political and civil positions. Civil employees were appointed upon the advice of local boards, and strictly according to merit. The payment of civil salaries was ordered to start with the lowest employees and to end with Sucre himself, so that in case of deficit he alone would suffer. He made plans for introducing water into the harbor of Cobija, the name of which was changed to La Mar, as well as for the opening of a highway from that port to Potosí. He established a college of arts and sciences in each province. He applied to public instruction the funds for the support of pious works, and suppressed many of the small and unnecessary convents with which the region was strewn. He undertook to reform the clergy and religious orders. He ordered that the expenses of the cathedral should be met by the public treasury and the tithes and other ecclesiastical taxes of an obligatory nature abolished. He wrote of these reforms to Pope Leo XII, and His Holiness approved of Sucre's actions and sent him the apostolic benediction.

Sucre also established a mail system, with frequent communication with Lima and Buenos Aires.  p150 Orphan asylums for both boys and girls were opened. He improved the hospitals, and ordered the opening of primary schools in all towns. A school of mines was organized, and he attended to the regulation of the mines, thus reviving mining to such an extent that the capital invested in this industry was doubled in a short time.

So earnestly did he attend to the welfare of the country that when he presented his resignation to the Constituent Congress in 1826, the president (Olañeta by name, and a nephew of the Spanish general, though a partisan of liberty), addressed him as follows:

"History will describe you to posterity as the warrior who saved a world from captivity with his sword, and as a philosopher who brought life and liberal institutions to a nation. Perhaps this is the first time that a great general, crowned with laurels, treading on the trophies of war, covered with glory and power, has respected the principles of law and led a people toward the possession of rational liberty . . . Since you began to exercise command in the Bolivian Republic, this new country has presented itself as a living proof that it is possible to organize a social body without wading through torrents of blood . . .

"Your frank, open and indefatigable administration, the justice of your decisions, and your admirable and virtuous example, are the most important lessons given to our magistrates."

 p151  Previous to the meeting of the constituent Congress, Sucre's activity was never diminished by his reluctance to exercise political power. His letters are crowded with details showing his alert spirit, his broad vision, his sound judgment, his personal affection for Bolívar, his love for Colombia, and his way of thinking in terms of the continent — which we now call Pan Americanism, and which has always been the truest Americanism.1

The reader cannot but be touched by a letter of February 12, 1826, in which Sucre asks Bolívar's approval of his marriage to his betrothed, at Quito. "On giving me your advice, do as if you were talking to your own son." On the 28th of the same month he gave instructions that everything he had earned in the service of Colombia be delivered to his family. He is enthusiastic about a project to land forces at Havana and obtain the freedom of Cuba. He analyzes the possibility of a French attack upon Colombia and the proper defensive measures to be taken. He advises Bolívar to resign the Presidency of Colombia, so as to occupy that office in 1831 when the Constitution was to be revised. That portion of his letter of March 12, 1826, in which he advises Bolívar in this regard is a combination of wisdom and prophecy . . .

 p152  "I think that since you received all the votes for the Presidency of the Republic, you have proved to the whole world, and in an indisputable manner, that you enjoy the confidence of all the people of Colombia. But since you do not want to serve as President, although you accepted the office, and since General Santander fills the position well, I believe you should look forward to the year 1831, when the Constitution will be revised and when the country will need a head trusted by all the people, and who will be able to curb all parties. If you are considered as President during the next four years you will not be able to stand for re‑election in 1829, the dangerous epoch of the revision of the Constitution. After thinking much on this subject, I have decided there is no remedy but for you to refuse the Presidency for this period from now until 1829; then you will be elected for the term 1829‑1833 and re‑elected for 1833‑1839 . . . Meanwhile, you can devote yourself to arranging matters in Bolivia and Peru, still keeping an eye on Colombia. If you have decided not to assume the Presidency, this is the best solution, for then we keep the hope of electing you in 1829 and if necessary re‑electing you until 1839 . . .

"I foresee a storm in Colombia in 1831, and there is no one who can control the situation unless you are at the helm . . ."

Sucre was correct; it was a terrible period. It cost America the end of the Colombian dream and her two most precious lives: Sucre's at the hands  p153 of murderers and Bolívar's through an illness that was aggravated by discouragement, by infinite sadness, and by the final blow of his companion's death.

The Constituent Congress met on May 25, 1826, and on the following day issued a decree again placing the executive power in Sucre's hands, until the Constitution should be issued and put into force. Sucre declined the honor, and recommended that the authority be placed in the hands of the three members of the cabinet council, until Bolívar himself should arrive. But the Congress answered that rather than have Sucre abandon the power and cause the ruin of the country, they would suspend their sessions. Sucre had to submit, but did so only upon condition that the power would be relinquished to Bolívar upon the latter's arrival.

Throughout his administration Sucre had shown that he stood for the greatest conquests of human freedom: personal rights, liberty of speech and religious toleration. On the eve of the meeting of the Constituent Congress he issued a general amnesty, a model of generous statesmanship. Its essential part reads:

"First. The political differences of the revolution are forever forgotten and consequently no one has to answer for his past opinions.

"Second. Men of all nationalities are invited to come to Bolivia where their civil freedom has all the guarantees which the law gives to the Bolivians.

 p154  "Third. Foreigners will secure the rights of citizenship in accordance with the rules that the Constitution may provide.

"Fourth. Personal and property rights are sacred in the Republic.

"Fifth. Bolivia does not recognize any other foreign enemies than the enemies of her freedom, her integrity and her independence, nor any other domestic enemies than those of her prosperity and laws. Against the latter the government shall act only in accordance with the law.

"Sixth. Every foreigner, upon declaring in a positive way that he proposes to live in the country, will be exempted from paying other taxes than those to which natives of the country are subject.

"Seventh. Foreigners devoted to public instruction and education in Bolivia shall have special consideration in obtaining citizenship papers.

"The Republic does not acknowledge in any human power the right to impose upon the conscience of the inhabitants of Bolivia, provided that they observe the laws established for the preservation of worship, good morals and wholesome habits."

In that same year, 1826, the idea of making Bolívar emperor was spreading. Though Sucre realized that the Latin American nations were not ripe for the full practice of democracy, his loyalty to Bolívar and still more to republican principles, made him express himself frankly against the idea. Bolívar  p155 respected Sucre's opinions and communicated with him, seeking his advice. Without doubt this was not to modify his own resolution on the matter, for nothing has proved that Bolívar ever wanted a crown. It was to fortify his own stand by knowing the thoughts of his most trusted and loyal friend. Sucre answered:

"It seems to me that the Caracans who have presented this Napoleonic plan to you do so in bad faith and to tempt you . . . I could never believe that it would be possible for you to give any answer other than the one you have given, for it is the only answer that could come from patriotism and from love of country. Had you children, I might see in the plan some regard for public tranquillity, but since you have none I believe that the project implies the destruction of the country. Supposing even that order could be maintained for your lifetime, at your death each one of the authors of the plan will believe that he has the right to succeed you, and each one would seize a piece of land and terrorize it. I believe . . . that you must be the Liberator, or a dead man. As Liberator, yours will be an eternity of glory. I am not extremely democratic, for I am aware of conditions in our country, but in my thoughts I cannot but consider you, the man I love best on earth, and my country, and those who want to oppress it under the shadow of your genius. . . . I think that you should tower above these vulgar ideas, and should keep yourself unsullied. . . .

 p156  "It is very peculiar that the furious democrats seem to have acquired the strange idea of establishing an empire to cure existing evils. Coming from one delirium, they go to the other extreme, which must equally displease the people. I do not believe that even the army can accept the plan; for in spite of the humiliation which it has suffered from the Legislative Power, and even, it is said, from the Government, they will still prefer the peace and happiness of Colombia to their own advantage. Above all, if the army should accept a king for Colombia, you would be such a king; and since you have no children to insure this peace through succession, peace would last only while you lived, and at your death a most frightful and bloody war would result. If a prince from Europe should be chosen king, then we should indeed mourn the outcome of our revolution. I know of no one in Colombia who could obtain the public votes for this dignity. As for yourself, I believe as you do: that you must die before losing your title of Liberator."

Sucre, in close harmony with the legislators, devoted great care to the organization of the country and to studying a plan of constitution sent by Bolívar. O'Leary summarizes the main features of this plan as follows:

"The Government was popular and representative. The supreme power was divided into four sections: Electoral, Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary. The first one was an innovation  p157 in legislation and it was certainly favorable to public freedom. Every Bolivian had the right to vote, provided that he knew how to read and write and was engaged in some industry, art, or science. Every ten citizens appointed an elector. Thus the Electoral Power was composed of one‑tenth of the total number of citizens. The electors appointed the members of the legislative chambers, submitted to the Executive Power the candidates for the positions in the governments of the departments, provinces, and counties, and submitted to the latter the inferior civil employees. They submitted to the Senate the candidates for the courts and tribunals, and to the Executive the curates and vicars to occupy vacant posts. The electors also had the right to petition and complain of injuries received from the authorities.

"The Legislative Power rested in three chambers — the Chamber of Tribunes, the Chamber of Senators, and the Chamber of Censors. The last was to act as arbiter in case of dispute between the other two and was also to exercise certain moral influence. It took care of the application of the Constitution, prosecuted the high officials of the country when there was reason for doing so, and protected the freedom of the press. It selected from among three candidates submitted by the Senate the judges of the high courts of justice and the dignitaries of the Church. The position of censor was for life. The tribunes had the initiative regarding laws for raising revenue and they passed upon the yearly budget. They decided upon the number  p158 of men in the service of the army and navy for each year; they were elected for periods of four years, to be renewed by halves every two years, and they could be re‑elected. The Senators held their position for a period of eight years and were renewed by halves every four years. They had the initiative in the laws regarding reforms of judicial, ecclesiastical, and commercial affairs. They selected and submitted to the Censors three candidates to fill the vacancies among the judicial and ecclesiastical dignitaries, and appointed the inferior judges, selecting them from candidates presented by the electors.

"The Executive Power was entrusted to a life President, and a Vice President proposed by the President to the Chambers, and three Secretaries of State appointed or removed at the discretion of the President. His functions were similar to those of the President of the United States, except that he could not appoint judges. He was not responsible for the acts of his Administration, but the Vice President and the Secretaries signed with him the documents and were responsible. The Vice President was to take the place of the President in case of death or illness.

"The Judiciary Power was absolutely independent . . . The Electoral Power presented candidates to the legislature and the latter elected judges from among those submitted.

"Civil freedom in its broader sense was protected by this Constitution. There were no limitations upon the press and the right of free transit was sanctioned. No titles or privileges  p159 were recognized . . . Property rights and equality before the law were guaranteed."2

Bolívar's ideas were acceptable, with the exception of the presidency for life, which was disagreeable to Sucre and to the Constituent Congress. At last Bolívar's Constitution was adopted, more through personal regard for him than through conviction. In the same letter quoted above, Sucre speaks of the Constitution and the idea of a federation composed of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, of which Sucre was to be Vice President:

"Your idea of sending them (the Colombians) your project of the constitution for Bolivia is excellent . . . If these men are of good faith and have any feeling of love for their country, they cannot but prepare public opinion in order that it may be accepted in the year '31. The centralization of the government and the preservation of the national independence must be the ambition of every Colombian . . . The federation in the form of which you have thought could be a great remedy (for the confusion in Colombia), but I have grave doubts that it can be realized in the broad form in which it has been conceived. The federation of Peru with Bolivia may be obtained, and although these gentlemen (the Bolivians) have shown great repugnance because their first impression was that it was intended to submit  p160 them to Peru, I shall work all I can, since you believe that this is the way in which the institutions, the liberty and the peace of both countries will be safe. As regards the federation of the three countries, it also might be possible, but I doubt that it would be so solid."

Sucre also expressed himself against the life presidency. However, the Constitution sent by Bolívar was approved, and Sucre was elected President for life, in spite of his urgent request to have his name removed from the list of candidates. He answered immediately that he accepted the presidency for a term of two years only, that is, until August, 1828, when the first Congress elected under the new Constitution would assemble. Sucre did not believe that the Constitution prepared by the Liberator would endure. This was the second time that he declined the supreme power of a country, having previously refused to accept the military dictatorship of Peru.

As for the Vice Presidency of the great federation of which Bolívar was thinking, he wrote a frank refusal:

"If you will permit me, I shall tell you that, while retaining in my heart the memory of this honorable distinction, I wish to be excused from even considering it. My gratitude to you is greater since you have a somewhat mistaken conception of myself. You think I can command a great country, and I deny it very frankly  p161 and without false modesty. My capability is limited, and if I have accomplished anything, and if I succeed in accomplishing anything, it is because I ever think only of following your own generous ideas for these lands, and of helping you somehow in your labors, in order that my services may at least be equal to the honors you so frequently bestow upon me."

These words came from the most distinguished general of the American wars, at a time when scores of underlings were fighting to foster their privy ambitions.

Meanwhile the internal confusion of Colombia had become serious and Bolívar had to leave for Bogotá. Soon afterwards, the press of Lima began to attack him, at the instigation of a group of demagogues who had seized the Government. From this time on everything was bitter in the public life of the two great heroes. Among the first to turn against the Liberator was Santa Cruz, who in spite of his military disasters had been the object of exceptional distinctions from Bolívar. Of course, Sucre was bitterly attacked by a certain group of Peruvians who pretended to see him as an agent of Bolívar, ready to invade Peru at any time. And that, when Bolivia was just beginning to organize her first national troops! As for the auxiliary army, it was being sent home according to Sucre's plans. La Mar was elected President of Peru. Santa Cruz and General Gamarra led the opposition. Santa p162Cruz was a Bolivian, and while opposing La Mar he was trying to obtain popular favor in Bolivia so as to succeed Sucre. The latter's purpose was to surrender his office into the hands of the first Constitutional Congress.

The Author's Notes:

1 Sucre's numerous letters are the best lessons of modesty, disinterestedness, patriotism, honor and practical wisdom that the student can find. Most of them appear in O'Leary's memoirs.

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2 O'Leary, Vol. II, 454‑455.

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