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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Miranda

by
William Spence Robertson

The University of North Carolina Press
1929

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 16

Vol. II
p1
Chapter XV

A Climax in English Policy

After the decisive defeat of the French and Spanish fleets by the dear-bought glories of Trafalgar's day, England was in a position effectively to turn her efforts toward America whenever it might appear politic for her thus to check French ambitions. During Miranda's Caribbean cruise English publicists had ruminated about the policy which they should adopt toward the Spanish heritage overseas. French émigrés had directed the thoughts of Englishmen to the advantages which they would gain by Spanish-American emancipation. As Napoleonic arms on the Continent won success after success, English merchants were forced to pay increasing attention to the acquisition of markets in the New World. After the victory of the French eagles at the battle of Jena, Viscount Castlereagh, a political leader who had been a member of Pitt's last cabinet, had visions of the conquest of Mexico.

Yet English statesmen were still irresolute. On November 20, 1806, Turnbull wrote to Miranda that in a conversation with Lord Grenville the Premier had candidly explained that the cabinet felt toward Miranda as the French felt toward the Irish. "The Irish applied to the French to come and assist them, and they would all rise to coöperate with them — but the French said, 'Rise up first, and then we will come and assist you.' So Mr. Grenville said, that Ministers waited till the Americans should show their disposition to come forward."1

Obviously Miranda expected to probe the sentiments of English statesmen through the mission of his trusted agent Colonel de Rouvray, who arrived in London in December. Secretary Vansittart soon accompanied him to Downing Street where they conversed with the Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, and with William Windham, secretary for  p2 war and the colonies.2 On December 31, 1806, De Rouvray submitted to Secretary Windham a memoir embodying his master's sanguine views concerning the disaffection existing among Spanish Americans and asserting that a force of four thousand infantry could make considerable headway in South America.3 Though the emissary knew it not, a promising sign was an interest in the Spanish colonies that had been awakened in a member of the Anglo-Irish nobility named Sir Arthur Wellesley, a prudent and capable military commander who had won an enviable distinction in India. In February, 1807, Sir Arthur sketched a project for an attack on Miranda's native province. He judged that after Venezuela had been cut adrift from Spain, it would be wise for England to establish an independent government at Caracas in order to check the development of French interests.4

However, when the project of emancipating South America seemed to have reached fruition, a serious difference arose between George III and his cabinet about the admission of Roman Catholic officers into the English army. The outcome was that the King dismissed Lord Grenville. Resulting changes in the cabinet further delayed a consideration of Miranda's designs. A new ministry came into power. The Duke of Portland became premier, while Lord Hawkesbury, George Canning, and Lord Castlereagh became respectively secretaries of state for home, foreign, and colonial affairs.

Meantime John Turnbull urged the revolutionizing of the Spanish Indies upon Lord Bathurst, president of the Board of Trade; he also endeavored to have officials of the English Treasury restore Miranda's allowance.5 In May Castlereagh laid before the cabinet a memorandum in which he presented the alternative that England might either conquer or emancipate South America.6 In a booklet entitled South American Independence a writer on foreign affairs named William  p3 Burke pleaded that Spanish America should be liberated by England not only through large naval forces dispatched to La Plata, Chile, Peru, and Mexico, but also by succor sent to Miranda.

That thwarted revolutionist now aspired to secure direct encouragement from Downing Street. On April 7, 1807, he addressed an epistle to Captain Popham to express the hope that this officer would soon be able to join him and "to coöperate in those wise and liberal plans which we maturely formed in England for the happiness, liberty, and independence of my native land, as well as for the prosperity, glory, and safety of your country."7 On June 4 Miranda inscribed a letter to Admiral Cochrane to assert that a force sufficient to have opened all the ports of South America to English commerce was now paralyzed on the banks of La Plata River. With regard to the trial of Popham, who had been court-martialled for disobedience, he expressed a wish that this officer had made plain that the plans concerted with English statesmen contemplated not the conquest of South America but the establishment of its independence "for the Benefits of Trade and Commerce."8 On June 10 Miranda sent a letter to Castlereagh to assert that a delay in the execution of his plans would subject South America to "the influence and domineering ambition of France" and to declare that his own efforts were at an end if he did not soon receive "the promised support" from England.9 On the same day Miranda also wrote to Lord Melville, who had become a member of the Privy Council, to express the hope that this nobleman would aid in the immediate execution of plans "which had been so judiciously arranged."10

In his asylum in Trinidad Miranda received word through English sympathizers that Lord Castlereagh could not authorize him "to appear in any way, as an Agent of the British Government." The encouraging observation was, however, added that his "Lordship did not at all seem to have his mind  p4 made up against General Miranda; on the Contrary he said that he wished much to see you and to converse with you fully on the Subject; he appeared to be highly sensible of the Importance of preventing South America to fall into the Grasp of the French, which can only be done by procuring for them independence, and to be effected, but by the means of General Miranda."11

That agitator now took his final resolution. Accompanied by his secretary and a trusted captain named Downie, on October 24, 1807, Miranda sailed from Trinidad on the British Queen bound for Tortola. De Rouvray, who opportunely met his master there, assured him that his decision to proceed to England was "a most important and decisive step in the present crisis of affairs."12 On November 16 Miranda left Tortola on board the frigate Alexandria, the flagship of the English convoy. The voyage across the Atlantic was stormy and long. More than a month elapsed before the voyager caught sight of the Isle of Wight.13 When he landed at Portsmouth on December 21 the ringers of the parish church welcomed him by "a Peal on the Bells."14 On the same day he secured a passport for London that mistakenly described him as a "General in the Army."15

Soon after his arrival in Grafton Street, with the aid of Molini who continued to act as his secretary, Miranda undertook to pick up again the broken threads of his negotiations. One of his first steps was to approach Secretary George Canning, an able publicist of the younger generation. On January 3, 1808, Canning sent a note to Miranda expressing a desire to receive him on the following day at his residence in Stanhope Street, — an invitation which was promptly accepted.16 On the same day the revolutionary wrote to Lord Castlereagh to inclose letters of recommendation, to ask for an audience,  p5 and to declare that he wished to make "some important communications."17 On January 4 that Minister wrote as follows: "Lord Castlereagh presents his Compts. to General Miranda, and will be happy to receive him tomorrow in Downing St. at one o'clock, if that hour should not be Inconvenient."18 Meantime the general wrote to Alexander Davison to explain that "Business of high importance" had prevented him from calling on his friends.19 To this Davison made reply: "So soon as you shall have had your audience with the Great Folks, and at leisure, I shall be Happy to see you."20

Miranda soon met Canning and began to unfold his designs.21 In a letter to Lord Melville on January 4 Miranda declared that he had already interviewed one of the ministers about South America. He asked Melville to recommend his projects to the cabinet; he declared that Venezuela and New Granada were "as well disposed now for emancipation as they ever were, and that a Force of 4 or 5,000 English Troops is quite sufficient to ensure the operation at this moment. — If a delay takes place I apprehend that in a very short time, we shall hear those Provinces proclaimed to belong to France — these at least were the rumors generally circulating in the Country, when I quitted the West Indies."22 To this appeal Melville made an encouraging response.23 In a letter to Governor Hislop the Venezuelan said that His Majesty's ministers had received him "with friendship and attention," and that they had listened to his plea "with interest and concern."24 So certain did Miranda feel that a definite decision by the English Government was impending that he asked Hislop secretly to forward to a fellow conspirator named Francisco Febles the following letter conveying news of his negotiations:

"We have seen His Majesty's ministers who have charged  p6 me in truth and sincerity to assure interested compatriots that the matter is actually being considered and that without fail in the next packet boat they will have positive information, if not a formal decision, about the important business that brought me to this capital. Transmit this news, without delay, to the Continent so that the friends of independence may not become discouraged, and that, on the contrary, they may resist French and Spanish influence until the receipt of my later advice which will follow in the next mail. During the interval proceed with circumspection, caution, and activity; as the time is critical and very interesting for us. It would be a misfortune not to use the occasion properly and to have that recorded for future centuries. Consult and prepare what is necessary with Governor Hislop to whom I have written at length about the affair."25

While awaiting a decision by the ministers, Miranda conferred with Davison about the equipment of the proposed expedition. The contractor expressed his willingness to furnish supplies on condition that he could "transact the business with such a Character" as he esteemed Mr. Vansittart to be.26 Despite Miranda's efforts to keep his activities secret, alert journalists became aware of the negotiations. On January 9, 1808, the Times said that, as "past defeat is but a poor pledge of future success," there were obstacles in the path to the liberation of the Spanish Indies. It declared that General Miranda had no title to the confidence of Englishmen or Spanish Americans. Yet it maintained that, because of Napoleon's designs, Miranda's object was desirable. That journal spoke thus of those colonies that Miranda considered ripe for falling from the parent stem: "as all Europe is now enslaved, it may be better for us to have free States, than dependent ones, in the rest of the world: it diversifies interests and abates jealousy."

Shortly afterwards, with material that seems to have been partly drawn from Miranda, Burke published a booklet entitled  p7 Additional Reasons for our Immediately Emancipating Spanish America. In this plea he again argued for the separation of the Indies from the Motherland. He maintained that Spain was now only a province of France, and that Miranda should be aided by a force of from six to eight thousand men to revolutionize Venezuela. Then troops could be sent to liberate the rest of the Spanish Indies. "A great colonial revolution," said Burke, "appears to me to be on the eve of taking place."27

On January 10, 1808, Miranda sent to Castlereagh a memoir concerning which he had received suggestions from Vansittart.28 He declared that the people of New Granada and Venezuela still had a favorable disposition toward independence. Their apprehensions had been much increased, however, by rumors that Cuba and Puerto Rico had been secretly ceded to France. He intimated that the province of Caracas might be transferred to France by Spain in return for Portugal. In this distressing situation, as Miranda conceived it, he had proceeded to London to claim from English ministers "that assistance so long ago and so repeatedly promised, of supporting" the independence of Spanish America.

He now took the view that four separate governments should be established on the "Colombian Continent." The first independent state should include Mexico and Central America; the second should be made up of Venezuela, New Granada, and Quito; the third should be composed of Peru and Chile; while the fourth should include the Viceroyalty of la Plata. He expressed the opinion that the Spanish Americans had not shown a decided preference for any particular form of government. Their ambitions had been largely devoted to the achievement of independence from Europe and to the establishment of civil liberty. Identity of language, religion, and administration, he maintained, would much decrease the difficulty of changing the form of government "without convulsions."

Miranda also outlined a plan for military operations. He suggested that the attack should begin in northern South  p8 America. If that section were revolutionized, and if the régime established there were "wise and acceptable to the people," he expected soon to see the movement spread into Mexico from Central America, into Peru from Quito, and into La Plata from Peru and Chile. He estimated that an army of ten thousand men with a coöperating naval force would be sufficient to carry out his project. The revolutionist used this opportunity to repel certain "illiberal insinuations" which he apprehended had been made concerning his character. He declared that when he saw his fellow countrymen in the enjoyment of a "rational civil liberty" under a permanent form of government that would "preserve it and promise them happiness," his "personal views and interest" would be "highly gratified" and his labors "perfectly rewarded." The most significant difference between this scheme and Miranda's earlier politico-military plans is the suggestion that instead of one vast Spanish-American empire four distinct and independent states should be created.29 One of these nations should be formed in the region that was later called "Great Colombia."

According to annotations preserved on the author's copy of this memoir, it was submitted by Lord Castlereagh to the cabinet. A suggestion that Miranda had been authorized by English ministers to transmit to Trinidad the news that their government was about to carry out his plans provoked objections from Castlereagh. In the words of Miranda, this Secretary took the view that as he was not a prime minister "he could not take upon himself (as Mr. Pitt did before), to transmit it to the Provinces of South America, where in fact it had already been sent; though he agreed that the communication was correct and desirable; but ought to be taken upon myself and omitted in this Memoir."30 In consequence the promoter had an interview with Sir Charles Stewart, a half-brother of Castlereagh who was serving as under secretary of war. Stewart pointed out specific passages in the memoir that ought to be modified. Miranda accordingly made the required corrections.  p9 He sent word to Governor Hislop to suppress the letter that he had transmitted on January 7, 1808; he asked that Febles should be informed that he could not pledge the faith of English ministers to revolutionize Spanish America.31

On January 16 Miranda again addressed Lord Castlereagh to state that he had declined offers of pecuniary assistance to fit out an expedition to South America until he could hear from him. At the same time he submitted a project of military operations. In this sketch he proposed that the soldiers intended for the attack on northern South America should embark at Portsmouth or Plymouth and proceed under convoy to Grenada. After being strengthened by forces from Barbadoes and Trinidad, the expedition should rendezvous at the island of Tortuga on the Venezuelan coast. A landing should be made near La Guaira; then the invaders should march against the city of Caracas. After the fall of that city, La Guaira and Puerto Cabello were to be invested, with the aid of a naval squadron. When La Guaira was captured, a detachment of native recruits commanded by English officers should move against Angostura, Cumaná, and Barinas. Then Mérida, Coro, and Maracaibo should be attacked. After Venezuela had been overrun by Anglo-Venezuelan soldiers, they should next march against Santa Marta in New Granada. While English warships were blockading Cartagena, a land and naval force should proceed to the Isthmus to seize Chagres and the city of Panama. The possession of the Isthmus of Panama would facilitate English commercial intercourse with Spanish Americans; and it would furnish a naval base for operations against Spanish colonies on the shores of the Pacific. The city of Mexico could be most easily approached from Acapulco. The Bay of Panama would afford a convenient rendezvous for warships which were to proceed against important cities on the Pacific coast of South America.

Miranda made an estimate of the force required for the operations between La Guaira and Panama. His figures included  p10 6,000 infantry, 2,000 light cavalry, 2,000 negro soldiers, and 300 artillerymen, besides flying artillery and engineers. He asked for 30,000 muskets, 50,000 iron heads for pikes, 2,000 piar of pistols, 4,000 swords for cavalry, clothing for a regiment of light cavalry and for 10,000 infantry, besides saddles, cannon, and ammunition. In commenting upon his project for the military operations, Miranda sanguinely remarked that this force might appear inadequate for the purpose and operations which had been discussed, but the ministers should "consider that the Country may immediately afford a body of 20,000 Men of good Militia that will join us with alacrity and that the disposition of the Inhabitants in favor of Independence is such, that we may expect, their cordial support and coöperation."32

Though Miranda's new pleas in regard to Spanish-American emancipation were for the time being in vain, yet his complaints about straitened finances were not without effect. On January 19, 1808, Davison sent a brief letter to convey the welcome information that he inclosed five hundred pounds to prevent him from being harassed by private or domestic inconveniences while his mind was occupied with matters of such importance to himself and the State.33 Through this friend Miranda succeeded in getting some desired information from his former coadjutor, Sir Home Popham, who had been reprimanded for leading English squadrons against Buenos Aires.34

From 1806 to 1808 Miranda thus renewed his relations with English statesmen. Though William Pitt had passed away, yet upon Miranda's return to London he found other ministers who were ready to consider the revolutionary projects that he had freshly formulated. Prominent among those English publicists whose interest in the Spanish Indies was now stimulated were George Canning, Lord Castlereagh, and Sir Arthur Wellesley. At this epoch it seemed to become more  p11 and more evident to thoughtful Englishmen that definite steps should soon be taken to keep the magnificent Spanish heritage in America from falling into the hands of the conquering Napoleon. More than ever on the alert for favorable circumstances, Miranda may be likened to a watcher who was waiting for the morning.

During January, 1808, Miranda became acquainted with Sir Arthur Wellesley, who had been made lieutenant general. In a collection of visiting cards that the revolutionary preserved are various billets of Sir Arthur. These curt epistles do not yield much information, however, about his attitude toward Miranda's designs. As an illustration read the following note which the Englishman sent the promoter from Harley Street on January 31: "Sir Arthur Wellesley presents his Compliments to General Miranda and will be much obliged to him, if he will call upon Sir Arthur at any hour which may be most convenient to the General in the course of today."35 The conversation on that occasion pertained to South America; for on February 1 Miranda sent to the English commander certain topographic maps that he had mentioned on the previous evening. Three days later he forwarded to Wellesley documents concerning Gual's activity in Venezuela which he begged him "to peruse with attention," and to add to those which he had "left with him on Sunday last."36

[image ALT: A mezzotint head-and‑shoulders portrait of a man in early middle age, wearing an early‑19c military uniform with an embroidered collar, a sash extending from his left shoulder to his waist, and the prominent 8‑pointed star of a decoration on his left breast. He has tousled hair and an inquisitive, sensitive look more befitting a poet than a general. He is Sir Arthur Wellesley, later to be Duke of Wellington.]

Sir Arthur Wellesley. Painting by John Hoppner, R. A., in the National Gallery, London. Mezzotint by W. W. Barney. In the collection of the British Museum.

The Tory commander, however, was evidently loath to consider the liberation of the Spanish colonists. "I always had a horror," he admitted afterwards, "of revolutionizing any country for a political object. I always said, if they rise of themselves, well and good, but do not stir them up; it is a fearful responsibility."37

A memoir that Sir Arthur Wellesley composed on February 8 was evidently framed by the aid of data obtained from Miranda. Wellesley expressed the opinion that the only mode of separating the Valley of la Plata from Spain was by an  p12 insurrection which would establish an independent government. He was not convinced that the failure of Miranda's attempt to revolutionize Venezuela in 1806 proved that her people were any less favorable to a revolution than they had been in 1797. Sagaciously did he declare, however, that he had not seen any proof from Miranda that the Venezuelans showed a disposition to revolt. In his judgment the most suitable regions for operations in the Spanish Indies were Mexico and Venezuela. Personally he favored an attack on Venezuela in December with a land and naval force. With regard to the political régime, he proposed to establish in each Viceroyalty a monarchical system of government with a representative legislature. In a supplementary memoir Wellesley outlined a plan of operations that might be pursued against northern South America. The Englishman proposed that the island of Grenada should be made the rendezvous for an expedition of ten thousand soldiers that should first attack Venezuela and then "should proceed to the further conquest of the country towards Santa Fé de Bogotá."38 It would seem that at this time Wellesley was contemplating the annexation of the liberated regions to the British Empire.

As he found General Wellesley receptive to his plans, Miranda continued to press the advantage. On February 20 he wrote to that general to explain that, because of illness, he had not been able to call upon him for some days. "He will do himself the honor to call on Sir Arthur tomorrow morning about 11 o'clock in hopes of finding him at Home, and having a few minutes Conversation on an important subject. — If that hour is not convenient, he begs Sir Arthur will appoint any other time that may suit him."39 Evidently Miranda's health was precarious; for on March 8 he addressed a note to Wellesley to state that as soon as he was "able to move out," he would "take a Coach and call at Harley Street."40 In a letter to Wellesley ten days later Miranda explained his apparent neglect:

 p13  "My convalescence is proceeding much more slowly than I had imagined last Sunday when I believed that in three or four days I should be able to call upon you, and that we could converse about documents which we have mentioned regarding the events that have transpired at Buenos Aires and so forth. But although my body is free from fever or any other malady, I feel so weak on my legs that it is impossible for me to walk outside my house. Meantime I am employed in securing all the necessary information from the Peruvian named Padilla, who appears to me a person of integrity and well informed concerning all that has been done or thought in regard to the Hispanic-American people as well as in regard to the heads of the governments in the Spanish Indies during these disastrous events.

"I am always at your orders, my general, and very impatient to see you and to do something to promote the important object with which we are occupied. It is my hope that in the course of next week, I shall be able to have the pleasure of visiting you, unless you judge it convenient that I should call sooner."41

On March 16, 1808, Miranda wrote to Sir Arthur to congratulate him on a triumph that his brother, Marquis Wellesley, had scored in the House of Commons. He stated that Lord Melville, who had just arrived from Scotland, was "a true friend of the great project," and declared that existing conditions seemed to make the time opportune to bring "our affairs to a definite conclusion." He expressed the hope that he might have an interview with General Wellesley in the course of that week.42 In a letter addressed to Admiral Cochrane two days later Miranda stated that he had "every reason" to believe that the majority of the ministers were "as well disposed for the measure as yourself and I would wish." He averred that Lord Melville would soon be appointed first lord of the admiralty and that Marquis Wellesley would supersede the Duke of Portland as prime minister. In a postscript he asserted that certain soldiers who were preparing to embark  p14 from England would probably never go to Sweden.43 On March 26 Miranda addressed another note to General Wellesley. "I find myself," he wrote, "almost completely recovered from my fever. I shall have the honor of visiting you tomorrow about noon in order that we may converse for a few moments about the matter in question. I hope that this time will not inconvenience you: I shall bring with me Mr. Padilla so that I may present him to you and get some information from him, if you judge this proper."44 The following reply was sent on Sunday morning: "Sir Arthur Wellesley presents his Compliments to General Miranda: Sir Arthur has received the General's note and will be happy to see him in Harley Street about 12 o'clock today."45

In the spring of 1808 a measure by which England might promote the separation of the Spanish colonies from the Motherland was indeed growing in favor in London. Early in April, Wellesley conversed with Padilla about the sentiments of the people of La Plata toward the English as well as their attitude toward independence.46 On April 23 the Courier expressed the view that England should direct her main efforts "towards the dominions of Spain in America, and India. * * * Independence and alliance should be held out to them. * * * Let us see one great Expedition going forth, four times as strong as is supposed to be necessary, thereby insuring success, and passing from place to place, emancipating countries from the yoke of our enemies, thus raising up a new world of friends to supply the place of the one we have lost."

In the same month Miranda addressed a suggestive epistle to a leader of the malcontents of La Plata named Saturnino Rodríguez Peña of whom he had presumably learned through compatriots. The incendiary expressed the conviction that at this crisis the South Americans should prepare those steps which were necessary and convenient for "the absolute emancipation" of their country. He declared that England would  p15 soon furnish "the aid that was necessary to carry out a design which was as magnificent as it was useful and necessary, — especially as the last events in Madrid and Aranjuez have made the world see that decrepit Spain is neither able to manage her own affairs nor to govern the Colombian Continent which is twice as extensive as all Europe and has twice its population. * * * Never has there been discussed on earth a more holy cause, — a cause more just or more necessary for humankind, — than that which our duty and right oblige us to defend! In their defense and in the repulse of the invader the people of Buenos Aires have given a beautiful and noble example: — let Colombia follow and let her friends say to each other: 'Patriae infelici fidelis!' "47

Events that transpired in Spain afforded fresh hope to the friends of Spanish-American emancipation. On March 19, 1808, after a tumult at Aranjuez had forced the chief Minister of Spain, Godoy, the Prince of the Peace, to renounce his ministry, King Charles IV abdicated the Spanish throne in favor of his eldest son and heir, Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias. On the pretext that his health would no longer permit him to act as sovereign, Charles IV declared that Ferdinand should be recognized and obeyed as the monarch of all his kingdoms and dominions. To Joachim Murat, who had entered Madrid with a French army on March 23, Ferdinand announced that he had received from his father the crown of Spain and the Indies. These startling events attracted the attention of Miranda who appreciated their significance. His well-wisher Captain Popham felt that the promoter was distracted by the Spanish dissensions. A letter from Popham dated April 20 conveyed the advice that he should be more attentive to Davison "and dont let the disturbances in Spain so occupy your mind, as to divert your attention from the proper point. I wish you always succeed in all your operations. * * * If I had not more real sense in my little finger about the principle  p16 and policy of expeditions than many of your office friends, I would cut it off and give it to a Dutchman for a Tobacco Stopper."48

On May 5, 1808, Miranda wrote a "most secret" letter to his friend Admiral Cochrane. His view of the international situation was thus expressed in the opening passage: "With much pleasure I received your favor of the 20th. Feby. last — and hope you have prepared in your mind all that is necessary on your side for the execution of our dear and grand object — On this subject I will only tell you now, that the thing is ultimately decided, according to our own wishes, and that I shall very soon have the satisfaction of taking you by the Hand. (Keep this to yourself.)"49 On May 8 the French Emperor induced the ex‑King to renounce by treaty all his rights to the Spanish throne. Napoleon also forced the reluctant Ferdinand VII to endorse his father's abdication in favor of Napoleon, and to renounce his rights as heir to the crown of Spain and the Indies. On May 16 Miranda took advantage of these Napoleonic usurpations to present his views to Lord Castlereagh. He reasoned that the "late eventful occurrences in Spain" were closely related to their plans concerning the Spanish Indies and that, if they did not avail themselves of "this grand and providential opportunity," they might afterwards lament their neglect forever. He argued that, if the English appeared before the Spanish Americans offering them aid for "emancipation, rational liberty, and independence," everything would favor them but that, if the French arrived first with some plausible scheme and suitable intrigues, the project of liberation might be thwarted or defeated.50

Napoleonic usurpations in Spain naturally incited English ministers to consider immediate action in regard to the Indies. Castlereagh soon enunciated the view that cabinet should make every effort to prevent the Spanish colonies "from falling into the hands of the French. * * *"51 Miranda continued  p17 to have conferences with Arthur Wellesley; he brought to that officer's attention the uprising of the Spanish patriots against the French, as well as a project that had been formed by Eustace in 1790 for an English attack on the province of Caracas.52 On May 26 Miranda wrote to Spencer Perceval, who was now chancellor of the exchequer, not only to remind him of a promised interview but also to mention "the late awful Events in Spain" as pregnant with the most alarming consequences for the future state" of the Spanish colonies. He expressed the view that the present juncture was "so important for the purpose of carrying into execution any measures towards their emancipation and Independency, that any further delay might be materially injurious both to the interests of Great Britain, as well as to the preservation of South America."53

About this time Miranda made another attempt to have an interview with Canning; for he wrote to him to mention the "late awful events in Spain" that were decisive in Europe and "of the most alarming consequences" for the Spanish Indies. "He conceives in fact the present moment to be so important for the purpose of carrying into execution any measures relative to their emancipation and Independence, that any further delay might be materially injurious both to the interests of Great Britain, as to the preservation of South America. — In this conviction he would deem himself highly blameable, if he was to omit now every effort in his power, toward insuring the success of so desirable and most important Object."54 After considerable delay the Minister replied in the third person: "The pressure of public business has alone prevented Mr. Canning from sooner acknowledging the honour of General Miranda's notes; and from appointing a time for the honour of seeing Gen. Miranda which however he the less regrets as he has had the satisfaction of learning that General Miranda was in communication with that Department to  p18 which this Business referred in his notes properly belongs."55 In fact, on May 27 Perceval had sent a brief note to Miranda stating that he would "be happy to see him on Saturday next at one o'clock."56

In the early summer of 1808, the English Government was contemplating decisive measures in respect to the Spanish Indies. On June 4 the Duke of Manchester, who was governor of Jamaica, was instructed to communicate with the Captain General of Cuba in order to defeat any designs that Napoleon might entertain upon the Spanish colonies. If the Captain General was willing to enter into relations with the English, Lord Manchester was to concert military measures that would prevent the introduction of French soldiers into Cuba. Publications were transmitted to Manchester and to the commander of the English soldiers in the Leeward Islands that described the conduct of Spain toward France in such terms as would tend to promote the separation of the Spanish colonies from the Motherland. Manchester was informed that, if the Spanish governors of Cuba and Florida were disposed to act in concert with him, he might even advance money to them.57

Further, the ministers were arranging for the dispatch of a corps of some 8,000 soldiers from Ireland to join General Spencer on the Spanish coast. If circumstances did not promise success in Spain, the government intended that these soldiers, reënforced by General Spencer's army of some 5,000 men, either should sail to the West Indies to attack the Spanish colonies near the Gulf of Mexico or should be divided into two expeditions which were respectively to attack Venezuela and La Plata.58 Sir Arthur Wellesley prepared a detailed memorandum of the arms and munitions required for these projects. In the specifications regarding the attack on Venezuela the English officer proposed that 18,000 muskets with bayonets, 18,000 pikes, 75,000 musket flints, and 3,000,000 ball cartridges should be at once sent to the West Indies with  p19 the soldiers from Spain. A generous amount of additional supplies, including intrenching tools for 16,000 men, were later to be sent from England. As soon as further communication could be had with Miranda, there was to be presented to the ministers a "list of ordnance and stores required for the use of the native government expected to be established in South America."59 At last the English Government had actually decided upon the revolutionizing of the Spanish Indies.

The weight of Sir Arthur's influence was evidently cast in favor of Miranda's propositions. General Wellesley was selected by Castlereagh for the command of an expedition against the Spanish colonies. In a memorandum dated June 6 this officer expressed the conviction that operations ought to start in South America rather than in Mexico, for the military difficulties were not so great in Venezuela, and in that country England had the means of communicating with the people through Miranda. Further, operations there could begin sooner, success there would pave the way to operations elsewhere, and it would be easier to withdraw from that region in case of failure.60 Transports should be prepared to convey soldiers and supplies for six months. In addition colored battalions should be gathered in the West Indies. Wellesley proposed that a field train accompanied by artillerymen with six months' provisions and a large amount of ordnance and military stores should be prepared to leave Falmouth or Cork on July 1.61 Among the articles mentioned by Miranda as necessary for the armament of soldiers to be recruited in Spanish America, were 20,000 muskets, 10,000 iron pike heads, 2,000 swords for cavalry, and clothing for 8,000 infantry. Besides he included an estimate for sufficient ammunition for the specified firearms, 100 life preservers, and 3 printing presses.62

In supplementary memoranda the promoter requested that  p20 these articles should "be embarked with the Expedition and delivered to G. M. on the arrival upon the Coasts of South America." He asked that "the instructions for Sir A. W." should direct him "to afford the necessary assistance to Genl. Miranda" to establish "the civil government of the Country" and its independence "on a solid basis." He proposed that a frigate should be sent to the West Indies to transmit proper instructions to the English naval and military commanders at Barbadoes and Trinidad. He suggested that an agreement should be reached about his position in the attacking forces with relation "to the English Commander." He maintained that a proclamation should be framed in the name of the English King inviting the South Americans "to establish their independence" and offering them the protection of Great Britain which had been proposed as early as 1797.63

Nor did he forget the need of an agreement about the commercial relations that should exist between England and the liberated colonies. A memorandum found in his papers proposed that until a treaty was negotiated the produce of those Spanish colonies which declared their independence should "be received in England on the same terms as that of Brazil. Goods in English ships to pay 10 per cent less duty than in other foreign ships."64

Miranda was as much absorbed in the evolution of his plans as an artist in painting a picture. He did not flinch as the full size of his canvas was being unrolled. He was, however, much perturbed about the reward which he might expect from the government that was at last ready to undertake the colossal task of liberating the Spanish colonists. Early in June he committed his thoughts to paper in the following proposals that he evidently planned to make the basis of a petition to the English ministers:

"1. To propose an advance of £5,000, or whatever sum Sir Arthur Wellesley may think reasonable, for the expence of  p21 equipment, suite, and military charges —

"2. A separate provision for the General's household in England — to be left at the charge of the R. H. Nic. Vansittart; or any other person that the government may think proper —

"3. An assurance that, in case of misfortune, Genl. M's pension shall be settled on the same footing as in Mr. Addington's administration; and some provision for Molini his private Secrety. in any of the public offices in London.

"4. A public dinner, or some other means of introducing Genl. M. in a becoming manner."65

The long-discredited and much-buffeted general now had visions of profiting to the utmost by favoring circumstances. Miranda not only expected ample financial rehabilitation but also wished distinguished public recognition. In his mind's eye he pictured himself as emerging from his inconspicuousness to don the glittering uniform of an English military commander, to become the cynosure of admiring throngs, and to be acclaimed as the future Redeemer of the South American Continent.

The national uprising of the Spaniards against Napoleon's usurpations, however, put a new face on European politics. In the principality of the Asturias a spirit of opposition to the French soon became manifest. A junta or local council which assembled at the capital city of Oviedo promptly announced that the Asturias had declared war against France. In the very region where resistance against the Moslem invaders had been organized several centuries earlier, the movement for the liberation of Spain began. On May 25, 1808, the Asturian junta decided to solicit aid from the English Government. A petition to George III asking for succor in the struggle with Napoleon was intrusted to Andrés de la Vega and Viscount Matarrosa. These emissaries ventured to sea in an open boat, embarked on an English privateer near Gijón, landed at Falmouth on June 6, and proceeded to London, accompanied  p22 by an English naval officer. Early on the morning of June 8 they met George Canning and Wellesley Pole, secretary of the admiralty. On the next day the agents sent a letter to Canning formally requesting that an English warship should protect the coast of the Asturias, that the Asturian patriots should be supplied with arms and ammunition, and that munitions should be sent to the interior provinces of Spain.

The Times said on June 10: "Of the precise manner in which the British Government will act on this important occasion, we are as yet able to say nothing: we have, however, heard that the expedition from Cork under Sir Arthur Wellesley, is now directed to proceed to Gibraltar instead of South America." Two days later Canning assured the Asturian commissioners that England was disposed to assist with military and naval forces all parts of the Spanish dominions that might be animated by the same spirit as the principality of the Asturias.

The Asturian mission naturally attracted the attention of Francisco de Miranda. Among his papers there is preserved a copy of a song written by one Courtney entitled "The Spanish Patriots" which was dedicated to the agents from "the Spanish Nation to the Court of Great Britain."66 The opening stanzas ran as follows:

Raise the song of the Warriors of Spain,

Who, scorning the Tyrant's alarms,

Call their King, with the Cortes, to reign

And indignantly cry out — To Arms!

Raise the Song to Spain's proud Volunteers,

The sword of their Country they wield;

'Midst their ranks dauntless Freedom appears,

And leads them with joy to the field.

In view of the Spanish uprising the English ministers altered their long-meditated plans. The political balance was  p23 now so inclined that they tentatively decided to send the soldiers who had been camping on the Irish coast to the Iberian Peninsula instead of to the Spanish Indies. If Miranda's later allegation were true, the English Government actually offered him a military position in the expedition commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley. Early in June Miranda sent to Castlereagh a copy of his note to Pitt dated June 28, 1791, which asked that services should not be required of him for any other purpose than the emancipation of Spanish America.67 The onerous task of announcing to the confirmed revolutionary the startling change in England's plans devolved upon Sir Arthur Wellesley. Twenty-seven years later the Duke of Wellington thus described the ensuing scene:

"I think I never had a more difficult business than when the Government bade me tell Miranda that we would have nothing to do with his plan. I thought it best to walk out in the streets with him and tell him there, to prevent his bursting out. But even there he was so loud and angry, that I told him I would walk on first a little that we might not attract the notice of everybody passing. When I joined him again he was cooler. He said: 'You are going over into Spain (this was before Vimiera) — you will be lost — nothing can save you; that, however, is your affair; but what grieves me is that there never was such an opportunity thrown away!' "68

On June 10 Miranda sent a note by his secretary to inquire of General Wellesley when it would be convenient for him to get "the Papers and other things agreed in yesterday's conversation." Incidentally he wished "Sir Arthur every sort of prosperity and success."69 Soon afterwards Wellesley left London to take charge of the battalions at Cork of which he had been appointed commander. On June 20 the Duke of Manchester was directed to inform the Captain General of Cuba that, hoping for Cuban support, England had decided to coöperate with the provinces of Spain "in rescuing their  p24 Country from the tyranny of the French."70

In generous fashion on July 4, 1808, England published a formal proclamation of peace with Spain. Among other stipulations this proclamation provided that any goods belonging to Spanish colonists which might henceforth be detained by English cruisers should be carefully preserved until it was ascertained whether or not the Spanish colonies "shall made common cause with Spain against the power of France."71 In the King's speech to Parliament on the same day, the announcement was made that, because of the resistance of Spain to the usurpations of France, the Spanish nation could "no longer be considered as the enemy of Great Britain," but was considered by His Majesty as "a natural friend and ally." It was expressly declared that King George III had "no other object than that of preserving unimpaired the integrity and independence of the Spanish monarchy."72

Other detachments of soldiers were meantime added to the forces which had been bivouacking on the Irish coast; and on July 12, 1808, the expedition commanded by Wellesley sailed from Cork toward the Iberian Peninsula.73 With a touch of prophecy Gillray the caricaturist depicted this turn in Napoleon's fortunes in a cartoon which portrayed the Corsican Matador being savagely tossed by a Spanish bull. The spirited uprising in the Asturian principality was indeed fraught with much significance. Instead of becoming the leader of an expedition that would have radically altered the status of the Spanish Indies, Sir Arthur Wellesley began those military exploits that were destined to thwart the ambitions of Napoleon the Great. Francisco de Miranda was not compelled to determine exactly what his relation would be to an English expeditionary commander.

[image ALT: An engraved cartoon of a man in early‑19c military uniform with an exaggeratedly long sword and an exaggeratedly large bicorn hat being tossed in the air on the horns of a bull who has already trampled to death a crowned figure, with three small and less fierce bulls crouching nearby. On a high parapet curving around the arena (labelled THEATRE ROYALE (sic) DE L'EUROPE) a dozen caricatural figures of heads of state, including the Pope and the Grand Turk, watch with various expressions of surprise or delight. It is a cartoon on the fortunes of Napoleon in Spain.]

"The Spanish Bull Fight, or the Corsican Matador in Danger." Cartoon by James Gillray. From Wright, "The Works of James Gillray."

Miranda was soon notified that his future communications with the English Government should be carried on through Sir Charles Stewart. While the negotiations for revolutionizing  p25 Spanish America had been going on, Miranda had not forgotten to initiate steps for the readjustment of his fiscal relations with the English Government. His financial condition was far from enviable; for Davison was now urging the reimbursement of funds amounting with interest to fifteen hundred pounds that he had advanced to Miranda between June 28, 1804, and April 12, 1808.74 On May 13, 1808, the bankrupt promoter addressed a letter to Cooke in regard to his finances; he asked to be given "any part of the sum mentioned some days ago."75 Early in June the question of Miranda's fiscal relations with the English Government was seriously taken up. Among his papers is a copy of a letter to Cooke, dated June 7, 1808, that mentions "the inclosed receipt of One Thousand Pounds by the desire of Sir Arthur Wellesley — begs Mr. Cooke to have the goodness to send the same by his Secretary Mr. Molini the bearer of this Note."76

About this time the disappointed revolutionist brought his distressed finances to the attention of Sir Charles Stewart. A diarial note of Miranda stated that this official received him in an honest fashion and promised him a prompt decision about "the pension and an arrangement in favor of Molini."77 The topic of "General Miranda's allowances" was also this subject of correspondence between him and Perceval's private secretary, John C. Herries, to whose attention the matter had been brought by Miranda's constant friend Vansittart.78 On October 15, 1808, Miranda wrote to this friend to declare that he had discussed the matter with Sir Arthur Wellesley.79 It was near the end of November, however, before Miranda received a letter from Vansittart to the effect that Cooke had informed him that "everything was arranged according to the memorandum" which he had given to Lord Castlereagh."80

This transaction is made clear by a letter from Vansittart dated  p26 November 29, 1808, that reposes among Miranda's manuscripts and which gives the substance of the missing memorandum. "General Miranda received in all £700 a year made up by an allowance of £500 on the Emigrant Fund paid by Ramus and another of £200 paid privately by me. He requests that these allowances, or an equivalent, may be restored to him from the date of his arrival in England, and that Mr. Molini who went abroad with him as secretary may be provided for in some public office for which employment he is perfectly qualified by his fidelity and knowledge of business, and that till an opportunity may occur an allowance of £200 a year may be made to him from the same date: and the General is the more anxious for this as Mr. M. has necessarily become acquainted with the private details of this expedition and correspondence."81

This epistle indicates how Miranda's finances were undoubtedly adjusted in the end of 1808. Though his obligations to Davison were not all liquidated, yet arrangements were made for the reimbursement of considerable sums which had been advanced by that contractor to prepare the revolutionary expedition.

To suggests the results that would have flowed from the execution of Miranda's plans by the aid of English squadrons is to discuss one of the might-have‑beens of history. Chance or design or compulsion might have induced a commander trained in struggles against the freebooters of India to plant garrisons at strategic points in Spanish America. Miranda, who wished to accompany General Wellesley in an advisory capacity and as the prospective commander of hosts of his fellow countrymen that were expected to rise against their Spanish oppressors, might have been forced to behold his native land transformed into a dependency of Great Britain. Instead of conjuring into existence a family of independent nations in the vast domain stretching between the Mississippi River and Cape Horn, he might have been largely responsible  p27 for the addition of a new group of colonies to that empire upon which with the sun never set. Guided by English administrators and transformed by British immigrants, these colonies might have become tranquil, happy, and prosperous dependencies of an Anglo-Saxon type. Whatever might have been the ultimate destiny of those possessions, there is little doubt that the apostle of Spanish-American independence would have been bitterly reviled by some of his compatriots. To imagine the rôle that he would have essayed under such circumstances is to indulge in speculations. Le it suffice to suggest that his long and confidential attachment to Downing Street might have attracted him in one direction, while his ardent desire for the independence of the Spanish Indies would inevitably have impelled him in another direction.

In fact the spirited uprising in the principality of the Asturias caused English publicists to change their plans with regard to the Spanish Indies. Although, as the sequel will show, there still were Englishmen who thought of separating the Spanish colonies from the Motherland, yet English ministers shortly realized that they could no longer view Spain as the actual or potential ally of France. The military and naval aid furnished to the Asturians signalized the beginning of a rapprochement between England and Spain that proved to be an insuperable bar to the execution of any project for the emancipation of the Spanish Indies by the aid of scarlet clad soldiers. This radical change of policy eventually dispelled the rainbow of promise that Miranda had so often beheld above the English horizon.


The Author's Notes:

1 Mir. MSS., vol. 52.

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2 De Rouvray to Miranda, Dec. 18, 1806, Mir. MSS., vol. 53.

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3 Copy, ibid.

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4 Wellington, Supplementary Despatches, VI, 56‑61.

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5 Turnbull to De Rouvray, April 14, 1807, Mir. MSS., vol. 53.

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6 Castlereagh, Memoirs and Correspondence, VII, 314‑24.

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7 Mir. MSS., vol. 53.

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8 Ibid.

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9 Robertson, Miranda, p403.

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10 Mel. MSS., f. 48.

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11 Turnbull to Vansittart, Sept. 25, 1807 (copy), Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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12 Miranda to Vansittart, Nov. 16, 1807, ibid.

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13 Molini's Journal, ibid.; Castlereagh, VII, 403, 404.

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14 The "Ringers" to Miranda, Dec. 31, 1807, Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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15 Passport signed by W. Goldson, ibid.

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16 Ibid.

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17 Castlereagh, VII, 403.

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18 Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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19 Jan. 3, 1808, ibid.

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20 Jan. 4, 1808, ibid.

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21 Miranda to Canning, Jan. 11, 1808, ibid.

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22 Ibid.

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23 Melville to Miranda, April 6, 1808, ibid., vol. 57.

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24 Jan. 7, 1808, vol. 56.

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25 Jan. 8, 1808, Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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26 Davison to Vansittart, Jan. 8, 1808, ibid.

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27 p87.

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28 Vansittart to Miranda, "Sunday," Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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29 Castlereagh, VII, 405‑12.

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30 Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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31 Miranda to Hislop, Jan. 22, 1808, W. O., mis. series, 3/1118.

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32 "London, 16th January, 1808, Military Memoir," Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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33 Ibid.

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34 Davison to Miranda, Jan. 29, 1808, ibid.

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35 Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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36 Ibid.

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37 Stanhope, Notes of Conversations with the Duke of Wellington, p69.

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38 Wellington, Supplementary DespatchesVI, 68.

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39 Mir. MSS., vol. 56.

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40 Ibid., vol. 57.

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41 Ibid.

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42 Ibid.

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43 Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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44 Ibid.

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45 Ibid.

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46 Padilla to Wellesley, April 8, 1808 (copy), ibid.

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47 Navarro y Lamarca, Compendio de la historia general de América, II, 552‑53.

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48 Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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49 Ibid.

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50 Castlereagh, VII, 441‑42.

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51 Ibid., VI, 365.

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52 Miranda to Wellesley, May 25, 1808, Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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53 Ibid.

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54 May 26, 1808, ibid.

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55 June 18, 1808, Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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56 Ibid.

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57 Robertson, Miranda, pp408‑10.

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58 Wellington, VI, 68‑72.

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59 Ibid., p70.

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60 Ibid. p74.

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61 Ibid., pp78‑79.

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62 "Articles indispensables pour l'Armament des Troupes Nationales et qui'ilº faut emporter avec nous," May 6, 1808, Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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63 "Memorandum on Publick affairs," June 6, 1808, Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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64 Undated, ibid.

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65 "Memorandum on Private Affairs," June 6, 1808, ibid.

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66 Mir. MSS., vol. 58.

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67 Antepara, South American Emancipation, p221.

Thayer's Note: The reader will notice that in Antepara, the note is dated not June 28, but the 28th Jan. I don't know which is correct.
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68 Stanhope, p69.

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69 Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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70 Robertson, Miranda, p412.

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71 London Gazette, July 2-July 5, 1808.

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72 Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, XI, 1140‑41.

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73 Times, June 22, and July 19, 1808.

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74 Davison to Miranda, June 20, 1808, Mir. MSS., vol. 57.

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75 Ibid.

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76 Ibid.

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77 "June, 1808," ibid.

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78 Herries to Miranda, Sept. 12, 1808, ibid., vol. 58.

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79 Ibid.

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80 Nov. 22, 1808, ibid.

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81 Copy, unaddressed, Mir. MSS., vol. 58.


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