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Chapter 19

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,
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Chapter 21

Vol. II
p125
Chapter XX

Problems of the New Nation

The nation which thus sprang from the disintegrating Spanish Empire was confronted by delicate domestic and international problems. More than one of these problems were intimately related to the status of this new political entity. One problem was to determine the means to be adopted to promote the acknowledgment of Venezuela's independence. Another was concerned with the mode of establishing amiable relations with neighboring provinces that had not yet renounced their allegiance to Ferdinand VII. Again, the nascent commonwealth's fiscal system was crying aloud for proper organization. Further, an immediate decision was needed as to the policy that should be adopted toward those persons who still remained loyal to the Mother Country. Most important of all perhaps was the problem of national organization: it was imperatively necessary that the fledgling statesmen should frame a constitution for the provinces which had declared their independence of an Old‑World monarchy. In a letter to James Monroe, Secretary of State, Robert Lowry transmitted his diagnosis of the political condition in Venezuela. On June 9, 1811, he wrote "that from want of a proper application of the Public Money, through want of Talent; and Intrigue; the country is fast approaching to poverty, anarchy, and imbecility; which will most probably throw the Government into the hands of General Miranda. Some late occurrences have strengthened these suspicions, and the probability is that in less than a couple of months, there will be some further Revolution, perhaps more favorable to the real liberty of the Country."1

Prominent Venezuelans cherished sanguine hopes that they might, as Miranda had suggested, secure aid and recognition from foreign powers. In the flush of their revolutionary enthusiasm,  p126 the Venezuelans looked expectantly to their grand exemplar in the North. Early in 1811 José R. Revenga had been sent as an agent to Washington in place of Juan V. Bolívar who took ship for La Guaira. Juan de Escalona, the provisional president of Venezuela, informed the American Secretary of State that Orea and Revenga were to promote intimate relations between North and South America. Escalona even expressed the hope that Venezuela and the United States might form an alliance based on free principles and mutual interest.

After learning of the decisive step taken by Venezuela, Telésforo de Orea sent an announcement of this event to Secretary of State James Monroe. Orea inclosed a copy of Venezuela's Declaration of Independence as well as the design of her national flag. In this letter of November 6, 1811, Orea expressed the hope that the United States would recognize the Venezuelan Confederation as an independent nation which would prepare the way for a commercial treaty.2 In accordance with a suggestion in President Madison's message to Congress, a committee of the House of Representatives framed a resolution which declared that when the Spanish-American provinces had attained "the condition of nations," Congress and the President would establish with them friendly relations and commercial intercourse. Monroe made Orea acquainted with this resolution and informed him that the ministers of the United States in Europe had been instructed concerning the sentiments entertained by their government.3

With respect to the court of London, however, Luis López Menéndez could hold out no prospect of the acknowledgment of independence in the face of England's policy to maintain the integrity of the Spanish dominions in both hemispheres. Nor did Miranda's intimate correspondence with Vansittart hold out any promise of recognition. The new‑born statesmen were  p127 indeed fortunate that Cortabarria failed in his attempt to induce the English governor of Curaçao to adopt hostile measures against Venezuela.4 On the other side, upon returning from a trip to New Granada, on May 11, 1811, in words that often rang false, Pavia warned the English Government that Miranda was "incessantly employed in framing a code of laws taken from those that were in force in the worst period of the French Revolution." In conclusion he avowed that the heart of Miranda was "entirely French, his disposition tyrannical; and he will never conform himself to the rulerº England may think proper to dictate unless it pleases his fancy or favours his ambition! For my part I have always considered him a madman, for I have frequently heard him say . . . that he was born to be Emperor of Peru."5 As though further to poison the minds of English statesmen, on August 1, 1811, an enthusiast named William Jacob presented a memoir concerning the Spanish colonies. Jacob asserted that Miranda was "enraged against the government of England, which nourished him too cordially and too long, his whole scheme is to encourage the wildest flights of democracy, till if he cannot rule himself, make his peace with Buonaparte by delivering the province to the power of France."6

After England became the ally of the Spanish patriots, the French Emperor developed a keen interest in the Spanish Indies. Soon after Venezuela declared her independence, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Duke of Bassano, informed the American Minister at Paris that Napoleon had decided "to acknowledge and support" the independence of "the Spanish continental possessions in America so far as they have the spirit and strength to assert it with a reasonable probability of success."7 In a dispatch to Serurier, the French minister at Washington, Bassano declared that it was the Emperor's  p128 intention to favor the independence of Spanish America, and that Napoleon would aid this movement not only by the dispatch of arms but also in every other way, provided that Spanish-American patriots did not form any special relations with the English. Serurier was to suggest to the United States that she should join with France and furnish aid publicly or secretly to the Spanish-American revolutionists. Bassano then added a passage that was pregnant with meaning; for he declared that just as at an early epoch France had promoted the independence of the United States, so now she would "carry on this glorious work in favor of all the Americas. This policy is worthy of the power of France and of the soul of her Emperor. France keenly desires a success that should promote anew the civilization, the commerce, and the prosperity of peoples."8

On January 8, 1812, Joel Barlow, who had become American minister at Paris, wrote a letter to Bassano which contained a significant statement that the President of the United States was happy to find by diplomatic correspondence that the Emperor was animated by "good will towards the Spanish colonies in America, and that he harmonizes with the President in the desire to see them independent."9 Yet, although Orea entered into relations with Serurier, and received assurances that a Venezuelan minister would be well received by France, these negotiations proved fruitless because of calamitous events in South America.

The new government of Venezuela also took measures to improve relations with revolutionists in New Granada. The Executive Power appointed Madariaga as agent to the junta of Bogotá. In addition to his credentials he was intrusted with a letter from Miranda that suggested the necessity of a political union between New Granada and Venezuela. "Canon Dr. José Cortés Madariaga," wrote Miranda, "is charged with a most important commission, and will tell you all that I could  p129 suggest in regard to a political reunion between the kingdom of Santa Fé de Bogotá and the province of Venezuela in order that coalesced into a single social body, we may presently enjoy the greatest security and respect and that in the future we may enjoy glory and permanent happiness."10 In accordance with his cherished plan of government, Miranda was thus attempting to confederate two sister states.

As a result of Madariaga's mission, in May, 1811, a convention of alliance and confederation was signed between Venezuela and the State of Cundinamarca, a political entity that had been formed from an important province of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. This convention contained provisions for the admission of other states into the proposed Spanish-American federation. It stipulated that in a separate treaty the boundary between Cundinamarca and Venezuela should be delimited. The capital of the projected federal republic was to be located in the center of her territory.11 When this treaty was submitted to the Venezuelan Congress objections were made to certain clauses; but on October 22, 1811, it was ratified with some modifications. In regard to a federal union between the two states, this Congress deferred action, however, until the people of Cundinamarca through their representatives might have an opportunity to consider the plan.12 Though no immediate step was taken to establish a common government and Miranda's dream of a South American confederation thus failed of realization, yet he had promoted a measure that dimly foreshadowed the formation of "Great Colombia."

The Venezuelans were forced to consider the readjustment of their finances. Their currency soon became demoralized for specie disappeared from the marts of trade. Still a bill providing for the coinage of copper money was not enacted by Congress.13 Here, again, the Venezuelan Fathers were forced  p130 to call upon their long-exiled compatriot. On July 14, in response to a message from the Executive Power advocating the establishment of a national currency, Congress appointed Miranda and Ustáriz members of a commission that was to formulate a plan for the issue of both metallic and paper money.14 About two weeks later, General Miranda having marched against Valencia, Congress authorized Ustáriz to ask for certain documents relating to monetary problems from the secretary of that general.15 Accordingly it seems not unlikely that, as a Venezuelan writer has declared, the project for the issue of paper money was favored, if not indeed partly formulated, by the general who had witnessed the use of assignats during the French Revolution.16

On August 17, 1811, Congress enacted a law stipulating that 1,000,000 pesos of paper money should be issued in denominations of 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 pesos for the "United States of Venezuela." The national revenues, and in particular the import duties and the money accruing from the tobacco monopoly, were to guarantee the redemption of this currency. The paper was to be equal in value to the gold money in circulation and should be legal tender for all debts. Penalties were provided for the punishment of such persons as might refuse to accept the notes. Counterfeiters were to be put to death. The amount of paper money in circulation was subsequently increased by the printing of notes of 2 reals amounting to 20,000 pesos.17 As funds for redemption were lacking, the paper currency steadily depreciated in value. A well informed citizen of Caracas said of the fundamental act that aimed to reform the currency: "It was an unfortunate law * * * calculated to disaffect the public mind towards the revolution, and to exercise a malignant influence in unhinging the State."18

As already suggested, the debates in Congress had made evident the existence of different shades of political opinion  p131 among patriot leaders. The attitude of Miranda towards politico-religious reforms also encouraged the crystallization of parties. The intriguing attitude that he had assumed in a violent controversy which was provoked by the publication of Burke's articles advocating religious toleration did not diminish the resentment with which some of his compatriots viewed him. Jealousy of the general's talent was not decreased in view of his obvious yearning for political power and prestige.

By one means or another Miranda was striving to make himself the central figure of a clique that evidently included Madariaga and members of the influential Bolívar family.19 In opposition to Miranda's increasing influence, scions of the aristocracy were ranging themselves in the so‑called Mantuano party. The Mantuanos expressed much displeasure when he attempted to win support from the colored people who had been set free. In June, 1811, Roscio wrote to Bello and declared that the returned exile was aiming to form a party among the negroes and mulattoes by "flattering them excessively with his views, conversations, and words expressive of the most liberal ideas."20

Signs of dissension in Venezuela had long been apparent. In certain sections, as Coro and Guiana, a faction that may be termed the loyalist party reared its head in opposition to the Declaration of Independence. The cities of Caracas and Valencia became hotbeds of royalist plots. At Caracas on July 11, 1811, discontented natives of the Canary Islands rose in revolt. There is a tradition that their rallying cry was "Death to the traitors! Long live the King and the Inquisition!"21 They were soon overpowered, however, and thrust into prison. About a dozen of the ringleaders were executed. Certain contemporaries declared that at the instigation of Miranda the heads of these unfortunate conspirators were severed from their bodies and stuck on poles in the avenues of the capital.22

 p132  The royalist uprising in the city of Valencia was more difficult to suppress. As it found that the local government was unable to check the counter-revolution, on July 13 Congress issued a decree declaring that the Executive Power was authorized to take any measures necessary for the public welfare.23 The Executive Power accordingly summoned Miranda from his seat in Congress and placed him at the head of the army. On July 19 General Miranda accordingly marched out of the capital city with an army of some four thousand men.24 He soon established his headquarters at Maracay. When the besieged royalists sent Pedro de Peñalver with proposals for an armistice the patriot commander expressed his willingness to agree to their terms with certain modifications. Miranda stipulated that the insurgents should give up their arms and that the cabildo should be reëstablished. In regard to the proposal of the Valencians that they should be allowed to treat with Congress during the truce with respect to the acceptance of independence, he rejected this and responded that he was fully authorized by the Government to decide that matter.

According to Miranda's official report dated July 24, the insurgents now invited him to draw near the city. Hence he marched to the Morro, where the Valencians treacherously opened fire on his soldiers. Then the besiegers captured that fort and drove the garrison into the city. An incautious attack on the quarter occupied by the colored people and on the Franciscan convent whence the enemy had retired, however, was repulsed and several patriot officers were wounded. Among those officers who had distinguished themselves in action, Miranda mentioned Capitol Simón Bolívar, which would seem to discredit a tradition that the jealous generalissimo had tried to relieve that ardent patriot of his command.25

 p133  The besiegers now withdrew beyond the city walls. The surrounding region was subjugated, cannon were brought from the capital, and some Valencians deserted to the enemy. It seems that insurgent leaders now proposed that, as the revolt have been fomented by priests, a capitulation should be arranged with the archbishop. Miranda retorted, however, that "if they did not surrender unconditionally, he would see that the arrival of the archbishop was hastened by cannon and bullets."26 On August 12 a general assault was made and the besieged were driven to their inmost intrenchments. At dawn of the following day the attack was resumed, and at ten o'clock the insurgents, whose supply of water had been cut off, proposed a capitulation. However, warned by his previous experience, the patriot general refused to consider their proposals unless they first relinquished their arms. Thus, said Miranda, they were obliged "to surrender at discretion, and to trust entirely to our humanity and generosity." At noon the Venezuelan tricolor was hoisted over the city. The rest of the story shall be taken from a French version of Miranda's dispatch of August 13 to the Secretary of War:

"After brief negotiations, the flotilla of four to six small armed vessels that had plagued the lagoon of Valencia and its environs also surrendered. Thus all the people who were in arms against Caracas on July 21 are either subjugated or pacified. In later dispatches I will send a list of the small number of the killed and wounded that we suffered in this action, an encounter which has covered our troops with glory. Colonel Don Simón Bolívar, who with his companions in arms has distinguished himself on this patriotic occasion, and my aide-de‑camp, Captain Francisco Salias, who emerged from a prison to serve his country, will inform your highness of other details which time does not permit me to state in this dispatch."27

The next measure of the government was to provide for the punishment of the reactionary Valencians. Priests as well as  p134 laymen who had fomented the loyalist uprising were thrust into prison. On August 10 the Executive Power had issued a proclamation establishing a special court for the trial of the royalists. Of this tribunal Miranda was made the presiding judge.28 Eight days later Congress issued a decree praising "the excellent conduct" of the national commander at the siege of Valencia. "The humanity shown by the commander in chief toward the inhabitants of the city," ran the decree, "deserves the highest praise, while the firmness that he displayed toward those Valencians who persisted in their opposition to the cause of justice, and the skill with which he reduced them to submission prove that he unites to high military talents those benevolent sentiments which may happily promote the designs of the independent provinces."29

Yet the commander's conduct during the Valencian campaign was bitterly criticized. He was accused of having caused unnecessary bloodshed. Assertions were made that his discipline had been extremely harsh and that he had levied forced contributions without authority.30 For the second time in his career Miranda was summoned from the head of an army to present himself before the bar of a nation. The accused general successfully defended himself against his critics. His rôle was graphically described by a citizen of the United States in these words: "Miranda was forced to vindicate himself before the congress, when he ought to have been employed in the field. His friends delight in descanting upon his accomplishments * * * and ascribe to him a promptness in argument, ingenuity in debate, and an eloquence not inferior to that of the great Pericles, when he harangued the citizens of Athens, and moved the multitude by his irresistible force of persuasion, as a tempest heaves the billows of the main."31

In a dispatch dated August 21, 1811, Lowry declared that the success of the revolution depended "in a great measure on succor from abroad." He predicted that Miranda would "e'erº  p135 long be at the head of this Government which will most probably be a benefit to the Country, as he may be safely pronounced the fittest person in it for the station."32 "General Miranda, whose conduct at first caused suspicions," said another observer, "enjoys at present the greatest popularity. The people know that he is ambitious and enterprising; but he had given such unequivocal proofs of his attachment to the cause of the revolution that they have complete confidence in him."33

Even before Miranda landed on Venezuelan soil some of his fellow countrymen had dreamed of forming a constitution. Before the Declaration of Independence was adopted Congress had intrusted to a committee headed by Francisco Javier Ustáriz of San Sebastián the task of preparing for its consideration a "plan of a constitution on the bases of a confederation." Besides Ustáriz, this committee included Paúl, Ponte, Roscio, Sanz, and Miranda.34 Evidently it was deliberating about a democratic project of government while Congress was discussing the policy that should be adopted in respect to independence.35

To this committee the returned exile submitted that scheme of government for liberated Spanish America which he had formulated in 1801. In that connection Roscio wrote to Bello that Miranda wished that "a project should be adopted which he had brought with him in which the executive authority was to be vested in two Incas whose term of office should be ten years." Roscio declared that it was neither possible to agree to such a pretension nor to bring Miranda's scheme into harmony with the plan formed by the committee on a constitution. Hence the resentful constitution-maker conceived the idea of ridiculing the committee's plan and "formed a club of seven persons, who, without being censors, undertook as their task the criticism of our plan. Compared with the project of the two Incas, it merited approval. Miranda neither showed his  p136 scheme to the government nor to other persons who might at least have praised his arduous labor."36

Unfortunately for Miranda's plans a propaganda had been launched in favor of a federal scheme of government. In December, 1810, at Philadelphia, García de Sena, a native of Venezuela, had dedicated to his fellow countrymen a volume which contained not only translations from Paine's Common Sense but also translations of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. In his dedication, addressed to the Spanish Americans, García de Sena declared that in dedicating to them his first attempt to translate the works of Thomas Paine, he wished to justify their conduct and to promote their liberty and prosperity. The very title of this treatise, The Independence of Terra Firma Justified by Thomas Paine Thirty Years Ago, doubtless inspired and flattered the sentiments of Venezuelan leaders.37

In his articles in the Gaceta de Caracas Burke pleaded for the establishment of a federal government in Venezuela, and for the formation in Spanish America of a United States of Mexico and a United States of South America. The following passage will suggest the way in which he used the Republic of the North as an exemplar: "This nation, which is as great as all Europe, demonstrates by experience, which is the best proof, that extent of territory is not an obstacle to union if a free and representative plan is adopted, and that this system is, on the contrary, susceptible of including a much greater territory without the least inconvenience or danger to the liberty of any citizen. In the North American Confederation, as we have already indicated, each State retains its independence and individual sovereignty, and having the constitution, government, and laws that are suitable is only subject to the general government in what concerns the union, defence, and prosperity of the confederation."38 Such leaders as Ustáriz  p137 and Roscio corresponded with other patriots concerning the type of government to be established, which became the great theme of the hour.39 In a copy of El Publicista de Venezuela, the rare periodical which printed congressional debates, Roscio is quoted as having said that there could be "little doubt of the advantages of the federal system, for these advantages had been so well proved by the experience of the United States."40

On September 2, 1811, Francisco Javier Ustáriz laid the committee's plan of a constitution before Congress.41 Although this project was more than once designated the plan of Ustáriz, yet presumably other members of the committee had taken part in framing it.42 Interrupted at various times by other pressing business, discussions about this plan took place in Congress from September 2 to December 21. Such fragmentary records of the debates as have come down to us indicate that some Venezuelan leaders did not feel that the federal republican plan, which they considered the most perfect type of political organization, was adapted to the needs of a people who were just liberating themselves from the shackles of Spanish rule. This was the opinion of both Bolívar and Miranda.43 As already suggested, Miranda still clung tenaciously to his project that placed supreme executive authority in the hands of two "Incas" and provided for a dictator in case of extreme necessity. In all likelihood Bolívar already entertained the view that the federal Constitution of the United States was not suited to Venezuela. Several years later he declared that it was a marvel that the United States Constitution had endured and that the idea had never entered his head "to consider as identical the characteristics of two peoples so different as the Anglo-American and the Spanish-American."44

Hints of the debates in Congress about the plan of a constitution  p138 indicate that some members objected to a proposal to establish a council of the ancients and expressed a preference for a tribunal of censors. The adoption of a fundamental law was for a time entangled with a project for the division of the province of Caracas. A bone of contention was the relation that should exist between Church and State under the new régime. This issue involved the problem of the patronage, that is to say, the right to make those ecclesiastical appointments which in colonial days had been controlled by the Spanish crown, — a problem that often occasioned difficulties in Spanish-American states when they set out on their independent careers. Most serious perhaps of the politico-religious problems was the question as to the extent to which a priest should be allowed to enjoy his peculiar privileges or exemptions by an immunity styled the fuero. On December 16, despite the insistent opposition of certain priests, Congress voted that the fueros of ecclesiastics should be completely abolished.45

"The Constitution as drawn up by Congress," said Gregor McGregor, "was signed by all the members on Saturday the 21st. December and immediately signified to the people by the discharge of cannon and an illumination at the house of Congress, in other respects there was little appearance of rejoicing. General Miranda protested against it generally, and the priests (who are members) against the abolition of their privileges named fueros."46 In fact certain priests accompanied their signatures with protests against the abolition of their ancient privileges. A few lay members of Congress also objected to the article abolishing the fueros.47 Miranda, who was now vice president of Congress, entered a protest against the general character of the fundamental law in this cryptic passage: "As I believe that in the present Constitution the powers of government are not properly balanced,  p139 that its structure and general organization are not sufficiently clear and sensible to remain permanent, and further that it is not adapted to the population, habits, and customs of this country, — from which the result may flow that instead of uniting us in a general mass or social body it will divide and separate us to the prejudice of our common security and independence, — I inscribe these reservations in the fulfillment of my duty."48

A letter by the chairman of the committee on a constitution furnishes an illuminating commentary on the old man's protest. Ustáriz interpreted the allegation that the powers of government were not properly balanced to mean that Miranda wished the Executive Power to be sacred and inviolable with a term lasting ten years. The allegation that the structure and organization of government were not clear and sensible, Ustáriz interpreted to mean that Miranda either did not understand them or did not wish to understand them. The allegation that the Constitution was not adapted to the country, Ustáriz interpreted to mean that Miranda wished the Venezuelans to continue to live under a monarchical régime, and perhaps even that they should seek a substitute for Ferdinand VII. "It should also be noticed, proceeded Ustáriz, "that Miranda emitted neither protest nor objection, which I know of while listening to the reading, discussion, and debate of the Constitution, except in one particular. This repugnance was shown toward a clause that prohibited him from becoming an official of the government, as indeed it prohibited all persons who had not resided here, which is a common practice everywhere. Afterwards he suddenly emphasized his protest at the time of signing the Constitution as if to embarrass us and to keep us constantly in a state of uncertainty, while he might utilize a good transaction or a fortunate event."49

The Constitution of 1811 provided that the seven provinces which had formed the Captaincy General of Venezuela should compose a federal republic. Evidently the Venezuelan Fathers  p140 favored a régime that would permit the provinces to choose their own executive authorities. The Constitution declared that the provinces, — which were virtually recognized as states, — preserved their sovereignty, liberty, and independence except when these were expressly delegated to the Confederation by the Constitution. Under no circumstances was the seat of the national government to be located at the capital of a province. Under certain conditions any other section of Spanish America might be admitted to the Confederation.

The Constitution vested executive authority in three persons chosen by indirect election who were to be styled the Supreme Executive Power. Among the functions of the chief executive magistrates were specified the command of the land and naval forces, the appointment of ambassadors, consuls, and supreme judges, and, subject to the consent of the Senate, the negotiation of treaties with foreign nations.

Legislative power was vested in a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate was to be composed of members elected by the provincial legislatures. The House of Representatives was to be made up of members chosen by electors in the provinces. All bills concerning revenue should originate in the lower house but the Senate might sanction, modify, or reject such measures. A bill might become a law, in spite of the vote of the executive, if it passed both houses by a two‑thirds majority. Among the powers granted to Congress was the right to declare war or to make peace, the right to call the militia of the provinces into the service of the nation, and the right to establish inferior judicial tribunals throughout the Confederation. The highest judicial power was vested in a supreme court which was to be located in the capital city. The jurisdiction of this court was to extend to differences arising between two or more provinces, to differences between one province and the citizens of another, and to differences between a province and a foreign state or citizen. In some of its clauses this Constitution showed the pervasive influence of the United States Constitution.

 p141  In matters concerning religion, however, the Venezuela Constitution reflected the colonial régime. Chapter I provided that Roman Catholicism was not only to be the religion of State but also the sole religion of the people. One of the first duties of Congress should be to protect that faith and to maintain its purity and inviolability. Though Congress had apparently decided to extinguish the right of patronage as hitherto exercised, yet no solution of this problem was formulated in the Constitution. Neither did the Venezuelan Fathers provide for the negotiation of a concordat, although they recognized the need of readjusting their relations with the Papacy.

Chapter VIII of the Venezuelan Constitution, which was devoted to a formulation of the rights of man in the new State, was obviously inspired by the example of France. It seems possible that Miranda had proposed some of its doctrines. Philosophy of the French Revolution was discernible in introductory phrases declaring that after "men were organized in society they renounced the unlimited and licentious liberty induced by passions which were only proper in a condition of savagery. The establishment of society presupposes the renunciation of these fatal rights and the acquisition of other rights that are more sweet and pacific. It also presupposes subjection to certain mutual duties."50 Besides an enumeration of the rights of citizens to liberty, equality, property, and security, this chapter guaranteed liberty of thought and freedom of the press so long as public tranquillity, private honor, or Christian morality were not attacked. Aliens were to enjoy the same protection in person and property as natives of Venezuela, provided that they respected the religion, independence, and government of the country. With regard to Indians and mestizos, caste distinctions were swept away. The slave trade was prohibited. An Hispanic-American ideal embodied in this Constitution was a desire to unite with the people of other portions of Spanish America in defense  p142 of their religion, sovereignty, and independence.

In a proclamation dated December 23, 1811, the President of Congress declared that "the project of a social contract" which was presented to the people for approval had been formed to promote their felicity.51 The signing of the Constitution was made known to the citizens of Caracas by the ringing of bells and by a salute of twenty‑one guns.52 With the exception of the province of Cundinamarca, which had just adopted a fundamental law that contemplated the erection of a constitutional monarchy professing fidelity to Ferdinand VII, Venezuela was the first State of Spanish America to frame a Constitution. Influenced by the example of France and the United States, the Venezuelan Fathers rejected monarchical forms.

As Miranda had suggested, the first Constitution adopted by a Spanish-American state that claimed to be independent was, in certain particulars, unsuited to the stage of political development which the people had attained. In Anglo-Saxon eyes perhaps its most glaring defect was the fact that it attempted artificially to construct states that were to function in a federal scheme of government from provinces which during the Spanish régime had been little more than administrative divisions of a Captaincy General. The First Constituent Congress of Venezuela has not inappropriately been compared to an architect who wished "to construct a sumptuous palace without having the necessary materials at his disposal."53

About this time that the national Congress adopted a Constitution other important changes took place. Certain provinces of the former Captaincy General proceeded to frame their fundamental laws. In the autumn of 1811 the provinces of Mérida and Trujillo adopted constitutions. By a peculiar procedure the constitution of the province of Caracas was  p143 formed by its delegates in the national Congress. This frame of government was patterned after the federal scheme. The province was divided into departments which were subdivided into cantons and districts. A large measure of autonomy was granted to the cities.54

Early in January, 1812, news reached Caracas that the province of Cartagena in New Granada had declared its independence. To manifest their joy the patriots illuminated their houses. Gregor McGregor delighted the populace by directing a piper to play in the patio of his house where his servants danced Highland reels.55 A letter from Caracas, probably by a Frenchman, stated that the patriot leader Miranda was now dedicated to "the great and glorious task of establishing the independence of all Spanish America."56

In the beautiful valley of Caracas, at least, signs of prosperity and progress were manifest. Emigrants were arriving, especially from the Antilles. Arts and sciences were stimulated. Agriculture and industry revived; factories of various sorts were established. In the capital city promenades were laid out, roads repaired, and bridges constructed. Partly because of the encouragement accorded to foreigners by new legislation, commerce developed rapidly. Religious toleration had been "tacitly conceded." Under the fostering care of the new government, public instruction made notable progress. Academies of anatomy and mathematics were opened. Freed from the trammels of the colonial régime, the press had a surprising activity; gazettes were founded; satirical poems were published; pamphlets appeared which "were written with elegance and purity but which contained words rather than solid thoughts."57 The bright side of the shield was vividly depicted by an inhabitant of the capital city who declared that the revolution "had now assumed a grand, brilliant, and imposing aspect. People everywhere discoursed about their rights with the same familiarity that they used to converse  p144 about God and the King. * * * A numerous and sprightly youth, assiduously imbibing knowledge by education, gave hopeful promise of furnishing future pillars to the State."58

This description of development in the first republic founded in Spanish or Portuguese America is obviously flattering. It suggests that, besides convoking the earliest Congress held in Spanish America, signing a Declaration of Independence, framing a federal Constitution, and initiating society reforms, the patriots of Venezuela were contemplating other steps in national progress. Their sanguine hopes were suddenly dashed to earth, however, by a strange concatenation of circumstances which brought Miranda to the center of the stage as the man of destiny.


The Author's Notes:

1 I & A., Consular Letters, La Guayra, I.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, II, 1148‑49, 1154.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Robertson, "Beginnings of Spanish-American Diplomacy," loc. cit., pp252‑55.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Hodgson to Liverpool, Oct. 12, 1811, W. O., 1/108.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Memoir addressed to Peel, W. O., I, misc. series 3, vol. 1125.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Jacob to Perceval, inclosing a "Memorial respecting the American Colonies of Spain," F. O., 72/122.

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7 Russell to Bassano, Sept. 4, 1811, A. A. E., États-Unis, vol. 66.

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8 Sept. 16, 1811, A. A. E., États-Unis, vol. 66.

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9 Manning, op. cit., II, 1373.

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10 Rojas, El general Miranda, p615.

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11 Austria, Bosquejo de la historia militar de Venezuela, pp95‑96.

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12 El libro nacional de los Venezolanos, pp172, 253, 270, 285‑86.

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13 Ibid., p171.

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14 El libro nacional, p103.

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15 Ibid., p133.

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16 Soto Hall, Venezuela, p5.

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17 Ibid., pp5‑9.

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18 Robertson, Miranda, p454.

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19 Amunátegui, Vida de Don Andrés Bello, pp99‑102, 109‑10.

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20 Ibid., p102.

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21 Larrazábal, Vida y correspondencia general del libertador, I, 99.

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22 Poudenx and Mayer, Mémoire pour servir à l'histoire de la révolution de la capitainerie générale de Caracas, pp47‑48.

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23 Blanco, Documentos para la historia de la vida pública del libertador, III, 161.

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24 Poudenx and Mayer, p49.

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25 "Extract from a Spanish Gazette dated Caracas the 30th of July 1811, Translation," W. O., 1/109.

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26 Poudenx and Mayer, pp50‑51.

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27 Journal de l'Empire, Nov. 20, 1811.

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28 Austria, pp83‑84.

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29 Correio Braziliense, VII, 653.

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30 Amunátegui, p111; El libro nacional, pp303, 305, 307.

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31 Robertson, Miranda, p452.

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32 Manning, op. cit., II, 1151‑52.

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33 Journal de l'Empire, Nov. 20, 1811.

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34 Amunátegui, p98.

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35 El libro nacional, pp26, 44, 45.

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36 Amunátegui, pp98‑99.

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37 García de Sena, La independencia de Costa Firme justificado por Thomas Paine treinta años ha, pp67‑154, 176‑97, 200‑40; Austria, p119.

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38 Derechos de la América del Sur y México, p44.

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39 Palacio Fajardo, Outline of the Revolution in Spanish America, p119.

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40 Aug. 1, 1811.

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41 El libro nacional, p214.

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42 Ibid., pp250, 251.

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43 Larrazábal, I, 99; Austria, p119.

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44 Robertson, Rise of the Spanish-American Republics, p236.

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45 El libro nacional, pp349‑50.

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46 McGregor to Perceval, Jan. 18, 1812, F. O., 72/171.

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47 El libro nacional, pp359‑70.

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48 Ibid., p359.

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49 Rojas, El general Miranda, p617.

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50 El libro nacional, p402.

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51 Prólogo á los anales de Venezuela, p201.

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52 Boletín de la academia nacional de la historia, VI, 985.

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53 Poudenx and Mayer, p46.

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54 Blanco, III, 491‑526.

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55 McGregor to Perceval, Jan. 18, 1812, F. O., 72/171.

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56 Journal de l'Empire, May 8, 1812.

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57 Poudenx and Mayer, p58.

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58 Robertson, Miranda, p458.


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