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Chapter 20

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 22

Vol. II
p145
Chapter XXI

The First Dictator of Venezuela

Even before the Constitution of Venezuela had been framed, signs of dissatisfaction with the patriots had been displayed in regions outside the province of Caracas. The emergence of a dissident party corresponding to the Tories of the Thirteen Colonies became a dangerous factor in the situation. In the provinces of Coro, Guiana, and Maracaibo the loyalists composed a large element of the population. To lead the royalist reaction there appeared Domingo de Monteverde, an aspiring naval captain who in February, 1812, was intrusted by Fernando Miyares, the titular captain general of Venezuela, with the command of a small expedition. Early in the following month Monteverde marched from Coro. On March 23 he captured Carora. Influenced by his success, some of the inhabitants of the invaded region soon enrolled under the Spanish flag.

[image ALT: A map of part of northern South America, including what is now Venezuela, with several towns marked and a circuitous line from Coro to Carora to Valencia to Caracas. It is a map of the march of Monteverde to retake Caracas in 1812; despite the caption given in the book!]

Map Illustrating Miranda's Activities in Venezuela

[A larger, fully readable version opens here (677 KB).]

The Congress of Venezuela had been transferred to Valencia which had been made the seat of the Confederate Government. In accordance with the Constitution, Fernando del Toro, Francisco Espejo, and Francisco Javier Ustáriz were now installed as the Executive Power. The new statesmen began to occupy themselves with the legislation and administration of the Republic.

A tendency to desert the patriot cause was much stimulated by an unfortunate, unforeseen event. On the afternoon of Thursday, March 26, 1812, when devout Catholics were preparing for the solemnities of Good Friday, an ominous rumbling was heard in the distant Andes. Terrible quivers of the earth took place. In the province of Caracas the first quake occurred a few minutes after four o'clock in the afternoon. This shock was followed by repeated upheavals which were felt in most of the important towns and cities. At La Guaira the forts were either seriously damaged or completely destroyed and some two thousand people perished. An English  p146 captain named Forrest who visited this port shortly after the earthquake said that only three houses were left standing. He found the terror-stricken survivors preparing to dig the dead bodies of their friends and relatives out of the awful ruins so that they might burn them on funeral pyres.1

There is no better way to describe the effects of the earthquake than to adapt a vivid account by an inhabitant of the city of Caracas. He declared that a "multitude perished in the churches, whither they had gone on this festival to adore the Supreme Being." He avowed that no pen could depict "the dreaded disaster in half its multiformity of shapes. Men were maimed and bruised; our finest youth crushed to death; streets, temples, houses, bridge, public edifices, all destroyed. Every form of wretchedness passed in tragic review." The "doleful groans and lamentations of the dying: were heard, as well as the moans of "persons imploring succor from beneath the ruins"; horror was depicted upon every countenance; people abandoned "their homes, their interests and dearest objects of their care" and fled "in crowds to the neighboring mountains. All these scenes of affliction and sorrow formed an assemblage so lamentable, as has no parallel in the annals of Venezuela. In twenty seconds all was overturned."2

Among other cities or towns that were partly or entirely destroyed by the earthquake were Puerto Cabello, Maracaibo, Mérida, Trujillo, Barquisimeto, Tocuyo, Carora, San Carlos, and San Felipe. As this calamity occurred on the ecclesiastical anniversary of the very feast day upon which the Captain General had been deposed by the patriots of Caracas, many devout Catholics felt that it was a punishment from Heaven. "In short this [is] a death blow to Miranda, and his followers," said Captain Forrest, "if the adherents of Ferdinand the Seventh do not lose time in taking advantage of the effect which this calamitous visitation had had on the minds of the populace, it having happened upon Holy Thursday, a solemn  p147 Festival, and while they were all in Church, gave a degree of solemnity to the calamity which was truly awful, and inspired very generally an Idea that it was a Judgment of the Almighty upon them, manifesting his displeasure at their defection from Loyalty to their Sovereign."3

The earthquake had a very depressing effect upon the partisans of independence because certain towns that were most damaged were among those in which they had held the mastery. Again, in some cases those parts of cities in which patriot soldiers were quartered were ruined, while other portions were miraculously spared. Further, the loyalist stronghold at Coro escaped the calamity as if by a miracle. In his account of this disaster a royalist contemporary named José Díaz stated that upon the most elevated part of the ruins of the capital city, he beheld Simón Bolívar whose countenance depicted the utmost terror but who notwithstanding dauntlessly ejaculated: "If nature opposes herself to us, we will wrestle with her, and force her to obey!"4

A conservative estimate would have placed the number of fatalities in the capital city at ten thousand. A large number of patriot soldiers lost their lives by the destruction of barracks or fortifications. Certain churches were reduced to heaps of ruins. Terror-stricken people cast themselves upon their knees in the Great Square and implored the divine mercy. The priests who were mostly devoted royalists, took advantage of the fact that the calamity had occurred on a feast day; they tried to convince the people that the earthquake was a sign of God's displeasure at the secession of Venezuela from Spain. Narciso Coll y Pratt, archbishop of Caracas, issued a pastoral letter in which he avowed that the earthquake was a divine retribution for the vices of the Venezuelans.5 A revolutionary memoir illustrates the spirit of fanaticism:

"We should notice here a singular event that took place  p148 after the earthquake; it will serve to show the influence of the clergy upon the spirit of the people of these countries. After several priests had exhorted the people to public repentance, persons who had lived in concubinage hastened to get married. It is claimed that during the two months that followed the earthquake as many as five hundred marriages were solemnized. Adroit priests used the calamity to lead people to support their political system. They pointed out that the catastrophe had taken place on the anniversary of the day on which the Captain General was deposed. Nothing more was necessary to make the credulous inhabitants hate the new government."6

Many people now forsook the patriot cause and joined the royalists. This reactionary tendency became so manifest that the legislature of the province of Caracas published a proclamation which aimed to counteract the fanatical exhortations of priests and to strengthen the spirit of allegiance to the new government.7 Congress enacted a Draconian law that was designed to punish soldiers who deserted the army. As desertions from the patriot ranks did not decrease, the Executive Power issued a decree which proclaimed martial law in the province of Caracas and provided that all deserters should be punished with death.8

Yet manifestations of terror or piety did not cease. "The sacred cause of freedom was neglected," said a Venezuelan, "for a blind, puerile, fearful, and extravagant devotion. Multitudes thronged the churches day and night; public prayer and penitences were the occupation of the people; agriculture, commerce, and the arts stood still; he who did not surrender himself to the ridiculous mania of living in penance was regarded as a dissolute libertine who provoked the anger of heaven. This dismal contagion extended to the people of the interior; so that Venezuela was suddenly converted into a vast  p149 camp, presenting to the eyes of the philosopher, nothing but caravans of pilgrims trooping to Mecca, or hordes of inhabitants in religious frenzy." In describing the activities of the priests this contemporary avowed that "they exhibited in their hands a Jesus on the cross, but in their hearts were chains of slavery."9 When news of the calamity reached Telésforo de Orea, he sent to Secretary Monroe a plea that began with this passage:

"It is in the name of humanity that I desire your attention on this occasion. I ask it with confidence, for just and sensible persons cannot be indifferent to the calamities suffered by human beings. The unfortunate fate of the cities of Caracas, La Guaira, Puerto Cabello, and the adjacent towns has become well-known; and I regret that its effects should be so far‑reaching. Those persons who have survived the catastrophe not only have to regret the loss of their parents, children, friends, and thousands of their fellow citizens but they behold their very existence threatened in a thousand ways. Without protection against storms, deprived of the products of their land which have been buried beneath the ruins, and deprived of all immediate succor, — hunger, helplessness, and the rigors of the season will end their misery and desolation, if some providential hand does not save them from so great a calamity!"10

Upon becoming aware of the calamitous effects of the earthquake, the Congress of the United States passed an act appropriating money for the purchase of provisions for the relief of the unfortunate sufferers. Orea was informed that steps had been taken for carrying this law into force immediately, and that Alexander Scott, "a very respectable citizen of the United States," would soon sail for South America to execute the commission.11

The earthquake gave fresh élan to the troops of Monteverde.  p150 His forces were crowd not only by deserters but also by fresh recruits. When news reached Venezuela that the Cortes at Cadiz had promulgated a liberal Constitution which provided that delegates representing the Indies should sit in the national legislature, the disaffection did not decrease. Congress took steps to check the royalist advance. It placed the Marquis of Toro in charge of the military forces. As events soon showed, however, that this commander was not able to cope with the emergency, the leaders of the independent movement in Venezuela were compelled again to place Miranda in command of their army.12 On April 23, 1812, the Secretary of War addressed a significant letter to the veteran general to announce that the Executive Power of the Union had just appointed him "general in chief of the soldiers of the Venezuelan Confederation with absolute power to take any steps" that he might judge necessary to preserve the national territory which was invaded "by the enemies of Colombian liberty. In so doing it does not make you subject to any laws or regulations previously in force in the Republic. On the contrary, you are to consult only the supreme law of the salvation of the Fatherland; and for this purpose the Executive Power of the Union delegates to you, under your responsibility, its ordinary authority as well as the extraordinary functions which on the fourth of this month were conferred upon it by the national representatives."13

The appointment of Miranda as generalissimo was soon approved by the government of the province of Caracas. The Gaceta de Caracas explained that this step had been taken because of Miranda's "well-known military knowledge, his valor, and decided patriotism."14 By a secret order dated May 4 the Executive Power placed the national funds at the disposal of the commander in chief for the purpose of this campaign.15

 p151  Meantime Miranda had taken measures to reorganize the army. Some adventurous Englishmen joined the patriot forces. A legion of Frenchmen was formed under Colonel du Cayla. To command the fort at Puerto Cabello the generalissimo selected the dashing colonel, Simón Bolívar. José de Austria, the author of a military history of Venezuela, who stated that he was present at the meeting between General Miranda and the members of the Executive Power, asserted that the general asked that this selection should be made because Bolívar was a dangerous youth.16 Whether or not Miranda thus wished to deprive that colonel of an opportunity to distinguish himself on the battle line, there is no doubt that he gave the ambitious leader a prominent post. Puerto Cabello was perhaps the most important fortified city in Venezuela: its magazines held large stores of munitions; and in its fortress were incarcerated some unflinching royalists. Yet, as a confidant of the Liberator later suggested, this command was not suited to the bold genius of Bolívar who perhaps felt that the appointment was a reflection on his dignity and valor.17

Although the eastern provinces of Venezuela did not rally to the defense of the national government, and although disaffection had spread among the patriots, yet it seems likely that the most daring soldiers in the Republic proceeded to range themselves under the veteran general, "anxious to distinguish themselves in the defense of the Fatherland."18 From Caracas on April 30 Miranda issued an allocution to his soldiers which has come to hand in a poor English translation. He declared that Venezuela, "threatened by some malevolent individuals," invited them to the field of battle and expected salvation from their bravery and patriotism. He exhorted them to march "to Triumph under the Banners of Liberty and to conquer that which some of your fellow Countrymen (who were sold in a cruel manner by individuals unworthy of the name of Venezuelans) lost." He told them they might  p152 "be sure of the Victory," for the "God of Hosts ever protects the cause of Justice." He asked them to commend their wives and children to "a Paternal Government which will take immediate care for their preservation and provide the necessaries for their subsistence while you are covering yourselves with immortal Glory. Trust in your General who shall always lead you thro' the Path of Virtue and Honor to the enjoyment of your Liberty."19

At daybreak on May 1, 1812, General Miranda led the vanguard of his army out of the capital city. From La Laja he sent a detachment on a reconnaissance to Valencia. Meantime that important city had been evacuated by its patriot garrison, and attempts to recover it were altogether vain. For on May 3, after capturing San Carlos, Monteverde had entered Valencia in the midst of popular acclamations.20 Yet, despite his elation at this triumph, the royalist commander was apprehensive of an attack by the patriots. He sent letters to the governor of Coro describing his position as very critical; he asked for munitions and reënforcements. "I have reliable information that Miranda expects artillery of large calibre in order to undertake a formal siege of this city," said Monteverde, "and that his army is composed of more than 3,000 men determined to conquer it. You can imagine what my situation will be: my army is excessively fatigued with extraordinary exertions; for more than eight days it has not rested a moment; it has become so debilitated by great fatigue and lack of clothing that I am moved to compassion. But all this vigilance is necessary; for the astute Miranda only awaits a chance to attack me on all sides."21

For the time being, however, the patriot commander was not inclined to take aggressive measures. From Guacara on May 8 he issued a proclamation asking the Valencians to expel  p153 the royalists and to reunite themselves with the people of Caracas. "Choose Valencians between the two extremes: either to be free or to die; this is the vow that the Republicans whom I have the honor to command have made; and the same which you must adopt for yourselves either by force or good will." Yet he declared that, as in his previous campaign against them, he loved humanity. Bulletins of the independent army that were published in the Gaceta de Caracas reported minor engagements between the patriots and the royalists. A bulletin dated May 14 indicated that Miranda had decided to form a camp at Maracay "where he established his headquarters in order to organize, discipline, and complete a necessary number of Troops to render them calculated to re‑establish our affairs, and to destroy at once (and if possible forever) the Enemies of the Liberty and independence of the Province of Venezuela."22 On May 15 he promulgated a series of army regulations that were almost Draconian in their severity. Theft was to be punished by death. An officer caught playing cards was to be demoted. A soldier who became drunk was for the first offence to be imprisoned for eight days on bread and water.23 The generalissimo also directed that steps should be taken to fortify the outposts which protected his position. At Maracay men, provisions, and munitions were gathered for the projected movement.24

An officer named José de Austria, who wrote an instructive history of those trying times, skilfully diagnosed the situation. He declared that the "defenders of the Fatherland" had demonstrated their valor "in various encounters with the enemy." He explained that "the rapid and progressive occupation of the country was made possible for the enemy not by triumphs on the field of battle but by repeated and inexplicable retreats." He presented the view that either "the generalissimo believed that the authority which had been transferred to him needed greater force and latitude or else he  p154 wished to reinvest it with new forms." Hence Miranda requested a conference with the chief officials of the Republic through selected commissioners. " 'It is necessary,' he said, 'to have conferences about impending events and about the perils that threaten the country, while it is neither possible nor prudent for me to leave the headquarters at Maracay from which I can survey the theatre of operations.' Under these circumstances nothing could be denied to the leader to whom had been confided the most important mission of saving Venezuela's liberty."25

The Executive Power now decided to take radical steps to save the Republic. On May 17 President Francisco Espejo asked Roscio, who was now a member of the Executive Power, to go to Maracay in order to confer with Miranda and not only to decide upon a military and political program which would promote the success of the patriot arms but also upon the measures that should be taken to reëstablish public confidence which had been destroyed in certain quarters by fanaticism and persecution.26 In addition, the executive and the legislative authorities of the province of Caracas selected José V. Mercader and Francisco Talavera to proceed to Maracay on a similar mission.27

Those commissioners met in solemn conclave with the commander in chief in a house at La Trinidad that belonged to the Marquis of Casa Léon. In a précis signed on May 18 they expressed the view that the military and political administration of the province of Caracas and of the Venezuelan Confederation should be remodeled. They resolved that martial law should be proclaimed and that Miranda should have the sole power to appoint both military and political officials throughout Venezuela. They determined that her financial system should be reorganized, and selected the Marquis of Casa Léon to direct that task. In addition, they decided that "besides the powers intrusted to the generalissimo by the Executive Power of the Union, which are the same as those conferred  p155 upon him by the honorable Congress, there is expressly conceded to him the authority to treat directly with European powers and with those American nations that are free from Spanish domination, in order to obtain the means that he may judge appropriate for the defense of these states. He is to give to the government of the Union an account of those negotiations and of the appointment of the persons to whom they are intrusted."28 In the words of José de Austria, "the result was to enlarge the powers that without authority had been conferred upon the general in chief and to constitute him in reality a Dictator, — in fact the other constitutional authorities of the Republic were swept away, as was even the Constitution itself."29

There is no reason to suppose that this large and significant increase of authority was contrary to the wishes of the generalissimo. Miranda had attained the climax of his career. The agitator and idealist, who had planned and dreamed for many years of directing a revolution in South America, was now virtually made the chief civil and military executive of Venezuela. It was not simply the hand of fate that had invested him with the dictatorial authority ascribed in an emergency to the chief executive in his own governmental scheme. Such a dénouement had been anticipated by divers contemporaries who had avowed that Miranda was insistently striving to attain supreme power.

On May 21 the Dictator issued a trenchant manifesto to his compatriots. After mentioning the circumstances that had caused the government by a series of measures to confer upon him unlimited powers, he said:

"These measures have vested in my person a great and extraordinary authority; but my responsibility increases in the same proportion, and I can only endure this authority and responsibility because the liberty and independence of my native land is their sole object. Therefore, fellow citizens, I shall labor for the reëstablishment of liberty and independence. In  p156 this task I count upon the uniform and simultaneous coöperation of the governments and the people of Venezuela. The energy and prudence of those governments in the execution of orders, and the ardor and patriotic enthusiasm of the people for the preservation of their properties, persons, and lives, — these constitute the indispensable conduct that I expect and which I shall venture to exact. The result will be the organization and equipment of a republican army, the destruction of our enemies, the reunion of insurrectionary provinces under the standard of liberty, and ultimately peace and amity among the people of Venezuela who ought to form one family.

"In order to secure these advantages it has become necessary to correct some great evils that militate against them. Among the chief defects from which the Republic has suffered and which most prevented her perfection have been the complete disorder of our fiscal department and the depreciation of our paper money. Both of these defects will be remedied at once; at the head of the department of finance will be placed wise and intelligent men who will reform it by establishing banks that will promote the circulation of national money and thus stimulate the sources of general prosperity. The scarcity of certain supplies that are needed to carry on the war with adversity and success makes it necessary to devise a proper mode of acquiring them. In consequence I find myself vested with the express power to treat directly with European states and with the independent nations of America in order that through contracts or other arrangements the Republic may be provided with the arms, soldiers, and munitions which will insure her liberty and independence.

"Chief magistrates of the provinces and all their inhabitants! I pledge my solemn word not to lay down the sword that you have confided to me until I have avenged the injuries of our enemies and have reëstablished a rational liberty throughout the territory of Venezuela. I will never abandon the important position in which you have placed me without satisfying your confidence and your desires. Then I shall again become a simple citizen. With pleasure I shall behold you enjoying the felicity that I so much desire, — a felicity which I shall have aided to establish. The Venezuelan Republic will then be governed tranquilly by her own constitutions, which  p157 were only momentarily altered by circumstances and imminent perils, and I shall always be ready to relinquish my life and my repose to conserve and defend them."30

This manifesto outlined Miranda's policy. He had decided to reorganize and reënforce his army before taking offensive measures. On May 29 he supplemented this pronunciamiento by an address to the people of the province of Caracas in which he declared that the enemy had invaded the very heart of the province, and that it had pillaged towns, devastated the country, and committed terrible excesses. He said that through seduction and fanaticism Monteverde had gained possession of advantageous positions. Then he made this impassioned appeal:

"Citizens: — with anxiety we await you in order that you may share the laurels with us or that we may live in the memory of men as having exhaled the last breath together. It is not to be concealed that the Fatherland is in danger and that the peril will increase every day, if we do not combine our forces. Martial law, which was imperiously demanded by circumstances, has been proclaimed. Let there not be an able-bodied man who does not march to the field of glory with those arms which he is able to procure. Let him carry at least a sword or a lance or a dagger; or let him come armed only with anger! With anger the hearts of good republicans is illumined, and the fire of offended honor penetrates and inflames them. Citizens: what injuries you have to avenge, what assassins to destroy, what beloved objects to defend, what triumphs to obtain! The time for vengeance has arrived; let the slaves tremble who came to attack free men! * * * Citizens! from their tombs the dead ask you to avenge their blood, while the sick call upon you to display the wounds inflicted in glorious actions! Women, children, and old men summon you in order that they may escape the assassin's dagger; and we invite you to take up arms in order that the flag of Venezuela may wave over Valencia, Coro, and Maracaibo!"31

 p158  Dictator Miranda soon decided to use the diplomatic powers that had been conferred upon him. On May 20 he wrote a letter to Madariaga indicating his intention to dispatch an agent to Bogotá.32 Some days later he instructed Delpech to proceed to the English Antilles on a mission to his old friend Admiral Cochrane. In a letter to the admiral Miranda reminded him of the relations of friendship and harmony that had existed between Venezuela and England. He asked Cochrane to permit any person who might so desire to proceed from the West Indies to Venezuela.33 Early in June the Dictator determined to send agents to Cundinamarca, Cartagena, England, and the United States.34

On June 2 Miranda sent a letter to Governor Hodgson of Curaçao that ran as follows: "I have the honor to inform your Excellency of my appointment as Generalissimo of Venezuela, with full powers to treat with Foreign States, and to take such other measures as I may deem necessary, for the interest and security of these Provinces. Being animated with the desire of promoting by all means in my power, the friendly dispositions existing between the two Governments, which I conceive for the mutual interest and advantage of both, — I shall most willingly contribute to cement the present union, and to form if possible a more intimate connexion; and have no doubt I shall meet with a similar disposition on your part." However, Governor Hodgson, who had been instructed by Lord Liverpool not to enter into any intercourse with Miranda made this non‑committal reply: "I had the honor of receiving your Letter of the 2nd. instant yesterday, a copy of which I shall take the earliest opportunity of transmitting to His Majesty's Government."35 Because of the alliance existing between England and Spain, English officials in the West Indies were loath to take steps to aid the South American revolutionists.

It was perhaps only natural that, as in former years, Miranda  p159 should have fixed his highest hopes of succor on England. In a confidential letter to Blanco White on May 29 the Dictator expressed the hope that he would aid the Venezuelans. This note was intrusted to Delpech who was instructed to proceed to England where he was to have a secret interview with that journalist about the mode of raising volunteers in England for the Venezuelan army. Such recruits, said Miranda, would become citizens of Venezuela; according to their services, they would be recompensed by grants of land and by other rewards. Delpech was authorized to purchase arms which the Dictator agreed to pay for upon their delivery in South America.36

As agent to the English ministry Miranda selected Molini, who had been serving as his confidential secretary. The Dictator's intention in dispatching his secretary to London was indicated in epistles of June 2 to Spencer Perceval and Lord Castlereagh. As the letter to Castlereagh was almost identical with the letter to Governor Hodgson, we shall quote the letter addressed to Perceval:

"My correspondence with H. M. Ministers has been for some time suspended, owing to my not having a direct influence in the Government — I have within these few days been appointed Generalissimo of Venezuela, with full Powers to treat with Foreign States, and take such measures as I may judge necessary for the interest and security of these Provinces. Being always animated with the same views toward Great Britain, whose interests I conceive are intimately connected with the safety and prosperity of this Country, I am very desirous of cimenting by all the means in my power the existing friendship and forming if possible a closer union between both Countries. The Bearer of this Letter is my Secretary, Mr. Thomas Molini, who will be able to give H. M. Ministers every information they may desire, relative to the actual state of these Provinces."37

 p160  On June 2 the Venezuelan commander sent a missive of similar tenor to Richard Wellesley. The latter was informed that Miranda had written to English ministers about the improvement of relations between England and Venezuela; and he was solicited to use his influence "to obtain so desirable an end."38 On the same day the Dictator wrote to Jeremy Bentham expressing the hope that the day was not far distant, when he would see "the liberty and happiness" of Venezuela established "upon a solid and permanent footing."39

These letters indicate that in June, 1812, Miranda still cherished the hope of winning the independence of his native land. Apparently he thought that an influential factor in the accomplishment of this end would be the aid secured from foreign nations. It was evidently with the intention of stimulating the attempt to secure munitions from the United States that early in July the Dictator expressed his intention of sending Pedro Gual to replace Orea at Washington. Possibly Miranda may also have had in mind thus to promote the pending negotiations with Serurier. Colonel du Cayla and a patriot named Martin Tovar were sent to the West Indies to get recruits and munitions.40 As an inducement Tovar was instructed to offer to volunteers the rights of Venezuelan citizenship after three campaigns and a grant of land when the revolutionary war had terminated.41

Meanwhile through correspondence with his officers the Dictator attempted to obtain information about the movements of the enemy. It is evident that he was forming a plan of campaign which he intended to follow in case the royalists were expelled from Valencia. On May 21 Miranda wrote to Bolívar to instruct him that he should not relinquish certain advance posts near Nirgua; for when the Spaniards evacuated Valencia they would presumably try to withdraw in that direction. Under such circumstances Bolívar was to form a  p161 flying squadron with which to pursue the retreating royalists.42

The impressions which the condition of the new nation made upon an unprejudiced foreigner are reflected in a letter of June 5, 1812, to Secretary Monroe from Robert K. Lowry, who had been sent to La Guaira as consul of the United States:

"Since the communication I had thorough of making on the 2d. Feby, the Commission of Consul in due form which it has pleased the President of the United States to forward to me, has been received.

"On the 23 of March, I forwarded the patent to Caracas to the Executive Power, being prevented from personally presenting myself by indisposition. It was gladly received, and the usual forms of recognition nearly gone through when the dreadful convulsion of Nature of the 26 March threw everything into confusion and dismay. The Earthquake has been followed by the invasion of the Province from the side of Coro. The enemy has penetrated as far as Valencia, and has been joined by a considerable portion of the Inhabitants of the Interior, among whom the superstitious idea, principally excited by the Priesthood, that the Earthquake is a chastisement of Heaven for abandoning the Cause of Ferdinand the Seventh, has pretty generally spread itself — General Miranda has succeeded in stopping the progress of the enemy and there is now reasonable hope that they will be defeated.

"In the meantime the General has been invested with the powers of a Dictator, and I believe an organization of this government distinct from that which has been given to the world in the shape of a Constitution, will shortly take place.

"Circumstanced as the authorities of the Country are, I have deferred making any further application for the present relative to the recognition of my powers but purpose doing so ere long and with this view have written to Genl. Miranda."43

Drastic measures that the Dictator deemed necessary to take at this time, however, did not increase his prestige. Certain  p162 military officers of Spanish descent were deprived of their commands and confined at La Victoria. In consequence of such measures some republican leaders, like the Toro brothers, even declined to serve in Miranda's army. Madariaga and two military officers were instructed to seize the royalist archbishop Narciso Coll y Pratt and to confine him in a castle at La Guaira. At the instance of Miranda steps were taken to incarcerate all Spaniards and natives of the Canary Islands in that port. Two dictatorial decrees added to the growing discontent. One decree proclaimed that martial law existed throughout the Republic, while the other offered freedom to those slaves who would enlist in the patriot army for ten years.

In an account of the Dictator's proceedings a fellow countryman made a commentary that suggests the spirit of mistrust that was now growing in the independent ranks. Austria avowed that all "the acts and arrangements of the generalissimo produced fear and a lack of confidence in many patriots. What contributed to excite hatred and to make him even more unpopular was his secrecy in regard to certain measures, — a secrecy strange among republicans who were pursuing the same end in the midst of perils. In view of the dispiriting inertia of the republican arms that was apparently the result of unknown plans, his intimate relations with governor of Curaçao and with other important foreigners produced a species of jealousy and increased the lack of confidence that would probably have completely disappeared if the conference at La Trinidad had resulted otherwise."44

At this critical juncture Miranda was apparently in a dubious or vacillating frame of mind. Although some of his compatriots undoubtedly disapproved of his Fabian policy, yet there were others who felt that Venezuela could not successfully terminate the struggle for independence without foreign aid. Perhaps the best analysis of the situation is that afforded by a friendly letter that a patriot official named Miguel J. Sanz sent to the Dictator on June 14:

 p163  "After I became acquainted in the department of state with the political condition of Venezuela, I formed the idea that her liberty and independence could not be achieved without effective aid from European powers. The situation in which our soldiers, our agriculture, our commerce, and our revenues are placed, the partisan spirit that animates our compatriots, and the scarcity of men to carry out the enterprise have practically convinced me of that truth. In such conditions it is impossible to furnish and equip the necessary military forces with so small a population and with only the revenues that the province of Caracas actually affords. * * * Should we not prefer to engage with the Grand Turk rather than to be again enchained? The situation is clear: we cannot sustain ourselves without agriculture, commerce, arms, and money. The greater part of our territory is occupied by our royalist enemies, while our internal enemies make cruel and perilous war upon us. These internal enemies are ignorance, envy, and pride. Such evils not only render your measures inefficacious but disturb and confound everything. If you wish to have the glory of making your native land independent and of securing to her the enjoyment of liberty, do not depend upon the means available here, — seek means abroad."45

Threatening advances of the royalists soon caused Miranda to remove his military headquarters from Maracay to La Victoria, which because of its strategic position was the key to the capital city. Further, the Dictator learned that the slaves and the colored inhabitants of Curiepe and other towns on the coast had risen tumultuously and were committing divers excesses against both patriots and royalists. Shortly afterwards Miranda received news of an untoward event that had happened in Puerto Cabello, a post which his "confidential aide-de‑camp" described as "the bulwark of liberty in which the Patriots might defy all the power of Spain."46

On the forenoon of June 30, during the absence of the commander of the castle of San Felipe that dominated Puerto  p164 Cabello, the ranking patriot officer, Lieutenant Francisco Fernández Vinoni, joined forces with the royalist prisoners who were incarcerated there, and hoisted the Spanish flag. Commanders of other forts soon followed Vinoni's example. Many soldiers in the patriot garrison, some inhabitants of the city, and the crews of certain Venezuelan vessels in the harbor joined this uprising. Puerto Cabello refused to surrender. The royalists then opened fire on the city, while Colonel Simón Bolívar tried to defend it with a small contingent. In course of the ensuing struggle that force was diminished through desertion, capture, and death. On July 4 soldiers arrived from Coro to reënforce the royalists, while no help came to succor the beleaguered patriots.47 Bolívar had sent a courier to the generalissimo on July 1 and declared that if he did not "immediately attack the enemy" Puerto Cabello would be lost. The Dictator received this disastrous news on July 5.48 On the next day, in despair of receiving timely succor from Miranda, his force having been reduced to some forty men, the patriot colonel reluctantly decided to give up the struggle.

In deep dejection Colonel Bolívar notified Miranda of the fall of Puerto Cabello. He avowed that he had performed his duty and alleged that if one soldier had remained with him he would have continued to combat the enemy. "If the soldiers deserted," added Bolívar, "that was not my fault. There was nothing which I could do to prevent this desertion and to compel them to save the country; but, alas! the post has been lost in my hands!"49 In an incoherent letter transmitting his account of the struggle for Puerto Cabello, the defeated commander avowed that he was filled "with a species of shame," and that he desired a respite of a few days to see if his spirit might not regain possession of "its ordinary temper. After having lost the best position in the country, how can I help being demented, my general?"50 The last passage of this lament ran in these words: "With respect to myself, I have fulfilled  p165 my duty, and, although I have lost Puerto Cabello, I am blameless; and I have saved my honor. I regret that I have saved my life and that I was not left dead under the ruins of a city which should have been the last asylum of the liberty and the glory of Venezuela!"51

The loss of Puerto Cabello broke Miranda's spirit. In reminiscences written many years later Pedro Gual stated that the commander in chief had just been discussing the new mission to the United States and had promised him letters of introduction to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson when Bolívar's first portentous letter came to hand. Upon entering the military headquarters to which the Dictator had retired, said Gual, he was startled to see members of Miranda's staff in odd poses. Roscio was striking one hand against the other, Espejo was sunk in profound meditation, while Sata y Bussy was frozen like a statue:

"Filled with the presentiment of an unexpected calamity, I approached the generalissimo. 'Well,' I said to him, 'what news is there?' Even to a second inquiry, he made no response but to a third inquiry, made after an instant had elapsed, drawing a letter from his vest pocket, he said to me in French: 'Tenez : Venezuela est blessée au coeur !' Never shall I forget the pathetic picture presented at that critical moment by those venerable patriarchs of American emancipation who were profoundly depressed by the intensity of actual misfortune and by a foreboding of other calamities that were about to afflict unfortunate Venezuela! * * * After the first surprise was over, General Miranda broke silence to say: 'You see gentlemen, how things happen in this world. A short time ago all was safe: — now all is uncertain and ominous. Yesterday Monteverde had neither powder nor lead nor muskets; today he can count on forty thousand pounds of powder, lead in abundance, and three thousand muskets! Bolívar told me that the royalists were making an attack but by this time they should be in the possession of everything!' "52

The effects of the royalist coup were thus described to Molini  p166 by Delpech: "It was the surrender of Puerto Cabello that caused all the evils, put the climax to the discouragement, the disorder, and the confusion, at the same time that it increased almost ten‑fold the audacity and the resources of the enemy, who at that moment were actually without any kind of munitions and had determined to make their retreat within two days; but scarcely had this important place been delivered to them with the immense magazines and munitions of war which it contained, when a swarm of hostile vessels arrived there carrying troops, émigrés, and opponents to the system of Venezuela."53 In his classic account of the revolution the Colombian historian José M. Restrepo reënforced the views of Delpech with this judicious summary: "Colonel Bolívar had to endure the mortification of returning to Caracas to give his commander such ominous news after having done all that he could on his part to hold Puerto Cabello, which was impossible. This fatal blow delivered by the enemies of the Venezuelan Confederation put them in possession of a strong point of support, of munitions, and of all that was necessary to continue the war with advantage."54


The Author's Notes:

1 Forrest to Stirling, March 30, 1812, F. O., 72/139.

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2 Robertson, Miranda, pp460‑61.

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3 Forrest to Stirling, March 30, 1812, F. O., 72/139.

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4 Díaz, Recuerdos sobre la rebelión de Caracas, p39.

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5 Urquinaona, Memorias, p91.

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6 Poudenx and Mayer, Mémoire pour servir à l'histoire de la révolution de la capitainerie générale de Caracas, p65.

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7 Rojas, El general Miranda, pp619‑23.

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8 Ibid., pp623‑26.

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9 Irvine's Notes, I. & A., Consular Letters, La Guayra, I.

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10 Urrutia, Páginas de historia diplomática, p22. Other impressions of the effects of the earthquake may be found in Key‑Ayala, "Apuntes sobre el terremoto de 1812," in El Cojo Ilustrado, XXI, 158.

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11 Robertson, "Beginnings of Spanish-American Diplomacy," loc. cit., p258.

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12 Austria, Bosquejo de la historia militar de Venezuela, p127.

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13 Rojas, El general Miranda, p628.

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14 Extracts from the Gaceta de Caracas, April 28, 1812, in W. O., 1/111.

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15 Rojas, op. cit., pp628‑29.

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16 Austria, p128.

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17 O'Leary, Memorias, XXVII, 55.

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18 Ibid.

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19 "Copy Translation," inclosure in Hodgson to Liverpool, June 18, 1812, W. O., 1/111.

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20 Urquinaona, Resumen de las causas principales que prepararon y dieron impulso á la emancipación de la América Española, p25.

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21 Blanco, Documentos para la historia de la vida pública del libertador, IV, 21.

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22 Translation, W. O., 1/111.

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23 Rojas, El general Miranda, pp629‑30.

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24 Austria, pp133‑34.

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25 Austria, p134.

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26 Rojas, El general Miranda, p502.

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27 Ibid., p631.

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28 Ibid., p632.

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29 Bosquejo, p135.

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30 Austria, pp135‑36.

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31 Rojas, El general Miranda, pp634‑35.

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32 Rojas, El general Miranda, pp664‑65.

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33 Austria, pp137‑38.

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34 Rojas, op. cit., p267.

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35 By a mistake the copies of both letters bear the date of June 2, 1812, W. O., 1/111.

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36 O'Leary, XIII, 43‑44.

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37 Add. MSS., 38, 249, f. 72; the letter to Castlereagh is quoted in Robertson, Miranda, pp466‑67.

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38 Copy, F. O., 72/157.

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39 Bentham, Works, X, 468.

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40 Rojas, El general Miranda, pp586‑89, 687.

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41 Miranda to Tovar, July 2, 1812 (copy), W. O., 1/112.

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42 Rojas, op. cit., p669.

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

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44 Op. cit., p140.

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45 Rojas, El general Miranda, pp275‑77.

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46 Leleux to Vansittart, Aug. 26, 1812, F. O., 72/140.

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47 Istueta's deposition, July 5, 1812, W. O., 1/111.

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48 Rojas, op. cit., pp647, 687.

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49 Ibid., p648.

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50 Ibid., pp648‑49.

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51 Ibid., pp660‑61.

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52 Blanco, III, 759.

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53 "Relation succincte des évènements dernièrement survenus à Caracas par L. Delpech de Caracas," Feb. 27, 1813, F. O., 72/151.

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54 Restrepo, Historia de la revolución de la república de Colombia, III, 129‑30.


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