Simon Bolivar, the Liberator
Guillermo A. Sherwell
Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Distributed Proofreaders
_Patriot, Warrior, Statesman Father of Five Nations_
[Illustration: _STATUE OF THE LIBERATOR_ at the head of the Avenue of the
Americas, New York City.]
Patriot, Warrior, Statesman Father of Five Nations
A SKETCH OF HIS LIFE AND HIS WORK
BY GUILLERMO A. SHERWELL
_Guillermo A. Sherwell (1878-1926)_ was the recipient of Doctorate
Degrees from the National University of Mexico and from the University
of Georgetown. Among the posts which he filled was that of Rector of the
National University of Mexico, Legal Counsellor of the Inter-American
Committee in Washington and Professor of History and of Hispano-American
literature. Sincerely interested in the heroes of Spanish-American
independence, he dedicated himself to the study of their lives and
especially to that of the Liberator. He also wrote a biography of Sucre.
This biography of Bolivar was first published in Washington in 1921. It was
again published in Baltimore in 1930. There have been two translations into
Spanish, that of Roberto Cortazar and that of R. Cansinos-Assens, published
respectively in Bogota (1922 and 1930) and in Madrid (1922).
The Bolivarian Society of Venezuela has decided that in homage to the
memory of the Liberator on the occasion of the transfer of the statue in
New York to its new site at the head of the Avenue of the Americas, the
publication of another edition of this excellent work of Mr. Sherwell's
which gives in an excellent condensed form the historical significations of
Bolivar. The children of Mr. Sherwell have kindly given their consent to
the publication of this edition which is made under the auspices of the
Junta de Gobierno of the United States of Venezuela.
In the history of peoples, the veneration of national heroes has been one
of the most powerful forces behind great deeds. National consciousness,
rather than a matter of frontiers, racial strain or community of customs,
is a feeling of attachment to one of those men who symbolize best the
higher thoughts and aspirations of the country and most deeply impress the
hearts of their fellow citizens. Despite efforts to write the history of
peoples exclusively from the social point of view, history has been, and
will continue to be, mainly a record of great names and great deeds of
The Greeks, for us and for themselves, are not so much the people who lived
in the various city-states of Hellas, nor the people dominated and more or
less influenced by the Romans and later the Mohammedan conquerors, nor
even the present population in which the old pure Hellenic element is in a
proportion much smaller than is generally thought. Greece is what she is,
lives in the life of men and shapes the minds and souls of peoples,
through her great heroes, through her various gods, which were nothing
but divinized heroes. Greece is for us Apollo, as a symbol of whatever
is filled with light, high, beautiful and noble; Heracles for what is
strength, energy, organization, life as it should be lived by human beings.
Leonidas stands for us as a symbol of heroic deeds; Demosthenes as a symbol
of the convincing powers of oratory and Pericles as the crystallization of
Grecian life in its totality of beauty, learning and social and civic life.
Greece is a type, is an attitude, is a protest against oppression, is an
aspiration towards beauty, is an inspiration and a guide for men who live
in the higher planes of feeling and thought. But Greece is not all that as
a people; Greece is all that through men converted into symbols.
So it is with other peoples.
Rome still signifies for us the defense of the bridge against the powerful
enemy; a man taking absolute power over the State and then surrendering it
to the people from whom it came. Rome is Republican virtue, and imperial
power,--and also, alas! imperial degradation. Imperial Rome represents
persecution of religion which does not recognize Caesar as a god and the
assimilation of religions which do not hesitate to add a god to those they
adore. Rome, too, symbolizes the tendency to unity which survives and
inspires the life of the nations of Europe, if not of the world,--a
tendency altogether manifest in the last gigantic struggle through which
mankind has just passed. Rome, finally, stands for Law, for the most
marvelous social machine ever devised by human brains. But Rome is all
that, and more than that, through Horace, Sulla, Cato, Caesar, Cicero,
Nero, Caracalla and Justinian.
The confusion of the Middle Ages has some points of light, always around a
man. The great Frederic Barbarossa stands for Germany, as does William Tell
for Switzerland, as Ivan the Great for Russia, as the Cid for Spain, as
King Arthur for England and Charlemagne for France.
The modern peoples, those who only lately have begun to live as nations,
have their heroes, who perhaps do not seem so great to us as the old
heroes, because they have not been magnified by time; but, if compared with
men of the past, many of them are as great, if not, in some cases, greater.
The countries of America are at present forming this tradition about their
illustrious ancestors. And, if they want to live the strong life of the
nations destined to last and to be powerful and respected, they must
persevere in the work of building up around their fathers the frame-work of
their national consciousness. Washington every day appears nobler to us,
because every day we understand better what is the meaning of his sacrifice
and his work; every day we learn to appreciate more the value of the
inheritance he left to us when he gave us a free country where we can
think and speak and work, untrammeled by the whims and caprices of foreign
masters. And the nations to the south of us are also building their
national consciousness around their great heroes, among them the greatest
of all, Bolivar, one of those men who appear in the world at long
intervals, selected by God to be the leaders of multitudes, to be
performers of miracles, achieving what is impossible for the common man.
They live a life of constant inspiration, as if they were not guided by
their own frail judgment, but, like Moses, by the smoke and the flame of
God through a desert, through suffering and success, through happiness and
misfortune, until they might see before them the Promised Land of Victory,
some destined to enjoy the full possession of it, and others to die with no
other happiness than that of leaving an inheritance to their successors.
These few pages, devoted to the life and work of Simon Bolivar, the
great South American Liberator, will attain their object if the reader
understands and appreciates how unusual a man Bolivar was. Every citizen of
the United States of America must respect and venerate his sacred memory,
as the Liberator and Father of five countries, the man who assured the
independence of the rest of the South American peoples of Spanish speech;
the man who conceived the plans of Pan-American unity which those who
came after him have elaborated, and the man who, having conquered all
his enemies and seen at his feet peoples and laws, effected the greatest
conquest, that of himself, sacrificing all his aspirations and resigning
his power, to go and die, rewarded by the ingratitude of those who owed him
their existence as free men. The more the life of this man is studied, the
greater he appears, and the nearer he seems to the superhuman.
The American people, made free by Washington, do not begrudge the
legitimate glory of other illustrious men, and if they have not rendered up
to this time the homage due to Simon Bolivar, it has been mainly through
lack of accurate knowledge of his wonderful work. The city of New York, the
greatest community in the world, is now honoring his memory by placing in
a conspicuous section of its most beautiful park a statue which the
Government of Venezuela has given it; the statue of the Man of the South,
the brother in glory to our own Washington. No greater homage could be
paid to him than to have American fathers and mothers pass by the noble
monument, pointing out to their children the statue and telling them the
marvelous story of Simon Bolivar.
In a book as brief as this it is impossible to present documents or to give
long quotations. Nevertheless, we may fairly affirm that all statements
herein made are substantiable by documentary evidence. We have consulted
all the books and pamphlets which have been at hand and have studied both
sides of debatable questions regarding Bolivar. To follow a chronological
order we have been guided by the beautiful biography written by Larrazabal,
the man called by F. Lorain Petre "the greatest flatterer of Bolivar." That
this assertion is false is proved in the first volume cited below. Petre's
monograph contains apparent earmarks of impartiality, but in reality it is
nothing but a bitter attack on the reputation of Bolivar. Its translator,
a distinguished Venezuelan writer, is to be thanked for the serenity with
which he has destroyed his imputations. We find nothing to add in defense
of the Liberator.
The following studies have been particularly consulted:
"Bolivar--por los mas grandes escritores americanos,
precedido de un estudio por Miguel de Unamuno,"
Madrid and Buenos Aires, 1914,
a book containing the following monographs:
"Simon Bolivar," by Juan Montalvo (Ecuadorian)
"Simon Bolivar," by F. Garcia Calderon (Peruvian)
"Simon Bolivar," by P.M. Arcaya (Venezuelan)
"Bolivar y su campana de 1821," by General L. Duarte
"Bolivar en el Peru," by A. Galindo (Colombian)
"Simon Bolivar," by B. Vicuna Mackenna (Chilean)
"Simon Bolivar," by J.B. Alberdi (Argentinean)
"Simon Bolivar," by Jose Marti (Cuban)
"El ideal internacional de Bolivar," by Francisco Jose
"La entrevista de Guayaquil," by Ernesto de la Cruz (Chilean)
"Bolivar, escritor," by Blanco-Fombona (Venezuelan)
"Bolivar," by F. Lorain Petre (North American)
"Bolivar," by J.E. Rodo (Uruguayan)
"Bolivar, intimo," by Cornelio Hispano (Colombian)
"Bolivar, profesor de energia," by Jose Verissimo (Brazilian)
"Bolivar, legislador," by Jorge Ricardo Vejarano (Colombian)
"Discursos y Proclamas--Simon Bolivar," R. Blanco-Fombona, Paris.
"Documentos para la Vida Publica del Libertador" por Blanco y
"El Libertador de la America del Sur," Guzman Blanco, London, 1885.
"Estudio Historico," Aristides Rojas, Caracas, 1884.
"La Creacion de un Continente," F. Garcia Calderon, Paris.
"La Entrevista de Bolivar y San Martin en Guayaquil," Camilo
Destruge, Guayaquil, 1918.
"La ultima enfermedad, los ultimos momentos y los funerales de Simon
Bolivar," Dr. A.P. Reverend, Paris, 1866.
"Leyendas Historicas," A. Rojas, Caracas, 1890.
"Memorias de O'Leary," translated from English by Simon B. O'Leary,
"Origenes del Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho," discursos
del Senor D. Felipe Francia, Caracas, 1920.
"Papeles de Bolivar," Vicente Lecuna, Caracas, 1917.
"Pensamientos consagrados a la memoria del Libertador,"
"Recuerdos del Tiempo Heroico--Pajinas de la vida militar i
politica del Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho," Jose Maria Rey de Castro,
"Resumen de la Historia de Venezuela," Baralt y Diaz, Paris, 1841.
"Simon Bolivar," Arturo Juega Farrulla, Montevideo,
"Vida de Simon Bolivar," Larrazabal, Madrid, 1918; also sixth edition
of same book, New York, Andres Cassard, 1883.
[Footnote 1: Duarte Level is not Mexican but Venezuelan.]
[Footnote 2: Lorain Petre is not North American but English.]
For the use of various documents, articles, and papers, we are also
indebted to Dr. Manuel Segundo Sanchez, Director of the National Library of
Caracas, Venezuela, as well as to Dr. Julius Goebel of the University of
Virginia for his kindness in letting us examine his notes on certain papers
existing in the files of the State Department in Washington.
We beg to express our sincere gratitude to Miss Edith H. Murphy of Bay
Ridge High School and St. Joseph College of Brooklyn, and to Dr. C.E.
McGuire of the Inter American High Commission, for their revision of the
original manuscript and their very valuable suggestions regarding the
subject matter and the style.
For the appreciations and judgments appearing in this monograph, its author
assumes full responsibility.
Table of Contents
I. The Spanish Colonies in America
II. Bolivar's Early Life. Venezuela's First Attempt
to Obtain Self-Government (1783-1810)
III. The Declaration of Independence, July 5, 1811.
Miranda's Failure (1811-1812)
IV. Bolivar's First Expedition. The Cruelty of
V. Bolivar's First Victories (1813)
VI. Araure. Ribas Triumphs in La Victoria. A
Wholesale Execution (1813-1814)
VII. The Heroic Death of Ricaurte. Victory of
Carabobo and Defeat of La Puerta (1814)
VIII. Bolivar in Exile and Morillo in Power. The
"Jamaica Letter" (1814-1815)
IX. Bolivar's Expedition and New Exile. He Goes
to Guayana (1815-1817)
X. Piar's Death. Victory of Calabozo. Second
Defeat at La Puerta. Submission of Paez
XI. The Congress of Angostura. A great Address.
Campaigning in the Plains (1819)
XII. Bolivar Pays His Debt to Nueva Granada.
Boyaca. A Dream Comes True (1819)
XIII. Humanizing War. Morillo's Withdrawal
XIV. The Second Battle of Carabobo. Ambitions
and Rewards. Bolivar's Disinterestedness.
American Unity (1821)
XV. Bombona and Pichincha. The Birth of Ecuador.
Bolivar and San Martin Face to Face
XVI. Junin, a Battle of Centaurs. The Continent's
Freedom Sealed in Ayacucho (1822-1824)
XVII. Bolivia's Birth. Bolivar's Triumph. The Monarchical
Idea. From Honors to Bitterness
XVIII. The Convention of Ocana. Full Powers. An
Attempt at Murder (1828)
XIX. Difficulties with Peru. Slanders and Honors.
On the Road to Calvary (1829-1830)
XX. Friends and Foes. Sucre's Assassination. The
Lees of Bitterness. An Upright Man's Death
XXI. The Man and His Work
Patriot, Warrior, Statesman Father of Five Nations
_The Spanish Colonies in America_
Everybody knows that America was discovered by Christopher Columbus, who
served under the King and Queen of Spain, and who made four trips, in which
he discovered most of the islands now known as the West Indies and part of
the central and southern regions of the American continent. Long before the
English speaking colonies which now constitute the United States of
America were established, the Spaniards were living from Florida and the
Mississippi River to the South, with the exception of what is now Brazil,
and had there established their culture, their institutions and their
In some sections, the Indian tribes were almost exterminated, but generally
the Spaniards mingled with the Indians, and this intercourse resulted in
the formation of a new race, the mixed race (mestizos) which now comprises
the greater number of the inhabitants of what we call Latin America.
African slavery added another racial element, which is often discernible in
the existing population.
The Latin American peoples today are composed of European whites, American
whites (creoles), mixed races of Indian and white, white and Negro,
Negro and Indian, Negro and mestizo, and finally, the pure Indian race,
distinctive types of which still appear over the whole continent from
Mexico to Chile, but which has disappeared almost entirely in Uruguay and
Argentina. Some countries have the Indian element in larger proportions
than others, but this distribution of races prevails substantially all over
It would distract us from our purpose to give a full description of the
grievances of the Spanish colonies in America. They were justified and
it is useless to try to defend Spain. Granting that Spain carried out a
wonderful work of civilization in the American continent, and that she
is entitled to the gratitude of the world for her splendid program of
colonization, it is only necessary, nevertheless, to cite some of her
mistakes of administration in order to prove the contention of the
colonists that they must be free.
Books could not be published or sold in America without the permission of
the Consejo de Indias, and several cases were recorded of severe punishment
of men who disobeyed this rule. Natives could not avail themselves of the
advantages of the printing press. Communication and trade with foreign
nations were forbidden. All ships found in American waters without license
from Spain were considered enemies. Nobody, not even the Spaniards, could
come to America without the permission of the King, under penalty of loss
of property and even of loss of life. Spaniards, only, could trade, keep
stores or sell goods in the streets. The Indians and mestizos could engage
only in mechanical trades.
Commerce was in the hands of Spain, and taxes were very often prohibitive.
Even domestic commerce, except under license, was forbidden. It was
especially so regarding the commerce between Peru and New Spain, and also
with other colonies. Some regulations forbade Chile and Peru to send their
wines and other products to the colonists of the North. The planting of
vineyards and olive trees was forbidden. The establishment of industry, the
opening of roads and improvements of any kind were very often stopped by
the Government. Charles IV remarked that he did not consider learning
advisable for America.
Americans were often denied the right of public office. Great personal
service or merit was not sufficient to destroy the dishonor and disgrace of
being an American.
The Spanish colonies were divided into vice-royalties and general
captaincies. There were also _audiencias_, which existed under the
vice-royalties and general captaincies. The Indians were put under the care
and protection of Spanish officials called _encomenderos_, but these
in fact, in most cases, were merciless exploiters of the natives who,
furthermore, were subject to many local disabilities. The Kings of Spain
tried to protect the Indians, and many laws were issued tending to spare
them from the ill-treatment of the Spanish colonists. But the distance from
Spain to America was great, and when laws and orders reached the colonies,
they never had the force which they were intended to have when issued.
There existed a general race hatred. The Indians and the mestizos, as a
rule, hated the creoles, or American whites, who often were as bad as, or
even worse than, the Spanish colonists in dealing with the aborigines. It
is not strange, then, that in a conflict between Spain and the colonies,
the natives should take sides against the creoles, who did most of the
thinking, and who were interested and concerned with all the changes
through which the Spanish nation might pass, and that they would help Spain
against the white promoters of the independent movement. This assertion
must be borne in mind to understand the difficulties met by the independent
leaders, who had to fight not only against the Spanish army, which was in
reality never very large, but also against the natives of their own land.
To regard this as an invariable condition would nevertheless lead to error,
for at times, under proper guidance, the natives would pass to the files of
the insurgent leaders and fight against the Spaniards.
Furthermore, it is necessary to remember that education was very limited
in the Spanish colonies; that in some of them printing had not been
introduced, and that its introduction was discouraged by the public
authority; and that public opinion, which even at this time is so poorly
developed, was very frequently poorly informed in colonial times, or
did not exist, unless we call public opinion a mass of prejudices,
superstitions and erroneous habits of thinking fostered by interests,
either personal or of the government.
This was the condition of the Spanish American countries at the beginning
of the nineteenth century, full of agitation and conflicting ideas, when
new plans of life for the people were being elaborated and put into
practice as experiments on which many men founded great hopes and which
many others feared as forerunners of a general social disintegration.
_Bolivar's Early Life. Venezuela's First Attempt to Obtain Self-Government_
Simon Bolivar was born in the city of Caracas on the twenty-fourth day of
July, 1783; his father was don Juan Vicente Bolivar, and his mother, dona
Maria de la Concepcion Palacios y Blanco. His father died when Simon was
still very young, and his mother took excellent care of his education. His
teacher, afterwards his intimate friend, was don Simon Rodriguez, a man of
strange ideas and habits, but constant in his affection and devotion to his
Bolivar's family belonged to the Spanish nobility, and in Venezuela was
counted in the group called Mantuano, or noble. They owned great tracts of
land and lived in comfort, associating with the best people, among whom
they were considered leaders.
The early youth of Bolivar was more or less like that of the other boys of
his city and station, except that he gave evidence of a certain precocity
and nervousness of action and speech which distinguished him as an
enthusiastic and somewhat idealistic boy.
Misfortune taught Bolivar its bitter lessons when he was still young. At
fifteen years of age he lost his mother. Then his uncle and guardian, don
Carlos Palacios, sent him to Madrid to complete his education. The boat on
which he made the trip left La Guaira on January 17, 1799, and stopped at
Vera Cruz. This enabled young Simon Bolivar to go to Mexico City and other
towns of New Spain. In the capital of the colony he was treated in a
manner becoming his social standing, and met the highest officials of the
government. The viceroy had several conversations with him, and admired
his wit; but it finally alarmed him when the boy came to talk on political
questions and, with an assurance superior to his age, defended the freedom
of the American colonies.
Bolivar lived in Madrid with his relatives, and had occasion to be in touch
with the highest members of the court, and even with the King, Charles IV,
and the Queen. There he met a young lady named Maria Teresa Toro, whose
uncle, the Marquis of Toro, lived in Caracas and was a friend of the young
man. He fell in love with her, but as he was only seventeen years old, the
Marquis of Ustariz, who was in charge of Bolivar in Madrid, advised him to
delay his plans for an early marriage.
In 1801 Bolivar went to Paris, where he found Napoleon Bonaparte, as First
Consul, undertaking his greatest labors of social reorganization after
the long period of anarchy through which France had passed following the
Revolution. Bonaparte was one of the most admired men at that time. He
had come back from Egypt and Syria, had been victorious at Marengo and
Hohenlinden, and had just signed the Peace of Luneville. One does not
wonder that Bolivar should admire him and that his letters should contain
many expressions of enthusiasm about the great man of Europe.
In the same year he returned to Madrid and married Maria Teresa Toro,
deciding to go back at once to Venezuela with his wife, to live peacefully,
attending to his own personal business and property. But again fate dealt
him a hard blow and shattered all the dreams and plans of the young man.
His virtuous wife died in January, 1803, ten months after their arrival in
Caracas. He had not yet reached his twenty-first year, and had already lost
father, mother and wife. His nerves became steeled and his heart prepared
for great works, for works requiring the concentration of mind which can be
given only by men who have no intimate human connections or obligations. As
a South American orator lately declared: "Neither Washington nor Bolivar
was destined to have children of his own, so that we Americans might call
ourselves their children."
Bolivar decided immediately to leave for Europe. Nothing could keep him in
his own country. He had loved his wife and his wife only could have led him
to accept a life of ease and comfort. He decided never to marry again and,
perhaps to assuage the pain in his heart, he decided to devote his time
to the study of the great problems of his country, and to bend all his
energies and strength to their solution. At the end of 1803, he was again
in Madrid, giving his wife's father the sad news of their great loss.
[Footnote 1: Atilano Carnevali, on the occasion of placing a wreath before
Washington's statue in Caracas, July 4, 1920.]
From Madrid, Bolivar went to Paris, and was in the city when the Empire
was established. All the admiration the man of the Republic had won from
Bolivar immediately crumbled to dust before the young American. "Since
Napoleon has become a king," said Bolivar, "his glory to me seems like
the brilliancy of hell." He did not attend the ceremony of Napoleon's
coronation, and made him the object of bitter attacks when among his own
friends. He never hesitated to speak of the liberty of America with all his
acquaintances, who enjoyed his conversation in spite of the ideas that he
In the spring of 1805 he went on a walking tour to Italy, with his teacher
and friend, don Simon Rodriguez. In Milan he saw Napoleon crowned as King
of Italy, and then witnessed a great parade passing before the French
Emperor. All these royal ceremonies increased his hatred of monarchy.
From Milan he went to Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples, studying
everything, informing himself of all the currents of public opinion, and
dreaming of what he intended to accomplish for his own people. While in
Rome, he and his teacher went to Mount Aventin. There they denounced in an
intimate talk the oppression of peoples and discussed the liberty of their
native Venezuela. When their enthusiasm had reached its highest pitch, the
young dreamer took the hand of his master, and at that historic spot, he
made a solemn vow to free his country.
From Italy, he came to the United States, where he visited Boston, New
York, Philadelphia and other towns, sailing from Charleston for Venezuela.
He arrived in Caracas at the end of 1806.
Upon his return home, Bolivar devoted himself to the care and improvement
of his estate. Yet his ideas continued to seethe, especially when the
constant spectacle of the state of affairs in Venezuela stimulated this
ferment of his mind.
Among the American colonies, Venezuela was not considered by Spain as one
of the most important. Mexico and Peru, celebrated by their production of
mineral wealth, were those which attracted most of the attention of the
Spaniards. Venezuela was apparently poor, and certainly did not contribute
many remittances of gold and silver to the mother country. It had been
organized as a captaincy general in 1731, after having been governed in
different ways and having had very little communication with Spain. It is
said that from 1706 to 1722, not a single boat sailed from any Venezuelan
port for Spain. Commercial intercourse between the provinces was forbidden,
and local industries could not prosper because the purchase of the products
of Spanish industries was compulsory for the natives, at prices set after
all transportation expenses and high taxes were taken into account. The
colonists were oppressed by taxes and kept in ignorance.
This state of affairs had produced a latent feeling of irritation and a
desire for a change. The native white population read the books of the
French philosophers, especially those of Rousseau and Montesquieu. The
ideas proclaimed by the United States of America and those preached by the
most radical men of the French Revolution were smuggled in and known in
spite of prohibition.
At the middle of the eighteenth century, there had been a movement against
the Compania Guipuzcoana, established about 1730, and which greatly
oppressed the people. This movement failed and its leaders were severely
At the end of the eighteenth century, Spain allied herself with England to
fight against France. This war ended in 1795 with the Treaty of Basel,
by which Spain lost Santo Domingo to France. A year later, Spain allied
herself with France against England, and the disastrous war which followed
resulted in the loss of the island of Trinidad to England, by the Treaty
of Amiens, in 1802. France and England used these possessions to foster
revolutions in the Spanish colonies.
In 1797 a conspiracy was started in Caracas, but it too failed. Some of its
leaders received death sentences, others were expelled from the country and
others were imprisoned. In Mexico, in Peru and in the southernmost part of
the continent, men were working in favor of the idea of freedom.
In Europe, at this time, there was a very prominent Venezuelan, don
Francisco Miranda, who had played an important role in the world events
of that period. Miranda was born in Caracas, came to the North American
colonies, and fought under Washington against the English power. Afterwards
he went to Europe and fought in the armies of revolutionary France,
attaining the rank of general. His friends were among the most
distinguished men in Europe in political position or international
achievement. He talked to them tirelessly, trying to convert them to the
idea of the necessity for emancipating the countries of America. He failed
to receive the attention he desired in England, and came to America. In New
York he prepared an expedition and went to Venezuela, arriving there in
March of 1806, with three boats, some arms, ammunition and men. He found
the Spaniards prepared, and was defeated, losing two of his ships and many
men as prisoners. He escaped with the other boat to Trinidad. In the West
Indies he obtained the help of an English admiral, Sir A. Cochrane, and
with larger forces returned to Venezuela, landing at Coro, which he took
in August, 1806. But there he found the greatest enemy with which he and
Bolivar had to contend, and that was the lack of the sanction of public
opinion. Men whom Miranda had expected to increase his army failed to
appear, and perhaps this indifference was aggravated by the antipathy with
which the natives saw the foreign element which predominated in Miranda's
army. Lacking the support of the people and the reserves which Miranda had
expected to get from the English colony of Jamaica, he withdrew and went to
London, altogether discouraged.
At that time great changes had occurred in Spain. Charles IV, its weak
monarch, saw the French army invading his country under the pretense of
going to Portugal, and feared that Napoleon would end by wresting the
Spanish throne from him. If he allied himself with Napoleon, England
could easily seize America, and should he ally himself with England, he
would make an enemy of Napoleon, who already was in possession of Spain
itself. The Crown Prince of Spain, Fernando, was intriguing against his
father, and Charles IV had him imprisoned. Then it was discovered that
the Prince was in treacherous relations with the ministers of Napoleon.
The King complained to the French Emperor, who persuaded him to forgive
and release his son. Meanwhile, the French army was advancing into Spain
while the English were fomenting among the Spanish people the hatred for
the French. The latter availed themselves of their advantageous position
and, feeling sure of their strength in Spanish lands, demanded from the
Court the cession of the northern section of Spain contiguous to
Portugal. Rumors ran wild in the Court, and it was even said that the
monarch and his family would leave Spain for Mexico. A favorite of the
King, named Manuel Godoy, received the greatest blame for this
situation, and Fernando, the Crown Prince, being the main antagonist of
Godoy, was regarded as the champion of Spanish right and was loved by
the Spanish people. The people rose and demanded that Godoy should be
delivered to them. In March, 1808, the King abdicated and Fernando was
proclaimed King. But the abdication was insincere, and Charles IV wrote
to Napoleon that he had been compelled to take that action, certain that
if he did not do so, he and the Queen would perish. Not content with
this communication, Charles IV went to Bayonne to meet Napoleon, where
his son Fernando had been invited by Napoleon to meet him. There one of
the most disgraceful episodes in Spanish history occurred. Fernando
renounced his rights to his father, and then his father renounced his
rights and those of his family to Napoleon and to whomever he might
select to rule. Napoleon immediately made his brother Joseph King of
Spain. This occurred in May, 1808. The Spanish people had never been
taken into consideration in all these dealings. But they wanted to be
considered and they decided that they would be. Murat was governor in
Madrid, and on May 2 the people rebelled against him. Great ensued.
Though the rebellion was suppressed, the fire burning in the Spanish
soul was not extinguished. Everywhere _juntas provinciales_ (provincial
assemblies) were organized against the intruder; they allied themselves
with England and declared that Fernando VII was the legitimate King of
Spain and that the nation was at war with France. In order to unify the
actions of the different juntas, a central junta was established in
Aranjuez on September 25, 1808.
All these events had a tremendous effect in the American colonies. News
was received in Venezuela of the abdication of Charles and Fernando, with
orders to the colonies to recognize the new government. But at the same
time an English boat sent by Admiral Cochrane arrived, and announced to the
Venezuelan authorities the establishment of the juntas and the organization
of resistance to the French. The authorities concluded to obey the orders
brought by the French messengers, but the people rose in Caracas as in
Spain, went to the city council and forced it to proclaim Fernando VII
the legitimate monarch of Spain, thus starting a revolution, which in its
inception had all the appearance of loyalty to the reigning house of Spain,
but which very soon was transformed into a real movement of emancipation.
Some days later the city council asked the governor to establish a junta
in Caracas, similar to those already established in Spain. The Spanish
authorities wanted to have recognized the supremacy of the junta assembled
in Seville, Spain, which had assumed the name of Supreme Junta of Spain and
her Colonies. The Venezuelans insisted that they should have a junta in
Caracas, and in order to foster this idea the most prominent leaders of
public thought met secretly at the house of Simon Bolivar. Most of the
conspirators were young men, united by strong ties of friendship or family.
Among them were the Marquis of Toro and don Jose Felix Ribas, a relative of
Bolivar, two very distinguished men. The meetings were sometimes held at
the house of Ribas. It was not long before they were discovered. They
determined to petition for the establishment of a junta in Caracas. The
authorities ordered them to be put into prison; and in spite of their
efforts, the Supreme Junta of Spain and her Colonies was recognized in
January, 1809. The Junta Central declared in that same month that all
the Spanish colonies formed part of the Spanish monarchy itself, which
statement apparently was a declaration of equality. However, in fact, it
was not so, since the elections of deputies to the junta were not to be
made by the people but by the captain general, advised by the city council.
The representation was also very disproportionate. The deputies for Spain
were to number 36 while those for America only 12.
In May of that year, a new captain general, don Vicente Emparan, arrived in
Venezuela. This man was more imperious than his predecessors had been, and
immediately alienated the good will of the city council and the audiencia.
He set up still greater obstacles to commerce, sent many prominent men into
exile, declared criminals those who received printed matter from abroad,
and established an organized system of espionage.
In 1810, when Emparan was exercising his power with the strongest hand, the
patriots were meeting in the country wherever they could under different
pretexts, in order to organize themselves and to work for their ideals.
Bolivar was on the point of being exiled; many prominent men were either
imprisoned or sent out of Caracas. The French armies seemed to conquer all
opposition in Spain, and the Junta Central had been forced to take refuge
in Cadiz. Rumors were circulated that Cadiz had fallen into the hands of
the French. Then the patriots decided to wait no longer, and Bolivar, Ribas
and other friends planned to take immediate steps.
On the morning of April 19, 1810, Holy Thursday, the city council assembled
to attend the religious services in the cathedral, and Emparan was invited
to be present. Before leaving for the service, the council told the
governor that it was necessary to establish in Venezuela a government of
its own in order to defend the country and the rights of the legitimate
monarch. The governor answered that he would consider the matter after the
service, and left the council. On arriving at the church he was stopped by
a patriot called Francisco Salias who asked him to return to the council,
declaring that the public welfare so required. Emparan saw that the troops
were not ready to support him and, willingly or not, went back to the
hall, where he yielded to everything that was proposed to him. Emparan was
deposed and the first locally chosen government of Spanish America was
established. The principle that the provinces of America possessed the
right of self-government, since no general government existed, was
_The Declaration of Independence, July 5, 1811. Miranda's Failure_
The first acts of the Junta were acts of moderation and wisdom. Emparan and
other Spanish authorities were expelled from the country. The Spaniards
were assured that they would be treated as brothers, with the same
consideration as all Americans. The Junta sent notice of this movement to
the other countries of the continent in the following lofty words:
"Venezuela has placed herself in the number of free nations, and
hastens to give advice of this event to her neighbors so that, if the
aspirations of the new world are in accord with hers, they might give
her help in the great and very difficult career she has undertaken.
'Virtue and moderation' have been our motto. 'Fraternity, union and
generosity' should be yours, so that these great principles combined
may accomplish the great work of raising America to the political
dignity which so rightly belongs to her."
The tributes formerly paid by the Indians were abolished. The alcabala, an
excessive tax on sales, was also suppressed. The introduction of slaves was
forbidden. Different branches of the government were organized.
One of the first works of the Junta was to send emissaries to the several
provinces of the old captaincy general to invite them to unite with Caracas
in the movement. It was the first government of Spanish America to initiate
diplomatic missions abroad. Among her envoys we find Simon Bolivar
representing Venezuela at London.
Most of the provinces followed the example given by Caracas, but some of
them did not take that action, and among these were Coro and Maracaibo,
which exercised powerful influence against the movement for liberty. The
emissaries who went to Maracaibo were even sent to Porto Rico to be tried
there as rebels and were sentenced to prison in that colony.
Among the diplomatic representatives, some were well received and some
were ignored. Bolivar was very highly praised by the London authorities,
although he could obtain no substantial assistance because of a treaty of
alliance then existing between England and Spain. Bolivar worked not only
as a diplomat, but he also wrote and published articles of propaganda
to acquire friends for the cause he represented, and from the first his
influence was felt all over the continent, especially when he was able to
give substantial help to the representatives from Buenos Aires, who went to
London to secure the alliance and friendship of England.
The attitude of Venezuela was not only generous and conciliatory, but it
was even inspired by a great regard for Spain. The junta declared itself
ready to send help to Spain in her fight against the intruder, and also
offered the Venezuelan soil as a refuge for those who might despair of the
salvation and freedom of the mother country. The Council of Regency which
had been established in Spain, instead of thanking Venezuela for her offer,
declared the Venezuelans insurgents, rebels and traitors, and submitted the
province of Caracas to a strict blockade. This decision on the part of the
Council served to arouse the Venezuelans and to change the ends of the
movement. The sea became infested with privateers and pirates and, within
the country, royalist agencies promoted war and insurrection. Towns which
had declared themselves in favor of the Junta were destroyed by the
royalists, and everywhere the situation was very difficult for all who
had expressed any sympathy with the new regime. Nevertheless, the new
authorities persevered in their purpose to show loyalty to Fernando
VII, and tried by all means to avoid bloodshed. Even with regard to the
governors of Coro and Maracaibo, Caracas tried persuasion rather than
force. The uncompromising attitude of the Regency, however, indicated
clearly that the Venezuelans could not expect to effect any agreement with
Spain. Bolivar, thinking that he could be more useful in his own country
than in London, decided to return to Venezuela, but he did not go back
alone. We have mentioned before that General Miranda was then living in
London. Bolivar invited him to return to Venezuela to help the cause of
freedom, for he deemed him the ablest man to lead the movement. He gave him
the hospitality of his own home and praised him generously, increasing his
Miranda was very well received, and the Junta at once appointed
him Lieutenant General. At that time the Venezuelans were electing
representatives to Congress, and Miranda was elected deputy from one of the
cities of the East. Congress entered into session March 2nd with forty-four
members, representing seven provinces, and its very first decision was to
appoint three men to exercise the executive power and a council to sit for
purposes of consultation. Thus the first autonomous government in Latin
America was established.
There were several factors active in the creation of public opinion: the
press was free, and popular orators held meetings in which they spoke of
the new ideas and tried to prepare the people for the new institutions.
Special mention should be made of the Sociedad Patriotica (Patriotic
Society) whose promoters and leaders were Miranda and Bolivar. This
association worked constantly for absolute freedom, putting forward as
an example the independence of the North American colonies. Some
representatives distrusted the association, considering it as a rival of
Congress, but Bolivar relieved their fears by an inspired address delivered
on July 3, 1811, which might be considered as the beginning of his career
as a great orator. He denounced the apathy of the deputies, denied that
there were two congresses, and among other things said:
"What do we care if Spain submits to Napoleon Bonaparte, if we have
decided to be free? Let us without fear lay the corner-stone of South
American freedom. To hesitate is to die."
Obeying these feelings, the association sent a memorandum to Congress,
which was read on July 4, 1811. The following day this assembly proclaimed
the independence of Venezuela. The document contained an exposition of the
wrongs suffered by the colony, a decision to live and to die free, and the
pledge of seven provinces to sacrifice the lives and fortunes of their
inhabitants in this great work. On that same day the national flag of
Venezuela was adopted, one containing three horizontal stripes: yellow,
blue and red.
Up to this time the revolution had been peaceful and bloodless, but now
the royalists of Valencia, a very important city to the west of Caracas,
rebelled against the new institutions and asked help from the governors of
Coro and Maracaibo. Miranda besieged and took the city, Bolivar fighting
on his side. Insurrections broke out in other places and were speedily
repressed. In some cities the new state of affairs was welcomed with great
joy. The obvious political needs became the object of study of the new
Congress. From the beginning the federal system and the central system
appeared in opposition. Bolivar was opposed to the federation, arguing that
the people of Venezuela were still ignorant and unable to understand the
obligations of a federation. At last the partisans of the federation
movement were victorious, and Venezuela adopted a federal constitution, in
which the most advanced principles with regard to individual rights were
incorporated. The epoch of independence was to be called the Colombian
epoch, and the first country to free itself from the bond of Spain was to
be called Colombia. Colombia (from the name of Columbus) was an ideal of
the South American patriots, and the greatest apostle of this ideal was
Bolivar, as will be readily seen by this study. Valencia was selected as
the capital, and in this city the government established itself on March 1,
The work of organizing the new government did not interrupt the royalist
activity in Venezuela nor the preparations made by Spain to suppress the
revolution. The East and the Orinoco valley were in constant agitation,
and we have seen that in the West, Coro and Maracaibo were on the side
of Spain, and their governors ready to send help to the enemies of
independence. Domingo Monteverde, a Spanish naval officer, had arrived in
Coro as a member of a Spanish contingent, and when the governor learned
that a royalist conspiracy was being prepared in a town called Siquisique,
he organized an expedition and gave command of the troops to Monteverde,
with instructions to help the conspirators. At that place more men joined
his troops. Transgressing the orders he had received, which were only
to occupy the town, Monteverde constituted himself head of the army and
advanced to fight the insurgents. Luck was undeservedly on his side. On
March 23, 1812, he defeated a small body of patriots.
The news of this defeat added to the effect of a natural catastrophe, which
came directly on the heels of it, and which was painted by the fanatic
royalists as a punishment of Heaven for the uprising. In the afternoon of
March 26, at a moment when the churches were filled with people, for it was
Holy Thursday, there occurred a violent earthquake in Venezuela. Caracas,
La Guaira and many other towns were reduced to ruins, and some small
dwellings entirely disappeared. It was pointed out that the towns punished
by the earthquake were those that had shown themselves as favoring
independence. Whole bodies of troops were buried. In a church of Caracas,
the coat-of-arms of Spain had been painted on one of the pillars, and the
earthquake destroyed the whole building with the exception of that one
pillar. Orators went out into the streets to proclaim that this was
unmistakably the result of divine anger because of the rebellion of the
people against Fernando VII, "the anointed of God."
In this cataclysm, Bolivar distinguished himself in Caracas, going hither
and thither among the ruins, counteracting with his words the effect of the
speeches of the royalists and assisting to dig out of the debris corpses
and the wounded, giving the latter first aid.
The advance of Monteverde was substantially helped by this earthquake. Many
soldiers of the patriots' army had died in their armories and others
on their way to fight the enemy and on parade grounds. All the patriot
government had was reduced to practically nothing in a moment. Monteverde
continued to advance eastward, and took the important town of Barquisimeto,
where he received a large contingent of men, who flocked to him fearful of
the divine anger. His lieutenants were meeting with success in different
fields and he himself soon entered the city of San Carlos.
On the 4th of April, there occurred a second earthquake which lasted eight
hours, and which destroyed the little remaining courage of those who were
not heart and soul with the movement of emancipation.
[Illustration: MAP TO FOLLOW BOLIVAR'S CAMPAIGNS
(The boundary lines of Colombia are taken from Codazzi's Atlas, 1821-1823.
The other boundaries are taken from Rand McNally's Atlas, 1919.) **note:
illustration spans two pages.]
In the midst of these difficulties, the executive power appointed General
Francisco Miranda supreme commander of all the forces of the Republic, on
land and sea, and the government withdrew from Valencia to the town of La
Victoria, situated between Valencia and Caracas. Miranda went to Caracas to
obtain some resources, and while there associated Bolivar with him in the
army. Later, Miranda sent him to Puerto Cabello, while Monteverde seized
Valencia, the capital of the country.
Various events continued to favor Monteverde, and when Miranda came back
to besiege Valencia, Monteverde was so successful that the independent
military commander saw himself forced to take a defensive attitude instead
of an offensive one. From that moment, Miranda committed error after error,
all of which resulted in victories for the fortunate Spanish leader. The
patriots grew distrustful of their chief, who withdrew to La Victoria.
There he was attacked by Monteverde, but defeated him. This victory availed
the patriots little, for Miranda did not want to abandon his defensive
position. He had 12,000 men and could have destroyed his enemy, but he
preferred to wait. Meanwhile, Bolivar was requesting help to defend Puerto
Cabello, where there were deposited many provisions, and also to attack
Monteverde by the rear. Miranda refused assistance. Monteverde, upon being
defeated in a second attack on La Victoria, withdrew in the direction of
Puerto Cabello. Already one of the forts had hoisted the Spanish flag.
Monteverde was successful, and Bolivar sailed for La Guaira. The loss of
Puerto Cabello, and other facts which need not be mentioned here, decided
Miranda to capitulate, at a time when he was still stronger than his enemy.
The capitulation was ratified in La Victoria by Miranda on the 25th of
July, 1812. The following day Monteverde occupied the city and on the 30th
he entered Caracas.
All the patriots denounced Miranda for the capitulation, which meant the
dissolution of the army and the abandonment of all the elements which had
so raised their hopes.
Bolivar, who, ignorant of the capitulation, had arrived in Caracas on
his way to join Miranda, decided to return to La Guaira and to emigrate,
resolved never to submit to the Spanish rule. Before departing, he issued a
proclamation denouncing emphatically the action of Miranda, and the conduct
of Monteverde who had transgressed the laws of war by encouraging the
barbarous actions of the undisciplined crowds which, in the interior of
the country, were committing all kinds of atrocities. Monteverde had also
violated the articles of the capitulation stipulating that the lives and
properties of the inhabitants should be respected and that there should
follow a general oblivion of all past actions.
Bolivar was in La Guaira when Miranda arrived there with many other
officers who were escaping persecution from Monteverde. The generalissimo
intended to remain in La Guaira that night, sailing from there the
following day. That evening the most prominent men of the city assembled
and denounced the supreme commander for his conduct. Among the most bitter
judges of Miranda was Bolivar, the man who had asked the London exile to
return to Venezuela to work for liberty in his country. The word treachery
was uttered and all agreed to imprison Miranda, a culpable action performed
on the morning of July 31. That same day the port of La Guaira was closed
by order of Monteverde, and the most distinguished patriots who fell into
his hands were sent to prison, and cruel persecutions were exercised
everywhere. A committee of public safety was established and immediately
the prisons of Caracas and Puerto Cabello were filled with men, many of
whom died of suffocation. Into a dungeon in Puerto Cabello, a Spaniard
threw five flasks of alkali, thus causing the death by asphyxiation of all
the prisoners locked there.
The properties of the leading citizens were seized. It was enough to have
means of comfortable livelihood to be denounced as an enemy of Spain. The
most peaceful men were dragged from their homes, and the tears of wives and
children never moved to pity Monteverde's agents.
Miranda, a prisoner in Puerto Cabello, appealed in vain to the audiencia
against these crimes. From Puerto Cabello he was sent to Porto Rico and
finally to Cadiz, where he was locked in a fortress called la Carraca.
There he died on July 14, 1816, his remains being thrown with the corpses
of common criminals. Such was the end of the noble man who had been the
guest of Catherine II of Russia, a soldier of Washington and a general of
the French Republic. He spent his last days in a dungeon, chained to
the wall like a dog. Venezuela has erected in the Pantheon of Caracas a
beautiful marble monument in the shape of a coffin, the cover of which is
held open by the claws of a majestic eagle, waiting for the remains of the
great Venezuelan, who committed errors, it is true, but whose devotion to
his country has never been doubted and whose martyrdom, and the fortitude
with which he bore it, place him among the noblest characters of history.
Bolivar remained in La Guaira for a short while, but inactivity was
distasteful. Through the efforts of a Spanish friend, he obtained a
passport from Monteverde and left the port for Curacao at the end of
This action marks the end of the first part of Bolivar's life, his restless
youth, the preparation for struggles through sorrow and patient study, his
military training under Miranda, and the clarification in his mind of the
supreme purposes to which he was going to devote his life, no longer in a
secondary position, but as a leader, a commanding figure on the American
_Bolivar's First Expedition. The Cruelty of War_
After the entrance of Monteverde in Caracas and the ensuing persecutions,
all Venezuela could be considered as reconquered for Spain, and it seemed
that all was lost for the cause of independence. The disobedience of
Monteverde, who, as we have remarked before, had no instructions to
continue the campaign, had been forgiven and rewarded, for it had been
sanctioned by success. Until the end of 1812, Caracas was treated
high-handedly and was very cruelly punished for all interest it had
manifested in, and all support it had given to, the cause of independence.
Bolivar joined some patriots in Curacao, where he remained until October
in the company of his relative and loyal friend, Jose Felix Ribas. He then
sailed for Cartagena, a city of New Granada which at that time was free
from Spain, and offered his service to the Republican government of that
city. Bolivar was made colonel under a Frenchman called Pedro Labatut.
In Cartagena, Bolivar continued to write, supporting his idea that the only
salvation for the colonies lay in war with Spain. At the end of that year
he published a memorandum of so great importance that it can be considered
as the first real revelation of his true genius. He explained the reasons
for the defeat of Venezuela, and set them forth as a lesson of the urgent
need of unity and firmness on the part of the American colonies. He
denounced the weakness of the first government, evidenced in the treatment
accorded Coro, which was not conquered immediately, but was permitted to
be fortified so as to defy the whole federation and finally to destroy it.
Recognizing the lack of friendly public opinion, he denounced the junta for
not being ready to free the "stupid peoples who do not know the value of
"The codes consulted by our magistrates," he wrote, "were not those
which could teach them the practical science of government, but those
formed by certain idealists who build republics in the air and try to
obtain political perfection, presupposing the perfection of the human
race, in such a way that we have philosophers as leaders, philanthropy
instead of law, dialectic instead of tactics, and sophists instead of
soldiers. With this subversion of things, social order was shaken
up, and from its very beginning advanced with rapid strides towards
universal dissolution, which very soon was effected."
He emphasized the necessity for regular soldiers, trained to fight and
experienced enough to know that a single defeat does not mean the loss of
all hope, and that "ability and constancy correct misfortune." He denounced
the misuse of public funds and declared himself against state paper money
not guaranteed, pointing out that such a currency was a clear violation
of the right of property, since men who had objects of real value had
to exchange them for paper, the price of which was uncertain and even
imaginary. Acknowledging that the federal system was the best, he declared
that it was the most inadequate for the good of the new states. He added
"as yet our fellow citizens are not in a condition fully to exercise
their rights, for they lack the political virtues which characterise
a true republic, and which cannot be acquired under an absolute
government where the rights and obligations of citizens are ignored."
In another part he said,
"It is necessary that the government identify itself, so to speak, with
the circumstances, times and men surrounding it. If they are prosperous
and calm, the government must be mild and protective, but if they are
calamitous and turbulent, the government must show itself terrible and
must arm itself with a firmness equal to the dangers, without paying
heed to laws or constitution, until peace is reestablished."
Bolivar well understood the character of his people when he declared
"Public elections performed by the ignorant peasants and by the
intriguing inhabitants of the city are an obstacle to the practice of
federation among us, because the former are so ignorant that
vote like machines, and the latter are so ambitious that they make
everything into factions. For these reasons Venezuela has never k
a free and reasonable election and the government has fallen into the
hands of men, either opposed to the cause, weak or immoral. Partisan
spirit decided everything and, consequently, it disorganized us more
than circumstances did. Our divisions, and not the Spanish Army,
brought us back to slavery."
Summarizing the causes of the fall of Venezuela, he attributed it in
the first place to the nature of its constitution; secondly, to the
discouragement of the government and people; thirdly, to the opposition
to the establishment of a regular military organization; fourthly, to
earthquakes and superstitions strengthened by those calamities, and fifthly
and lastly to
"the internal dissensions, which, in fact, were the deadly poison which
carried the country to its doom."
Then he appealed with persuasive eloquence to Nueva Granada for help,
arguing that it was indispensable for Nueva Granada to reobtain the freedom
of Caracas, pointing out that as Coro, as an enemy, had been enough to
destroy the whole of Venezuela, so Venezuela as a center of Spanish
power would suffice to recover Nueva Granada for the Spanish crown. The
possession of Caracas by Spain was a danger for all Spanish America. Then
he showed the possibility of a military undertaking, starting from Nueva
Granada, and expressed his faith that thousands of valiant patriots would
join the ranks of the army of liberty as soon as it set foot in Venezuela.
He gave the details of the proposed campaign, and finished with a most
eloquent and forceful appeal in the following words:
"The honor of Nueva Granada imperatively requires the punishment of the
daring invaders, their persecution to the last trenches. Her glory will
be the undertaking of going to Venezuela, and freeing the birthplace
of Colombian independence and its martyrs, and that worthy people of
Caracas, whose clamors are addressed to their beloved fellow patriots
of Nueva Granada, for whom they are waiting with deadly impatience as
for their redeemers. Let us hasten to break the chains of those victims
who moan in the dungeons, ever expecting their salvation from you. Do
not betray their confidence, do not be heedless of the lamentations of
your brothers. Be eager to avenge the dead, to bring back to life the
dying, to relieve the oppressed and to give liberty to all."
This noteworthy document was published in Cartagena, on December 15, 1812,
and presents Bolivar as he was in the maturity of his life, as a thinker,
apostle, general, and practical statesman; it shows him as the man destined
to give liberty to five countries. This proclamation is the first full
display of Bolivar's genius.
Bolivar was sent to command a small place where he had to be inactive. He
prepared an expedition against the city of Tenerife, considered one of the
strongest in Nueva Granada and which prevented the free navigation of the
Magdalena River. He left with only 400 men and seized the castle abandoned
by the garrison, thus obtaining some artillery, boats and war material.
Following his success, the government of Cartagena placed him in full
command of his own army and gave him orders to conquer the upper Magdalena.
Bolivar accomplished this with only 500 men, freeing the east bank of
the river. When he arrived at Ocana, he was received amidst the greatest
enthusiasm. He had won five victories in five days.
The Congress of Nueva Granada was holding its meetings in the city of
Tunja. Bolivar got in touch with it and received instructions to lead an
expedition against Cucuta and Pamplona. He started out with 400 men and
a few spare rifles to arm patriots who might join the ranks. With the
greatest alacrity he advanced, defeating several detachments on the way. He
finally attacked the city of Cucuta, where 800 royalists were awaiting the
attack of his men. On the 28th of February, after a bloody fight, Bolivar
took the city and considerably increased his supply of war implements.
The royalists occupying Pamplona and neighboring towns evacuated their
possessions upon learning of the defeat of the royalists of Cucuta. On
sending communications to the governor of Cartagena, Bolivar dated them in
the city of "Cucuta delivered" (libertada). His habit of adding the word
"libertada" to the cities captured from the royalists contributed greatly
to his later receiving the name of "Libertador," by which he is most
generally known in history.
As soon as he entered Venezuelan territory, he declared that on that very
day Venezuela had returned to life. Addressing the soldiers, he said:
"In less than two months you have carried out two campaigns and have
begun a third one, which commences here and which must end in the
country which gave me life."
He regarded his two previous campaigns merely as an introduction to the
third, and most important for him, whose supreme ambition was to obtain
once again the freedom of Venezuela. At the close of the address to the
soldiers, we find these words:
"All America expects its liberty and salvation from you, brave soldiers
of Cartagena and of the Union." (The Union of Nueva Granada.)
These words indicate that he was thinking not in local terms, but in terms
of Greater America.
The government of the Union promoted him to the rank of brigadier general
and conferred upon him the honorary title of citizen of Nueva Granada. He
asked immediate authority to use the troops of the Union to continue
his march, until he could recover the ruins of Caracas. To convince the
government he repeated the arguments put forth in the proclamation of
Cartagena, tending to prove that the freedom of Venezuela was essential
to the continued liberty of Nueva Granada. He insisted so eloquently
on receiving permission to advance, that at last he obtained it, with
authorization to occupy the southwestern provinces of Venezuela: Merida and
Trujillo. In thanking the executive power for this privilege, he evidenced
his confidence in his future triumph by the following words, addressed to
"I ask Your Excellency to send the answer to this communication to
Trujillo: I shall receive it there."
Bolivar started his campaign from San Cristobal on the 15th of May, 1813,
with 800 men. The royalists had 15,000 and sufficient resources to equip
6,000 additional men. The work of the young warrior seemed a dream; perhaps
no wise general would have undertaken that campaign, but Bolivar was above
common wisdom; he had the power of making the most beautiful dreams come
true. Among the men who accompanied him were many who have received the
greatest honors history can confer. Two of them may be noted here, for we
shall have occasion to mention them again very soon; they are Atanasio
Girardot and Antonio Ricaurte.
Upon his approach to Merida, the royalists, numbering 1,000, left the city,
and Bolivar took it on the 30th of May without any opposition. He was
received with enthusiasm as the liberator of Venezuela. The general began
at once to attend to the organization of the emancipated territory, and
to increase the strength of his army. He sent some men to attack the
retreating Spaniards, and Girardot to occupy the province of Trujillo. The
royalists escaped to Maracaibo and, on the 14th of June, Bolivar was in
Trujillo, reorganizing the province. From there he sent Girardot to pursue
On the next day Bolivar took an action which has been the subject of many
debates, and which some writers consider is the one stain in the career of
the great man of the South. We must devote a few lines to frank discussion
of this subject, not neglecting to declare immediately that in our minds
there has never been the slightest doubt that Bolivar was right in his
conduct, and that a different action would have been the height of folly.
Bolivar proclaimed "War to Death to the Spaniards," considering the conduct
of Monteverde, the savage crimes committed in the interior cities of
Venezuela, the many instances in which the Spanish authorities had shown an
utter disrespect for the sanctity of treaties and the lives and properties
of enemies who had surrendered, and even of peaceful natives, these acts
coupled with documents like the proclamation published by a Spanish
governor of a province in which he stated that his troops would not
give quarter to those who surrendered. The documents proving that this
proclamation had been issued were received by Bolivar in Trujillo. In
Bolivar's mind this idea was a permanent obsession: "Americans are dying
because they are Americans, whether or not they fight for American
freedom." He took into account the long list of crimes committed, the
harmless citizens, women and children who had died, the barbarous
asphyxiation of the prisoners in Puerto Cabello, the horrors committed on
the peaceful inhabitants of Caracas, and even the atrocities perpetrated by
the royalist armies in Mexico and other parts of the continent. He recalled
the leniency and mercy of the first independent government of Venezuela
and the cruelty of the Spanish authorities, and thought, not only of the
reprisals necessary to punish and, if possible, to stop these cruel deeds,
but also of the salutary effect of a rigorous attitude on hesitating men,
and the necessity that those who had not taken part on one side or another
should declare themselves immediately, whether they sympathized with and
were ready to help the cause of liberty, or favored a foreign regime.
He was still in Merida when in a proclamation he spoke of avenging the
victims, and threatened with war to death. But Bolivar was not only a man
of genius but one of equanimity, poise, deep thought and attention. He did
not want to carry out his threats immediately, but decided to think at
length over the transcendent step he was considering. The night of the 14th
of June was a night of torture for the Liberator. On the morning of the
15th he himself wrote the decree of _War to Death_, and then called for an
assembly of his officers to hear their opinions of this decree. Not one
of them dissented. At the close of the meeting Bolivar signed the
proclamation, in which these terrible words appeared:
"Spaniards and Natives of the Canary Islands: Be sure of death even
if you are indifferent. Americans: Be sure of life even if you are
[Footnote 1: Many of the natives of the Canary Islands had distinguished
themselves by their cruelty against the independents in Venezuela.]
The law of war is a terrible law, and Bolivar could not but take this step,
unless he preferred to wage a losing fight.
As a measure of legitimate reprisal and as a measure of wisdom in warfare,
the War to Death decree is fully justifiable.
Regarding it as a reprisal, let us mention only two or three facts. When
Monteverde learned of the asphyxiation of the prisoners in Puerto Cabello,
he wrote to the commander of the port:
"I strongly recommend that your activity on this point be not slackened
(the expulsion of foreigners from Puerto Cabello), nor on that of the
safe-keeping of the prisoners in the dungeons. If any one is to die,
that is his fate."
On the plains some towns were entirely destroyed by bands of assassins.
Women and children were the victims of the royalists in a number of cities.
There were occasions where men and women of all ages had their ears cut
off, were skinned alive, or in other ways cruelly tortured. A Spaniard
called Boves distinguished himself among the worst criminals. He
systematically organized the work of destroying Americans. His theory was
that no American should live, and he simply destroyed them mechanically,
for he thought that that was the only thing to do with them. Bolivar,
himself, in a letter sent to the governor of Curacao on October 2, 1813,
makes the most eloquent exposition of facts, and shows clearly the reasons
he had for the decree of War to Death.
Still, Bolivar did not carry out the decree of War to Death immediately,
nor did he do so constantly. Whenever he found any opportunity to exercise
mercy, he did so; and when he was forced to let the severity of this law
fall upon his enemy, there was generally an immediate reason for his
action. In San Carlos, a few days after the issuance of this decree, when
addressing the Spaniards and the Natives of the Canary Islands, he said:
"For the last time, Spaniards and Natives of the Canary Islands, listen
to the voice of justice and clemency. If you prefer our cause to that
of tyrants, you will be forgiven and will enjoy your property,
and honor; but if you persist in being our enemies, withdraw from our
country or prepare to die."
Several proofs are recorded of his clemency in spite of his threats; but
at last, when he saw that there was no other way to bring the royalists to
terms, he ordered that war be waged mercilessly.
_Bolivar's First Victories_
The Congress of Nueva Granada had ordered Bolivar to take Trujillo and
there to await new instructions. It was reluctant to permit him to advance,
because the patriots in Nueva Granada found themselves in a difficult
position. Bolivar wrote them, showing the necessity of his advancing
immediately, in order to prevent the enemy from discovering the reduced
size of his army and destroying it. His plan was to advance steadily
against the royalists, to destroy them, and thus secure the freedom of
Nueva Granada. Finally, the Congress yielded.
Bolivar's situation was an exceedingly dangerous one. There was a
good-sized royalist army to his right, while to his left were the old
hostile cities of Maracaibo and Coro. Before him was Monteverde with the
men who had helped him to conquer Venezuela and with an abundant supply
of war material. He became so impatient that he advanced without having
received an answer to his last communication to Congress, crossed the Andes
and, on the first of July, took the city of Guanare. Meanwhile, General
Ribas, following Bolivar's orders, also advanced, meeting a detachment of
royalists sent to cut off Bolivar's retreat. Ribas had less than half as
many men as his opponent, but he was a man of the stamp of his leader, and
on the same day that Bolivar entered Guanare he attacked the enemy. When
his limited supply of ammunition was exhausted, he fought with the bayonet,
and succeeded in completely destroying his foes. This battle occurred in a
town called Niquitao, and is considered one of the most brilliant battles
of the War of Independence.
Bolivar continued his rapid advance to the city of Barinas, and found it
abandoned by the royalists, who had left behind artillery and ammunition.
He ordered his trusted Girardot to continue the prosecution of the enemy,
but they made their escape towards Venezuelan Guiana (Guayana) by means of
one of the tributaries of the Orinoco, leaving behind them a path marked
with crimes and depredations.
Once in possession of Barinas, Bolivar reorganized the province, created
his first troops of cavalry, instilled enthusiasm in the population and
prepared himself for new steps in his brilliant career. To Ribas, he
entrusted the defeat of some 1,500 royalists whose position might hinder
his progress. With only one-third this number of men, Ribas encountered and
destroyed the enemy on the plains of Los Horcones, which victory, together
with that at Niquitao, did much for the success of the whole campaign.
Leaving a detachment in Barinas, Bolivar advanced to San Carlos, which he
entered on the 28th of July, and then continued onward towards Valencia.
While Bolivar was advancing from the western border towards the heart
of his country, very important events were taking place in the eastern
extremity. A young man named don Diego Marino, after having made
preparations in the Island of Trinidad to fight against the Spanish
domination in his country, entered Venezuela and advanced to the city of
Cumana. There is a striking similarity in the lives and labors of Bolivar
and Marino. Both were young, both were animated by the same hatred of
tyranny and the same love for independence; both knew how to arouse
enthusiasm in their followers and both displayed the greatest devotion to
their friends; both were inspired by the same ambition for glory and
honor, and both realized a very important part of the first liberation of
Monteverde attacked Marino and met with disaster, being compelled to
withdraw to Caracas, where he learned of the victories of Bolivar in the
West. He immediately prepared to go personally to Valencia to stop the
advance of the independents. There he was informed of the latest triumph of
Bolivar advanced, destroyed in Taguanes a strong army sent to check
him, and continued his march toward Valencia, prepared to meet a strong
resistance on the part of Monteverde. Great indeed was his surprise when he
found that Monteverde had escaped toward Puerto Cabello during the night,
leaving everything to the mercy of the conqueror.
From Valencia, the victor went to Caracas, where he granted an honorable
capitulation to the city, offering passports to the Spanish soldiers and
officers and permitting them to evacuate the town in the most dignified
way. Upon his arrival in Caracas, Bolivar. found that soldiers and
officers, as well as about six thousand persons who considered themselves
guilty, had already escaped to La Guaira, confident that Bolivar would act
as Monteverde had done in the past.
August 6th, 1813, marks the entrance of Bolivar in Caracas, the end of the
campaign which he had begun with 500 men,--his first campaign as a general,
one in which he fought six pitched battles, covered a distance of 1,200
kilometers, destroyed five hostile armies, captured 50 pieces of artillery
and three ammunition depots, and reconquered all the western part of
Venezuela, while Eastern Venezuela had been recovered by Marino. All this
was done within ninety days, and established forever the reputation of
Bolivar as one of the most distinguished generals in history.
Caracas received him with the highest honors. The most beautiful young
ladies of the city, dressed in white, brought flowers and branches of
laurel to the conqueror; church bells were rung; flowers were strewn in his
path. Bolivar, with his usual energy, set to work at once to reestablish
order and to arrange to continue operations against La Guaira. He issued
a proclamation announcing the rebirth of the Republic, and expressing his
gratitude to Nueva Granada, to whom Venezuela owed the beginning of this
undertaking. In order to avoid the necessity of fulfilling his decree of
War to Death, he sent messengers to Puerto Cabello to ask Monteverde to
ratify the convention by which he granted life to all Spaniards caught in
Caracas or on their way to La Guaira, but Monteverde refused, explaining
that he did not want to have any dealings with the insurgents.
As soon as the most urgent work of organization was finished, Bolivar, who
had sent cordial congratulations to Marino, went himself to conduct the
siege of Puerto Cabello.
At that period, when his glory was at its greatest splendor, he made the
first public declaration by which the world could know that he had no
personal ambition. He, who in his youth had enjoyed all the comforts
and pleasures of life; who had had, in various parts of Venezuela,
vast estates, slaves which he had set free, and all kinds of personal
possessions; and who had abandoned everything to devote his life to his
efforts in the service of his country, said these words:
"The Liberator of Venezuela renounces forever and declines irrevocably
to accept any office except the post of danger at the head of our
soldiers in defense of the salvation of our country."
And Bolivar lived up to his words.
Monteverde held many patriots in Puerto Cabello. Bolivar proposed an
exchange of prisoners, but the Spaniard steadily refused all reasonable
demands. The siege of Puerto Cabello was not altogether successful because
the city was open to the sea and the royalist army was able to receive
provisions. A strong expedition commanded by don Jose Miguel Salomon
arrived from Spain to help Monteverde, and Bolivar realized that he could
not hope to succeed unless the enemy could be drawn out of the city to
fight in the open. Consequently, he ordered his troops to withdraw.
Monteverde came out of the city on the 30th of September, and was attacked
by three independent columns which defeated him completely. They themselves
suffered a distressing loss in the death of Colonel Girardot, who was
killed by a bullet in the forehead while hoisting in a captured position
the flag of independence. Bolivar paid the greatest honor to Girardot, and
took the heart of his young lieutenant to Caracas to receive the homage
of the people. The soldiers and followers of Girardot asked Bolivar the
privilege of being sent to avenge the young colonel. Monteverde had
established himself in a place which he considered impregnable. The
insurgents attacked with all their might, and the enemy was routed.
Monteverde had to withdraw to Puerto Cabello, where he was deposed by his
subordinates and Salomon was elected to take his place. His successor
accepted the exchange of prisoners, and Bolivar, leaving some troops to
continue the siege of the port, went to Caracas, where he had to face new
The communication with Nueva Granada had been cut by the Spanish troops
sent from Maracaibo. In Cucuta the royalists were committing all kinds of
brutal deeds. It is said that assassinations were committed as the result
of bets. Children under ten years of age had their hands cut off. In the
Orinoco plains, the _llanos_, Boves with his lieutenant, Morales, exceeded
whatever imagination can fancy in the way of bloodthirsty cruelty. Some
independent detachments had been destroyed in the South, and several
fanatical priests were discouraging sympathizers of freedom, declaring that
"The King is the representative of God."
[Footnote 1: It is necessary, at this point, to make very plain the
attitude of the Catholic clergy in the wars of American independence. Of
course, no man of good sense and culture will today pay any attention to
the accusations against Spain, the clergy and the Inquisition, all inspired
by religious hatred, which is one of the worst forms of fanaticism.
Nevertheless, there are still fanatics who refuse to open their eyes to the
truth, either because they find their ignorance a very comfortable frame of
mind or because they maliciously devote themselves to the abominable work
of slandering a country and institutions which have played and are playing
a very important historical role.
There appears to be only one serious monograph on Simon Bolivar written
in English, and this is an article which appeared in Harper's New Monthly
Magazine, No. 238, V. 40, published in March, 1870. This article was
written by Eugene Lawrence, and pretends to be a eulogy of the Man of the
South. In substance it is nothing more than a superficial synopsis of the
main facts of the public life of Bolivar, and a constant and virulent
attack against Spain and the Catholic Church. It would seem that to the
author Spain is nothing, and has never been anything, but kings and
priests, and that kings and priests are a curse on the population. The
cruelties of the Spanish kings and priests constitute his main subject. As
a matter of fact, in the political revolutions of America, the priests have
been divided and have acted like other men, availing themselves of their
right to their own opinions. The greatest proof that the Church is not to
take any blame or praise for whatever happened in the War of Independence
is that it did not force its dignitaries to take any particular stand. They
did as they pleased. There were priests on the side of Monteverde and there
were priests on the side of Bolivar. Undoubtedly, the former thought
and preached that the will of God was to keep the American countries in
subjection, while the latter might have believed that the independence of
the American countries would satisfy the desires of God. If the Church was
on the side of Spain, the Spaniards certainly failed to reward her. In a
letter to the Governor of Curacao, Bolivar wrote: "Many respectable old
men, many venerable priests, have seen themselves in chains and in other
infamous ways prisoners, herded with common criminals and men of the lowest
stamp, exposed to the insults of brutal soldiers and of the vilest men
of the lowest station." On the other hand, several priests accompanied
Bolivar, and he always showed the greatest veneration for the Church and
for its members. Speaking, then, of priests exploiting the fanaticism of
the crowd, no sober-minded historian would ever intend an attack against
the Church in general. Furthermore, we must not forget that most of the
enemies of independence were Americans, and that some publicists refuse to
speak of it as a war of independence but term the revolution a civil war.]
Bolivar sent Brigadier General Urdaneta, who had distinguished himself
in the previous campaigns, to take charge of the army of the West.
Campo-Elias, another trusted officer, was sent to the plains, while Bolivar
himself went to Caracas to pay his last homage to the heart of Girardot, an
action by which he not only honored his dead officer, but also showed
his appreciation of the help received from Nueva Granada in the work of
securing the independence of his country. In Caracas, Bolivar for the first
time received officially the name of "Savior of the Country, Liberator of
Venezuela." On receiving the decree conferring these titles upon him,
he said that the title of Liberator of Venezuela was more glorious and
satisfying to him than the crowns of all the empires of the world, but that
the real liberators had been the Congress of Nueva Granada, Ribas, Girardot
and the other men who had been with him throughout the campaign.
Bolivar was very much concerned with the increasing wave of discontent
which threatened to destroy his work. As we said at the beginning, there
was no public opinion to support him. The masses were moved by their
feelings, by early acquired habits, by superstitions or by low
interests, and the _llaneros_ (inhabitants of the plains) would follow
any chieftain who could guarantee them sufficient loot. At only thirty
years of age Bolivar had proved himself as great a statesman as he was a
soldier. He arranged for the organization of all public services, and
when this was attended to, he took care to satisfy the natural pride of
the patriots, by creating an order called "The Military Order of the
Liberators of Venezuela."
_Araure. Ribas Triumphs in La Victoria. A Wholesale Execution_
The Governor of Coro had come out of the city with 1,300 men and had
destroyed an independent army. He now threatened the possession of Valencia
and the security of the troops engaged in the siege of Puerto Cabello.
Yanez, at the head of 2,500 _llaneros_, had destroyed another patriot army
and had seized the city of Barinas, leaving his path strewn with corpses
and stained with the blood of his victims.
Urdaneta sent news of his danger to the Liberator, and the latter came at
once to the rescue, and defeated in Barquisimeto the army of Coro, only to
see this victory turned to defeat as the result of a mistaken bugle order
which caused the retreat of one of his regiments. Urdaneta was entrusted
with the organization of the remains of the patriotic army, and Bolivar
went to Valencia to obtain new reinforcements. The Governor of Coro, D.
Jose Ceballos by name, succeeded in getting in touch with Yanez and the
Governor of Puerto Cabello, and concerted a combined attack. Bolivar
ordered Ribas, who was at that time in Caracas, to come to the rescue with
all the men he could gather. The commander of Puerto Cabello, Salomon,
advancing on the road which leads from Valencia to Caracas, was attacked by
Ribas and by Bolivar and, after three days of constant fighting, was forced
to withdraw to the port, having suffered very heavy losses. Then Bolivar,
with all the men that he could summon, proceeded to San Carlos, where he
found himself with 3,000 armed men ready to fight the royalists. With this
army he advanced to meet Ceballos, and met him, commanding 3,500 men, near
a place called Araure. The great battle of Araure was fought on the 5th of
December, 1813. At first it was costly to the insurgent armies, which
lost their best infantrymen. But the Liberator was present everywhere,
encouraging his soldiers and directing their movements. At last, the
independents obtained the victory, and the royalists had to withdraw,
leaving 1,000 dead and many guns. After that battle, Ceballos and Yanez had
to escape to the south, to the valley of the Orinoco. Bolivar's prestige
was shown at its best.
The regiment which, through a mistake, had begun the retreat at the battle
of Barquisimeto, Bolivar punished by depriving it of the right to have a
flag and a name until it would conquer them in the field of battle. The
"Nameless Battalion" was placed in the center of the independent forces in
Araure, and ten minutes after the battle had started, it had conquered a
flag from the enemy and had broken through the royalist army. From that
date the "Nameless Battalion" was called "The Conqueror of Araure."
The victory at Araure destroyed in one day the armies oppressing Venezuela,
and was the last military triumph of 1813, a year of success for the
On thanking his staff for the congratulations which they addressed to him,
Bolivar uttered the following significant words:
"It is true that our armies have avenged Venezuela. The largest army
which has tried to subjugate us lies destroyed on the field. But we
cannot rest. Other obligations await us. And when our native
is entirely free, we shall go to fight the Spaniards in any part of
America where they are in control, and we shall throw them into the
sea. Freedom shall live protected by our swords."
But Bolivar's concern was increasing. He well knew that he was not
supported by public opinion, and he was also aware that the cruel crowds of
the plains were his greatest menace.
He sent a communication to the Congress of Nueva Granada, notifying it of
the conquest of the West and of his preparation for war against the men of
the plains, explaining again his attitude with regard to personal power.
"The possession of supreme authority," he wrote, "so flattering for the
despots of the other continent, has been for me, the lover of liberty,
heavy and displeasing."
In another he added:
"I shall not retain any part of the authority, even if the people
themselves would entrust it to me."
His report of the 31st of December is one of the most conspicuous documents
of the life of Bolivar. It ranks as high as his proclamation of Cartagena
at the beginning of the campaign. In this report, through his Secretary of
Foreign Relations, he expressed his idea about union between Nueva Granada
and Venezuela. The document appears as addressed to him, and of it the
following words deserve special consideration:
"The lessons of experience should not be lost for us. The spectacle
presented to us by Europe, steeped in blood in an endeavor to establish
a balance which is forever changing, should correct our policy in order
to save it from those bloody dangers.... Besides that continental
balance of power which Europe is seeking where it seems less likely
to be found, that is, through war and disturbances, there is another
balance, a balance which concerns us, the balance of the universe. The
ambition of the European countries is to reduce to slavery the other
parts of the world, and all these other parts of the world should
endeavor to establish a balance between themselves and Europe in order
to destroy the preponderance of the latter. I call this the balance
of the world, and it must enter into the calculations of American
"It is necessary that our country be sufficiently strong to resist
successfully the aggressions which European ambitions may plan; and
this colossal power, which must oppose another great power, cannot be
formed but through the union of all South America under a national
body, so that a single government may use its great resources
a single purpose, that of resisting with all of them exterior
aggressions, while in the interior an increasing mutual cooperation of
all will lift us to the summit of power and prosperity."
The present ideas of inter-American cooeperation do not differ very much
from those existing in the mind of Bolivar.
Following the deposition of Monteverde, the army of Puerto Cabello had left
for Coro and practically disappeared on its way. But some royalists had
gone to the south, and entered the city of Calabozo, after having destroyed
an insurgent force. Its commander was one of the worst men who had ever
breathed the air of America, Jose Tomas Rodriguez, a native of Spain, who,
after having been a pirate, was sentenced to the prison of Puerto Cabello.
Several Spaniards applied for a mitigation of the sentence, and he was set
free within the city of Calabozo, where he was employed when the revolution
began. By that time he had changed his name to that of Boves. He first
joined the patriots' army, but for some reason or other he was imprisoned.
He was released in 1810 by the royalists, and swore revenge against the
revolutionists. He organized a cavalry corps and committed infamous deeds
of cruelty wherever he happened to be, at the same time achieving military
success for, though morally a beast, he was clever in the field of battle
and possessed dauntless bravery. He held the banks of the Orinoco with the
aid of his lieutenant, Francisco Tomas Morales, a native of the Canary
Islands, whose moral worth can be judged by a single word applied to him by
Boves himself. Boves called him "atrocious." While Boves killed Americans
systematically, considering that it was the best, and perhaps the only way
to end the insurrection, Morales killed Americans for pleasure, whether or
not their death would foster the ends of the royalists. He had formerly
been a servant. He was brave and obdurate, and a very able second. In the
army of Boves, composed of 4,000 _llaneros_, he helped to take the city of
Calabozo. Bolivar immediately asked Marino, who was commanding in the East,
to help him, but for several reasons, and perhaps mainly because Marino
wanted to have supreme power, he did not go to the rescue. This was the sad
state of affairs at the beginning of 1814.
This year began with an assembly in Caracas of representatives of the
people, to whom Bolivar submitted a report on the use he had made of his
authority. On that occasion Bolivar spoke his mind as plainly as before.
Although his words depicted legitimate pride, he was very anxious to make
it understood that he was unwilling to retain any power over the nation.
Among other things he said:
"I accepted and retained the supreme authority in order to save you
from anarchy and to destroy the enemy who tried to support the p
of oppression. I have given you laws, I organized for you the
administration of justice and revenue, and, finally, I have given you a
"Fellow citizens: I am not the sovereign. Your representatives should
draw up your laws. The national treasury does not belong to the
government. All those who have kept your wealth should show you the use
they have made of it.... I am anxious to transfer this power to the
representatives you must appoint, and I hope you will relieve me of a
burden, which one of you can worthily bear, giving me the only honor to
which I aspire, that is, to continue to fight your enemies, for I shall
never sheathe my sword until the freedom of my country is altogether
The political governor of Caracas answered the address of the Liberator,
praising him for his brilliant campaign and for the successes due to his
genius. After a brief summary of his heroic deeds in Nueva Granada, he
said that the greatest merit of a man lay in the handing over of the power
entrusted to him. To take the power from Bolivar, he reasoned, would very
likely work to the ruin of the country, and he expressed his belief that
the thing necessary to do was to offer Bolivar supreme power for the time
being. In his answer to the governor, Bolivar paid a deserving tribute to
his brothers-in-arms, and then added the following words:
"I have not come to oppress you with my victorious arms. I have come to
bring you the empire of law. I have come with the purpose of preserving
your sacred rights. It is not military despotism which can make a
people free, and the power I have never can be good for the Republic
except for a short period. A successful soldier does not acquire
any right to command his country. He is not the arbiter of laws and
government; he is the defender of freedom, and his glories must be
identical to those of the Republic and his ambition satisfied if he
gives happiness to his country.... Elect your representatives, your
magistrates, a just government, and be sure that the armies which have
saved the Republic will always protect the freedom and the national
glory of Venezuela."
Nevertheless, in spite of his protestations, the power was forced upon him.
He did not stay long in the work of the government, but soon devoted his
time to the conduct of war. Puerto Cabello, with fewer soldiers than
before, was the main object of his attention. He intended to put an end
to the siege, attacking the town at one time by land and by sea.
Misunderstandings with Marino, who had sent some reinforcements previously,
prevented the successful carrying out of his plan.
Barinas had fallen into the hands of the royalist Yanez, whose bloodthirsty
followers beheaded eighty soldiers who had been left behind, killed men,
women and children, and destroyed the whole city by fire. A few days later
this man was killed in a skirmish, and thus ended the life of a fiend whose
name may be placed at the side of those of Boves and Morales, because of
his delight in committing crimes. In the rest of the country the royalists
were conducting guerrilla warfare, preventing the reunion of patriotic
bodies and rendering the situation very critical for Bolivar. The largest
troops of royalists were generally commanded by men distinguished for their
ferocity. To the names appearing elsewhere we must add those of Calzada,
Yanez' successor, and of Rosete, who competed with each other for the
distinction of shedding the most blood.
Boves, in command of the horsemen of the plains, won a great victory in a
place called La Puerta, over Campo-Elias, and as a result he reached the
valley of Valencia and approached the city of Caracas. The city of Ocumare
was taken by Rosete, who proceeded to kill even the persons who were in
church praying to God.
In an effort to take advantage of his favorable position by swift
movements, Boves advanced to a city called La Victoria, on the road from
Valencia to Caracas, where Ribas was ready to do his utmost to prevent the
triumph of the bloodthirsty _llaneros_. On the morning of February 12,
1814, Boves attacked and succeeded in entering the town, but he found that
the garrison was made up of extraordinary men, one of whom was worth four
of his own, thanks to the inspiration and bravery of Ribas. The number of
casualties was enormous. Ribas saw his best officers falling about him,
and he himself had three horses killed under him. In the middle of the
afternoon the result of the battle was still undecided. Then troops
gathered by Campo-Elias after his defeat of La Puerta joined the defenders.
Ribas pushed out of the city and destroyed whatever appeared in his path.
Boves retreated and installed himself on the outskirts. The following
day he was attacked again and was forced to withdraw, this time in utter
disorder. The battle of La Victoria was the greatest victory of Ribas, and
is counted among the most brilliant feats of arms during the Venezuelan War
of Independence, filled as it was with heroic deeds.
Bolivar did not fail properly to praise the conqueror. He announced the
triumph to Caracas and to the world, and in paying tribute to the living
hero, he did not forget to pay homage to those who had fallen on the
field of battle. On that occasion, he uttered one of those brilliant
expressions so common in his writings: "Ribas, against whom adversity is
powerless." ... He never felt that his own glory had to suffer from the
unstinted praise he bestowed on his followers.
After this victory at La Victoria, Ribas went to Ocumare, where he saw the
work of Rosete, who had left the streets strewn with dying men, women and
children, and with the corpses of many victims of his insatiable ferocity.
More than 300 had fallen at the hands of the monsters. Bodies and mutilated
members appeared everywhere, the best proof of how just had been Bolivar's
decree of War to Death. Among other things Ribas found a branding iron in
the shape of a _P_, with which Rosete had intended to mark the foreheads of
the patriots and those of their children.
Bolivar, who in spite of the frequent atrocities of the enemy, had had
his decree carried out very seldom and very reluctantly, now, with the
royalists in command of Boves, Rosete and Morales, found it necessary to
begin severe reprisals in earnest.
The prisoners taken by the independents were constantly plotting. When
Boves was threatening Caracas, the commander of La Guaira asked Bolivar
what he was to do with the Spaniards in the prisons of the city,
considering that they were numerous and the garrison very small. The
Liberator answered as follows:
"I command you to execute immediately all the Spaniards in the fortress
and in the hospital, without exception."
He gave a similar order to the authorities in Caracas. As a result of these
orders, 886 Spaniards and natives of the Canary Islands were executed.
This is the act for which Bolivar has been most severely criticised and his
conduct most generally condemned. But, if what we have already said is
not sufficient to prove the need of these reprisals, we can take into
consideration also the slow torture to which the sick independents in the
hospital had been subjected, the killing of a woman because she had been
accused of having embroidered a uniform for Bolivar, the destruction of the
innocent dwellers in the towns taken by the royalists. This decision must
be considered also as a measure of safety, for Bolivar could not see an
enemy approaching, realizing the necessity perhaps of a hasty retreat, and
leave behind him reinforcements for his foes. On this occasion, Bolivar was
not merciful, but mercy had been repeatedly exercised by him even against
the dictates of wisdom. His measure of reprisal in this case can be
considered as ferocious only by contrast with his previous clemency. As a
historian (Baralt) remarks:
"It must be agreed that the patience of saints could not tolerate the
crimes of the royalist leaders, and at that very moment new attacks
increased indignation and anger to an inexpressible degree."
_The Heroic Death of Ricaurte. Victory of Carabobo and Defeat of La Puerta_
Boves had retreated from La Victoria, but after reorganizing his army he
was again ready to attack. Bolivar had very few men, for the country was
nearly exhausted. With them he waited the dreaded royalist in a place
called San Mateo, where he was attacked by an army at least four times as
large as his. He had but one advantage, having selected a hilly ground
where the cavalry of the enemy could not easily maneuver. The battle began
on the 28th of February. It lasted all that day, and at the end of ten and
one-half hours of constant fighting, Bolivar was master of the situation,
not without having lost some of his best men, among them the valiant
Campo-Elias, who died a few days later.
Boves, wounded also, withdrew and waited for reinforcements, which arrived
in great numbers from the plains; while Bolivar had to reduce the defenders
of San Mateo in order to send some men to protect Caracas, which was being
threatened on the southeast by Rosete. Boves attacked again on the 20th
of March and was once more repulsed. Being informed that Rosete had been
defeated at Ocumare by the independents and that Marino was approaching to
the relief of Bolivar, he decided to make a desperate effort to take San
Mateo. On the 25th of March he made a third attempt, and that day marks the
occurrence of one of the heroic deeds of the ages.
The supplies and the hospital of the insurgents were at a house built on a
hill, while the fight developed down below on the farm of San Mateo, owned
by Bolivar. Antonio Ricaurte, a native of Santa Fe (Nueva Granada) was
in command of the house. Boves decided to take this position and, in the
middle of the combat, the independents on the plain discovered that a
large column of royalists had stolen towards the ammunition depot from
the opposite side of the hill. All felt that the war material was lost.
Ricaurte was known as a brave man, but he could do little with the very few
men in his command. The young man had the wounded men taken down to the
plain, then he ordered his own soldiers to follow, and he remained alone.
The enemies continued to advance, and finally entered the house. Suddenly
there was heard a terrific explosion, and, when the smoke had cleared, it
could be seen that the house had been partially destroyed. Ricaurte had
blown up the ammunition, and with it himself and the enemy. Thus
Bolivar's army was saved. Boves, who had attacked thirty times, retreated
immediately, leaving nearly 1,000 men dead on the field of battle. The loss
of the patriots had been as big, or bigger, than that of Boves, but success
remained with them. Ricaurte took his place among men who, like Leonidas,
deemed life of little value as compared with the salvation of their
Further to the west, Ceballos, the former governor of Coro, had obliged the
patriots to retreat towards Valencia, where they were besieged by him with
reinforcements brought by Boves, who, after his defeat at San Mateo, had
fought Marino, meeting again with disaster. In spite of the reinforcements,
the royalists were forced to retreat when the garrison of Valencia was
reduced to less than half of its former size.
Marino and Bolivar met in La Victoria. The former, with an army made up of
his men and some given by Bolivar, proceeded to the west to fight against
Ceballos, while Bolivar went to Puerto Cabello, intending to take the city
by storm. By an imprudent move on his own part, Marino was forced to meet
an army superior to his own, and he was defeated. He then withdrew to
Valencia, where Bolivar hastened to meet him, once more leaving the city of
Puerto Cabello. There he learned that Ceballos had received reinforcements,
and went to Caracas to recruit more men from a city which by now was bled
white. Nevertheless, he did obtain a few more men, and these he sent to
Valencia under Ribas, following shortly in order to take personal command
of the army in the battle.
The contending armies met on a plain called Carabobo, the royalists with
many more men than there were patriots. Desertions from the forces of the
Republicans were frequent. This caused Bolivar much concern, as did the
news that Boves was advancing from the south with a great body of cavalry.
With Marino and Ribas to help him, and with his most trusted officers
at the head of the different sections, he advanced against the enemy,
commanded at that time by the Spanish field-marshal, D. Juan Manuel
Cagigal. This first battle of Carabobo, fought on the 28th of May, was one
of the swiftest and most complete victories of the Liberator. Three hours
were enough to destroy the royalist army and to force its commander to flee
to the southwest with some of his men. Many officers were killed, great
masses of infantrymen surrendered, 4,000 horses were seized, as well as a
great quantity of ammunition, provisions, documents and money.
But the battle of Carabobo was not decisive. Boves was coming to avenge
Cagigal. The Liberator distributed his officers with such soldiers as he
could gather at different points. Marino advanced against Boves. Bolivar
and Ribas returned to Caracas, still on the endless quest for more
resources with which to fight. When complimented upon his victory at
Carabobo, Bolivar remarked:
"Let us not be dazzled by the victories Fate gives us; let us prepare
ourselves for greater struggles; let us employ all the resource
our good or bad condition, based on the principle that nothing is
accomplished when there is something more to do; and we have much still
He was thinking of Boves, Boves who had a large army, all the resources of
the plains, and the support of public opinion, while he had neither men nor
resources, nor the invigorating approval of his fellow citizens.
Marino established himself in La Puerta, a place of ill-omen for the
patriots, and his position was disadvantageous. When Bolivar arrived to
take charge of the army, it was too late to change the place, for Boves was
to the front, with three times as many men as there were patriots. It
was necessary to fight and it was impossible to conquer. All was lost. A
patriot general (Antonio Maria Freites) killed himself in despair; some
officers who had been with Bolivar since the beginning of his glorious
career died on the field of battle.
Boves killed all the wounded men and prisoners who fell into his hands. He
invited a prisoner colonel (Jalon) to dine with him, and at the end of the
meal he ordered him to be hanged and his head sent as a present to his
friends at Calabozo.
Marino escaped in one direction, and Ribas and Bolivar went to Caracas,
not without first taking all possible steps to hinder the advance of Boves
towards the city. Bolivar was always full of enthusiasm. At that time his
most frequent remark was:
"The art of conquering is learned through defeats."
This battle of La Puerta took place on June 15, 1814. Boves entered the
city of La Victoria and then besieged Valencia, which resisted until every
means of defense was gone and the defenders were dying of thirst and
hunger. Boves proposed capitulation of the besieged and, it being accepted,
entered the city on the 10th of July. The treaty provided for the
inviolability of the life of all the inhabitants of the city, either
military or civilian. Boves had sworn that he would fulfil this convention,
but as soon as he had the city in his power he violated his own oath and,
with his usual ferocity, put to the sword the governor, the officers, some
hundreds of the army, and about ninety of the most prominent inhabitants.
His officers forced the young ladies of the families of those who had died
to attend a reception in honor of Boves.
Meanwhile, Bolivar was endeavoring to keep enthusiasm alive in Caracas. He
even intended to resist the advance of the enemy but, being convinced that
the defense of the town would mean a useless sacrifice, he decided to leave
it and went east to Barcelona. The inhabitants of Caracas, realizing the
monster Boves was, decided to leave their homes, and a painful pilgrimage
ensued. The emigration from Caracas is one of the saddest episodes of the
War of Independence. Many emigrants met death on their way east, but they
preferred it to the tortures that Boves knew very well how to inflict upon
the life and honor of the population of the cities he took. He entered the
capital on the 16th of July, and the crimes started. Cagigal, who was a
real soldier and a man of honor, saw his authority ignored by Boves. In
giving an account of this fact to the government of Spain, the only answer
he obtained was that Boves' conduct was approved by Madrid with a vote of
thanks for his important services and his great valor.
Leaving his lieutenant, Quero, in command of the city, Boves followed
Bolivar. Quero was a native American and was so bad that Boves' rule was
preferable to his.
With the few men obtained in Caracas, Bolivar organized a small army with
which he protected the emigrants.
From Barcelona he intended to send diplomatic representatives to Europe,
thus showing his unshaken confidence in the ultimate triumph of his cause.
With no more than 3,000 men, he faced an army of from 8,000 to 10,000
at Aragua, commanded by Morales, and was defeated (August 18, 1814).
A battalion composed of the best elements of the youth of Caracas was
entirely destroyed. Bolivar retreated to Barcelona, and Morales entered the
town of Aragua, where he massacred more than 3,500 men, women and children,
for the sole crime of being Americans. Realizing that he could not hold the
city of Barcelona, Bolivar went to the city of Cumana with generals Ribas
and Manuel Piar, the latter famous for his military skill, his daring, his
restlessness and his ultimate sad death, of which we shall speak later.
From there Bolivar went with Marino to Carupano, and then sailed for
Cartagena, having lost his reputation and having been insulted by his own
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