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4: Ploughing the Sea

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When the La Plata Congress at Tucumán took the decisive action that severed the bond with Spain, it uttered a prophecy for all Spanish America. To quote its language: "Vast and fertile regions, climates benign and varied, abundant means of subsistence, treasures of gold and silver . . . and fine productions of every sort will attract to our continent innumerable thousands of immigrants, to whom we shall open a safe place of refuge and extend a beneficent protection." More hopeful still were the words of a spokesman for another independent country: "United, neither the empire of the Assyrians, the Medes or the Persians, the Macedonian or the Roman Empire, can ever be compared with this colossal republic."

Very different was the vision of Bolívar. While a refugee in Jamaica he wrote: "We are a little human species; we possess a world apart . . . new in almost all the arts and sciences, and yet old, after a fashion, in the uses of civil society. . . . Neither Indians nor Europeans, we are a species that lies midway . . . . Is it conceivable that a people recently freed of its chains can launch itself into the sphere of liberty without shattering its wings, like Icarus, and plunging into the abyss? Such a prodigy is inconceivable, never beheld." Toward the close of his career he declared: "The majority are mestizos, mulattoes, Indians, and negroes. An ignorant people is a blunt instrument for its own destruction. To it liberty means license, patriotism means disloyalty, and justice means vengeance." "Independence," he exclaimed, "is the only good we have achieved, at the cost of everything else."

Whether the abounding confidence of the prophecy or the anxious doubt of the vision would come true, only the future could tell. In 1822, at all events, optimism was the watchword and the total exclusion of Spain from South America the goal of Bolívar and his lieutenants, as they started southward to complete the work of emancipation which had been begun by San Martín.

The patriots of Peru, indeed, had fallen into straits so desperate that an appeal to the Liberator offered the only hope of salvation. While the royalists under their able and vigilant leader, José Canterac, continued to strengthen their grasp upon the interior of the country and to uphold the power of the viceroy, the President chosen by the Congress had been driven by the enemy from Lima. A number of the legislators in wrath thereupon declared the President deposed. Not to be outdone, that functionary on his part declared the Congress dissolved. The malcontents immediately proceeded to elect a new chief magistrate, thus bringing two Presidents into the field and inaugurating a spectacle destined to become all too common in the subsequent annals of Spanish America.

When Bolívar arrived at Callao, the seaport of Lima, in September, 1823, he acted with prompt vigor. He expelled one President, converted the other into a passive instrument of his will, declined to promulgate a constitution that the Congress had prepared, and, after obtaining from that body an appointment to supreme command, dissolved the Congress without further ado. Unfortunately none of these radical measures had any perceptible effect upon the military situation. Though Bolívar gathered together an army made up of Colombians, Peruvians, and remnants of San Martín's force, many months elapsed before he could venture upon a serious campaign. Then events in Spain played into his hands. The reaction that had followed the restoration of Ferdinand VII to absolute power crossed the ocean and split the royalists into opposing factions. Quick to seize the chance thus afforded, Bolívar marched over the Andes to the plain of Junin. There, on August 6, 1824, he repelled an onslaught by Canterac and drove that leader back in headlong flight. Believing, however, that the position he held was too perilous to risk an offensive, he entrusted the military command to Sucre and returned to headquarters.

The royalists had now come to realize that only a supreme effort could save them. They must overwhelm Sucre before reinforcements could reach him, and to this end an army of upwards of ten thousand was assembled. On the 9th of December it encountered Sucre and his six thousand soldiers in the valley of Ayacucho, or "Corner of Death," where the patriot general had entrenched his army with admirable skill. The result was a total defeat for the royalists—the Waterloo of Spain in South America. The battle thus won by ragged and hungry soldiers—whose countersign the night before had been "bread and cheese"—threw off the yoke of the mother country forever. The viceroy fell wounded into their hands and Canterac surrendered. On receipt of the glorious news, the people of Lima greeted Bolívar with wild enthusiasm. A Congress prolonged his dictatorship amid adulations that bordered on the grotesque.

Eastward of Peru in the vast mountainous region of Charcas, on the very heights of South America, the royalists still found a refuge. In January, 1825, a patriot general at the town of La Paz undertook on his own responsibility to declare the entire province independent, alike of Spain, Peru, and the United Provinces of La Plata. This action was too precipitous, not to say presumptuous, to suit Bolívar and Sucre. The better to control the situation, the former went up to La Paz and the latter to Chuquisaca, the capital, where a Congress was to assemble for the purpose of imparting a more orderly turn to affairs. Under the direction of the "Marshal of Ayacucho," as Sucre was now called, the Congress issued on the 6th of August a formal declaration of independence. In honor of the Liberator it christened the new republic "Bolívar"—later Latinized into "Bolivia"—and conferred upon him the presidency so long as he might choose to remain. In November, 1896, a new Congress which had been summoned to draft a constitution accepted, with slight modifications, an instrument that the Liberator himself had prepared. That body also renamed the capital "Sucre" and chose the hero of Ayacucho as President of the republic.

Now, the Liberator thought, was the opportune moment to impose upon his territorial namesake a constitution embodying his ideas of a stable government which would give Spanish Americans eventually the political experience they needed. Providing for an autocracy represented by a life President, it ran the gamut of aristocracy and democracy, all the way from "censors" for life, who were to watch over the due enforcement of the laws, down to senators and "tribunes" chosen by electors, who in turn were to be named by a select citizenry. Whenever actually present in the territory of the republic, the Liberator was to enjoy supreme command, in case he wished to exercise it.

In 1826 Simón Bolívar stood at the zenith of his glory and power. No adherents of the Spanish regime were left in South America to menace the freedom of its independent states. In January a resistance kept up for nine years by a handful of royalists lodged on the remote island of Chiloé, off the southern coast of Chile, had been broken, and the garrison at the fortress of Callao had laid down its arms after a valiant struggle. Among Spanish Americans no one was comparable to the marvelous man who had founded three great republics stretching from the Caribbean Sea to the Tropic of Capricorn. Hailed as the "Liberator" and the "Terror of Despots," he was also acclaimed by the people as the "Redeemer, the First-Born Son of the New World!" National destinies were committed to his charge, and equestrian statues were erected in his honor. In the popular imagination he was ranked with Napoleon as a peerless conqueror, and with Washington as the father of his country. That megalomania should have seized the mind of the Liberator under circumstances like these is not strange.

Ever a zealous advocate of large states, Bolívar was an equally ardent partisan of confederation. As president of three republics—of Colombia actually, and of its satellites, Peru and Bolivia, through his lieutenants—he could afford now to carry out the plan that he had long since cherished of assembling at the town of Panama, on Colombian soil, an "august congress" representative of the independent countries of America. Here, on the isthmus created by nature to join the continents, the nations created by men should foregather and proclaim fraternal accord. Presenting to the autocratic governments of Europe a solid front of resistance to their pretensions as well as a visible symbol of unity in sentiment, such a Congress by meeting periodically would also promote friendship among the republics of the western hemisphere and supply a convenient means of settling their disputes.

At this time the United States was regarded by its sister republics with all the affection which gratitude for services rendered to the cause of emancipation could evoke. Was it not itself a republic, its people a democracy, its development astounding, and its future radiant with hope? The pronouncement of President Monroe, in 1823, protesting against interference on the part of European powers with the liberties of independent America, afforded the clearest possible proof that the great northern republic was a natural protector, guide, and friend whose advice and cooperation ought to be invoked. The United States was accordingly asked to take part in the assembly—not to concert military measures, but simply to join its fellows to the southward in a solemn proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine by America at large and to discuss means of suppressing the slave trade.

The Congress that met at Panama, in June, 1826, afforded scant encouragement to Bolívar's roseate hope of interAmerican solidarity. Whether because of the difficulties of travel, or because of internal dissensions, or because of the suspicion that the megalomania of the Liberator had awakened in Spanish America, only the four continental countries nearest the isthmus—Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Peru—were represented. The delegates, nevertheless, signed a compact of "perpetual union, league, and confederation," provided for mutual assistance to be rendered by the several nations in time of war, and arranged to have the Areopagus of the Americas transferred to Mexico. None of the acts of this Congress was ratified by the republics concerned, except the agreement for union, which was adopted by Colombia.

Disheartening to Bolívar as this spectacle was, it proved merely the first of a series of calamities which were to overshadow the later years of the Liberator. His grandiose political structure began to crumble, for it was built on the shifting sands of a fickle popularity. The more he urged a general acceptance of the principles of his autocratic constitution, the surer were his followers that he coveted royal honors. In December he imposed his instrument upon Peru. Then he learned that a meeting in Venezuela, presided over by Páez, had declared itself in favor of separation from Colombia. Hardly had he left Peru to check this movement when an uprising at Lima deposed his representative and led to the summons of a Congress which, in June, 1827, restored the former constitution and chose a new President. In Quito, also, the government of the unstable dictator was overthrown.

Alarmed by symptoms of disaffection which also appeared in the western part of the republic, Bolívar hurried to Bogotá. There in the hope of removing the growing antagonism, he offered his "irrevocable" resignation, as he had done on more than one occasion before. Though the malcontents declined to accept his withdrawal from office, they insisted upon his calling a constitutional convention. Meeting at Ocana, in April, 1828, that body proceeded to abolish the life tenure of the presidency, to limit the powers of the executive, and to increase those of the legislature. Bolívar managed to quell the opposition in dictatorial fashion; but his prestige had by this time fallen so low that an attempt was made to assassinate him. The severity with which he punished the conspirators served only to diminish still more the popular confidence which he had once enjoyed. Even in Bolivia his star of destiny had set. An outbreak of Colombian troops at the capital forced the faithful Sucre to resign and leave the country. The constitution was then modified to meet the demand for a less autocratic government, and a new chief magistrate was installed.

Desperately the Liberator strove to ward off the impending collapse. Tkough he recovered possession of the division of Quito, a year of warfare failed to win back Peru, and he was compelled to renounce all pretense of governing it. Feeble in body and distracted in mind, he condemned bitterly the machinations of his enemies. "There is no good faith in Colombia," he exclaimed, "neither among men nor among nations. Treaties are paper; constitutions, books; elections, combats; liberty, anarchy, and life itself a torment."

But the hardest blow was yet to fall. Late in December, 1829, an assembly at Caracas declared Venezuela a separate state. The great republic was rent in twain, and even what was left soon split apart. In May, 1830, came the final crash. The Congress at Bogotá drafted a constitution, providing for a separate republic to bear the old Spanish name of "New Granada," accepted definitely the resignation of Bolívar, and granted him a pension. Venezuela, his native land, set up a congress of its own and demanded that he be exiled. The division of Quito declared itself independent, under the name of the "Republic of the Equator" (Ecuador). Everywhere the artificial handiwork of the Liberator lay in ruins. "America is ungovernable. Those who have served in the revolution have ploughed the sea, " was his despairing cry.

Stricken to death, the fallen hero retired to an estate near Santa Marta. Here, like his famous rival, San Martín, in France, he found hospitality at the hands of a Spaniard. On December 17, 1830, the Liberator gave up his troubled soul.

While Bolivar's great republic was falling apart, the United Provinces of La Plata had lost practically all semblance of cohesion. So broad were their notions of liberty that the several provinces maintained a substantial independence of one another, while within each province the caudillos, or partisan chieftains, fought among themselves.

Buenos Aires alone managed to preserve a measure of stability. This comparative peace was due to the financial and commercial measures devised by Bernardino Rivadavia, one of the most capable statesmen of the time, and to the energetic manner in which disorder was suppressed by Juan Manuel de Rosas, commander of the gaucho, or cowboy, militia. Thanks also to the former leader, the provinces were induced in 1826 to join in framing a constitution of a unitary character, which vested in the administration at Buenos Aires the power of appointing the local governors and of controlling foreign affairs. The name of the country was at the same time changed to that of the "Argentine Confederation"(c)-a Latin rendering of "La Plata." [HTA Editor: No, it's not.]

No sooner had Rivadavia assumed the presidency under the new order of things than dissension at home and warfare abroad threatened to destroy all that he had accomplished. Ignoring the terms of the constitution, the provinces had already begun to reject the supremacy of Buenos Aires, when the outbreak of a struggle with Brazil forced the contending parties for a while to unite in the face of the common enemy. As before, the object of international dispute was the region of the Banda Oriental. The rule of Brazil had not been oppressive, but the people of its Cisplatine Province, attached by language and sympathy to their western neighbors, longed nevertheless to be free of foreign control. In April, 1825, a band of thirty-three refugees arrived from Buenos Aires and started a revolution which spread throughout the country. Organizing a provisional government, the insurgents proclaimed independence of Brazil and incorporation with the United Provinces of La Plata. As soon as the authorities at Buenos Aires had approved this action, war was inevitable. Though the Brazilians were decisively beaten at the Battle of Ituzaingo, on February 20, 1827, the struggle lasted until August 28, 1828, when mediation by Great Britain led to the conclusion of a treaty at Rio de Janeiro, by which both Brazil and the Argentine Confederation recognized the absolute independence of the disputed province as the republic of Uruguay.

Instead of quieting the discord that prevailed among the Argentinos, these victories only fomented trouble. The federalists had ousted Rivadavia and discarded the constitution, but the federal idea for which they stood had several meanings. To an inhabitant of Buenos Aires federalism meant domination by the capital, not only over the province of the same name but over the other provinces; whereas, to the people of the provinces, and even to many of federalist faith in the province of Buenos Aires itself, the term stood for the idea of a loose confederation in which each provincial governor or chieftain should be practically supreme in his own district, so long as he could maintain himself. The Unitaries were opponents of both, except in so far as their insistence upon a centralized form of government for the nation would necessarily lead to the location of that government at Buenos Aires. This peculiar dual contest between the town and the province of Buenos Aires, and of the other provinces against either or both, persisted for the next sixty years. In 1829, however, a prolonged lull set in, when Rosas, the gaucho leader, having won in company with other caudillos a decisive triumph over the Unitaries, entered the capital and took supreme command.

In Chile the course of events had assumed quite a different aspect. Here, in 1818, a species of constitution had been adopted by popular vote in a manner that appeared to show remarkable unanimity, for the books in which the "ayes" and "noes" were to be recorded contained no entries in the negative! What the records really prove is that O'Higgins, the Supreme Director, enjoyed the confidence of the ruling class. In exercise of the autocratic power entrusted to him, he now proceeded to introduce a variety of administrative reforms of signal advantage to the moral and material welfare of the country. But as the danger of conquest from any quarter lessened, the demand for a more democratic organization grew louder, until in 1822 it became so persistent that O'Higgins called a convention to draft a new fundamental law. But its provisions suited neither himself nor his opponents. Thereupon, realizing that his views of the political capacity of the people resembled those of Bolivar and were no longer applicable, and that his reforms had aroused too much hostility, the Supreme Director resigned his post and retired to Peru. Thus another hero of emancipation had met the ingratitude for which republics are notorious.

Political convulsions in the country followed the abdication of O'Higgins. Not only had the spirit of the strife between Unitaries and Federalists been communicated to Chile from the neighboring republic to the eastward, but two other parties or factions, divided on still different lines, had arisen. These were the Conservative and the Liberal, or Bigwigs (pelucones) and Greenhorns (pipiolos), as the adherents of the one derisively dubbed the partisans of the other. Although in the ups and downs of the struggle two constitutions were adopted, neither sufficed to quiet the agitation. Not until 1830, when the Liberals sustained an utter defeat on the field of battle, did the country enter upon a period of quiet progress along conservative lines. From that time onward it presented a surprising contrast to its fellow republics, which were beset with afflictions.

Far to the northward, the Empire of Mexico set up by Iturbide in 1822 was doomed to a speedy fall. "Emperor by divine providence," that ambitious adventurer inscribed on his coins, but his countrymen knew that the bayonets of his soldiers were the actual mainstay of his pretentious title. Neither his earlier career nor the size of his following was sufficiently impressive to assure him popular support if the military prop gave way. His lavish expenditures, furthermore, and his arbitrary replacement of the Congress by a docile body which would authorize forced loans at his command, steadily undermined his position. Apart from the faults of Iturbide himself, the popular sentiment of a country bordering immediately upon the United States could not fail to be colored by the ideas and institutions of its great neighbor. So, too, the example of what had been accomplished, in form at least, by their kinsmen elsewhere in America was bound to wield a potent influence on the minds of the Mexicans. As a result, their desire for a republic grew stronger from day to day.

Iturbide, in fact, had not enjoyed his exalted rank five months when Antonio López de Santa Anna, a young officer destined later to become a conspicuous figure in Mexican history, started a revolt to replace the "Empire" by a republic. Though he failed in his object, two of Iturbide's generals joined the insurgents in demanding a restoration of the Congress--an act which, as the hapless "Emperor" perceived, would amount to his dethronement. Realizing his impotence, Iturbide summoned the Congress and announced his abdication. But instead of recognizing this procedure, that body declared his accession itself null and void; it agreed, however, to grant him a pension if he would leave the country and reside in Italy. With this disposition of his person Iturbide complied; but he soon wearied of exile and persuaded himself that he would not lack supporters if he tried to regain his former control in Mexico. This venture he decided to make in complete ignorance of a decree ordering his summary execution if he dared to set foot again on Mexican soil. He had hardly landed in July, 1824, when he was seized and shot.

Since a constituent assembly had declared itself in favor of establishing a federal form of republic patterned after that of the United States, the promulgation of a constitution followed on October 4, 1824, and Guadalupe Victoria, one of the leaders in the revolt against Iturbide, was chosen President of the United Mexican States. Though considerable unrest prevailed toward the close of his term, the new President managed to retain his office for the allotted four years. In most respects, however, the new order of things opened auspiciously. In November, 1825, the surrender of the fortress of San Juan de Ulua, in the harbor of Vera Cruz, banished the last remnant of Spanish power, and two years later the suppression of plots for the restoration of Ferdinand VII, coupled with the expulsion of a large number of Spaniards, helped to restore calm. There were those even who dared to hope that the federal system would operate as smoothly in Mexico as it had done in the United States.

But the political organization of a country so different from its northern neighbor in population, traditions, and practices, could not rest merely on a basis of imitation, even more or less modified. The artificiality of the fabric became apparent enough as soon as ambitious individuals and groups of malcontents concerted measures to mold it into a likeness of reality. Two main political factions soon appeared. For the form they assumed British and American influences were responsible. Adopting a kind of Masonic organization, the Conservatives and Centralists called themselves Escoceses (Scottish-Rite Men), whereas the Radicals and Federalists took the name of Yorkinos (York-Rite Men). Whatever their respective slogans and professions of political faith, they were little more than personal followers of rival generals or politicians who yearned to occupy the presidential chair.

Upon the downfall of Iturbide, the malcontents in Central America bestirred themselves to throw off the Mexican yoke. On July 1,1823, a Congress declared the region an independent republic under the name of the "United Provinces of Central America." In November of the next year, following the precedent established in Mexico, and obedient also to local demand, the new republic issued a constitution, in accordance with which the five little divisions of Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica were to become states of a federal union, each having the privilege of choosing its own local authorities. Immediately Federalists and Centralists, Radicals and Conservatives, all wished, it would seem, to impose their particular viewpoint upon their fellows. The situation was not unlike that in the Argentine Confederation. The efforts of Guatemala--the province in which power had been concentrated under the colonial regime--to assert supremacy over its fellow states, and their refusal to respect either the federal bond or one another's rights made civil war inevitable. The struggle which broke out among Guatemala, Salvador, and Honduras, lasted until 1829, when Francisco Morazan, at the head of the "Allied Army, Upholder of the Law," entered the capital of the republic and assumed dictatorial power.

Of all the Hispanic nations, however, Brazil was easily the most stable. Here the leaders, while clinging to independence, strove to avoid dangerous innovations in government. Rather than create a political system for which the country was not prepared, they established a constitutional monarchy. But Brazil itself was too vast and its interior too difficult of access to allow it to become all at once a unit, either in organization or in spirit. The idea of national solidarity had as yet made scant progress. The old rivalry which existed between the provinces of the north, dominated by Bahía or Pernambuco, and those of the south, controlled by Río de Janeiro or São Paulo, still made itself felt. What the Empire amounted to, therefore, was an agglomeration of provinces, held together by the personal prestige of a young monarch.

Since the mother country still held parts of northern Brazil, the Emperor entrusted the energetic Cochrane, who had performed such valiant service for Chile and Peru, with the task of expelling the foreign soldiery. When this had been accomplished and a republican outbreak in the same region had been suppressed, the more difficult task of satisfying all parties by a constitution had to be undertaken. There were partisans of monarchy and advocates of republicanism, men of conservative and of liberal sympathies; disagreements, also, between the Brazilians and the native Portuguese residents were frequent. So far as possible Pedro desired to meet popular desires, and yet without imposing too many limitations on the monarchy itself. But in the assembly called to draft the constitution the liberal members made a determined effort to introduce republican forms. Pedro thereupon dissolved that body and in 1826 promulgated a constitution of his own.

The popularity of the Emperor thereafter soon began to wane, partly because of the scandalous character of his private life, and partly because he declined to observe constitutional restrictions and chose his ministers at will. His insistent war in Portugal to uphold the claims of his daughter to the throne betrayed, or seemed to betray, dynastic ambitions. His inability to hold Uruguay as a Brazilian province, and his continued retention of foreign soldiers who had been employed in the struggle with the Argentine Confederation, for the apparent purpose of quelling possible insurrections in the future, bred much discontent. So also did the restraints he laid upon the press, which had been infected by the liberal movements in neighboring republics. When he failed to subdue these outbreaks, his rule became all the more discredited. Thereupon, menaced by a dangerous uprising at Rio de Janeiro in 1831, he abdicated the throne in favor of his son, Pedro, then five years of age, and set sail for Portugal.

Under the influence of Great Britain the small European mother country had in 1825 recognized the independence of its big transatlantic dominion; but it was not until 1836 that the Cortes of Spain authorized the Crown to enter upon negotiations looking to the same action in regard to the eleven republics which had sprung out of its colonial domain. Even then many years elapsed before the mother country acknowledged the independence of them all.

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