Gabriel Garcia Moreno--Regenerator of Ecuador - Mrs. Maxwell Scott

The Fight for Freedom

While Moreno was thus preparing for his future responsibilities the state of Ecuador had become almost desperate. Urbina waged a regular war against religion, and against priests and religious. The convents were turned into barracks, and all ecclesiastical establishments secularized—the primary schools abolished, and the University itself brought to ruin by the fact that students were permitted by a new law to take degrees without study or examinations. Urbina created and dominated both legislative chambers, and the election of honest deputies was invalidated. In 1856, however, at the end of his term of office. General Roblez succeeded him as President, and one of his first acts was to issue an amnesty to political exiles, and in especial to grant a safe-conduct pass for Garcia Moreno, thinking thus to gain the hearts of the people.

Hardly had Moreno set foot in his native country when every honor was showered upon him. The Municipality of Quito named him Alcade, or Supreme Judge, and presently, the office of Rector of the University falling vacant, the Professors elected him to fill this important post. Moreno devoted himself to the work of restoring the University to its proper position, stimulating the work of both teachers and students, and presiding himself at the examinations, where he saw that the awards were given only to those who had justly earned them.

The Faculty of Science existed only in name. The Government "considered experiments dangerous and in any case too expensive." Moreno therefore presented the University with the fine chemical laboratory which he had brought from Paris for his own use, and himself gave the lectures in this science which was almost unknown. His pupils very soon grew to appreciate his rare knowledge and talents, and his wonderful memory. To the daily lectures to the students he added public ones, when he demonstrated by interesting experiments the application of science to agriculture and manufacture, in a manner suited to the most ignorant hearers.

Everyone admired his devotion to science and his genius, but the young men especially looked up to him with an enthusiasm which eventually led them to follow his cause, and that of their country, to the death.

An opportunity for the great work of his life came to Moreno in the elections of May, 1857, when, in spite of armed intimidation and open corruption, he was returned by his countrymen at the head of a new independent party. At the first meeting of the Chambers he intervened in three matters of the highest importance. These were: the Capitation Tax on the Indians, which he succeeded in abolishing, the closing of the Masonic Lodges, and the repeal of the powers given to Urbina's Government.

This last step and Moreno's charges against him so incensed Urbina that he gave orders to a band of his Tauras to go the following day to the Assembly and arrest the speaker, should he again attack his policy. This project got about, and Moreno's followers implored him not to go to the Chambers. Regardless of his danger, he of course refused to absent himself, and on entering the Senate was surrounded by a large party of young patriots, who had come from all quarters of the town to protect him in case of need. But he was, as usual, quite equal to the occasion. In the middle of a stern denunciation of the Government Moreno stopped and, pointing to the Tauras, denounced in thrilling tones Urbina's plots, and the baseness of the soldiers who had consented to act as assassins. His words had such an effect that the Tauras left the Senate trembling and abashed.

A short time before this Urbina and Roblez had declared war against Peru, and now, reckless of their own unpopularity and of the fact that a divided country cannot face a foreign foe, they resolved to abolish all parliamentary government and dissolved the Chambers, first proclaiming themselves Dictators. This final step produced open Civil War. On the 4th of April, 1858, the troops, under the direction of General Maldonado, revolted against the Dictators. At first the movement was checked, but on January 1st, 1859, Quito rose against the tyranny of Urbina and Roblez. A provisional government was formed of three members, Garcia Moreno, Carrion, and Gomez de la Torre.

Moreno's name was placed at the head of the triumvirate, and was hailed with enthusiasm by the people. The Chambers announced their decision to the provinces, where thus the news spread like wildfire, and letters promising adherence to the Provisional Government poured in from all sides. While congratulating themselves on the turn of events, the patriots understood that it was easier to revolutionize the Government than to offer resistance to the veteran soldiers who formed the army of Urbina and Roblez. One man alone could, they felt, make head against such terrible odds, and that man was Garcia Moreno, as yet still an exile in Peru and ignorant of the honor proposed for him. A messenger was dispatched to Moreno to announce that the people had elected him, and imploring him to come as soon as possible to place himself at the head of the patriot troops. Moreno was not the man to make unnecessary delays. To avoid the ambushes of the enemy he took the road to Quevedo, and came by forced marches through forests and mountains towards Quito. It was a journey of peril. His guide died on the road from the sting of a viper. He lost his way among the heights of the Cordilleras, and, after being for two days without food, he had the crowning misfortune of losing his mule, who fell exhausted. At last, however, he reached the capital, where he was greeted by the Patriots as their deliverer.

In the following June the hostile forces met in battle at Tambucco. Moreno's inexperienced levies were no match for the President's seasoned troops, and they were completely defeated, Moreno escaping with his life. But this reverse only increased the people's patriotism, and on his return to Quito Moreno received an ovation.

The struggle continued throughout the year. In September General Franco, who was in command of the forces of the Dictators, rebelled against them and proclaimed himself President. Finding themselves deserted, Urbina and Roblez left Ecuador as quickly as they could, after tyrannizing over the country for ten years.

To send Franco to join them was now Moreno's task—no easy one, as he had no arms and few troops. But he set to work with his usual energy, and, turning a cotton factory into an Arsenal, he drilled his men from morning to night. He also approached Castilla, President of Peru, to try to avert the crisis which Urbina's imprudence had brought about; but Castilla demanded a cession of territory, and this Moreno indignantly refused. On his return journey from this unsuccessful attempt he had a narrow escape at the little town of Riombamba, which was in the hands of the troops whom Franco had bribed to betray Urbina. At midnight these soldiers surrounded the house where Moreno was sleeping and arrested him, telling him that unless he resigned his office as head of the Provisional Government the next day would be his last on earth. Having shut him up, they left him in charge of a single sentinel.

After reflecting and praying for a few moments, Moreno approached this man, and, making himself known to him, demanded his liberty. The soldier threw himself on his knees to implore his pardon, and aided his escape. Accompanied by a faithful General, Moreno rode to Calpi, and, having gathered together some loyal troops, returned to Riombamba. His would-be murderers were all drunk or asleep, and were easily taken prisoners, and the ringleaders, being judged guilty by a Council of War, were shot.

Garcia Moreno


Moreno, worn out with fatigue and heartbroken at the state of the country, returned to Quito to organize a fresh campaign against General Franco, but meanwhile the President of Peru and six thousand men had made their appearance at the mouth of the River Guayas, and were allowed by Franco to disembark. Moreno advanced against Franco, and succeeded in driving him before him and leaving him in possession only of the province of Guayaquil, which he held by the help of Castilla and his Peruvian force. Moreno now determined to return to his headquarters at Guaranda, and from there to descend the Cordilleras and attack the enemy.

The news that Franco had actually signed a treaty ceding a large part of Ecuador to Peru precipitated matters. Moreno endeavored, however, first to avert further bloodshed, and sent a noble letter to Franco in which he suggested that, in order to stop this terrible Civil War, he and Franco should both resign their commands and go into exile, leaving their country in the hands of the Provisional Government. "If you accept this proposition," he wrote, "which affords you the opportunity of securing the integrity of the frontier without wounding your honor, I will immediately renounce my official position and leave the country. I should be ashamed to ask this sacrifice from you unless I was prepared to show you the example. By imposing upon myself this voluntary exile for the good of the country, my ambition will be fully satisfied. In this way the miserable calumnies which your Guayaquil papers daily pour forth against me will fall to the ground."

In spite of the efforts of the diplomatic corps to support Moreno's generous proposal, Franco utterly refused it. Castilla sometime afterwards withdrew the greater part of his forces, but remained at Guayaquil, with a portion of his fleet, to watch events. By this movement the opposed forces became more equal in numbers, and at this juncture Moreno received an unexpected and welcome adherent in the person of General Flores. The old soldier, forgetting his past resentment and exile, and looking only to the sad state of his country, came to offer his sword to Moreno, who joyfully accepted it, and begged him to be Commander-in-Chief of the forces.

Flores, indeed, arrived at a moment when his military talent and experience were invaluable. Soon forestalling Franco's intention of marching into the interior, he advanced to meet him. He had a threefold task before him. The Cordilleras had to be crossed, an army superior in numbers and artillery to be faced, and the city of Guayaquil to be besieged. By a series of rapid flanking movements Flores drove the enemy's advance guard before him, and, making a forced march by unknown paths through the dense forests, he surprised and utterly defeated Franco at Babahayo, a little town at the foot of the Cordilleras. Franco himself escaped, and, retiring to Guayaquil, proclaimed it a free town under the protectorate of Peru.

A month later, Moreno and Flores with their army arrived before Guayaquil. The position of the town, protected on the right by the river Guayas, on the left by the Estero Salado, or Salt Marsh, and in the center by a strongly fortified hill, seemed impregnable. For several days Flores ostensibly prepared an assault of the fort, while Franco, on his side, disposed his artillery so as to annihilate the enemy on the first advance.

On the evening of September 22nd the inhabitants of Guayaquil retired to rest convinced that the attack would take place on the following day, but in the middle of the night the whole of Flores' army, except one regiment of lancers and a battery of artillery (who were left to defend headquarters in case of attack), moved to the borders of the fatal Marsh, to cross it and fall upon the town from the quarter least expected. The ruse succeeded perfectly. After a weary struggle, covered with mud, and with legs and feet bleeding, the troops reached the other side of the morass, Moreno and Flores working like common soldiers to make a passage for the guns. After a short rest, the signal for attack was given at 4 a.m. With no retreat possible, and thirsting to avenge their country's wrongs, Flores' men fought magnificently, and the enemy soon fled in confusion to the shelter of their batteries. At nine o'clock Franco took refuge on board a Peruvian ship, leaving behind him four hundred of his men, most of his officers, twenty-six guns, and all his arms and ammunition. The victory was complete, and terminated the struggle which had lasted for fifteen months.

The taking of Guayaquil caused rejoicings throughout Ecuador, and to give the event its true significance, Moreno determined that the modern flag of Ecuador, so dishonored by treachery, should disappear from the country together with the traitors who had carried it.

"This flag," he said in a solemn decree, "which has been carried by unworthy hands and is covered with ineffaceable stains, must give place to the ancient flag, dyed with the blood of our heroes, the flag which was always stainless, always triumphant—the real trophy of our national glory. From today the noble Colombian flag will become again the flag of the Republic."

As we may imagine, however, higher thoughts than these occupied Moreno's mind. Recognizing in the victory a signal mercy from Almighty God, he desired to mark the day for ever in the minds of the people. The battle had taken place on September 24th, the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, and he decreed that "to thank the Mother of the Divine Liberator, as well as to merit her assistance in the future, the army of the Republic should be placed in future under the special protection of Our Lady of Ransom, and that every year on this great anniversary the Government and army should assist officially at the services of the Church."