Simon Bolivar: His Life and His Work - Guillermo Sherwell

Humanizing War—Morillo's Withdrawal


Meanwhile, in Spain, a great expedition was being prepared to come to America, an expedition which was intended to surpass even the army of Morillo. Fernando VII was determined to reestablish his absolute power, not only in Spain but in the colonies. Morillo, in Venezuela, was asking for reinforcements. In his pleas for more men he stated that he wanted them to conquer Bolivar, "an indomitable soul, whom a single victory, the smallest, is enough to make master of 500 leagues of territory." Fernando VII was very willing to send this expedition, not merely to support his authority, but also to get rid of many officers who were accused of liberal principles. The army, gathered in Cadiz, was very soon undermined by subversive ideas. An officer named Rafael Riego led the insurrection, and on New Year's Day, 1820, instead of being on its way to America, the army was in revolt in the name of constitutional freedom. The ultimate result of this was that the expedition did not sail, and that Fernando VII had frankly to accept a constitutional program. Although Morillo endeavored to convey the idea that the events in Cadiz had little importance, the news which reached Bolivar after some delay strengthened his hope, for it seemed evident that Spanish soldiers were unwilling to come to America to fight against the insurgents.

In January, 1820, Bolivar again crossed the plains, where Paez was in command, and journeyed towards Bogota, with the object of publishing the law establishing the Republic of Colombia. It was proclaimed there with solemnity by Santander, who, on communicating the event to the President praised the latter with the following words: "Colombia is the only child of the immortal Bolivar." In March Bolivar was in Bogota, where he gave the final orders for the various military operations to be conducted in the North and South.

In his absence, the Congress of Angostura decreed that he should use the official title Libertador  before the word Presidente, and consider this title as his own on all occasions of his life. Many other honors were conferred upon him and his men. Grateful at heart, Bolivar devoted his attention to the stupendous task of organizing the country.

Meanwhile, Morillo, waiting for the Spanish reinforcements which never arrived, distributed his armies on the plains and in the southwest, in order to be in a position to fight Bolivar whenever the opportunity occurred. There were still nearly 15,000 men under Morillo, besides those who were in Nueva Granada occupying Cartagena and other smaller places, and those in possession of Quito. Bolivar organized another army, determined to try his forces once more against those of his powerful foe.

As a result of the revolution in Spain, Morillo had to proclaim and swear to the Spanish constitution in the provinces that he governed. This fact wrought a marked change in the position of the contending armies. The representative government established certain rights for provinces, and at the same time created the hope among the Spaniards that the revolution would end by conferring the privilege of representation on the American colonies.

The Spanish government initiated peace negotiations with the patriots, and Morillo was made president of a commission which went to talk this matter over with the heads of the Colombian revolution in July, 1820. A "Junta Pacificadora," or assembly to establish peace, was set up by Morillo in Caracas. Its first work was to send communications to the various generals to suspend military operations for a month, while settlement was being reached, and Bolivar was approached. On this occasion, Bolivar was addressed as "His Excellency, the President of the Republic." He was no longer the rebel, the insurgent or the bandit.

Bolivar was not to be deceived by any conciliatory attitude on the part of the government. He decided that all his subordinate officers should furnish every means for the conferences with the royalists, but always on the basis of the independence of Colombia.

"It will never be humiliating," he wrote in a letter to one of his officers, "to offer peace on the principles established in the declaration of the Republic of Venezuela, which ought to be the foundation of all negotiations; first, because it is ordered by a law of the Republic, and second, because it is necessary according to the nature and for the salvation of Colombia."

Consequently, Congress answered the commissioners who came to deal with Bolivar that the sovereign congress of Colombia would listen with pleasure to all the propositions of the Spanish government, provided they were founded on the acknowledgment of the sovereignty and independence of Colombia, and that it would not admit any departure from this principle, often proclaimed by the government and people of the republic.

Latorre, one of the most distinguished and gentlemanly of the Spanish commanders, sent a personal note to Bolivar, in which he expressed the hope that Bolivar would some day give him the pleasure of embracing him as his brother. Bolivar answered accepting the armistice, but reiterated that he would listen to no proposition not based on the independence of Colombia.

The proposal of the Spanish commanders was that the provinces should adopt the political constitution of the Spanish monarchy; the King would permit the present chieftains to retain command in the provinces they were then occupying for an indefinite time, but subordinate either to the general of the Spanish army or directly to the Spanish government. The representative of Bolivar, for Bolivar did not attend the meeting through necessities of the campaign, declined to accept the proposals, and added:

"The champions of justice and liberty, far from feeling flattered by promises of unlimited command, feel insulted to see themselves identified with the low element which prefers to oppress and be powerful to the sublime glory of being the liberators of their country."

Meanwhile, the diplomatic representatives of Colombia were strengthening the credit of the country in London. The public debt was recognized and a system of payment was decided on. Colombia, whose freedom was not yet accepted by the world, had at the time better credit than that of some of the European countries. On the other hand, some diplomatic movements were badly conducted in Europe. The royalist system was so deeply rooted in the spirits of men that many did not hesitate to take steps to establish independent kingdoms in America, with European princes at their heads. As a matter of fact, at that time, the Spanish colonies, with the exception of Colombia, showed very marked monarchical tendencies. Mexico had given indication of her desire for a Spanish prince, and at last fell into the hands of Iturbide. In Buenos Aires also, a monarch was wanted, and it is well known that San Martin, the hero of Argentina and Chile, was very much in favor of the monarchical system. Colombia alone continued to support Bolivar in his idea concerning the establishment and the conservation of the republican system. It is true that Bolivar wanted a president for life and an hereditary senate, but these ideas were rejected by his fellow citizens. He defended them with great vigor, and, if we are to judge by the history of anarchy succeeded by long periods of tyranny through which many countries of Spanish America have passed, we may believe that Bolivar's ideas were based on a knowledge of all the weaknesses characteristic of the Spanish American people of his time. He wanted to live up to the lofty words of Henry Clay, who, in the House of Representatives of the United States, proposed that Colombia should be recognized as a free country, "worthy for many reasons to stand side by side with the most illustrious peoples of the world," a solemn utterance which had little weight at that time in the United States, but which showed for the first time in a semi-official way that the United States was taking notice of the important movement of the South.

Bolivar, after an expedition to inspect the military operations of his army, sent a communication to Morillo, notifying him that he was ready to communicate with him. In a later letter, he asked Morillo to give instructions to his commanders to enter into a treaty to regularize the war, the horrors and crimes of which up to that time had steeped Colombia in tears and blood. The first arrangement made by the commanders of both sides was the agreement to an armistice to last during six months, covering all Colombia, and designating the lines where the contending armies should stay. It was also agreed that a treaty would be drafted providing for the continuance of war in accordance with international law and the usages of civilized countries. The initiative for these improvements was due to Bolivar, who was also the author of the basis of the treaty proposed by the Colombian delegates. Among the clauses of this agreement were some providing for the safety, good-treatment and exchange of prisoners; the abolition of capital punishment against deserters apprehended in the ranks of the enemy; the inviolability of lives and property in the sections tentatively occupied by the troops of the two armies; and the burial or incineration of the bodies of the dead on the field of battle. No treaty of the same nature entered into before that time had been so advanced in character. As Bolivar had previously said, the Venezuelans had nothing to lose; they had lost everything already; but the new treaty prevented further misfortune or abuse.

Subsequent to the signing of the treaty, Morillo expressed a desire to meet Bolivar personally, and Bolivar agreed. The two met in a town called Santa Ana, accompanied by a very few officers. Latorre also attended the meeting, but the presence of officers particularly distasteful to Bolivar was prevented by Morillo. Each of these two men represented in its noblest aspect the cause which he defended. It is strange that neither of them seemed to have been prepared by circumstances of early life for the role he was playing. Morillo was born of humble parentage, and from the lowest rung of the ladder he climbed to the highest place in the army, always in defense of the monarchy, until he received the titles of Count of Cartagena and Marquis of La Puerta; Bolivar, born in wealth, destined to become a millionaire and to be the recipient of every honor if he remained on the side of the oppressors of his country, sacrificed everything, lost his personal property to the last penny, and shared privations of every kind with his soldiers. When he had money, he gave it away; when he had no money, he gave away his food and clothing. His generosity was unlimited. On one occasion, when he learned that the man who had helped him to secure a passport after the surrender of Miranda was in prison and his estate about to be confiscated, Bolivar immediately asked that his own private property be taken instead of that of his friend.

But both Bolivar and Morillo were very much above the common chieftains, the bloodthirsty Boves, the ignorant Paez. They were the best representatives of what was truest and loftiest in Spanish power and in independent energy.

The interview was cordial. The two men embraced one another, had a long friendly conversation, and parted with a high mutual regard. They decided that a monument should be erected to commemorate their meeting. Bolivar's toast at a dinner tendered him on that occasion indicated clearly how he desired the war to be fought in the future. Lifting his glass, he said:

"To the heroic firmness of all the fighters of both armies; to their constancy, endurance and matchless bravery; to the worthy men who support and defend freedom in the face of ghastly penalties; to those who have gloriously died defending their country and their government; to the wounded men of both armies who have shown their intrepidity, their dignity and their character . . . eternal hatred to those who desire blood and who shed it unjustly."

Morillo answered in these words:

"May Heaven punish those who are not inspired with the same feelings of peace and friendship that animate us."

From that day on the correspondence between the two men was very respectful and cordial.

Morillo knew well that he could not conquer the independent army, and he decided to return to Spain before he had lost his reputation in Venezuela. He asked to be recalled, and was succeeded by D. Manuel de Latorre, of whom we have already made mention. Transfer of the command was effected on the fourteenth of December, 1820.