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Chilean Independence Day[]

In brief[]

On September 18, 1810 Chilean leaders decided on limited self-government. Napoleon Bonaparte had imposed his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain and the Chilean establishment – unable to recognize either Joseph or the rebels against France in Spain as legitimate – decided on what was seen as an interim measure until the Spanish throne was restored. This date is now celebrated as Chile's Independence Day. The permanent independence of Chile from Spain was officially achieved on February 12, 1818. The independence process extended from the years 1808-10 to 1818-1826, depending on what terms one uses to define the beginning and the end. Traditionally, the period is divided into three stages: Patria Vieja, Reconquista, and Patria Nueva

Antecedents of the Chilean independence movement[]

In the year 1808, the Spanish Empire was in a state of agitation and turmoil. That year, the news of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, and the overthrow of Ferdinand VII reached Chile. At the same time, Francisco Antonio García Carrasco assumed the post of Royal Governor of Chile. García Carrasco was a man of crude and authoritarian manners, which alienated the Spanish Criollo elites. Already in Chile, there had been independence agitation, but it seems that García Carrasco magnified the problem. He took arbitrary and harsh measures, such as the arrest and extradition to Lima, Peru of well-known citizens. Additionally, he was implicated in a flagrant case of smuggling, extortion and murder termed the Scorpion scandal. The facts however came to light very quickly and pressure for García Carrasco's overthrow began to build. In 1810, this finally came to a head.

The most senior soldier at that time was Mateo de Toro y Zambrano, and, through the control of the troops, he had an important say in the political situation. The autonomy movement had, by this time, thoroughly propagated through the criollo elite, and it proposed the replacement of the Spanish government with a junta of notable citizens. After vacillating for some time, Toro y Zambrano agreed to hold an open public meeting on the issue in Santiago. The date was set for September 18, 1810.

The Patria Vieja[]

At the September 18 session, the juntistas grabbed the center stage with shouts of "¡Junta queremos! ¡Junta queremos!" ("We want the Junta! We want the Junta"). The very old Toro y Zambrano (83 years old at the time) acceded to their demands, handing them the ceremonial baton and saying "Here is the baton, take it and rule." Thus began the Patria Vieja.

Immediately, political intrigue began amongst the ruling elite, with news of the political turbulence and wars of Europe all the while coming in. It was eventually decided that elections for a National Congress would be held in 1811. Close to the expected day, the monarchist Tomás de Figueroa — considering the notion of elections to be too populist —led a revolt in Santiago, the so called Figueroa mutiny. The revolt sputtered, and Figueroa was arrested and summarily executed. In addition, the revolt was used as a pretext for dissolving the Real Audiencia—a longstanding pillar of Spanish crown control—and full independence gained momentum.

The revolt was successful in that it temporarily sabotaged the elections, which had to be delayed until November of the same year. Eventually, however, the Congress was duly elected. Moderates advocating only greater autonomy of the elites from Spanish Imperial control—without a complete rupture—gained the majority of seats, while a minority were held by revolutionaries who wanted complete and instant independence from Spain. During this time, a well connected young man named José Miguel Carrera arrived in Chile. Quickly, he was involved with the intrigues of various extremists who plotted to gain power through armed means. After two coups, both in the end of 1811, the ambitious Carrera managed to take power, inaugurating a dictatorship. Prominent members of the government were Carrera's brothers Juan José and Luis, as well as Bernardo O'Higgins

During this period, the Constitution of 1812 was promulgated with a marked liberal character. An example of this is the stipulation that "no order that emanates from outside the territory of Chile will have any effect, and anyone who tries to enforce such an order will be treated as a traitor." Carrera also created patriotic emblems for the Patria Vieja such as the flag, shield, and insignia. Also during his government, the first Chilean newspaper, the Aurora de Chile was published. Directed by Friar Camilo Henríquez, it supported the independence movement. Additionally, Carrera was responsible for bringing the first American consul to Chile. This was important, as it established a direct link between the liberalism and federalism of the United States with the principles of the Chilean independence movement. Finally, he founded the Instituto Nacional de Chile and the National Library of Chile. Both the these prestigious institutions have survived to the present day.

The triumph of rebellions—both in Chile and Argentina—disquieted the Viceroy of Peru, José Fernando de Abascal y Sousa. As a result, in 1813, he sent a military expedition by sea under the command of Antonio Pareja to deal with the situation in Chile (sending another force by land to attack northern Argentina). (Prago 139) The troops landed in Concepción, where they were received with applause. They then began the Royalist march towards Santiago. However, this effort failed, as did a subsequent inconclusive assault led by Gabino Gaínza. However, this was not due to the military performance of Carrera, and his incompetence led to the rise of the moderate O'Higgins, who eventually took supreme control of the pro-independence forces. Harassed on all sides, Carrera resigned, in what is commonly taken to mark the beginning of the period of the Reconquista.

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Flag of the Patria Vieja

After the attempt by Gaínza, the two sides had signed the Treaty of Lircay on May 14, nominally bringing peace but effectively only providing a breathing space. (Prago 140) Absacal had no intention of honoring the treaty and that very year sent a much more decisive force southwards, under the command of Mariano Osorio. The Royalist force landed and moved to Chillán, demanding complete surrender. O'Higgins wanted to defend the city of Rancagua, while Carrera wanted to make the stand at the pass of Angostura, a more felicitous defensive position but also closer to Santiago. Because of the disagreements and resulting lack of coordination, the independence forces were divided, and O'Higgins was obliged to meet the Royalists at Rancagua without reinforcements. The resulting battle, the Disaster of Rancagua, on October 1 and 2 of 1814, was heroically fought, but ended in stunning defeat for the independence forces of which only 500 of the original 5,000 survived. (Prago 141) A little while later, Osorio entered Santiago and put the rebellion of the Patria Vieja to an end.



Casimiro Marcó del Pont

The viceroy Abascal confirmed Mariano Osorio as governor of Chile, although a later disagreement between the two would result in Osorio's removal and the installation of Casimiro Marcó del Pont as governor in 1815. In any case, the Spanish believed that it was necessary to teach the revolutionaries a good lesson and embarked on a campaign of fierce political persecution, led by the infamous Vicente San Bruno. The patriots found in Santiago--among whom were members of the 1810 Junta—were exiled to the Juan Fernández Islands. Far from pacifying the patriots, these actions served to incite them, and soon even the most moderate concluded that anything short of independence was intolerable.

A large group of patriots (among them Carrera and O'Higgins) decided to flee to Mendoza, an Andean province of the newly independent Argentina.


José de San Martín

At the time, the governor of this province was José de San Martín, a leader of the Argentine independence movement who would become regarded as the "Simon Bolivar" of the southern part of Spanish South America. Upon the arrival of the exiles, San Martín immediately began to favor O'Higgins (probably because of their shared membership in the Logia Lautaro, a pro-independence secret society). The star of Carrera continued to fade, finally extinguished when he was executed by firing squad in 1821.

While San Martín and O'Higgins organized an army to recross the Andes and recapture Santiago, they charged the lawyer Manuel Rodríguez Erdoiza with the task of mounting a guerrilla campaign. The goals of the campaign were to keep the Spanish forces off balance, ridicule San Bruno, and generally bolster the morale of the patriots. Through his subsequent daring exploits, Rodríguez became a romantic hero of the revolution. In one of his more celebrated actions, he disguised himself as a beggar and succeeded in obtaining a coin of pity from the Governor Marco del Pont himself, who at that time had put a price on Rodríguez's head.


Manuel Rodríguez Erdoíza

The liberating Army of the Andes was prepared by 1817. After a difficult crossing the Andes, royalist forces led by Rafael Maroto were encountered on the plain of Chacabuco, to the north of Santiago. The resulting Battle of Chacabuco, on February 12, 1817, was a decisive victory for the independence forces. As a result, the patriots re-entered Santiago. San Martín was proclaimed Supreme Director, but he declined the offer and put O'Higgins in the post, where he would remain until 1823. On the first anniversary of the Battle of Chacabuco, O'Higgins formally declared independence.

Patria Nueva[]

File:O'Higgins Castro.jpg

Bernardo O'Higgins, Supreme Director

During the preceding time, Joaquín de la Pezuela was installed as a new viceroy in Peru. He resolved to recall Mariano Osorio, sending him south with another expeditionary force. The troops disembarked at Concepcion, and recruited a number of Amerindians to join their ranks. Meanwhile, Bernardo O'Higgins moved north to somehow stop the advance of the Royalists. However, his forces were surprised and very badly beaten at the Second Battle of Cancha Rayada on March 18, 1818. In the confusion, a false rumor spread that O'Higgins had died, and a panic seized the patriot troops, many of whom agitated for a full retreat back across the Andes to Mendoza. In these critical circumstances, the erstwhile Manuel Rodríguez jumped to the lead, haranguing and rallying the soldiers with the cry "There's still a country, citizens!" He named himself Supreme Director, a position which he would occupy for exactly 30 hours, which was the time the living, but wounded, O'Higgins took to return to Santiago and reclaim command.

Crippled after his defeat at Cancha Rayada, O'Higgins delegated the command of the troops to San Martín in a meeting on the plains of Maipú. Then, on April 5, 1818, San Martín inflicted a decisive defeat on Osorio the Battle of Maipú, after which the depleted royalists retreated to Concepcion, never again to launch a major offensive against Santiago. Independence was all but secured, and worries about internal divisions were allayed when O'Higgins saluted San Martín as savior of the country, a moment which came to be known as the Embrace of Maipú

To further secure Chilean independence, San Martín launched a series of actions against armed bands in the mountains, consisting of assorted outlaws, royalists, and Indians who had taken advantage of the chaos of military expeditions and forced recruitments to pillage and sack the countryside. This time of irregular warfare was later called the Guerra a muerte (Total war) for its merciless tactics, as neither the guerillas nor the government soldiers took prisoners. Only after the band of Vicente Benavides was liquidated in 1822 was the region around Concepcion finally pacified.

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Resignation of O'Higgins

As San Martín worked to establish internal stability, O'Higgins also looked to defend the country against further external threats by the Spanish and continue to roll back imperial control. He developed the Chilean navy as a line of defense against seaborne attacks, placing the Scotsman Lord Thomas Cochrane in the post of admiral. In 1820, Cochrane administered a stunning blow to the remaining royalist forces in a successful attack on a complex of fortifications at Valdivia. Later Cochrane disembarked troops under commander William Miller at northern Chiloé Island in order to conquer the last Spanish stronghold in Chile, the Archipelago of Chiloé. This failed attempt ended in the minor but significant Battle of Agüi. Later on, Jorge Beauchef headed from Valdivia an expedition to secure Osorno so that the Spanish would not not reoccupy Valdivia from the land. Beauchef inflicted a decisive defeat on the Royalists at the Battle of El Toro.

In any case, San Martín and O'Higgins were in agreement that the danger would not be passed until the Viceroyalty of Peru itself was independent from Spain. Thus, a fleet and army was prepared for an expedition to the country, and in 1820, San Martín and Cochrane set off for Peru. However, the audacious and daring character of Cochrane conflicted with the excessive prudence of San Martín. San Martín let escape a number of opportunities to land the decisive blow against the viceroy, and in the end it was Simón Bolívar who launched the final offensive after coming down from Colombia Peruvian independence was secured after the Battle of Ayacucho on December 9, 1824, in which forces led by Antonio José de Sucre—a lieutenant of Bolívar—defeated the royalist army for good.

In Chilean historiography, the Patria Nueva generally ends in 1823, with the resignation of O'Higgins. However, the last Spanish territory in Chile, the archipelago of Chiloé, was not conquered until 1826, during the government of Ramón Freire, O'Higgins' successor.

Note about this version[]

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