The British Library Homepage
homeHome  >   Online Gallery  >   Online exhibitions  >   Features  >   Spanish American Independence  >  

The origins of the independence movement in Spanish America

Excerpts from texts

Travels through the interior provinces of Colombia

“No troops have distinguished themselves so much among the natives of Colombia, in the long sanguinary war carried on between Bolivar and [Spanish General Pablo] Morillo, as the irregular cavalry – cossacks perhaps would be an appropriate term – of the wide extended plain of Apure, through which the river of that name winds its course; who by their intrepidity, great personal activity, excellent horsemanship , and remarkable skill in the use of a long light lance, became at last quite the dread and terror of the Spanish troops, particularly of their cavalry.  These men are accustomed, from their youth, to lead a vagabond sort of life on horseback, in looking after herds of cattle, nearly in a wild state, which feed on these extensive plains, and, like the people who inhabit the immense Pampas, or pasture lands of Buenos Ayres, they are frequently exposed to privations. The Llanero has few wants; he can live for months together on fresh beef, which his lasso can at all times provide for him: this he cuts into steaks, and broils without salt. Should his horse be knocked up, he soon procures another from the wild troops which breed in the savannahs. His arms and accoutrements consist of a long lance, sometimes a pistol in a leather girdle, a severe iron bit for his horse, for he has no saddle, a straw hat, ornamented with a cockade and a few feathers of the macaw and green parrot, a thin roana, blue trowsers, a large pair of steel spurs with long rowels, and sandals made of the bark of a tree, to protect his feet, and lastly, but not of the least importance in these immense plains, his lasso for taking cattle. One remarkably fine Spanish regiment of hussars, called after the beloved Ferdinand “the hussars of Ferdinand the Seventh”, were nearly all destroyed by these cossacks of the plains of Apure; and this was in a great measure owing to these hussars being encumbered with arms and appointments, each man having a lance, sword, carbine, and brace of pistols, with all the trappings and clothing of an Hungarian hussar, which were very ill-suited for a campaign in a tropical climate. The Llaneros, in charging the enemy, lay their head and body on the neck of the horse, and their lance is carried in an horizontal position, in the right hand, about the height of the knee. The hussars of Ferdinand were obliged to have their horses’ tails cut short, like those in stage waggons in England, and sometimes they left them merely a small dock without hair, as the Llaneros had on several occasions galloped up to a hussar, dismounted in an instant, and seizing the horse by his long tail, thrown him, by a sudden jerk, on his side, and then dispatched the rider on the ground.”

Source: Colonel P. J. Hamilton, Travels through the interior provinces of Colombia, London: 1827, vol. I, pp. 166-169.

Letter to Spanish Americans by D. Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzmán:

“Let us survey our unhappy country all over, and we shall every where find the same desolation;-- every where an avarice as excessive as it is insatiable;-- every where the most abominable form of injustice and inhumanity, on the part of blood-suckers employed by our government for our oppression. Let us consult our annals for three centuries; they discover to us the ingratitude and injustice of the Court of Spain, and its treachery in not fulfilling the engagements contracted at first with the great Columbus, and afterwards with the other conquerors, who gave to it the empire of the New World, on conditions solemnly stipulated; we shall be see the offspring of those magnanimous men branded with scorn, and pursued by the hatred which has calumniated, persecuted and ruined them.

  […] It would be a blasphemy to imagine, that the Supreme Benefactor of man has permitted the discovery of the New World, merely that a small number of imbecile knaves might always be at liberty to desolate it; and that they should incessantly have the odious pleasure of stripping millions of men, who have given then no cause of complaint, of essential rights received from his divine hand; to imagine that his eternal wisdom wished to deprive the remainder of mankind of the immense advantages which, in the order of nature, so great an event ought to procure for them, and to condemn them to wish with a groan, that the New World had remained for ever unknown.”

Source: William Burke, Additional reasons, for our immediately emancipating Spanish America: Deduced, from the new and extraordinary circumstances, of the present crisis: And containing valuable information, respecting the late important events, both at Buenos Ayres, and in the Caraccas: As well as with respect to the present disposition and views of the South Americans: Being intended as a supplement to “South American Independence”, 2nd edition, enlarged. London: 1808, Appendix. p. 96- 124.

“Speech of his Excellency General Bolivar to the Congress of Venezuela”:


I account myself one of the Beings most favoured by Divine Providence, in having the honour of re-uniting the representatives of Venezuela in this august Congress; the only source of legitimate authority, the deposit of the sovereign will, and the arbiter of the Nations fate.

In delivering back to the Representatives of the People the Supreme Power entrusted to me, I satisfy the desires of my own heart, and calm the wishes of my Fellow-Citizens and of future generations, who hope every thing from your wisdom, rectitude, and prudence. In fulfilling this delightful duty, I free myself from the boundless authority which oppresses me, and also from the unlimited responsibility which weighs on my feeble hands.
  An imperative necessity, united to a strongly expressed desire on the part of the People, could have alone induced me to assume the dreadful and dangerous charge of DICTATOR, SUPREME CHIEF OF THE REPUBLIC. Now, however, I respire in returning the authority, which, with so great risk, difficulty and toil, I have maintained amidst as horrible calamities as ever afflicted a social body.

In the epoch during which I presided over the Republic, it was not merely a political storm that raged, in a sanguinary war, in a time of popular anarchy, but the tempest of the desert, a whirlwind of every disorganised element, the bursting of an infernal torrent that overwhelmed the land of Venezuela. A man! and such a man as I am! what bounds, what resistance, could he oppose to such furious devastation? Amidst that sea of woes and afflictions, I was nothing more than the miserable sport of the revolutionary hurricane, driven to and fro like the wild bird of the Ocean. I could do neither good nor evil; an irresistible power above all human control directed the march of our fortunes, and for me to pretend to have been the primary mover of the events which have taken place, would be unjust, and would be attaching to myself an importance I do not merit. Do you desire to know the sources from which these occurrences took their rise, and the origin of our present situation? Consult the annals of Spain, of America, and of Venezuela; examine the laws of the Indies, the conduct of your ancient Governors, the influence of Religion, and of foreign Dominions; observe the first acts of the Republican Government, the ferocity of our enemies, and the national character. I again repeat, that I cannot consider myself more than the mere instrument of the great causes which have acted on our Country. My life, my conduct, and all my actions, public and private, are however before the people – and Representatives it is your duty to judge them. I submit to your impartial decision, the manner in which I have executed my command, and nothing will I add to excuse – I have already said enough as an apology. Should I merit your approbation, I shall have acquired the sublime title of a GOOD CITIZEN, preferred to me to that of LIBERATOR, bestowed on me by Venezuela, to that of PACIFICATOR, given by Cundinamarca, and to all others the universe could confer.
  LEGISLATORS! – I deposit in your hands the Supreme command of Venezuela, and it is now your high duty to consecrate yourselves to the felicity of the Republic; in your hands rest the balance of our destiny, and the means of our glory.— You will confirm the Decrees which establish our Liberty.”

Simón Bolívar, The Speech of his Excellency General Bolivar, on the Act of the Installation of the Second National Congress of Venezuela, on the 15th day of February, 1819, in which is detailed the form of government and laws recommend by his Excellency to be adopted in that Republic, London: 1819, pp. 9-10.

Top of Page Top of page

Discover more:
The origins of the independence movement
in Spanish America
Excerpts from texts
The Spanish American republics
Britain and Spanish American independence

British travelogues of independence-era
Spanish America

Related links

Accessibility Terms of use Site map
Copyright The British Library Board