H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.2) online

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talents for business, opposed the incorporation with this
body ; he contended that the intention had been to form
a deliberative body, that the viceroyalty would be but
imperfectly represented by the small number of deputies,
who were then assembled, and that their incorporation
with the junta would render it too numerous to act as an
executive, which was the object of its institution.

There was from the beginning, apparently no settled
plan, but their measures were taken pretty much at ran-
dom, frOm the deficiency of experience in the science of
government. The Saavedra party having the more po-


pular side of the question, whether the more rational, I
shall not say, succeeded in obtaining the incorporation,
in the beginning of 1811, of the deputies with the junta.
Thus incorporated, their number amounted to fifteen,
Saavedra still continuing president. It now assumed
the title of Junta Suprema, and by an ordinance of
the tenth of February, proceeded to establish something
like a general plan for the government of tlie viceroyalty.
This document is headed by some general remarks,
which evince that the spirit of liberty had already made
considerable progress, while at the same time their pro-
ceedings were marked by extreme caution and timidity.
" The same reasons," say they, " which required the es-
tablishment of a collective authority, instead of the
single one of the viceroy, also dictates the introduction
of a new form in the subordinate governments. The
well grounded apprehension of endangering these first
steps, which were to decide our fate, in the narrow path
we had to tread, when this junta did not possess the en-
tire confidence of the provinces, constrained it to refrain
from making any alterations in the former system, by
placing the government at once in hands, whose fide-
lity was beyond suspicion. Moreover, the junta has
always been convinced, that the best fruits of this revo-
lution ought to consist in enabling the people to taste
the benefits of a popular government. It is for this rea^
son, that, although trusting to the influence of general
causes, it was, notwithstanding, enjoined in the private
instructions to the military commission, that the esta^
blishment of juntas should be every where promoted.
They thought that unless this course were pursued, the
people would still continue to be wretched ; in fact, the
authority, which is not restrained by the watchful-
ness of other authorites, seldom fail to corrupt the best
intentions. The magistrate who has been guilty of


usurpation, is obliged to render himself absolute, in order
to insure impunity. From the violation of the laws to
despotism, there is but a single step ; and thenceforth
the subject slaves have neither country nor zeal for
the public good, while the state, dispirited, offers an
easy prey to every enemy. But the contrary must ne-
cessarily happen, when the government is deposited in
many hands. From the continual flux and reflux of
authority, habits will be f formed by the people, which
will temper the harshness incident to power, and the
humiliation of obedience. Such a government will
bring forward able magistrates, yet servants of the laws ;
free citizens, who yet know that there is no liberty for
him who does not obey the laws : such a government
will foster all the civic and political virtues, the love of
glory and of country, and, in a word, it will form men
who will sacrifice their interests and selfish feelings to
the good of the state. In order that this great work may
be accomplished, it is important that these juntas should
be chosen by the people, so that those who may be
elected, shall have the popular opinion in their favour,
and merit alone may elevate to ofiice, and the possession
of the necessary talents to qualify for command, shall be
their fairest title."

I make the foregoing extract, to shew how much more
easy it is to reason wisely on the subject of government,
than it is to act wisely. These observations, so full of
good sense, might possibly be followed up by very silly
measures. The sentiments are also somewhat singular,
when it is recollected, that it was not until after this
time, that the intention was openly manifested, of sepa-
rating from Spain. The avowed object at present, was
merely 'to prepare the people for self-government, in
case the necessity should be thrown upon them. It
should be remembered, that the progress of our revolu-


tion was in the same manner fortuitous, during its first
stages, and it was not until sixteen years after the com-
mencement of the contest, that we sat down to build up
our national fabric, in pursuance of a regular and syste-
matic plan. The junta suprema, after this preamble,
proceeds in a constitution consisting of twenty-four
articles, and improving a little on the meagre set of
rules adopted by the junta, to establish the provincial
and subordinate juntas ; the first, for the capitals or chief
towns," the others, for smaller communities. It provides
for the mode of election by electoral colleges, and li-
mits the power of the juntas ; which are in fact, little
more than committees of safety, as they are forbidden
to interfere in the administration of justice, or in any
manner with the functions of the civil magistrates, or
corporations already established ; none of whom, or any
clergymen, were to be members of the juntas, or to take
part in them. They were, moreover, to be composed of
citizens in no way connected with any branch of the go-
vernment. It wasialso provided, that those cities or pro-
vinces, which have deputies in the junta suprema,
shall notwithstanding, have their provincial juntas. This
regulation was declared to be only provisional or tem-
porary, until a general congress could be assembled ;
from which it appears, that the junta considered itself as
assuming the supreme authority only from the necessity
of the case ; it could not be regarded as a convention,
its members not being elected by the people ; but merely
deputed by the several cabildos or corporations.
J.- It is not to be supposed, that party animosity and fac-
tion, were now lulled to sleep ; on the contrary, their
fierceness seemed to increase at every step towards li-
berty. The secretary, Moreno, was left out in the new
organization, but was deputed as a public agent to
England ; he embarked on his mission, but died in the


course of his passage. His party was, however, not ex-
tinct ; nothing was left undone to bring the party in
power into disrepute, and chiefly by accusations of Por-
tuguese influence. Towards the Portuguese there prevails
a hereditary dislike, over and above the fears entertained
of their ambitious designs and formidable neighbour-
hood. The impracticability of betraying the country,
is a presumption that no such design could exist in the
minds of those in power ; but the accusation was suf-
ficient to influence the mind of those who were enlisted
on the side of the opposition, when mingled with other
and well grounded causes of complaint ; that a govern-
ment constituted like this, should be without faults,
would be a phenomenon. A club had been formed at
Buenos Ayres, somewhat on the principles of the ja-
cobin clubs at Paris, and which aspired in like manner to
control the operations of government. Saavedra now
resolved to have recourse to the same military force with
which he had deposed the viceroy, for the purpose of
putting down, those of his fellow-citizens who were en-
deavouring to have him removed. On the 6th of April,
1811, three civic regiments devoted to his interests,
were drawn up in the public square, and a petition was
presented to the corporation, by several hundred of the
country people, demanding the banishment of the ob-
noxious members of the junta. Awed by the military,
the request was complied with ; the club was broken up,
a number of citizens thrown into prison, and others ba-
nished.* Here was the commencement of those banish-

* These i)roscriptions extended no further. The banished were
sumetime afterwards permitted to return. One cause of the insta-
bility of the government, was the continual plotting of their friends,
to place the government in different hands, so that the banished per-
sons might return. As far as I can ascertain, none of the parties that

Vol. II. N


ments and proscriptions, which afterwards almost inva-
riably marked violent changes in the administration of
the government ; but which, considering the fury of the
passions in these intestine feuds, were as mild as could
be expected. These proceedings, however, disgusted
the more sober and rational, and even those who were
dissatisfied with the conduct of the club, were still more
displeased with that of Saavedra. Of the merits of the
affairs, I cannot pretend to judge ; certain it is, that the
occurrence was followed by violent and dangerous dis-
sentions throughout the republic, and especially among
the military leaders in Peru, who partook in the disputes
which distracted the capital.* All those jealousies, ri-
valries, and ambitious pretensions, were to be expected
in a state of society, where the settled order had been
broken up, and time had not been allowed for every one
to find his proper place. Its elements contended with
each other, like those of nature in a state of chaos ;

Frig:ida pugnabant calidis, humentia siccis,
MoUia cum duri^>, sine poridere habentia pondus.

I have seen something like it in our new territories,
where a great number of persons are suddenly thro>\7i
together from different quarters of the union. The
first years are past in this kind of stiuggle or fermenta-
tion, absolutely necessary to enable each one to find
his proper station in society. The remark that every
captain or major at Buenos Ayres, aspired to be com-

hme spruny up at Buenos Ayres, is entirely innocent of the charge of ha-
niihiner its political enemies.

. * It is said that party spirit had acquired such virulence, that those
ia power were rejoiced at the defeat of Balcarcc at Hnaqui, and onI>'
saw ia it the desi ruction of formidable rivals.


msmder-in-chief, or supreme director, only proves that
the settled order of society had been broken up by a po-
litical convulsion ; but in the course of time, order would
be brought out of confusion, by the tendency of every
thing to an equilibrium, in the moral as well as in the
natural world.*

After the change in the members of the junta, effect-
ed in the violent manner just mentioned, and the ba-
nishment of Larrea, Pena, Posadas,t and others,
there prevailed for some time a deceitful tranquillity.
The friends of those who had been banished, only
waited a proper opportunity to declare themselves.
The junta on the 24th of August, published a long
and well written manifesto, professing to give a full
view of their situation, and reiterating all those popu-
lar sentiments already noticed, and others of a similar
cast. The views of the court of Brazil are exposed,
and the eventual right of the princess Charlotta spo-
ken of in terms of indignation. The paper makes a
display of their strength and means, and breathes
the language of defiance. There was at this time a

* I have spoken of the democratic character of the population of
Buenos Ayres; the following extract from Azara, on the subject of
the equality prevailing among them, is intended by him for the re-
verse of flattery. "The Spaniards of all these countries, (Spanish
Americans) think themselves above the Indians, negroes, and people
of colour, but among themselves there reigns the most perfect equality
without distinction of nobles and plehians. Neither fiefs, substitu-
tions, or mayorasgo, are known among them. The only distinction
which exists is purely personal, and only arises from the exercise of
public functions, the possession of riches, or the reputation of talents
and probity." — Azara, vol. ii. p. 277. .'ia«-

t Larrea and Posados were afterwards employed in the govern-

N 2


formidabte expedition said to be fitting out from Spain,
and while apprehensions were entertained, it served to
suspend their internal feuds ; similar apprehensions
were productive of the same effects, when South Ame-
rica was threatened with the expedition of Morillo.
Two of the members, Saavedra and Molina, were de-
puted to the different cities of Peru, in order to con-
fer with their cabildos on the best means of providing
for the common defence, and of terminating the prevail-
ing discords. The enemies of Saavedra took ad-
vantage of his absence to get rid of him ; he was not
only excluded from the government, but was compelled
to undergo several years of banishment.*

On the 2.3d of September, a meeting was convened
in the same disorderly manner, in which others had
been called, for the purpose of new modelling the go-
vernment. By the enemies of the jimta, it was in-
sisted, that a body composed of so many persons sepa-
rated into parties, aud dividing the commimity into as
many factions as there was private interests in the
junta, was not suited to the prompt and energetic mea-
sures, which the then critical state of their affairs
required. It was therefore resolved, to establish a
triple executive. The persons selected for this pur-
pose were Sarratea, Chicklana, and Passo, with Ri-
vadavia and Perez, as secretaries. A kind of consti-
tution was published in November, called the estatuto.

• I visited him frequently while at Buenos Ayres. He was said
to be in narrow circumstances, and lived a good deal retired, His
political conduct was then undergoing an investigation, for the
purpose of restoring him, if possible, to public confidence. He has
since been declared ciududano bene nierito, and is once more in en"


or statute ; the original of those afterwards adopted.
It is the first which recognizes specifically, any: of the
rights of the citizen, and is also important as being the
first to declare the liberty of the press, but which
amounted to little more than abolishing the previous
license. The sphere of general knowledge, was, not-
withstanding, already much enlarged — the protection
of the press was of course a popular measure. A junta,
to whose special care the liberty of the press was in-
trusted, was to be annually appointed ; a poor security
when unsupported by the force of public opinion, for,
in all probability, this jimta itself would in a little
time, become a mere instrument of the government.
What £ifter all are forms of government, or political
institutions, unless supported by the education, habits,
and virtues of a people ? Without these the most per-
fect forms that were ever conceived will be inefficient ;
anarchy and despotism will merely change hands, and
hold an alternate sway.'

In order to guard against the evils to be appre-
hended from the permanency of the triple executive, or
triumvirate, it was provided that one of the number
should vacate his seat every six months, and his suc-
cessor to be elected by a meeting of the deputies from
the municipalities of each province. The junta su-
PREMA figured on the stage no more ; its members were
scattered among the rest of the citizens — perhaps as
so m£iny firebrands to light up new discords. The
triumvirate announced in the new estatuto, the inten-
tion to call a representation of the people, for the pur-
pose of forming a deliberative body, from the want of
which, the principal part of the evils they had suf-
fered had taken their origin. They published the re^r.
'^amento of the 19th of February 1812, establishing

N 3


the provisional assembly of the United Provinces of
Rio de la Plata.^ The reglamento consisted of twenty
articles, and provided that the provisional assembly
should be composed of the members of the corpora-
tion, or cabildo of the capital, of the deputies or per-
sons empowered (apoderados) by the different cities of
the United Provinces, and one hundred citizens, to be
elected in the manner therein prescribed. The cabildo
of the capital, was to preside in this singularly com-
posed deliberative body. The citizens were to be cho-
sen from those of the capital, or such of the citizens of
the provinces as might happen to be there, even for
transitory purposes. The mode is in some respects
whimsical, and little conformable to the practice of
nations accustomed to elections. The whole may be
regarded as one of the rudest essays at representative
government ; some of its features were borrowed from
ancient Spanish institutions. It may be asked, why
not adopt at once the system tried and experienced
in the United States? The reason why cannot be
well understood by those who have seen it only in
operation in this country, and have had no oppor-
tunities of observing the difficulty of introducing it
into a country, whose habits and laws are entirely
different. If we should make a present of our consti-
tutions to the South Americans, it would be necessary
to send along with them, a sufficient number of our
countrymen, to put them into operation, and to teach
their use. No — they may adopt and ingraft many of-
their best features, they may establish free govern-
ments, but not such as ours ; although by degrees tkey

• This is the first occasion iti which I meet with the designation of
United Pioviuces.


may be able to introduce the leading features of our
system. This must be the work of time.

One provision in the fourth article is worthy of no-
tice, as it exhibits the first endeavour to guard against
military influence on the deliberations of the assem-
bly. It appears also by this, that the regular sol-
diery of the republic, was becoming more distinct from
the rest of society than at first. The words are, " In
order to avoid the dangerous eflccts of the improper
influence of the executive, (del gobierno) in the delibe-
rations of the assembly, and consulting the practice of
all free people in the civilized world, it is declared
that the ofiicers of the army, and those employed
in the difierent branches of the public administration,
or immediately dependent on the executive, are for-
bidden from interfering in any mamier with the as-
sembly." This body, when convened, was to take an
oath to support the liberty and property of the United
Provinces, and to notify the executive of their being
ready to receive communications ; £uid was also to send a
statement of the particular business which may have
occasioned their convocation. Their first act, when
convened, was to go into the election of the triumvir,
who was to fill the place of him whose term should
have expired. It was also provided, that the right
of convening the assembly should be in the execu-
tive or triumvirate alone, and this to be done at least
once every six months. The assembly not to be a
permanent body, and not to act on any other mat-
ters than those for which they were convened, nor
to remain in session longer than eight days, but to
be sooner prorogued at the pleasure of the execu-
tive. In some cases, the executive might assist at
their deliberations, provided they were not of a na-


ture to interfere with the freedom of debate. I have
given a few of the leading features of this singu-
lar constitution, originating in great anxiety to re-
strain the encroachment of power on the liberties of
the people, but unable to fall upon the best method
of accomplishing this desirable object. At the end
of the six months, the assembly was considered as
entirely dissolved, and a new election had to be
gone into.

I have said nothing of the incidents of the war in
Peru, and with the Spaniards at Monte Video, both of
which had their influence on the local feuds of Buenos
Ayres. The defeats in Peru, and the bad success of
the war in the Banda Oriental, must have contributed
not a little to the instability of the governments hitherto
etablished, as well as fomented party spirit. The
calling in of the Portuguese by Elio, the Spanish gover-
nor, at Montevideo, on finding himself closely pressed
by Rondeau and Artigas, had also its effect on the
councils of Buenos Ayres. The assembly, at its first
meeting in April 1812, elected Pueyrredon as one of the
members of the triumvirate ; his conduct in Peru having
rendered him at this time extremely popular. This body,
however, did not stop here, but proceeded to declare it-
self rightfully invested with supreme authority. A strug-
gle of course ensued, and ought to have been foreseen ;
the popular opinion was on the side of the executive,
which proceeded at once to dissolve the assembly ; it was
accordingly done without resistance. During the admi-
nistration of Pueyrredon, the siege of Monte Video was
renewed, and through the mediation of Lord Strangford,
an armistice was concluded, in the month of June, be-
tween the Portuguese and Buenos Ayres ; in consequence
of which the former withdrew their army from Banda


Oriental, and a reciprocal guarantee was agreed upon,
with respect to each other's territories.* This is the
third time we find the British interfering in behalf of
Buenos Ayres ; the first when a blockade was attempted
by Elio, afterwards by mediation between her and the
junta of Cadiz,t and finally in the present treaty nego-
ciated with Brazil through their interference.

On the sixth of October another assembly was con-
vened, which elected Medrano as one of the members
of the executive, and then proceeded to pursue the same
conduct, as had occasioned the dissolution of the first.
The same consequences were produced, but after a more
violent struggle. In the manifestoes issued on the occa-
sion, the municipality, the people, and the troops, are
said to be disgusted with their conduct. A revolution
followed closely on the heels of these violent disputes
between the executive and the assembly, but on this
occasion originating with the military and civic corps.
On the eighth, the regulars, headed by their offi-
cers, marched from the barracks, and declared against
the triumvirate. A memorial was then presented by the
principal inhabitants of the municipality, calling for a
congress (or cabildo abierto) of the citizens ; the military
declaring that from a knowledge of the unpopularity of
the measures pursued by the triumvirate, and the suppo-

* The treaty was effected by Colonel Rademaker, deputed to
Buenos Ayres on the part of the court of Brazil. This is insisted
on in the correspondence between Pueyrredon and Lecor, on the
second invasion by the Portuguese,

t It was acceded to by Buenos Ayres, provided it should be on
the basis of a perfect equality between them, that is, an acknon,,
ledgement of their independence^ which the Spaniards did not choose
to do.


sition that the people might be restrained from acting, by
apprehensions, that they would support the executive,
they were determined to remoYe all restraints on the free-
dom of their actions.* A singular spectacle is tlius ex-
hibited in the standing army being the insti'um.ent of
faction, instead of the instrument of power. It probably
tends to prove, that the distinction between the citizen
and the soldier, was not yet strongly marked ; that they
partook of each other's feelings and passions, and there-
fore were not sufficiently under the controul of any indi-
vidual, to be dangerous to the liberties of the country.

Of the merits of the question in dispute, which gave
rise to this affair, in part a military revolt, and in part a
popular commotion, it is difficult to speak. It appears
that dissatisfaction prevailed both against the assem-
bly and the executive ; the election of Medrano is
mentioned as one cause, and 2inother the exclusion of
deputies, who ought to have been received. The memo-
rial to the municipality sets forth, " that the public pa-
tience had been exhausted by the wayward excesses of
the executive, that it was impossible to remain passive,
and see their coimtry threatened with so severe a blow at
the most critical moment of its existence. That to look
on with indifference, and not attempt to ward off the blow
aimed hy those two political monsters, which had sprung
up in the midst of tliem, would be criminal — monsters
who have infused their poison into the very heart of the
state, and brought its new-boni liberty to the verge of

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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.2) → online text (page 14 of 25)