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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the grave." Such is the extravagant language used in
these paroxysms of popular phrensy ! They also com-

- * Mr. Poinsett observes on this occasion, "the military, so often
instrnmcnts of faction, a^ain lent their aid, and a new executive
was appointed hy <i cabildo abicrto, oi (own meeting."


plain that the executive was guilty of a violation of civil
liberty, by disregarding the ninth article of the estatuto.
That the provision in favour of individual security, con-
tained in that article, was only intended to deceive ; that
the last assembly served only to cover or sanction the
abuses, practised by the executive ; which they accused
of having raised the standard of faction, and proscribed
the most useful citizens. They complain of the exclu-
sion, without cause, of the deputies to the assembly
from Mendoza, as well as those from Salta and Jujuy,
under the pretext, that these places were in possession of
the Spaniards ; and finally comes the sweeping charge of
a treacherous design to surrender the country to the Por-
tuguese. The municipality, or cabildo, is, therefore,
requested to resume the power which had been thus abused,
and to take measures for the appointment of an executive,
in whom the people could confide, and also to convene
an assembly in whose hands the sovereign authority might
be safely intrusted.

What foundation there was for all these charges it is
not in my power to say. The probability is, that the
very nature of the government itself, so ridiculous in
theory, and so defective in its operation, would excite
general disgust, and that the party feuds miavoidably
produced, would terminate in a Babylonian confusion,
from which there was no escape, but through convulsive
struggles. It is, however, worthy of admiration, that
during several days that the confusion lasted, there was
no instance of bloodshed, riots, or violence. The
members of the executive disappeared as soon as they
saw the gathering storm. Pueyrredon, who was the least
obnoxious, concealed himself at the house of a friend,
and when the tumult had somewhat subsided, addressed
a frank and manly letter to the cabildo, requesting that
he might be heard in vindication of his conduct, which


was refused, and he was banished to one of the interior
towns, St. Luis, in the province of Cuyo.

The meeting took place, and the administration of the
government was, for the present, vested in three persons,
to wit : Pena, Passo, and Jonte, under the title of Gu-
BiERNo Superior, or superior government; who were,
as soon as possible, to call together an assembly repre-
senting the people of the viceroyalty. These issued their
manifesto, containing as usual, a picture of the errors of
the former government, and abundant promises to do bet-
ter. This document contains some sentiments of a more
liberal cast, than those produced by the like occasions*
whose burden usually had been strict observance of the
laws, and obedience to the constituted authorities.
" When a people," say they, " have recovered their
liberty, the dominant passion with them is the fear of
losing it ; and, if in their first efforts, any thing in reality
or appearance, seems to endanger its possession, they
are immediately disposed for a new convulsion, and this
is as often repeated as their fears are renewed. From
thence forward, indifference and apathy, which consti-
tute the character of the slave, are changed into a sen-
sibility, that often borders on fanaticism ; and as, un-
happily, misfortunes must frequently attend human affairs,
the people in their disappointments are too apt to apply
a severe mistrust of those in power. Such is the charac-
ter which a love of liberty inspires. Happy the people
whose impressions are taken from no other principle !
Let us leave to the timid reasoner to be ashamed of these
successive convulsions ; the enlightened philosopher will
calculate the progress of the public mind in these oscil-
lations, which threaten its destruction ; he will see in these
terrible conflicts of opinion, those efforts of nature,
which are the forerunners of liberty." I could wish my
limits would suffer me to ^ive more copious extracts from


this paper, in order to show the advancement already
made by these people, if not in the principles, at least in
the love of liberty. What can be more interesting, espe-
cially to an American, than the struggles of a people
thus situated, desirous to be free ! The arrogant and
supercilious may affect to treat these efforts with con-
tempt, because they fall far below those notions they may
possess, or have acquired from the accidental circum-
stance of having been born in an atmosphere of freedom ;
had the same men but lived under a despotism, their sla-
vish souls would have been equally well adapted to the

In the meanwhile summonses had been issued for the
purpose of convening the new assembly, intended to form
a more immediate and fair representation of the whole
people of the viceroy alty. They were chosen in the dif-
ferent cities, by means of electoral colleges, and this
assembly was, therefore, supposed to be personally re-
cognised by every inhabitant. It was convened on the
30th January, 1813, having been expected with great
impatience by the people, who, wearied out by former
disappointments, had flattered themselves with great
hopes from a body, which approached nearer to their
wishes, than any that had hitherto been formed. Its in-
stallation was celebrated by public rejoicings every where
through the country, and its sessions were opened by an
address from the triple executive, acknowledging the
supreme power of the state to be vested in this body,
which they style the Sovereign Constituent As-
sembly. They further proceeded to declare their ex-
emption from arrest, and to secure their importance
and respectability, by a variety of other provisions.
The assembly proceeded to the election of a new tri-
umvirate ; the choice fell upon the same persons, with
the exception of Passo, who was replaced by Perez.


An oath was then administered to them, nearly in the
form of that prescribed for the supreme director in
the present provisional constitution. Not a word is
said of Ferdinand; and from the language and spirit
of these proceedings, it is evident they now thought
of little else than entire independence. The execu-
tive power was no longer to be called provisional, but
supreme. Carlos Alvear was chosen president of the
assembly. This body, which was invested with powers
greatly more extensive than any which had hereto-
fore assembled, proceeded to do many important acts
of absolute sovereignty. National arms and a flag
were adopted ; and at this period, having been success-
ful in Peru, they coined money with the arms of the
state, instead of those of Ferdinand ; they ordered a
general census to be taken, made a new organization
of the military forces, passed regulations for the go-
vernment of the army and navy, issued a general in-
dulta for offences committed, with certain exceptions ;
they decreed the children of slaves bom in future to be
free, and the slaves that might be brought into the
country, to be immediately emancipated ; they con-
trived a plan of manumitting others, by purchase
from their masters, on part credit. These w^ere formed
into battalions, and were to serve the country a cer-
tain number of years, as a compensation for their
freedom, to be officered by white men, and fed and
clothed by the state, and to receive half a dollar
per week.

These are amongst the most important acts since
the revolution. It is proper to remark, that in the midst
of all these chEinges, the minor and subordinate branches
of the government, had gone on with little interruption.
The political tempests had merely ruffled the surface.
In the manifestos issued trom time to time by tlie for-


mer administrations, there are accounts of minute re-
forms, numerous indeed, but when there was so much
to be done, their aggregate, probably, did not amount
to any thing of importance. The provincial and sub-
ordinate juntas had been abolished, having been found
to clash with the local authorities. The ordinance of
the 23d of January, 1812, containing fifty-six ar-
ticles, exhibits, probably, the greater part of the
changes and alterations made in the administration of

We have now entered upon what may be regarded as
the second epocha of the revolution. A retrospect of
the three preceding years, would show that during that
time, very considerable advancement had been made;
but notwithstanding the higher tone which had been
assumed, they still professed themselves the subjects
of Ferdinand, as the time had not yet arrived when
they could safely attempt a final separation. This was,
however, perhaps, the most enthusiastic period of the
revolution, it was the period when the people had be-
gun to awaken from their slumbers, and to feel some-
thing like the delirium of liberty, but which they
did not yet entirely comprehend, or know how to use.
The number of strangers who had come among them,
and of books introduced, and the greater attention
paid to education, were naturally productive of the
most powerful mfluence. The number of their arti-
ficial wants, was increased by the great importations of
British goods, which at the same time stimulated their
industry. Party spirit, however, was by no means

The feelings engendered by past transactions were
still kept alive, and the petty jealousies and disputes
between the leading men and their partisans, still


prevailed. The discontents and jealousies on the
part of tJie other provinces, and Buenos Ayres, were
by no means done away ; although by the establish-
ment of the assembly, Buenos Ayres, with the excep-
tion of being the capital, or seat of government, was
placed on the same footing with the other provinces.
But I have already noticed the peculiar tendency in
this union, towards anarchy in the members, much
more to be dreaded, than to absolute power in the
head. The terms capitalism and provincialism brought
into use about this time, show at once the nature
of the difference or dispute between the two factions
that were now the most numerous and powerful. The first
was in favour of something approaching nearer to
a consolidated government then that [of the United
States, but giving much more importance to the
provincial governments, than that which they pos-
sessed under the viceroyalty, when they were little
more than corporations. The opposite party was in
favour of carrying to the utmost extreme the inde-
pendent cabildo governments, united for objects of
common interest, but a union too feeble to answer any
national purpose ; their ideas of union were like that
of the Swiss cantons, or more properly of the petty
Grecian States. They both made frequent allusions
to our federative system, which their writings prove
was not understoood by either. The doctrines of the
provincialists, were at this juncture much the most
dangerous, inasmuch as their success in their contest
with Spain, must necessarily depend upon their union ;
for divided they would certainly fall. No one is igno-
rant of the motto adopted by us during our struggle for
independence. Differences among ourselves, as to the
establishment of our government, and the foma to be


adopted, were postponed until the termination of our
struggle ; in other words, until we had a country for
which a government could be established.

The various acts of the sovereign assembly, were
from this time published weekly in the ministerial ga-
zette. From the subjects to which they relate, it would
appear that the sovereign power was in reality in their
hands, and that the triple executive, in the scale of po-
litical importance, had been made " to kick the beam."
The probability is, that from the unpopularity of exe-
cutive power, the vibration of public opinion had gone
to the other extreme, and that a disposition prevailed
to confide every thing to the assembly. To pre-
serve] the balance was an extremely difficult task ; the
habits of the people inclined them to look up to
the. executive for every thing, as they had done to
the viceroy, and this branch was therefore found by
degrees to have engrossed all authority. An inter-
termediate body was wanted, capable of fixing the
attention of the people, and of curbing the arbitrary
will of the executive, and, at the same time, of form-
ing a counterpoise to the assembly. From the habits
and characters of the people, a much more powerful
counterpoise was necessary than in this country ; their
want of information, and habit of attending to the de-
tails of politics, their mixture of military and ecclesi-
astic influence in the government, rendered their situa-
tion essentially dift'erent from ours. A single indi-
vidual can be trained and educated much more easily
than a nation. Their inveterate attachment to forms
and ceremonies, and etiquette, causes our plain repub-
lican habits to appear insipid to them ; in fact, I do not
know a single one of our state constitutions that would
not sit very awkwardly upon them. ^,i;

One of the decrees of the assembly forbade any
Vol. II. O


member of the executive from taking command of the
forces without special permission. Two commissioners
were, at the same time, appointed to visit the upper
provinces in order to correct abuses. But this sun,
which rose so fair, was soon overcast. The arms of
the republic experienced severe reverses in Peru ; Bel-
grano was defeated at Ayuma, while the Spaniards
threatened the city of Buenos Ayres from the river
La Plata ; the consequence of a junction of the Spa-
nish forces in the upper provinces with those at Monte
Video, would have produced the same effect as the
junction of Burgoyne and the British at New York.
The defection of Artigas also manifested itself about
this time. The public mind, in consequence of this
state of things, was greatly agitated ; a more energetic
executive was called for ; the assembly having en-
grossed the power of the state, were too much oc-
cupied in idle debates. A proposal was brought for-
ward to repose the executive authority in the hands
of one person. It was warmly debated, and at length
carried ; the triumvirate was abolished, and on the 31st
of December, Posadas was elected under the title of
SUPREME DIRECTOR, and a council of seven appointed
to assist him. Belgrano was recalled from Peru, and
Rondeau appointed in his stead, while Alvear was in-
vested with the command of the army before Monte
Video. The authority of the assembly rapidly de-
clined, as that of the executive increased. Alvear,
taking advantage of the popularity he had gained by
his success against Monte Video, sought the com-
mand of the army in Peru, and having obtained it,
was on his way, when informed that the officers and
men had come to the determination not to receive him.
On his return to Buenos Ayres, those who had been
instrumental in his appointment, in order to manifest


still more their regard for him, and their disapproba-
tion of the conduct of the army, succeeded in elevating
him to the office of supreme director, Posadas having
resigned. This was followed by general disgust through-
out the provinces, and all communication between
the army of Peru and the capital was interrupted.
Cordova and several of the other provinces were
on the point of withdrawing from the confederacy.
The people had become sensible of their error, and
Alvear, finding that his short race of popularity was
drawing to a close, conceived the idea of maintaining
his authority by the aid of the regular troops.* He
withdrew from the city nearly all the regulars, pro-
fessedly with the intention of marching against Arti-
gas. The people took advantage of his absence, and
rose en masse; the civic troops and the citizens ca-
pable of bearing arms, during three days abandoned all
employments, and stationed themselves on their house
tops, in expectation of his marching against them.
But the state of things in the city, was no sooner made
known to the army, than respect for Alvear instantly
fledвАФ colonels Alvares and Valdenegro, openly declar-
ed against him, on which he was compelled to take
refuge on board a British ship, whence he made his
escape to Rio Jsineiro. The authority of the state was
again thrown into the hands of the cabildo. The assembly
during the administration of Alvear, had sunk into insig-
nificance, and fell to pieces of itself. On the 16th of
April, 1815, the cabildo issued a long manifesto, ename-

* He put to death a person of the name of Ubeda, an act which
excited great sensation at Buenos Ayres ; the merits of the affair I do
not understand. From being the idol of the populace, in the course
of a few months he was called the tyrant !

O 2


rating the evils of the last administration, pointing out
the errors and defects of the former system, and speaking
of past occurrences with a freedom which would not be
tolerated by those in power, and who were unable to bear
the severe probe of a free press. No press ever censured
more freely the misconduct of the public men than that
of Buenos Ayres, but it was usually after they were
turned out of office. The cabildo elected Rondeau su-
preme director, and Alvares to supply his place, pro
tern. A JUNTA OF observation was chosen to sup-
ply the place of the sovereign assembly.

The people by this time, had become wearied and dis-
gusted with these frequent changes, and anxiously looked
for something like a settled government ; yet the inci-
dents of the revolution thus far, were not imfavourable to
liberty. Each political change increased the desire of
limiting the executive power, the constant tendency of
which, was to become absolute. The checks to this
power, were found, on experience, unsuited to the
present times; the necessity of the occasion, excused
its overstepping the limits of delegated authority, and,
in a short time, every check and barrier was borne
down. But it will be seen by the succinct narrative
that I have given, that there existed among the
people, a redeeming energy ; the bonds were burst as
easily as the new ropes were broken by Sampson. Safe-
guards, laws, and declarations of rights were resorted to.
Their executive was deprived of all power, and their
safety confided to popular assemblies, which became
mobs. Yet it cannot but have happened, that much po-
litical knowledge was gradually spreading among the
people. The written statutes and charters of liberty,
were appealed to by the lowest among them, which may
be regarded as the first dawn of well secured liberty ; for
who under a despotism could think of invoking the ma-


jesty of the laws for protection, against the majesty
of power ? The junta of observation published the
estatuto provisional f which is the origin of the one ap-
pended to Mr. Rodney's report ; and which recognises
every essential social and political right ; with this ex-
ception, that the authorities are permitted to dispense
with the article providing for individual security, when
the salus populi shall require it. Even this is only a
proof of great caution in guarding against encroachments
on their liberties, but at the same time of inexperience.
It proceeds from a conviction that in times of revolution,
extraordinary cases must arise, where a strict observance
of the law might be niinous to the state ; such have oc-
curred in our own country, when our situation was
much less critical. The people of Buenos Ajtcs were
conscious of this, but werel not aware that such cases
make themselves, and ought to be left entirely to the re-
sponsibility of the magistrate. Mr. Adams's defence of
the American constitution, which at this time was very
much read 8ind studied, gave them ideas of checks and
balances in government, of the representative system, of
mixed governments, and of providing for the alteration
of their constitution, when a change in the state of man-
ners may require it.* It is a frequent complaint in the
newspapers, that the people will not attend the elections,
and the increase in the number of votes is mentioned
with great exultation.

The new government immediately took measures to
convene a national congress, which would fairly
represent the whole body of the people ; and to do away

* I observe in a Buenos Ayres paper, a long- quotation from Judge
Marshall's Life of Washington, enumerating the difficulties we had
to contend with in the establishment of our constitution.

O 3


every idea of capitalism, it was appointed to meet at
Tucuman, twelve hundred miles in the interior. * Great
expectations were formed of this assembly, which was
considered by many as their last hope, for the fate of
the republic seemed to approach its crisis. Its situation
was truly deplorable. The defeat of Rondeau at Sipe-
Sipe, towards the close of 1815, was as calamitous, as
the battle of Cannae to Rome. Chili had fallen a victim
to the dissentions of tvvo great families, and was in the
possession of the Spaniards, who were in consequence
enabled to throw reinforcements into Peru, and at the
same time compel Buenos Ayres to form an army at the
foot of the Andes, under the command of San Martin, to
prevent an attack from that quarter. The Spaniards, it
is true, had been dislodged from Monte Video, but the
revolt of Artigas, which threatened to draw after it some
of the other provinces, was even more vexatious and dis-
tracting. Ferdinand, now restored to the throne, was
preparing a powerful expedition, as was supposed for
the purpose of crushing them at a single blow, at a mo-
ment when the success of his armies in Peru and Chili,
and the internal dissentions completely seconded his
views. It is in times like these, that nations turn their
eyes upon their ablest men, and for a while lay aside
their petty jealousies and distrust. The resignation of
Alvares had been followed by the election of Balcarce,
who soon resigned also. The general government pos-
sessed neither power, strength, nor influence. The belt
of their union had been unbuckled.

* Two petitions, signed by upwards of two hundred citizens of
Buenos Ayres, were presented to the municipality, praying that the
city might be stripped of the honour of being the capital, as a mode of
quieting the discontents of the provinces.


" While bloody treason flourished over them."

In the language of the manifesto of Pueyrredon,
** anarchy had lighted up an universal conflagration/'
The NATIONAL CONGRESS at last assembled, towards
the close of 1815. Pueyrredon, who had been called
from his retirement, was soon after elected, by an unani-
mous vote, supreme director; certainly no equivo-
cal testimony in his favour. He immediately visited the
armies of San Martin and Belgrano, and on his return to
Tucuman, proposed the declaration of independence,
which was finally passed on the 9th of July, 181 6. The
incidents of the revolution since that period, are familiar
to the generality of readers ; I shall, therefore, pursue
them no farther, than to observe, that it was in a short
time proved by experience, that the distance from the
city of Buenos Ajres, occasioned great obstacles in
the management of affairs ; it was, therefore, determined
to remove the congress to that place.



Miscellaneous Observations on the Police, State of Society, and


X WAS highly gratified with a visit to the cabildo, or
town house, in company with Mr. Frias, the secretary
of the municipality. I was struck with the number of
officers, the appearance of clerks, papers, and the crowd
of people attending on business. All the details of the
police are here attended to, and justice administered.
I have seen nothing like it, except the City Hall of New-
York. The chamber of appeals was not in session ;
Mr. Frias promised to give me notice when this should
be the case, in order that an opportunity might be af-
forded me, of forming some idea of their courts of jus-
tice. He showed me the apartment appropriated to the
sessions of the cabildo, or city council, which is hand-
somely fitted up, and ornamented with two splendid tro-
phies, in gilt frames, each about four feet by three ; one
of them was presented by the city of Oruro, in Peru, to

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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 15 of 25)