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Autonomous New Granada

By Carlos Thompson, edited by Johnny Pez

An earlier version of the following essay on the early history of New Granada was posted to the soc.history.what-if newsgroup by Carlos Thompson in two parts on 28 November and 1 December 2001. It is considered canonical within the For All Nails project.

What the Creoles of Latin America remembered most from the reign of Charles III was the coming of the Enlightenment to the Americas: the foundation of universities, the publication of newspapers and scientific magazines, and the Royal Botanical Expeditions to Peru, New Granada, and New Spain. All this led to the Neogranadian capital of Santa Fe becoming known as the Athens of South America.

Following the accession of Charles IV, there was less concern for developing the Americas. However, some of the American viceroys continued this enlightened despotism, supporting the Botanical Expeditions and sponsoring scientific publications. But times were changing.

During the Habsburg War of the 1790s, the Spanish government resumed its policy of extracting gold from the Americas to finance its European wars. The war in Europe spread to the combatants’ American colonies. In addition, there was a new player in America: the former North American rebels who founded the State of Jefferson.

The Enlightenment had also increased the power of the Creole aristocracies of the Americas, and they grew increasingly critical of the war policies of Madrid, and the way those policies were bringing ruin to Spain’s American colonies. This sentiment existed not only in Santa Fe but also in Caracas, Cartagena, Quito, Lima, Santiago and Buenos Aires, among many other minor towns in South America. Few people in Santa Fe remembered that they had almost been invaded by that peasant revolution from the communes in Socorro, but those who did remember knew that the fervor of the peasants had not died. In Lima, the Tupac Amaru rebellion was more feared as there the war was not fought between Creole peasants and the administration but rather between the Indians and the whites. This fear of the whites, both Creoles and Spanish, was always frustrating the conspiracies to get rid of the Spanish yoke in Lima.

But Tupac Amaru was just a distant and faded memory for the Creole aristocracies outside Peru, and while some colonies, mainly in the greater Antilles, were being attacked by the British Empire, those in continental South America viewed the Spanish royal administration as their main threat.

The Botanical Expedition had shown the Creoles of New Granada the wealth of the land they were born in, and also that that wealth was either ignored or wasted by the Crown. This was the theme of conversation in the house of Don Miguel Lozano, Marquis of San Jorge, at the reception for his brother Don Jorge Tadeo Lozano, who had just arrived from Europe where he served as a Captain in the Spanish Army. The Marquis, following the tradition of his father, had sponsored the Botanical Expedition and had invited some of the expedition’s leaders, all of them Creoles.

It was clear: the Spanish colonies, while still loyal to the crown, had more right to administer the wealth of the Americas than any bureaucrat in Seville or Madrid. Just what degree of autonomy was needed, and how to gain it, were questions that would have to wait until the moment was right.

In 1799, the moment had come. The war in Europe was over. France was defeated and, with her, her Austrian and Spanish allies. Among the sanctions imposed by Great Britain and Prussia was the replacement of Charles IV with Prince Ferdinand of Prussia as king of Spain...

The Spaniards had a hard time accepting their new Prussian king, and soon a resistance movement appeared all over the Peninsula engaging in a guerrilla style war. The Spanish resistance also called on the colonies to create juntas favoring the deposed King Charles, and the New Granadian cities soon raised their own juntas, opposing King Ferdinand’s newly-appointed viceroy.

Cartagena and Quito were the first, soon followed by Caracas, in February 1800. In April, in quick succession, Santiago de Cali, Socorro, Pamplona, Cumaná, Mariquita, Maracaibo, Cuenca and finally Santa Fe, the capital of the viceroyalty, declared their own Carlista juntas.

The juntas proclaimed Charles as the rightful king, and any institution from Spain that supported Ferdinand was an alien institution from the usurper, including the Viceroy. Many Spanish soldiers and loyal Creole peasants were convinced by these proclamations. However, the leaders, the enlightened Creole aristocracy, had another agenda: to have greater autonomy and a local government. Most of them knew that there was no plausible way to restore Charles to the Spanish throne, and they had no interest in doing so.

There were some differences among the leaders of the juntas. Some of them wanted complete independence, while others wanted autonomy and self-government, but that would be something to settle once they got rid of the threat from the institutions loyal to Ferdinand.

The Carlista juntas proclaimed three states: Venezuela, including Caracas, Cumaná and Maracaibo; Cundinamarca, including Santa Fe, Cartagena, Socorro, Pamplona, Mariquita and Cali; and Quito, including Cuenca.

While the Cundinamarca Carlista armies marched from Santa Fe and Cali to liberate Popayan from the Fernandistas, the Fernandista regime in Peru sent troops to restore royal rule to Cuenca and Quito. Popayán was quickly freed by the Carlistas, who continued South into Pasto, but resistance in Pasto proved too great to overcome. The Fernandista Army from Peru soon took over Cuenca and Quito and joined the resistance in Pasto. In the North, from Cartagena the Carlistas liberated Santa Marta. In Venezuela, the Carlistas had freed most of the North, but in the Llanos the mixed-blood cowboys had been converted into a light cavalry force, fighting each other according to the political affiliation of their masters.

By April 1801, the Carlista juntas controlled most major cities in Venezuela and Cundinamarca. Venezuelans went to Northern Colombia to conquer the smaller garrisons, while Cundinamarca sent troops into the Llanos to help balance things. Francisco Miranda, chairman of the Juntas of Venezuela, and Antonio Nariño, chairman of the Juntas of Cundinamarca, signed a treaty in Santa Marta to ensure mutual aid between these two states. The terms of the treaty suggested that both Venezuela and Cundinamarca were not pro-Charles colonies but autonomous states with their own armies.

In the south, the Fernandistas were still in control of Pasto, but the Carlistas had managed to keep them away from Popayán. By the end of 1801, the southern front was in a stalemate, while in the rest of Cundinamarca and Venezuela, except for a few pockets in the Llanos, the Carlistas had triumphed.

In December 1801, Charles renounced his claim to the Spanish throne. This led many of the Carlista guerrillas in Spain to surrender, but others soon changed their aims and demanded more autonomy for the Basque provinces and Catalonia. When the news reached the Americas by March 1802, Miranda and Nariño soon declared autonomy: Cundinamarca and Venezuela would recognize Ferdinand as Head of State, but the government should be locally elected and they could have their own armies, loyal to the king but controlled by the local parliament. If Ferdinand would not accept these terms, Venezuela and Cundinamarca would declare their independence.

Disagreements among the Carlista leaders over the form of government threatened to lead to civil war, so without waiting for an answer from Spain, a congress was called for June 1802 in Pamplona, with delegations from the different provinces of Venezuela and Cundinamarca. Miranda and Nariño did not participate directly in the congress. The congress would discus the form of government and the level of autonomy of the two states and their provinces, and finally draft a constitution.

Ferdinand’s answer came in the form of a large “peacemaking” armada; not too large, as the British had reduced the size of the Spanish navy after the war, and Ferdinand had similar problems in New Spain and Rio de La Plata, but it was still an impressive force. The peacemaking navy arrived in La Guaira in Venezuela, and Cartagena in Cundinamarca, in November 1802, and laid siege to the two cities. La Guaira surrendered in December, but the Venezuelans assembled a large army that avoided the Spanish to advance to Caracas. Cartagena was still holding out against the Spanish in May 1803 when the Cundinamarcans were finally able to assemble a reinforcing army without weakening the defense of Popayán. In the Battle of Cartagena, 14 May 1803, Cundinamarca sealed her autonomy from Spain. Soon, with the help of captured ships and the land army, Cundinamarca reinforced the defense of Caracas and defeated the Spanish army in La Guaira. Pasto was still in the hands of Fernandistas from Peru, but a Mulatto admiral loyal to Cundinamarca came up with a bold plan to circumnavigate South America with warships to reinforce the Pacific front.

The remains of the defeated royal navy returned to Spain with a second proposal to Ferdinand, this time from the delegates to the Congress of Pamplona: Cundinamarca and Venezuela would recognize Ferdinand as a king and Head of State, but they would have their own parliament, government, constitution and armed forces. The armed forces would be loyal to the local government under control of the local parliament, and the king would have a veto power on the laws but not on the constitution.

Ferdinand received this news along with news of a similar defeat in Buenos Aires and the news that the Cundinamarcan and Rioplatence armies were slowly advancing towards Peru. He hesitated to send an answer and he still had problems in the Basque provinces and Catalonia. Ferdinand decided to wait.

In June 1804, the Cundinamarcan army, including ships from Panama and Buenaventura, along with large warships that had circumnavigated South America, put Guayaquil under siege. The local population forced the Spanish authorities to surrender, but the distraction diverted some of the Peruvian troops from Pasto, allowing the reinforced Cundinamarca army in Popayán to advance. In a series of quick battles and local insurrections, Pasto, Quito and Cuenca were liberated by the Cundinamarcan forces. The navy and the army continued marching south, and in the battle of El Callao, after heavy loses to both navies, the victory went to Cundinamarca.

After the battle of El Callao, the Cundinamarcans did not have enough manpower to control El Callao or Lima, but they maintained control of the port, and the army continued to advance, slowly but steadily, taking Trujillo and Chiclayo. At the same time, the Rioplatence army and the Chilean Republican Army were advancing through Charcas.

Finally, in April 1805, the liberal Creole aristocracy in Lima formed a Junta, put the viceroy under arrest, and disarmed the royal army. They offered to negotiate with the invading Creole armies and ships blockading El Callao. This same year, Ferdinand’s viceroy was also driven from New Spain, leaving Ferdinand with nothing left of his American empire but the islands of the Caribbean and the offer from Cundinamarca and Venezuela. Deciding that nominal rule of New Granada was better than no rule at all, Ferdinand agreed. With the confirmation that came in January 1806, the Congress of Pamplona was adjourned, and the constitution of the Kingdom of New Granada was proclaimed.

An earlier version of the following timeline of the history of New Granada in the 19th century was posted to the soc.history.what-if newsgroup by Carlos Thompson on 3 December 2001. It is considered canonical within the For All Nails project.

Autonomous New Granada: 1805 – 1890

  • 1805 - The Kingdom of New Granada is recognized as an autonomous state with the King of Spain as Head of State with limited veto power. The kingdom is divided in three States: Venezuela, Cundinamarca and Quito.
  • 1807 – Much of the New Grandan army and navy are reduced.
  • 1812 – War breaks out with Guatemala over the borders between Veragua and Costa Rica. This war is brief and limited in scope.
  • 1814 - The Republic of Peru, some support from the State of Jeffersonian, invades New Granada. They quickly seize Quito and Cauca. The Peruvian advance is halted at Antioquia and Neiva.
  • 1815 – The Peruvians launch a second offensive, reaching Santa Fe and Chocó in Cundinamarca.
  • 1816 - In a quick offensive with Spanish support, New Granada recovers most of Cundinamarca.
  • 1817 - New Granada frees Quito. A peace agreement is reached between Peru and New Granada with King Luis Fernando (son of Ferdinand of Prussia) as a witness. This is the first time a Spanish king travels to the Americas. Quito is given autonomy with the Spanish king as Head of State, while Peru is given her claims on Guayaquil. New Granada will have the Napo and Amazon as border with respectively Quito and Peru. Peru has to pay compensation to New Granada, half of which is sent to Spain. For the next three years the king is an active participant in South American politics.
  • 1820 – Louis Ferdinand returns to Spain. New Granada is confirmed as a constitutional monarchy with the king of Spain as Head of State with limited veto power. New Granada is divided in two states: Cundinamarca and Venezuela.
  • 1823 - Guatemala supports an uprising in Panamá, Cundinamarca. This soon becomes a limited war between Guatemala and New Granada.
  • 1850 - Cundinamarca begins the construction of a railroad in Panama.
  • 1856 - the Panama Railroad is opened.
  • 1865 - Given its political stability, barely challenged by Mexican-supported Guatemala, New Granada has become the most economically developed country in South America. This is supported by the gold still exploited in Choco and Antioquia, coffee exports, and the dividends of the Panama Railroad. New Granada also receives considerable immigration from Italy and China among other countries. The New Granadans know that their most dangerous potential enemy is the United States of Mexico, but they rely on their country’s importance as a trade partner, while the military has been kept at the size of 1820, after the Peruvian war.
  • 1890 - The U.S.M. invades New Granada with far superior resources.

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