|Colombia Table of Contents
Leaders in the various localities that had formed criollo councils sought to unite the colony of New Granada. From the beginning of their attempts, however, conflict emerged over the form the new government should take. The provincial councils did not want the centralist, authoritarian type of government advocated by the Bogotá council, preferring a federal type of government more in keeping with the liberal principles of the Enlightenment and the example of the North American revolution. This represented the first ideological split between groups of leading criollos. Federalists rallied behind Camilo Torres; Centralists rallied behind Antonio Nariño. To avoid a civil war between the two factions, the provincial councils sent representatives to Bogotá in 1811 to draft a constitution for the territory. In November 1811, a congress was installed, and the provinces formed the United Provinces of New Granada. The federal union consisted of autonomous provinces joined only in common interest; the national army was subordinate to Bogotá.
Starting in 1812, individual provinces began declaring absolute independence from Spain. That year, Simón Bolívar Palacio, considered the liberator of South America, tried for the first time to gain independence for New Granada. The absence of united support from the various provinces, however, frustrated him. Bolívar left New Granada in 1815 and went to Jamaica. The continuing tension between federalist and centralist forces led to a conflict that left New Granada weak and vulnerable to Spain's attempts to reconquer the provinces.
At the time of Bolívar's departure, the independence cause in New Granada was desperate. Ferdinand VII had been restored to the Spanish throne, and Napoleon's forces had withdrawn from Spain. A pacification expedition led by Pablo Morillo on behalf of the king proceeded from present-day Venezuela to Bogotá, and those who laid down their arms and reaffirmed their loyalty to the Spanish crown were pardoned. Morillo also granted freedom to slaves who helped in the reconquest of the colonies. Because of dissension between the upper class and the masses and inept military leadership, Cartagena fell to the royalists by the end of 1815.
In early 1816, Morillo moved to reconquer New Granada and changed his tactics from pardons to terror; Bogotá fell within a few months. Morillo repressed antiroyalists (including executing leaders such as Torres) and installed the Tribunal of Purification, responsible for exiles and prisoners, and the Board of Confiscations. The Ecclesiastical Tribunal, in charge of government relations with the church, imposed military law on priests who were implicated in the subversion. The Spanish reconquest installed a military regime that ruled with violent repression. Rising discontent contributed to a greater radicalization of the independence movement, spreading to sectors of the society, such as the lower classes and slaves, that had not supported the previous attempt at independence. Thus the ground was laid for Bolívar's return and ultimate triumph.
At the end of 1816, Bolívar returned to New Granada, convinced that the war for independence was winnable only with the support of the masses. In the earlier attempt at independence, large segments of the population had been lured to the royalist side by promises such as repartition of land and abolition of slavery. When the masses saw that the promises were unfulfilled, however, they changed their allegiance from Spain to the independence movement.
Two significant military encounters led to the movement's success. After having won a number of victories in a drive from the present-day Venezuelan coast to present-day eastern Colombia via the Río Orinoco, Bolívar gave Francisco de Paula Santander the mission of liberating the Casanare region, where he defeated royalist forces in April 1819. After the decisive defeat of royalist forces at the Battle of Boyacá in August 1819, independence forces entered Bogotá without resistance.
The merchants and landowners who fought against Spain now held political, economic, and social control over the new country that encompompassed present-day Venezuelan, Colombia, and Panana. The first economic reforms that they passed consolidated their position by liberalizing trade, thereby allowing merchandise from Britain (New Granada's major trading partner after Spain) freer entry into the area. As a result, the artisan class and the emerging manufactguring sector, who previously had held only slight economic and political power, now lost stature.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress