Chile – The Age of Struggle for Independence

By | December 1, 2021

In these conditions Chile was at the end of the century. XVIII. Poorer than other Spanish colonies in South America, but with the same fundamental contrast between Creoles and Spaniards, with the same intolerance on the part of the natives towards many of the systems of government of the metropolis. In addition, with a particular strength: a regular army of about 2000 men, and with a militia of 16,000 men, whose officers in the militia were almost all Creoles and a good half in the regular army.

Protests against the Spanish monopoly system were growing; it was invoked free of traffic, while the Sociedades de Amigos del Pais they tried to foment industrial progress and the economist Don Manuel Perfecto de Salas expounded his ideas on the situation in the country and on the means to improve it. And if all this movement was, of course, an indication of intolerance of the current system, much more than a clear program of political emancipation (then non-existent); if in the same contrast between Creoles and Spaniards one could hardly perceive a real national sense, sometimes more daring and decisive expressions were not lacking: like that of the student who, in 1990 and ’91, in full university denied the divine right of kings; or that clergyman of Coquimbo, who approved the systems of revolutionary France in 1995, proposing them as an example also for the dominions of the king of Spain. It was, again, literature, much more than politics;

A movement of growing restlessness of the public spirit, therefore, which – and it may seem paradoxical – was indirectly favored by the work of an intelligent governor like Ambrose O’Higgins. This Irishman, appointed governor and captain general of Chile in 1788, with intelligent and energetic action favored the development of the colony through measures ranging from the beautification of the city to the foundation of the Academy of Sciences, Design and Living Languages, to that of a theater in Santiago, to the abolition of the encomiendas and consequent liberation of the Indian slaves. For Chile defense and foreign policy, please check

Renewal policy that could not fail to increase the moral unease from which at least part of the Chilean population was shaken. However, the lack of a concrete program prevented the confused ambitions from taking on a definite form; and no movement had yet taken shape when, at the end of 1809, news of the collapse of the Spanish monarchy arrived.

The crisis was then open. On the one hand the major Creoles (a hundred families of rich landowners who dominated the economic life of the country), triumphant in the cabildos; on the other, the Spanish officials, devoted to the house of Bourbon. The ineptitude of the governor, García Carrasco, precipitated the situation. At one point he had three of the most influential patriots arrested (José Antonio de Rojas, Juan Antonio Ovalle, Bernardo Vera); then, faced with the protest of the cabildo of Santiago, he suspended the decree that exiled them; but again, terrified by the news of the revolutionary movement in Buenos Aires (May 25, 1810), he ordered that they be secretly sent to Peru. The tumult broke out: a counter-order for the release of the prisoners came too late, and the cabildo abierto of Santiago, immediately summoned, forced the governor to retire, appointing in his place Don Mateo de Toro Zambrano, a very old Creole who had acquired the title of Count de la Conquista. He was a fictitious leader: and the patriots, who managed to dominate his soul, had the notables of Santiago summoned for September 18 to discuss “the system that should have been adopted to preserve his dominions from King Ferdinand VII”. The result was the appointment of a committee of seven members, chaired by Toro Zambrano, to direct national life: but always, formally, dependent on the legitimate Spanish government of Ferdinand VII.

It was not, therefore, independence. But of another opinion was Juan Martínez de Rozas, one of the members of the junta, and of all the most popular, who instead tended to a more open and clear-cut revolution. And already in the Congress, convened on July 4, 1811, after the population had itself elected its representatives, the opposition between the “radicals”, determined to move forward, and those patriots who did not intend to take a revolutionary attitude, when José Miguel Carrera arrived in the village. A man of indomitable energy, a fiery nationalist, in November 1811 he triumphed with an armed shot; in December the Congress dissolved and Carrera assumed absolute power (alongside, he had two purely nominal triumvirate colleagues).

Carrera’s action meant the open revolt against the Spanish dominion: and nothing made this understood better than the care he devoted to the army, in anticipation of the next fight; or of the statements he published in the first issue of his newspaper, Aurora (February 13, 1812). But internal disagreements were already breaking out between Carrera and Martínez de Rozas, the latter being exiled; and meanwhile the Spaniards were preparing the struggle against the rebels, amassing troops in the south. It is true that the campaign starts were in favor of the patriots (May 1813); but then, at Le Roble, the attack of a Spanish brigade disconcerted Carrera, who retreated and left the task of fighting and winning to Bernardo O’Higgins son of Ambrose. And to him, in November 1813, Carrera ceded command of the army. Except that in 1814, Carrera returned to Santiago, with a coup d’état seized power, he beat O ‘Higgins (12 August 1814). And if, faced with the threatening advance of the Spaniards under Mariano Osorio, O ‘Higgins placed himself under the orders of his rival, the defeat of Rancagua (2 August 1814) put an end, for the moment, to the rivalry between the two leaders and to Chilean independence. Thus ended, sadly, the first period of the struggles for independence: the period of Old Homeland.

Not achieved by the internal movement alone, the independence of Chile had nevertheless to become a fait accompli, thanks to the insertion of the Chilean problem in the framework of the general struggle of the American states against the Spaniards. The threat that the continuation of Spanish domination in Peru represented for Argentine independence must have inspired San Martín with the daring plan to strike at the bottom of Peru; and, to this end, first of all to secure the Pacific side, that is, Chile. Thus was born the understanding between San Martín, on the one hand, O ‘Higgins and the Chilean refugees on the other; San Martín, having passed the Andes, descended on San Felipe on 8 February 1817, on 12 February it fully defeated the Spanish troops at Chacabuco; then, having refused full powers, he summoned a general assembly that proclaimed O ‘Higgins “supreme director” of Chile. The latter, a year later, on February 12, 1818, while the Spaniards resumed the struggle, proclaimed the independence of Chile, which was freeing itself from the Spanish monarchy; and although for a moment the Spaniards seemed to still be able to triumph, defeating the patriots at Cancha Rayada (March 19, 1818), the victory of San Martín at Maipo (April 8, 1818) definitively ensured the free life of the new state.

Chile - The Age of Struggle for Independence