Bolivar, the Ingratitude of Republics,
and the End
From this point the story of San Martin is sad reading. Not sad because he ceased to be a fine person, for the essential greatness of his spirit was to be shown as supremely as his greatness as a military genius had been proved. He who had been so brilliant, so vital and magnetic was to end his days as a tragic figure. The poignant twist to the story makes magnificent drama, but ah, the pity of it!
It begins with his meeting with Bolivar and his Great Renunciation. Bolivar's name is far better known to the world than San Martin's. Both have their place as great liberators. Up to the time of the fateful meeting San Martin had regarded Bolivar as one who was as passionately striving for the cause of freedom and independence as he was himself. In spirit an alter ego. Bolivar had triumphantly led the rebellions in what was now Colombia, Bolivia and Venezuela. In 1819, against his protest, he had been elected President of the Venezuelan Republic. Now he was eager to undertake the liberating of the only countries remaining in the power of Spain, those now known as Equador and Upper Peru. To this cause the hearts of both heroes equally yearned. It was at Guayaquil in June, 1822, that this meeting took place. Just what happened has never become known. The one who had just reason to tell it never broke his silence. Neither rancor nor contumely nor the pangs of a gnawing poverty were potent enough to unseal San Martin's lips. He was magnificently dumb. It is the touch which makes his character symmetrical. He was at every crisis in his life unselfthinking. Entbehren sollst Du, sollst entbehren, said Goethe, and San Martin stupendously renounced in the great moments of his career and gave the scene to another.
It is assumed that he went to Guayaquil to ask Bolivar to lend him enough troops to end the war in Peru. Bolivar was working in Upper Peru, just as San Martin had been at the South. It needed only a little more effort to set Peru's house in order. What more natural than that San Martin should take Bolivar's willingness to cooperate for granted? And especially natural for San Martin to expect, having always not merely shared with others but consistently stepped aside. San Martin, as his life showed, was a single-minded, single-hearted patriot. Always the cause was the one thing he saw, and such a thing as jealousy where a cause was at stake he could not conceive. Whatever actually happened in this historic meeting, San Martin came away blankly, implacably taciturn.
An account of his reception by Bolivar, whether authentic or not, is given. San Martin arrived at Guayaquil on the "Macedonia" July 25th. Bolivar sent two aide-de-camps to meet him. A reception, he was told, was prepared for the next day. The next day, accordingly, San Martin went to Bolivar's house, and found the Colombian liberator dressed in full uniform, surrounded by his entire staff, waiting to give him formal reception. The two men met and entered the house arm in arm. In the salon the Liberator presented General San Martin to the gathering of city authorities assembled in his honor. A deputation of ladies presented an address. A beautiful young girl placed on his forehead a laurel wreath of gold. San Martin, wholly unaccustomed to such theatricalities, flushed, took the wreath from his head, saying: "I shall keep it for the sake of the patriotic sentiment that inspired the gift, and for the sake of those who bestowed it." Then the two heroes were left alone. Just what occurred nobody knows. Later there was a banquet at which suitable toasts were mutually proposed and drunk. That night weary, disappointed and disillusioned San Martin returned to Lima to find everything in confusion. There were plots and counter-plots and sedition was rife. He was given an enthusiastic welcome, but when the excitement had subsided, he perceived that the authorities, whatever side they were on, were tired of him and his rule. It was made plain that they regarded him as an Argentinian and not one of themselves. Even the army seemed disaffected. In a word, he realized that he was now regarded as unnecessary; he had done his special job, let him now retire. He himself went deeper: he felt that he was actually an obstacle, and he wanted no conflict with Bolivar. He preferred to leave the Peruvians to work out their own destiny. Thoroughly and thoughtfully he considered the question, weighing carefully the result before making his decision. Having done so, he sent a memorable letter to Bolivar. Also he wrote to O'Higgins, saying:
"I am tired of hearing them call me a tyrant, that I wish to make myself King, Emperor, the Devil. My health is broken, the climate is killing me. My youth was sacrificed to the service of Spain, my manhood to my own country. I feel I have now the right to dispose of my old age."
Twenty-five years later the true motive of his retirement was known through the publication of his letter to Bolivar.
He sacrificed himself for duty, from necessity, and kept silent.
But he did not leave Peru defenseless. With tireless energy he built up the army and at the end of August there were 11,000 men under arms. Among these were the men comprising the Army of the Andes commanded by General Alvares.
Another 1,000 men from Chile were to join them. His plan of attack which he drew up for the future campaign would have been decisive had he himself led the troops.
On the 20th of September, 1822, with great pomp the first Constituent Congress of Peru was installed. San Martin in its presence took off the bi-colored sash he wore as the emblem of his authority, saying:
"While I take off the insignia which distinguishes the Supreme Chief of Peru, I only comply with my duty and with the wishes of my heart. If the Peruvians feel they owe me any gratitude, it is the exercise of the power which the force of circumstances has made me obtain. Today, while I happily resign my command, I pray that the Supreme Being will give the judgment, light, and skill needed by the country to insure the happiness and welfare of its people. From this moment the Supreme Congress is installed and the country reassumes power over all its parts."
Then he laid six folded sheets of paper upon the table, and retired amid the plaudits of the Assembly. The first sheet being opened was found to be renunciation of all future command.
Congress passed a vote of thanks "to the first soldier of Liberty" and named him Generalissimo of the land and naval forces of the Republic, with a pension of 12,000 dollars a year; that being the same amount the United States had given Washington. Congress authorized that a column with commemorative inscription should be erected, also that a bust of the General should be placed in the National Library founded by him.
San Martin accepted the title and the pension, but refused the command, saying very wisely:
"My presence in Peru after the powers I have wielded would be inconsistent with the dignity of Congress, and my own. I have kept the promise made to Peru. If some day her liberty be in danger I shall glory in joining as a citizen in the defense."
Up to this time San Martin had said no word of his intention to leave the country, but that evening he told Guido. His friend expostulated, begged, and implored in an effort to dissuade him from his intention. At last San Martin in confidence told him the real reasons which had actuated his resignation.
"There is not room in Peru for both Bolivar and myself. He will stop at nothing to come to Peru. It may not be in my power to avoid a conflict if I am here. Let him come so that America may triumph. It shall not be San Martin who will give a day of delight to the enemy."
At ten o'clock his orderly announced that all was ready and the General embraced his faithful friend, and rode away through the darkness. Next morning Guido found a letter at the head of his bed telling him the intimate things he could not say. General Alvarez received another. San Martin, sailing on the brig "Belgrano," had left Peru forever.
To Bolivar he wrote, reminding him of the great numerical superiority of the Royalist forces, and the necessity of sufficient help to end the war. He concluded with these remarkable words:
"I have convened the first Congress of Peru; the day after its installation I shall leave Chile knowing that my presence is the only obstacle which prevents your coming with your army to Peru. My decision is irrevocable.
"For me it would have been the height of happiness to have concluded the war of Independence under the order of a General to whom America owes Liberty. Destiny has decreed otherwise. I resign myself to it."
With that letter he also sent Bolivar a fowling piece, a brace of pistols and a war horse to carry him on his next campaign. Another paragraph of the letter said: "Receive, General, this remembrance from the first of your admirers, with the expression of my sincere desire that you may achieve the glory of concluding the war for Independence of South America." Bolivar recognized the moral superiority of his rival, felt abashed in the presence of such abnegation, yet through the years could not speak, for the truth would have thrown a slur upon his own fame.
History does not record an act of self-abnegation executed with greater modesty. All that San Martin took with him were 120 doubloons, the standard of Pizarro, and the golden bell of the Inquisition of Lima.
San Martin addressed his words of farewell to the Peruvians. This address remains alone for its style and as an index of his character:
"I have been present at the Declaration of the Independence of the States of Chile and Peru. I have in my possession the banner brought by Pizarro to enslave the Empire of the Incas. I am no more a public man. Ten years of revolution and war have been recompensed with usury.
"I have complied with the promises I made to the people for whom I have fought; I have made the independence and I leave to the will of the people the choice of its government.
"The presence of a successful soldier (no matter how disinterested) is dangerous to the States that have just been constituted. On the other hand I am, I confess, weary of hearing that I want to be King. Notwithstanding this I will always be ready to make the last sacrifice for the independence of the country, but as a private subject and nothing more.
"As regards my public conduct, my contemporaries (as it happens in all things) will be of dissenting opinions. Their descendants will be fair judges.
"Peruvians, I leave established your national representation. I confide it to your trust. Then you will sing in triumph; otherwise anarchy will devour you."
He arrived in Chile ill, vomiting blood, only to be saluted with an explosion of hatred from the country he had liberated. He had hoped to live for a while in that country upon a sum of money he had given to a friend for safe-keeping, and upon the proceeds he expected to receive from the sale of his farm. But the farm in the end was not sold and the money his friend had lost in gambling. He found cruel ingratitude on all sides. Confined to his room by illness, he spent sixty days in the hospitable house of a friend near Santiago. Scarcely was he convalescent when an old friend, overcome by misfortune, asked him "for the gift of a house."
With the rest of the world he thought San Martin was a millionaire. Apropos of this sorrowful affair San Martin wrote with trembling hand and a breaking heart to O'Higgins:
"I am living here on the charity of a friend. It is indeed singular, this thing which is happening to me, doubtless it will happen some day to you, my friend. They are convinced that we have robbed hand over fist. Ah! if they only knew. If they only knew the truth."
The government of Peru hearing of his sad state sent him a thousand pesos of what they rightly owed him in salary.
GENERAL ANTONIO SUCRE.
San Martin had put Peru on a war footing and invited Bolivar to proceed South and complete the liberation of Spanish America. Bolivar eagerly accepted the invitation, and on September 1, 1823, landed at Callao with his army of Colombian veterans. The Congress proclaimed him Director, and he at once set out to crush the remainder of Spanish power in America. His army consisted of 9,000 men, and he had the able assistance of General Sucre and General Miller, the latter a brilliant English officer, who since the battle of Cancha Rayada had been one of San Martin's most valued officers. On August 5, 1824, at the plains of Junin the Spaniards under General Canterac were all but annihilated by the brilliant cavalry charge of General Miller. Three months later the battle of Ayacucho was fought. It has been styled the Yorktown of South America. La Serna and Cantarco, both prisoners, signed a capitulation for the entire army, including 23,000 Royalist troops in Peru. In 1825 Upper Peru was formally declared independent and given the name of Bolivia in honor of the Liberator. As such it was formally recognized by both Peru and Buenos Aires.
Even before the battle of Ayacucho the independence of Colombia, the United Provinces of La Plata, Chile and Mexico had been recognized by the United States. Similar action was taken by Great Britain in 1825 and 1826.
Mitre eloquently says:
"After Washington, San Martin and Bolivar figure in the list of the New World as heroes of humanity at large. They were greater as liberators than as men of thought, but their achievements live.
"If Columbus had never lived America would at some later date have been discovered. If Cromwell had never existed there would have been revolution in England, but without him it would not have triumphed. The British colonies of North America must have produced a great Republic, but it was Washington who impressed upon the democracy the seal of his moral greatness. The French Revolution was the natural outcome of what had preceded it, but directed by others the result might have been better.
"The insurrection of South America was a spontaneous movement, resulting from historical antecedents and from the conditions of the time, but the triumph would have been delayed, and the losses greater but for the genius of San Martin and Bolivar directing it to a definite end.
"San Martin acted rather by calculation than from inspiration, Bolivar more from instinct than from method, yet both were necessary. They laid hold of the forces in action and condensed them into one general plan. To a certain point they worked in concert, San Martin's great idea being carried to a successful ending by Bolivar."
With the money which Peru had sent San Martin, he set out for Mendoza, at which place he lived for some months the obscure life of a farmer. Later in the same year he returned to Buenos Aires where he found he was not deemed worthy any longer to belong to the Argentine army. He was counted a deserter of his flag! Home he had none, his wife had died, and he only had in the whole world a little daughter to comfort him.
When his health was a little restored, San Martin took his daughter and left South America. He roamed through England and Scotland, and the city of Banf in Scotland bestowed on him a citizenship, presented through Lord Macduff. The same courtesy was accorded him in Canterbury, by recommendation of General Miller, who had been one of his most gallant officers in South America. He then visited Italy and Holland, finally settling in Brussels, choosing it because of its cheapness. His daughter he placed in a pension, contenting himself with only one room and dire necessities of life. He never permitted himself the luxury of taking a public vehicle, although he lived on the outskirts of the town.
At the end of five years, having exhausted his finances, and longing to return home, he decided to sail for his country. By a strange coincidence he reached its shores on the 12th of February, 1829, the anniversary of the battle of San Lorenzo and Chacabuco. While his ship was yet anchored in the roadstead, he was greeted with this contemptuous denunciation in the city press: "General San Martin returns to his native country after five years' absence, but only after knowing that peace has been concluded with the Emperor of Brazil."
His answer had been given two thousand years before by the mouth of Scipio, when insulted by his fellow countrymen on the anniversary of one of his great battles.
"On such a day as this I saved Rome."
San Martin did not repeat these words, he returned in silence into exile. His reply was given from the tomb many years later:
"I desire that my heart may rest in Buenos Aires."
On leaving the country he had sold his property, a small house, the gift from the nation. This and 5,000 pesos donated for its upkeep, was all the Argentine Republic ever gave him, with the one exception of the pension of $50 a month given his daughter in recompense for his services. The sale of the house brought very little. In 1830 and 1831 he was reluctantly obliged to write to his friends in America, saying:
"I am persuaded you will do your utmost to send me help as soon as possible, for my situation, notwithstanding the greatest economy, is getting day by day more embarrassing."
Waiting for this help three years passed. In 1833 he and his daughter were attacked by cholera. They were at that time living in the country, having only a servant to attend them. San Martin believed destiny had decreed that he should die in a charity hospital. At this crisis the Spanish banker Agara, an old comrade with whom he had fought in Spain, gallantly came to his rescue. This succor without question saved his life.
HOUSE AT BOULOUGNE-SUR-MER.
Some time after O'Higgins sent him 3,000 pesos. With this he was able to pay the debts incurred during his long illness. The small residue enabled him to buy his daughter's bridal garments. She was about to marry Marano Balcarce, the son of one of his old companions, General Balcarce, who was now Argentine minister to France.
Toward the end of his life the pendulum began its inevitable swing. Peru, which had so long forgotten him, eventually sent him 12,000 pesos, money owed for services. Even at his death that country still owed him 1,064 pesos, a sum finally paid to his descendants. Chile, that had for twenty years erased his name from the pages of her history, in 1842 incorporated him once more into her army, giving him the salary of a general on active service.
Only Argentina offered him nothing.
His death began with a cataract. When his doctor forbade him to read, which was his great passion, "his whole soul was enveloped in sadness." He went to Boulogne to breathe the sea air, hoping it would benefit him. On the 13th of August, 1850, as he was standing on the beach gazing with dim eyes over the Channel, he felt the first mortal symptom. He pressed his hand to his heart, and with a feeble smile said to his faithful daughter: "C' est 'l orage qui'meme au port." On the 17th of the same month he died in her arms, at the age of seventy-two years and six months.
MERCEDES SAN MARTIN DE BALCARCA
One of his old friends and countrymen has written of his death this minute account:
"Today I must send you the saddest news that can be given to the Republics of South America, the death of General San Martin. On the night of the 17th I started for Boulogne to pay him a visit. The next day we heard the news of his death, which had taken place the same day we had left Paris. Dr. Mariano Balcarce, the husband of the General's noble daughter, told us, his heart rent with sorrow and his eyes filled with tears, the details of the General's last moments.
"On the 17th he got up with sufficient strength to go to his daughter's room, where he asked that the newspaper should be read to him (his eye-sight did not permit him to read them for himself). Nothing in his outward appearance or manner showed the end to be so near.
"The doctor had urged him vainly to have as a nurse a sister of charity to spare his daughter the long and tiring watches, and also that he might have more comfort. He often went without things really needed in order to spare his daughter, who so dearly loved her father that she practically never left his side, and had so tenderly soothed his long and painful illness.
"Dr. Balcarce went out that morning feeling convinced that the patient was better, and even spoke to his friend, Sr. Rosales, about a voyage he hoped the General might make when he felt stronger. But his friend, with clearer vision, felt this was a vain illusion, born of hope, and that San Martin had not long to live.
"A little after two in the afternoon the General was attacked by severe pains. Doctor Jordan and his children were convinced this would pass as so many other seizures had, but a short time after, with a convulsive movement, he asked Balcarce in broken words to take his daughter away; a moment later he died peacefully.
"On the morning of the 18th I had the painful satisfaction of seeing the inanimate remains of this man whose life is written in the most brilliant pages of American History. His face even in death showed those pronounced features that bespoke his character. It remained as it always had been, dignified and determined.
"A crucifix was laid on his deathbed. Two Sisters of Charity prayed for the soul that had held his body.
"I went down to the room below, dominated by sadness and those religious sentiments that surge in the heart of the most unbelieving at the sight of death. A clock in a black case which had marked the time with a doleful sound had stopped that night at three o'clock, the hour at which San Martin had died. A singular coincidence! His watch had stopped, also, during the last hour of his splendid life."
As Doctor Mitre puts it: "Seldom has the influence of one man had more decisive effect on the destinies of a people. The greatness of those who attain to immortality is not measured by their talents, but by the effect exercised by their memory upon the conscience of humanity, making it vibrate from generation to generation with a passion or with an idea. Of such was San Martin, whose influence still lives, not by reason of any genius he possessed, but by reason of his character.
"San Martin conceived great plans, political and military, which appeared at first to be folly, but when believed in became facts. He organized disciplined armies, and infused into them his own spirit. He founded republics, not for his own aggrandizement, but that men might live in freedom. He made himself powerful, only that by this power he might accomplish his destined task; he abdicated and went into exile, not from egoism or from cowardice, but in homage to his own principles and for the sake of his cause. He is the first captain in the New World, the only one who has given lessons in modern strategy on a new theater of war. With all his intellectual deficiencies and his political errors the Revolution of South America has produced no other who was his equal.
THE TOMB OF SAN MARTIN.
Faithful to the maxims of his life, he was that which he ought to be, and rather than be that which he ought not to be he preferred to be nothing. For this his name shall be immortal."
(from Felix Frias.)