South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

Joseph Bonaparte—
King of Spain and the Indies

We must glance back to Spain, to "the Peninsula," to understand the relations that existed between that empire and her colonies. It was Napoleon I. who opened the door of opportunity to South America by deposing the quarrelsome family of Charles IV., and placing his own amiable and faithful brother on the throne of the Bourbons.

It was the time of Ferdinand VII., son of Charles IV., who was born in 1784. In his youth Ferdinand VII. was subject to the intrigues and jealousies of his family. The father and son quarreled, and on March 19, 1808, King Charles, in the interests of peace, abdicated in favor of his son, who became king under the title of Ferdinand VII. Soon after this change the old king became unsettled in his resolution, and wrote to Napoleon I. that his abdication had not been voluntary, but had been forced. The most bitter enmity had arisen between father and son. Napoleon was ambitious to govern Spain himself through his own family, and make it a dependency of France. He refused to recognize Ferdinand as king, and sent troops over the Pyrenees, who occupied the Spanish capital. Ferdinand was induced to surrender the crown of Spain to Napoleon, and the latter planned to govern the country by one of his own family.

The American colonies were faithful to the cause of the deposed Ferdinand VII. They regarded themselves as without a government, and set up their own governments in the name of Ferdinand VII., whom they held to be living in exile, and whom they expected to see returned to the throne.

It is necessary that the reader should know how the throne of Spain was filled during the critical period of South American history, when those revolutions which ended in the independence of that continent were occurring.

Napoleon had a favorite brother, Joseph, who was born in Corsica, January 7, 1768. Joseph was the eldest brother of Napoleon, and the stay and support of the family after the death of his father. He removed with his brothers and sisters to Marseilles in 1793. The affections of Napoleon seem to have been capricious, but he loved this brother devotedly. The affection was reciprocated. Joseph Bonaparte was true to his brother through all the vicissitudes of the latter's stormy life.

Napoleon had made his brother Joseph King of Naples. But Joseph was a lover of literature and art, and was not born for camps and courts. He had married the daughter of a wealthy citizen of Marseilles, an unambitious woman, for whom the splendors of royalty had but little charm. Her health was precarious. She did not go with him to Spain.

It has been said that Napoleon really loved none of his family but Joseph, who was a father to him in his youth. This is more easily asserted than proved, but certain it is that his affection for Joseph was most touching. It w\s Napoleon's delight to make Joseph King of Naples, but he wished to give him a nobler and more historic throne. It was this affection and ambition that made Joseph Bonaparte "King of the Indies," a position that not one of the South American provinces would recognize.

The struggle of Napoleon in behalf of his amiable brother is one of the pathetic chapters of his history, and few things are more touching than Joseph's fidelity to him under all conditions and circumstances. Their correspondence tells the affecting story of this wonderful friendship; of its beginning, its decline on the part of Napoleon, and the fidelity of Joseph.

We will give the story in extracts from the letters of these brothers, some of the passages of which are the deepest revelations of Napoleon's heart:

"In whatever circumstances you may be placed by fortune, you know well, my friend, that you cannot have a better or dearer friend than myself, or one who wishes more sincerely for your happiness. Life is a thin dream, and it will soon be over. If you are going away, send me your portrait. We have lived together so many years, so closely united, that our hearts have become one, and you know how entirely mine belongs to you."—Napoleon to Joseph, June 25, 1795.

"Good-by, my dear friend; be cautious as to the future and content with the present. . . As for me, I am happy, and only want to find myself on the battle-field; for a soldier must either conquer or perish gloriously."—Napoleon to Joseph, Paris, August 9, 1795.

"Brother Joseph, what would father say, could he see us now!"—Napoleon, in his coronation robes, Notre Dame, 1804.

"The glorious emperor will never replace to me the Napoleon whom I so much loved."—Joseph to Napoleon, 1806.

"King Charles by his treaty surrenders the crown of Spain to me. The nation asks me for a king. I destine the crown of Spain to you."—Napoleon to Joseph Bayonne, May 21, 1808.

"Only a fool remains long in a false position. In forty years of life I have learned only what I knew almost from the beginning, that all in vanity except a good conscience and self-respect.

"As soon as it becomes necessary I shall retire. During my whole life I shall be your best, perhaps your only  friend."—Joseph to Napoleon, February 19, 1809.

"I am here surrounded by the ruins of a great nation . . .

"If you take from me the army of Andalusia, what shall I be? A porter of the hospitals, a jailer of prisoners.

"Sire, I am your brother. You presented me to Spain as your second self. I felt the praise. I shall not fall below it in honor, in love the magnanimity of my heart, and the tenderness of my the tenderness of my love for my brother . . .

"I implore your Majesty to see in this letter only what I have desired to write—the simple truth which attached me to you in your cradle, and, whatever may happen, will accompany me to my tomb. . .

"I weep over the weakness of human nature; over a family scattered, once so united; over the change in the heart  of my brother; over the fading of immense glory, which would have been better preserved by generosity than by any acquisition of power.

"If the conclusion of my letter does not recall to you the tender and cherished friend of your infancy, if it does not tell you that I am to you what no other man can be, I have nothing to do but to retire."—Joseph to Napoleon, Madrid, August 8, 1810.

"You are no longer King of Spain.  I do not want Spain, either to keep or give away. What will you do? Will you come to the defense of my throne? Are you able to do this? Have you sense enough to do this? Then retire to the obscurity of some country house near Paris. You will be useless, but you will do me no harm."—Napoleon to Joseph, December, 1813.

In 1813 Napoleon again placed Ferdinand VII. on the throne of Spain. Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain and the Indies, was a man who would have sought only the welfare of the South American colonies. But the colonies to the end refused to recognize him as king, and rejected all of his attempts to gain their favor. They were true to Ferdinand VII. in the early period of his banishment, but their experiments in self-government had led to the desire to become wholly independent of Spain. Ferdinand VII., after his return to power, became a tyrant, and was opposed to all liberal ideas. He reestablished the Inquisition that Napoleon had overthrown, and sought to replace French republican ideas with those of absolutism. The reader will need to have in mind these events of Europe in order to see clearly the trend of Spanish history in the American colonies while they were disturbed by France.

The three parties in these colonies at the time of the rise and growth of independent republican ideas were the adherents of Ferdinand VII., the few partisans of Joseph Bonaparte and the French succession, and the heroes of the independence. The last steadily grew. It was composed for the most part of the creoles, or those born in America of European ancestors. Most of these were of Spanish or of Portuguese blood. The free air of America had given to these men a more liberal character. They became lovers of liberty, justice and human progress. A new race had formed under the Andes. It was a race of a fearless and noble spirit. Adequate justice has never been done to this new liberty-loving race. The splendid deeds of their heroes have never been deservedly told or sung or recognized among heroic achievements. When the creoles caught the spirit of liberty they gave their lives. It is the story of their struggles that we would tell.

Napoleon crowned crowned his own family, and Europe discrowned them. His rise and fall tended to carry republican ideas into all lands, as the crusades wrought new relations in the whole human family of the East.

The personal ambition of Napoleon did not destroy the ideal of the government of the people through chosen representatives. The short reign of the amiable and true-hearted Joseph, who loved all men and hated none, who helped all men and hindered no beneficent purpose, was an influence that aided the cause of South American independence, though the patriots had little sympathy with the French king when he occupied the throne.

Although the creoles did not recognize his authority, they found in the character of Joseph Bonaparte much that was favorable to their cause beyond the mere accident of the change of thrones. Joseph was a man of such democratic tendencies as to present to the revolutionary viceroyalties that liberal type of a leader of men which the world was not fully prepared to receive. The coming and going of Joseph Bonaparte in Spanish political history, as we view it to-day, brought to South America her great opportunity.