South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

Orations of Bolivar and San Martin


Bolivar was the orator as well as the Liberator of South America. We give here some specimens of his grand oratory.

A general assembly of the Venezuelans, held at Margarita, had appointed Bolivar "Supreme Chief," with dictatorial powers. In the war which followed he was victorious. He conquered the Spaniards and secured the independence of Venezuela. Having accomplished that, he convened a congress, which assembled at Angostura, January, 1819. To that, composed of the direct representatives of the people, he resigned his powers as Dictator. In doing so he said:

"GENTLEMEN:" I account myself one of the beings most favored by divine Providence in having the honor of reuniting the representatives of Venezuela in this august congress, the only source of legitimate authority, the deposit of the sovereign will, and the arbiter of the nation's fate.

"In delivering back to the representatives of the people the supreme power intrusted to me, I satisfy the desires of my own heart, and calm the fears of my fellow-citizens and of future generations, who hope everything from your wisdom, rectitude and prudence. In fulfilling this delightful duty, I free myself from the boundless authority which oppresses me, and also from the unlimited responsibility which weighs on my feeble hands.

"An imperative necessity, united to a strongly expressed desire on the part of the people, could alone have induced me to assume the dreadful and dangerous charge of Dictator, Supreme Chief of the Republic. Now, however, I desire to return the authority which, with so great risk, difficulty and toil, I have maintained amid as horrible calamities as ever afflicted a social body.

"In the epoch during which I presided over the republic, it was not merely a political storm that raged, in a sanguinary war, in a time of popular anarchy, but the tempest of the desert, a whirlwind of every disorganized element, the bursting of an infernal torrent, that overwhelmed the land of Venezuela. A man,—and such a man as I am!—what bounds, what resistance could he oppose to such furious devastation? Amid that sea of woes and afflictions I was nothing more than the miserable sport of the revolutionary hurricane, driven to and fro like the wild bird of the ocean. I could do neither good nor evil; an irresistible power above all human control directed the march of our fortunes; and for me to pretend to have been the prime mover of the events which have taken place would be unjust, and would be attaching to myself an importance I do not merit. Do you desire to know the sources from which those occurrences took their rise, and the origin of our present situation? Consult the annals of Spain, of America and of Venezuela; examine the laws of the Indies, the conduct of your ancient governors, the influence of religion and of foreign dominion; observe the first acts of the republican government, the ferocity of our enemies, and the national character. I again repeat that I cannot consider myself more than the mere instrument of the great causes which have acted on our country. My life, my conduct and all my actions, public and private, are, however, before the people, and, representatives, it is your duty to judge them. I submit to your impartial decision the manner in which I have executed my command, and nothing will I add to excuse. I have already said enough as an apology. Should I merit your approbation, I shall have acquired the sublime title of a good citizen, preferred by me to that of Liberator, bestowed on me by Venezuela; to that of Pacificator, given me by Cundinamarca; and to all others the universe could confer.

"Legislators! I deposit in your hands the supreme command of Venezuela, and it is now your high duty to consecrate yourselves to the felicity of the republic. In your hands rests the balance of our destiny and the means of our glory. You will confirm the decrees which establish our liberty.

"The supreme chief of the republic is, at this moment, nothing more than a simple citizen, and such he wishes to remain until his latest hour. He will, however, serve with the armies of Venezuela as long as an army treads her soil."

Bolivar surveyed the republics of the past, and pictured their rise and fall with masterly eloquence. He continued:

"Legislators! This is the proper time for repeating what the eloquent Volney says, in his dedication to the Ruins of Palmyra: 'To the growing people of the Spanish Indies, to the generous chiefs who conduct them to liberty! May the errors and misfortunes of the Old World teach wisdom and happiness to the New!' May they never lose themselves, but profit by the lessons of experience given in the schools of Greece, of Rome, of France, of England and of America, and be instructed by them in the difficult science of establishing and preserving nations with proper, just, legitimate, and, above all, useful laws, never forgetting that the excellency of a government does not consist in theory, form or mechanism, but in being fitted to the nature and character of the people for which it was instituted."

The speech ended with this grand peroration:

"Flying from present and approaching times, my imagination plunges into future ages, in which I observe, with admiration and amazement, the prosperity, the splendor and the animation which this vast region will have acquired. My ideas are wafted on, and I see my beloved nation in the center of the universe, expanding herself on her extensive coasts between those oceans which nature had separated, and which our country will have united with large and capacious canals. I see her the bond, the center and the emporium of the human race. I see her transmitting to earth's remotest bounds those treasures contained in her mountains of gold and silver. I see her distributing, by her salutiferous plants, health and life to the afflicted of the Old World. I see her imparting to the sages of other regions her inestimable secrets, ignorant until then how much her height of knowledge transcends her excessive wealth. Yes! I see her seated on the throne of freedom, wielding the scepter of justice, and crowned with glory, showing the Old World the majesty of the New.

"Legislators! Condescend to receive with indulgence the declaration of my political creed, the highest wishes of my heart, and the earnest petition which, in the name of the people, I have dared to address to you.

"Vouchsafe to grant to Venezuela a government purely popular, purely just and purely moral, which will enchain oppression, anarchy and crime; a government which will cause innocence, philanthropy and peace to reign; a government which, under the dominion of inexorable laws, will cause equality and liberty to triumph.

"Gentlemen! Commence your duties; I have finished mine.

"The Congress of the republic of Venezuela is installed. In it from this moment is centered the national sovereignty. We all owe to it obedience and fidelity. My sword, and those of my illustrious fellows in arms, will maintain its august authority. God save the Congress!"

The speech electrified the Congress. The Liberator followed it by presenting to the Congress the new constitution. "Viva el Congreso de Venezuela!"  rang through the halls, which shout was echoed by the artillery. A President pro tem was elected, Francisco A. Zea. Bolivar then rose and took the oath of allegiance to the written law of the people. He placed the President pro tem in the seat that he as Dictator had just vacated, and said:

"Generals, chiefs and officers, my companions in arms, we are no more than simple citizens till the Sovereign Congress pleases to employ us in the class and rank which it may think proper. Relying on your submission, I am going to give, in my name and yours, the most evident proofs of our obedience, by surrendering to it the command with which I was charged."

On saying this he approached the President of the Congress, and presenting his general's baton, he continued: "I return to the republic the baton of general which she conferred on me. To serve her, in whatever rank or class to which the Congress destines me, is for me honorable; in it I will give the example of subordination and kind obedience, which should distinguish every soldier of the republic!"

The next day the Liberator was elected President of the republic.

One of the greatest of the orations of Bolivar was delivered in the south after the organization of the republic of Bolivia. It was addressed to the Congress of Bolivia.

"Legislators! In offering the project of a constitution for Bolivia, I feel overwhelmed with confusion and timidity, being convinced of my incapacity to make laws. When I consider that the wisdom of whole centuries is insufficient to compose a fundamental law which shall be perfect, and that the most enlightened legislator is perhaps the immediate cause of human unhappiness, and, if I may so express myself, the dupe of his divine ministry, what may not be said of a soldier born among slaves and buried in the deserts of his country, having seen nothing but captives in chains, and companions in arms to break them? . . .

"I have summoned all my powers of mind for the purpose of submitting to you my opinions respecting the best method of managing free men according to the principles adopted by civilized nations, although the lessons of experience exhibit only long periods of disaster checkered by some glimpses of good fortune. What guides can we follow in the shade of such dark examples?

"Legislators! Your duty calls on you to resist the shock of two monstrous enemies who mutually combat each other, and who will both attack you at one and the same time. . . . Tyranny and anarchy form an immense ocean of oppression, rolling round a small isle of liberty, perpetually beaten by the violence of the waves and by the hurricanes which incessantly threaten its submersion. Such is the sea on which you are about to launch, in a frail bark, with a pilot so inexperienced. . .

"Legislators! From this day forward liberty will be indestructible in America. You see that the savage nature of this continent is of itself sufficient to repel the monarchical form of government. Deserts are favorable to independence. Here we have no grandees, either aristocratical or ecclesiastical. Our riches are but inconsiderable, and now they are reduced in a still greater degree. Though the church enjoys some influence, she is far from aspiring to dominion, being satisfied with her own preservation. Without such supports tyrants never remain permanent, and if some ambitious men should engage in raising empires for themselves, the fate of Dessalines, Christophe and Iturbide will warn them of what they have to expect. No power finds greater difficulty to maintain itself than that of a new Prince Bonaparte, who, having vanquished so many armies, could not succeed in overcoming this rule, which is stronger than empires. And if the great Napoleon was unable to maintain himself against the league of republicans and aristocrats, who may hope to found monarchies in America, in a soil warmed and illuminated by the bright flames of liberty, in a soil which consumes the materials used for erecting these legal platforms? No, legislators! Fear not any pretenders or aspirants to crowns. To them the diadem would be what the hair-suspended falchion was over the head of Dionysius. Those upstart princes, who are so blind as to raise thrones on the ruins of liberty, are erecting their own sepulchral monuments, which will announce to future generations that they preferred their infatuated ambition to liberty and glory. . . .

"Legislators! Slavery is the infringement of all laws. A law having a tendency to preserve slavery would be the grossest sacrilege. What right can be alleged in favor of its continuance? In whatever view this crime is considered, I am persuaded that there is not a single Bolivian in existence so depraved as to pretend that such a signal violation of the dignity of man can be legalized. Man to be possessed by his fellowman; man to be made a property of! The image of the Deity to be put under the yoke! Let these usurpers of man show us their title-deeds. No one can break asunder the sacred dogma of equality; and is slavery to exist where equality reigns? Such contradictions would rather impugn our reason than our justice. We should then be deemed insane rather than usurpers.

"Legislators! I shall make mention of an article which in my conscience I ought to have omitted. No religious creed or profession should be prescribed in a political constitution, for, according to the best doctrines concerning fundamental laws, these are the guaranties of civil and political rights; and as religion touches none of those rights, she is in her nature not to be defined in the social order, and belongs to an intellectual morality. Religion governs man at home, in the cabinet, and in his own bosom, within himself; she alone has a right to examine his most secret conscience. The laws, on the contrary, consider and view the exterior of things; they govern only out of doors, and not within the houses of citizens. Applying these considerations, how can the state rule the consciences of its subjects, watch over the fulfilment of religion, and reward or punish, when the tribunals of all those matters are in heaven, and when God is the Judge? As all this belongs to divine jurisdiction, it strikes me at first sight as sacrilegious and profane to mix up our ordinances with the commandments of the Lord. It therefore belongs not to the legislator to prescribe religion; for the legislator must impose penalties on the infringements of the laws, to avoid their becoming merely expressions of counsel and advice. When there are neither temporal penalties, nor judges to inflict them, the law ceases to be law.

"Legislators! What generous and sublime thoughts must fill your souls when you see the new Bolivian nation already proclaimed! The accession of a new state to the society of those already existing forms a just subject of exultation for mankind, as it augments the great family of nations. What then must be the exultation of its founders, and my own, seeing myself placed on a level with the most celebrated sages of antiquity, with the founder of the Eternal City! This glory by right appertains to the institutors of nations, who, being their first benefactors, must have received immortal rewards; but mine, besides its immortality, possesses the merit of being gratuitous, not having been deserved. Where is the city, where is the republic which I have founded? Your munificence in dedicating a nation to me has surpassed all my services, and is infinitely superior to all the good which men can do to you.

"My despair increases when I contemplate the immensity of your reward; for even had I concentrated the talents, virtues, and the very genius of the greatest of heroes, I should be nevertheless unworthy of the name which you have chosen to give yourselves, my own name! Shall I talk of gratitude when that sentiment cannot otherwise than feebly express what I experience from your goodness, which, like the divine goodness, passes all limits? Yes; God alone had the power of naming this country Bolivia. . . . What means the word 'Bolivia'? A boundless love of liberty, at the receiving of which your enthusiasm saw nothing equal to its value. Your ecstasy, finding no demonstration adequate to the vehemence of your feelings, extinguished your own name, and gave mine to yourselves and all your posterity. This has no parallel in the history of the world, It is unexampled in the records of sublime magnanimity. So great an action will show to after times, which exist in the mind of the Eternal, that you aspired to the possession of your rights, which consist in the power of exercising your political virtues, in the acquisition of luminous talents, and in the enjoyment of being men. This noble deed, I repeat it, will prove that you are entitled to obtain the grand blessing of Heaven, the sovereignty of the people, the only legitimate authority of nations."

General Martin's proclamation on resigning his office recalls Lincoln's address at Gettysburg. Its very simplicity is eloquent; events are in every sentence. Nothing could be more dramatic than the words: "I hold in my possession the standard which Pizarro brought to enslave the empire of the Incas." The proclamation is as follows:

"I have witnessed the declaration of independence of the states of Chili and Peru. I hold in my possession the standard which Pizarro brought to enslave the empire of the Incas. I have ceased to be a public man. Thus I am more than rewarded for ten years spent in revolution and warfare. My promises to the countries in which I warred are fulfilled—to make them independent and leave to their will the elections of the governments.

"The presence of a fortunate soldier, however disinterested he may be, is dangerous to newly constituted states. I am also disgusted with hearing that I wish to make myself a sovereign. Nevertheless, I shall always be ready to make the last sacrifice for the liberty of the country, but in the class of the private individual, and no other.

"With respect to my public conduct, my compatriots (as is generally the case) will be divided in their opinions. Their children will pronounce the true verdict.

"Peruvians! I leave your national representation established. If you repose implicit confidence in it, you will triumph. If not, anarchy will swallow you up.

"May success preside over your destinies, and may they be crowned with felicity and peace!"