"I Will Act as Trustee of the Supreme Authority"
January 2, 1814
Hatred of tyranny banished me from Venezuela when I saw my country enchained for the second time; but love of liberty overcame every obstacle in the path which I took to redeem my country from the cruelties and tortures of the Spaniard and brought me back from the distant banks of the Magdalena. My armies, repeatedly triumphant, have everywhere taken possession and have destroyed the powerful foe. Your chains now shackle your oppressors. The Spanish blood that tinges the battlefield has avenged your slain countrymen.
I have not given you freedom; for this you are indebted to my fellow-soldiers. Behold their noble wounds, which still bleed; recall to mind those who have perished in battle. My glory has been in the leading of these brave soldeirs. Neither vanity nor lust for power inspired me in this enterprise. The flame of freedom lighted this sacred fire within me, and the sight of my fellow-citizens suffering the ignominy of death on the scaffold, or languishing in chains, compelled me to take up the sword against the enemy. The justice of our cause united the most valorous soldiers under my banners, and a just Providence accorded us victory.
My desire to save you from anarchy and to destroy the enemies
who were endeavoring to sustain the oppressors forced me to accept
and retain the sovereign power. I have given you laws; I have
organized for you an administration of justice and finance; in
short, I have given you a government.
Citizens, I am not your sovereign. Your representatives must make your laws; the national treasury is not the property of him who governs you. Every administration of your interests must render you an account of his stewardship. Judge impartially for yourselves whether I have used the elements of power for my own advancement, or whether I have devoted my life, my thoughts, my every moment to make of you a nation by augmenting your resources or, rather, by creating them.
I yearn for the moment when I can transfer this power to the
representatives which you will choose. I sincerely trust, Gentlemen,
that you will exempt me from an office which not a few of you
could hold with distinction. Grant me the one honor to which
I aspire-- that of continuing to fight your enemies; for I shall
never sheathe my sword so long as my country's freeedom is not
The glory you acquired by expelling your oppressors has been beclouded; your honor has been compromised, for you have lost it in succumbing to the tyrant's yoke. You were the victims of a cruel vengeance. The interests of the country were in the hands of bandits. Judge, therefore, whether your honor has been restored; whether your chains have been struck off; whether I have rid you of your enemies; whether I have given you justice; and whether I have organized the national treasury.
I submit to you three certified reports by those who have been my deputies in exercising the supreme power. The three secretaries of state shall report whether or not you have taken your place upon the world stage, whether all the nations that deemed your cause lost once again gaze upon you to admire the efforts which you are making to insure your existence; whether these same nations can refuse to respect and recongnize your national flag; whether your enemies have been destroyed as often as they have faced the armies of the Republic; whether I, at their head, have defended your sacred rights; whether I have employed your treasury in your defense; whether I have taken measures to husband and increase it; and whether, on the very field of battle and in the heat of combat, I have thought of you and of laying the cornerstone of that edifice which will make of you a free, prosperous, and honored nation. It will then be yours to declare whether or not the plans which have been adopted can carry the Republic to glory and happiness.
I could not, without confusion and embarrassment, hear myself termed a hero and made the subject of so many eulogies. Risking my life for my country is a duty which has also been performed by your brothers on the battlefields, and you yourselves, my generous Compatriots, have sacrificed all for freedom. The same sentiments that inspire my soul fill yours as well. Providence, not heroism on my part, has worked the miracles which you admire.
When madness or cowardice delivered you to the tyrants, I sought to leave this unhappy country. I sought the traitor who had caught you in his snare, only to leave you burdened with chains. I witnessed the first sacrifices which gave the general alarm. Outraged, I resolved to die of misery and despair in the farthest corner of the globe rather than be a witness to the excesses of despotism. I fled from tyranny, not to save my life, nor to bury it in obscurity, but to risk it on the battlefield in search of freedom and glory. Cartegena, over which waved the republican banner, was the place I chose for sanctuary. That heroic city maintained her rights by force of arms against an army of oppression that had already fastened its yoke on most of the state. Some of our countrymen and I arrived while the conflict was in progress, and, when the Spanish troops were approaching the capital and demanding its surrender, the efforts of the caraqueños contributed greatly to the repulsing of the enemy at every point. The thirst for combat, the desire to avenge the outrages upon my countrymen, caused me to enlist in those armies, which gained signal victories. New expeditions were launched against other provinces. At that time, in Cartegena, I was a colonel, an inspector, and a councillor; yet Iasked to serve as a simple volunteer under the orders of Colonel Labatut, who was marching upon Santa Marta. I scorned rank and distinction. I aspired to a higher privilege-- that of spilling my blood for the liberty of my country.
It was then that base rivalries forced me into the most difficult of dilemmas. If I obeyed the orders of my commander, I would have no opportunity to fight; if I followed my natural inclination, I felt certain of taking the fortress of Tenerife, one of the most impregnable in South America. My pleas to my commander to assign me to this undertaking were in vain; hence, I elected to face all the dangers and all the consequences. I attacked the fort. Its defenders abandoned it to my men who seized it without resistance, although it was capable of withstanding the largest of armies. Five days of consecutive victories ended the campaign, and we occupied the province of Santa Marta without further resistance.
This happy outcome obtained for me, from the government of
New Granada, the command of an expedition against the province
of Cúcuta and Pamplona. Nothing there could withstand
the vigor of the soldiers that I commanded. They defeated and
crushed the enemy wherever they found him, and the province was
During these triumphs, I longed only for victories that would bring liberty to Venezuela-- the sole and constant aim of everything I did. Difficulties could not deter me: the magnitude of the enterprise was a spur to my ardor. The chains you bore, the outrages you suffered inflamed my zeal. Finally, my pleading obtained for me a few soldiers and permission to take the field against the powerful Monteverde. I then marched at their head and my first steps might have discouraged me had I not preferred your welfare to mine. Desertions were continual, and my troops had been reduced to a very small number when I won my first victories on Venezuelan territory.
Great armies oppressed the Republic; yet, as you know, Compatriots, a handful of liberating soldiers swiped down form New Granada upon this capital, leaving a trail of victories behind them. They restored Mérida, Trujillo, Barinas, and Caracas to their former political status. This capital had no need of our armies to free her. Her sublime patriotism had not faded after a year of chains and torments. The Spanish troops fled before an unarmed populace, whose valor they feared and whose vengeance they had earned. Caracas, great and noble in the time of her disaster, covered herself with even greater glory by her new resurrection.
Compatriots, you honor me with the illustrious name of Liberator. The officers and soldiers of the army are the true liberators; it is they who have earned the gratitude of the nation. You know well the authors of your restoration-- those valorous soldiers and their dauntless commanders: General Ribas, whose valor will live forever in the memory of America, for his name is linked with the glorious events of Niquitao and Basquisimeto; the great Giradot, the youthful hero whose heroic death saddens the victory of Bárbula; Major General Urdaneta, the firmest and coolest officer in the army; the intrepid D'Elhuyar, the conqueror of Monteverde at Las Trincheras; the brave Major Campo Elías, pacificador of El Tuy and liberator of Calabozo; the gallant Colonel Villapol who, although bruised and weakened by a severe fall at Vigirima, lost none of his valor, which contributed so greatly to the victory at Araure; Colonel Palacios, a fine soldier and brave commander who, in a long succesion of savage encounters, battled on for his country's freedom with great strength of character; Major Manrique, who left his soldiers sleeping in camp and made his way through the enemy lines with only his officers, Planes, Monagas, Canelon, Luque Fernández, Buroz, and a few more whose names escape me but whose courage and prowess are immortalized in Niquitao, Barquisimeto, Bárbula, Las Trincheras, and Araure.
Compatriots, I have not come to oppress you with my victorious arms. I have come to bring you the rule of law. I have come with the intention of safeguarding your must sacred rights. Military despotism cannot insure the happiness of a people, nor can the supreme command conferred upon me be of more than temporary advantage to the Republic. A victorious soldier earns no right to rule his country. He is not the arbiter of her laws or government; he is the defender of her freedom. His glories must blend with those of the Republic, and his ambition must be satisfied with contributing to the happiness of his country. I have vigorously defended your interests on the field of honor, and I promise that I shall uphold them to the last day of my life. Your honor, your glory will be ever dear to my heart; but the weight of authority burdens me. I beg you to relieve me from a task which is beyond my strength. Choose your representatives, your statesmen, and a just government; and be assured that the armies that have saved the Republic will forever protect Venezuela's liberty and national honor
The speakers have spoken for the people; citizen Alzuru has spoken for me. Their sentiments must gladden all republican hearts. Citizens, you urge in vain that I continue to exercise indefinitely the authority that I possess! The popular assemblies throughout Venezuela cannot convene without danger. I am aware of this situation, my Countrymen, and I will comply with my own feelings in choosing the law which circumstances impose upon me; but, I will act as the trustee to supreme authority only until this danger ceases. Thereafter, no human power shall make me take up the sceptre of despotism that necessity now thrusts into my hands. I promise you that it shall not oppress you, but that it shall pass into the hands of your representatives the moment they can be assenbled.
I shall not usurp an authority that is not mine. I proclaim to all the people: No one can hold your sovereignty except by violent and unlawful means. Flee from that country where one man exercises all the power, for it is a land of slaves. You call me Liberator of the Republic; I shall never be her oppressor. My private sentiments have been in utter conflict with my authority. Believe me, my country-men, this is a more painful sacrifice for me than the loss of life itself. I confess that I long impatiently for the day when I relinquish my authority. Then I hope you will excuse me from every duty except that of fighting your battles. You possess distinguished citizens who are more deserving of your votes than I to exercise supreme power. In General Mariño, the liberator of the eastern provinces, you behold a proper leader, worthy of guiding your destinies.
Compatriots, I have done everything for my country's glory. Permit me, then, to do something for my own. But until peace reigns throughout the Republic, I shall not abandon the helm of state.
I beg you not to think that my modesty is meant to deceive you a device by which I might impose tyranny upon you. I swear to you that my words are wholly sincere. I am not like Sulla, who brought his country tears and blood; I desire to imitate that dictator of Rome whose purity of motives led him to relinquish the supreme power and to return to private life submitting everything to the rule of law.
I am not a Pisistratus who by cajolery would gain your votes, affecting a pretended modesty unworthy of a republican, but more unworthy still of a defender of his country. I am a plain citizen who prefers the freedom, glory, and well-being of his fellow-citizens to personal aggrandizement. Accept, then, my sincerest expressions of heartfelt gratitude for the spontaneous acclaim with which you have named me your dictator. And in taking leave of you, I promise that the general will of the people shall ever be my supreme law, and that the people's will shall guide me in all my actions, even as the object of my efforts shall be your glory and your freedom.