The Reconquest of Chile 1814

[ 1814 ]

Aristocratic Chileans began considering independence only when the authority and legitimacy of the crown were cast in doubt by Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Spain in 1807. Napoleon replaced the Spanish king with his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. On the peninsula, Spanish loyalists formed juntas that claimed they would govern both the motherland and the colonies until the rightful king was restored. Thus, Chileans, like other Spanish Americans, had to confront the dilemma of who was in charge in the absence of the divine monarch: the French pretender to the throne, the Spanish rebels, or local leaders. The latter option was tried on September 18, 1810, a date whose anniversary is celebrated as Chile's independence day. On that day, the criollo leaders of Santiago, employing the town council as a junta, announced their intention to govern the colony until the king was reinstated. They swore loyalty to the ousted monarch, Ferdinand VII, but insisted that they had as much right to rule in the meantime as did subjects of the crown in Spain itself. They immediately opened the ports to all traders.

Chile's first experiment with self-government, the Old Fatherland (Patria Vieja, 1810-14), was led by José Miguel Carrera Verdugo (president, 1812-13), an aristocrat in his mid-twenties. The military-educated Carrera was a heavy-handed ruler who aroused widespread opposition. One of the earliest advocates of full independence, Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme, captained a rival faction that plunged the criollos into civil war. For him and for certain other members of the Chilean elite, the initiative for temporary self-rule quickly escalated into a campaign for permanent independence, although other criollos remained loyal to Spain. Among those favoring independence, conservatives fought with liberals over the degree to which French revolutionary ideas would be incorporated into the movement. After several efforts, Spanish troops from Peru took advantage of the internecine strife to reconquer Chile in 1814, when they reasserted control by winning the Battle of Rancagua on October 12. O'Higgins and many of the Chilean rebels escaped to Argentina.

During the Reconquest (La Reconquista) of 1814-17, the harsh rule of the Spanish loyalists, who punished suspected rebels, drove more Chileans into the insurrectionary camp. More and more members of the Chilean elite were becoming convinced of the necessity of full independence, regardless of who sat on the throne of Spain. As the leader of guerrilla raids against the Spaniards, Manuel Rodríguez became a national symbol of resistance.

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