Short History of the Declaration of Independence

Today we celebrate the day Venezuela declared itself an independent Republic, 207 years ago. It was a bloody period that brought the first expression of our foundational act and we should be aware of its historical significance.

Photo: Diario Metropolitano

Do we take the Declaration of Independence as our first Constitution?

Although it’s not strictly speaking a Constitution, it’s the first expression of a foundational act, particularly in its historical significance, as it formally expresses the will of a nation to become a Republic for the first time.

The first Declaration of Independence of the Spanish America was Venezuela’s, on July 5, 1811, written by Juan Germán Roscio and Francisco Isnardi, and approved by elected lawmakers from seven provinces. Signed by some of society’s most illustrious characters, it was followed by Colombia’s (1813), Mexico’s (1813), Argentina’s (1816) and Chile’s (1818), a step that would be consolidated later, with cannons and tears.

Do we take the Declaration of Independence as our first Constitution?

After a detailed explanation about the stance of nascent Venezuela’s provinces, Roscio justified the coming step, saying: “We, representatives of the United Provinces of Venezuela, with the Supreme Being as witness of the justice of our decision and the righteousness of our intentions, imploring for His divine and celestial help and ratifying Him, as we are born to dignity, that His providence restores in us the will to live and die free, believing and defending the holy catholic and apostolic religion of Jesus Christ, as the first of our duties.”

Once the offer to God had been made in the Declaration, Roscio, who was almost a theologist of Christianism, went on to declare independence: “[we] solemnly declare to the world that its United Provinces are, and must be henceforth, in fact and in law, free, sovereign and independent States and that they are absolved from all submission and dependency to the Spanish Crown or to those who claim to be its representatives; and that as a free and independent State, it has full power to give itself any form of government that respects the general will of its people…”

The Declaration of Independence was supported by the Triumvirate exercising the Executive Power since the Constituent Congress, created in March. Back then, the acting president, the first Venezuela had as a Republic, was Cristóbal de Mendoza, a triumvir along Juan Escalona and Baltasar Padrón. At the end, the Declaration reads: “Federal Palace of Caracas, July 8, 1811. By the Confederation of Venezuela, the Executive Branch hereby orders that the preceding Declaration be published, executed and authorized with the seal of the State and Confederation. Cristóbal de Mendoza, Acting President; Juan Escalona; Baltasar Padrón; Miguel José Sanz, Secretary of State; Carlos Machado, Great Chancellor; José Tomás Santana, Secretary of Decrees.”

The Declaration of Independence was supported by the Triumvirate exercising the Executive Power since the Constituent Congress, created in March.

All of this happened after, on April 19, 1810, the town hall of Caracas disregarded Vicente Emparan as General Captain and established the Conservative Junta for the Rights of Ferdinand VII, creating an independent government. That Junta asked Roscio to write an electoral statute for electing lawmakers for a congress in the capital, installed in March, 1811. Lawmakers agreed to constitute a Republic, and that’s why Roscio writes a Declaration.

We could also say that the catalyst figure of this process is Francisco de Miranda. As we know, he arrived in Caracas on December 10, 1810, seeking to contribute with the process started in April and, although the visit in London of young Bolívar, Bello and López Méndez can be interpreted as an open expression of receptivity and good will towards the first Venezuelan who had understanding of Liberalism, in truth, the elite in Caracas accepted Miranda with suspicion. So much so, that he was forced to turn the Patriotic Junta into a group to pressure the newly-elected Congress that would soon appoint an Executive Branch and a Judiciary, as well as exercising its constituent primacy, since those lawmakers, including Miranda, had been chosen through elections.

If Miranda hadn’t led such pressure, perhaps the Congress would’ve taken even longer debating aspects that might have been relevant, but could’ve been left for later. The urgency was declaring absolute independence and overcoming the limbo the nation was crossing.

Independence would be a harsh mistress, and as we see, it’s a process that started on April 19, 1810 and ended 15 months later, that forged its way into the Venezuelan modern tradition.

What remains today from one of the bloodier, most costly wars of the hemisphere?