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?

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  1. I love this kind of stuff. A primer on someone elses past struggle against tyranny. Most (US) Americans don’t get the education they should on their own history. “Blah blah evil rich white guy slave-owners in wigs blah blah de blah…” is about the extent our government-school indoctrinated automatons get these days. (But, that is what the US has embraced… the Prussian Model of government education)

    Keep them coming, Rafael

  2. Excelent summary of the event…….curious how only some years before Miranda’s expedition to free Venezuela from its subjection to the Spanish monarchy most people loudly rejected his project ……..loyalty to the king in Spain was deeply rooted in most Venezuelans of all classes. This total about face must have an explanation …!!……one might suspect that the declaration of independence was much influenced by the fact that Venezuela was never a spanish colony in the normal sense of the word. in the North the locals felt themselves to be britons , the sons of britons who had come to colonize the land under the sponsorship of different high figures of british society , when the English monarchy begun implementing new taxes to support the english troops which defended the colonies territory from foreign enemies of england they invoked their rights as englishmen (there was an actual law of parliament which estalished the rights of free britons) not to pay taxes which they had not voted for in parliament ….In Venezuela its territories and its people were legally never considered part of Spanish territory , but rather the direct subjects of the spanish monarchy , thus when Napoleon had the spanish monarchs repalced by his brother, someone who under spanish law lacked the qualities to occupy the spanish crown , most of spain and naturally the creoles in hispanic america felt that the crown had been left vacant and that therefore they were no longer subject to an alligeance to a crown that was empty and that was to remain so for an indefinite period of time.
    Prodding independence was also the principal mantuanos resentment at the spanish born administrators spain sent to rule them on behalf of the king. this resentment was born of three causes, the main mantuanos interest in doing business with dutch and british smugglers of goods against the prohibitions established by the spanish crown , the fact that the proud mantuanos didnt want the despised pardo part of the population or the hated canarios to be given benefits by the crown authorities which they saw as exclusively theirs and the monarchs policy of not giving the local creoles any role in ruling the countires they lived , limiting their role to that of acting in the local governments of the towns where they had their homes (cabildos) . By declaring independence they could free themselves from these hated restrictions and assumme the authority that the crown denied them …..
    To be notes is that not all Venezuelan provinces expressed a desire for independence ( Maracaibo and Coro for instance opposed the idea very adamantly) , and that the representatives to the assembly that declared indpendence where for the most part self appointed and might not have really represented the mayrity view of the people they claimed to represent as loyalty to the crown remained strong in most of Venezuela specially among the Pardos , the descendants of people who migrated from the Canary Islands and also quite a few members of the elite mantuano class………, so one might say that Venezuelan independence was historically a fluke event , conditions made it possible for a certain segment of the elite to want independence and the vacant throne in spain made the move legally possible .


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