Francisco de Paula Santander

Francisco de Paula Santandar
President of Nueva Granada
In Power 1821-1827
Born Apr. 2, 1792
Cucuta, Colombia
Died Mar. 6, 1840
Santa Fe de Bogota
Nationality Neogranadine
Political Affiliation Federalist

Francisco de Paula Santander (April 2, 1792 – March 6, 1840) was a Colombian politician and military leader. He went on to become president of the Republic several times throughout his lifetime. He came from an upper-class family, his heritage a mix of Spanish and native blood. He was known to be a quiet and taciturn man that enjoyed spending time by himself more than in the company of others.

Only one year away from becoming a certified lawyer, Nueva Granada began the process of becoming independent. Santander signed up for voluntary military service in 1810 when he was only 18 years old. He became a prominent member of the army and was at the front line during many defining battles in the war for independence from the Spanish colonies. Santander met Simon Bolivar in 1812 and fought under his command for many years. He became a general when he was only 24 years old, but rising political tension and unhappiness with the role itself led him to resign within a few months.

Francisco de Paula Santander and His First Presidency

When he was 27 years old, he was elected as vice president of Gran Colombia. This was a federal republic that encompassed a large part of Northern South America. Although Simon Bolivar was president, he preferred being out in the action. During his extensive absences, his responsibilities fell on the young vice president’s shoulders. The acting president by constitutional law, Santander sent trade missions around the world and managed to get Great Britain and The United States to recognize Gran Colombia as a state.

The nation was in a turbulent economic state at the time, as it had endured a prolonged state of war. Santander issued many mandates relating to trade, some of which Bolivar overturned as soon as he returned from battle, oftentimes through emergency decrees. This happened especially in the later years, when tensions between the two leaders were running high.

Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander

Santander’s loyalties lay with Nueva Granada, the northern part of Gran Colombia and what would now be considered Colombia geographically. Simon Bolivar was a strong believer in a unified South American state. The two men were considered good friends and political allies for many years before their differing ideologies pushed them apart.

Among their other conflicts were their views on constitutional law. Francisco de Paula Santander earned the nickname “The Man of the Laws”, and was a strong believer in law and due process. Simon Bolivar, however, believed that there should be some flexibility given the circumstances of this newly formed country.

Their differing points of view over the future of Gran Colombia soon created an irreparable rift between the two and set off a string of political events that marked the destiny of the newly liberated Spanish colonies.

Simon Bolivar Declares Himself Dictator

In 1828, Bolivar declared himself dictator and abolished the Vice-President position. Things had deteriorated considerably and the threat of war loomed on the horizon between the federalists and centralists. Their conflict had been swept aside by both sides to achieve independence and the government at the time was a federalist one operating from Bogota.

One of Bolivar’s first actions as dictator was to abolish the vice president’s office. This meant that Santander was effectively cut off from all political power and influence. Only a month later there was an assassination attempt on Simon Bolivar’s life. Santander was taken in, found guilty and sentenced to death. However, Bolivar pardoned him and changed his sentence to exile.

Santander denied having anything to do with the assassination plot but admitted that he knew about it and did nothing to stop it later on in life.

Santander’s Second Term as President

Red: Provinces of Nueva Granada
Photo by: Shadowfox Creative Commons

Only two years after Bolivar declared himself dictator, Gran Colombia was dissolved. Bolivar stepped down as president and died of tuberculosis at the age of 47 while attempting to relocate to Europe. Santander returned from exile to New Granada in 1832 and was selected by Congress to be President of the state. During his time in exile, Santander had gone around Europe. His second term as president was much different due what he had learned there.

Santander’s second term lasted from 1832 to 1836. During this time, he ordered the execution of several Spanish officers that were still in captivity and reinstated many of the doctrines that had been overturned by Bolivar. He died in 1840, at the age of 47.

Francisco de Paula Santander and His Legacy

Santander remains a controversial figure in South America and is considered one of the founders of the liberal movement in Colombia. Santander was known for his great respect for the law and his attempt to establish a society based on constitutional law instead of dictatorship.

He is widely respected in Colombia, but other countries seem to have a more strained memory of him. Only a few years ago, Bolivar’s body in Venezuela was exhumed after Hugo Chavez set a commission to investigate the South American leader’s death. The report claimed that there was no reason to believe the cause of death was unnatural.

Even with these tensions present, Santander is mostly viewed as a political visionary and an educated man in both law and economics. The effects of his actions are certainly felt today all around South America and his legacy, politically and economically, will continue to affect the government and the people in Colombia and South America.

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