Arce, Manuel José (1787–1847)

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Arce, Manuel José (1787–1847)

Manuel José Arce (b. 1 January 1787; d. 14 December 1847), the first constitutionally elected president of the United Provinces of Central America. Born in San Salvador to a creole family, he studied at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala but did not graduate. Much influenced by Doctor Pedro Molina and Father José Matías Delgado, Arce participated in the Salvadoran insurgencies of 5 November 1811 and 24 January 1814, the latter of which resulted in his imprisonment until 1818. He led the Salvadoran forces who opposed Central American annexation to Agustín de Iturbide's Mexican Empire until his defeat at San Salvador by General Vicente Filísola on 7 February 1823, when he went into exile in the United States.

After Central American independence from Mexico (1 July 1823), Arce returned in February 1824 to join the governing junta of the new republic, serving briefly as provisional president. After a heated electoral campaign in 1825, the federal congress elected him Central American president over José Cecilio del Valle by a vote of 22 to 5 (even though del Valle had won a plurality of 41-34 in the electoral college, only one vote short of the required majority). Arce's deals with conservative legislators cost him support among his liberal supporters, and his attempts to strengthen the Central American federation by interventions in the state governments led to the civil war of 1827–1829. Frustrated and disillusioned, he turned over power to his conservative vice president, Mariano Beltranena, on 14 February 1828. When Francisco Morazán triumphed in the war, Arce went into exile in Mexico, where he wrote his memoirs, a valuable historical source for the 1820s.

Arce attempted to return to power in 1832, but, defeated at Escuintla by federal forces under the command of General Nicolás Raoul, he retreated to Soconusco, where he engaged in agriculture for several years. In 1843 he returned to El Salvador but soon was forced to flee to Honduras. In 1844 he appeared again in Guatemala, where he raised a force with the intention of ousting General Francisco Malespín from power in El Salvador. Malespín dealt him another military defeat in May of that year, preventing Arce's return to his native land until after Malespín's death in 1846. Arce died a year later, impoverished, in San Salvador.

See alsoCentral America, United Provinces of .


See Ramón A. Salazar, Manuel José Arce (1899), and Manuel José Arce, Memoria del General Manuel José Arce (1830, several subsequent editions), Arce's memoir. A useful short sketch is Víctor Jerez, "El General D. Manuel José Arce," in San Salvador y sus hombres (1967), pp. 53-57; also useful is Rolando Velásquez, Carácter, fisonomía y acciones de don Manuel José Arce (1948). Philip Flemion, "States' Rights and Partisan Politics: Manuel José Arce and the Struggle for Central American Union," in Hispanic American Historical Review 53, no. 4 (1973): 600-618, provides a detailed examination of the intrigue surrounding Arce's presidency. His "Manuel José Arce and the Formation of the Federal Republic of Central America" (Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, 1969) contains a more extensive account of his career.

Additional Bibliography

Meléndez Chaverri, Carlos. Don Manuel José Arce: Una vida al servicio de la libertad. San Salvador: Editorial Delgado, 2000.

                            Ralph Lee Woodward Jr.