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Céspedes, Carlos Manuel de (The Elder) (1819–c. 1874)

Céspedes, Carlos Manuel de (The Elder) (1819–c. 1874)

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (The Elder) (b. 18 April 1819; d. c. 22 March 1874), nineteenth-century Cuban revolutionary. Son of a sugar planter in Cuba's Oriente Province, Céspedes received his baccalaureate degree in Havana in 1840. He then went to study law in Spain where he was exposed to the ideas of Freemasonry, participated in revolutionary activities for which he was exiled to France, and committed himself to opposing colonial repression. When he returned to Cuba, Céspedes joined with other like-minded eastern planters and cattle ranchers, including Ignacio Agramonte, Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, Bartolomé Masó, Pedro Figueredo, and Francisco Vicente Aguilera, who were convinced that Cuba would only win its freedom through the military defeat of Spain. Hence, in the isolated and less-developed corners of the Oriente, Céspedes and the other conspirators used Masonic lodges to organize and coordinate their activities.

On 10 October 1868, without consulting the other leaders, Céspedes held a public meeting at his plantation, La Demajagua, at which he freed his slaves. He then encouraged his listeners to follow the path of such Latin American freedom fighters as Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín. Finally, he issued the Grito De Yara, in which he proclaimed Cuban independence from Spain.

But despite their commitment to independence, Céspedes and his co-conspirators envisioned independence as a transitional step in the process of union with the United States. Only weeks after the independence proclamation, Céspedes led a delegation of Cuban revolutionaries to Washington, D.C., to petition the American secretary of state to consider Cuba's admission to the Union. A year later the revolutionary Constituent Assembly of Guáimaro explicitly proclaimed annexation as the ultimate purpose of the Cuban rebellion.

Despite an initial setback, by 1869 Céspedes was the acknowledged leader of the insurrection and on 10 April he was chosen to be president of the republic declared by the Constituent Assembly. However, divided by petty regionalism, class origins, and conflicts over military strategy, the revolutionaries lacked the unity and discipline essential for victory. Céspedes's authoritarian disposition only intensified the centrifugal forces of the revolutionary movement. In 1873 Céspedes was deposed in absentia as president, and on 22 March of the following year he was killed in a skirmish with Spanish forces.

See alsoBolívar, Simón; Cuba, War of Independence; Masonic Orders.


Charles E. Chapman, History of the Cuban Republic (1927).

Teresita Martínez Vergne, "Politics and Society in the Spanish Caribbean during the Nineteenth Century" (1989).

Louis A. Pérez, Jr., Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution (1989), and Cuba and the United States (1990).

Leslie Bethell, Cuba: A Short History (1993).

                                          Wade A. Kit

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