Miranda, Francisco de (1750–1816)

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Miranda, Francisco de (1750–1816)

Francisco de Miranda (b. 28 March 1750; d. 14 July 1816), leader of the First Venezuelan Republic (1811–1812). Miranda was born and raised in Caracas. His father was a successful merchant from the Canary Islands who shared with many of his countrymen a scorn for the local planter aristocracy. In order to enhance his status and power, Miranda opted for a career as an officer in the Spanish army. Unable to secure a commission in the local Caracas Battalion—the officer slots were reserved for peninsulars—in 1771 he migrated to Spain and purchased a commission in the army. He served in North Africa and in the Caribbean during the American Revolutionary War. Although he rose to the rank of colonel by his early thirties, there is nothing in the record to indicate Miranda was blessed with a great military mind. In 1783 he fled to the United States to avoid charges of misuse of funds brought against him by the Spanish military. For the rest of his life Miranda promoted the political independence of Spanish America.

For the next two decades following his departure, Miranda traveled widely in the United States and Europe, during which time he became increasingly convinced that Spanish America should follow the example of British North America and become independent. For two years Miranda traveled in the United States, examining the newly independent country and meeting many influential figures. In 1785 he returned to Europe, touring the Continent and Great Britain and observing firsthand the wide variety of rulers and the consequences of their political philosophies. In Russia, for example, Miranda spent nearly two years attempting to convince the Empress Catherine the Great to invest 20,000 rubles in his liberation plans. Although he was unsuccessful, Catherine did grant him 1,000 rubles and ordered Russian embassies to assist him. His writings from the period are a rich source for comparative history. By the time of his return to London in 1789, Miranda had become an active plotter against the crown in Spain. Until 1805, with time out to fight in the French Revolution and obtain the rank of general in the French army, he tried unsuccessfully to obtain backing to revolutionize Spanish America.

Unable to obtain sufficient support in London, Miranda returned in 1805 to the United States, where he found another government unwilling to support his cause. He did, however, succeed in raising a volunteer force of approximately two hundred men, with which he sailed from New York for Venezuela in February 1806. En route he chartered two schooners in Santo Domingo, and the British navy in the Caribbean lent some support to the enterprise. Well aware of Miranda's intent, Spanish military leaders in the captaincy general were fully prepared when he arrived off the Venezuelan coast. With a force comprising three ships and one hundred fifty men, Miranda first attempted to land in April 1806 just west of Puerto Cabello. It was a total fiasco, with Miranda losing two ships and sixty men. Miranda then fled to Barbados, where he was assisted by the British admiral Thomas Cochrane. In August 1806 Miranda returned with a force of ten ships and approximately five hundred men, landing just north of the city of Coro. This time the population fled inland and allowed Miranda and his force to enter the town. He spent a few days trying to convince local leaders to join in rebellion against the Spanish crown, but found no support among the people of Coro. When he and his invasion force were attacked by the local militia, he fled to Trinidad, and from there he returned to England in late 1807.

Miranda's failure in 1806 to spark a general revolt against the Spanish crown is an important event when analyzing the wars for independence that would break out in Venezuela within a few years. The very people who would be the primary actors in the call for Venezuelan independence—namely the local planter and merchant elite—contributed heavily to his defeat. Miranda was seen as being linked to the ideals of the French Revolution, and in 1806 this was not the road down which the reform wing of the Caracas elite wanted to travel.

Nevertheless, Miranda had cast his lot with those wanting separation from Spain, and when revolution did break out in Venezuela in 1810, he returned to lend his support and leadership. Independence was declared on 5 July 1811, and Miranda was selected to suppress the loyalist counterrevolutionaries in Valencia. He was successful in this mission, but he was unable to convince the patriot leaders of the Venezuelan Congress to form a strong centralized government with himself as the leader. In 1812, after a number of royalist victories under General Juan Domingo Monteverde and a disastrous earthquake in Caracas had brought the patriot cause to naught, Miranda was given dictatorial powers. The royalist forces under Domingo Monteverde were too strong for Miranda and his followers. Miranda capitulated to Monteverde on 25 July 1812, ending the First Republic. This capitulation is a source of considerable historical controversy in Venezuela. Many patriot leaders, including Simón Bolívar, suspected Miranda's action bordered on treason. Bolívar, in fact, prevented Miranda's departure, which caused Monteverde to charge that the patriots had violated the terms of the capitulation. The royalists arrested Miranda and sent him to prison in Cádiz, Spain, where he died four years later.

As an international revolutionary activist, Francisco de Miranda is perhaps best remembered for doing more than anyone else to lay the groundwork outside South America for the continent's separation from Spain. He was not a great military leader, however, and the heroes of the Venezuelan independence movement would be those who made their mark on the battlefield. This was, perhaps, as much a condition of his age—he was in his sixties—as of his misunderstanding of the revolutionary cause due to his long absence from Venezuela. But Miranda was no mere footnote in the independence struggle. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, revolutionary struggle was an international undertaking. Miranda realized this reality and promoted his revolution internationally.

See alsoVenezuela: The Colonial Era .


Joseph O. Baylen and Dorothy Woodward, "Francisco de Miranda and Russian Diplomacy, 1787–88," in The Historian 13 (1950): 52-68.

James Biggs, The History of Don Francisco de Miranda's Attempt to Effect a Revolution in South America (1910).

Francisco de Miranda, The New Democracy in America: Travels of Francisco de Miranda in the United States, 1783–84 (1963).

Láutico García, Francisco de Miranda y el antiguo régimen español (1961).

Caracciolo Parra Pérez, Historia de la Primera República de Venezuela, 2 vols. (1959).

Demetrio Ramos, "La ideología de la revolución española de la guerra de Independencia en la emancipación de Venezuela y en la organización de su Primera República," in Revista de Estudios Políticos (Madrid) 125 (1962): 211-272.

William S. Robertson, The Life of Miranda, 2 vols. (1929).

Joseph F. Thorning, Miranda: World Citizen (1952).

Additional Bibliography

Fernández Nadal, Estela. Revolución y utopía: Francisco de Miranda y la independencia hispanoamericana. Mendoza: EDIUNC, 2001.

Maher, John. Francisco de Miranda: Exile and Enlightenment. London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2006.

Racine, Karen. Francisco de Miranda, a Transatlantic Life in the Age of Revolution. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2003.

Zeuske, Michael. Francisco de Miranda y la modernidad en América. Aranjue, Spain: Doce Calles and Madrid: Fundación Mapfre Tavera, 2004.

                                            Gary Miller

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Miranda, Francisco de (1750–1816)

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