Morazán, Francisco (1792–1842)

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Morazán, Francisco (1792–1842)

Francisco Morazán (b. 3 October 1792; d. 15 September 1842), president of the Federation of Central America (1830–1834, 1835–1839). The armed conflict between Central American Liberals and Conservatives after 1826 brought Morazán, a native of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, from provincial obscurity to leadership of the Liberal cause. In a military campaign (November 1827–April 1829) he drove the Conservative federal armies from Honduras and El Salvador, invaded Guatemala, and overthrew the "intrusive" governments there. Temporarily assuming power as chief executive of both state and federation, he restored to office the "legitimate" Liberal state and federal authorities displaced in 1826, imprisoned the deposed officials, and exiled the principal prosecutors of the war. He was elected president (16 September 1830), and continued for a second term when in 1834 death removed José Cecilio del Valle, chosen to succeed him. Until the federation collapsed, Morazán commanded the federal forces and either occupied the presidency or exercised the power that sustained it.

Morazán's victory temporarily established Liberal ascendancy, but it provided neither a working consensus nor an atmosphere of mutual toleration that enabled him to govern. As Liberal leader he championed reforms intended to restructure traditional Central American institutions to emulate the most advanced contemporary models, and sought to maintain Liberal regimes that would promote such reforms in each state. Mariano Gálvez, for example, inaugurated in Guatemala a notably comprehensive restructuring of society for which Morazán shared responsibility. Tensions generated by a growing body of Liberal innovations that forced accommodation to unfamiliar institutions and draconian measures, such as the exile of leading Conservatives, including the archbishop of Guatemala and friars of three regular orders, drove offended and scandalized citizens into the domestic opposition and created a body of aggrieved and resentful exiles plotting invasion from abroad.

Grave operational defects in the political structure of the Central American Federation restricted Morazán's options. The federal constitution was not universally accepted as appropriate to Central America, and modification or abandonment of the system was widely sought but never accomplished. Chronic financial exigency hampered both federal and state governments, and states not infrequently withheld federal revenues collected within their jurisdictions. Some states dared to nullify federal laws and, in the absence of legal penalties for counterfeiting, to mint spurious coins. Frictions generated by regional jealousies and rivalries between and among states subverted unity and severely strained the federal structure. Particularly destructive was a provincial distrust of Guatemala. The traditional seat of power, its population (which entitled it to overwhelming representation in the federal Congress), wealth, and economic suzerainty enabled it to dominate the federation. Guatemala successfully resisted an attempt to diminish its influence by creating a federal district around Guatemala City, and Morazán's attempt (1834) to achieve a more equitable balance among states by transfer of the capital to San Salvador produced little improvement. States frequently threatened revolt and occasionally seceded.

The outbreak of cholera in 1837 was a fatal blow to the federation, already threatened by dissolution. Terrorized by the advance of the disease and distrustful of the control measures, the peasants of eastern Guatemala erupted in a popular revolt from which José Rafael Carrera emerged the natural leader. Divided counsels among Liberals paralyzed action, and when Morazán assented to a dissident faction's proposal to negotiate with Carrera rather than respond to an urgent appeal from Gálvez for military intervention, a Carrera force entered Guatemala City (30 January 1838). Gálvez resigned (1 February 1838), the federation lost its major source of support, and the unpredictable Carrera kept the state and the union in turmoil until Morazán entered the war (November 1838). To buy time, Carrera accepted peace, only to resume the offensive to displace the Liberal government Morazán had installed.

Recognizing that the federation was approaching the final stages of disintegration, the federal Congress formally released the states (30 May 1838) to adopt regimes of their choosing, and held the final session (30 July 1838) of the last federal Congress. When Morazán's second term expired (1 February 1839), no competent authority existed to call an election to choose a successor, so he transferred power to his brother-in-law, Vice President Diego Vijil (10 February 1839).

Elected head of state of El Salvador (June 1839), Morazán attempted with such troops as he could muster to force together the fragments of the broken union. He first had to defeat the allied armies of Nicaragua and Honduras (September 1839), sent to deprive him of his base of power. Then he invaded Guatemala to confront Carrera, and occupied the plaza of Guatemala City (18 March 1840), only to be routed by Carrera the following day. He fled into exile but, refitted in Peru, he returned to Central America (1842) and usurped the government of Costa Rica. He soon fell victim to a popular uprising, and in San José a firing squad ended his career.

As president, Morazán hoped to achieve the domestic stability and order necessary for sustained progress. Circumstances, however, determined that his energies went principally to sustain Liberal regimes, put down civil wars, remove oppositionleaders who seized state governments, and cajole or coerce state authorities to honor their federal obligations. These activities provided the basis for his admirers to construct a portrait of an unswervingly loyal champion of the federation, unselfishly dedicating his life and sterling talents to its development and protection, and devoting his broad-visioned statesmanship and his unmatched prowess as a military leader to its defense.

As Morazán's tenure lengthened, criticism of the federal regime focused increasingly on the person of the leader rather than on institutional deficiencies or Liberal ideology. Critics charged that Morazán maintained a nepotistic monopoly of positions of power, that his zeal in sustaining the federation reflected determination to preserve his monopoly of privilege rather than loyalty or devotion to the union, that he manipulated office to his personal profit in such instances as sale of ecclesiastical properties. They charged that for profit Morazán sold out his country to the British by fueling the increased British presence and renewed assertion of suzerainty on the Mosquito Coast through his sales to Belize cutters of mahogany trees within the extensive tract the government of Honduras (1835) granted him there.

These disparate characterizations of Morazán's career and character rest largely on contemporary intuitive interpretations of his public life. Natural disasters and, if partisan allegations are credited, partisan purges of archives have so truncated the sources that the prospect that objective scholarship will be able significantly to resolve the discrepancy or flesh out the portrait is not promising.

See alsoLiberal Party (Central America) .


Robert. S. Chamberlain, Francisco Morazán, Champion of Central American Federation (1950).

Miguel Ángel Gallardo, comp., Papeles históricos, 3 vols. (1954–1964).

William J. Griffith, "The Personal Archive of Francisco Morazán," Middle American Research Institute, Philological and Documentary Studies, vol. 2, no. 6 (1977), pp. 197-286.

Alberto Herrarte, La unión de Centroamérica: Trajedia y esperanza (1955).

Thomas L. Karnes, Failure of Union: Central America, 1824–1960 (1961).

Clemente Marroquín Rojas, Francisco Morazán y Rafael Carrera (1965).

Agustín Mencos Franco, Rasgos biográficos de Francisco Morazán, 4th ed. (1906).

Lorenzo Montúfar y Rivera Maestre, Morazán, 3d ed. (1982).

Ralph Lee Wooward, in Rafael Carrera and the Emergence of the Republic of Guatemala, 1821–1871 (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Gudmundson, Lowell, and Héctor Lindo-Fuentes. Central America, 1821–1871: Liberalism before Liberal Reform. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Umaña, Helen. Francisco Morazán en la literature hondureña. San Pedro Sula: s.n., 1995.

                               William J. Griffith