Nariño, Antonio (1765–1823)

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Nariño, Antonio (1765–1823)

Antonio Nariño (b. 9 April 1765; d. 13 December 1823), Colombian independence leader. A member of the creole upper class of Santa Fe de Bogotá, Nariño was a prosperous merchant who served as alcalde and as royal treasurer of tithes. He also headed a group that met to discuss the issues of the day in the light of new intellectual currents emanating from the European Enlightenment, whose principal authors were represented in Nariño's extensive personal library.

When Nariño first toyed with the idea of independence is unclear, but he gained political notoriety when he was arrested in 1794 for having printed and secretly distributed a Spanish translation of the French revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man. He was tried and convicted of subversive activity and sentenced to exile in Spanish North Africa. However, Nariño escaped his captors on reaching Spain. From there he traveled to France and ultimately to England, where he attempted to sound out the British concerning possible help in case a revolution broke out in Spanish America. In 1797 he returned to New Granada, where he boldly surrendered to the authorities. He was not sent back to exile, but over the following years he was in and out of jail on suspicion of revolutionary activities; Nariño was in the dungeon of the Inquisition at Cartagena when the independence movement began in 1810.

By the end of 1810, Nariño was again in Santa Fe. He plunged into revolutionary politics, first as journalist—calling in the pages of his newspaper, La Bagatela, for outright separation from Spain and for creation of a strong centralist regime in New Granada. From September 1811 he was president-dictator of Cundinamarca, comprising Santa Fe and its surrounding area but not the outlying provinces, which were either committed to federalism or under royalist control. Conflict between Nariño's Cundinamarca and the federalist United Provinces of New Granada soon degenerated into civil war. Fortunes swung back and forth until in May 1814 Nariño, having led an army south to overcome the royalist bastion of Pasto, was taken prisoner by the enemy and shipped to Spain.

The Spanish liberal revolution of 1820 led to Nariño's freedom. He returned home to aid the cause of independence and served briefly in 1821 as provisional vice president of Gran Colombia, by appointment of Simón Bolívar. However, he was defeated for a full term by Francisco de Paula Santander, who became acting chief executive in Bolívar's absence and waged a campaign in Congress and the press to undermine the influence of his older rival. Although Nariño is revered today as "Precursor" of Colombian independence, he died in bitter disappointment at Villa de Leiva.

See alsoAlcalde; Bolívar, Simón; Colombia: From the Conquest Through Independence; Gran Colombia.


Jesús María Henao and Gerardo Arrubla, A History of Colombia, translated by J. Fred Rippy (1938), esp. pp. 180-184, 193-195, 222-226, 242-253.

Raimundo Rivas, El andante caballero, don Antonio Nariño, 2d ed. (1938).

Jorge Ricardo Vejarano, Nariño: Su vida, sus infortunios, su talla histórica (1945).

Guillermo Hernández De Alba, El proceso de Nariño a la luz de documentos inéditos (1958) and Diez años en la vida de Nariño (1965).

Thomas Blossom, Nariño, Hero of Colombian Independence (1967).

Additional Bibliography

Cacua Prada, Antonio. Antonio Nariño y Eugenio Espejo: Dos adelantados de la libertad. Guayaquil: Archivo Histórico del Guayas, 2000.

Santos Molano, Enrique. Antonio Nariño, filósofo revolucionario. Santafé de Bogotá: Planeta, 1999.

                                        David Bushnell