Santander, Francisco de Paula (1792–1840)

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Santander, Francisco de Paula (1792–1840)

Francisco de Paula Santander (b. 2 April 1792; d. 6 May 1840), vice president of Gran Colombia and later president of New Granada. Born at Cúcuta, on the New Granada-Venezuela border, to a locally prominent family of cacao planters, Santander was sent at age thirteen to Bogotá to complete his education. He studied for a law degree, but after the independence movement began, he enlisted in the armed forces of the revolution without completing his studies.

In the civil warfare that soon broke out between centralists in Bogotá and the federalist United Provinces of New Granada, Santander, a junior officer, sided with the latter and in 1813 joined the patriot army defending northeastern New Granada against the royalists. Victory alternated with defeat until the patriots suffered a crushing setback at the battle of Cachirí in February 1816. Santander was among the survivors who made their way to relative safety on the eastern llanos, the lowland plains stretching from the foothills of the Andes to the Orinoco Basin.

Santander helped defend the llanos against royalist incursions, ultimately winning promotion to general. It was also in the llanos that he first displayed his talents as an administrator by organizing the province of Casanare as a base of patriot resistance. His success in this effort was one reason Simón Bolívar decided in 1819 to strike westward from the llanos of Venezuela into the heart of New Granada. He picked Santander to lead the vanguard of his army as he invaded the Andean highlands and won the decisive battle of Boyacá on 7 August.

Although Santander played an important part in that victory, Boyacá was the last battle he fought, for Bolívar placed him in charge of organizing all the liberated territories of New Granada. Santander put government on a sound footing and raised troops and supplies for the armies still fighting. When, in 1821, Gran Colombia was formally constituted by the Congress of Cúcuta, Santander was elected vice president. Since the president, Bolívar, was still leading the military struggle against Spain, Santander became acting chief executive and as such again provided an effective administrator. He also endeavored to implement the liberal reforms adopted by the Congress of Cúcuta and subsequent legislatures, which ranged from a free-birth law to tax reforms and various measures curbing the traditional wealth and power of the church.

The government of Santander faced growing disaffection especially in Venezuela, which resented subordination to authorities in Bogotá. These feelings came to a head with the revolt of José Antonio Páez in 1826, just as Bolívar prepared to return home from Peru. Santander was disappointed when Bolívar proceeded to pardon Páez and to work toward revamping the new nation's institutions as a way of preventing future upheavals. Bolívar wanted a moratorium on liberal reform and strengthening of the national executive, policies that, combined with personal and factional rivalry, produced an open split with Santander. Following an unsuccessful attempt at constitutional reform, Bolívar assumed dictatorial powers and stripped Santander of the vice presidency. When liberal supporters of the latter attempted to assassinate Bolívar in September 1828, Santander himself was charged with complicity. Although the charge was never substantiated, the former vice president was exiled.

From 1829 to 1832 Santander traveled in Europe and the United States. He was still in exile at the final breakup of Gran Colombia and the reorganization of its central core as the Republic of New Granada. He returned in 1832 to become the first elected president of New Granada, a position he held until 1837. Once again exercising his administrative talents, he consolidated public order and even produced a balanced budget. Now more cautious than before, he did not push for sweeping reforms, although he did work hard to expand public education.

Santander was succeeded as president by José Ignacio de Márquez, a one-time collaborator of Santander who had forged an alliance with his main political adversaries, the former supporters of Bolívar. As ex-president, Santander won election to the Chamber of Representatives, where he was a leader of congressional opposition to Márquez until his death in 1840.

Santander has been revered as "Man of Laws" and "Civil Founder of the Republic" in token of his lasting commitment to constitutional government. He received special honor from members of Colombia's Liberal Party, whose principal founders had been among his strongest supporters. Proclerical conservatives were less enthusiastic, and in recent years they have been joined by new detractors on the left who depict Santander as a spokesman for creole oligarchs and friend to the United States. Nevertheless, among the founders of the Colombian nation he has no close rival apart from Bolívar himself.

See alsoCacao Industry; Gran Colombia; Llanos (Colombia); Llanos (Venezuela).


David Bushnell, The Santander Regime in Gran Colombia (1954; repr. 1970).

José Manuel Restrepo, Diario político y militar, 4 vols. (1954).

Indalecio Liévano Aguirre, Razones socio-económicas de la conspiración de septiembre contra el Libertador (1968).

Gilberto Salazar Parada, El pensamiento político de Santander (1969).

Eugene R. Huck, "Economic Experimentation in a Newly Independent Nation: Colombia Under Francisco de Paula Santander, 1821–1840," The Americas 29, no. 1 (1972):17-29.

Horacio Rodríguez Plata, Santander en el exilio (1976).

Pilar Moreno De Ángel, Santander (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Forero Benavides, Abelardo. Francisco de Paula Santander: El hombre de las leyes. Madrid: Ediciones Anaya, 1988.

Reales Orozco, Antonio. Santander, fundador del estado colombiano. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Editores, 1994.

Riaño Cano, Germán. El gran calumniado: Réplica a la leyenda negra de Santander. Bogotá: Planeta, 2001.

Sant Roz, José. Sandemonio: Así se jodieron Colombia y Venezuela. Mérida, Venezuela: Kari'ña Editores, 1995.

                                      David Bushnell

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Santander, Francisco de Paula (1792–1840)

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