Francisco de Miranda

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Francisco de Miranda

Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) was a Latin American patriot who advocated independence of the Spanish colonies, and although he did not see the fulfillment of his dreams, he was willing to pay the price these efforts demanded.

Francisco de Miranda was born in Caracas on March 28, 1750, the son of a Spaniard from the Canary Islands. Early in life he entered the Spanish army and went to Madrid supplied with ample funds and letters of introduction. He bought a captaincy and began to keep the diary which in time became the nucleus of an immense archive. His military career was not fortunate. Accused of neglect of duty, he was eventually cleared and was sent to Cuba, where he again fell out with the authorities. In 1783 he left the Spanish service and fled to the United States.

Henceforth, Miranda was in open rebellion against the Spanish crown. Spurred by the example of the 13 colonies that had achieved independence from England, he aspired to set up an independent empire in Hispanic America. Among his friends in the United States were such men as Washington, Hamilton, and Thomas Paine. Constantly hounded by Spanish agents, he visited England, Prussia, Austria, Italy, Turkey, and Russia. Catherine the Great took a liking to him and allowed him to wear the Russian uniform and use a Russian passport.

In 1790 Spain and England disputed the rights to Nootka Sound, and Miranda hoped to convince the younger William Pitt that the time had come to set up an independent empire in Hispanic America where England might enjoy a trade monopoly. He was unsuccessful, but not discouraged, and offered his services to France. He fought in its wars, and his name was later inscribed at the Arch of Triumph, but France had as little use for his schemes as England. He survived imprisonment and the Terror and, in 1797, fled to England, where he found more encouragement for his projects. In 1806 he attempted to invade Venezuela, but the authorities had been forewarned and he was repulsed. Defeated but undaunted, he awaited his hour in London.

Two years later, rebellion in the Spanish Empire seemed to improve Miranda's chances. In 1810 he met the envoy of revolutionary Venezuela, Simón Bolívar, who had gone to Great Britain in an effort to win support for the colonies. Bolívar induced Miranda to return to his native country, and after 40 years of absence, the aging conspirator again set foot in his homeland. In the turmoil that swept Venezuela he was appointed commander in chief, but the challenge to lead a country in revolt and to organize an army from untrained civilians proved too much for him. Rather than plunge Venezuela into civil war, he concluded an armistice with the Spanish counterrevolutionary Monteverde. His officers suspected his motives and threw him into prison. The victorious Monteverde sent him to Spain, where in 1816 he died in Cadiz in the fortress of the Four Towers.

Miranda had both extraordinary gifts and great weaknesses in his private as well as in his public life. But his failures cannot obscure the fact that he was one of the first to raise the banner of liberty in Hispanic America, and though he did not reach his goal, he pointed the way. It is for this reason that he is called "El Precursor."

Further Reading

Two biographies of Miranda are William S. Robertson, The Life of Miranda (2 vols., 1929; repr. 1969), and Joseph F. Thorning, Miranda: World Citizen (1952). Miranda's role in the South American independence movement of the early 1800s is treated in Irene Nicholson, The Liberators: A Study of Independence Movements in Spanish America (1969). □

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Francisco de Miranda (fränsē´skō ŧħā mērän´dä), 1750–1816, Venezuelan revolutionist and adventurer. A hero of the struggle for independence from Spain, he is sometimes called the Precursor to distinguish him from Simón Bolívar, who completed the task of liberation. Before he championed the independence of the Spanish colonies, Miranda involved himself in a number of adventures. As an officer in the Spanish army he served under Bernardo de Gálvez in the Spanish attack on Pensacola (1781), when Spain was an ally of the rebels in the American Revolution. He later visited Philadelphia and Boston and met George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and other notables. He traveled widely in Europe, particularly in Russia, where he became a favorite of Catherine the Great. In France he fought in the French Revolutionary Wars; running afoul of the Jacobins he fled to England, where he was helped by William Pitt. Imbued with revolutionary ideas, Miranda sought foreign aid and led (1806) an unsuccessful expedition to the Venezuelan coast. After the start of the revolution in 1810, he returned to Venezuela and soon took a commanding position in the patriot forces. He was dictator for a short time, but after increasing misfortunes, including the loss of Puerto Cabello by Bolívar and a destructive earthquake in Caracas, he surrendered (1812) to the Spanish. Bolívar and other patriots, angered by his capitulation, seized him and turned him over to the Spanish who failed to honor the terms of surrender, deported him to Cádiz, and kept him in a dungeon for the rest of his life.

See History of Don Francisco de Miranda's Attempt to Effect a Revolution in South America by J. Biggs (1808); biography by W. S. Robertson (1929, repr. 1969).