On this date in 1816, Spain hanged the leaders of a breakaway former New World possession in a vain effort to maintain control of what is now Colombia.
The United Provinces of New Granada was la Patria Boba, the “foolish fatherland” of Colombia: a welter of rival provinces and municipalities which capitalized on the mother country’s fall to Napoleon to declare independence and immediately commence fratricidal civil war.
The United Provinces had leave of several years for this foolishness before the Peninsular War ended with the restoration of Ferdinand VII, who promptly dispatched a massive expedition under the notorious command of Pablo Morillo to bring these disobedient satellites to heel … and to hemp.
The gentlemen whose death-day we commemorate today were the ones at the seat of government when the music stopped playing. Those positions, and even the forms of government itself, had been regularly reshuffled in the Patria Boba as federalist and anti-federalist, republican and royalist, threw their respective weights (and armies) around.
Morillo, who is still infamous in Colombia for his cruelty, had the most weight of all.
As Morillo’s reconquista invaded the Provinces, Camilo Torres (English Wikipedia page | the much more detailed Spanish) resigned the presidency. Torres is best-remembered now as the author of the Memorial de Agravios (Spanish link; it translates as “Memorial of Grievances” or, more Office Space-ishly, “Memorandum of Grievances”).
This incendiary document prophetically insisted that
the union between America and Spain [rest on] the just and competent representation of its people, without any difference among its subjects that they do not have because of their laws, their customs, their origins, and their rights. Equality! The sacred right of equality. Justice is founded upon that principle and upon granting every one that which is his.
-Memorial de Agravios, as translated in The Independence of Spanish America, by Jaime Rodriguez
Stuff like this was liable to get you on Morillo’s enemies list political office or no; cowing — or killing — seditious intellectuals was part of his whole project.
Torres, his predecessor and vice president (same guy) Manuel Rodriguez, and several other ministers of state were nabbed together trying to make an escape to sea.
Morillo had them subjected to a snap trial, and Torres and Rodriguez were executed this date along with Pedro Felipe Valencia (Spanish link) and Jose Maria Davila; simultaneous property confiscation left the men’s survivors penniless. (Later, Simon Bolivar would personally support the widow Torres.)
Once hemp got through with the necks this day, old-fashioned blades did their redundant work: Torres’s head was hewed off and mounted in Bogota for public viewing.
It’s noteworthy that the author of this sort of nasty warning to the public would later sign his name opposite his New World antagonist Simon Bolivar in a Treaty of Armistice and Regularization of War (more Spanish) undertaking to stop murdering prisoners and non-combatants and fight only “as do civilized peoples” — one of the seminal documents in the development of human rights and the law of war.
Spanish speakers may appreciate this timeline site on the life and times of Camilo Torres.
* Torres, that Colombian Tom Paine, took some overt inspiration from the recent American Revolution, arguing that “to exclude the Americas from such representation … would forever alienate their desires for such a union.” After all,
If the English government had taken such an important step, perhaps today it would not rue the separation of its colonies. But a feeling of pride and a spirit of vanity and superiority led to the loss of those rich possessions.