BERNARDO O´HIGGINS (1778–1842)
Bernardo O’Higgins was born in Chilan Viejo on August 20th 1778. His father procured him an aristocratic education first in Chile and later in Peru. In 1794 he was sent to study in Europe. After a brief period in Cadiz, he left for England where he studied at the Richmond Catholic Academy. He was there from 1795 until 1798, where he met Francisco de Miranda, the precursor of the Independence of America. He taught Bernardo about independence and love of freedom.
Bernardo embarked on April 14th 1802 and returned to Chile where his father had died in 1801 and left him the estate in San Jose de Las Canteras.
In 1808 he began his political career by participating in a group of libertarians called Duendes Patrióticos. The first Government meeting elected O’Higgins as a deputy in Los Angeles. After Carrera´s first coup d etat his revolutionary activity began.
In 1813, when the war of Independence began, he enlisted in the army. The Government Committee decided to put him in charge of the army, replacing Carrera, after he incited the revolutionary troops in Roble and he helped transform an imminent defeat into victory:
"To live with honor or die with glory. May the brave follow me!"
The Licay Treaty of 1814 provoked the division of the revolutionaries. O’Higgins, leader of the troops, traveled to Santiago and confronted Carrera. However the arrival of the Realist General Mariano Osorio made him forget the disputes and O’Higgins put himself under the orders of Carrera. Both were forced to hide in the city of Rancagua. After two days of siege, they decided to come out of hiding and cross the Andes and head towards Mendoza. On the other side of the Andes, they met Jose de San Martin. Together they prepared the Andes Army. In January 1817 they triumphed in Chacabuco and entered into Santiago a month later.
In the capital, an assembly took place with key people. During this meeting, they decided to give the leadership of the troops to San Martin, who declined the offer in favor of O’Higgins, who accepted.
To secure the obtained success, it was necessary to demolish the Realist power in Peru. Preparing the Liberation of Peru Expedition included creating a naval force as well. The first squadron, directed by the English, was constituted.
In 1818, a new invasion became reality. General Osorio returned to Chile and he triumphed in Cancha Rayada. Fortunately, San Martin was able to detain the Realist impulse in Maupú. Finally, on August 20th 1820, the expedition sailed towards Peru and independence was proclaimed on July 28th of 1821.
O’Higgins government had to begin a deep transformation of the society in Chile. The regulations of a Constitution were instated:
- Power invested upon the Executive Power and the Conservative Senate.
- Re-establishment of institutions that were closed down by the Realists.
- Noble titles were prohibited and a new social distinction was established with the Legion of Merit.
- A Central Market, which gave shelter to farmers, was founded. This enabled them to do business whilst being protected from the abuse of the great landowners.
After some time, he sailed to Peru in the company of his family. In Lima, he worked in agriculture but he never entirely retired from the independent movement:
- He helped Bolivar in the last campaigns that consecrated South American independence.
- He helped his friend San Martin.
- He took care of his compatriots, who sought for his advice on the state of affairs of their country.
- He refused to return but he always stayed in touch with the authorities in Chile.