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Francisco José de Paula Santander y Omaña (April 2, 1792 - May 6, 1840), was one of the military and political leaders during Colombiamarker's (then known as New Granada) independence struggle (1810-1819).

Military career

A law student, he began his military career at the young age of eighteen following the establishment of junta in 1810, which began the process of independence in New Granada. He first served as a soldier in army of the federalist United Provinces of New Granada that fought against the Province of Cundinamarca, which under the leadership of Antonio Nariño, had refused to recognize the authority of the Union. During these campaigns Santander achieved the rank of colonel in 1812. After the royalist forces re-conquered New Granada, Santander like many other New Granadan officers retreated to the plains east of the Cordillera Oriental, the Llanos, near the modern Venezuelanmarker border. There, Santander joined forces with Venezuelan patriots and operated under the command of Simón Bolívar. Bolívar promoted Santander to brigadier general in 1817.

By 1819, he was given command of the republican army's vanguard by BolĂ­var during the campaign to liberate New Granada. Santander was one of the battlefield commanders during the republican victory at the Battle of BoyacĂĄ in August 7 of that same year. After the battle, he was promoted to division general, the equivalent of a modern major general. He was placed in charge of the government of New Granada, while BolĂ­var returned to Venezuela to propose the union of Venezuela and New Granada to the Venezuelan congress.

In October 1821, after the Constitution of CĂșcuta was proclaimed, Santander was elected by the newly gathered Congress as vice president of Gran Colombia, in a heated election, where he overcame the other strong candidate for the post, the former leader of Cundinamarca, Antonio Nariño, by a margin of 38 to 19 votes.

Acting Executive

Sword of Francisco de Paula Santander
Since Bolívar, despite being elected the president of the new republic, decided to continue personally leading the republican forces in their campaigns in Ecuadormarker and Perumarker, the administration of Gran Colombia fell to Santander. The Constitution mandated that the vice-president remain in Bogotámarker in such cases and handle the functions of the executive branch of government. As acting ruler, Santander had to deal with a grave economic crisis—that was one of the direct consequences of a decade of constant warfare—pockets of royalist sentiment in Gran Colombian society, supplying the logistics of the continuing military operations, administrative and legislative reactivation, and the establishment of internal political divisions. During this period Santander definitely moved towards a centralist political philosophy and upheld the legitimacy of the Cucutá Constitution against federalist and regionalist pretensions. Santander also made a concerted move toward free trade. He removed and reduced many taxes which had been left in place from Spanish rule and opened ports to all foreign nations. He also created incentives for immigrants, including expedited naturalization—applicants were allowed to leave the country for up to six months without interrupting their legally "required" stay—and land grants. Bolívar undid many of Santander's actions after he returned in 1826 and reassumed his position as president, often ruling through emergency decree.

Political differences

House of Francisco de Paula Santander

Initially, Santander and BolĂ­var were considered as close friends and allies, but gradually political and ideological differences emerged. It is considered by modern scholars that Santander believed in the sanctity of constitutional government and in the rule of law, perhaps to a greater degree than BolĂ­var, who would have allegedly thought that those concerns were secondary to what he perceived as the actual needs and solutions that historical circumstances demanded, and thus could be subject to flexibility.

In 1826, when the first Venezuelanmarker uprising occurred, Santander and Bolívar came to disagree about how to handle the situation. Santander believed that the rebels, led by José Antonio Påez and federalist sympathizers, should be punished or at least made to openly submit to the established constitutional order. When Bolívar, who had returned from Perumarker and reasumed his executive powers, arranged for an amnesty and placed Påez as supreme military chief of the department of Venezuela, Santander felt that the central government's authority and the rule of law were being undermined by the constitutional President himself in a personalist manner.

Santander also disagreed with BolĂ­var's attempt to promote a reform of the 1821 constitution before it was legally permitted (the constitution stated that ten years had to go by), and especially with BolĂ­var's attempted nationwide implementation of the constitution that he had previously drafted for Boliviamarker, which among other provisions called for a lifelong presidency with the ability to select a direct successor. In Santander's opinion, this could place the country dangerously close to monarchism.

In 1828, growing internal conflicts continued. Santander was elected as one of the delegates to the Ocañamarker constitutional convention, during which both his supporters and other opposition political factions blocked Bolívar's attempts at reform. This led to the sudden exit of many of the Bolivarian delegates, who disagreed with the Convention's potential outcome.

These events eventually led BolĂ­var to declare himself dictator in August of that year, while the office of the vice president was abolished.

Santander and his political sympathizers felt that this act betrayed liberalism and the ideology of the Age of Enlightenment, some even comparing BolĂ­var to Napoleon or Julius Caesar.

In September 1828, BolĂ­var escaped an assassination attempt. Among those blamed was Santander who, in a quick military trial, was originally sentenced to die without specific proof of his participation in the event. BolĂ­var pardoned him and his exile was ordered.

Even today, the details are not totally clear and the evidence appears to be inconclusive. Some historians consider that Santander knew about the possibility of an assassination attempt and initially opposed it, but eventually allowed it to happen without his direct participation. This position was eventually assumed by Santander himself later in his life. Others consider that Santander may have been involved in the plan from the beginning as it would benefit him politically, though no direct proof of his role has been found.

Return to New Granada

Testament of Francisco de Paula Santander: I declare that I was born in Villa del Rosario de CĂșcuta, of the legitimately contracted marriage between my parents Mr. Juan Agustin Santander y Colmenares and Mrs Manuela de Omaña y Rodriguez, both already deceased as well as their ancestors of noble family, that under the Spanish government obtained public destinies of honor and distinction.
I say this to counter the lies of my enemies, who have wanted to deny me even my birth.

After BolĂ­var died and Gran Colombia broke up, Santander returned from exile in 1832 and served as President of Republic of New Granadamarker from 1832 to 1836. Santander had spent a great deal of time in Europe studying the Enlightenment. When he returned, these concepts influenced his decisions to a great extent.

His second period of control was quite different from the first, in that he moved away from free trade and stressed an alternate form of protectionism. He first reverted most of his original changes from BolĂ­var's undoing, although some were devalued somewhat. He did not close New Granada to international trade, but rather sought safety for New Granada under the auspices of industrialized nations, instead of discouraging trade with them. He set up economic contacts in eleven United Statesmarker cities, hoped that by creating strong ties with them, he would promote industrial development in New Granada while avoiding the use of high tariffs, which he inherently disliked.

After his term expired, he remained an important and influential political figure. He died in 1840 and was eventually considered as one of the original ideological founders of the Colombian Liberal Party, which would be formally established some eight years later.


  • Huck, E. R. (1972). Economic Experimentation in a Newly Independent Nation: Colombia under Francisco de Paula Santander, 1821-1840. The Americas, 29, 2, 167-184. Retrieved December 1, 2005 from JSTOR Journal Library.

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