Letter from Supreme Director of Chile Bernardo O’Higgins to Antonio José de Irisarri

An Electronic Edition · O’Higgins, Bernardo

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The independent government of Chile under Bernardo O’Higgins had barely existed for a year when the Supreme Director dispatched Antonio José de Irisarri to London as “Deputy of Chile” in late 1817 (Baeza Ruz 2019, 193). Irisarri was one of O’Higgins’ closest advisors, a well-respected Guatemalan intellectual who had previously served as Interim Supreme Director in March 1814 and would be appointed Minister of the Interior in early 1818. There were multiple reasons why O’Higgins sent one of his best diplomats to Britain above any other country. There was the simple economic calculus that Britain had capital that the Chileans desperately needed.1 There were also clear strategic reasons, as the Chilean revolutionaries feared American intervention and saw Britain as a bulwark against domestic infringement, wanting to win over one Great Power to scare off another (Baeza Ruz 2019, 192-93).

Perhaps the most interesting reason of all was that of nation-building. Many of the Chilean revolutionaries wanted to promote Northern European immigration to kickstart the Chilean economy with industrious immigrants from Great Britain and Germany (as is clearly stated in the letter, not just asking for immigrants but also for trained workmen and mechanics). In particular, the goal was to settle the southern region of the country that was inhabited by the fiercely independent natives, the Mapuche (Heberlein 2008, 31-33). The demand for European immigrants went so far as to see Irisarri’s successor, Mariano Egaña, signing a deal with a British capitalist that stipulated the arrival of up to 500 families to settle 112,000 acres of land in southern Chile, with the proposal being ratified by the Chilean Senate on August 18, 1825. While this plan fell through, these schemes can be seen as early predecessors to the government-funded advertising campaigns that promoted European immigration several decades later. (Young 1969, 39-40, 161-62).

In ten short points the strategic aims of Bernardo O’Higgins is plainly laid out, demonstrating the Supreme Director’s long-term plans that went beyond just winning the War of Independence and towards the establishment of a modern Chilean state, capturing the goals and fears that Chilean policy makers would carry throughout the rest of the 19th century and well into the 20th.

[Spanish original]

1. Demostrará al gobierno británico las ventajas que resultan a todos los pueblos comerciales de la independencia de la América española, i el diputado chileno
presentará los estados de las producciones de este país; mas, como el gobierno británico es un gobierno popular, será necesario difundir estas mismas ideas en toda la población por medio de las gacetas.

2. Promoverá la emigración irlandesa por medio de los buques balleneros que directamente vengan al Pacifico, i se esforzará en que suceda lo propio con los suizos que hoi lo hacen en gran número a los Estados Unidos. En esta emigración serán comprendidos los ingleses i cualquiera otra nación» sin serles obstáculo su opinión relijiosa.

3. El ministro diputado abrirá una correspondencia con el gabinete español
por medio de su embajador en esa corte (Londres), i se esforzará en demostrarle la imposibilidad de detener la marcha de la revolución, su impotencia i nuestros recursos, asi como las ventajas que le resultarían antes a ella que a cualquiera otra nación con el desprendimiento de un mando que no puede sostener.

4. El diputado de Chile se reunirá a los otros diputados de los pueblos independientes de la América española; i por medio de las gacetas, manifestará al mundo europeo el estado ventajoso de la revolución, los grandes e inagotables recursos con que cuenta, i los ricos i grandiosos canales que ofrece al comercio.

5. Igualmente hará venir un facultativo para el establecimiento del colejio rural;
un monetario con sus máquinas para la casa de Moneda de Santiago; un fabricante
de sables, cañones, pólvora, salitre, i últimamente metalúrgicos y cualquier mecánico
que pueda sernos útil en el país.

6. Promoverá espediciones de pólvora, armas i operarios que puedan repararlas.

7. Distribuirá las patentes de corso a personas que hagan un ventajoso uso de
ellas, los estimulará a cruzar sobre el mar Pacifico, donde les ofrecerá puertos para que condenen sus presas i los demás auxilios que necesiten.

“8.^ El ministro diputado tomará un exclusivo ínteres en estrechar su comunicación con el señor Holland que abiertamente proteja la independencia de las Américas españolas, cuya influencia es ciertamente poderosa.

9. Dirá abiertamente al gabinete de Saint James, que las ventajas comerciales con que se le convida en cambio de la protección que la nación solicita, se ofrecerá a cualquiera otra que se anticipe.

10. Ofrecerá el descuento por 10 años del 2 por ciento sobre los derechos de
entrada i tonelaje a mas de las ventajas comunes que resultan de la proporción del
país i en que será preferida la nación que se decida en protegernos .

— Concepción,
24 de noviembre de 1817. — Bernardo O’Higgins

[English translation by Mauro Gonzalez)

Letter from Supreme Director of Chile Bernardo O’Higgins to Antonio José de Irisarri2

1. You will demonstrate to the British government the advantages that result from the independence of Spanish America to all commercial countries, and the Chilean deputy will present the state of this country’s industries; furthermore, as the British government is a popular government, it is necessary to spread these same ideas to all of the population via newspapers.
2. You will promote Irish emigration [sic] via the whaling ships that directly come to the Pacific, so that the same may happen as the Swiss who today come in great numbers to the United States. In this emigration [sic] it will be understood that the English and any other nation are to be included, without their religious beliefs being an obstacle.
3. The deputy minister will open a correspondence with the Spanish cabinet by means of their ambassador in that court (London), and he will strive in demonstrating the impossibility of halting the march of the revolution, their impotence and our resources, as well as the advantages that would come to her sooner before any other nation by terminating a [colonial] rule that she cannot sustain.
4. The deputy of Chile will meet with the other deputies of the independent nations of Spanish America, and by means of newspapers, demonstrate to the European world the advantageous status of the revolution, the great and inexhaustible resources available to the country, and the rich and great channels offered to commerce.
5. Likewise, there has to come a scholar for the establishment of a rural school, a minter with his machines for the Mint of Santiago; a manufacturer of sabers, canons, gunpowder, saltpeter, and finally metallurgists and any mechanic that can be useful in this country.
6. You will promote shipments of gunpowder, arms, and workmen that can repair them.
7. You will distribute letters of marque to persons that will make advantageous use of them [and] encourage them to cross the Pacific Ocean, where you will offer them ports so that they can condemn their prizes and offer any assistance that they need.3
8. The deputy minister will take an exclusive interest in strengthening communication with Lord Holland,4 who openly supports the independence of the Spanish Americas [and] whose influence is certainly powerful.
9. You will openly declare to the Court of Saint James that the commercial advantages that are offered in exchange for the protection that the nation requests will be offered to any other anticipated [nation].5
10. You will offer a 10 year discount of 2 per cent on entry fees and tonnage in addition to the common advantages that results from the proportion of the country, and the nation that decides to protect us will be preferred [in trade].6

— Concepción,
24 of November of 1817. — Bernardo O’Higgins

1. The Chilean government’s desires were satiated in the form of a highly controversial £1,000,000 loan in 1822 (Rippy 1947, 124).
2. Prior to his appointment Irisarri had been in a semi-official diplomatic position in London between 1815-1818, not receiving the official ‘Deputy’ title until October 1818. After O’Higgins was ousted from power in 1823 Irisarri was recalled in 1824 (Baeza Ruz 2019, 193-94; Kinsbruner 1970, 27). The former ambassador would have a colorful career as a commander in the Central American Civil War in the late 1820s, an advisor to Andrés de Santa Cruz during the Peru-Bolivian Confederation’s war against Chile in the 1830s, a newspaper editor in Colombia in the 1840s, and finally as Guatemalan ambassador to the United States in the 1850s-60s, dying in New York City at the age of 82. (See Antonio José de Irisarri, Escritor Y Diplomático, 1786-1868 by Ricardo Donoso, Santiago, 1966, Universidad de Chile, Facultad de Filosofía y Educación.)
3. At least fourteen letters of marque were issued between 1817-18, with at least eleven privateers actually serving. The vessels were mainly crewed by Americans, Britons, and Chileans. There was a decrease in activity after 1819 due to the formation of a professional navy and subsequent government crackdowns on privateering (Godoy Araneda 2003, 1-4).
4. Presumably referring to Henry Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland (1773-1840). A highly influential Whig politician, he was a noted Hispanophile and was a close ally of the Spanish liberals. O’Higgins’ assertion that Lord Holland was a supporter of Latin American independence is puzzling, given the British politician’s statements. In his memoirs he wrote that “…it must be acknowledged that the expeditions to Spanish America in 1806 and 1807 were neither judiciously conceived nor expedited with the vigor and dispatch which such undertakings require,” and “We should either have abandoned all projects on Spanish America, or made the liberation of those colonies a main object of our war,” in reference to the failed British invasion of Spanish Argentina and Uruguay in 1806-07 (Vassall-Fox 1854, 111, 115). Similarly, in a letter dated 17 August 1811 he disclosed his hatred for “those who promote [revolution]” in Latin America (Moreno Alonso 1983, 198).
5. “Any other anticipated nation” presumably refers to France and/or the United States (Kinsbruner 1970, 28).
6. This is in response to Irisarri’s May 1817 letter to O’Higgins, where he states that “in order to win Britain’s recognition of Chilean independence, it might be advantageous to offer ‘ten years of exclusive trade with us’” (Baeza Ruz 2019, 168).

Baeza Ruz, Andrés. Contacts, Collisions and Relationships: Britons and Chileans in the Independence Era, 1806-1831. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2019.
Godoy Araneda, Lizandro. “EL CORSO EN EL DERECHO CHILENO.” Revista De Marina. Armada de Chile, April 1, 2003. https://revistamarina.cl/revistas/2003/2/Godoy.pdf.
Heberlein, Regine I. 2008. Writing a National Colony: The Hostility of Inscription in the German Settlement of Lake Llanquihue. Amherst , NY: Cambria Press.
Kinsbruner, Jay. “The Political Influence of the British Merchants Resident in Chile during the O’Higgins’ Administration, 1817-1823.” The Americas 27, no. 1 (1970): 26–39. https://doi.org/10.2307/980617.
Moreno Alonso, Manuel. “Lord Holland y Los Orígenes Del Liberalismo Español.” Revista de Estudios Políticos, no. 36 (1983): 181–218. https://idus.us.es/handle/11441/71690.
Rippy, J. Fred. “Latin America and the British Investment ‘Boom’ of the 1820’s.” The Journal of Modern History 19, no. 2 (1947): 122–29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1870917.
Vassall-Fox, Lord Holland, Henry Richard. Memoirs of the Whig Party During My Time. Edited by Henry Edward Fox, Lord Holland. 2. Vol. 2. London, UK: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1854.
Young, George Frederick William. “GERMAN IMMIGRATION AND COLONIZATION IN CHILE: 1849-1914.” Order No. T-17648, The University of Chicago, 1969. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/german-immigration-colonization-chile-1849-1914/docview/251178267/se-2.

Full Colophon Information

Genre: Prose
Subjects: Politics, Wars of independence
Period: 1800-1850
Location: Chile, Spanish America
Format: Letter