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The People and the King

The Comunero Revolution in Colombia, 1781

John Leddy Phelan

Publication Year: 2010

In The People and the King, John Leddy Phelan reexamines a well-known but long misunderstood event in eighteenth-century Colombia. When the Spanish colonial bureaucratic system of conciliation broke down, indigenous groups resorted to armed revolt to achieve their political ends.
    As Phelan demonstrates in these pages, the crisis of 1781 represented a constitutional clash between imperial centralization and colonial decentralization. Phelan argues that the Comunero revolution was not, as it has often been portrayed, a precursor of political independence, nor was it a frustrated social upheaval. The Comunero leaders and their followers did not advocate any basic reordering of society, Phelan concludes, but rather made an appeal for revolutionary reform within a traditionalist framework.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Dedication

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Publisher's Note

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pp. vi

John Leddy Phelan's untimely death occurred as he was nearing the end of his work in preparing the manuscript of this book for publication. The Press thanks Peter H. Smith, the author's friend and colleague, for assuming responsibility for the final authorial chores that John Phelan did not live to...


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xiii-xv

The research and the writing of this book were greatly facilitated by generous support from several foundations, and I am deeply grateful for all their assistance. Grants from the Midgard Foundation and the Social Science Research Foundation enabled me to spend a year in Spain and in Colombia. An American Philosophical Society grant took me to Bogota again....

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pp. xvii-xix

This study grew out of my previous book. In The Kingdom of Quito in the Seventeenth Century, I attempted to explore the inner workings of the colonial bureaucracy and to examine those conditions which enabled the administration to conciliate tensions and conflicts. This book looks at the...

PART I. Charles III

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pp. 1

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1. From Kingdoms to Empire:The Political Innovations of Charles III

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pp. 3-17

The small group of incipient technocrats who gathered around Charles (1759-88) envisaged a unitary state in which all the resources of Spain's diverse and far-flung dominions could be mobilized to defend the monarchy. They broke with the older, Habsburg notion that the settlements overseas...

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2. From Kingdom to Colony:The Fiscal and Economic Program of Charles III

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pp. 18-35

Bernardo Ward, in his Proyecto economico, succinctly expressed the fiscal goals of Charles Ill's ministers: "In order to understand how backward our dominions are, one has only to realize that France extracts from her colonies approximately forty million pesos annually, that is to say, four times more...

PART II. Juan Francisco Berbeo

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pp. 37

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3. The Crowd Riots

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pp. 39-49

During most of the seventeenth century, Socorro was a grouping of a few huts and cabins--a caserio--a way-station for changing mules and horses and securing fresh provisions that as early as 1580 connected Velez to the south and Pamplona to the north. It belonged to the...

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4. Patricians and Plebeians in Socorro

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pp. 50-66

Socorro was a new community that steadily grew in the course of the eighteenth century from a tiny hamlet into one of the most prosperous agricultural and manufacturing communities in the New Kingdom. An examination of the social structure of Socorro and of leadership patterns among the plebeians illuminates that alliance between patricians and plebeians...

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5. A Utopia for the People

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pp. 67-78

Three conditions were required to cement a precarious alliance between the elites and the plebeians in Socorro: a revolutionary example, a revolutionary ideology, and assurances of support from prominent creole circles in Bogota. The uprising of Tupac Amaru II in Peru and an inflammatory poem...

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6. A Utopia for the Nobles

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pp. 79-88

The alliance between the elites and plebeians was sealed on Wednesday, April 18, two days after the third riot in Socorro, when "our royal decree" was first read to the rioting crowd. From the four corners of the main square of Socorro the cheering populace jubilantly proclaimed Juan Francisco...

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7. A Utopia for the Indians: The Resguardos

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pp. 89-94

It seems safe to conclude that no ethnic group in the society of New Granada was more profoundly dissatisfied than were the Indians. Moreover, in no area was the distress more acute than in the provinces of Santa Fe de Bogota, Tunja, Velez, and Sogamoso, which then included most of the...

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8. A Utopia for the Indians: Indians in Revolt

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pp. 95-111

The deep-seated unrest in the provinces of Santa Fe, Velez, Sogamoso, and Tunja in the New Kingdom of Granada finds both a parallel and a foil in what happened in Peru. There, in November of 1780, the sierra burst into rebellion under the leadership of Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui Noguera Tupac Amaru.1...

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9. Confrontation at Puente Real de Velez

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pp. 112-121

The four weeks after April 18 may be considered the most crucial of the Comunero Revolution. They began with decisions in both Socorro and Bogota to escalate the conflict by a resort to force and coercion, and ended with the revolution institutionalized, the military forces of Bogota in...

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10. A Non-Battle in Bogota and the Invasion of Giron

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pp. 122-130

The news that flooded into Bogota was all bad. The "contagion of sedition" was rapidly spreading. The regent visitor general realized that he was rapidly losing control of the swiftly approaching crisis. His last initiative took place on May 12, when he reactivated the junta superior de tribunales...

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11. "War, War, On to Santa Fe"

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pp. 131-141

How is one to understand the willingness of Juan Francisco Berbeo's legions to negotiate a settlement at Zipaquini, a day's journey north of Bogota, without first occupying the capital? This is one of the most controversial issues in the history of the Comunero Revolution, and in a very real...

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12. Rendezvous in Zipaquira

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pp. 142-155

In the morning Juan Francisco Berbeo formally installed in office the captains general of the parish of Zipaquini and issued his controversial commission to don Ambrosio Pisco to go to the gates of the city of Santa Fe de Bogota. Moreover, he appropriated, for a period of two months, the...

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13. The Capitulations of Zipaquira: Fiscal Aspects

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pp. 156-171

The treaty that the junta superior de tribunales ratified with the Comunero captains in Zipaquini on June 8, 1781, is one of the most remarkable sociopolitical and socioeconomic documents in the entire history of the Spanish empire in the New World. It is an eloquent and poignant...

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14. The First Written Constitution of New Granada

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pp. 172-186

Important though the fiscal measures may have been, the core of the capitulations was constitutional and political in nature: (I) an aspiration for a larger degree of self-government on the local and regional level and (2) a claim staked out by the creole elites to self-government for the whole of the New...

PART III. Antonio Caballero y Gongora

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pp. 187

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15. Jose Antonio Galan: Myth and Fact

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pp. 189-199

Around the figure of Jose Antonio Gahin many myths have clustered, and to distinguish fact from legend is no easy task. In his own time the royal authorities vituperatively denounced the "infamous Galan" for a whole series of crimes, ranging from treason and banditry to incest. In the nineteenth...

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16. The Second Enterprise against Santa Fe

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pp. 200-211

The tragic fate of Jose Antonio Galan was decided during the month of September in a swiftly moving, if at times confusing, sequence of events. Two earlier occurrences, however, drastically influenced the outcome during that fateful month. On June 25, Archbishop Caballero y Gongora departed from...

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17. The Reconquest of Socorro from Its "Infidelity"

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pp. 212-222

Archbishop Caballero y Gongora clearly recognized the need to create a climate of opinion favorable to any innovations the government might propose. The failure of the regent visitor general Gutierrez de Pineres to mount any such campaign had clearly contributed to the outbreak of disturbances in...

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18. The Carrot and the Stick

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pp. 223-238

The real focus of political power from the night of May 12, when the regent visitor general Juan Gutierrez de Piiieres fled Bogota, lay in the firm hands of Archbishop Antonio Caballero y Gongora. Titular authority, however, lay elsewhere. Viceroy Flores continued in office until March 31, 1782, but his real power was confined to the maritime provinces. The junta general...

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19. Caballero y Gongora and the Independence of Colombia

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pp. 239-245

The crisis of 1781 was not an abortive social revolution, nor was it a first step toward political emancipation from the Spanish crown. But 1781 did foreshadow two movements of outstanding importance in the history of the nineteenth century: federalism and anticlericalism....

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Note on the Sources

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pp. 249

The great bulk of the documentation for this book came from two places, the Archivo Historico Nacional in Bogota and the Archivo General de Indias in Seville. It is no exaggeration to affirm that the history of the Com un eros cannot be written without long periods of investigation in those two famed...


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pp. 251-291


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pp. 293-309

E-ISBN-13: 9780299072933
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299072902

Publication Year: 2010