The Guerra de los Supremos, Colombia’s first civil war, has been misunderstood. Usually viewed as a rather monolithic protest of pseudo-religious origin based in Pasto, the war is portrayed as having been spread by self-proclaimed federalist jefes supremos scattered throughout the country who took each province’s destiny into their own hands.1 This picture, however, ignores the basic regional differences that triggered a revolt within each province. The internal economic, political, and fiscal problems of particular provinces and the attempt of every pronunciamento to solve them are the keys to a reinterpretation of the supremos’ movement. Each province must be analyzed separately in order to provide an accurate description of the 1839–1841 protest in New Granada.

Throughout the country, at least initially, the supremos’ revolt had a federalist leaning. In Panama, however, the rebellion was also a separatist movement designed to establish an independent government. Although the concepts of federalism and separatism were complementary, Panama’s unique economic problems, in relation to other Granadan provinces, made independence the stronger motive force.2 Evidence that Isthmians did not view this change as temporary may be seen in the creation of their own blue and red flag.3

The leaders of the 1840 rebellion, far from being wildly revolutionary, were instead bent on ameliorating conditions in Panama by achieving economic development, or at least a more beneficial utilization of the region’s geographic and economic assets. Of the other fourteen rebellious provinces of New Granada, some may have had economic motives similar to those of Panama although none were as dependent as Panama on geographic location for their economic viability. Other provinces were undoubtedly poor, but only in Panama had historical circumstances combined to create a truly extraordinary situation. The concerns of the government set up after the rebellion in November 1840 will furnish testimony to the special economic problems of the Isthmus for which such solutions as free trade or the improvement of public roads had a singular importance.

Nevertheless, there are several arguments which tend to diminish the credibility of the pro-independence interpretation. Just thirteen months after the rebellion, Panama rejoined New Granada without any apparent opposition to the loss of independence.4 In addition it may also be argued that the Panamanians’ use of the terms “sovereign” and “free” could have referred to their desired internal political status in 1840. In the 1820s, Panama had used “sovereignty” to mean the power that the province as a political entity, represented by an ad hoc junta of vecinos, could exercise to determine its own fate and the type of association it should have with the government in Bogotá. Similarly, the meaning of “free” could signify internal autonomy rather than total disengagement from the central government. Fortunately, these nuanees about terms can be set aside by analyzing the political and economic factors that led Panamanians to separate from Bogotá in 1840.

The rationale for the aims of the rebellion emerges from inquiry in three areas : the nature of Panamanians’ concern for their economic well-being in the 1830s, the dynamics of provincial politics during the months immediately prior to November 1840, and the measures taken by the government of the State of the Isthmus during the fateful thirteen months of existence. All three furnish testimony to the dissatisfaction of Panama’s political elite with New Granadan fiscal as well as political policy. The activities of the new government illustrate what Panamanian leaders had sought to gain from twenty years of political union with New Granada. Clearly, economic interests influenced the intentions of the participants in the establishment of the independent government, in the framing of its constitution, and in the formulation of the new state’s economic and fiscal policies.

The Politics of Economics

Dating from the 1821 union with Colombia, Panama had been handicapped because what it needed, free and unimpeded shipping, would not only diminish the total revenue of the Colombian government, but also, and perhaps more important, would discriminate against other provinces. Legislation granting Panama special commercial privileges to profit from its geographic position would be unfair to those provinces which could have benefited from similar favored status. Furthermore, reasoned the government in Bogotá, relaxation of trade restrictions would encourage contraband, an endemic plague since Spanish colonial times, and thus drastically reduce customs revenue deemed vital for carrying on governmental duties and responsibilities.5 Finally, such discriminatory policy would violate the concept of equality under the law which was strongly imbedded in Colombia’s newly created constitutional system.

Developed as a colonial entrepot, Panama languished throughout the 1820s and 1830s; the region’s limited capacity to develop its economy and inability to escape its colonial dependence on trade contributed to the Panamanian elite’s dissatisfaction with the national government’s economic policy as it related to the Isthmus. An early source of discontent was a trade law enacted by the Granadan congress on March 25, 1835. The law incorporated all of the Isthmian congressional dele gates’ suggestions regarding free trade, but it would go into effect only after a trans-isthmian canal or railroad was built. Panamanian newspapers reacted with bitterness and separatist suggestions laced with hypothetical visions in which Panama belonged either to the United States or to the United Kingdom.6 Even these veiled allusions, although vehemently later denied in the local press, were interpreted as foreboding a separation of Panama from New Granada “before two and probably in less than nine months.”7

Speculation about separation soon dissipated in the face of the Russell incident which brought New Granada and Great Britain to the verge of war. Although Panamanians prepared with enthusiastic patriotism to defend themselves against a possible British attack and naval blockade, once the war scare passed, they resumed their major preoccupations, trade and economic survival. In effect, no sooner had a settlement been reached with Britain than leading merchants of Panama petitioned the governor to forward a new complaint to Bogotá. In this case, they were protesting a provision of the law of June 27, 1837, which required inspection in Chagres of merchandise destined for Panama City. The inspection, they claimed, would not only result in costly delays, but also loss of merchandise because Chagres had no warehouses and the goods would be at the mercy of the weather.8

The significance of this petition is that the signers were merchants whose influence was also felt in Panama’s two most important lobbying bodies: the Sociedad de Amigos del País and the provincial cámara. The Sociedad, most of whose members had actively promoted trade and trans-Isthmian communication in the 1820s through the Gran Círculo Istmeño and in the 1830s through a weekly, Comercio Libre, served the merchant class as a forum for debate and a source of policy recommendations to the government in Bogotá. The cámara, on the other hand, was a legally constituted branch of the provincial government with limited taxation power and some responsibility for internal order and education. Also authorized to make policy recommendations, the cámara and its merchant members addressed frequent petitions to national authorities in the late 1830s.

The presence, perhaps even preponderance, of merchants in the Sociedad and the cámara was due to several coincidental factors. In the first place, Panama had always been a predominantly commercial region with a large merchant class. Before 1850, it would have been difficult to find a businessman or an hacendado (the two most common occupations in the province) who was not also a merchant or who did not at least have family ties to a merchant.9 Secondly, as trade declined in Panama in the 1820s and 1830s, members of the merchant class were forced to seek a livelihood as best they could and many entered government service. As they had done during the Spanish colonial period, merchants continued to provide the government with services ranging from the sale of uniforms and food to the army quartered in the Isthmus to bidding in auctions for the right to collect taxes which were farmed out yearly. Whether in or out of government service, the merchant class actively debated the national government’s policies.

The Politics of Discontent

By the late 1830s, Panamanian grievances against the government in Bogotá had mounted. A serious source of discontent was the dismissal by President José Ignacio de Márquez of Colonel Tomás Herrera as the military commander of the province in May 1839. This action was taken because Colonel Herrera had refused to accept the government’s interpretation regarding an army officer’s criminal offense. In a long letter addressed to the president, Herrera expressed his anger and carefully explained the legal points and personal reasons that led him to resist Bogotá’s legal interpretation, claiming that constitutionality was on his side and not the president’s. He also pointed out that if he were guilty of disobedience, then under the military code he should be court-martialed.10 Márquez apparently never answered.

This incident was especially significant because by 1839 Herrera was one of Panama’s leading figures. He had joined the majority of his Panamanian compatriots in supporting President Santander, and his social status had been enhanced by more than a decade of military service and political activity. Not surprisingly, upon his dismissal the young colonel released copies of the dispatches he had sent to Márquez and the War Secretary not only to vindicate his conduct, but also to ascertain the strength of his political prestige.11 Herrera’s subsequent election to several representative bodies including the provincial cámara, the cabildo of Panama City, and the House of Representatives furnished the answer.12 Unquestionably, by ignoring Herrera’s dispatches and refusing him legal recourse, President Márquez had ineptly handled a delicate political situation. He antagonized a capable man and gave Panamanians a political leader.

Despite this incident, the Panamanian Santanderistas continued to pursue a moderate political course toward the Márquez administration and even demonstrated concern for national stability and harmony. When the rebellion began in Pasto in mid-1839, the Sociedad de Amigos del País, the nucleus of political activism and Santanderismo in the Isthmus, sent a resolution of support to Márquez.13 In this case, however, Panamanians were motivated more by their refusal to accept the religious foundation of the Pasto rebellion than by sympathy for the government. The political popularity in Panama of General José María Obando, who had offered his services to the Márquez administration, also contributed to Isthmian support for the national government’s campaign against the rebels.

Only two months later, the Sociedad sent another note to President Márquez, praising the administration’s efforts to end the rebellion and commending General Pedro A. Herrán, commander of the government forces, on his victory in Pasto.14 At the same time, events of the 1840 presidential campaign indicated that the seeming goodwill was somewhat hollow. In Los Amigos del País, the Sociedad put forth the name of Obando as the best candidate (in 1836 he had been sidelined by General Santander’s support of Vicente Azuero). The newspaper rejected the candidacy of Rafael Mosquera because he was generally considered to be the candidate of the Márquez administration.15 Neither the Sociedad nor Los Amigos del País wanted to be too closely identified with President Márquez.

Early in 1840, in the midst of these events and campaign preparations, Panamanians learned that the rebellious forces in the south had started a guerrilla war against the government forces and that some disturbances had taken place in Santa Marta. Simultaneously, serious new criticism of general conditions in New Granada appeared in Panama. According to Los Amigos del País, the blame lay mostly in the attitude of the president’s advisors who glossed over the country’s problems even as they became more acute and as the people sank into a state of misery and degradation. This editorial constituted the most searing criticism of the situation in New Granada heretofore published in Panama. It was a milestone in the relations between the province and the capital which up to then had been characterized by civility and mutual respect. In the same issue of the newspaper, a critique of the centralist form of government pointed out examples in which the national administration had disregarded the needs and wishes of the provinces concerning local affairs. From the publication of the editorial and the article in March 1840, it was only a matter of time before rebellion would erupt in Panama. The superficial support Panamanians had shown for Márquez and his administration was wearing even thinner.

Fiscal and Political Crises

There is no doubt that the Panamanian provincial fiscal situation reflected the financial chaos at the national level. The years of internal peace since 1831 had not been accompanied by appreciable amelioration in New Granada’s economic situation.16 The increase of revenues in the Treasury of Panama was very modest and seasonal. Nevertheless, the Junta de Hacienda was frequently pressed by the executive in Bogotá to make extraordinary contributions to the national treasury.17 Local expenses were small indeed compared to the treasury request of March 27, 1839, that Panama send $5,000 to Veraguas and $15,000 to Cartagena. The governor of Panama, Pedro de Obarrio, replied that only a part of the money could be remitted without exhausting all provincial funds.18 This attempt of Governor Obarrio to maintain a modicum of solvency and security heralded an eighteen-month period of fiscal tug-of-war between Panama and Bogotá. Treasury Secretary Juan de Dios Aranzazu rejected Obarrio’s contention, arguing that the provincial treasury’s income would be sufficient to replace the sums sent elsewhere. The governor was forced to comply,19 but the conditions of the Treasury did not improve. On the contrary, income continued to decline especially because the main source, the customhouses of Panama, Portobelo, and Chagres, yielded almost no revenue during the twelve months beginning with November 1839.20

The national government also expected Panama to make special contributions to the war in Pasto. One instance involved the transport of two Cartagena artillery companies from Panama to Buenaventura. The provincial government contracted a merchant brig to transport the troops for $1,056, a reduction of the asking price of $1,500.21 These disbursements as well as others incurred later on, were not onerous; nonetheless they strained the treasury at a time when income was not even at its normal level.22 In order to meet the expenditures, the Junta authorized payments from the provincial treasury’s reserve funds which then plummeted from a six-year high of $75,787 in January to $34,852 in December 1839, the limit of the reserve’s liquidity. In essence, the treasury had run out of funds. Attempts to raise money, such as the selling of unused government property, came to naught; most of the property was in ruins and no one was interested in surplus buildings in the midst of political uncertainty.23

While fiscal conditions in Panama were aggravated by the rebellion in Pasto, other events exacerbated political tensions. General Obando declared himself in open rebellion against President Márquez in January 1840, following several provincial pronunciamentos in late 1839.24 Groping for surer political support, Márquez removed several provincial governors, among them Pedro de Obarrio of Panama. Nevertheless, support for the government continued to wane and tensions increased when President Juan José Flores of Ecuador began to press for resolution of a boundary dispute. Although the government forces under General Herrán appeared to have contained the Pasto rebellion by March 1840, new rebellions erupted in Tunja, Vélez, Socorro, Casanare, Antioquia, and Pamplona. After the government forces were defeated in Casanare and Tunja provinces on September 29, President Márquez advised the governors of loyal provinces to try to maintain their legally constituted authority without Bogotá’s aid.

Faced with an untenable situation, Márquez and his ministers announced their resignation on October 8. Vice President Domingo Caicedo assumed the presidency and attempted to form a new cabinet which would include Vicente Azuero, the head of the opposition. Azuero’s conditions, however, proved unacceptable, thus dissipating the hope that the war could be brought to a swift end by a bipartisan administration dedicated to national reconciliation.25

During this period of political turmoil, the fiscal problems of the Province of Panama had worsened. On May 3,1840, the new governor, Carlos de Icaza, announced to the Junta de Hacienda that public employees had not been paid since February and the 100 soldiers of the garrison had not received their full ration in April and May. Because emergency measures were necessary, the Junta unanimously decided not to pay the Cartagena treasury for tobacco received and to ask the national government to allocate at least $15,000 for the province’s essential needs. In transmitting this information to Bogotá, Icaza was specific about Panama’s financial ills. He reminded Secretary Aranzazu that fiscal conditions had deteriorated steadily since early 1839 and that in April 1840 only two-thirds of the public payroll had been met. The continuous decline of income was caused by losses in tobacco sales and customs revenue.26

In reply to this memorandum, Secretary Aranzazu agreed to inform Cartagena about Panama’s default on the tobacco payment, but he denied the $15,000 request. The Junta de Hacienda of Panama, the secretary advised, should devise some way to postpone payment of its debts until revenue started to increase again. The secretary suggested that the provincial government abstain from authorizing even urgent building repairs.27

Governor Icaza, however, had not waited for an answer to his memorandum of May 5. Three days after informing the Junta about provincial needs, and one day after writing the memorandum to the Treasury Secretary, Icaza convoked an assembly of notable persons, announced that the treasury was empty, and asked for help. While the majority of responses came from a few merchants who probably contributed to the limits of their capabilities, the financial support offered was insufficient to meet the provincial needs. Labeling all offers as inadequate, the Junta de Hacienda decided to place the garrison on rations and to put its food supply contract up for public bidding.28

In spite of Panama’s economically trying times, the authorities in Bogotá were adamant and insisted that Panama continue to transfer funds to other treasuries when asked. The practice of transferring funds from one treasury to another was common and Panama was not the only province asked to make extraordinary contributions.29 This fact, however, did not make it any easier for the Panamanian treasury to pay the salaries of provincial employees.

As Governor Icaza had informed the government, between May and August 1840, the financial situation did not improve; in fact, it worsened. Then, to aggravate an already difficult situation, on August 4, the military commander of Panama, Colonel Fernando de Losada, sent a memorandum to the governor, analyzing the problems besieging the province and suggesting a policy to be followed by the government. The officer, in no uncertain terms stated that, since provincial welfare and security were the governor’s responsibility, Icaza should not forward any extra monies to the national treasury. Disobedience to treasury requests, Losada asserted, was essential since the province’s survival was at stake.30 Considering Losada’s position in Panama, that of transient military commander, it is doubtful that he was even the author of such a memorandum. In all likelihood, he was merely the tool of certain politicians who wished to confront Governor Icaza with a dilemma: either obey Bogotá thereby leaving the provincial government penniless and increasing the discontent of the people or refuse to acquiesce to the order from Bogotá and accept the principle of provincial self-determination. The latter course was eventually accepted by Icaza.

The ideas expressed in the memorandum were essentially similar to those voiced during the political meetings of the troubled mid-1820s when debates centered upon provincial right to survival through self- determination in times of national crisis. Even the Granadan civil war of 1839–1841 had not resolved the issue of provincial rights for it was an uncoordinated struggle lacking a coherent set of national grievances. Thus, in relation to Panama, the 1840 rebellion and the federative movement of the 1850s merely postponed the definition of Panama’s provincial rights until 1903. It is interesting to note that Losada’s recommendation to disregard public policy was similar to that of his predecessor, Colonel Herrera, who was dismissed just a year before. President Márquez apparently had misjudged both the military’s capacity for decisive action and the financial breaking point of the country.

While Losadas memorandum was being sent to Bogotá, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury wrote to Icaza that the blame for the situation rested on the “scandalous” rebellion in Pasto and, consequently, public employees of Panama had to suffer as much as others throughout the nation.31 Together with this simple explanation, the assistant secretary asked the governor to hold a public meeting in order to obtain a voluntary loan from the people of Panama to help the government. On September 22, 1840, Icaza did convene a meeting which was attended by only thirty-eight persons, among them, twenty public officials, fifteen merchants, the bishop, a canon, and an hacendado.32 The poor attendance of businessmen and merchants may be partly explained by the lack of money in Panama at this time. However, if funds had been available, there is a good possibility that many members of the moneyed group as well as other civic leaders would have refrained from cooperating with a government whose prospects were so poor. The meeting was a failure. Governor Icaza reported to Bogotá that “the pestilence of poverty that was striking the people and the misery under which the public employees were moaning”33 was the cause. Three weeks after Icaza had sent this discouraging note, but obviously before it reached Bogotá, he received another peremptory request from the Treasury Secretary asking for more funds.34 The governor, with the backing of the Junta de Hacienda35 and Los Amigos del País36 refused to comply on the grounds that the provincial treasury was empty. On November 18, four weeks after the governor had acted, Panama declared its independence.

The Shaping of Pro-Independence Opinion

The deterioration of government finances during 1840 was accompanied by increased public sentiment for independence. As already indicated, initial criticism of the government had focused upon close collaborators of Márquez rather than the president himself. Subsequently in March 1840, Los Amigos del País reprinted a handbill, originally published in Tunja, which attacked centralism and praised federalism. Concurrently, other newspaper articles strongly advocated a constitutional convention as a means to prevent the decay of republican institutions. In later issues, Los Amigos del País continued the debate, upholding its right to question incompetent administrators. A few days later, underscoring the critical administrative situation, the departing president of the Sociedad, Antonio Planas, made an eloquent plea for the end of “the rigorous centralism” under which Panama was governed.37 Little doubt remained concerning the nature of Isthmian political sympathies.

Throughout the presidential campaign of 1840, Panamanians opposed the candidacies of General Herrán and Colonel Eusebio Borrero, tacitly expecting former President Santander to enter the race. However, the latter’s sudden death in May left the government opposition leaderless, prompting Los Amigos del País in July to exhort “los liberales del Istmo” to support the best choice, Dr. Vicente Azuero.38 Azuero, a well-known Bogotá lawyer and political leader, obtained seventy-two percent of Panama’s electoral votes and sixty-six percent of both Isthmian provinces’ votes. By the end of the national electoral campaign, he had obtained a plurality of votes (thirty-nine percent), although not the majority needed to win the election without a congressional runoff.39

Since Azuero had won so decisively in the province of Panama, political preferences there were displayed more daringly. Toward the end of October 1840, the cabildo of Panama City submitted to Governor Icaza the names of Tomás Herrera, José Antonio Bermúdez, and Diego Arosemena, so that he could choose one as the cantonal jefe político. Icaza’s choice was Herrera, the most controversial of the three and the one whose political reputation would most annoy the national executive. Also, since the jefe politico did not have broad and discretionary powers, Herrera’s name may have been submitted by the cabildo in recognition of his popularity and his well-known political convictions.40

While these events were taking place, the extent of the national government’s complicity in procuring Ecuadorian aid to quell the rebellion in the south became known in Panama. The administration’s policy angered Panamanians who viewed the intervention as an affront to the Granadan nation, although their animosity was most likely directed against President Flores whose territorial ambition might have included the Isthmus.41 Editorially, Los Amigos del País reacted hostilely to the apparent attempt of the administration in Bogotá to deceive Granadans about the Flores intervention. Although the newspaper professed to be against the rebellion, the lengthy editorial fanned anti- Márquez feelings.42

By mid-November 1840, it was known in Panama that Dr. Márquez had asked Flores to help fight Granadans, that several provinces, led by their governors, had declared themselves federal states, that the province lacked funds to pay for its own expenses, that the governor had refused to honor treasury requests from Bogotá and, finally, that the political opposition to Márquez was no longer covert since the presidential election was being won by the opposition candidate, Dr. Azuero. Yet, by November 15, no hint of an impending rebellion could be detected in Los Amigos del País and only on December 1 did there appear in the semimonthly an acrid attack against Márquez.43 This attack, however, might be interpreted as an afterthought, a rationalization of the step taken two weeks previously.

The Sovereign State of the Isthmus

The Panamanian declaration of independence was drawn up on November 18 at an assembly of vecinos summoned by Governor Icaza to deal with the problems that were besetting the province. Instead, it approved the independence of the province of Panama. The act was signed by 104 persons including Governor Icaza, Colonel Losada, Bishop Juan José Cabarcas, and Tomás Herrera. Another signer was Sebastián de Arce, an administration friend who had denounced Herrera to Vice President Caicedo. Among the notable absentees were former Governor Pedro de Obarrio, Treasurer Pedro Antonio Maytín, and Justo Arosemena.44

A variety of sources has been used to determine the profession, occupation and political activity between 1835 and 1840 of the other ninety-eight individuals who signed the act.45 However, there are twelve persons about whom no information has been obtained. Table I gives a summary of the professional and occupational profile of the signers including their secondary activities for the five years prior to 1840. The table also includes the six persons mentioned above since their number does not greatly alter the percentages. Interestingly, forty of the signers, or thirty-eight percent, were businessmen who had at some time either occupied public office (sixteen) or participated in some political activity (twenty-four). If businessmen and merchants, many of whom had business interests, are considered members of the moneyed class, then fifty percent of the signers presumably had an economic interest in declaring the Isthmus free. Furthermore, if we include the eleven hacendados, the percentage of members of the economic elite increases to sixty-one.

Of those fifty-two businessmen and merchants who signed the act, twenty-four (forty-six percent) were politically active. In contrast, out of a group of thirty Panamanians who imported merchandise from 1836 to 1839 and could be considered merchants, or at least persons whose livelihood depended partly on the importation and sale of goods, only ten signed the act, and eight of them had been politically active. On the other hand, only five percent of those who did not sign the act had been politically active. This indicates a strong correlation between political activity and support for the declaration of November 1840.

As to the domicile of the signers, all but two were residents of the city of Panama. The eleven hacendados who signed the act must have been absentee landowners. Consequently, the residents of the interior cantons, more populous and perhaps better endowed in natural resources, were non-participants in the political activities of the provincial capital. This indicates that the city of Panama was still, as it had been in 1821, the most assertive political entity of the province.46 Political initiative stemmed from sheer economic needs. While the cantons of Panama and Portobelo needed their commercial resources to survive, the agricultural subsistence-oriented cantons of Natá, Parita, and La Chorrera were less dependent upon the political decisions made by the residents of Panama City. Despite this dichotomy between the provincial capital and the interior cantons, in February 1841 the constitutional convention, while considering the economic condition of the Isthmus, enacted legislation that promoted agriculture and cattle raising, obviously intended to benefit the interior cantons.47

Although the Sociedad de los Amigos del País had actively petitioned the government in Bogotá for measures to alleviate the economic plight of Panama in the years prior to 1840, only twenty-seven of its fifty-nine members (forty-five percent) signed the act. Table II furnishes a breakdown by occupation of the members who signed as well as those who did not. The proportion of businessmen, merchants, and hacendados who did sign (sixty-one percent) was greater than those who did not (thirty-nine percent), helping to corroborate the assertion that the Act of 1840 was largely supported by those whose livelihood was threatened by the central government’s inability to promote trade and trans-Isthmian shipping. On the other hand, of the thirty merchants active in the import business from 1836 to 1839, seventeen did not belong to the Sociedad and twenty did not sign the act. Even though many merchants failed to participate in the initial act of separation,48 in the months following the November Act those who did sign helped to enact into law the economic policies that merchants and businessmen had previously asked the Granadan government to accept.

Even a careful examination of Panamanian notarial records reveals no conclusive evidence about the wealth, family ties, or mercantile interests of the signers of the act. Therefore, one must turn to the act itself as well as to legislation enacted by the newly created government to ascertain the character of the rebellion.

Economic Policy under the New Government

The Act of November 18, 1840, was designed to redress some of the ills endured by the region in previous years. Although it did not contain any revolutionary provisions changing the social or economic structure of Panama, the act did create the Sovereign State of the Isthmus, circumscribing a possible reunion with New Granada to a federal form of government.49 In addition, the act created the offices of civil commander and vice-commander, a council of state, and a provisional legislative commission. For the posts of civil commander and vice-commander the act designated Colonel Tomás Herrera and former Governor Icaza, respectively. They joined Mariano Arosemena, Nicolás Orozco, and Tadeo Pérez de Ochoa y Sevillano to make up the Council of State. Arosemena, a well-known lawyer, politician, and businessman, had occupied several posts including a senate seat. Orozco, an hacendado and lawyer, had been a candidate for several judgeships, and Pérez was one of the best known businessmen and landholders of the region. The legislative commission consisted of José Arosemena Barrera, Saturnino Castor Ospino, and Manuel de Arce, in addition to the members of the cabildo of Panama City.50 Arosemena Barrera, Ospino, and Arce were businessmen or merchants while Arosemena Barrera was a lawyer as well. Arce, incidentally, did not sign the 1840 act, but had signed the Declaration of Independence in 1821. The act also provided for the election of representatives to a constitutional convention which would assemble on March 1. Other articles dealt with laws of New Granada that would remain in force providing that they did not contravene Panama’s new political status.

If one were to study solely the act of November, the Panama rebellion might simply appear as another change of government, not unlike the frequent political turnovers of nineteenth-century Spanish America in which only the name of the rulers changed while the body politic continued unaffected. In Panama the situation was different. Although the act did not delineate the vexing economic problems, the steps taken by the Isthmian executive and the constitutional convention leave no doubt as to the economic causes of the rebellion and the solutions sought. If there was a political conspiracy to declare Panama autonomous, its inspiration derived from the fiscal bankruptcy of the provincial treasury and not from any political, social or economic ideology.51 This contention is partly supported by a show of non-partisanship from former political opponents who united to solve problems. The conciliatory spirit was reflected in public gatherings held during the first few days after the declaration of independence. A Te Deum in the cathedral, a banquet, a ball, and other assemblies demonstrated that “the reigning spirit was liberty and order.”52 In this mood of progress, a semi-official newspaper, La Prensa, was authorized to serve as an advocate of the government’s policies. The first issue appeared on December 5, 1840, under the editorial direction of Mariano Arosemena.53

One of the first tasks of the new government was the union of Panama and Veraguas in order to create the Sovereign State of the Isthmus. For this purpose, the Council of State sent two delegates, Juan Anzoátegui, a businessman, and José del Carmen Plicé, a merchant, to Carlos Fábrega, governor of the province of Veraguas, to invite him to join the new state. Fábrega delayed his decision and attempted to retain his options with Márquez who had resumed presidential duties. The council’s invitation to Governor Fábrega indicates that the Panamanians had not carefully plotted the rebellion in advance; otherwise, they would not have been so surprised by Fábrega’s reticence to answer. Commander Herrera was initially reluctant to use force to subdue the unwilling province;54 however, neither his misgivings nor those of Fábrega prevailed. The danger that Veraguas would represent if it contrived to ally itself with the Márquez forces convinced Herrera that military operations were essential. Consequently, he decided to seek a military confrontation with Governor Fábrega.

Before Herrera reached Santiago, several events forced the recalcitrant province to change its attitude. First, several Granadan provinces, including Cartagena and Santa Marta, declared in favor of a Granadan federation. Then the cantons of Bocas del Toro and Alanje decided to secede from Veraguas. Finally, it was learned in Santiago that Herrera was on his way to invade what was left of the province. In view of these events, on December 13 the public employees and vecinos of Santiago signed a resolution of allegiance to the State of the Isthmus. This resolution provided that Veraguas would retain the incumbent governor, reserve the right to send a representative to a Granadan constitutional convention should one occur, and keep in trust the funds that its treasury had at the time of the signing. The conditions under which Veraguas reluctantly entered the new partnership indicate that its leaders did not have the same concern about trade and economic activity that Panama City’s leaders had when they initiated the 1840 rebellion.55

The fiscal bankruptcy of its treasury and the stagnant economic conditions of the province continued to be the dominant concerns of newly independent Panama. First the Council of State, then the legislative commission and, finally, the constitutional convention all found it necessary to issue a series of measures designed to solve economic problems. These measures may be grouped in three categories: the promotion of trans-Isthmian communication and trade, the increase of state revenue, and administrative reorganization.

Under the category of trade promotion, Colonel Herrera asked the legislative commission for incentives to both encourage foreign shippers and increase state revenue. The commission responded by lifting restrictions on the import of tobacco for personal use.56 At the same time, the commission raised the price of second-class Granadan tobacco in order to increase revenues by forcing the consumer to buy the expensive first-class Virginia leaf or make him pay more for the popular second-class.

A second decree of December 9 aimed to correct confusing commercial regulations and to spur trans-Isthmian shipping which had been damaged by competition from the Cape Horn route. To this end, it exempted from a seven percent surtax those products imported from the west coast of South America, it allowed duties to be paid in installments, and it either abolished or considerably lowered tonnage and mooring fees for foreign shipping.57 In reaction to this decree, both La Prensa and Los Amigos del País agreed that in a few days the commission achieved what the legislature of New Granada had not done in several years.58

Later, on July 24, the constitutional convention furthered transisthmian communication by modifying two Granadan laws that granted construction monopolies.59 The new provision extended the maximum size for land grants in order to attract builders of either a canal, a road, or a railroad from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Another decree guaranteed the protection of steam navigation on both oceans by providing that the import or the storage of coal for ships be duty-free and that steamships pay no port duties.60

In regard to Panama’s economic potential, the convention issued three decrees. One was designed to aid the mining industry by exempting mining tools and machinery from import duty and by suspending the quinto on minerals mined and exported from Panama.61 Still another allowed naval stores and other shipbuilding materials to enter the Isthmus duty-free.62 In addition to the previously opened ports of Panama, Chagres, and Portobelo, the law of June 16 admitted the ports of David and Bocas del Toro to international trade. It also imposed heavy duties on liquors, wine, crackers, hardtack, ham, lard, and other foreign products that could be easily manufactured in Panama.63

A second category of economic measures focused upon increasing revenue and included such provisions as the heavy taxation of imported salt. In addition, the government authorized the sale of official permits to distill rum since rum revenue constituted eleven percent of the provincial income.64 The other revenue law regulated stamped paper, a less than profitable holdover from the colonial period.65

The third and final body of economic legislation regulated the internal revenue administration, in some cases making important changes in the structure of revenue collecting. The most significant change was the one of July 10 which created treasury offices to collect and to account for the state revenue and also allocated specific salaries to the new cantonal officers.66 This was a very important step because in the past the collectors’ salaries consisted of a small percentage of the taxes collected, but, since the tax yield had decreased considerably, many collectors had abandoned their posts. Another decree restructured an earlier Granadan law of July 18, 1840, which had created the office of comptroller.67 Finally, the convention approved an internal loan of up to $50,000, allowing for promissory notes which could be used by taxpayers to satisfy their debts to the government.68 Thus, merchants and businessmen would have more incentive to loan their money to a still unproven government.

The convention and the commander were also concerned with unpaid salaries and bills that the Isthmus had to cancel if it expected to put its financial affairs in order. In effect, on April 29, the convention approved a law that authorized the executive to reorganize the payment of the new nation’s debts and to issue new promissory notes if the state treasury could not cancel the old debts immediately. The executive was also instructed to start payment of the foreign debt incurred by New Granada and now partially recognized by the Isthmus.69 A few days after this decree had been signed, Herrera asked the British Consul, Joseph Cade, to accept $2,602 allocated for payment on the foreign debt. Whether Consul Cade saw this as an attempt to obtain British recognition of Isthmian independence or whether he lacked authority to accept that sum is not known, but he refused.70

The convention, of course, had other business to conduct including the political organization of the Isthmian state. Since November 1840, there had been some concern voiced by those cantons jeopardized by the dominant political leverage of Panama City and Santiago. Hence, in order to allay any fears of undue political interference, the convention transformed the ten cantons of Panama and Veraguas into governorships, replacing the cantonal jefes políticos with governors and creating provincial legislatures for each. The convention also provided that if New Granada ever became a federal republic, the Isthmus would join.71 Panamanians remained just as concerned about their security as they had been in 1821 when they entered into union with Colombia.

Another political measure of the convention was to delimit the legislative and executive prerogatives of the new government. Herrera wisely exercised his executive power when he vetoed the convention’s decree which gave him the rank of general and provided for a gold medal to be struck in his honor. It was remarked at that time that Herrera could not have expressed his personal political convictions about sound fiscal and administrative government in a better way than to reject those honors.72

As the capstone of its activities, on June 8, 1841, the constitutional convention approved the new constitution for the State of the Isthmus. This constitution had more liberal provisions than the New Granadan Constitution of 1832. For example, suffrage was extended to all male Panamanians over the age of twenty-one; however, literacy was made a condition of suffrage after 1850, reflecting the legislature’s optimism about the progress of the region. Electoral procedures were also liberalized by instituting limited direct elections. However, continued use of the electors’ system indicates that Panamanians overlooked the dangers inherent in a system which allowed a flagrant disregard of public will. Such a demonstration occurred in March 1841 when Azuero was summarily disqualified by congress in his bid for the presidency despite his having won the plurality of the electors’ votes. Finally, a unicameral legislature was created with considerable supervisory power over the executive branch, including tight control of the nation’s finances.73

In spite of the legislative productivity of the leaders of the 1840 rebellion, there was no way to predict the success of those solutions which they had offered to solve Panama’s perennial problems. Indeed, it will never be known. At the end of December 1841, thirteen and a half months after Panama’s declaration of independence, the Isthmian State joined New Granada once again.

The return of the Isthmus to the Granadan fold apparently was sparked by the defeat of the various rebellions throughout the country including the littoral provinces of Santa Marta and Cartagena. By the end of 1841, the government had poised in Cartagena a military force directed against the Isthmus. The immediate threat of invasion as well as several convincing promises, such as amnesty to all rebel Panamanians and Herrera’s continuance as governor, prompted the government’s emissary to bring the Isthmus back to New Granada.


The intent of this study has been to show that the 1839–1841 civil war in New Granada was neither a monolithic movement designed to create a federal republic nor a series of pronunciamentos of ambitious, petty local chieftains. The Isthmian case demonstrates that local conditions heavily influenced the direction and goals of at least one province’s rebellion. Perhaps the study of other movements could also show the significance of complex political, social, and economic forces in creating provincial discontent. The unique geographic position of the Isthmus which up to the 1830s had shaped its centuries-old economic development determined the type of economic activity Panamanians could pursue. The fiscal demands imposed by Bogotá in its quest to quell the insurrection in Pasto merely added fuel to local grievances.

The significance of this province-by-province approach is that it challenges the image of the single leader, jefe supremo, capriciously taking advantage of reigning chaos, while creating even more confusion within his paltry bailiwick in order to realize his political ambitions. For use in interpreting Granadan history, the supremo theory is convenient but misleading. The supremo should be considered the coordinator of local grievances and not the prime mover. If he is seen as the latter, then New Granada was politically a nation without provincial differences. However, if the supremo was just a coordinator, then New Granada was merely a collection of provinces or regional provincial groupings.

As demonstrated in Panama, the prime mover theory tends to obscure the origins of the rebellion and to distort its political character. Furthermore, it miscalculates the importance of the participation of local groups, such as the Sociedad, and the proposed resolutions of provincial problems by the independent government. To expect that the 1840 movement in Panama was the result of one man’s actions, or of his cohorts bent on a quest for power, is to deny the dynamics of political behavior. In the case of Panama during the six years prior to 1840, the Sociedad de Amigos del País collectively articulated, as a pressure group, the problems the region faced as well as their possible solutions. Thus, what Herrera did in 1841 was simply to implement solutions which reflected public dissatisfaction with the government’s policies.

Herrera could have masterminded the rebellion but had no need due to Panamanian determination to improve economic conditions. He pursued no personal gain as shown by his behavior before and after 1840. Tomás Herrera, Governor Icaza, the Arosemenas, Bias and Mariano, Colonel Losada, and several others did not represent as homogeneous a group in their political aims as the members of the Sociedad did in their economic goals. Herrera and his close collaborators did not attempt to establish a government by fiat, and their actions were within the framework of the legally constituted government whose aim was to bring the region out of the economic doldrums, one that the Sociedad as a whole had pursued for a long time.

Panama’s rebellion was the result of a non-partisan and collective approach to the creation of an autonomous government. Many men served it, and they were not Herrera’s puppets. The movement itself contained competing elements. Within the Sociedad, some members failed to sign the act; within the dominant economic, social, and political classes, there were conflicting opinions; in a larger sense, the city’s interests were pitched against those of Veraguas. Despite a wide discrepancy in the opinions of the various Isthmian groups, all were in agreement on the measures to be implemented to promote the wellbeing of the region, or at least that of the moneyed class.

Politically, the rebellion allowed the idea of independence not only to be voiced but also practiced. Consequently, the freedom acquired by the province of Panama during its rebellious months made possible the enactment of measures designed to redress the economic imbalances that the union with New Granada had aggravated. One such case was the region’s need to constitute a trans-Isthmian route and the Granadan government’s inability to respond affirmatively because special legislation for Panama would have discriminated against other provinces. Moreover, trade privileges for Panama were viewed as detrimental to national revenue as well as a boon to contraband, a constant plague on the nation’s fiscal integrity.

It is precisely in the actions of the government of the Sovereign State of the Isthmus that the significance of the 1840 autonomy must be examined. The terms sovereign, free, and independent derived authority, not from their rhetorical use in 1840, but from actual economic measures that the legislative commission and the constitutional assembly of the Isthmus enacted.74 The economic measures that were undertaken provide the most apt illustration of Panama’s need for independence. A perusal of the legislation unequivocally indicates the direction that Panamanians would have wished to give to their region if the 1840 independence had prevailed. Indeed, the economic needs of Panama after the 1820s created a political atmosphere which revealed the weak links between the region and New Granada and the necessity for Panama to eradicate them by obtaining complete control over its own destiny. It would be more than six decades before Panamanians would achieve the goal of Isthmian autonomy. Despite this, the events of 1840–1841 must be understood as a vital contribution to the formation of Isthmian nationalism.


The traditional view that the war was a movement without internal provincial or regional origins is found in Colombia, Secretaría del Interior, Exposición que el Secretario de Estado en el Despacho del Interior i Relaciones Estertores del gobierno de la Nueva Granada dirije al Congreso Constitucional ( Bogotá, 1842), pp. 1–18; José María Rivas Groot, Páginas de la historia de Colombia, 1810–1910: Asuntos constitucionales, económicos, fiscales y monetarios (Bogotá, 1910), pp. 60–73; José Manuel Restrepo, Historia de la Nueva Granada, 2 vols. (Bogotá, 1952), I, 145–325 passim; Joaquín Posada Gutiérrez, Memorias histórico-políticas, 3 vols. (Medellin, 1971), III, 6–279; and Aníbal Galindo, Recuerdos históricos, 1840 a 1895 (Bogotá, 1900), pp. 112–124. For a more balanced appraisal of the war, see Gustavo Arboleda, Historia contemporánea de Colombia: Desde la disolución de la antigua República de ese nombre hasta la época presente, 6 vols. (Bogotá, 1918–1935), I, 350–490 passim; Jesús María Henao and Gerardo Arrubla, Historia de Colombia (Bogotá, 1926), pp. 602–615 is a conservative pro-Márquez description of the events.


The Isthmian government did seek diplomatic recognition from Costa Rica and the United States. Confidential agents were sent to both countries and although the one sent to San José succeeded in obtaining recognition for the Isthmian state, the other sent to Washington in December 1841 had no time to carry out his mission. William R. Manning, ed., Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States: Inter-American Affairs, 1831–1860, 12 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1932–1939), V, 352, 570, 573, 574, 583; Ernesto J. Castillero Reyes, “Diplomacia panameña en el siglo XIX,” Boletín de la Academia Panameña de la Historia, 5 (Jan. 1937), 55–78; 5 (Mar. 1937), 197–220; 5 (May 1937), 243–257.


Although no decree or other order has been found to show that the flag was authorized, nevertheless the evidence demonstrates that the Granadan flag of yellow, blue, and red was modified by the insurgent government. This is inferred from the fact that a few weeks after Panama and Veraguas rejoined New Granada, the governor requested funds from Bogotá for 13.5 varas (11.3 m.) of white canvas, yellow dye, and a seamstress’ wages to sew the yellow stripe back on the Granadan flag. Gov. Tomás Herrera to Secretary of War, Bogotá, Jan. 24, 1842, Archivo Histórico Nacional de Colombia, Fondo República, Secretaría de Guerra y Marina, vol. 281, fols. 570–571.


No information has been found that might shed any light on the Panamanians’ reactions to their leaders’ decision to return to New Granada thirteen and a half months after declaring their independence.


Informe de la Tesorería, Archivo Histórico Nacional de Colombia, Gobernación de Panamá (hereafter cited as AHNC-GP), 1833 and 1842, vol. 3, fol. 482 and vol. 11, fol. 504.


Los Amigos del País, July 6, Sept. 4, and Nov. 19, 1835.


Biddle, U.S. Special Agent to Colombia, to John Forsyth, U.S. Sec. of State, Panamá, Dec. 7, 1835, Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 525–526.


Petición a la Gobernación de la Provincia, Panamá, Aug. 31, 1837, AHNC-GP, vol. 7, fols. 246–251. Several months later the national government abolished the inspection system; Los Amigos del País, Feb. 1, 1838.


See below, note 44.


Los Amigos del País, July 1, 1839.


For an account of Herrera’s life, see Ricardo J. Alfaro, Vida del General Tomás Herrera (Barcelona, 1909). Also see Herrera’s memorandum to Márquez and his address to the soldiers in Los Amigos del País, Apr. 15 and July 1, 1839.


Ibid., Aug. 1, 1839; for other political activities of Herrera, see ibid., Sept. 1, 1839.


Ibid., Sept. 1, 1839.


Ibid., Nov. 1, 1839.


Ibid., Feb. 1, 15, and Mar. 1, 1840.


For a commentary on New Granada’s fiscal difficulties during the 1830s, see Rivas Groot, Páginas de la historia de Colombia, pp. 322–339.


Junta de Hacienda, June 16, 1838, AHNC-GP, vol. 8, fol. 353.


Gov. Obarrio to Sec. of the Treasury, Panamá, May 21, 1839, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fols. 512–514. Monetary values in this article are expressed in Granadan pesos which were at par with the U.S. dollar.




From 1833 to 1840, the tobacco monopoly averaged about sixty-two percent of the provincial revenue; the customs revenue, twenty-seven percent; and the rum monopoly, eleven percent; AHNC-GP, vols. 2–11 passim.


Junta de Hacienda, Aug. 20, 1839, AHNC-GP, vol. 9, fol. 760.


From September to December 1839, the Junta approved other payments, including items needed by the navy’s schooner, Granadina, among them ammunition amounting to $4,630. Minutes of the Junta de Hacienda of Sept. 25, Nov. 21, and Dec. 20, 1839, AHNC-GP, vol. 9, fol. 1003; vol. 10, fols. 7, 29, 97.


Junta de Hacienda, Dec. 11, 1839, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fol. 338.


Restrepo, Historia de la Nueva Granada, I, 157–158.


Arboleda, Historia contemporánea, I, 350–490 passim; Restrepo, Diario político y militar, 3 vols. (Bogotá, 1954), III, 184–185.


Gov. Icaza to Sec. of the Treasury, Panamá, May 5, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fol. 840C.


Treasury Secretary’s note appended to Junta de Hacienda’s minutes of Apr. 4, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fol. 608.


Junta de Hacienda, May 7, 16, Aug. 13, 20, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fols. 519, 609, 796, 798.


For further details concerning the requests from Bogotá and Panama’s attempts to dodge them, see Junta de Hacienda, Sept. 7, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fol. 802; Gov. Icaza to Sec. of the Treasury, Panamá, May 26, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fol. 804.


Col. Losada to Gov. Icaza, Aug. 4, 1840, presented by the Governor to the Junta de Hacienda on Aug. 5, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fols. 805–806.


Marginal note of July 30, 1840 by the Under-Secretary of the Treasury on the communication of Gov. Icaza to Sec. of the Treasury, Panamá, May 5, 1840 (it must have been received in Panama some two months later), AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fols. 804C-804D.


Gov. Icaza to Sec. of the Treasury, Panamá, Sept. 23, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fols. 960–962.


Gov. Icaza to Sec. of the Treasury, Panamá, Sept. 22, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fols. 1002–1003.


Junta de Hacienda, Oct. 16, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 11, fol. 150.


Gov. Icaza to Sec. of the Treasury, Panamá, Oct. 20, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 11, fol. 62.


Los Amigos del País, Sept. 15, 1840.


Ibid, Mar. 1, Apr. 1, 15, 1840.


Ibid., July 15, 1840; Suplemento de Los Amigos del País, July 20, 1840. Although Obando had been an early choice, his rebellion cost him the candidacy. Azuero’s support in Panama may be partly attributed to his effort to promote a trans-Isthmian road early in 1840. Sec. of Interior to Sec. of the Treasury, Bogotá, July 10, 1840, AHNC-GP, vol. 10, fols. 674, 682–684v, 687.


Los Amigos del País, Sept. 15, Oct. 1, 15, 1840.


Ibid., Nov. 1, 1840. Bermúdez, a merchant, was among Panama’s leaders and owned one of the two presses in the city. Arosemena, a merchant and well- known political leader, had occupied several public posts.


According to Restrepo, in July 1840 Flores offered the Granadan government help in thwarting the rebels’ escape to Ecuador and opposed the annexation of any Granadan territory. Fearing an extension of the war, Herrán, the commanding officer of Granadan forces, accepted Flores’ offer and even asked him for soldiers. Flores accepted and crossed the border into New Granada with 1,100 soldiers. Apparently, Márquez had little, if anything, to do with Flores’ aid to Herrán, but Panamanians evidently were not aware of this political maneuvering.


Los Amigos del País, Nov. 1, 1840.


Ibid., Dec. 1, 1840.


Obarrio, however, collaborated with the Herrera administration. As diplomatic agent he secured Costa Rican recognition of the Isthmian state; see note 2.


A search was made through the protocolos of the Notary Public of Panama to determine the personal background of individuals whose names appeared in newspapers, government dispatches, private letters, and other documents. Petitions, letters to the editor, and other available documents were also used to ascertain then- political activity, profession, and public service. As to the economic activity of the same persons, a distinction was made between a merchant or a businessman. If the individual signed petitions as a merchant or if his name appeared as an importer or as debtor of custom duties, for the purpose of this study he has been considered a merchant. Those whose dealings were mostly in real estate, tax farming, or acquisition of government contracts have been regarded as businessmen. Finally, hacendados include those individuals who have appeared mainly as large landholders with no other apparent business or mercantile activity. Tables I and II present a summary of findings.


In reference to the domicile of the signers, whenever possible I used the information provided in the protocolos of the Notary Public of Panama. However, since these notarial records might have officially indicated that a person was a resident of Panama City even if he actually resided most of the time in an interior city, they should not be taken as an absolute guide.


Panamá (provincia), Convención Constituyente, Leyes i decretos espedidos por la Convención Constituyente del Istmo en 1841 (Panamá, 1841), p. 115.


There were some forty to fifty known merchants and businessmen in Panama who did not sign the 1840 act.


See articles 1, 2, and 3 of the act in La Prensa, Dec. 5, 1840. The use of the term “state” may lead to some confusion. If the new state was to be free, there appears to be no reason for qualifying it as sovereign. However, in the 1820s, Panamanians referred to their province as a federated state, giving the term “state” a connotation similar to the one it received in the United States. Thus, to emphasize its absolute autonomy, they had to append to it the concept of sovereignty. Additionally, “state” apparently implied a possible reunion with former political partners. Thus, for the first two years after the breakup of Colombia in 1830, Granadans called their country the State of New Granada, which in no way diminished its sovereign status. Unquestionably they considered New Granada a state of a future republic of Colombia.


Ibid., articles 4, 5, 6, 7, and 18. The role played by Herrera during the days preceding the meeting that led to the signing of the act is not known. The accounts published in Los Amigos del País do not indicate the extent of his political maneuvering nor are there official dispatches or private letters that might give a clue as to his influence on the functioning of the legislative commission or the workings of the constitutional convention. However, by November 18, 1840, he must have been regarded as the politician who was most capable of channeling the provincial resentment against Bogotá, yet despite this, he complied with the legal machinery provided by the 1840 act. Nor does the popular selection of Tomás Herrera to be the head of state necessarily make him the sole leader masterminding the insurrection in Panama, for it is evident from an analysis of legislative activity that businessmen and individuals who had been politically active during the 1830s provided collective leadership.


This is not to imply that there were no political ideas involved in the 1840 movement. The principle of provincial sovereignty alone became the core of what later evolved into the Liberal party. For a very good study of Panamanian political ideas in the 1820s and 1830s, see Ricaurte Soler, Formas ideológicas de la nación panameña (Panamá, 1963), pp. 27–54.


Los Amigos del País, Dec. 1, 1840.


La Prensa, Dec. 5, 1840.


Los Amigos del País, Dec. 19, 1840; La Prensa, Jan. 5, 15, 25, 1841. Although Veraguas was not a rich province, it had never suffered the boom-and-bust cycle that Panama had, and consequently the urgency to redress the economic imbalance was not present. However, other facts that might explain Veraguas’ initial refusal are unknown.


La Prensa, Dec. 25, 1840.


For instance in 1834, an American schooner was confiscated in Panama because its sailors had tobacco for their personal use. The legal entanglements of this case dragged on until 1840.


La Prensa, Dec. 15,1840.


Ibid.; Los Amigos del País, Jan. 1, 1841.


Panama, Leyes i decretos, p. 120.


Ibid., p. 21.


Ibid., p. 63.


Ibid., p. 16.


Ibid., p. 115.


Ibid., p. 25.


Ibid., p. 23.


Ibid., p. 64.


Colombia, Consejo de Estado, Codificación nacional de todas las leyes de Colombia . . . , 46 vols. (Bogotá, 1924–1929), VIII, 637.


Panama, Leyes i decretos, p. 59.


Ibid., p. 14; La Prensa, Apr. 25 and May 15, 1841.


La Prensa, Feb. 5, 1841.


During this period the Isthmian convention accepted Cartagena’s invitation to attend a federal constitutional convention. However, the Isthmus never elected representatives to it. La Prensa, Mar. 25, 1841. The animosity of the cantons against the provincial authorities was similar to that of the province against the national government. Some of the issues were the monopolization of political power by the capital, either provincial or national, and the fiscal neglect of the smaller political unit.


Ibid., Apr. 15, 1841.


Panamá (provincial), Convención Constituyente, Lei Fundamental i Constitución del Estado del Istmo dadas por la Convención Constituyente en el año de 1841 (Panamá, 1841), articles 15, 21–32, 56–65, and 111. For a more complete analysis of the 1841 constitution, see Víctor F. Goytia, Las constituciones de Panama (Madrid, 1954), pp. 58–67.


Herrera and his collaborators considered absolute independence or federation essential. However, since the leaders were seeking a political solution to economic problems, this seeming confusion between independence and federation should not be used as an explanation of the apparent contradictions in Panamanians’ political behavior during the 1830s and 1840s. Tomás Herrera, “Informe del Señor General don Tomás Herrera, Presidente del Estado de Panamá al Exmo. General Pedro Alcantara Herrán, Presidente de la República de Nueva Granada sobre los acontecimientos políticos ocurridos en el Estado, desde el 18 de Noviembre de 1840,” Panama, Instituto Nacional de Panamá, Documentos históricos sohre la independencia del Istmo de Panamá (Panamá, 1930), pp. 25–33.

Author notes


The author is Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York, College at New Paltz.