Letter from Luis Jose de Orbegoso to Peruvian People 1834
Letter from Luis Jose de Orbegoso to Peruvian People 1834

Letter by General Luis Jose Orbegoso y Moncada, 1834

Written by Randy Shaw.

General Luis José de Orbegoso y Moncada, scion of an aristocratic criollo family from Trujillo, in northern Peru, was Provisional President of the country between 1833 and 1834, and was named in 1837-1838 President of the short-lived Republic of North Peru, set up by the Peru-Bolivia Confederacy after the invasion of the country by Bolivian strongman Andrés de Santa Cruz.

Although he played a crucial role in helping Simón Bolívar defeat the Spanish regime in Peru, and thus achieve national independence, historically, Orbegoso has been seen as a controversial figure. Despite his prominent military role during Peru’s early republic years, he had little ambition for dictatorial powers, typical of so many Latin American caudillos at the time. On the other hand, he did invite the invasion of Santa Cruz in order to be rid of his great rival in domestic affairs, Agustín Gamarra.

The Peru-Bolivia Confederacy –the first of two in the 19th century- was ultimately defeated by Peruvian dissidents with the help of an invading Chilean force in 1838. Orbegoso went into exile to Guayaquil (Ecuador) and eventually returned to Trujillo, where he died in 1847.
During his time in office, his main achievement was the promulgation of the liberal Constitution of 1834, the fourth one after independence in 1824, and best known for its clause allowing for the union of Peru and Bolivia as a single state (under Santa Cruz’s leadership). This Constitution was rescinded in 1839. Orbegoso’s presidency and his life in general represent well the turbulent and quite chaotic political history of Peru during its first decades as a republic.

Perhaps the best-known aspect of Orbegoso’s public life was his enmity with General Agustín Gamarra, provisional President of Peru between 1829 and 1833, whose political tactics and career did fit more those of a traditional caudillo, in seeking power through executive and military actions, rather than constitutional means. In any case, neither Orbegoso nor Gamarra ever rose to the role of dictator. Their personal rivalry, however, did do damage to the country and brought about the failed experiment of the Peru-Bolivia Confederacy and the First Pacific War (Chile’s intervention in 1838 against united Peru and Bolivia).

The document presented here is a handwritten first draft of Orbegoso’s appeal to the Nation after Gamarra’s attempt in 1834 to overthrow the National Convention and take over the presidency by force. As a historical source, it is thus an invaluable gateway for understanding Peruvian politics at the time. In its brief but very detailed content, Orbegoso gives the reader (and Peruvian listeners at the time) a window into the military conspiracies and political machinations that lay behind important events at the time –important insofar as they could well have led to the final union of Peru and Bolivia as a single nation.

Ironically, this is exactly what Simón Bolivar had tried to avoid in founding Bolivia in 1825 as an independent state. To the extent that the creation of a Confederacy was sought mainly by the Bolivian government of Andrés de Santa Cruz, he himself was Peruvian by birth and upbringing. That Orbegoso lent himself to this project that would have meant the end of an independent Peru for the sake of being rid of Gamarra says quite a bit about political life and the general instability of Peru in the first half of the 19th century.

Latin America overall experienced a very conflictive first half of the 19th century, but the Peru-Bolivia Confederacy was one of few instances in which relatively minor political infighting went so far as to invite national disintegration for its sake. Other examples of confederation, such as the Republic of Gran Colombia in the 1820s or the Triple Alliance between Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in the 1860s did not intend the surrender of national sovereignty, whereas the ultimate goal of Santa Cruz’s Confederacy was precisely that.

This draft proclamation by Orbegoso sheds light on the political priorities and thinking of a statesman who played a key role in what could have been the end of an independent Peru. That nowadays, Agustin Gamarra, a figure far from laudable in his actions, is nonetheless regarded as a national hero, whereas Orbegoso, a true founding father of the country, tends to be discreetly avoided in national discourse, is a telling example of the contradictions and distortions that plagued Peru’s political and national priorities after independence.

Letter from Luis Jose de Orbegoso to Peruvian People 1834
Letter from Luis Jose de Orbegoso to Peruvian People 1834

Translation of first draft of letter to Peruvian People written by President Jose luis de Orbegoso, January 5 1834

PERUANOS, having retired from all public business, I was at my family’s side when the overriding voice of duty forced me to leave my home because the Province where I was born had deigned to elect me as its deputy to the Convention. On my arrival in the capital and even earlier, I learned that General Gamarra, convinced that he could no longer hold himself in command, had taken on the subterfuge of leaving it in appearance and given Peru a [sic. new] chief to carry on with his intention of tyrannizing the country and plunge it into ignominy. He wanted to hold on to power through General Bermúdez and took all his steps to achieve this. The Electoral College is witness to the low and despicable means that were employed in order to give plurality to General Bermúdez. However, the object was not achieved, as the peoples could not be entirely deceived. For this reason, the extraordinary congressional meeting was avoided, and when the Grand Convention felt the need to give the nation an interim chief, it chose me for that honor.

General Gamarra moved all kinds of springs so that the election would fall to General Bermudez and even offered important government offices in exchange for votes. I knew all these steps and even begged my friends not to elect me, but everything was useless and the Convention elected me Provisional President on 20 December last [1833]. I had no recourse but to sacrifice myself and I took over the government on the 21st. From that moment on and even before, General Gamarra began conspiring within the Army, inciting it to disobey the Nation. I was aware of this, as well as of the plan to install in power a purely military and despotic government. Such was their brazenness as to dare issue in my name and without my knowledge state orders of great importance and had them circulated without my having had even the slightest news of them. By general Gamarra’s design, attempts were done to ruin me, offering not only money, but even state salaries and government posts to that end. In the meantime, I was in the business of reconciling all the means capable of (…)

General Gamarra, in order to fulfill his ambitions, wanted to be General (…) of Peru. The first news that (…) stamped his signature on a (…) that I had asked from the Chief of (…) I reproached him in the manner that befitted my duty. (…) to give him command of the Army of the South (…) He seemed satisfied, but upon giving him the (…) instructions, he replied by refusing [sic. them] because there were (…) new and more criminal measures to tyrannize (…) Knowing that a military revolution was going to break out, I decided to go to the Plaza del Callao and with firm step put the Government in possession of the fortress and its garrison. Upon my departure from Lima, Generals Gamarra and Bermúdez carried out their project, establishing themselves by their own will as Chiefs of the Nation and proceeded to attempt their horrible attack on the National Convention with two hundred armed men. But, very soon, they will have to repent of their crimes.

Here I am PERUVIANS leading faithful soldiers and a truly liberal people. I am counting on the cooperation of much of the Army and I will not forsake any sacrifices to uphold your rights. I am sure that the cause of Justice and Freedom will triumph because Peru has declared itself free and does not belong to Gamarra and Bermúdez, whose crimes the Nation detests fully.

PERUVIANS, a little courage, and I assure you of the triumph, your compatriot.

Independence Square, on January 5, 1834

Before printing it will be necessary to revise it a lot. My head feels so overburdened that I have no mind left for more.


Original letter from Luis Jose de Orbegoso to Peruvian People, 1834

PERUANOS, retirado de todos los negocios públicos estaba al lado de mi familia cuando la voz imperiosa del deber me obligó a dejar mi hogar por haberse dignado la Provincia en que nací elegirme su diputado a la Convención. A mi llegada a la capital y aun antes supe que el General Gamarra, convencido de que no podía sostenerse por más tiempo en el mando, había tomado el partido de dejarlo en apariencia y dar al Perú un jefe que llevase adelante los principios de tiranizar al país y sumirlo en la ignominia. Quería mandar por el intermedio del General Bermúdez y tomó todas sus medidas para conseguirlo. Los Colegios Electorales son testigos de los medios bajos y rastreros de que se ha usado para dar la pluralidad al General Bermúdez. Sin embargo, no se consiguió el objeto, pues los pueblos no pudieron ser del todo reducidos. Por esto, se evitó la reunión del Congreso extraordinario, y cuando la Gran Convención tuvo necesidad de dar a la Nación un jefe provisional, quiso que yo lo fuera.

El General Gamarra movió toda clase de resortes para que la elección recayese en el General Bermúdez hasta ofrecer y aun dar destinos importantes a cambio de un voto. Yo sabía todos estos pasos y al mismo tiempo hablaba a mis amigos para que no me eligieran, mas todo fue inútil y la Convención me eligió Presidente Provisional el 20 de diciembre último. No tenía más recurso que sacrificarme y me encargué del gobierno el 21. Desde ese momento y aun antes, conspiraba el General Gamarra en el Ejército, disponiéndolo para desobedecer a la Nación. Yo lo sabía, como también el plan de estallar un gobierno despótico puramente militar. Llegó a tanto el descaro con que continuaba el proyecto, que se circularon a mi nombre órdenes de mucha importancia sin que yo hubiera tenido ni la menor noticia de ellas. Se trató por el General Gamarra de hacerme arruinar, ofreciendo por esto no sólo dinero, sino un sueldo de Estado y un empleo de honor. Entre tanto, yo me ocupaba de conciliar todos los medios capaces de (…) estaba preparada.

El General Gamarra para dar (…) éxito de su proyecto quiso ser General (…) del Perú. La primera noticia que (…) estampada su firma en un (…) que pedí al Jefe de (…) Lo reconvine (¿con?) la repulsa que era de mi deber (…) en darle el mando del Ejército del Sur (…) pareció quedar satisfecho, más al pasarle la (…) las instrucciones, contestó negándose pues había (…) nuevas y más criminales medidas para tiranizar (…) sabiendo yo que iba a estallar una revolución militar determiné pasar a la Plaza del Callao y con paso enérgico puse al Gobierno en posesión de esta fortaleza y de su guarnición. A mi salida de Lima, los Generales Gamarra y Bermúdez realizaron su proyecto, erigiéndose por sola su voluntad en Jefes de la Nación y han cometido el horrible atentado de atacar con doscientos hombres armados a la Convención Nacional. Mas, muy pronto, tendrán que arrepentirse de sus crímenes.

Aquí estoy PERUANOS al frente de soldados fieles y de un pueblo verdaderamente liberal. Cuento con la cooperación de mucha parte del Ejército y no perdonaré ninguna clase de sacrificios para sostener vuestros derechos. Estoy seguro que triunfará la causa de la Justicia y la Libertad porque el Perú se ha pronunciado libre y no pertenece a Gamarra y Bermúdez, cuyos crímenes tanto detesta.
PERUANOS, un poco de valor y os aseguro el triunfo vuestro compatriota.

Plaza de la Independencia, en enero 5 de 1834

Será preciso antes de imprimirla reformarla mucho. Mi cabeza está recargada que no tengo lugar para nada.

About Marco Ramerini

I am passionate about history, especially the history of geographical explorations and colonialism.