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Francisco de Miranda, Precursor of Latin American Independence

The man who paved the way for Simon Bolivar


Francisco de Miranda, Precursor of Latin American Independence

Francisco de Miranda in Prison in Spain. Painting by Arturo Michelena.

Painting by Arturo Michelena.

Sebastian Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) was a Venezuelan patriot, general and traveler considered the "Precursor" to Simon Bolivar's "Liberator." A dashing, romantic figure, Miranda led one of the most fascinating lives in history. A friend of Americans such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, he also served as a General in the French Revolution and was the lover of Catherine the Great of Russia. Although he did not live to see South America freed from Spanish rule, his contribution to the cause was considerable.

Early Life of Francisco de Miranda

Young Francisco was born into the upper class of Caracas in present-day Venezuela. His father was Spanish and his mother came from a wealthy Creole family. Francisco had everything he could ask for, and received a first-rate education. He was a proud, arrogant boy who was more than a little spoiled. During his youth, he was in an uncomfortable position: because he was born in Venezuela, he was not accepted by the Spaniards and those children born in Spain. Creoles, however, were unkind to him because they envied the great wealth of his family. This snubbing from both sides left an impression on Francisco that would never fade.

In the Spanish Military

In 1772 Miranda joined the Spanish army and was commissioned as an officer. His rudeness and arrogance displeased many of his superiors and comrades, but he soon proved an able commander. He fought in Morocco, where he distinguished himself by leading a daring raid to spike enemy cannons. Later, he fought against the British in Florida and even helped send assistance to George Washington before the Battle of Yorktown. Although he proved himself time and again, he made powerful enemies, and in 1783 he narrowly escaped prison time over a trumped-up charge of selling black-market goods. He decided to go to London and petition the King of Spain from exile.

Adventures in North America, Europe and Asia

He passed through the United States en route to London, and met many US dignitaries such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine. Revolutionary ideas began to take hold in his keen mind, and Spanish agents watched him closely in London. His petitions to the King of Spain went unanswered. He traveled around Europe, stopping in Prussia, Germany, Austria and many other places before entering Russia. A handsome, charming man, he had torrid affairs everywhere he went, including with Catherine the Great of Russia. Back in London in 1789, he began to try and get British support for an independence movement in South America.

Miranda and the French Revolution

Miranda found a great deal of verbal support for his ideas, but nothing in the way of tangible aid. He crossed to France, seeking to confer with the leaders of the French Revolution about spreading the revolution to Spain. He was in Paris when the Prussians and Austrians invaded in 1792, and suddenly found himself offered the rank of Marshal as well as a noble title to lead French forces against the invaders. He soon proved himself to be a brilliant general, defeating Austrian forces at the siege of Amberes. Although he was a superior general, he was nonetheless caught up in the paranoia and fear of "The Terror" of 1793-1794. He was arrested twice, and twice avoided the guillotine through his impassioned defense of his actions. He was one of very few men to come under suspicion and be exonerated.

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