THE EARLY LATIN AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT:
ARTISANS AND POLITICS IN BOGOTA, COLOMBIA,
DAVID LEE SOWELL
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
David Lee Sowell
For Christine and for Emily,
the two women who have done so much for making me realize
the value of life, and its promises for the future.
Numerous people helped in the completion of this dissertation, the
most important being my wife, Christine. Without her support, both
emotional and physical, it would not have been possible. I appreciate
her labors more than these words can indicate. David Bushnell has been
a constant reminder that scholarship and gentility are indeed
compatible. His contributions to the refinement of this work are many,
not the least his fine editorial abilities. Lyle McAlister helped me a
great deal in learning the crafts of the historian. Jim Amelang has
been both an unfailing critic and friend, even though we can not seem
to find ourselves on the same continent very often. Jane Landers has
been a special friend and confidant; her support helped me over some of
the rougher hurdles of graduate school.
In Colombia, the staffs of the Biblioteca Nacional, the Archivo
del Congreso, the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, and the Archivo
Nacional provided invaluable assistance in locating the material
supporting this study. Special thanks are due to Francisco Gnecco
Calvo for his assistance in making Bogotd a comfortable living and
working environment. Much of the inspiration for this work came from
conversations over tinto with Oscar Saldarriaga V., a friend whose
company is often missed.
Financial support for this project was provided by a Fulbright-Hays
Grant and a Tinker Field Research Grant.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................. iv
1 INTRODUCTI(N .............. ............................ 1
Definition of Terms................................... 3
2 ARTISAN SOCIOECONOMIC EXPERIENCE, 1832-1919............. 16
Economic Environment... ............................. 18
Social and Occupational Changes...................... 36
Conclusion ........................................ ... 45
3 POLITICAL RECRUITMENT OF ARTISANS, 1832-1845 ........... 48
The Partisan Struggle for Power..................... 48
The Appeal to the Masses, 1832-45.................... 55
4 ARTISANS AND THE LIBERAL REFORM, 1845-54................ 75
La Sociedad de Artesanos, 1845-49.................... 77
Las Sociedades Democraticas, 1849-51................. 94
Division and Realignment, 1851-54.................... 118
El 17 de Abril ....................................... 143
5 THE TRIUMPH OF RADICALISM, 1855-68..................... 169
Liberal Reunification, 1855-59....................... 171
War, Reforms, and Economic Crisis, 1860-66........... 186
La Sociedad de Unidn de Artesanos, 1866-68........... 205
6 FRAGMENTATION OF THE ARTISAN CLASS, 1869-99............
Mutual Aid and Partisan Politics, 1869-79............. 238
Ninez, War, and the Regeneration, 1880-89............. 258
Riot, Repression, and Rebellion, 1890-99............. 271
7 THE RISE OF THE WORKER'S LABOR MOVEMENT, 1899-1919..... 284
Recovery and Reyes, 1899-1909........................ 287
Industrialists and Workers, 1910-15.................. 299
The Dawn of Workers' Socialism, 1916-19.............. 324
Conclusion ................................. ......... 340
8 CONCLUSION......................... .................... 343
The Partisan Struggle for Power...................... 343
Artisan Social, Economic, and Political Interests.... 348
Craftsmen's Organizations: A Typology................ 357
Artisan Political Activity........................... 363
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ......................................... 385
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE EARLY LATIN AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT:
ARTISANS AND POLITICS IN BOGOTA, COLOMBIA,
DAVID LEE SOWELL
Chairman: David Bushnell
Major Department: History
Artisans participated actively in the politics of Bogoti during
the first century of Colombia's nationhood. Craftsmen pursued various
political objectives, foremost being the desire for tariff protection
from the increased competition of foreign goods brought on by
Colombia's fuller integration into the North Atlantic economy.
Artisans also sought industrial education to improve their crafts,
programs to enhance their social welfare, effective political
participation, and an end to the partisan strife that ravaged the
The initial opening for formal political expression came not from
craftsmen, however, but as a result of the struggle for power between
the Conservative and Liberal parties. In 1838, members of both groups
helped organize societies designed to inculcate in artisans the
ideologies of the emerging parties, including the concept of popular
political participation. Ten years later, when tariff reform
threatened the interests of Bogota's craft sector, artisans organized
to defend themselves. Throughout the period of liberal reform
(1847-54), artisans were integral factors in the capital's politics.
The artisans' participation in the coup of Jose Maria Melo in 1854
signalled a recognition on their part that many of the reforms were
contrary to their best interests. Thereafter, craftsmen pursued
objectives consistent with their own socioeconomic interests and most
attempted to isolate themselves from the partisan political struggle.
By the 1870s, a combination of factors fragmented the artisan
class, weakening its ability to organize the large groups common to
earlier years. In the latter years of the nineteenth century, the
artisan elites sought to protect themselves in mutual aid
organizations, while the "rank and file" craftsmen were left without
organized political expression. During the early years of the
twentieth century, wage laborers began to emerge as important
components of Bogota's working population. Several organizations
attempted to represent the interests of both artisans and workers, but
by the 1910s workers had assumed domination of the city's labor
This study traces artisan political activity in Bogota, Colombia,
from 1832 until 1919. It intends to reveal the social, economic, and
political goals sought by artisans through active participation in a
political system normally described as oligarchic. In the ninety years
covered by this study, Bogotd and Colombia experienced marked economic
and social change. Bogota evolved from an isolated provincial town
into a bustling city in tune with global rhythms. It was at the
beginning of the national period a town with a largely self-sufficient
economy, supported by traditional industries and linked to a limited
regional market. By the 1910s the capital was in the throes of
industrialization and.had been integrated into both national and
international markets. Colombia's external economic role changed from
that of a colonial source of gold bullion for Spanish coffers, to the
Colombia underwent several name changes during the nineteenth
century: Colombia (along with Ecuador and Venezuela), from 1819 until
1830; La Repiblica de la Nueva Granada, from 1830 until 1857; La
Confederacion Granadina, from 1857 until 1863; Los Estados Unidos de
Colombia, from 1863 until 1886; and, finally, La Repoblica de Colombia,
from 1886 to the present. For the sake of clarity, I will use Colombia
throughout the study.
supplier of preferred coffee to the tables of the United States and
Transformation of the Colombian economy had a fundamental impact
upon the artisans of Bogota. Introduction into the global economy
shattered their protected position in the colonial system. Many
craftsmen suffered economic dislocation or proletarianization through
the loss of their traditional economic niche. A few artisans emerged
as small industrialists, but most suffered deterioration of their
social and economic positions. Artisan social relations were
transformed in the wake of radical changes in their productive
functions. Relationships with other members of their class were
redefined, as were those with individuals of other classes. These
socioeconomic changes created special problems, which in turn called
into being new class interests.
In order to understand the context in which artisans pursued their
specific concerns, much attention will be directed toward Colombia's
political system. The struggle for power between elite-dominated
Conservative and Liberal parties was the dynamo for nineteenth-century
Colombian politics. Elites strove to implement their own ideological
programs and competed for limited governmental positions. In so doing,
they drew non-elite social groups into the political process in an
effort to enhance their chances for domination of the state aparatus.
Competition for power first enabled artisans to gain a political voice
and in time offered them the opportunity to express their class
objectives. Artisans were not wholly dependent upon elites for
political mobilization, however; at times they organized for
satisfaction of their own ambitions. Yet tradesmen could not isolate
themselves from established parties and thus the narrative of their
political activity is closely intertwined with that of the larger
Both changing socioeconomic conditions and the general political
environment affected the tempo of artisan political activity. It is
possible to speak of a more or less homogeneous artisan class in the
beginning of the national period. Internal stratifications were
present, but these did not override its essential homogeneity. This
situation existed until the 1860s. During the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s
the most cohesive artisan organizations functioned. As Bogota's
economy was transformed during the last third of the nineteenth
century, differences in the artisan class became more significant.
Fragmentation of the artisan class resulted in the demise of broad
mobilizations. By the beginning of this century skilled independent
craftsmen, journeymen associated with the emerging industrial concerns,
proletarianized laborers, and various other types of workers made up
the city's working population. This division of the labor force,
clearly visible by the 1910s, coincided with the replacement of
artisans as leaders of the Colombian labor movement by workers
associated with industrial production and transportation systems.
Definition of Terms
Artisans in nineteenth-century Bogota existed as individuals
linked by common involvement in the mode of production. In the purest
sense they were independent producers who practiced a skilled trade.
Such a definition, of course, did not accurately apply to all people
who were labelled artisans. At one end of the skilled trade spectrum
were individuals barely differentiated from unskilled laborers. At the
other end were near-bourgeoisie who did very little manual labor
themselves and who subsisted on the labor of others. Yet both
"extremes" might identify themselves and be identified by others as
artisans. Clearly, one must go beyond purely occupational categories
in order to identify the craftsmen of the period.
The traditional Spanish derision of manual labor helps in this
regard. Certain levels of society would never refer to themselves as
artisans because the term implied an inferior social status. These men
were the hidalgos of colonial times; for the national period I shall
refer to them as "elites." Artisans were separated from the elite by
the fact that their economic well-being sprang from consistent and
close contact with manual labor.
Delimiting the artisan from the worker is much more difficult.
Trades in nineteenth-century Bogota were not so organized as to make
this division readily apparent. The lack of accurate descriptive
information aggravates the problem. Moreover, for political purposes
artisans often identified themselves as part of the pueblo, which
consisted in the main of workers. However, artisans at times also
separated themselves from the pueblo, a self-description which helps
distinguish the artisan and the worker.
Artisans consistently identified themselves as skilled laborers,
who, because of their productive ability were economically independent
and contributed "positively" to society. Craftsmen expressed pride
that their labor enabled them to be economically independent and not
bound to others. Clearly the wage worker could not make this claim.
This is not to say that all people who called themselves artisans were
economically independent; most were dependent upon others for raw
materials, credit, and capital, but such needs did not negate a self-
image of economic independence. In fact, the vehement defense of this
independence in the face of competition from foreign products suggests
its importance for artisan self-definition.
Both skilled labor and economic independence contributed to the
artisans' perceived social value. Tradesmen were the productive sector
of society. Many could read and write and others were well educated.
Throughout most of the nineteenth century the political system afforded
to a great number of artisans full citizenship, including the right to
vote on the basis of property, income, literacy, or other criteria.
This political status contributed greatly to their republican ideals,
and to the struggle for control of their political destiny.
These factors combined to create a sense of what it meant to be an
artisan in nineteenth-century Bogota. Above all, consciousness defined
the artisan class. Craftsmen were the skilled producers of nineteenth
century Colombian society, who, because of their contributions, felt
that their opinions and needs merited consideration in the resolution
of political and social questions. Artisans shared not only a common
productive function, but they also perceived the common threat that
foreign goods posed to their livelihood and social status. The danger
of having their position in society undermined contributed greatly to a
shared consciousness. So too did the recruitment of craftsmen by elite
While an artisan class existed throughout most of the nineteenth
century, most of the statements which claimed to represent all artisans
in fact came from a limited portion of that class. An artisan elite,
formed through its economic success or through its relationships with
elite political parties, dominated artisan organizations, the artisan
press, and the documentation which survives to illustrate the artisans'
place in the century. I feel that these men, far from being
unrepresentative of their class, maintained at least part of their
leadership by their ability to express the general interests of the
class. Therefore, while the vocal artisans came from a smaller section
of the class, it seems that in most instances their comments mirrored
the interests of the less articulate members of the artisan class.
Throughout this study reference will be made to organized artisan
political activity. Artisans mobilized and were recruited by elite
groups for different reasons. The most common form of artisan
organization was electoral in nature. Such groups were generally
short-lived and not directed by tradesmen. Other efforts were made by
associated artisans to support a broader political goal than victory in
a single election, such as the ongoing pursuit of tariff protection.
On occasion artisans supplied both the impetus and direction for their
own organizations, although political reality necessitated some
connections with non-artisan sectors. Mutual aid societies are also
considered to be a form of political mobilization in that they were
always potential political actors, and sometimes quite influential.
Finally, I consider direct action by crowds to be an articulation of
political sentiment. In short, any activity that represented artisan
political expression, formal or informal, will be treated as a form of
The second chapter makes a generalized analysis of economic and
social conditions in the capital that influenced political activity.
During the early years examined by this study the primary socioeconomic
interests of artisans in the nineteenth century took shape. Chapters
three through seven focus upon different stages of artisan political
activity from 1832 until 1919. The years covered by the different
chapters are determined by changes in the nature of that activity. At
times these chapters coincide with "standard" political periodization,
while at others they do not. Finally, the conclusion draws the entire
period together, analysing both the social and economic factors which
influenced artisan mobilization, and the political framework which
allowed for their participation and expression.
My original intention was to conduct a study of the artisan class
of nineteenth-century Bogota in its fullest ramifications. Family
relations, cultural characteristics, trade activities, and formal and
informal associations were but a few of the facets to be addressed. In
effect, I had wanted to do a labor history in the best tradition of
"new social history." For too long social groups in Latin America have
been studied solely for their political role. They have frequently
been denied their own place in history, often being studied only in
light of their exploitation by elite groups. I had also hoped to avoid
the time-worn treadmill of the more conventional sort of Marxist labor
historiography. I was sure that I could examine artisans in light of
their own social and cultural importance.
As it turned out, the zeal and expertise of bogotano rioters,
along with non-violent destruction of archives, redefined my project.
New methodologies are useful only when sources are available to support
them. Such data are in large part absent for nineteenth-century
Bogota. The alcaldia, home of information on local taxes, juridical
procedures, and city government, was burned in 1903. Departmental
archives were destroyed in 1948. Part of the archives of the diocese
was destroyed in the 9 de abril. Notarial archives are extant, but
disorganized to a point of limited utility unless one has years to
research. Consequently, the nature of available sources dictated the
political emphasis of my work.
Historians concerned with the political history on the period are
blessed with abundant data in the Archivo del Congreso, numerous
private collections of family papers, archives of the Academia
Colombiana de Ristoria, several outstanding newspaper collections, and
fine examples of political handouts and broadsides, to cite only the
more obvious sources. Congressional archives, newspapers, and handouts
offer a wealth of information on artisan political activity. Yet,
while good data are available, their limitations define the scope of
this work. Information on the artisan elite is more common than on the
"rank-and-file" artisan. One can locate data on artisan political
societies, but not have access to their internal functions. Informal
associations are particularly difficult to document. Information on
trade activities, including apprenticeship systems, are almost non-
existent, although complaints about tariff policy abound. Social
information must be gleaned carefully from sources and employed with
more generalization than would be desired; even then, one must question
its representativeness. The data which remain dictate a political
emphasis, although that emphasis has been balanced by an orientation
toward social history. It is my hope that this work will improve upon
traditional histories of the Latin American labor movement by
presenting a more integrated history of a social class engaged in
Histories of the Colombian labor movement share several analytical
characteristics. Attention has centered upon institutional aspects of
the twentieth century labor movement, as well as syndicalist,
political, or strike activity. Thus incidents such as the 1924 strike
of Barrancabermeja oil workers or the creation of the Union de
Trabajadores de Colombia are well documented. Most investigations
therefore have been primarily concerned with "modern" workers. Workers
lacking organizational expression have seldom been studied. Social
characteristics are frequently discussed in relation to strike demands,
but not in the formation of a working class culture or consciousness.
Yet, despite the focus upon the twentieth century movement, we lack a
clear understanding of the origins of the twentieth-century labor
movement, especially its roots in artisanal activity of the previous
Little attention has been directed toward nineteenth-century labor
history, or on the artisan sector of the population.2 Scholars of
Very few studies have examined urban workers in colonial
Colombia. Foremost are the series of articles by Humberto Triana y
Antorveza, which include: "El aprendizaje en los gremios
Colombia's labor movement, illustrated by Miguel Urrutia Montoya in The
Development of the Colombian Labor Movement, examines only the
Democratic Society in discussing "labor in the nineteenth century."3 He
briefly mentions that mutual aid societies were formed in various
Colombian cities (though he does not included those of Bogota), but
allows them no political role. Not until the 1919 meeting of the
Workers' Assembly does Urrutia recognize laborers' political activity
in the Colombian capital during the current century. Edgar Caicedo
simply notes as an antecedent to discussion of the stages of the
Colombian labor movement:
The activities of mutualist organizations, from the
middle of the nineteenth century, constitutes only
the prehistory of the syndicalist movement....
Those organizations were heterogeneous groups of
artisans, principally, with confused trade
ideologies and limited objectives. To say this is
not to lessen recognition of the important social
and political struggles undertaken by artisans of
the Democratic Societies in the dawn of Colombian
neogranadinos," Boletin Cultural y Bibliografico, 8:5 (1965), 735-42;
"El aspect religioso en los gremios neogranadinos," Ibid., 9:2 (1966),
269-81; "Examenes, licencias, fianzas y elecciones artesanales," Ibid.,
9:2 (1966). 65-73; "Extranjeros y grupos etnicos en los gremios
neogranadinos," Ibid., 8:1 (1965), 24-32; and "La libertad laboral y la
supresi6n de los gremios neogranadinos," Ibid., 8:7 (1965), 1015-21.
For a discussion of the importance of artisans in cities of colonial
Latin America, see Lyman Johnson, "Artisans," in Cities and Society in
Colonial Latin America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,
1986), ed. by Louisa Schell Hoberman and Susan Migden Socolow, 227-50.
Other studies in a similar vein include: Victor Manuel Moncayo
and Fernando Rojas, Luchas obreras y political laboral en Colombia
(Bogota: La Carreta, 1978); Daniel Pecaut, Politica y sindicalismo en
Colombia (Bogota: La Carreta, 1973); and Marco A. Cordoba A., Elementos
de sindicalismo (Bogota: Ediciones Tercer Mundo, 1977).
Migual Urrutia, The Development of the Colombian Labor
Movement (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969).
Edgar Caicedo, Historia de las luchas
sindicales en Colombia (Bogota: Ediciones CEIS,
Aside from the multitude of studies on the mid-century Sociedades
Democraticas de Artesanos de Bogota, very little is known of other
workers or of organizations in which they were influential. Few words
have been dedicated to the social, cultural, or economic experiences of
workers, or to their political activity. Historical examinations of
workers in cities other than Bogota have been even sketchier. In
short, little is known of the artisanal labor movement or of the
transition from it to the modern labor movement.
Other areas of Latin America share similar historiographical
patterns, especially the institutional focus and the Marxist
methodological analysis. Labor historians of Latin America have, for
the most part, bypassed the nineteenth century in the rush to examine
the twentieth century. Labor scholars and syndicalist activists have
long dominated the discussion of the labor movement, adding a sense of
urgency to their interpretations seldom found in the works of non-Latin
The list of scholars drawn to examination of the Democratic
Societies is extensive. Aside from Urrutia, representative studies
include: Gustavo Vargas Martinez, Colombia 1854: Melo, los artesanos y
el socialismo (Bogota: Editorial la Oveja Negra, 1973); Enrique Gaviria
Lievano, "Las Sociedades Democraticas o de artesanos en Colombia,"
Correo de los Andes, No. 24 (January-February 1984), 67-76; German R.
Mejfa Pavony, "Las Sociedades Democraticas (1848-1854): Problemas
historiograficos," Universitas Humanistica, 11:17 (March 1982), 145-76;
Antaloli Shulgovski, "La 'Comuna de Bogota' y el socialismo Gtopico,"
America Latina, 8/85 (August 1985), 45-56.
For discussion of historiographical tendencies, see Kenneth
Paul Erickson, Patrick V. Peppe, and Hobart Spalding, Jr., "Research on
the Urban Working Class and Organized Labor in Argentina, Brazil, and
Chile: What is left to be Done?" Latin American Research Review, 9:2
(Summer 1974), 115-42; Charles Bergquist, "What is being Done? Some
Fecent Studies on the Urban Working Class and Organized Labor in Latin
America," Latin American Research Review, 16:1 (1981), 203-23.
scholars. Representative of the traditional Marxist approach are the
works of Argentine sociologist Julio Godio, who places a great emphasis
upon "ideological influences" and the development of labor unions.
Godio, in referring to the nineteenth century, analyzes the 1850-80
period as one of a "workers' movement without a working class" and the
1880-1918 period as the years when both the class and the movement
itself came into being. While he recognizes the importance of
artisanal mutual aid associations as precursors of latter-day
syndicates, he fails to appreciate the conservative nature of most
artisan groups. For Godio, their importance was as a "brewing pot" for
revolutionary ideologies. Many good histories of labor exist,
especially in countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, or Brazil
where labor's political power has had the strongest impact. Numerous
attempts have also been made to pen "histories of the Latin American
labor movement." On the whole these impress the reader with how
"neatly" it all fits into a single package.
The works of Hobart Spalding Jr. and Charles Bergquist stand out
as stimulating applications of dependentista ideas to examination of
Latin American laborers. Spalding posits three general periods of
organized labor in Latin America, each corresponding to a stage of
integration into dependent relations: the formative period (prior to
World War One); the expansive and explosive period (World War One to
Judith Evans, "Results and Prospects: Some Observations on
Latin American Labor Studies," International Labor and Working Class
History, No. 16 (Fall 1979), 29-30.
Julio Godio, El movimiento obrero de America Latina, 1850-1918
(Bogota: Ediciones Tercer Mundo, 1978), 15-16.
the Depression); and the period of cooption and repression (1930
onward). Central to this periodization is global economic development
and crisis, Latin American industrialization, workers' ideologies, and
state political activities. Spalding concludes that governments have
successfully restrained radical demands of laborers, thereby coopting
their movement and keeping Latin America "safe" for foreign
capitalists.1 By contrast, Bergquist suggests that pressures by
laborers in dependent industries have challenged the historic social
indifference of many Latin American governments and, in doing so, have
ammeliorated socioeconomic conditions in many countries. He allows
that workers have been powerful agents in shaping nations in twentieth
century Latin America, with largely positive results.11
Both of these works demand establishment of dominant export
industries and dependent economic relations that serve to catalyze the
Latin American labor movement. This approach seems appropriate for the
comprehension of the twentieth century movement, especially the
analysis of Bergquist. It, however, does little to illuminate activity
by organized laborers in the nineteenth century before a dependent
export economy was fully operative.2 Moreover, as Bergquist points
Hobart Spalding, Jr., Organized Labor in Latin America:
Historical Case Studies of Workers in Dependent Societies (New York:
Harper & Row, 1977), passim.
Charles Bergquist, Labor in Latin America: Comparative Essays
on Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1986), 1-14.
For a recent study that argues that Colombia's entry into the
world economy was retarded until the current century, see Jose Antonio
Ocampo, Colombia y la economic mundial, 1830-1910 (Bogota: Siglo
Veintiuno Editores, 1984).
out, developing political systems in the nineteenth century strongly
color the character of this century's labor movements.13
Only recently have historians begun to study nineteenth-century
labor movements on their own terms. Paul Gootenberg's study of Lima
artisans, Frederick J. Shaw's work on Mexico City, and Carlos Luis
Fallas Monge's work on Costa Rica stand out as notable examples.14
Peter Blanchard adds much to the understanding of the transition from
the early to modern labor movement in Peru.15 These exceptions aside,
much remains to be done on the nineteenth century labor movement.
Labor historiography of nineteenth-century Latin America has only
recently begun to be influenced by histories of European and United
States laborers during the same period. Historians such as E. P.
Thompson, David Montgomery, and William Sewell have contributed to a
wealth of studies which explore the depth and significance of European
and United States artisanal responses to industrialization.
Unfortunately, the prerequisite social and cultural studies, and often
even the political histories which would permit the same calibre of
scholarship on Latin American workers, are generally lacking.
Moreover, statistical data are scarce and often of dubious reliability.
Bergquist, Labor in Latin America, 376-78.
Paul Gootenberg, "The Social Origins of Protectionism and Free
Trade in Nineteenth-Century Lima," Journal of Latin American Studies,
14:2 (November 1982), 329-58; Frederick J. Shaw, "The Artisan in Mexico
City (1824-1853)," in El trabajo y los trabajadores en la historic de
Mexico (Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico, 1979), ed. by Elsa Cecilia
Frost et al., 399-418; Carlos Luis Fallas Monge, El movimiento obrero
en Costa Rica, 1830-1902 (San Jose: Editorial Universidad Estatal a
Peter Blanchard, The Origins of the Peruvian Labor Movement,
1883-1919 (Pittsburgh: The University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982).
Nonetheless, as I hope to demonstrate, the methodology devised by these
scholars can help the historian of Latin America to suggest new
interpretations of its labor movement.
ARTISAN SOCIOECONOMIC EXPERIENCE, 1832-1919
In May 1846, 230 bogotano artisans petitioned the Colombian
Congress not to lower tariff rates on foreign merchandise competitive
with their own products. The craftsmen were concerned that their
already precarious economic situation would become intenable if they
were faced with a flood of foreign competition. Their economic
standing had suffered greatly during the War of the Supremes (1839-42)
and had been dealt a further blow by the credit crisis of 1842. The
petitioners claimed to speak not only for some 2,000 artisans and their
families living in the capital, but also for tradesmen in other areas
of the country. Lowered tariff rates, they argued, would damage this
crucial productive sector of the domestic economy, a fate particularly
unjust to artisans who had helped defend the government in the fighting
a few years earlier. Moreover, negative repercussions would be felt by
other social sectors as the artisan class became less productive and
the economy in general deteriorated. In spite of these arguments,
Archivo del Congreso, Senado, proyectos negados, 1846, V,
folios 118-26. (Hereafter AC.)
congress lowered tariff rates by about 33% the following year. In
response, the same tradesmen formed La Sociedad de Artesanos de Bogota
with the intent to undertake political action to raise tariff rates to
previous levels and also to work for mutual aid.
Several observations can be made from this incident. Artisans
first entered the formal political process in defense of their economic
well-being, which had been undermined by war and financial crisis and
which was further threatened by proposed tariff reductions. In
expressing their concerns, tradesmen thought it important to stress
both their socioeconomic importance as producers and their military
sacrifices in support of the legal constitutional order. They noted,
moreover, that not only would individual artisans be affected by the
proposed legislation, but also that their families, other social
sectors, and even the country as a whole would suffer in turn.
Artisans did not view themselves in isolation, but as important
components of a larger social environment that included the entire
nation in its largest manifestation. As this example indicates, it is
impossible to comprehend the tempo and nature of political activity by
Colombian craftsmen by examining only their organizations or the
political environment in which they functioned; artisan social and
economic experiences must be taken into account as well.
Unfortunately, a survey of the various factors which shaped artisan
socioeconomic fortunes from 1832 until 1919 faces several problems at
the outset. Foremost among these is that little is known of specific
facets of the social and economic conditions experienced by craftsmen
during these years. At times substantive comments can be made, but
most aspects of the craftsmen's changing circumstances can only be
dealt with tentatively. Analysis of the general economy of the capital
can be conducted with relative ease, as can the study of regional and
national trends and governmental policies which influenced economic
development. But only tentative comments can be made regarding the
most immediate facets of the tradesmen's economic activity.
Data illuminating artisan social and cultural norms are even more
scarce, as are comprehensive analyses of bogotano society. Again it is
possible to make only tentative comments regarding such questions as
the location of artisans within the capital's social spectrum, their
specific cultural practices, or their ideologies in comparison to those
of non-skilled workers. The picture is further complicated by the fact
that the descriptions which do exist probably are most appropriate for
"elite" tradesmen and are not necessarily accurate appraisals of other
artisans. The internal differentation of the artisan class, and how
this changed, can be presented only in general terms.
Nonetheless, in spite of these limitations, I shall try to present
an analysis of artisan socioeconomic experience from the 1830s through
the 1910s. It will require analysis both of general economic
conditions and special observations on economic trends that affected
artisans. Changes in the structure of the artisan class will then be
described, especially as they influenced artisan political activity.
An essential continuity marked the transition from the late-
colonial to the early-national period, as the "Neo-Bourbon" state
continued to assume partial responsibility for economic development.2
The fledgling state retained much of the colonial fiscal system, but
did make some minor changes. The principle holdovers were various
monopolies (estancos), especially on tobacco; diezmos; and the tariff
system. The Indian tribute was abolished, as were internal customs
duties and most applications of the alcabala. Colonial revenue sources
were the most reliable means to satisfy the fiscal needs of the state,
and even those politicians who found them ideologically distasteful saw
the necessity of keeping the more lucrative ones.
The economic policy which most directly influenced artisans was
the tariff. Little difference existed between the level of tariff
duties from the late-colonial to early-national periods, but in neither
instance were rates extremely high. Methods of assessment were altered
and tariff schedules adjusted during the 1820s, but not the essential
degree of protection. The tariff was the largest source of revenue for
the government, and few officials, no matter their economic philosophy,
were willing to reduce the already meager fiscal base of the
Historians use the term Neo-Bourbon in reference to the years
prior to the era of liberal reform, to suggest the essential continuity
of Spanish economic patterns shaped by Bourbon reformers into the
David Bushnell, The Santander Regime in Gran Colombia (Newark:
University of Deleware Press, 1954), 78-81; William Paul McGreevey, An
Economic History of Colombia, 1845-1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1971), 39; Luis Cspina Vasquez, Industria y
protection en Colombia, 1810 a 1930 (Bogota: Editorial Santa Fe, 1959),
127; Lufs Eduardo Nieto Arteta, Economia y cultural en la historic de
Colombia (Bogota: Editorial Viento del Pueblo, 1975), passim.
McGreevey, Economic History of Colombia, 33.
government. Both the 1832 and 1833 tariffs afforded moderate
protection to the craftsman; the latter schedule had protection, as
well as revenue, as one of its formal objectives.5
The degree to which these tariffs actually protected native crafts
is disputed. Luis Ospina Vasquez suggests that artisan production was
effectively buffered from foreign competition.6 Frank Safford, however,
insists that craftsmen, especially those who produced consumer goods
(shoes, clothing, etc.) suffered from the impact of foreign
production. Neither scholar bases his claim on much more than informed
opinion, so that resolution of this question must await the discovery
of more substantial data. One should note, however, that artisans did
not voice complaints about tariff policies during the years prior to
passage of the 1847 tariff law. Thereafter, craftsmen often reflected
upon the Neo-Bourbon tariff structure with nostalgia, suggesting that
they had at least felt protected.
In addition to customs duties, local and provincial taxes on
imported goods added to the economic protection of the native
producer. So too did high transportation costs. The dismal condition
of the nation's roads served to insulate the Bogota artisan from
foreign competition, and, although the Neo-Bourbon governments desired
to improve the transportation infrastructure, mule teams continued to
Ospina Vdsquez, Industria y protecci6n, 152-53.
Frank Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise in Central Colombia,
1821-1870" (Ph. D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1965), 77, 150-
8Ospna Vsquez, Industra y proteccin, 164.
Ospina Vasquez, Industria y protecei6n, 164.
carry most imports up the mountains from the Magdalena River to Bogota
until late in the century. Attempts were made in the 1820s and 1830s
to establish steam navigation on the Magdalena itself, but permanent
service was not in place until 1847. By the 1860s, however, upstream
transportation costs had fallen by up to one-half, which, in
combination with lower tariffs, contributed to an artisanal crisis in
Bogota in the 1860s.
During the colonial period Bogota had been more an administrative
than a productive center and consequently had a weak craft
tradition. The decadent state of its arts spurred viceregal
authorities in 1777 to attempt organization of a guild system in order
to develop competent artisans. Guilds did not become firmly
established, however, and their abolition in 1824 evoked little
The capital served as the center of an upland market which
stretched from Ibague to Bucaramanga. Commodities exchanged in the
region were limited by extreme geographical obstacles and poor roads.
Only the most valuable items--by weight--were traded. What little
Robert L. Gilmore and John P. Harrison, "Juan Bernardo Elbers
and the Introduction of Steam Navigation on the Magdalena River,"
Hispanic American Historical Review, 28:3 (November 1948), 335-59;
Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 313-15; Ospina Vasquez, Industria y
Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 17-18.
Francisco Robledo, "Ynstruccion de gremios en gral.Pa todos
oficios aprobada pr el Exmo Sor. Virrey del Rno. Siguense a ella
quantos papeles y provides se han creado en el asunto," Revista del
Archivo Nacional, Nos. 10-11 (October-November 1936), 13-37.
Bushnell, Santander Regime, 130.
evidence there is suggests that products made in Bogota did not
circulate widely throughout this market, which was due at least in part
to local production of most goods, but undoubtedly also because of the
widespread introduction of foreign goods after Independence. British
and other foreign products entering the country through the Magdalena
River tended to constrict the capital's commercial influence. Indeed,
Bogota soon became the distribution hub of imported items. John
Steuart, writing in the 1830s, noted the presence of abundant
quantities of British products in the Bogota marketplace. Artisans,
particularly the less skilled, undoubtedly had little capacity to
respond to such a challenge, although tariffs and geography moderated
the threat before mid-century.
Economic stagnation undoubtedly contributed to Bogota's isolation
prior to the 1860s. Only in the 1830s was the economy even mildly
stimulated, most likely by the return of peace. Capital was in
extremely short supply after the exhaustion of loans from Britain in
the 1820s, and it remained scarce until the 1840s. The situation was
especially severe during the crisis caused by the breakup of Gran
Colombia in 1830 and after the War of the Supremes. Judas Tadeo
Landinez, a capitalist from Boyaca, helped sustain the government
during the worst stages of the war, when tariff revenues had been cut
off and the government was in a desperate situation. In April 1841
1 Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 9-10. 102-05; Safford, The
Ideal of the Practical: Colombia's Struggle to Form a Technical Elite
eleven months (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1838), 145.
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), 26.
John Steuart, Bogota in 1836-7. Being a Narrative of an
expedition to the Capital of New-Grenada and a residence there of
Landinez loaned the government 120,000 pesos to pay official's
salaries, followed by another 500,000 pesos three months later. With
the very profitable results of the loans, Landinez invested heavily in
Sabana land holdings, spurring other investors to do the same. The
later half of 1841 saw Bogotd experience an explosion of speculation,
sustained almost entirely by Landfnez's funds, which, as it turned out,
were seriously stretched. In December of that year his bubble burst,
dragging him and many other capitalists into bankruptcy. As a result
of the speculation crisis, credit was almost completely unavailable in
Bogota for the 1842-43 years.5
Government-aided industrial projects brighten this otherwise
gloomy portrait. Many early republican leaders, especially those from
the highlands around Bogota, thought that Colombia should develop an
industrial component to supplement its agricultural and mining base.
Proponents of industrialization favored not only protective tariffs but
also direct state stimulation of private industrial ventures. The
common practice was for the government to issue a monopoly for
production of a certain item for a given number of years in a specified
region, so that an industry could develop in a protected environment.
Privileges were extended to an iron works, china factory, paper plant,
and factories for glass and textile production.6
Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 68-80; Safford, Ideal of
the Practical, 71-77; Ospina Vasquez, Industria y protection, 145; Jose
Manuel Restrepo, Diario politico y military, 4 vols. (Bogoti: Imprenta
Nacional, 1954), II, 283-84, 328.
Ospina Vdsquez, Industria y proteccidn, 161-84; Safford,
"Commerce and Enterprise," 157-72.
On the whole, these early industrial efforts were disappointing,
although there were some successes. The china factory, managed by
Nicolas Neiva and the English Peak brothers, began construction in 1832
and was producing china and porcelain two years later. Unfortunately,
it was destroyed by fire in 1834, and sustained production was delayed
until 1836. In 1837 the Neiva factory boasted two kilns, three stoves,
and was said to have sufficient capacity to meet the needs of the
entire nation. Sixty-one Colombians and four foreigners worked in the
factory. While it experienced occasional misfortunes, the factory
continued to operate through the end of the century. The Pacho Iron
Works was given a 15-year monopoly in 1827 and was in production by the
1830s, albeit at a loss. A new owner made the enterprise a success in
the 1850s, and by the 1860s it constituted an important factor in the
regional economy, providing abundant quantities of lower-quality iron
which supported many spin-off industries.17
Other ventures did not fare as well. The paper mill began
production in 1836 but lasted only until 1849. The textile factory,
probably the most sheltered industry under the tariff system, was
producing good, inexpensive cotton fabric by 1838 that soon thereafter
satisfied the needs of the Bogota market; but it was nonetheless
bankrupt by January 1848. The glass works privileged in 1834 was a
dismal failure. It was producing in 1837, using French craftsmen, but
was closed by 1839.18
1 Ospina Vasquez, Industria y protecci6n, 17; Safford, "Commerce
and Enterprise," 157-66.
Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 164-72; Ospina Vasquez,
Industria y protection, 167-68, 176, 182. Both Ospina and Safford
The benefits to the capital's artisans from these industries in
terms of employment or expanded opportunity were probably limited.
However, the same men who sponsored the industries also favored
industrial and technical education, which could have helped craftsmen
over the long term. Such educational endeavors were seen not only as
an aid to industrial development, but also as a means to insure social
order. In 1841 Ignacio Gutierrez Vergara began an "industrial fair" to
reward good craftsmanship and moral achievement.9 The Philanthropic
Society, of which Gutierrez was president, organized annual industrial
expositions from 1842 until 1849.20
Representative of the expositions was the 1846 fair. Prizes were
awarded in at least ten catagorles. Quite significantly, only one
machine was displayed, which, although it "was nothing new
conceptually," won a prize. Cabinet making was the only skilled craft
represented, but cloth from Socorro and china from the Neiva factory
won awards. Poor participation plagued the fairs, so that after 1849
insist that the cause of these failures was not technical. Ospina
cites as principal factors in their decline the disruptive effects of
the War of the Supremes upon capital and labor, along with a lack of
sustained governmental support. Safford suggests that the market for
consumer goods was simply too small and that investors had been overly
optimistic about expansion. They agree that the failure of these
ventures disillusioned backers of Colombian industrialization and
contributed greatly to the governmental reorientation toward export
agriculture that took place in the 1840s. Ospina Vasquez, Industria y
protection, 180-84; Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 179; Safford,
Ideal of the Practical, 43.
Safford, Ideal of the Practical, 66-67.
El Dia, November 6, 1842.
the Society decided to hold them every four years. There is no
evidence, however, that a fair was held after 1849.2
During the Neo-Bourbon period, artisans labored under conditions
with which they were familiar. Political unrest hindered their
production, as did economic stagnation and the credit crisis. However,
such had been the state of affairs for most of the period since at
least 1810. Aside from the few industrial efforts, the economic
structure of the city and governmental policies in no way presented new
challenges. Craftsmen struggled to earn a living, by and large
unaffected economically by the change from colonial government to
Reforms after 1845 radically altered the country's economic
structure by removing most colonial legacies. In general, the reform
era, which lasted from 1845 until 1863, oriented the economy toward
production of export crops, fiscally decentralized the government, and
redefined the nature of the state's intervention in the economic
affairs of the nation. The earliest reforms dealt with monetary and
fiscal matters. An attempt was made to eliminate the confusion
resulting from multiple currencies by minting a decimal-based silver
real and a peso fuerte composed of ten reales. Various
decentralization laws reflected the belief that an economy should be
allowed to function without direct interference from the central
authorities. The diezmo was removed from church jurisdiction and given
Ibid., May 4, 1845, August 9, 1846; El Constitucional, July 4,
Under the old coinage eight reales made up the peso. The new
system was in place after 1853.
to provincial governments. Certain revenues from stamped paper were
also transferred to provincial authorities. In the same spirit, much
of the rest of the state's fiscal apparatus was decentralized in 1850.
At least initially, decentralization was a fiscal disaster. It was one
reason for a drop in national revenues of 47% between 1849 and 1851.23
Unsuccessful attempts were made to impose a national system of direct
taxation to offset revenue losses, but only several states had any
success with such methods.
A considerable portion of the drop in revenues was due to
demonopolization of tobacco production, which was begun in 1846 and
completed in 1850. (Neither the salt nor aguardiente monopolies were
altered.) Legislators anticipated that duties from increased production
and exportation of tobacco would balance losses from demonopolization.
Tobacco production boomed in the Ambalema area under the direction of
the Montoya y Saenz firm, and tobacco became the most important export
commodity through the 1870s. While it is questionable that revenue
losses from demonopolization were indeed compensated by earnings from
tobacco exports, the nation's economy was firmly reoriented towards
production of export crops.2
Fundamental to the emergence of an export economy were lower
tariff barriers. In 1847 the tariff was reorganized and duties lowered
by about 33%. That measure undoubtedly stimulated trade, but it also
served to threaten the position of Bogota's craftsmen. The 1851 tariff
Memoria de Hacienda, 1859, as cited in McGreevey, Economic
History of Colombia, 86.
Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 255.
raised duties on certain finished products somewhat, but it did not
seek deliberately to protect native industries.25 Anti-protectionist
philosophy was illustrated by the 1861 tariff, which explicitly stated
that its sole purpose was for revenues. In that tariff, the cumbersome
colonial arancel was replaced by a three-tiered system of assessment
based upon weight. The 1861 tariff set the pattern for duties that
lasted until 1880.26 Efforts to facilitate international trade included
granting duty-free status to several ports, and removal of taxes on
international ships using the Magdalena River, although revenue needs
forced the government to impose a mild tax on international river
transportation in 1856. In addition, several attempts were made to
improve the nation's infrastructure, most of which were unsuccessful.
The reforms liberalized land policies, sharply curtailed corporate
ownership of land, increased distribution of tierras baldias, and took
further steps to eliminate the Indian resguardo. The most significant
reform in land tenure was the disamortization of church lands decreed
by General Tomds Cipriano de Mosquera in 1861. The impact of
disamortization has yet to be rigorously studied, but it undoubtedly
contributed to the concentration of land in private hands, especially
in urban areas.2
Ospina Vdsquez, Industria y protecci6n, 211.
Bushnell, "Two Stages of Colombian Tariff Policy: The Radical
Era and Return to Protection (1861-1885)," Inter-American Economic
Affairs, 9:4 (Spring 1956), 5-7.
On the general question of church-state relations, see Jorge
Villegas, Colombia: Enfrentamiento iglesia-estado, 1819-1887 (Bogota:
La Carreta, 1981.) See the Boletfn del Credito Nacional for reports of
the commission charged with sale of church lands.
The economic climate of Bogota in large part reflected the success
of exports or the disruption of war. In the late 1840s the city began
to emerge from the economic doldrums occasioned by the War of the
Supremes. The capital profited from monies generated by the expansion
of tobacco, causing an economic upsurge which dominated the 1850s.28
Unfortunately, the worldwide recession of 1857-58, coupled with the
civil war of 1859-62, drove the economy into a deep recession which
lasted throughout the 1860s. During this decade the city suffered some
of the worst hardships of the century. By 1863 complaints circulated
of general misery caused by the war of 1859-62 in the capital, which
was said to have hurt artisans, but not to the extent that it did
unskilled laborers. A year later, however, even many independent
artisans were reportedly hard pressed to find work.29 In 1867 Miguel
Samper penned his noted "La miseria en Bogota," which graphically
narrated the city's miserable condition.
Beggars fill the streets and plazas . . The
worker can not find constant employment, nor can
the shop masters count on work; the property owner
neither receives rent payments nor new rents; the
shop- keeper does not sell, nor buy, nor pay, nor
is paid; one sees the importer's wares undisturbed
in his store and his payments asleep in his wallet;
the capitalist doe not receive interest nor the
Miguel Samper, La miseria en Bogota y otros escritos (Bogota:
Biblioteca Universitaria de Cultura Colombiana, 1969), passim; Ospina
Vasquez, Industria y protecci6n, 228; El Neo-Granadino, April 9, 1857.
La Opinion, October 14, 1863, October 12, 1864, January 4,
30a mieria en Bogot, 9, 11.
Samper, La miseria en Bogota, 9, 11.
One artisan referred to the 1860s as the worst decade since the
colonial period.31 Artisans certainly voiced more protests in the 1860s
than in any other decade of the nineteenth century.
Availability of credit was a particularly vexing problem, as funds
to borrow were in short supply through most of the period for artisans.
Customers were frequently required to advance the cost of their
purchase because most craftsman did not have sufficient capital to buy
necessary material. This normally meant that a loan would be arranged
from a speculator (agiotista) at the prevailing rate of interest, a
rate subject to constant fluctuation. During time of feared or actual
civil strife, such as the months prior to General Jose Maria Melo's
1854 revolt, speculators withheld their capital and, consequently,
evokedthe wrath of artisans.3
Until 1845 the only sources of credit were the church or money
lenders, and the quantities and interest rates were quite
unpredictable. In that year, however, the Province of Bogota founded a
Savings Bank (Caja de Ahorros) that survived until 1861. The bank made
considerable funds available to its investors, who were drawn from all
social sectors. In 1864 an attempt was made to establish in Bogota a
branch of the Bank of London, Mexico and South America, but it was
3 La Republica, October 9, 1867.
On numerous occasion, the slogan "Abajo los ajiotistas" were
associated with artisans. Agiotistas were money lenders who purchased
government bonds issued to individuals in repayment for forced loans
during wartime or as compensation for other debts. In the absense of
other sources of credit, the speculator played an important role in the
local economy. Malcolm Deas, "The Fiscal Problems of Nineteenth-
Century Colombia," Journal of Latin American Studies, 14:2 (November
1982), 318-20; Safford, "Commerce and Industry," 56-57.
short-lived. Beginning in 1871 with foundation of the Banco de
Colombia, various lending institutions were established that lasted for
some time. The Savings Bank probably offered tradesmen the most
reliable source of credit. Although it has not been subjected to
scholarly scrutiny, one of its objectives was to stimulate industry
among workers, and many of its depositors were craftsmen. Most of the
banks founded in the 1870s favored loans to commercial concerns, but
one of these, the Banco Popular, was designed to help smaller
investors. Its shares sold for$S50, and numerous artisans were among
The system of industrial privileges that had been employed during
the earlier period was not formally abrogated during the reform era,
but few new concessions were granted. The most important privilege
was granted in 1855 for establishment of a woolen factory, which by the
following year produced various types of cloth, some of which were
purchased by the Army, but most by the general public. By 1858 some 60
workers, mostly women, labored in the factory for salaries up to 8
pesos a week.35 The factory did reasonably well prior to a tariff
reduction on imported textiles in 1861 and remained in operation until
Diario de Cundinamarca, June 21, 1877.
Ospina Vasquez, Industria y protection, 101.
This was double the norm for campesinos and eight times the
one peso per week wage earned by most women workers.
Guia official i descriptive de Bogoti ( Bogota: Imprenta de la
Naci6n, 1858), 73-76; Safford, "Commerce and Enterprise," 182-83;
Ospina Visquez, Industria y proteccion, 229.
Numerous factories were established after the depression of the
1860s. In 1870 another china factory opened, as did the "Rey y Borda"
match factory. In 1874 the latter employed over 200 women. One
hundred and fifty women labored in that same year in a cigar factory.
Also founded in the 1870s were the Chaves Chocolate plant, a quinine
laboratory, and small consumer industries dedicated to the production
of candles, soap, and perfume.37
These early industries were oriented, on the whole, toward the
production of consumer goods using low technology and unskilled labor.
They did not compete with skilled artisanal production; nor did they
complement traditional crafts. Contrary to artisan protests, it seems
unlikely that tariffs were lowered to a degree which rapidly undermined
domestic crafts. The reorientation of the economy toward the external
market which took place at mid-century ended the stagnation of the
earlier period; yet at the same time it caused extreme disruption to
the ambience to which artisans had been accustomed and fundamentally
altered the composition of the capital's craft economy as marginal
producers were increasingly threatened by foreign competition. This
was especially the case for trades such as shoemaking, tailoring, and
leather work. By contrast, most construction trades were little
affected by lowered tariff rates and owed their prosperity (or lack of
it) to improved general economic conditions. The depression of the
1860s was probably very important in determining which trades would
remain competitive and which would be reduced in significance.
La America, April 9, 1874; Ospina Vasquez, Industria y
Rafael Nunez, in his first presidential administration (1880-
1882), repudiated many of the more dogmatic tendencies of economic
liberalism. Once again the Colombian state began to intervene actively
in the nation's economic development, principally through tariff
measures and monetary policy. The National Bank, founded in 1881 and
designed to meet the financial needs of the government, was empowered
to emit a fixed supply of paper money, a policy which, in periods of
moderate emmisions acted as a stimulus to the expansion of coffee, but,
during illegal larger emissions in the 1890s, helped to destablize the
Nunez favored protection of national industries; consequently one
of his first acts was to press passage of the Tariff of 1880, which,
although it lowered the basic rate, protected tailoring, shoemaking,
and furniture production through a 25% surcharge. Ospina observes that
the tariff was intended to foster factory production, but it
undoubtedly eased the competition faced by domestic workshops as well.
Tariff rates were raised 25% by two legislative measures in 1885 and
1886. Industrial growth in the Medellin area was stimulated by these
tariffs, but their impact on bogotano industries was minor. Tariff
rates crept upward through the 1890s and, after the War of 1000 Days
(1899-1902), President Rafael Reyes strongly stimulated industrial
growth through his tariff of 1905. This last measure again helped
Medellfn more than Bogota. 39
Ospina Visquez, Industria y proteccion, 278, 323.
39, 300-07, 334-44.
Ibid., 300-07, 334-44.
Imposition of monopolies upon such ventures as cigar, cigarette,
and match production were still another aspect of governmental economic
policy meant to not only spur development of these industries, but also
provide unemployed urban women with jobs. Artisans were favored by
Nunez's decrees creating "model shops" in 1881 and 1886, which were
intended to train craftsmen in "practical" industrial arts. An
outgrowth of these programs was the School of Arts and Trades, in
operation by 1891. Six years later the School had exposed 621 students
to various sorts of industrial training.40 Between 1905 and 1908, Reyes
extended this program throughout the nation, but his focus was on
general education rather than industrial training.
The economy slowly revived around 1870, due to a momentary
resurgence of tobacco exports, the first effects of coffee expansion,
and the beginning of a growth period for the city. Bogota suffered a
downturn in the 1880s, which was caused by tobacco's sharp drop in
value, a temporary decline in coffee exports, and civil unrest. The
capital's economy resumed it growth by 1886-87, which lasted into the
mid-1890s, when inflation, war, and fluctuating coffee prices in the
international market combined to create a ten-year period of economic
decline. After the War of 1000 Days, the capital entered a period of
growth that lasted, with a few temporary exceptions, until the
Numerous small industries and factories were founded beginning in
the 1880s, most of them sponsored by upper class Colombians who turned
to manufacture from traditional commercial activities. This more
Safford, Ideal of the Practical, 206.
frequently was the case in Antioquia, but it was true to a limited
extent for the capital, where foreign capital and enterprise also
played an important role. For example, in 1883 "La Estrella de
Bogotd," a cigarette factory, was founded using imported Cuban tobacco,
Spanish paper, and Cuban cigar masters. The primary Colombian input
was some 30-40 women workers. The women earned from two to seven pesos
a week, depending on their output. "La Equitativa" chocolate factory
was established shortly thereafter by Luiz M. Azcuenaga, also using
mostly female labor. The earlier chocolate venture by the Chaves
brothers continued in operation, employing over 100 workers (mostly
women) by 1899. After the war, these chocolate plants combined their
The first major industrial complex was the Bavaria brewery, run by
German-born Rudolf Kopp and established in 1891. Kopp used German
technology and brewery masters and Colombian labor. His factory was
set up along German industrial patterns, which by 1894 included
workers' housing next to the brewery. Weekly wages at Bavaria were
reportedly the highest in the city, in addition to which the workers
enjoyed health insurance, loans, sick pay, and up to two liters of beer
a day. In return for such benefits, Kopp demanded rigid industrial
discipline from his 300 male and female workers (1906). Complaints
regarding the inflexibility of Bavaria's management were common and
centered on the pace of work and control of time.42
Ospina Vdsquez, Industria y protecci6n, 310, 314; El Criterio,
June 4, 1883; La Crdnica, September 21, 1898, August 12, 1899; El
Diario Nacional, July 27, 1918; Las Noticias, September 23, 1889.
Ospina Vasquez, Industrial y protecci6n 313; La Patria, June
22, 1894; El Correo Nacional, July 8, October 17, 1904; El Yunque, May
The founders of Bavaria started a glass factory in 1896, which
prospered after the war. In the same period they established a china
factory. In 1895 Silvestre Samper and Simeon Martin also opened a
glass factory using ten Spanish glass blowers and apprenticing 20
Colombian workers. By 1897 good glass was being produced, but poor
management led to its early demise.4
The Regeneration's moves to draw women into industrial labor
evidenced some additional success after the war. "El Rey del Mundo," a
cigarette factory owned by the Spaniard Esteban Verdu, employed 50
women in 1904. Verdu demanded strict discipline from workers, who,
according to one visitor to the plant, worked like "human machines."
The same commentator noted that this "kept them off the streets." By
1916 some 200 women and 50 men labored under similar conditions for
Verdu. In the latter year, however, heavy taxes on tobacco forced
closure of Verdu's plant and those of several of several other
Social and Occupational Changes
Available census data suggest that Bogoti grew slowly during the
first two-thirds of the nineteenth century before entering a period of
sustained expansion. Although the accuracy of these data is
Ospina Vasquez, Industria y protecci6n, 314-15; El Yunque, May
6, 1906; El Telegrama, February 14, 1895.
Ospina Vasquez, Industria y protection, 303-04; El Yunque, May
6, 1906; El Telegrama, February 14, 1895.
questionable, they at least indicate the pace and timing of the city's
growth. Enumerations made in 1793 and 1801 placed Bogota's population
at 17,725 and 21,394 respectively. An 1843 census listed 40,086
inhabitants, but one taken only eight years later tallied 29,649
residents, a figure whose accuracy has correctly been doubted, but
which also suggests that the 1843 count may be too high. Another
census conducted in 1870 enumerated 40,833, also a questionable total,
but one that did reflect sluggish growth. A visitor to the city in the
1870s claimed the population to be around 60,000, an estimation that
seems rather more reliable, especially in light of latter surveys. Two
counts in the 1880s, which yielded totals of 84,723 (1881) and 95,761
(1884), tend to confirm observations that Bogota began to undergo rapid
expansion in the 1870s. By 1912, the city's population had reached
Most descriptions of the bogotano social scene by outside observers
suggest rather stable social classes through the last century. John
Steuart, writing in the late 1830s, noted three strata; the poorest,
made up of peons and "lower" house servants; the middle, consisting of
artisans, small shopkeepers, and the "best" servants; and the highest
level of society, which included hacendados, larger merchants, and
"Padron general de la poblacion de esta capital, segun los que
se hicieron en el ano de 1793"; Alfonso Acevedo, Notas estadisticas de
la provincial de la provincia de Bogota en el ano de 1844 (Bogota: np,
1844), 7; Clfmaco Calderon and Edward E. Britton, Colombia. 1893 (New
York: Bureau of American Republics, 1893), 48; Alfred Hettner, Viajes
por los andes colombianos (1882-1884) (Bogota: Archivo de la Economic
Nacional, Banco de la Republica, 1976), 77; Eliseo Reclus, Colombia
(Bogota: Papelerla de Samper Matiz, 1893), 407; Censo general de la
Repu6lica de Colombia levantado el 5 de marzo de 1912 (Bogota: Imprenta
Nacional, 1912), 336.
holders of important political posts. The distinction between middle
and upper classes was accentuated by dress habits; artisans and their
peers wore ruanas (a Colombian poncho) and the upper class men, coats.
Two German travelers in the 1880s observed the same divisions,
albeit with class boundaries somewhat less distinct and containing more
complex strata. According to these accounts, the lowest rung on the
social ladder was occupied by the "gente del pueblo, or simply the
"pueblo." These people were agricultural workers, day laborers, water
carriers, and servants. The middle sector included artisans, some
merchants, shopkeepers, and lesser government employees. The highest
levels, alternately called the "superior class" or "nobles," consisted
of the aristocracy of money, hacendados, and large merchants.47
In spite of the basic continuity of major social strata, reports
later in the century do indicate some important changes in their
characteristics. Steuart had noted in the 1830s that the rich in
Bogotg would hardly be termed wealthy by European standards; even
leading government officials could be seen laboring in their stores.
In the end he felt that distances between middle and upper sectors were
often based more upon cosmetic distinctions than on economic resources.
By the end of the century, social strata were separated by real
differences in wealth, a situation that extended even to the artisan
class, some of whom reportedly owned pianos and wore coats.
John Steuart, Bogota in 1836-7, 154-57.
Ernst Rothlisberger, El Dorado: Estampas de viaje y cultural
de la Colombia suramericana (Bogota: Banco de la Republica, 1963), 93-
96, 103; Hettner, Viajes por los Andes, 72-77.
Data on the occupational composition of Bogota are limited. Only
one of the censuses included occupational data in its published
reports, that of 1912. Still, an idea of size of the artisan class can
be suggested. The 1846 petition claimed that some 2,000 artisans, or
about 5% of the 40,000-odd inhabitants, worked in the city. A
newspaper article by a craftsman in 1868 estimated that fewer than
6,000, or ten percent, of the city's 60,000 residents were artisans.4
The 1912 census aggregated 8,968 persons of a total population of
120,000 into the category of "artes, oficios, y aprendices," all of
which refer to artisanal activity.
Descriptions of the trade composition of Bogota's artisan class
structure are simply not available, which forces the historian to make
only hesitant observations. An 1881 guide listed 60 shoe shops, 50
tailors, a hundred or so carpentry shops, 20 printers, 25 blacksmiths,
and an "infinity" of masons.50 All these trades fit well within the
spectrum of traditional crafts. The guide included no "modern" wage
occupations filled by males, although females labored in cigar and
match factories. A 1904 listing of trades represented in the "Sociedad
Union de Industriales y Obreros" included most traditional trades,
along with brewerymen and electrical installers.51 A similar listing of
La Alianza, February 8, 1868.
Censo general de la Repiblica, 181.
Felipe Perez, Geografia general fisica y polftica de los
Estados Unidos de Colombia y geograffa particular de la ciudad de
Bogoti (Bogotd: Imprenta de Echeverria Hermanos, 1883), 400-04; 416-
Los Hechos, June 18, 1904.
trades participating in a 1914 worker's celebration was dominated by
traditional crafts, but also included "industrialists" (shop owners of
10-30 workers) and factory workers (from breweries, the electric
company, glass factory, rail roads, chocolate and cement plants.)52
While these glimpses do little to statistically analyse Bogota's
occupational profile, they do tend to evidence a labor force consisting
of both traditional artisanal workers and "modern" laborers associated
with factories and wage labor after 1900.
One further insight on trade organizations merits mention. No
artisan organization was linked to a single trade prior to 1873, when a
mutual aid society was founded for 68 printers.53 Nine years later, a
carpenters' guild was formed. In 1897 a shoemaker's group was
organized. After the beginning of the century, workers' organizations
were divided internally by trades. The same phenomena could be seen at
public ceremonies, for example on Colombian Independence Day.
Throughout the nineteenth century, parade participants included
national employees, hacendados, merchants, and artisans. The 1910
centennial saw workers march not just as artisans, but also as
carpenters, printers, masons, or similar trades and as political
groups. The increased identification of workers by their trade, as
opposed to the general nomenclature of artisan, might well be
indicative of the fragmentation and redefinition of the artisan class
in the last third of the century.
52 El Tiempo, March 27, 1914.
La Amdrica, May 28, 1873.
54 July 3, 1910.
Pan, July 3, 1910.
Only general comments can be made concerning shop organization and
trade traditions. An 1858 account, "The Artisan of Bogota," claimed
that during the colonial period masters (jefes or duenos del taller)
and journeymen (oficios or jornaleros) were clearly distinguishable,
both socially and economically. Masters exerted some control over
prices and successfully kept journeymen from establishing their own
shops. Such control by masters over journeymen was shaken by the
disruption of the Independence period, but not eliminated.55 In
keeping with republican principles of equality, masters who tried to
maintain their traditional powers were attacked in the press during the
1820s. By the 1830s journeymen reportedly established their own shops
and undermined masters through lower prices. Masters complained that
while the journeymen's labor was cheap, the quality of their goods was
poor. At mid-century the master and journeyman were linked by
collateral relations, by wages, and by more informal, traditional
bonds. Masters still tended to dominate the relationship within the
shop, but they lacked sufficient power to control all journeymen
activities. By the end of the century, internal trade distinctions
appear to have given way to the economic reality of who could own his
own shop as the pinnacle of the craftsmen's profession.
Throughout the century, antagonisms separated native and immigrant
craftsmen. In 1842, for example, bogotano artisans bitterly noted that
El Nucleo, 1858. The issues of the paper were not dated.
La Bandera Tricolor, July 16, 1826.
El Tiempo, May 13, 1858.
581858; La Aiana December 10, 1866.
E1 Nucleo, 1858; La Alianza, December 10, 1866.
foreigners within the same trades (83 according to 1843 census)59
profited because they neither had to pay taxes nor perform military
duty, also because upper-class natives preferred the prestige of their
service, regardless of quality. Moreover, most foreign craftsmen were
said to be unwilling to share knowledge of their trades with native
artisans. Similar public protests were voiced by tradesmen in 1867,
1875, and 1887. Native artisans, however, were ready to acknowledge
the contributions of some foreigners in advancing the general state of
While accusations against foreign craftsmen inevitably claimed
that Colombian artisans produced goods of equal quality, as early as
1850 petitions for tariff protection requested that masters be brought
from abroad to teach native masters.2 Such requests were renewed after
the crisis of the 1860s, when they resulted in approval of a plan to
bring foreigners to Colombia to teach mechanical arts.63 In the end
such aspirations were not realized, although several Colombians were
sent abroad in the 1880s to study industrial trades.
Acevedo, Notas estadisticas, 7.
6 El Dla, July 17, 1842.
La Alianza, April 13, 1867; La Nacion, December 17, 1886,
January 11, 1887; Diario de Cundinamarca, June 9, 1875.
AC, Camara, proyectos de leyes negados, 1850, X, folios 28-
Saturnino Gonzalez et al., "Representacion al Congreso
national" (Bogota, 1868); El Bien PGblico, December 5, 1870; Diario de
Cundinamarca, March 15, 25, 1872; Safford, Ideal of the Practical, 203-
Certain work patterns, such as taking Monday off ("St. Monday")
are commonly associated with artisanal and pre-industrial labor
settings. Evidence exists to suggest that "hacer lunes," as it was
referred to in Bogota, persisted through the last and into the present
century. In 1867, the carpenter Rafael Tapfas criticized this habit,
saying that the "Bacchanalian excess" of the Monday celebration not
only lost the artisan an estimated 48 pesos yearly, but also gave rise
to heated political debate and violence. Ibstile responses forced
Tapais to say that his intention had not been to criticize anyone's
work habits, but only to point out the loss of time and danger of
mixing fun and politics.65 Thirty years later, a leading artisan
defended the tradition by commenting that, since artisans were their
own bosses, the days they chose not to work were their own decision.66
Early efforts to start factory production encountered problems when
managers tried to impose a stricter discipline upon recently recruited
laborers. One account noted that laborers wanted to enjoy their work
and "hacer lunes." 67
As was noted in the preface, the definition of terms is a most
arduous task. Phrases or words were used in a social context that one
La Alianza, June 14, 1867.
6 Ibid., August 1, 1867; El Pueblo, July 13, 1867.
El Artesano, June 14, 1867.
El Correo Nacional, July 8, 1904. On the attempt to instill
Taylorism into the Colombian mentality, see Alberto Mayor Mora, Etica,
trabajo, y productividad en Antioquia: Una interpretation sociological
Mundo, 1985), passim.
sobre la influence de la Escuela Nacional de Minas de la vida,
costumbres e industrializacion regionales (Bogota: Editorial Tercer
can only attempt to recreate in the absence of reliable documentation.
The word "artisan" is particularly difficult to define conclusively.
"Artisan" was often used quite differently by the same people according
to the context. For example, an "artisan" newspaper in the 1860s
argued that two-thirds of the nation's populace were artisans, if one
included seamstresses and displaced craftsmen in that number. The same
paper complained that the term artisan was used indiscriminately and
that only 10% of the city's population deserved the title.6 The
explanation for the obviously contradictory usage is that in one
instance an appeal was being made to the broader population and in the
other artisans sought to set themselves apart from the "mass" for
purposes of identification.
The newspaper referred to above alluded to a final aspect of
artisan culture that merits inclusion with its comment that many
masters had the "absurd idea" that they were the social superiors of
journeymen and that some duenos were used as tools by members of
political parties.69 Since most voices raised by artisan leaders
seeking to speak for the artisan class came from shop owners, a
troublesome question central to this study must be asked. If masters
saw themselves as unequal to journeymen, how representative, then, were
their voices? No unwavering answer can be presented, but one of the
arguments to be forwarded by this thesis is that one can up to a point
judge the representativeness of artisan leaders both by their ability
successfully to mobilize their subordinate counterparts and by their
La Alianza, October 20, 1866, January 23, February 3, 1868.
Ibid., December 10, 1866.
staying power as leaders. Artisans who were skilled and lasting
advocates of their class were, as will be argued later, able to persist
as leaders because they were more, rather than less, representative of
those whose opinions are not available for historical examination.
Three periods, marked by changes in the characteristics of the
artisan class, divide the years under study. The 1830s through 1860s
were characterized by general economic stagnation and a more
homogeneous class experience. The final thirty years of the century
saw the fragmentation of the artisan class in the face of foreign
economic pressures and native industrialization. The first twenty
years of the twentieth century witnessed workers employing both
traditional and more modern productive techniques in a mixed-labor
system, in which each laboring class had its own social norms.
An analysis of state economic policies yields a different
periodization, one which suggests several clues to artisan economic
experience. The years 1832-45 encompass the Neo-Bourbon period, so
named because its structural apparatus contained many holdovers from
Spanish colonial policies. After 1845, a transition to economic
liberalization took place in which policy makers removed most of the
system's colonial aspects and reoriented it to facilitate international
trade and export agriculture. The state once again attempted to
stimulate internal industries beginning in 1880, when protective
tariffs were raised for certain industries. Post-1886 governments
actively intervened in the economy, especially after 1904.
During the Neo-Bourbon period, craftsmen labored in an economic
environment rather similar to the late colonial period. The reforms of
the 1840s and 1850s radically altered the country's economic structure,
which, by the 1860s, negatively affected Bogota's artisans and
shattered their relative social and economic uniformity. The artisan
class was redefined during the last thirty years of the nineteenth
century as trades hurt by foreign competition went into decline and
others, largely unaffected by governmental policies, retained
characteristics similar to those of the earlier period. Practitioners
of displaced occupations and those of stable trades lost much of the
shared experiences that had earlier bonded the class, and, as a
consequence, their social, economic, and political lives began to
diverge. It was during these years that separate trade labels began to
identify craftsmen. Moreover, by the 1890s, the creation of limited
industrial and transport concerns gave rise to a small but important
"modern" wage-labor sector. The dawn of the current century saw
various types of laborers filling the occupational spectrum, the most
significant in terms of their organized political expression being more
traditional artisans and more modern wage laborers.
This suggests that the orientation of the country's economic
structure toward participation in the world market created over the
long term a two-tiered labor profile, a process visible after 1870 and
clearly in place by the early 1900s. One of its levels was much more
influenced by policies that aided the development of an export economy
and increased importation of foreign manufactured goods. Artisans
affected by these policies lost their productive independence in a slow
process of proletarianization. Other sectors of the economy were
affected more by general economic conditions than by specific
governmental programs. Many trades continued to employ traditional
productive practices throughout the period studied and retained their
status as independent artisanal producers. In 1919, however, this
status, and the interests which accompanied it, had changed greatly
The transitions that redefined the artisan class are of particular
importance for understanding artisan political activity over this 90-
year period. Both the credit crisis of the 1840s and the artisanal
crisis of the 1860s prepared the way for intense political
mobilizations by artisans. Significantly, both periods of activity
occurred prior to increased fragmentation of the artisan class, which
nevertheless retained essential internal cohesion. The same level of
political activity would not return until the 1910s, when surviving
artisans and emerging wage-laborers combined to initiate a new stage of
political activity by Colombian workers.
POLITICAL RECRUITMENT OF ARTISANS, 1832-45
The Partisan Struggle for Power
Colombia in the last century was a land of conflict. Perhaps its
most apparent characteristic was its seeming inability to establish a
stable political system. Wars repeatedly ravaged the country after the
breakup of Gran Colombia in 1830. The War of the Supremes lasted from
1839 until 1842; insurrections occurred in both 1851 and 1854; the only
civil war ever to successfully overthrow an incumbent government began
in 1859 and ended in 1862; Conservatives rebelled in 1876-77; in 1885
and again in 1895 Liberals revolted; and, finally, the War of 1000 Days
dragged on from 1899 until 1902. Numerous conflicts also took place on
the local and regional level.
The most significant immediate cause of these national crises was
the struggle for control of the state by the elite-dominated Liberal
and Conservative parties. The ideological stances taken by the parties
were not so opposed, however, as to account for such intense conflicts.
Liberals and Conservatives were only seriously separated on the
programmatic issues of church-State relations and education. While
Throughout the text capitalized Conservative or Liberal will
refer to the parties, or to people identified with those organizations.
Lower case will be used in other instances.
very real differences existed in these areas, at least through the
1880s, control of the political process and of the state was the
ultimate objective of both parties.
Control of the political apparatus in turn offered party members
access to economic opportunities. Politics was probably the elite
career of choice for most of the century, partly because few other
opportunities existed. Empleomania plagued the nation. Governmental
revenues could never meet the salaries of all who aspired to official
positions and, consequently, a fierce competition resulted for those
available positions. Not until coffee became the backbone of the
economy in the later years of the century did the situation change.
Frank Safford's analysis of early party evolution suggests that the
Conservative and Liberal parties were important as "brotherhoods" for
mutual protection in the years of limited economic opportunity at the
beginning of the Republican period. The creation of parties, aided by
social attitudes that deemed governmental service an honorable
occupation and by the favorable treatment by the parties of their
clients help to explain certain economic and social factors underlying
civil strife. However, they do not illuminate the initial basis for
alignment of specific political groups.
Safford applies the Weberian concept of social location to suggest
that access to institutions of power at the beginning of the national
period was the primary determinant of party alignment. Proximity to
Safford, "Bases of Political Alignment in Early Republican
Spanish America," in New Approaches to Latin American History, ed. by
Richard Graham and Peter Smith (Austin: University of Texas Press,
colonial centers of educational, political, or ecclesiastical power
would more likely result in a conservative orientation aimed at
maintaining institutions which favored one's "life chances." Those
located at a greater distance from power centers would more likely be
liberal, favoring reforms which would enhance their access to power.
This application of the concept of social location has
considerable validity at least through the 1870s, when economic
factors, as will be seen, begin to play a more important role as
determinants of party alignment and ideology. It is helpful for
understanding the origins of the few points of ideological conflict
between Liberal and Conservatives. In defense of the institutional
framework which favored their "life chances," Conservatives tended to
hold a corporate world view which gave to the church a fundamental
social role. This philosophy stipulated that the individual was
subordinated to the church, which embodied universal morality.
Liberals, by contrast, were anti-institutional--until they created
institutions more favorable to their own aspirations. They tended to
adhere to an atomistic philosophy, holding that individuals had the
capacity to determine the morality of their actions. Liberals thus
argued that educational institutions that imposed clerical authority
hindered the individual from maturing to the point of making such
Jaime Jaramillo Uribe, El pensamiento colombiano en el siglo
XIX (Bogota: Editorial Temis Libreria, 1982), 95-97.
Much of the argument that follows is informed by Jaramillo and
Safford, only when direct analysis are taken from their works will be
they be cited.
decisions. Not surprisingly, Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism dominated
the philosophical approach of the first generation of Liberals.
In a certain sense, the issue at stake was the source of morality.
Traditionalists maintained that while morality was an inherent part of
the human being, individuals could nevertheless not rationally
comprehend morality in its fullness. Religion did encompass its
totality, and the church acted as guardian of that knowledge. Those
who felt disadvantaged by the traditional order argued that individual
comprehension of morality was possible. These philosophical systems
led directly to disputes regarding the proper social function of the
church. Closely related to the church's social influence was the
Jesuit question. To Liberals, the influence of Jesuits was
antithetical to a Republic. Conservatives, on the other hand, valued
the Jesuits as luminaries who served to maintain and expand the proper
position of the church. Education, as a corollary to this religious
question, was one of the most divisive issues of all. Santander's 1826
Education Plan, based upon Benthamite teachings, was strongly opposed
by those politicians later identified with the Conservative party both
at the time and later when Santander tried to revive it in the
government of New Granada. When Conservatives won the War of the
Supremes (1839-42), Mariano Ospina Rodrfguez promptly issued an
educational plan informed by more traditional standards. Not
surprisingly, the 1870 educational reform process caused a similar
The beliefs and systems based upon those beliefs espoused by the
two parties shared, however, more points of agreement than discord.
There was, for example, little conflict along party lines on economic
matters. Pragmatic as opposed to optimistic appraisals of the
government's fiscal situation were more likely to cause debate than was
the proper economic orientation of the state. Issues involving the
economic well-being of the church, such as mortmain, were, of course,
topics of ongoing dispute. No one questioned the theoretically
contractual nature of government or the concept of popular sovereignty.
Good governments were thought to be those that best represented the
general interests of its citizens. The extent of active citizenship
caused some disagreement, as did the degree to which strong central
authority was needed to offset the ignorance of the masses, but no one
thought in terms of a pure democracy or an aristocracy. Both parties
distrusted the military as an institution, but neither was so opposed
as to reject the aid of military leaders favorable to its cause. Even
so, the structure of the state became a very important issue. The
moves toward federalism beginning in the 1850s undertaken by both
parties proved in the end disastrous. An effective political structure
was not designed until the Constitution of 1886. That constitution
gave the church a powerful social role, limited suffrage, and
centralized the government, and in general satisfied conservative more
than liberal objectives.
Just as the issues separating the parties were not wholly clear
cut, some individuals are hard to place in either political camp.
General Jose Marfa Obando was identified as a Santanderist liberal
throughout his life, but his 1836 presidential candidacy split the
ranks of those loyal to Santander. In the 1850s Obando nominally
headed the draconian wing of the Liberal party, which undertook a major
revolt in 1854. Another general, Tomas Cipriano de Mosquera, was
identified as a conservative, but his 1844 presidential candidacy and
subsequent administration shattered the emerging Conservative party.
In 1857 he ran for the presidency as head of the National party and two
years later led the Liberal revolt against Conservative rule. After
the 1863 Rio Negro Convention, he was at bitter odds with the Radical
faction of the Liberal party. In 1867 Mosquera imposed a dictatorship
upon the Radical congress, and by 1869 he once again was in league with
Conservatives. Both of these men were more personalistic than party-
minded in their approach to power, although this is more true of
Mosquera than Obando. Given their military bearing and populist
orientations, it is tempting to refer to them as caudillos. Whether or
not this is so, it is clear that any understanding of Colombian history
prior to 1870 must take into consideration personalism and the appeal
of military leaders.
Jaime Jaramillo Uribe has offered a further clue to the
deciphering of nineteenth-century politics by pointing to the
importance of generational influences. The "independence generation"
was shaped by either traditional or Benthamite "mentalities." As a
result, the conflicts of this era centered on education and the church.
The desire to mold a united nation, however, moderated these divisive
issues. A second generation, nurtured on the writings of the Romantics
and less prone to compromise, came to power in the late 1840s. The
Liberals among them dominated the political scene with few exceptions
until the 1870s. Conservatives assumed the role of the not-always
loyal opposition, and caudillos continued to be important political
Jaramillo Uribe, Pensamiento colombiano, 30-33.
actors. The failures of Liberalism then spurred a pragmatic backlash,
which was evident in the third generation and the 1886 Constitution.
During the Regeneration, which began in the 1880s and lasted until the
1910s, coalitions tended to dominate the scene and produced an
effective political structure that avoided the bloodshed of the earlier
years. The policies of first the National party of Rafael Nunez and
Miguel Antonio Caro, then the quinquenio of Rafael Reyes, and lastly
the Republican Union illustrate the less sectarian nature of this last
generation. (The fierce fighting of the period indicates, however, that
coalitionists were by no means the sole political actors during these
Throughout the century third (and occasionally fourth) parties
appeared, generally drawing upon both the membership and ideological
stances of the dominant groups. On occasion these were potent
political forces in their own right. More frequently their fortunes
were determined by their relationships with the traditional parties,
largely because they drew their leadership from the same class, the
elite. Other social sectors had little real influence on party
programs or ideologies. Not unexpectedly, elite monopolization of the
political process mirrored similar developments in the social and
While the nineteenth-century social structure was quite stable, it
was not frozen. Patron-client relations offered non-elites a certain
degree of economic and social mobility; so too, politically, did the
struggle between the parties. Elites needed clients in their struggle
for power. In rural areas, the pursuit of clientage led to the
creation by local bosses of self-perpetuating Liberal and Conservative
enclaves that have existed to the present. In larger urban centers,
the establishment of clientage relationships fostered more competitive
recruitment. Elite efforts to mobilize popular support for their party
struggles were the first stimuli to the participation of non-elites in
the political process. An appreciation of the parties' struggle for
power is thus essential for an understanding of artisan political
participation in the last century. Artisans and other middling social
groups, because of their status as voters, were the principal targets
of parties and factions trying to expand their base of support.
Patrons and clients operated in a two-way relationship, however, which
in time allowed artisans the opportunity to articulate their particular
The Appeal to the Masses, 1832-45
The Constitution of 1832 established for New Granada a moderately
centralized republic. In keeping with republican theory (and colonial
precedents), local and regional governments shared power with central
authorities, but most policy initiatives came from Bogota. The powers
of the central government were divided among executive, legislative and
judicial branches, but the executive retained extraordinary powers for
use in emergency situations. All in all, the Colombian Constitution of
1832 was not so different from its Cdcuta predecessor.
William Marion Gibson, The Constitutions of Colombia (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1948),35-66, 109-51.
Many observers trace in embryonic form the alignments which
eventually became the Liberal and Conservative parties to dissension
between adherents of Simon Bolfvar and Francisco de Paula Santander
following Bolfvar's return to Gran Colombia from Peru in 1826,
divisions which were also visible in the Convention of 1831. That
convention had been called to reconstitute the government after the
break-up of Gran Colombia and the abortive dictatorship of Rafael
Urdaneta. Bolivarianos had lost most of their influence in that ill-
fated effort, leaving the field open to persons loyal to Santander.
Support for Santander as the first president of Colombia was nearly
unanimous, but factions loyal to General Jose Maria Obando and Jose
Ignacio de Marquez made the vice-presidential contest quite heated.
The clash of these factions presaged the political divisions of the
1830s and the eventual alignment of the Conservative and Liberal
Santander tried to impose Obando as his successor in the 1836
presidential election, which firmly placed Marquez at the head of the
opposition group. Vicente Azuero refused to support Obando, and
offered the Santanderistas a civilian option. Marquez won the divisive
election, which in the end was decided by the congress. The factions
which had emerged during the 1836 presidential campaign redoubled their
efforts for the 1838 vice-presidential and congressional elections.
Continuing controversy over the content of public education and the
extent of religious influence in New Granadan society gave this contest
a decidedly ideological character. Supporters of Santander
8 trepo Diario potico y military, 228.
Iestrepo, Diario politico y military, II, 228.
(progresistas) had set aside their differences in the wake of the
earlier defeat and prepared to oust Marquez loyalists (moderados), who
were supported by the church. Two political coalitions sought
electoral victory. Efforts of the two groups to enlarge their
electoral base included active recruitment of non-elite voters, which
for the first time brought artisans openly into the political process.
Both sides recognized the possible rewards for such efforts.
Suffrage rights were granted by the constitution to males over the age
of 21 (or married) who did not earn their subsistence as unskilled
manual laborers or domestic servants. Criminals and the mentally
insane were also barred from voting, as were those individuals who were
in default on debts to the nation. Independent craftsmen therefore
constituted an important segment of the eligible electorate.
Members of the church hierarchy, along with leading moderates,
organized La Sociedad Catolica in May 1838 in the hope of amplifying
support for candidates sharing their ideological leanings. Its
director was Ignacio Morales, and vice-director was Antonio Herrin.
The Society's Executive Council included a representative from the
Archbishopric, representatives from four religious orders, Pedro
Herrera Espada, Juan Madiedo, and Jose Felix Merizalde.10
The new group stressed the importance of morality and religion in
both state and society and regretted that many public officials were
Gibson, Constitutions of Colombia, 120; La Cr6nica Semenal,
April 13, 1832.
Ignacio Morales et al., "Invitacion que hace la Sociedad
Catolica de Bogota a los fieles de la America" (Bogota, May 10,
not stressing public moral order. The Society recognized the virtues
of President Marquez, but expressed fear for the introduction of men of
"irregular conduct" into public office: "Without an eminently religious
sentiment, it is not possible to implant the unique principles which
constitute the legitmacy of government."ll According to the leaders of
the organization, New Granadan society had to be protected against
foreign and atheistic ideas. They therefore aimed to counter the
tendency among the youth of the upper class to abandon the doctrines of
the church. The Society was vehemently opposed to the philosophies of
Bentham, Tracy, and Broussals that were being taught in the educational
system; utilitarian "love of pleasure" was unreservedly criticized.
According to its teachings, the proper education, together with votes
for Catholic representatives, would prevent the "infection" of such
ideas from spreading through the nation.12
Efforts by the church to participate openly in the support of
favorable candidates were not limited to Bogota. Catholic Societies
were also established in Call, Pasto, and Popayan. When the Catholic
organization was founded in Pasto, the editors of El Investigador
Catolico in Bogota claimed that it represented a genuine outpouring of
support for the church. They discredited allegations that its members
had been forced to join by official pressure.3
1 El Investigador Catolica, March 25, 1838.
Ibid., August 1, October 15, 1838; Morales et al.,
"Invitacion"; Jose Restrepo Posada, "La Sociedad Catolica de Bogota-
1838," Boletfn de Historia y Antiquidades, 43:499/500, 310-21.
13 rF Investigador Catolico, October 15, 1838.
While the Catholic Society in Bogota made no direct appeal to the
artisan class, the latter was undoubtedly a target of mobilization
efforts. Progressives appealed quite frankly to artisans for political
support. In their political mouthpiece, La Bandera Nacional, Lorenzo
Marfa Lleras, Florentino Gonzalez, and Santander claimed that
ministerial electors were generally clients of the president and thus
represented little more than empleomania, whereas progressive electors
were patriots who lived without having to "beg" from the executive.14
Moreover, ministerial voters were said to include the rank-and-file of
the military who would vote according to orders, since they could not
read. In June the paper suggested an electoral list of "honorable
artisans and laborers" who "lived by the sweat of their brows" and who
were only interested in the good of their country. Progressives did
not go so far as to support any of the potential artisan electors in
their official electoral list, but the appeal to craftsmen was
Santanderistas made a miserable showing in the elections. Of the
1,481 votes cast in Bogota, according to an unofficial tally, 1,356
went to ministerials, 80 to progressives, and 45 went to candidates
judged to be neutral.16 La Bandera Nacional blamed the loss on the
patronage power of the administration and church.17 For their part,
La Bandera Nacional, May 27, 1838. Supporters of President
Marquez were at the time referred to as "ministeriales," while the
Santander camp were labeled progresistas.
1 Ibid., June 3, 17, 1838.
El Argos, June 24, 1838.
La Bandera Nacional, June 24, 1838.
moderates claimed that the victory represented the will of Bogota's
voters. Administration supporters noted that despite efforts to
recruit artisans and mechanics to the santanderista cause by using
socially divisive language such as nobles and plebians, craftsmen had
favored the administration with their votes.8
Election observers on both sides noted the use of political
societies in the electoral contest. Moderates claimed that, on the
whole, activity by political societies was a positive contribution. 19
The opposition had an understandably different attitude. Progressives
argued that three groups had participated in the election--the
administration, the church, and themselves. The first two groups had
united, bringing to bear both governmental revenues and the church's
religious arsenal. In leveling allegations that the church had
exploited the pious support of the "popular masses," progressives were
forced to note that they were not criticizing religion, but rather
defending republican principles which opposed the political activity of
In order to overcome such obstacles in the future, the
progressives realized that they, too, must politically educate the
popular sectors. The initial vehicle for such education was La
Sociedad Democratica-Republicana de Artesanos i Laboradores
Progresistas de la Provincia de Bogota(SDRAL). It had been founded on
June 17, 1838, in the midst of the election process, but apparently did
El Argos, July 1, 1838.
La Bandera Nacional, June 24, July 1, 1838.
not take an active part in the campaign. Its objective was to
diffuse . useful knowledge . especially
that of politics and morality, so that citizens of
the republic can discharge and comply with their
rights21nd obligations with intelligence and
The Society was also to disseminate information on industry, economic
conditions, and political events to its members, who were said to
number over one hundred.
El Labrador i Artesano, the mouthpiece of the organization, began
publication in September. Its prospectus, probably written by Lleras,
argued that political customs had prevented the development of equality
in the nation, despite laws guaranteeing it. "Consequently, we want to
be permitted to acquire (equality), by placing our customs and moral
capacity in unison with our laws." 23 This would be accomplished by
"political instruction" of the
different classes of the state in the maintenance
of their interests, in the knowledge of their
public rights; moralizing their customs, showing
them the true philosophic road to the good, and
indent ying their interests with those of the
The by-laws of the Society stipulated four membership categories;
full (nato), instructor, honorary, and corresponding. Founding members
had to exercise a profession or mechanical art, or be dedicated to
2 Ibid., July 22, 1838.
El Labrador i Artesano, September 16, 1838.
agriculture in some manner. Other members were required only to
profess democratic-republican principles and to conduct themselves
properly. At least 189 people became founding members, and some 123
accepted honorary memberships.
Although the president of the organization, Isidor Jose Orjuela,
was a tinsmith, it seems that artisans had little control over the
direction of the Society. Upper-class progressives such as Lleras and
Juan Nepomuceno Vargas actually controlled it, and men of similar
background were predominant among its instructors, who included
Francisco Soto, Vicente Lombana, Jose Duque Gomez, Florentino Gonzalez,
Ezequiel Rojas, and Rafael Elisio Santander. Francisco de Paula
Santander, Jos6 Maria Mantilla, Antonio Obando, and Vicente Azuero were
all made honorary members.
The Democratic-Repubican Society sought to instill in its members
progressive political and social precepts, together with appropriate
moral training. It did so by means of publishing articles in the
Society's paper and by giving lectures to the organization, which
contained both utilitarian and republican messages. Vicente Azuero,
for example, lectured on the nature of representative government
established by the constitution. It was, he stated, designed to
further the common interest, not that of any specific group or family.
Azuero countered allegations of the "dangerous" ideological content of
progressivism by insisting that democratic liberties were preeminently
compatible with the church's value system.26 Ezequiel Rojas lectured on
Ibid. Membership lists are found in ibid., October 7, 14,
1838, January 20, 1839.
2 Ibid., November 4, 1838.
the science of morality, an address based directly upon the utilitarian
principle that happiness motivates human behavior. Correct conduct, he
explained, was based upon the need to provide for the good of the
family, or of those close to the individual. If one did not work or
were lazy, the ensuing hunger and vagrancy would plague both family and
society. Work, on the other hand, gave the individual the means to
pursue desires, provide for a family, and improve the general society.
The goodness that ensued was the essense of morality. Prayer, Rojas
reasoned, was the manner by which one thought about morality, by
pondering the course of action which would produce the most good and
Rafael Eliseo Santander was another speaker who attempted to
reconcile progressive morality with the role of religion in society.
Santander argued that the country's system of government contained
appropriate guarantees for legal equality, but that without a moral
society that objective would never be achieved. It was necessary to
moralize the population along evangelical lines for the general
advancement of the nation. His proposals suggested that the state
sponsor such moral education with the aid of the church, though without
intimating that the church should direct the program or renouncing his
own utilitarian convictions.28
These messages by progressive speakers were repeated in the
paper's articles and editorials of El Labrador y Artesano. One
constant theme was that since people were born with different talents
2 Ibid., November 11, 1838.
28 December 8, 1838.
Ibid., December 8, 1838.
and had differing levels of wealth and comfort, equality before the law
was all the more important to allow all persons to satisfy their needs
and desires without infringement upon the desires of others. Since
legislation alone did not guarantee such equality, it was necessary to
educate the "inferior classes" for political participation as a barrier
to establishment of an aristocratic government reminiscent of the
The Democratic-Republican Society contributed to political
education, but it also worked toward instilling patterns of hard work
and thrift among its members. Artisans and laborers were urge to
celebrate fewer festivals and to complete promptly their contracted
work. On several occasions craftsmen were warned that gambling was a
waste of time and money, and, since it added nothing to the general
happiness, should be abandoned. The initial editions of the paper also
included articles pertaining to industrial education. New techniques
for manufacturing sulfuric acid were described, as were methods to make
incombustible candles and to apply copper plating. A series of
articles by Santiago Umana described the cultivation and preparation of
flax and its oil. Occasionally employment opportunities, such as the
need for blacksmiths, masons, and carpenters to work on the church in
Zipaquira, were brought to the readers' attention.30
Specific public issues which warranted a progressive response were
analysed by Lleras and other leaders of the Society. In December the
Ibid., September 23, October 28, December 16, 23, 1838,
January 13, 1839.
Ibid., October 14, 21, 28, November 4, 18, 25, December 8, 16,
system of compulsive personal service on the government's behalf was
discussed. This holdover from colonial years required certain citizens
to give their labor to the state every year for public projects.
Although an 1824 law had attempted to correct abuses, Lleras noted that
inequalities in service still existed. Improvements on public
facilities such as roads and jails were clearly needed, but avoidance
of the work responsibility was rampant: a particularly notorious abuse
was said to be that of having servants fulfill one's work obligations,
and then not pay them for their labor. This issue touched upon artisan
class interests, but others included in the paper did not. For
example, the question of clerical celibacy occupied the paper's pages
in January and February 1839. Essentially it was argued that the
current system was immoral, because it led to repeated violations and a
lessening of public respect for the church's officials. Legalizing
priestly marriage would correct that immorality and enable clergy to
stand as positive examples of the marital institution.31
The progressive's effort to mobilize support for their
ideological orientations was not confined to the capital. In October
Lleras penned a letter to progressives throughout the country and urged
them to form organizations modeled after that of Bogota. In the letter
Lleras wrote that "instruction of the masses is the most essential
guarantee of popular governments." Without citizens who were aware of
and practiced their rights, the aristocracy dominated a country.
Lleras insisted that the teachings of like-minded societies would raise
Ibid., December 16, 1838, January 20, 27, February 3, 10, 24,
the level of the inferior classes and would help make social classes
more equal. Progressives in at least eight towns responded that they
had founded similar groups by the end of February 1839.32
Moves by progressives to recruit artisan support were countered by
supporters of the administration. A fictional account of a debate in a
craftsman's shop derided the progressive effort to mobilize artisans as
political allies. The owner of the shop had refused to join the SDRAL,
and in defense of his stance claimed that progressives only wanted
artisans to serve as a ladder for their electoral ambitions. If they
had a genuine interest in artisan political education, he asked, why
had it only begun in 1838? Santanderistas had dominated the capital's
political scene since the early 1820s. The article suggested that the
progressives' "unemployment" was the principal cause for their sudden
interest in artisans, rather than any real commitment to the needs of
After the June 1838 election, neither the Democratic-Repubican nor
the Catholic Societies engaged in activity other than political
education. In this, they differed greatly from political action
societies of the next decade, but like the latter, both tried to extend
their recruitment to other areas of the country. Significantly the
Catholic stronghold in the Southern Cauca Valley was the focus of the
Catholic Society, and the more "liberal" region of Santander was the
center of progressive activity.
3 Societies were founded in Villa de Leiva, Tunja, Gacheta,
Santa Marta, Cucuta, Soata, La Mesa, and Santa Rosa de Viterbo.
El Amigo del Pueblo, September 16, 1838.
It is noteworthy that both groups tried to instill into their
members principles of good citizenship with the end of ensuring order
and social harmony. Different ideological foundations directed their
efforts, but they shared a common destination. The Catholic Society
suggested that adherence to the dogma of the church, and submission of
self to proper teachings, would achieve a moral social order replete
with proper liberty. Progressives, on the other hand, placed their
faith in the ability of people to determine for themselves those
actions which brought them happiness; a mutual understanding of useful
actions would then guarantee social harmony and prosperity. By either
route, citizens would advance the welfare of the society as a whole.
Thus neither set of educational messages can be seen as subversive, or
as purposely agitating social divisions.
In April 1839 a petition was presented to the congress, signed by
343 artisans, which suggests the efforts by members of the church to
use this social class to its specific ends as it touched upon the
principal religious debates of the period. However, it is not clear
whether the petition was associated with the Catholic Society, because
many of the names of artisans listed as members of the SDRAL were
included on this document, which suggests that political boundaries had
not yet been firmly fixed among the tradesmen. The petition called for
a restriction of the use of Benthamite texts and other "impious books"
in education, in order not to corrupt the good customs of the Colombian
people. No ecclesiastical reform should be passed, according to the
petition's authors, without the consent of the church. Missionary
colleges should be established to proselytize among the unfaithful, and
a Seminary should be established for clerical education. It also asked
that the Jesuits be allowed to return to the country. The petition was
clearly aimed at convincing the legislators that the interests of the
church coincided with those of the state; it thus called on congress to
reverse many of the legislative measures instituted earlier by
Santander and his associates since the time of Gran Colombia.34
Rather than acting on the artisan's petition, in June 1839 the
congress ordered several minor convents of Pasto closed. The
subsequent pastuso revolt sparked the first of the major civil
conflicts of the nineteenth century. General Pedro Alcantara Herran
was able to subdue the rebels by August, but General Jose Marfa Obando
took advantage of the rebellion to declare himself in revolt in
protection of religion and federalism. Not until September 1840 did
the combined forces of Herran, Tomis Cipriano de Mosquera, and General
Jose Marfa Flores of Ecuador defeat Obando. In the meantime, other
areas of the country, generally those of a more progressive persuasion,
joined the revolt. President Marquez responded to the new wave of
insurrection by placing Vice-President General Domingo Caicedo in
control of the government and by allowing Herran and Mosquera to take
charge of the military operations. By mid-1842, finally, a troubled
peace descended upon the country.
The war demonstrated a frequent role played by artisans, that of
soldiers. The Constitution of 1832 stipulated that the National Guard
was the primary auxilary support of the Army in an emergency, and the
Guard was pressed into service in this conflict. Membership in the
AC, Senado, peticiones, 1839, XI, folios 79-86r; Bonifacio
Quijano et al., "H. H. senadores i representantes" (Bogot'a, April 16,
Guard was restricted to active citizens, so that artisans made up the
backbone of its force. Some sources indicate that three-quarters or
more of the Guard were artisans.35
Though Guard service was primarily in support of the
administration, artisan support was courted by progressives as well.
When the northern provinces revolted in late-1840, progressives in the
capital published several handouts which advised crasftsmen that the
revolt was against Marquez, and not against Bogota. Artisans therefore
had nothing to fear. The war, according to the handouts, had
originated from Obando's defense of religion, and from the government's
persecution of the same general for his alleged involvement in the
murder of Marshal Antonio Jose Sucre. Artisans were urged to unite
with the northern towns and demand an end to the fighting.36
The Guerra de los Sumpremos, as it came to be called, is generally
recognized as a major factor in sharpening the political divisions
which had become visible in the 1830s. Personal antagonisms, wartime
animosity, and ideological differences combined to define more clearly
the alignment of political forces. The moderate (ministerial) victors,
who would in time form the base of the Conservative party, took
advantage of their victory to reverse some of the legislative "errors"
of the santanderistas. Progressives, who on their part constituted the
foundations of the Liberal party, were either humiliated by defeat as
in the case of Obando, or were forced to bide their time until the
Gibson, Constitutions of Colombia, 145; Constitucional de
Cundinamarca, June 10, 1832; El Dia, July 17, 1842.
'36 Boletfn Liberal, October 13, 1840; Un Albanil, "Artesanos
laborisos de Bogota" (Bogota, 1840).
advent of more favorable political conditions. After the death of
Santander in 1840, Azuero in 1844, and Soto in 1846, the progressive
revival would be directed by a new generation of political actors.
For the time being, however, ministerial ruled the country.
Their ideological preferences can be seen in the Constitution of 1843
and in several other areas. The revised constitution enhanced the
power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and the
judiciary. While expanded, executive powers were also more clearly
defined than had previously been the case. Meanwhile, suffrage
requirements remained essentially the same.
Ministerials naturally used their strengthened political position
to reverse Santander's educational legislation. In 1840 they decreed
that teachers could select their own textbooks, weakening the 1826 Plan
of Studies. Bentham's The Principles of Universal Legislation was
banned as a university text by Mariano Ospina Rodrfguez's 1842
educational plan (implemented in 1844).3 Ospina's campaign to purge
New Granada of utilitarian and other "immoral" tendencies included
inviting the Jesuits to return to Colombian soil. They were to serve,
in J. Leon Helguera's words, as a "corps of conservative shock
troops."39 In the end, their effectiveness toward obtaining Ospina's
goal was extremely questionable, but there is no doubt that the "Jesuit
Joseph Leon Helguera, "The First Mosquera Adminstration in New
Granada" (Ph. D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, 1958), 54-
38 hn Lane Young, "The University Reform in New Granada, 1820-
1850" (Ph. D. dissertation, Columbia Univeristy, 1970), 37-38, 78, 106-
Helguera, "First Mosquera Administration," 34.
question" gave rise to extreme political controversy in the years after
their arrival in 1844.
While moderates were attempting to implement their program for
Colombia, one of the first statements which reflected the sentiments of
artisans, rather than their political mobilizers, was an 1842 response
to an article published in El Dfa, a leading ministerial newspaper,
that praised the effect of foreign artisans had had upon native
craftsmen. It held that despite initial resistance, foreign artisans
had built a solid reputation in Bogoti, and had done much to improve
the arts of the city. The thrust of the article was to warn against
opposition among craftsmen to the arrival of Jesuit craft instructors,
whom the author hoped would have the same beneficial influence as had
"Some Native Artisans" responded in the same paper by admitting
that, when foreign artisans arrived, native craftsmen had indeed been
alarmed. This was not due to the competitive threat represented by
foreigners, but rather to their formal status under the laws of the
nation. While native tradesmen were obligated to fulfill military
obligations, in either the Army or the National Guard, foreigners were
exempt from that obligation. Thus they did not lose work to military
service, and they enjoyed more time to pursue their crafts. The
authors claimed that during the War of the Supremes a substantial
majority of Bogota's craftsmen had been pressed into military service,
while foreigners continued to practice their trades. Moreover,
40 El May 26, 1842.
El Dfa, May 26, 1842.
foreigners were exempt from the multiple taxes which burdened the
native. In short, they were
a privileged class that came to the Republic to
enjoy all its advantages, without any
responsibilities, while at the same time the other
part of this same class had to suffer all of the
resonsibilit s, pay all the taxes, and face all
The article intimated that foreign craftsmen acted like caballeros,
enriched themselves at the expense of native producers, and returned to
their own countries without having contributed anything to
This exchange on the subject of foreign artisans did not presage
an immediate increase in artisan political involvement, even though the
1844 presidential election was surprisingly disputed. General Mosquera
was supported by ministerials who recalled the seeming ineffectiveness
of civilian President Mirquez, whereas ministerials who distrusted
military men (especially Mosquera) sponsored Rufino Cuervo as a
candidate. Opponents of the government, while subdued, lent their
support to General Eusebfo Borrero, as did associates of the dissident
ministerial Julio Arboleda. In the end, Mosquera polled 762 electoral
votes, Borrero 475 and Cuervo 250, while the remaining 177 votes were
scattered among numerous minor candidates. Congress was forced to
select the president as no candidate had received a majority total.
They opted for Mosquera, the clear preference among the voters.3
Ibid., July 17, 1843.
42 El Dia, July 17, 1843.
Helguera, "First Mosquera Administration," 37-38; Bushnell,
"Elecciones presidenciales colombianas, 1825-1856," in Compendio de
estadisticas historical de Colombia, ed. by Miguel Urrutia Montoya and
Mario Arrubla (Bogota: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1970), 249-
A primary characteristic of nineteenth-century Colombian politics
was the struggle for power between the Conservative and Liberal
parties. This struggle led directly, as has been seen, to the
recruitment of artisans as potential supporters of one or the other
group. It is notable that the initial participation by artisans in the
political process did not originate with craftsmen but instead with
party or factional military leaders. Organizations which sought
artisan electoral support in this manner were present throughout the
century and tended to be short-lived, generally disbanding after the
election had been decided. To be sure, parties not only sought votes,
but also attempted to convince tradesmen of the correctness of their
party ideology and programs through educational efforts directed at
artisan voters. The attempt to instill principles of political theory
among craftsmen would later bear unanticipated fruit.
A rigid ideological orientation did not develop among politically
active artisans in the 1830s or early 1840s, as suggested by the fact
that many of the same names appeared as members of the SDRAL and as
signers of the 1839 petition. It seems, in fact, that artisan
interests and attitudes did not neatly fit the constraints of either
party's ideology. As a result, in the years to come the ideological
orientation of artisan organizations shared features of both parties,
and often tradesmen aligned with third party groups. In the period
immediately following, however, the most striking feature of artisan
political activity was to be the sheer increase in its scale and
importance within the general political process.
ARTISANS AND THE LIBERAL REFORMS, 1845-54
The majority of the liberal reforms were conducted during the
presidential administrations of Tomas Cipriano de Mosquera (1845-49)
and Jose Hilario Lopez (1849-53). Many of the reforms passed in this
era had been proposed in one form or another since the 1820s, but most
had been forestalled by ideological opposition or by liberal
pragmatism. The most active proponents of reform have been called the
Generation of 1849, men who were trained under the educational system
instituted by Santander. The experience of the independence movement
that had moderated both Santander and his associates did not, however,
tarnish the liberalism of these men. They undertook reforms with
idealistic zeal and faith in what they could make of the republic.
The young liberals, however, did not initiate the reform process.
The undoctrinaire Mosquera introduced numerous programs designed to
improve the nation's physical infrastructure, to reform its fiscal
apparatus, and to foster growth of export agriculture, which included
lowering tariff rates. Mosquera's liberalization of the nation's
economic system splintered his ministerial supporters, and led
craftsmen to organize against perceived dangers to their well-being.
Artisans in 1847 formed La Sociedad de Artesanos de Bogota in an effort
to reverse his tariff legislation. The Society worked with the new
generation of liberals to support the "progressive" Jose Hilario Lopez
for the 1849 presidential election. Although the artisan/liberal
relationship had serious ideological flaws, their cooperation expanded
during the first part of the Lopez administration.
With the aid of the Sociedad Democratica de Artesanos, young
liberals continued the economic liberalization begun by Mosquera and
attempted to redirect the nation's social and political orientation as
well. They adopted measures which finally eliminated slavery, hastened
the elimination of Indian resguardos, expelled the Jesuits, formally
separated the church and state, and began political decentralization.
These and many other reforms were incorporated into the Constitution of
Reactions to these reforms were far more violent than had been the
case for Mosquera's reforms. Conservatives in the Cauca Valley staged
an unsuccessful revolt in 1851. The Liberal party splintered into a
wing of radical reformers (gl6gotas) and moderate reformers
(draconianos). Artisans of the Democratic Society became disillusioned
with the radicals when they could not secure tariff protection and with
the general direction of the reform process. After 1852 they joined
with draconians in an attempt to curb the more radical reforms.
Failure of that effort led to an artisan-military-draconian revolt in
April 1854. The 17 de abril sought to halt the reform tide and return
the country to previous constitutional norms. The movement was
defeated in December, 1854 and hundreds of artisans were forcibly
removed from bogotano political activity by their exile to Panama.
La Sociedad de Artesanos, 1845-49
Mosquera's economic policy was controversial from the beginning.
His first Minister of Finance, General Juan Clfmaco Ordonez, promptly
resigned due to conflicts with Mosquera regarding the proper direction
of Colombian economic policy. Lino de Pombo, whose economic beliefs
tended to favor freer trade and less governmental economic
restrictions, replaced Ord6nez on December 29, 1845. During Pombo's
brief service widespread fiscal reform was initiated. Legislation
credited to Pombo's guidance included the bill which transferred
control of the government's Ambalema tobacco monopoly to private hands,
repeal of the tax on gold exports, and adoption of a new monetary
system. Pombo also helped to found a Caja de Ahorros for the Province
of Bogota before he too resigned.1
Mosquera next named Florentino Gonzalez to the cabinet vacancy.
Gonzalez rapidly accelerated the liberalization of the economy. His
vision of Colombia's economic future was described to the Congress of
1847 in "probably the most significant statement of purpose and plan
ever made by a granadino finance minister."2 Gonzalez told Congress
In a country rich in mines and agricultural
products that could support a considerable and
profitable export commerce . laws ought not be
proposed that turn development of industries away
Helguera, "First Mosquera Administration," 247-48; Safford,
"Commerce and Enterprise," 115.
2 elguera, "Frst Mosquera Administration," 326.
Helguera, "First Mosquera Administration," 326.
from the occupations of agriculture and mining
. those that can produce more advantages
. . We ought to offer Europe raw materials in
order to facilitate exchanges and the profit they
bring with them, and to furnish the consumer, at a
comfortable price, manufactured products.
Included in his visionary statement were proposals for fiscal
reorganization, further currency reform, and the lowering of import
duties, especially those on textiles. The long sheltered artisan class
would be forced to participate in more "productive" and "profitable"
The cobbler will learn to lay bricks, the tailor to
pole boats or to fish, the blacksmith to farm; and
while they learn? And if they do not learn? They
Artisans from both Bogota and Medellfn reacted to rumors of a
tariff revision by presenting petitions to Congress which constituted
the most significant artisan-initiated political statements up to that
time. The Bogota petition protested proposed tariff reductions on
items such as "ready-made clothing, shoes, tools, and other
manufactures" which would damage the country's industry and disemploy
thousands who "foment the national wealth" by manual trades.
Shoemakers and mechanics were already suffering thanks to existing
tariffs, they argued; further cuts would cause their ruin. "Would it
Anibal Galindo, Historia econ6mica i
estadsftica de la hacienda national desde la
colonia hasta nuestros dias (Bogota: Imprenta de
Nicolas Ponton i Compania, 1874), 56. See ibid.,
56-60, for the full speech.
Jose Maria Madiedo, Ideas fundamentals de
los partidos politicos de la Nueva Granada (Bogota:
Editorial Incunables, 1985), 31-32.
be credible that the same Government that we defended," the artisans
asked, "would now propose to ruin the useful and laboring class of
society, rewarding us thus for our patriotism and our decisions (to
support) the cause of legality?" The petitioners wrote that the nation
was not so wealthy or so industrially advanced as to compete on an
equal footing with Europeans. Artisans did not call for a return to
Spanish exclusionary policies, but only for maintenance of the current
duties.5 The petition from Medellfn expressed similar concerns.
The Bogota petition was signed by 219 individuals, all of whom
seem to have been artisans or mechanics. They claimed to represent
more than 2,000 families in the capital who would be hurt by the
proposed legislation. Agustrn Rodriguez, a tailor and the first to
sign the document, would become the first director of the Society of
Artisans. Other signers who had played, or who would play a role in
artisan politics include: Jose Maria Vega, Francisco Londono, Hilario
Novoa, Narcisco Garai, and Rafael Tapfas. Many signers had been
members of the SDRAL or had signed the "books" petition of 1839. This
petition represented the marshalled efforts of the more politically
important artisans of the city.
Although it was reluctant to approve the tariff proposal, most
likely due to fears of lost revenues, congress passed the measure,
opening the door to freer trade with the Law of June 14, 1847. The new
AC, Senado, Proyectos Negados, 1846, V, folios 118-26. The
petition was also published as a handout. See Agustin Rodrfguez et
al., "H. R. senadores" (Bogota, May 5, 1846).
AC, Camara, Informes de Comisiones, 1847, X, folios 229-241r.
Ibid., Senado, Proyectos Negados, 1846, V, folios 118-26.
tariff schedule reduced rates by about 30%, abolished all restrictive
duties on transit, and combined previous multiple duties into a single
tax levied at a maximum of 25% of the object's value.
While frustrated in their attempts to block the new law, artisans
had by no means given up the fight. In October 1847 the jefe politico
of Bogota received a letter signed by Ambrosio Lopez, Agustfn
Rodriguez, Dr. Cayetano Leiva, Fransisco Torres Hinestrosa, and
Francisco Londono informing him of the formation of La Sociedad de
Artesanos de Bogota. At its first meeting in early November, the
Society unanimously selected Agustin Rodriguez as its first director,
Cayetano Leiva, vice-director, and Martfn Plata, secretary. The Board
of Directors consisted of Jose Maria Solano, Francisco Torres
Hinestrosa, Francisco Londono, Pedro Aguilar, Rafael Lasso, Ambrosio
Lopez, Bartolome Andrade, and Antonio Chaves. At its inception, the
group was quite small, numbering only 10-15 principal members, all but
two of whom were artisans.0
The importance of artisans' economic interests in the creation of
the Society was later emphasized by Rodriguez
Galindo, Historia economic, 60-61; Republica de Colombia,
Codificacion national de todas las leyes de Colombia desde el ano de
1821, hecha conform a la ley 13 de 1912, 34 vols. (Bogota: Imprenta
Nacional, 1924- ), XII, 214-62. (Hereafter CN.); Ospina Vasquez,
Industria i proteccidn, 208-14.
Hugo Latorre Cabal, Mi novelas Apuntes autobiograficas de Alonso
Ldpez (Bogota: Ediciones Mito, 1961), 26.
10 Agustin Rodrfguez, Al director i miembros de la Sociedad
Democratic (Bogota: np, 1849), 1, 2; Sociedad de Artesanos, Reglamento
para su regimen interior i economic (Bogota: Imprenta de Nicolas
Gomez, 1847), 16. Other members of the board included Camilo Cardenas,
Dr. Evanjelista Duran, Jose Benito Miranda, Jose Maria Vega, Francisco
Garzon, Gregorio Lugo, and Hilarlo Novoa.
When the idea was happily conceived to found and
organize a Society composed of the artisans of the
capital, it was decided not only to focus their
patriotic sentiments, virtues, and loyalties, but
also to express the lamentable consequences of the
barbaric law...lowering import duties and allowing
introduction of foreign-made pr oucts crafted
equally as well in the country.
As the law of June 14 was said to attack directly the artisans'
occupations and welfare, the Society was determined to make
representations to the legislature to bring about its reform. The
Society also claimed to look forward to the coming presidential
elections and the "light of republicanism," which it thought would
favor their interests.12
By-laws approved on November 18 described the purpose of the
organization as being "to promote the advancement of the arts and other
areas that can help our well-being." Membership in the Society was open
to artisans, agriculturalists, and to aficionados of the trades.13
Among its specific goals were: steady work for all members; obedience
and respect for the government; and various forms of instruction for
the membership, to include democratic theory, military skills,
principles of justice, and religious training.4 Obligations of the
members included payment of a three real fee each month, aid to needy
11Rodrfguez, Al director, 1.
Sociedad de Artesanos, Reglamento.
1Reglamento de la Sociedad de Artesanos, Bogota, 1848. As cited
by Jaramillo Uribe, "Las Socledades Democriticas de Artesanos y la
coyuntura polftica y social colombiana de 1848," in La personalidad
historica de Colombia y otros ensayos (Bogota, Editorial Andes, 1977),
members, and the use of suffrage rights only with the advice of the
Society. Members were cautioned not to present discourses disobedient
to the laws of the land or to censure legal authorities, and they were
to avoid personal, political, or religious issues.5 Despite this ban,
there is little evidence that the Society discussed anything else.
Opposition to the Society quickly developed in response to a
handout circulated by Ambrosio Lopez in which he claimed that the
Society was designed to help an oppressed and threatened class. The
editor of the Catholic El Clamor de la Verdad refuted Lopez's claim,
stating that the secret society would do no more than serve as a
machine for someone's electoral purposes--it would be used and then
forgotten. The editor commented that the group appeared to be an enemy
of Christ, based on a reference by Lopez to the banned book by Felicite
de Lamennais. Lopez immediately denied any secret intentions on the
part of the organization. He noted that the Society was entirely open
and had only the laudable objective of uniting the artisans. El
Clamor de la Verdad then softened its opposition to the Society,
stating that its original objection had only been to Lamennais's book.
The paper praised the openness of the organization but reminded
artisans to be on their guard because of the upheavals of the times.18
Sociedad de Artesanos, Reglamento.
El Clamor de la Verdad, November 14, 1847.
17 Fl Dia, December 11, 1847.
18 El Clamor de la Verdad December 26, 1847.
El Clamor de la Verdad, December 26, 1847.
The Society had some 300 members by April of 1848 according to
Agustin Rodrfguez, but he also reported that it was often difficult to
meet the 20-person quorum necessary for a meeting. This changed,
however, after May 4, 1848, when the group met to consider which
candidate to back in the June presidential election, which paralleled
that of 1836 in its importance for political alignment.19
Mosquera had not proven to be the doctrinaire ministerial that
many had hoped, and by opening the Pandora's box of reform, his
administration had splintered the party. At least four presidential
candidates came from the divided ministerial ranks. Foremost was
Mosquera's vice-president, Rufino Cuervo. Cuervo attracted the support
of more conservative party members, but he did not appeal to moderates,
who instead favored Joaquin Jose Gori, who had led internal party
opposition to Mosquera. Gori opposed the new tariff, primarily on the
grounds that it would cause a large revenue loss for the government,
and consequently was supported by many artisans. Two generals, Eusebio
Borrero and Joaqufn Barriga, also sought the presidency. The leading
progressive was Florentino Gonzalez, who had been at the group's
forefront since the death of Vicente Azuero in 1844. His service in
the Mosquera administration alienated potential progressive support
however, and Gonzalez was forced to enlist the service of ministerial
moderates such as Lino de Pombo and Julio Arboleda.
With all these men drawing support from the ministerial ranks,
progressives selected war hero General Jose Maria Lopez as a unity
candidate. As a military leader L6pez calmed the fears of those
19 Rodruez, A director, 3; El Avso, October 8, 1848.
Rodrfquez, Al director, 3; El Aviso, October 8, 1848.
remembering the ineffective peace-keeping efforts of Marquez ten years
earlier. Lopez was closely identified with the exiled General Jose
Marfa Obando, but he did not share Obando's stigma of having revolted.
Lopez too was favored by many artisans, to whom he promised tariff
In was during this period that young liberals of the Generation of
1849 began to speak at the Society's meetings and to assume an
important role in its deliberations.20 Some speakers presented the
ideas of European thinkers such as Saint Simon, Proudhon, and Louis
Blanc, or of the revolution that was occurring then in France, which
has led some historians to argue that the programs of the Society and
these French thinkers shared many common points. Such a conclusion
needs to be qualified, as will be pointed out in the conclusion to this
chapter.21 In addition to hearing "socialist" doctrines preached, the
Society listened to its guests' opinions on the various candidates.
Francisco Javier Zaldua spoke in favor of the progressive Lopez; Jose
de Obaldia praised Jose Maria Obando; and Ezequiel Rojas also pledged
his endorsement of Lopez, claiming that the general would return
Colombia to the legality of the days of Santander.2
Ambrosio Lopez issued many of the invitations. Ambrosio
Lopez, El desegano o confidencias de Ambrosio L6pez, primer director de
la Sociedad de Artesanos de Bogota, denominada hoi "Sociedad
Democratic" escrito para conocimiento de sus consocios (Bogota:
Imprenta de Espinosa, por Isidoro Garcia Ramfrez, 1851), 1-5.
For example, see Jaramillo Uribe, "La influencia de los
romanticos frances y de la revolucion de 1848 en el pensamiento
politico colombiano del siglo XIX," in La personalidad historico de
Colombia y otros ensayos, 181-201.
Latorre Cabal, Mi novel, 72.
The Society's election committees reported their findings to the
membership on May 15. Francisco Londono, now director of the Society,
personally favored Joaqufn Jose Gori, but a lengthy discussion led to
an agreement to support Lopez. Their adherence centered on his
demonstrated capacity to preserve the peace of the country.
What other thing can be more important to us than
peace, order, and liberty, whose benefits provide
us the free exercise of our work, the development
of our industry, the happiness of our h9nes, and
the tranquility of our domestic hearth?
The Society made no mention of LOpez's political program, only that he
represented liberal principles and order.
The decision to support Lopez was reaffirmed at the June 10
session, attended by some 400 people. Acting on a proposal by Ambrosio
Lopez and Jose Maria Vergara Tenorio, the Society voted almost
unanimously to work for Lopez's election. 2It accordingly appealed to
artisans of the Province of Bogota, acclaiming Lopez as a fighter for
liberty, a soldier of the people, and a Catholic democrat. "Citizen
General" Lopez was said to have "learned republican principles in the
most sublime evangelical maxims of Christianity, and would make real
the brilliant democratic theories and holy dogmas of equality." It was
argued that he would eliminate laws which favored the privileged and
speculators. The Society's cause was said to be that of the people,
which was triumphing in Europe and America and, with Lopez, would
La America, June 4, 1848.
triumph also in Colombia. (The influence of young liberals can be
clearly seen in the language of this appeal.)
Lopez was not the only candidate favored by artisans, however. As
early as April 8, an author claiming to be a painter began a series of
letters to the editors of El Dfa describing the various candidates.
Lopez was rejected as being too susceptible to outside forces and was
said to be unlikely to sustain the dignity of the office. Gonzalez was
dismissed as a political novice. General Barriga drew mild praise from
the painter, but not as a viable candidate. Rufino Cuervo was
described as a man who spoke differently to all peoples in a courtly
manner unbecoming a republican. Joaqufn Jose Gorl, on the other hand,
was said to be preeminently fit for the role of a republican president.
He was described as dignified, experienced, a moderate man of laws, and
one who could direct the nation to rational progress. He was not,
according to the author, the candidate of Mosquera, an identification
which all candidates sought to avoid in this election.27 Another letter
signed "Some true artisans" also supported the Gori candidacy. It
railed against military candidates, most notoriously Mosquera,
insisting that their insolence only brought misery and war to the
country's people. Gori by contrast was said to be an honorable
El Aviso, June 18, 1848. A list of presidential electors
favored by the organization was published which included the names of
the leading liberals of the capital, as well as numerous artisans.
Artisans proposed from the barrio of Catedral included Martfn Plata,
Jose Marfa Vergara Tenorio, Evanjelista Duran, and Rudecindo Suner;
from San Victorino, Carlos Martin, Francisco Londono, Ambrosio Lopez
and Francisco Torres Hinestrosa; and from the barrio of Las Nieves,
Pedro A. Castillo and Ramon Groot. Ibid.
27 El D April 8, 22, 29, May 6, 13, 24, 1848.
El Dia, April 8, 22, 29, May 6, 13, 24, 1848.
liberal, who would calmly tolerate opposing beliefs; more than a man of
a party, he was a candidate who represented all of the people.28
Inevitably the artisans supporting Gori took issue with the
Society's support of Lopez, cautioning potential voters not to be
misled by promises that L6pez would repeal Mosquera's tariff
legislation and would deny entry into the country of foreign artisans.
After all, one handout reminded its readers, such powers were
constitutionally reserved for the congress and not the president.
Artisans were cautioned not to put faith in men whose interests were
opposite to their own, who laughed at the artisans in private and who
would abandon them when they were no longer needed. The handout ended
with the prophetic phrase: "Time will disillusion you."29 Another pro-
Gori letter alleged that artisans comprised only one-tenth of the
Society's 200 members. Even those artisans were described as being
manipulated by outside forces, while the few craftsmen who did
understand the situation were said to be resigning from the
organization. Even Agustin Rodriguez reportedly handed in his
resignation, only to have it rejected.30
The Society formally rebutted these charges. Its board of
directors protested insinuations that artisans were unable to make
political assessments by themselves. They could, and would, refuse to
be misled by individuals who only wanted to divide and exploit the
artisan class. A "great majority" of the organization's members was
Ibid., June 7, 1848.
29 "A los artesanos de Bogota" (Bogota, nd).
30 El Dia, May 31, 1848.
said to be supporting Lopez.31 Interestingly, the Society's response
used the word members instead of artisans--and said nothing about the
defection of Rodriguez, who was at the time on the conservative
electoral list for Gori.
When the presidential election finally took place, no candidate
obtained a majority. In the nation as a whole, Lopez led the count
with 725 electoral votes, Gori garnered 384, and Cuervo totalled 304;
other candidates, mostly ministeriales, shared 276 votes. Together
ministerial candidates received the greatest number of votes, but the
election clearly demonstrated the deep fissures in their ranks. Of the
242 votes in the Province of Bogota, Lopez won 102, Gori 95, Cuervo 27,
and 18 votes were garnered by others. Despite the efforts of the
Society of Artisans in mobilizing support for Lopez, he fared worse in
the capital than he did in its province; Gori tallied 31 votes,
L6pez 12, Cuervo 8, and Mariano Ospina Rodriguez one.3
3 La America, June 18, 25, 1848.
32 El Nacional, June 11, 1848.
David Bushnell, "Elecciones presidenciales colombianas, 1825-
1856," in Compendio de estadisticas historical de Colombia (Bogot',
1970), 258-59, 265; El Nacional, June 11, 1848; El Dia, June 28, July
1, 19, 1848. Twenty-nine of Gori's votes came from electors in the
parrochial districts of Catedral, San Victorino, and Santa Barbara,
while it appears that L6pez won the nine votes from Las Nieves. A
curious change in the first and final electoral counts merits mention.
In the first announcement, Agustin Rodriguez, on the conservative list,
and the artisan Jenaro Rufz, a progressive elector, both artisans were
named as winning electors. Their names were absent from the final
list; this happened to only one other of the thirty-one electors from
Bogotd. El Dia, June 28, July 29, 1848. The Society reportedly spent
800 pesos on its campaign effort. The the money was recovered by a 20
de julio festival, a 250 peso gift from Julian Gomez, and a 200 peso
donation from Ambrosio L6pez. Cabal LaTorre, Mi novela, 35.
In Londono's October report on his term as the Society's director,
he called the victory in Las Nieves a "splendid triumph." He claimed
that fraudulent voting had denied liberals a win in Santa Barbara and
that liberal victories in the other two barrios were prevented by
reprecussions from an incident on June 13.3 Yet these results clearly
show the strength of the Gori candidacy in Bogota and, when coupled
with various pro-Gori announcements in the press, suggest that artisans
in Bogota were not completely swayed by the Society's electioneering.
The artisan alliance with the young liberals who backed Lopez was far
from secure even at this early date. Nonetheless, the Society of
Artisans had demonstrated its potential as a political action group, a
role which would be expanded in the coming years.
The Society also participated in local politics. In the December
1848 election for a new cabildo, 69 progressives were elected out of a
total of 166. Five members of the Society were seated: Ambrosio Lopez,
Cayetano Leiva, Juan Evanjelista Duran, Francisco Torres Hinestroza,
and Francisco Visquez. Conservatives assessed these elections, which
were quite heated, as proof of the progressives' unpopularity among the
citizens, as they were unable to obtain a majority.3
El Aviso, October 8, 1848. On that day students and artisans
rejoicing a verdict of innocent against several newspaper editors who
had been accused of libeling the president were threatened with
violence by the president. Only calming advice prevented Mosquera from
using force against the celebrators. Helguera, First Mosquera
Administration, 234-37; Helguera, "Tomis Cipriano de Mosquera as
President," SELA, 25:1 (June 1981), 12. See El Progreso and La America,
both June 18, 1848, for opposing interpretations of the day's
35onal December 25, 1848.
El Nacional, December 25, 1848.
Meanwhile, political tension was rising in anticipation of the
selection of the president by the congress in March 1849. One paper
claimed that a "certain" group of people were trying to spread the idea
among the pueblo that an aristocracy existed in Colombia, one that
should be ended just as it had been in France. The aim of such
propaganda, the author wrote, was to agitate the artisans, because in
fact no blooded, commercial, or political aristocracy existed.
Artisans were warned of the motivations behind such propaganda, and
reminded that, even if craftsmen had not yet been elected to high
office, that was due to their lack of education, not the system's
rigidity.36 Ambrosio L6pez responded that artisans could see perfectly
well that an aristocracy of politicians did exist which lived off
public monies and welfare. Insulting the artisans' intelligence did
not, L6pez concluded, contribute to public tranquility.37
Beginning in mid-February 1849, the Society held meetings almost
daily to prepare an election strategy. The agreed upon approach "was
to frighten the weak (members of Congress) and do nothing more...."38
El Aviso, January 11, 1849.
El Patriota Imparcial, March 1, 1850. It is difficult to
determine who led the preparations for the elections. Both Ambrosio
L6pez and Emeterio Heredia later claimed responsibility; others,
however, contend that the locksmith Miguel Leon directed the Society's
plans; still others believe that young liberals were in charge of its
maneuvers. Lopez, El desengano, 23; Lopez, El triunfo sobre la
serpiente roja, cuyo asunto es del dominio de la nacion (Bogota:
Editorial Espinosa, 1851), 10; Emeterio Heredia, Contestacion al
cuaderno titulado "El desengano o confidencias de Ambrosio L6pez etc."
por El Presidente que fue de la Sociedad de Artesanos El 7 de Marzo de
1849 (Bogotd: Imprenta de N'cleo Liberal, 1851), 41-45; Restrepo,
Historia de la Nueva Granada, II, 102; Angel and Jose Rufino Cuervo,
Vida de Rufino Cuervo y noticias de su 6poca 2 vols. (Bogota:
Biblioteca Popular de Cultura Colombiana, Prensas de la Biblioteca
Nacional, 1946), II, 126-28; La Civilizaci6n, December 27, 1849.
On March 1, the Society appointed a committee to ask the governor of
the province to provide arms to members so that they might serve as a
standing militia, ready to defend the country's republican institutions
at a moment's notice. The arms were denied to the Society, but it was
reported that they purchased all the pistols, knives, powder, and
ammunition in the capital. While the credibility of this report is
doubtful, it does illustrate the anxiety aroused by the Society and its
plans for the 7 de marzo.
Anxiety was not calmed when a group of artisans entered the
congress on March 2 and shouted down conservative speakers, an action
which led to their expulsion.40 Such activities, In fact, recalled to
many minds the incident that had occurred a year earlier in Caracas,
Venezuela, when the Venezuelan Congress was invaded by a government-
inspired mob. In the attack on congress of January 24, 1848, several
deputies and members of the guard were killed or wounded, bringing to
an end congressional resistance to President Jose Tadeo Monagas.
Mosquera prepared for similar disturbances in Bogota. The 500-man
Fifth Battalion was placed on alert and charged with maintaining order.
On the night before the selection, cannons filled with grape were
placed at key intersections of the city.4
La Civilizacidn, January 10, 1850; Restrepo, Historia de la
Nueva Granada, II, 102.
Cuervo and Cuervo, Vida de Rufino Cuervo, 127.
Latorre Cabal, Mi novel, 24; Isacc F. Holton, New Granada:
Twenty Months in the Andes (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers,
The morning of the seventh broke clear and sunny. Congress was
scheduled to open at 10:00 a. m., but long before a large crowd had
occupied the spacious church of Santo Domingo where the selection would
be held. First to enter were the artisans, next the goristas, then the
cuervistas, and finally the students, who sat nearest the congressmen.
The various sides were said to be about equally represented. A barrier
of heavy tables separated the audience, estimated at 1,600 people, from
the congressmen. The session opened on time, and the voting began.
At the end of the first round of voting, both L6pez and Cuervo had
received 37 votes, and Gori 10, which removed him from the contest. In
the second round, Cuervo improved his total to 42, Lopez to 40, and two
votes were blank. At this point many people in the crowd thought that
Cuervo had won. A tumult swept the audience that was calmed only when
Jose de Obaldia leaped to the top of a table, shouting "Todavfa no hay
elecciones." When order was restored, the third round of voting began.
Due to insistent shouts by the audience it took over two hours to
complete. At its conclusion, L6pez had 42 votes, Cuervo 39, and now
three votes were blank. The last vote was that of Mariano Ospina
Rodriguez, which according to traditional accounts read: "I vote for
General Jos6 Bilario Lopez so that the deputies will not be murdered."
At this time, about 3:00 p. m., the spectators were expelled from the
church. The crowd, now swollen to 4,000, waited outside in the rain,
which had begun between the second and third ballots. At 5:00 p. m. it
was announced that the fourth round had resulted in the same talley as
42 Jose Marfa Cordovez Moure, Reminiscenicias de Santa Fe de
Bogota, 9 vols. (Bogota: La Cruz, 1910), III, 343-46.