Francisco de Paula Santander Biography

President (non-U.S.), General (1792–1840)
Francisco de Paula Santander joined Simón Bolívar to end Spain's colonial rule in South America. He later became president of New Granada (now Colombia).


Francisco de Paula Santander was born on April 2, 1792, in Rosario de Cúcuta, New Granada (present-day Colombia). He helped Simón Bolívar fight to end Spain's rule in South America. Santander was exiled after objecting to Bolívar's dictatorship, but returned to the republic of New Granada to serve as its president from 1833 to 1837. He was 48 when he died in Bogotá on May 6, 1840.

Early Life and Fight for Independence

Francisco José de Paula Santander y Omaña was born on April 2, 1792, in Rosario de Cúcuta, New Granada (now Colombia). As a teenager, he went to Bogotá to study law, but soon joined the fight for freedom for Spain's colonies in South America. Santander played an important role in 1819's Battle of Boyacá, during which South American forces decisively prevailed. Following this victory, independence leader Simón Bolívar formed a provisional government and named Santander a vice president.

Role in Gran Colombia

The Republic of Colombia (also known as Gran Colombia or Great Colombia) was officially created at 1821's Congress of Cúcuta. Bolívar remained president, but absented himself from governing in order to lead the fight against the remaining Spanish forces. This meant that Santander, who had been elected vice president, served as the republic's acting president from 1821 to 1827.

Santander governed well, but the republic faced difficulties. It was made up of the present-day nations of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador, and some of these regions resented the republic's central government. When General José Antonia Páez led a rebellion in Venezuela in 1826, Santander wanted Pàez to face charges. Given that Pàez had the support of much of Venezuela's population, Bolívar mended fences with Pàez instead, maintaining Gran Colombia's unity. This decision dismayed and angered Santander.

Bolívar then called for a national convention, hoping to sanction a stronger executive role for himself and to address concerns about the republic, but the 1828 Congress of Ocaña ended in a stalemate between Santander's supporters and Bolívar's. Undeterred by Santander's opposition, Bolívar claimed dictatorial powers. When an attempt was made on Bolívar's life, Santander was suspected of involvement (though he may in fact have tried to discourage the attack). He was sentenced to death, but was sent into exile instead of being executed.

Presidency of New Granada

During his exile, Santander traveled to the United States and Europe. Meanwhile, Bolívar was unable to keep Ecuador and Venezuela as part of Gran Colombia. After the secession of these two countries, and Bolívar's death in 1830, the republic of New Granada (containing present-day Colombia and Panama) was formed in 1832. Santander returned to become the republic's first constitutional president, serving from 1833 to 1837.

The Santander Administration took steps to modernize the economy, promoted education and reined in military spending. Though Santander also cracked down on Bolívar's old allies, which led to an attempt to remove him from power, he accepted the outcome when his chosen successor was defeated in a presidential election.

Death and Legacy

After leaving the presidency, Santander served as a senator. He was 48 when he died in Bogotà on May 6, 1840—the same year that an uprising began against his successor, President José Ignacio de Márquez Barreto. Santander did not lend his support to this uprising, but the conflict grew, lasting until 1842. Though Santander had presided over a period of peace and growing prosperity, he was not able to ensure that those conditions would continue after his death.

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