Bernardo O'Higgins - Encyclopedia

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BERNARDO O'HIGGINS (1778-1842), one of the foremost leaders in the Chilean struggle for independence and head of the first permanent national government, was a natural son of the Irishman Ambrosio O'Higgins, governor of Chile (1788-1796), and was born at Chillan on the 20th of August 1778. He was educated in England, and after a visit to Spain he lived quietly on his estate in Chile till the revolution broke out. Joining the nationalist party led by Martinez de Rozas, he distinguished himself in the early fighting against the royalist troops despatched from Peru, and was appointed in November 1813 to supersede J. M. Carrera in command of the patriot forces. The rivalry that ensued, in spite of O'Higgins's generous offer to serve under Carrera, eventually resulted in O'Higgins being isolated and overwhelmed with the bulk of the Chilean forces at Rancagua in 1814. O'Higgins with most of the patriots fled across the Andes to Mendoza, where Jose de San Martin was preparing a force for the liberation of Chile. San Martin espoused O'Higgins's part against Carrera, and O'Higgins, recognizing the superior ability and experience of San Martin, readily consented to serve as his subordinate. The loyalty and energy with which he acted under San Martin contributed not a little to the organization of the liberating army, to its transportation over the Andes, and to the defeat of the royalists at Chacabuco (1817) and Maipo (1818). After the battle of Chacabuco O'Higgins was entrusted with the administration of Chile, and he ruled the country firmly and well, maintaining the close connexion with the Argentine, co-operating loyally with San Martin in the preparation of the force for the invasion of Peru, and seeking, as far as the confusion and embarrassments of the time allowed, to improve the welfare of the people. After the overthrow of the Spanish supremacy in Peru had freed the Chileans from fear of attack, an agitation set in for constitutional government. O'Higgins at first tried to maintain his position by calling a congress and obtaining a constitution which invested him with dictatorial powers. But popular discontent grew in force; risings took place in Concepcion and Coquimbo, and on the 28th of January 1823 O'Higgins was finally patriotic enough to resign his post of director-general, without attempting to retain it by force. He retired to Peru, where he was granted an estate and lived quietly till his death on the 24th of October 1842.

See B. Vicuña Machenna, Vida de O'Higgins (Santiago, 1882), and M. L. Armunategni, La Dictadura de O'Higgins (Santiago, 1853) both containing good accounts of O'Higgins's career. Also P. B. Figueroa, Diccionario biogrdfico de Chile, 1550-1887 (Santiago, 1888), and J. B. Suarez, Rasgos biogrdficos de hombres notables de Chile (Valparaiso, 1886).

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