Francisco de Paula Santander (1792-1840), a Colombian general and statesman, was one of the leaders of Spanish American independence. He later served as first constitutional president of the Republic of New Granada.
Francisco de Paula Santander was born on April 12, 1792, at Rosario de Cúcuta near the Venezuelan border. His family were cacao planters, members of the local gentry. When the independence movement began in 1810, he was a law student at Bogotá, but he soon left his books to join the patriot forces. Although the first independent government was crushed in 1816, Santander escaped to the eastern plains, or Ilanos, and there helped organize a base of continuing patriot resistance.
Accepting the leadership of the Venezuelan Simón Bolívar, Santander took part in the expedition that climbed the Colombian Andes, won the decisive victory of Boyacá (Aug. 7, 1819), and finally expelled the Spaniards from Bogotá. Bolívar placed him in charge of administering the liberated provinces, and 2 years later he was chosen vice president of the new nation of Gran Colombia, which included present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador. Since Bolívar, as president, preferred to continue fighting at the head of his armies, Vice President Santander became acting chief executive.
Though he held the rank of general, Santander is chiefly remembered as a vigorous civil administrator. He lacked Bolívar's magnetism but was a man of impressive personal bearing and dignity. Highly conscious of his own prerogatives, he nevertheless generally respected legal formalities: Bolívar dubbed him the "Man of Laws." As ruler, furthermore, he promoted a series of liberal reforms designed to curb clerical influence, aid economic development along lines of free enterprise, and extend public education.
The stability of Gran Colombia was shaken in 1826 by the outbreak of a revolt in Venezuela under José Antonio Páez. Even more serious was a growing conflict between Santander and Bolívar, who later that year returned from Peru. Santander suspected Bolívar of seeking to change the constitution by illegal means and also resented his leniency toward Páez in finally settling the Venezuelan revolt. When Bolívar reassumed full control of the government in 1827, Santander drifted into open opposition, and in 1828 he was exiled on the charge, never really proved, of complicity in a plot against Bolívar's life.
After the dissolution of Gran Colombia in 1830, Santander's supporters gained control of the new Republic of New Granada, corresponding to modern Colombia plus Panama. Santander returned to serve as president from 1832 to 1837. He now showed greater caution in pressing liberal reforms, but he energetically repressed would-be conspirators, and he succeeded in organizing the national administration on a sound basis.
Santander retired briefly from public life on leaving the presidency, but he soon emerged to win a seat in the lower house of Congress. There he joined the opposition to his successor, the moderate liberal J. I. Márquez, whose election he had opposed. He was still serving in Congress at the time of his death in Bogotá on May 5, 1840.
Santander's political and administrative career, roughly from 1819 to 1827, is related in detail in David Bushnell, The Santander Regime in Gran Colombia (1954). He is also discussed in Jesús María Henao and Gerardo Arrubla, History of Colombia (1938). □