José Miguel Carrera (1785-1821), a Chilean revolutionary, was one of the leaders in the fight for his country's independence from Spain.
José Miguel Carrera was born in Santiago on Oct. 15, 1785, into a wealthy and socially eminent family. Sent to Spain to complete his education, he joined the army when the French invaded the Peninsula. Hearing of Chilean efforts to organize a national junta, he returned home and immediately sided with the small but vocal patriot group. Because of his military record, his family connections, and his charisma he emerged as its leader. He had little patience for the conservatism of the national congress, organized in 1811; and with the aid of his brothers, Luis and Juan José, who were officers in the army, and with the support of street mobs, he accomplished a coup on Sept. 4, 1811. Congress, intimidated by Carrera's forces, followed his bidding. Among the early reforms instituted was the abolition of slavery.
Carrera ruled Chile as dictator. In 1812 he released a constitution providing for a republican form of government although Chile remained nominally loyal to the Spanish king. The first national newspaper was started, the flag designed, and education encouraged. All reform efforts ceased when Spanish troops landed and quickly conquered almost half of the country by March 1813. Carrera was named commander in chief of the Chilean armies. Several defeats diminished his popularity, he was deprived of command, and Bernado O'Higgins was named to replace him. Carrera was captured by the Spanish.
By early 1814, both royalist and patriot forces were exhausted, and in May a truce was signed (Treaty of Lircay). Carrera was released, regained his popularity in Santiago, seized control of the government, and vowed to continue the war. Meanwhile, sizable royalist reinforcements arrived. On Sept. 30, 1814, a disastrous defeat was inflicted on the patriots at Rancagua, and Carrera was blamed for not committing reserves to aid the beleaguered O'Higgins. Spanish troops quickly took Santiago, and Carrera, along with other refugees, fled across the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina. Carrera claimed to head the Chilean exiles, but José de San Martín, governor of the province, discounted these pretensions and designated O'Higgins commander.
Carrera was ordered out of the province. He traveled to Buenos Aires to enlist support but was turned down. He then sailed to the United States to seek aid, managed to find assistance, and returned in February 1817. The head of the Buenos Aires government, Pueyrredón, refused to let him land. Carrera's two brothers, meanwhile, tried to organize a revolution to depose O'Higgins. They were captured, tried, and shot in April 1818. Carrera claimed that San Martín and O'Higgins had ordered the executions and he swore revenge. Deeply involved in plots to destroy his enemies, he was eventually captured by the governor of Mendoza and executed on Sept. 4, 1821.
There is no biography of Carrera in English. A valuable but brief portrayal is in Simon Collier, Ideas and Politics of Chilean Independence (1967). Supplementary material is available in Luis Galdames, A History of Chile (2 vols., 1906-1907; trans., 1 vol., 1941).