Quito 1809: In Defense of Religion, King, and Patria

It’s an important day in Ecuadorian History– we know this, of course, because one of the three main north-south corridor streets in Quito is named 10 de agosto (10th of August). Two hundred years ago today, on the 10th of August 1809, a local junta constituted largely by local Quiteño elites deposed the Audiencia of Quito and established local rule in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. The nationalist historiography of Ecuador has long claimed this date to be the fulfillment of Eugenio Espejo’s vision of an Independent Quito, and date the Ecuadorian Independence Movement to the 10th of August. It is, of course, much more complicated than that. In fact, when Quito was finally liberated from Spanish rule more than a decade later, in the early 1820s, the revolutionary calendar dated from the establishment of the 1810 Bogota junta, and all dates on government documents were given as, for example, Year 16, 1826.

What was the significance of 10 de Agosto, then? The nationalist historiography long ago christened the date as the “primer grito de independencia latinoamericano” – the first cry of Independence in Latin America, though this isn’t even technically correct, as the same actions and language utilized by Quito’s junta were used in Bolivia in July 1809. And that language is key.

As I recount in my hopefully-soon-to-be-published book, the period 1809-1814 marked a confluence of local, regional, and trans-atlantic liberal revolutionary pressures. A decade before independence, these pressures transformed conceptions of sovereignty, law, and governance throughout the broader Spanish Monarchy, including amongst those ‘royalists’ who were fighting against the establishment of local ruling juntas in the kingdoms of the Indies. This line of interpretation has been most fully developed by Jaime Rodriguez O. (here, and here). It has also not always been well-received. I had a very eminent Ecuadorian historian and university administrator explain to me that Rodriguez’s problem was that, “Jaime hashis archives and his books, but he doesn’t understand that this is our History,” in explaining why the nationalist interpretation of 1809 is preferable.

What, then, was the generation of 1809 actually doing? Here’s the moment as described in my book*:

Early in the morning on the 10th of August 1809, the President of the Audiencia of Quito, Conde Ruiz de Castilla was startled awake by an orderly, bearing a letter addressed, “From the Sovereign Junta to the Conde Ruiz, ex-president of Quito.”[1] Ruiz’s personal secretary reported that the Conde then dressed himself and read the following,

The present unsettled state of Spain, the total annihilation of the lawfully constituted authorities, and the dangers of the crown of the beloved Ferdinand VII and his domains falling into the hands of the tyrant of Europe, have impelled our trans-atlantic brothers to form provincial governments for their personal security, as well as against the machinations of some of their traitorous countrymen, unworthy of the name of Spaniards, as against the arms of the common enemy: the loyal inhabitants of Quito, resolved to secure to their legitimate King and Master this part of his kingdom, have established a sovereign junta in this city of San Francisco de Quito, of which, and by the command of his Serene Highness the President and the vocal members, I have the honor to inform your lordship, and to announce to you, that the functions of the members of the old government have ceased: God preserve your Lordship many years. Hall of the Junta in Quito, August 10th, 1809: Morales, Secretary of the Interior.[2]

The juntas of the period 1809-1814 never really strayed from this formula– their actions were engaged in the name of, and through loyalty to the deposed King Ferdinand VII, in defense of the Holy Catholic Faith against the atheist French invaders, and in defense of the patria, by which they meant both the patria chica of their land or residence, and the larger patria of the Spanish Monarchy, at least for a little while.

This position was more thoroughly made the night preceding the Conde’s abrupt morning. Here is a much longer section from the manuscript detailing this fateful night and day:

Four Hours of Revolution

Quito’s revolutionary faction took advantage of increasing public discomfiture to finally hatch their conspiracy for home-rule on the 10th of August 1809. The central figures in establishing Quito’s own Junta Suprema were the same conspirators arrested by Conde Ruiz the preceding March: the Marqués de Selva Alegre, Juan Salinas, Juan de Dios Morales, Manuel Rodriguez de Quiroga, and Jose Riofrio. Together with Don Mariano Villalobos and Don Antonio Ante, the conspirators solicited the public participation of many of Quito’s leading citizens including the Marqués de Villa Orellana, Bishop Joseph Cuero y Caycedo, Don Guillermo Valdivieso, the parish priest of San Roque Don Jose Correa, and members of the Quito garrison, amongst others. And indeed, support for the formation of a local ruling junta ran deep in the barrios.[i]

As an expression of that support, the collected vecendario of Quito signed a series of documents dated 8 August empowering representatives from each of the city’s barrios to meet and elect the new Junta. The documents selecting electors for the Junta were signed by most of the vecino and vecina heads of household of the city— all the more impressive considering that the actual coup early in the morning on August 10th took the Audiencia authorities by some measure of surprise. Both women and men of the barrios signed the petitions.[ii] Representatives were selected for the barrios of the Cathedral (Sagrario), San Sebastian, San Blas, Santa Barbara, and San Marcos, marking a significant shift in the exercise of popular sovereignty, though there is no indication in the representations themselves exactly how individual representatives were chosen. In a letter to Don Jacinto Berjarno, university professor, lawyer, and conspirator Dr. Juan Pablo Arenas recounted that before the 10th, the padres de familia of the city’s barrios had chosen thirty-six representatives to form a Junta Suprema to represent Fernando VII, filling the void of magistrates whose function had ceased with the abdication.[iii] In this case, given the presence of women’s names on the petitions, padres de familia must indicate heads of household, including those households headed by women in a continuation of the legal culture of government petition exercised in the preceding decades. These “voting rights,” though, were short-lived, and by 1812 in the transition from vecina to ciudadana, women were no longer considered as bearers of political citizenship rights. In addition to the Barrios, representatives were appointed in the succeeding days by various corporate groups in Quito were chosen for forming the new government, including colegios, religious orders, merchants, lawyers, notaries, the local (i.e., American) nobility, and lower level bureaucrats. It is worth noting the heavy involvement of lawyers, attorneys, and notaries in forming the Junta, particularly considering the judicial nature of the Spanish imperial state.[iv]

As the barrios were selecting their representatives on the 8th of August, a core group of conspirators met at the house of Don Javier de Ascásubi to plan their actions for the next few days. On the night of the 9th of August, the thirty-six elected representatives of Quito’s barrios met in semi-secret at Manuela Cañizares’s home in the Sagrario with the Junta’s lead conspirators, for a group totaling between forty-five and fifty individuals, to form the Junta. According to one observer, the gathering’s forty-five attendees were divided as thirty plebeians, twelve nobles, and three ecclesiastics, whose enthusiasm was piqued by an ample supply of chicha and aguardiente. The door was guarded, and passwords required, but for those who entered what followed was four hours of bloodless revolution, from convening the meeting at the at 11pm to taking control of the city barracks at 3am. The details of the new government followed closely the plans discussed in Chillo the preceding December.

Morales started the proceedings with a rousing speech that touched on the justificatory themes of the proposed junta’s legitimacy. He began, “Beloved brothers and compatriots: Our Religion, our King, and our Homeland have called us together here that my feeble voice might inform you all of our present situation.”[v] The present situation, Morales argued, pitted Quito’s faithful subjects against chapetones in government who planned to turn the kingdoms of the Americas over to Napoleon and his French heretics who occupied all of Spain, a threat they must resist by “preserv[ing] themselves and this part of the Spanish dominion from the fate that awaited the rest.”[vi] He claimed furthermore that plans were afoot to “spill the blood” of some fourteen of Quito’s leading citizens.[vii] The speech, including the threat to creole Spaniards’ lives, echoes the arguments put forth in the Catecismo that was circulating in June. Only now, Quiroga made the impassioned plea that it was the time for action. In order to protect the kingdom of Quito from the seditious acts of Godoy’s lackeys and French sympathizers, he enjoined the assemblage to form a provincial government in the name of Fernando VII, ending chapeton rule.

At the end of his polemic, Morales turned the meeting over to Quiroga to further explain the plan for a new government. In the mean time, Captain Juan Salinas was dispatched to inform and recruit the Quito garrison. Salinas invoked the same formula to the troops that Morales had to the Cañizares audience— Religion, King, Patria. Reportedly at some time shortly after midnight on the 10th of August, Salinas assembled the troop in the square facing the barracks and informed them, “their beloved King was a prisoner in France; expatiated on his sufferings; he told them that the existing governments in America were determined to deliver up the country to the common enemy, and concluded by asking them, whether they would defend their beloved Fernando, or become slaves of Bonaparte?”[viii] One account states he said to them, “Brothers, Compañeros, [in the name of] Religion, the King, and the Patria! You all are vassals of our King Fernando VII and Christian Catholics. The Junta orders that we arrest the chapetones because they want to slit our throats and give us to France. ¡Viva el Rey! ¡Viva la Religión!”[ix] The troop replied with resounding shouts of, “¡Viva Fernando Séptimo! ¡Viva Quito!” Don Joaquin Saldumbide, head of Quito’s cavalry regiment, delivered the same speech to his men, and recruited their support as well. Upon returning to the Cañizares house, Saldumbide and Salinas were instructed to administer an oath to the troops and set up guards outside the homes of every targeted for arrest by the Junta. The new members of the Falange of Quito’s Junta Suprema were made to repeat, “I swear by God and on the cross of my sword, to defend my legitimate King, Fernando VII; to maintain and protect his rights; to support the purity of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and to obey the constituted authorities.”[x]

While the troops was being recruited, Quiroga managed support for a new plan of government, formalized in an Acta de instalación.[xi] The Acta began proclaiming the cessation of all the functions of the city and province’s current magistrature. This opening action highlights the judicial nature of the Spanish imperial bureaucracy. In nullifying the current government, the Junta declared its judicial authority ended. But, this judicial authority, resident in the kingdom’s magistrates, would not be replaced by simply reconstructing a judiciary that possessed legislative and executive authority. Following the newly emergent political culture, the Junta separated executive and judicial authority into two different entities— the Junta Suprema, and a Senate (Senado) constituted of both a Civil Court and a Criminal Court.[xii] The assembly “elected” the Marqués de Selva Alegre Juan Pío Montúfar as President, along with Morales as Secretary of State and War, Quiroga as Secretary of the Treasury, and Dr. Juan de Larrea as Secretary of Justice and Welfare. Don Vicente Alvarez was chosen as a voting Secretary to the Junta. The Acta also claimed that as the Junta was the legitimate representative of the Spanish Monarchy, it should be treated as an entity as the manifestation of Royal Majesty.[xiii] In addition to these officers, Don Juan José Guerrero and Don Melchor Benebides were elected as representatives to the Junta from Quito’s Cabildo. Barrio representatives were also elected (from amongst an apparently elite-only slate of potential candidates): for Santa Barbara, the Marques of Miraflores; for San Blas, Don Manuel Larrea; for San Roque, the Marques de Villaorellana; for San Sebastian, Don Manuel Zambrano; and, for San Marcos, Don Manuel Mateu y Aranda.[xiv] The Junta accorded pomp and circumstance to its various individual members— the President should be addressed as “Serene Highness” (Alteza Serenísima), Ministers and voting members as “Lords” (Señoría). This maintenance of title suggests the hybrid nature of Spanish liberalism as it was conceived of by Quito’s revolutionaries— popular and constitutional, and yet monarchical and hierarchical, concerned with the appearance of authority. The anonymous letter writer of the Memorias saw this as an opportunity ripe for ridicule, characterizing the affair as, “the omnipotence of forty-five barbarians, glutted on chicha and aguardiente, a complete Sovereignty, a Majesty more absolute than the Ottoman Empire [Sublime Puerta].”[xv]

The Senate was established as a judicial parallel to the Junta, divided into two chambers headed by Don Javier Ascásubi as its Governor. Ascásubi was to preside over a Civil Court with four judges and a state’s attorney (fiscal). The Criminal Court was to be presided over by a Regent (second in authority to the Governor), to whom the assembly appointed Oidor Don Felipe Fuertes Amar in absentia. It is likely this appointment was a political overture to the Amar’s uncle, Viceroy Amar y Borbón. The Criminal Court would also be staffed by four judges and a fiscal, as well as a Protector de Indios and an Alguacil mayor.[xvi] The subordination of the criminal chamber to the civil chamber posits an interesting expression of legal priorities, in which the maintenance of public safety would become subsidiary to the adjudication of property.

The deputies present at the Cañizares residence declared their support, together with representatives of the Cabildo and members of the new Junta, for establishing this new system of government as an interim measure, representative of Fernando VII’s legitimate sovereignty until that time that he would either regain the throne on the peninsula, or come to America to rule. [xvii] Even as the Acta was being finalized and printed, Salinas was deploying newly-sworn troops throughout the city to execute arrest warrants on Audiencia ministers and bureaucrats identified as potential enemies of the Junta. The troops were in place by 4am, and as the sun rose two hours later on the Saint’s day of San Lorenzo, the arrests began. Conde Ruiz y Castilla was awakened with the news and taken into custody. He was joined by José Maria Cucalón, a secretary to the President and son of the Governor of Guayaquil, Audiencia Regent and former Criminal Fiscal José Merchante de Contreras, Oidor José Fuentes González Bustillos, Asesor Francisco Xavier Manzanos y Castillo, the mail administrator Don José Bergara, Ayudante Mayor Don Bruno Resua, Comandante Joaquín Villaespesa, and Don Simón Saenz y Vergara, the Collector of Diezmos and illegitimate father of future revolutionary Manuela Saenz.[xviii]

Meanwhile, as early as 6am people began to gather in the main square of the presidential palace. The transfer of power was marked by a canon salute and music from the Quito garrison’s band. The Junta posted announcements of its actions on corners throughout the city. A dispatch was sent to Juan Pío Montúfar at his hacienda Chillo informing him of the successful conclusion of events over the night of the 9th as well as of his election as President of the new Junta Suprema de Quito. In what must have been a public relations action, the Marqués de Selva Alegre then made his was to Quito as a recruit of popular sentiment, rather than as a core conspirator. The concern with appearance, pomp, and circumstance fits well with Stevenson’s characterization of the Marqués, about whom he stated, “As a public character Selva Alegre was extremely unfit; wavering and timid, wishing rather to reconcile the two parties than to support either; fond of show and parade, but frightened at his own shadow, as if it mocked him. At the gaze of the people he would, like a peacock, have allowed his gaudy plumage to fall to the ground; he would have endeavored to hide himself, or, as the most enthusiastic Quiteños expressed themselves, “his shoes did not fit him.”[xix] Ever mindful of the need to legitimize the new government, the Marqués de Selva Alegre and his core advisors announced the convening of a cabildo abierto on 16 August to publicly ceremonialize the Junta.

*Note, this material carries copy-write beyond the CC license of this site. No changes, and please do not use without full attribution.


[1] William Bennett Stevenson, A Historical and Descriptive Narrative of Twenty Years Residence in South America, Vol. III (London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co, 1825): 11.

[2] William Bennett Stevenson, A Historical and Descriptive Narrative of Twenty Years Residence in South America, Vol. III (London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co, 1825): 11.

[i] Not everyone, of course, supported the junta. The author of the “Memoria… en cinco cartas” described the 1809 junta as “seventy five days of dark tempest” (setenta y cinco dias de una negra borrasca). Estado 72 N. 64, “Papeles…,” “Memoria.. En cinco cartas” Letter 125-x-1809.

[ii] Copies of the petitions can be found in Andrade Historia del Ecuador (1934), “Documento 3. Poderes dados por los vecinos de los diferentes barrios de la ciudad de Quito para nombrar Representantes a la Junta Suprema gubernativa,” 417-427. Andrade’s transcriptions came from the personal archive of Colombia’s Independence chronicler José Manuel Restrepo. Unfortunately, Andrade expurgated the vast majority of the signatures. As a result, there is only a hint at the participation of women— the petition for San Marcos includes the names Estefa Campuzano, Rosa Solano, Margarita Orozco, and Manuela Solís amongst a few men. It is the only petition that includes women’s names, but in each case Andrade notes that many signatures have been left off. The net affect, of course, is to hide the participation of women in political action. Minchom. The People of Quito, 244, portrays the Junta of 1809 as an inherently conservative and temporary transfer of power because of the heavy involvement of the Quiteño elite, going as far as to argue that, “This was a strictly conservative transfer of local authority, assured by aristocratic influence in the military. Structurally, the new government was the old Audiencia under a new name….” This portrayal neglects the process of choosing electors engaged in by the Barrios as well as the apparent broad support that accompanied the establishment of the new government.

[iii] Arenas wrote, …en atención a haber cesado en sus funciones los magistrados actuales, por las presentes circunstancias de la nación, procedieran a nombrar representantes por la ciudad, y varios que compusieran una Junta Suprema, respresentativa del señor Don Fernando Séptimo…. Andrade Historia del Ecuador (1934) “Arenas a Bejerano,” 727.

[iv] For more on lawyers and independence in New Granada, see Victor M. Uribe, “The Lawyers and New Granada’s Late Colonial State,” Journal of Latin American Studies 27, no. 3 (1995): 517-49; Victor M. Uribe, “Kill All the Lawyers!: Lawyers and the Independence Movement in New Granada, 1809-1820,” The Americas 52, no. 2 (1995): 175-210; and, Uran Uribe, Victor, Honorable Lives : Lawyers, Family, and Politics in Colombia, 1780-1850, (Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000).

[v] AGI, Estado 72 n. 64, “Memoria… en cinco cartas,” Letter 1.

[vi] Stevenson, A Historical and Descriptive, 13.

[vii] AGI, Estado 72 n. 64, “Memoria… en cinco carts,” Letter 1, “derramar la preciosa Sangres de catorce Quiteños de los mas Ylustres…”

[viii] Stevenson, A Historical and Descriptive, 13-14.

[ix] Estado 72 n. 64 “Memorias… en cinco cartas,” Letter 1.

[x] Stevenson, A Historical and Descriptive, 14.

[xi] The Acta is reproduced in Andrade, Historia del Ecuador (1982), 188-190.

[xii] Andrade, Historia del Ecuador (1982), 189.

[xiii] Andrade, Historia del Ecuador (1982), 188. Appointment to office was expressed in the Acta as the assembly stating, “elejimos y nombramos”, we elect and name….

[xiv] AGI Estado 72 n. 64, “Memorias… en cinco cartas,” Letter 1.

[xv] AGI Estado 72 n. 64, “Memorias… en cinco cartas,” Letter 1, “la ominpotencia de quarenta y cinco Barbaros repeltso de Chicha y Aguardiente una Soberania completa, una Magestad… mas absoluta q la de la Sublime Puerta.”

[xvi] Andrade, Historia del Ecuador (1982), 189-190.

[xvii] Andrade, Historia del Ecuador (1982), 188.

[xviii] AGI, Estado 72 n. 64, “Memorias… en cinco cartas” Letter 1.

[xix] Stevenson, A Historical and Descriptive, 16. This last observation did not make it into the Spanish edition of Stevenson’s book, Relación histórica de la conspiración y revoluciones que tuvieron lugar en Quito desde el año 1808 hasta 1810 (Quito: Imprenta de la Nación, 1884): 10.

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Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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5 comments on “Quito 1809: In Defense of Religion, King, and Patria
  1. Javier Aguilar says:

    hi there, just a few questions: ¿did Eugenio Espejo was really an influence in this whole thing?, ¿were his ideas the same as the junta soberana? and ¿what diferences are between this movement and the one in Guayaquil in 1820?

  2. ctb says:

    Hola Javier– I think the answers to your first two question are yes, and no. There is no question that Eugenio Espejo’s writings and other intellectual activities had an impact on the Independence generation. He was a burr in the side of the Audiencia, though not to the extent of or in the way that the revolutionaries of 1809 would be. At the time there was recognition in Bogota and Quito of Espejo’s influence, and certainly the Sociedad de Amigos del País was an important moment in the formation of a particular creole agenda. Many of the leading revolutionaries had had direct involvement with either the Sociedad or with Espejo and his friends.

    But, at the same time, it is easy to overstate Espejo’s influence. The Junta Soberana of 1809, and the second Junta were manifestations of a wholly different set of political circumstances. The Juntas of the period 1809-1813 were not established as claims of independence from the global Spanish Monarchy, but rather as claims to home rule within that Monarchy. That had changed by 1820, and that is the significant difference between Guayaquil and Quito.

  3. Javier Aguilar says:

    ok, thnx for the answers. but in something i’m not still clear:

    Eugenio Espejo had the same idea of home rule within spanish monarchy?

    and did he have ideas for the improvement of the life conditions of the opressed ones (i.e., indios and afro-descendants)?

  4. ctb says:

    Hola Javier–

    Again, the answer is a bit yes and a bit no. Espejo was a consummate polemicist and critic of the Quiteño power structure. He decried, in various writings the sanitation and health conditions of the city, the corruption of the royal government, the leadership of Carlos III, the economic conditions of the indigenous communities of Riobamba, the lack of quality education in the Audiencia, royal economic policy and the borbón attraction to forming monopolies, etc. He was an advocate for creole power and self-government, but never developed a political program, and never called for the dissolution of the global Spanish Monarchy. In fact, he swore his allegiance to the Monarchy under the duress of defending himself and his writings before the Viceroy in Bogota.

    The Sociedad de Amigos del País and its paper, Primicias de la Cultura de Quito were intended to promote local culture, economics, education, and poltiics. And, he certainly was radicalized to some extent or another by his time in Bogota with Nariño and Zea.

    But, the form of self-government pursued by the Generation of 1809 was particular to the moment, and to the opportunities provided by the reaction on the Peninsula and in the Americas to Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and the abdication of Fernando VII. No one was following a vision or program set forth by Espejo.

  5. Javier Aguilar says:

    very gratefull for the answers. thnx.

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Chad Black

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I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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