García Moreno Saves Ecuador From Invasion and Treason

July 3, 2014

General Flores had quitted Ecuador, humiliated but not resigned. After a time he determined to equip a body of mercenary troops and try to reconquer the country.

Juan José Flores y Aramburu, first President of the new Republic of Ecuador.

Juan José Flores y Aramburu, first President of the new Republic of Ecuador.

It was in the year 1846. He was at the Spanish Court, where his noble presence and his clever conversation captivated not only the princes, but Queen Cristina herself. After a review, where he was an honored guest, she offered to cooperate in this adventurous expedition. Ten million were borrowed to equip a fleet and recruit a body of volunteers, on condition that a Spanish prince should be appointed, whose Prime Minister Flores undertook to be.

In spite of all the trouble taken to prevent these preparations being known in Ecuador, Roca heard of them. The papers also announced that Flores had equipped four men-of-war, had enrolled five hundred men in Ireland, besides a large number of Spanish officers and men, and that he was about to set sail for Guayaquil. This intelligence alarmed not only the people of Ecuador, but also the whole of the South American Continent, which had only so lately thrown off the Spanish yoke.

A pencil drawing made in 1846 by Gaetano Osculatti Italian traveler, showing what it was before the revolution broke in Guayaquil.

A pencil drawing made in 1846 by Gaetano Osculatti Italian traveler, showing what it was before the revolution broke in Guayaquil.

Whilst men were lamenting, however, García Moreno felt that the thing to do was to act promptly and resolutely; to sacrifice all party spirit or difference of opinion and to unite as one man in defense of the country. He even had the generosity to offer his services to President Roca, who was only too thankful to accept them. As it would have been impossible to resist so formidable an invasion without a levy en masse of the whole population, García Moreno started a new paper, which he called El Vingador (The Avenger), in which he reproached the people for their lethargy, and pointed out the double danger they had to face: the invasion from without, and the traitors within their gates; for Flores had a number of partisans among the shopkeepers and the public functionaries whom he had enriched, and who only waited for his return to indulge once more in nefarious speculations and to fatten themselves on the ruin of the people. The Government did not seem to realize this last danger, and wished to appoint generals who were all more or less devoted to the ex-president. García Moreno exposed their treachery without mercy, and determined to enlist all the American Republics in the struggle. “There is no doubt,” he wrote, “that we must fortify Guayaquil, which is our key position; but Peru is equally obliged to fortify Callao and to equip an army to defend Lima. A squadron, composed of vessels belonging to the four great Republics of the Pacific, stationed in the waters of Guayaquil, would be able to defeat the entire expeditionary force. Let us close our ports to all Spanish vessels, and persuade all the American States to join us in these preventive measures—then our victory will be secured.”

Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera y Arboleda, 8th President of the Republic of New Granada.

Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera y Arboleda, 8th President of the Republic of New Granada.

This patriotic appeal was met by a corresponding enthusiasm: all the Republics united to repulse the common enemy. Peru armed her ships; Chile suspended all commercial relations with Spain, and negotiated an offensive and defensive treaty with Ecuador. The President of New Granada, Tomaso Mosquera, addressed an energetic protest to his people against the “sacrilegious profaners of American soil.” This patriotic league became so strong and warlike that European diplomatists found themselves compelled to interfere with an expedition that threatened to destroy all commercial relations, not only with Spain, but also with England and all the other countries from whence Flores had recruited his soldiers.

At the very moment when the hostile fleet was about to leave the shores of Great Britain, the leading merchants of the City presented a memorial to Lord Palmerston, imploring him to lay an embargo on its departure, and representing to him the ruin which would ensue from Flores’ expedition to the whole of the South American trade. Lord Palmerston at once understood the delicacy of the position, stopped the departure of the ships, and compelled Flores to disband his English and Irish troops; so that the ex-President found himself compelled to postpone, if not relinquish, his undertaking.

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston.

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston.

This unexpected news filled Ecuador with joy; but García Moreno was not so easily reassured.

“Do not imagine,” he exclaimed, “that Flores, in spite of this check, will give up the idea. If he had only twenty men at his disposal he would persevere, for he knows that his great strength lies in the bands of traitors, which fill our own cities. If the Government really wishes to annihilate Flores’ forces, let it begin by destroying the enemies within our gates.”

The event proved the truth of his remarks. Before the year was out, a plot was discovered among the “Floreanos” to upset the Government in favor of their old master. The principal conspirators were seized and thrown into prison; but the town was in such a state of excitement, that García Moreno was entreated by the President to go and restore order. He found the whole population up in arms, and the patriots, furious with the “Floreanos,” giving way to the most savage acts of cruelty. Colonel Solér, one of the leaders of the insurrection, had been stabbed by the soldiers who had been left to guard him, while the others prisoners were in hourly expectation of a like fate. García Moreno had no sooner appeared among them than he instantly enforced respect for the law. Resolute and energetic, yet calm as a marble statue, he issued his order in a tone that admitted of no reply, and every man felt he must obey. In eight days peace was re-established, and the conspiracy was annihilated. García Moreno returned to Quito, thankful to have been able to render so essential a service to his country, but refusing all recompense, either in the shape of honors or money. He had served Roca’s Government in a moment of danger from purely patriotic motives; but he would accept nothing from men whom he despised as stockjobbers who looked upon power merely as a means of enriching themselves at the expense of the people. In 1847 Congress voted an act of amnesty which was to extend to all those who had taken part in the late insurrection.

Gabriel García Moreno

García Moreno again took up his pen to expose the contract made with the enemies of his country, and started a new paper called El Diablo (The Devil), which lashed the cupidity of the Government with pitiless severity. “I am neither a ministerialist nor a place-hunter,” he wrote, “never having chosen to sell myself for money; nor am I a soldier boasting of the blows I have given or received. I am simply the friend of an unfortunate people who have no defenders against the devils who oppress them; and I will fight to the death against those who martyrize and betray them.” The clever and sarcastic tone of this paper greatly troubled Roca and his functionaries; but they continued to take advantage of their position to drain the country of the last farthing, and to reduce it to a state that García Moreno stigmatized as, “a species of Hell, where disorder and confusion reigned supreme and became its normal condition.” And yet he did not lose hope. “Alongside of these traitors,” he exclaimed, “there are a body of noble and courageous men ready to sacrifice the last drop of their blood rather than give up their God and their country.” But these brave souls needed a leader; and at that moment where could he be found?


Rev. Fr. Augustine Berthe, C.Ss.R., Garcia Moreno, President of Ecuador, (1821-1875), trans. Lady Herbert (London: Burns and Oates, 1889), 31-5.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 399



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