Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 2, 1878
to Mr. Evarts.
Caracas , October 24, 1878. (Received November 18.)
Sir: I send herewith a decree of the President of Venezuela, convoking a convention, to meet in Caracas, on the 10th of December next, for the purpose of changing the present constitution of the republic—that of 1874—and looking to the revival of the constitution of 1864, together with an accompanying address of the same functionary, as the same appear in the Gaceta Oficial of the 16th of September last past, as also a translation of these documents.
I have, & c.,
Decree of the President of Venezuela convoking a convention to meet in Caracas.
[From the Gaceta Oficial of September 16, 1878.]
Francisco Linares, Alcántara Constitutional President of the United States of Venezuela, & c., & c., & c.
- Whereas the people of Venezuela, through numerous societies, their municipal councils, and through the legislatures of the States, have directly manifested their irrevocable will to reconstruct the federal compact of the union on the basis established by the very liberal constitution of 1864; and
- Whereas the citizens, called by the law to exercise the right of suffrage, have publicly and solemnly refused to elect the future President of Venezuela and the deputies and senators who should constitute the ordinary congress of 1879; and
- Whereas the entire population of the republic has urged the national executive, ever since the beginning of this year, to convoke a national constitutional assembly in. order to put in force the constitution of 1864; and
- Whereas, if resistance on the part of the government to the will of the people should longer continue, there would evidently ensue a disturbance of the public peace as the inevitable consequence of the vacancy of the supreme national officers on the 20th of February next; and
- Whereas, under circumstances so extraordinary, the measure which the government adopts with the patriotic design of satisfying the public expectation, far from being considered as an attempt to usurp the rights of the country, must merit the most honorable verdict of the present and future republican-democratic generations, in view of the self-denying submission of the government to the inherent sovereignty of the people who control its fate, and who are the sole arbiters of its destiny: Therefore,
- Article 1. I hereby convoke the National Constituent Assembly demanded by the people of Venezuela.
- Article 2. This assembly will be composed of deputies whom the country will choose by direct vote and as each State may determine.
- Article 3. Each State will send to the National Constituent Assembly as many deputies as it sends senators and deputies to the Constitutional Congress.
- Article 4. The federal district will choose also by direct vote, and as its municipal council may determine, two deputies to the National Constituent Assembly.
- Article 5. The National Constituent Assembly will meet at Caracas on the 10th day of December of this year, in commemoration of the glorious battle of Santa Ines, the classic day of the Venezuelan Confederation.
- Article 6. The minister of the interior will present to the National Constituent Assembly all the petitions which have been sent to the national executive by the people, the parochial juntas, the municipal councils, the legislatures, and the governments of the States, in order that that sovereign body, by virtue of its powers, may resolve what it thinks best for the order, the peace, the liberty, and the radical principles of the democratic republic which is the ingenuous and constant aspiration of the liberal cause in Venezuela.
- Article 7. The national executive, for himself and for all his officers in the nation, solemnly ratifies his oaths to fulfill and to cause to be fufilled the constitution of 1874, now in force, until the States of the Union, by means of their deputies united in National Constituent Assembly, shall relieve them of their oaths reforming totally or partially the institutions of the country.
- Articles. 8 The traveling expenses and pay of the deputies to the National Constituent Assembly will be paid by the public treasury, as provided by the law now in force in relation to the traveling expenses and pay of members of Congress.
- Article 9. The ministers of the cabinet are charged with the execution of this decree in the part which corresponds to each one.
- The minister of state in the department of interior
relations (minister of interior),
- The minister of state in the department of foreign
T. CÉLIS AVILA.
- The minister of state in the department of
- The minister of state in the department of war and
- The minister of state in the department of commerce,
agriculture, & c.,
J. R. PACHANO.
- The minister of state in the department of public
J. A. ZAPATA.
- The minister of state in the department of public
Francisco Linares Alcántara, Constitutional President of the United States of Venezuela.
Venezuelans: Respecting your will and obeying your mandates, I have signed the decree convoking the National Constituent Assembly which you have demanded.
In thus submitting to your inherent sovereignty, I have fulfilled a patriotic duty, and another no less great as a democratic republican.
The philosophy of history will say whether I have been permitted to act otherwise.
It has been neither possible nor proper for me to vacillate between my personal sacrifice and the immolation of my country.
Modern civilization recognizes it as a great duty, sacred and transcendent, to assist the people, from the elevated heights of public powder, in accomplishing pacifically and conscientiously their most radical evolutions in the progressive development of their destiny.
Since my advent to power, by the will of the nation, I have taken care, with solicitous anxiety, that the public conscience should encounter no obstacle in its manifold and ingenuous manifestations, and therefore there was no cause for surprise that I left to thought ample and free space to develop itself with entire independence.
The country being free, the press without fetters, the freedom of speech guaranteed, it has been-easy for every citizen to express freely his ideas, and in them his purified aspirations. Things being thus, and the field of election open with ample liberty; the people commenced early this year to send in petitions to the government, praying for the convocation of a national assembly to reconstruct the compact of the Union on the basis established in the immortal constitution of 1884. Thus, in this sense, all the [Page 946] communal boards, all the municipal councils, the legislatures and the governments of the States, the press with its thousand organs of publicity, and with it a great majority of the legislative chambers of the last Constitutional Congress, have expressed themselves spontaneously. So that it may be asserted that there is no town or village in the republic where most solemn meetings have not been held petitioning for the revival of those sacred institutions of the country which cost five years of supreme struggles and bloody sacrifices.
Beset and borne down, I nevertheless resisted the increasing pressure of the country as a faithful upholder of the constitution which I had sworn to defend.
Furthermore, I desired to await the period fixed by the law for the election of a President of the republic and members of the National Congress; and, although the constitutional guarantees were carefully observed by the executive, no citizen presented himself to vote, as if the country had desired to ratify its pronunciamentos by abstaining from choosing the supreme national officers, who were to be inaugurated on the 20th of February, 1879.
In presence of this attitude of the country, as firm as it is imposing; before its inexorable mandate; in view of the awful anarchy into which we would fall in awaiting the constitutional period; and fearing that the people, irritated as on other occasions, might seek by means of arms that which they could not obtain in peace, I have, compatriots, necessarily had to assume the tremendous responsibility of complying with your wish.
You are now to choose your deputies in order that, united in constitutional assembly, on you may devolve the institutions of the Liberal cause, and I may be relieved from the oath which I took before Congress to execute and to cause to be executed the constitution of 1874, which is in force. Till then, I shall hold myself bound by my vows, and will defend this constitution with all the prestige of the government and with all the force of arms; for no human power can force me to prove false to my oaths.
I recognize that the people are omnipotent in a republic and the sole arbiters of their destinies, and that they may do what they consider right in the exercise of their inherent sovereignty. I recognize that the people may make and unmake institutions and create and overthow governments. But the people thus great, powerful, invincible, cannot release me from my oaths, cannot absolve me from my vows except in two ways—either by force of arms, shedding all my blood upon the altar of my country, where I guard and safely preserve the book of her institutions, or by the irresistible force of public opinion, which conquers me and carries me captive before their legitimate representatives.
And for the reason that I offer myself as a holocaust in order to facilitate to the people the mode of accomplishing in peace the transcendent and historical evolution of changing their institutions, the people should give me all their support in order to preserve me faithful to my oaths, and to proceed worthily of themselves and worthily of the liberal idea, that sublime religion of modern nations to which I have consecrated all the years of my existence.
Fellow-citizens, I have remained alone defending the constitution of 1874. I declare myself your prisoner; have compassion on me, for I am the only one among you to whom it is not permitted, without the express order of the sovereign, to proclaim the force of that constitution, for which I shed my blood in the war of the federal cause.
Fellow-citizens, your desires are satisfied. Be free and happy in the bosom of peace. The evolution which you are consummating has had no equal in the past. Neither in the Old World nor in the New have nations ever succeeded in changing their institutions without the disasters of civil war. It was reserved for this great people—for this virtuous people—the initiator of South American independence, to give now the surprising example of advancing along the road of progress and perfecting their institutions without shedding one drop of blood. I devoutly hope that the new generations may imitate you, and that the expedient of civil wars may remain buried in Venezuela and entombed forever.
The decree being promulgated and submitted to your wish, it only remains for me to pray that you have proper elections worthy the civic cause which you have crowned with unstained victory.
Fellow-citizens, the radiant sun of the 10th of December will illuminate with magnificent glory your meeting in National Constituent Assembly. That will be the day of my redemption; for on that day will devolve entirely upon you the power which overwhelms me, in order that you may commit it to whom you may believe most worthy.
In the mean time, Venezuelans, I swear to you that I will preserve the peace, that I will cause your rights and guarantees to be respected, and that I will protect society in its interests and in its privileges.