General Páez (1790-1873)* is considered amongst the most significant and victorious fighters against the Spanish Crown, a notable figure in the History of Venezuelan War of Independence and a great influence in the history of South America during the 19th century. He later led Venezuela’s breakaway from Gran Colombia becoming the first president of the Republic of Venezuela and governed his country’s politics for nearly two decades (1830–1835; 1839–1843).
After fights over power, he was forced to exile from his country in 1850 and did not return to motherland until 1858 during the Federal War. At his arrival, he was requested as the Leader of the armies to calm the disturbances that governed the country. Unfortunately in spite of having the full support of the government, he could not dominate them. Therein is arising reputation as a dictator, something that he really never came to be (1861–1863).
After turbulent years, he withdrew voluntarily to the United States, arriving from Saint Thomas to Candem, State Island, Philadelphia and Baltimore, before arriving to New York where he was received with the highest honors of his hierarchy on recognition for his battles and prestige.
At the time, Millard Filmore (1800-1874) was the President of the United States and gave a reception to welcome General Páez. The occasion was widely registered by the local press including a publication by the New York Times. Additionally, Major Grant of City Hall and president Cleveland himself gave the order to have two American warships accompany the “Pensacola” which led Páez to the American marine border. His biographer and friend R. B. Cunninghame Graham, quoted in reference to these homages: “After all he was not more than a simple leader defeated by its own party… the thought that any former president of some South American republic, whose star had been eclipsed, with all its personal prestige, were received nowadays with public honors in New York, surpasses the imagination of the common man, regardless of its strength”. Páez also came to be in life a Minister Plenipoteciario of Venezuela before the United States, to negotiate for the American government the dispute on the limits required by the English crown.
Soon after been received, praised and protected by the maximum authorities of the city, he made the decision to reside permanently in New York until his death at the age of 84 in 1873. He lived in the US for 16 years, with intervals of trips through some South American countries. The press cited “when he withdrew to his private life, he made of this country his home. General Páez was a man of enviable character and of extreme talent…”
His funeral was celebrated in the Roman Catholic church of Saint Stephen, at 28th street and Third Avenue. A great series of personalities from both countries attended his interment. During the ceremony Chopin’s “Funeral March” and Mozart’s “Requiem” were performed. His body rested at the Marble cemetery until it made its way to Venezuela in 1888.
Recognized artists photographed him. Such was the case of Mathew Brady, one of the most celebrated 19th century American photographers, father of photojournalism, who brought to light the image of the candidate Abraham Lincoln, first presidential candidate to achieve the presidency of the United States through photography means. The notable photographer Chat D. Fredericks also portrayed him towards 1863-65. The press said it “did not exist another so popular gallery in New York as that of Fredricks, called The Temple of the Arts located in the number 587 of the street Broadway.
The coffin of General Páez said good-bye with the high honors of its hierarchy. Today, his remains lie buried in the National Pantheon of Caracas, place where heroes of the Venezuelan independence rest.
*As mentioned above, one of the most notorious biographies of the General Páez was it written by the American R.B. Cunningham Grahame, who had known Páez in 1830 while he resided long years in Venezuela.
Antonio Padron Toro