Chilean Declaration of Independence

Chilean Declaration of Independence document preserved at the National Congress of Chile, Valparaíso

The Chilean Declaration of Independence is a document declaring the independence of Chile from the Spanish Empire. It was drafted in January 1818 and approved by Supreme Director Bernardo O'Higgins on 12 February 1818 at Talca, despite being dated in Concepción on 1 January 1818.[1][2] The ceremony of independence was performed on 12 February 1818, the first anniversary of the Battle of Chacabuco.

The original document, displaying manuscript comments by O'Higgins, was damaged at the Palace of the Real Audiencia of Santiago.[3] In 1832, under President José Joaquín Prieto, a new copy was sent to Peru to be signed by O'Higgins, and later by his former ministers, Miguel Zañartu, Hipólito Villegas and José Ignacio Zenteno, who were still living in Chile.[1] This copy was kept at the Palacio de La Moneda until the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, when it was destroyed during the fighting.[4]

Historical background

¿Jura usted defender la patria hasta derramar la última gota de sangre, para conservarla ilesa hasta depositarla en manos del señor don Fernando VII, nuestro soberano, o de su legítimo sucesor; conservar y guardar nuestra religión y leyes; hacer justicia y reconocer al supremo Consejero de Regencia como representante de la majestad Real?
Do you swear to defend the fatherland to the last drop of your blood, to keep it unharmed in the hands of Fernando VII, our lord, or his rightful heir; to uphold and protect our religion and our laws; to maintain justice and recognize the supreme Counselor of the Regency as the representative of His Royal Majesty?

— First National Junta Oath, 18 September 1810

By 1817, the Chilean War of Independence had entered its final phase, and there was little doubt that its final goal, national independence, would be realized. Even though Chile had been operating independently from Spain for several years, no formal declaration of independence had yet been produced.

One of the first official documents to address the issue of independence was the Provisional Constitutional Regulations of 1812, introduced by José Miguel Carrera on 27 October 1812. Article V of this document states that "No decree, ruling or order, issued by any authority or courts outside the territory of Chile, will have any effect; anyone who tries to give them force will be punished as criminals of the State", while also recognizing the authority of Fernando VII in Article III.

At the beginning of Patria Nueva, a period that began with the victory at the Battle of Chacabuco, Chile had a government with its own authorities which controlled much of the territory of Chile, had a flag, a coat-of-arms and its own currency, all of which indicated that Chile had become an independent state. Thus, there was no pressing need to make an explicit declaration of independence, as the United States of America had done in 1776, Venezuela in 1811, Colombia in 1813, and Argentina in 1816.[1]

The President of Chile, Bernardo O'Higgins, bore in mind the problems experienced by the previous era, and convinced the members of his assembly that declaring independence would be difficult and problematic at this time, as the country was still warring against the Spanish Royalists and because the establishment of internal order was indispensable towards the goal of independence.[1] Therefore, it was decided that a plebiscite would be held instead.