José de San Martin

Although some have questioned the extent to which freemasonry and its Enlightenment tenets influenced the independence movements in Latin America (for example, Leon Zeldis’s ‘The Masonic Affiliation of San Martin’, AQC 111 (1998)), others have argued that nineteenth-century Latin American freemasonry was deeply political.

Born in Latin America in 1778 to a Spanish soldier and an indigenous mother, San Martín was educated in Spain and served in the Spanish military. He fought in the Peninsular War and by 1811 had been promoted lieutenant colonel. San Martin was initiated into Lodge No. 3 of Caballeros Racionales [Lodge of Rational (Enlightenment) Knights], in Cádiz, Spain, the same year. The lodge was associated with the Spanish Enlightenment which in 1812 found voice in a new Spanish Constitution which established the principles of universal male suffrage, national sovereignty, a constitutional monarchy, and freedom of the press, and was supportive of land reform and private enterprise. It was one of the most politically liberal constitutions of the age. Later the same year, San Martin resigned from the Spanish army and travelled to London; a few months later, with others, he sailed to Argentina aboard the George Canning to serve under the First Triumvirate and campaign for and support the independence movement in southern Latin America.

The pro-independence factions faced substantial opposition from royalists and others with strong vested interests in maintaining the status quo, and de San Martin was tasked with forming and training a revolutionary military force. Alongside, he and colleagues established a branch of Caballeros Racionales in Buenos Aires – Lodge Latauro – and in Santiago, to promote Enlightenment political ideas. As well as San Martín, lodge members included Carlos María de Alvear, José Matías Zapiola, Francisco Chilavert and Eduardo Kailitz. Historians have argued that the lodge was key to organising the 8 October 1812 Revolution that marked the end of the First Triumvirate and its replacement by the Second Triumvirate, which called a new Assembly and, among other things, promoted San Martín to full colonel.

Ferdinand VII was restored to power in Spain in March 1814 and Spain reverted to absolutism. The pro-royalist backlash in Spain’s South American colonies was swift and intense, with civil wars breaking out across much of Latin America. San Martin was at the forefront of pro-independence movements not only in Argentina but also Chile and Peru, however opposition to the royalists fractured and became fragmented, with rival opposition leaders disagreeing and quarrelling.

San Martin returned to Buenos Aires and sailed for Europe. He settled in Brussels but later moved to Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France. He died there in August 1850.