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José María Vargas

In office
9 February 1835 – 9 July 1835
Preceded by Andrés Narvarte
Succeeded by José María Carreño
In office
August 20, 1835 – April 24, 1836
Preceded by José María Carreño
Succeeded by Andrés Narvarte

Born 10 March 1786(1786-03-10)
La Guaira, Venezuela
Died 13 July 1854 (aged 68)
New York City, USA
Spouse(s) Encarnación Maitín
Religion Roman Catholic

José María Vargas (10 March 1786 in La Guaira - 13 July 1854 in New York City) was the 5th President of Venezuela from 1835–1836.


Life and career

Medical surgeon, scientist, university professor and head of the University of Caracas, politician, writer and president of Venezuela. Son of José Antonio de Vargas Machuca and Ana Teresa Ponce. In 1798, began studies at the Royal and Pontifical University of Caracas, graduating as bachelor in philosophy in 11 July 1803. He received his degree of bachelor, lawyer and doctor in medicine in 1808. After finishing his medical studies, he transferred to Cumaná, where he lived until 1812, lapse in which he was elected to the Supreme Legislative Council of Cumaná (1811) in the context of the Venezuelan independence movement. When the 1812 Caracas earthquake struck on 26 March, Vargas, who was in La Guaira, lent his services as a doctor and public man to the community of his native city. After the events of the 1812 earthquake, Vargas returned to Cumaná to dedicate himself to his medical work. When the Royalist troops of Juan Francisco Javier Cervériz entered Cumaná, they incarcerated all the members of the Legislative Council, including Vargas- who was sent to the vaults of La Guaira where he remained until his release in 1813. By the end of that year, he embarked to Europe to perfect his medical and surgical knowledge. During this time he studied surgery, chemistry, botany, anatomy and odontology. Also, at that time, he was admitted into the Royal College of Surgeons in London, as a member.

Return to America

From his return to the American continent in 1819, he resided in the island of Puerto Rico; here too were his brothers and his mother as refugees, having fled the bloody Venezuelan War of Independence. In Puerto Rico he developed important professional and scientific work, writing numerous works and collaborating in addition with the island's Organization of Health. In 1825, he decided to return to Venezuela definitively. From his arrival he immediately dedicated himself to exercising his profession, eventually becoming a professor of anatomy at the University of Caracas. In 1827, after the reorganization of this university by Simón Bolívar, he was elected 'director', the first medical director, as per the new statutes. It is then that Vargas receives the recognition and the respect of diverse sectors of Caracas' society due to his successful administrative work; besides adjusting the rent of the university, he dedicated himself to reorganizing the diverse faculties, the maintenance of the premises, the organization of the libraries, and networking the university with other establishments. Consequently, at the end of his performance as a director, the university become a model of administrative effectiveness and a prestigious training center.


Sculpture of José María Vargas at the Central University of Venezuela

As an anatomy professor, inaugurated in Venezuela the dissection of corpses, a procedure that was extremely new for the time, and which conferred on him extraordinary reputation as a professor. In 1827 he founded the Medical Society of Caracas, which begun the practice of scientific assemblies in Venezuela. During this period he developed ample work in the investigation of botany, which took him throughout the world to establish relations with remarkable men of this science like Candolle, one of the greatest botanists of the time and who baptized some plants with the name of Vargasia in tribute to Vargas' works. In 1829, when the Economic Society of Friends of the Country is founded, Vargas was designated as its first director.

Once he concluded his administrative work in the university, Vargas dedicated himself completely to education, founding in 1832 the Faculty of Surgery. Simultaneously with his scientific and educative activities, Vargas took part in political activities, attending the Constituent Congress of 1830, where he was very active in the work commissions; in the plenary sessions (and in many other opportunities) he abstained from voting, as he discorded with some expositions of Simón Bolívar. Nevertheless, Bolívar named him his testamentary executor.


Engraving of José María Vargas

In 1834, when talk of the candidates for the presidential period (1835–1839) began, his name was mentioned with great insistence in intellectual circles, which somehow expressed certain antimilitarist attitude. In 1835 political power in Venezuela was exerted chiefly by the military leaders of the Independence process, and for this reason certain sectors tried to reinforce civil power by means of the prestigious figure of Jose María Vargas.

He was elected president in the elections of 1834, and ratified by Congress on 6 February 1835, and in 9 February was in charge of the presidency.

In 8 July 1835 exploded the Revolution of Reforms that demoted him from his position, and he was sent to Saint Thomas. Nevertheless, he was restituted in the first magistrature, as soon as José Antonio Páez and the constitutional army defeated the rebels. Vargas continued to be President of the Republic until April 1836, date in which he resigned irrevocably from this position.

After his experience as first magistrate, he dedicated himself exclusively to education for the rest of his life.

Last years and legacy

During this stage of his existence, he assumed the presidency of the Main directorate of Public Instruction, which he exerted from 1839 to 1852. Also, he continued giving his classes on anatomy and surgery at the University, founding in addition in 1842 the Faculty of Chemistry. He also presided the commission in charge of exhuming in Santa Marta, Colombia, the body of the Liberator Simón Bolívar and taking it to Venezuela, a task that was completed in December 1842. In August 1853, feeling ill, he traveled to the United States, where he resided first in Philadelphia and then in New York City, where finally he died in 13 July 1854. In 1877, his body was brought to Caracas and buried in the Panteón Nacional on 27 April 1877.

See also


Academic offices
Preceded by
José Cecilio Avila
Rector of the Central University of Venezuela
Succeeded by
José Nicolás Díaz

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