Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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YARGAS, Jose Maria, Venezuelan president, born in La Guaira, 2 March, 1786; died in New York city, 13 July, 1854. He studied in the University of Caracas, where he was graduated in 1806 in philosophy and in 1808 in medicine, and in 1809 he translated Rousseau's " Contrat social," which he circulated privately among his friends for fear of the authorities. Early in 1810 he began the practice of his profession in Cumana, which province sent him as representative to congress, and he arrived in La Guaira just before the earthquake of 26 March, 1812, which destroyed nearly the whole city and killed 4,000 persons. He was the only surviving physician, and his self-sacrifice in saving lives and attending the wounded was acknowledged by the municipality and the national executive. After the capitulation of Miranda in the same year, Vargas was thrown by order of Monteverde into the dungeons of La Guaira; but in 1813 he received permission to emigrate. He continued his studies in the University of Edinburgh, was received as a member of the Royal college of surgeons of London, and travelled for some time through England and France. Afterward he practised his profession for several years in Porto Rico ; but he returned in 1825 to Caracas, where in 1826, by order of Bolivar, he reorganized the university and in 1827 was elected its rector. He founded the chairs of anatomy, chemistry, and surgery, and, besides teaching these branches for some time in the university, gave private instruction to the best students at night in his home. In 1830 he was elected by Caracas to the constituent congress of Venezuela and opposed strenuously and with eloquence the proscription of Bolivar and the annexation of the province of Casanare to Venezuela. He was elected a member of the government council, and in 1834 to the presidency of the republic, which he was forced by public clamor to accept after repeated declinations. On 9 February, 1835, he took charge of the executive, and during his term he gave his salary as president to hospitals, schools, and other beneficent objects. When a mutiny of the military party, which hated the first civilian president, began in Caracas, 8 July, 1835. Vargas with the vice-president was exiled to St. Thomas; but before leaving he had time to convoke the council and issue a decree appointing General Paez, who was then living in retirement, commander-in-chief for the re-establishment of order. The latter subdued the revolution in a fortnight and recalled Vargas, who administered the executive with strict impartiality; but, weary of political strife, he repeatedly handed in his resignation, which was at last reluctantly accepted by congress, 24 April, 1836. He returned, notwithstanding his shattered health, to his functions in the university and as director of public instruction, from 1838 till 1846 was a member of the senate and almost continuously its president, and in 1847 was appointed to the government council, but resigned in 1849. His anxiety, caused by the uninterrupted internal strife in his country, injured his health, and in 1853 he went to New York, where he died. He left his anatomical collections and physical cabinet, part of his library of 8,000 volumes, and two houses, to the university, the rest of the library to the National library, and his mineral and botanical collections to the National museum of Caracas.
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