Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America

Larry Holzwarth - July 15, 2018

The Napoleonic Wars in Europe had an enormous impact on the development of the North and South American continents, including the sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States, the revolts in the French colony on Haiti, and eventually the independence of South American countries from Portugal and Spain. Mexico too fought for and won its independence in the decade following Napoleon’s second abdication, and the formerly huge Spanish Empire in the New World was reduced to the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico after the United States annexed Spanish Florida. Without the wealth from its colonies Spain fell from the ranks as a world power.

The row of dominoes began to fall with Napoleon’s ill-advised invasion of his former ally Spain, deposing the Bourbon Monarchy and installing his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. Napoleon established a liberal constitution in Spain which sought to install the reforms of the Napoleonic Civil Code and weaken the power of the Catholic clergy, and civil and military resistance to the French arose throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The situation in Spain and Portugal became almost civil war, abetted by the armies of the British and French. The unrest spread to the South and Central American colonies while the Peninsular War still raged.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
Charles IV was the last absolute monarch to rule over the Spanish Empire before it erupted in Revolution. Wikimedia

Here are ten events or personalities of the wars of Latin American Independence, in truth the final conflicts of the Napoleonic Wars.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
Ferdinand VII of Spain, known to history as the Felon King, was replaced by Joseph Bonaparte by order of Napoleon. WIkimedia

The Peninsular War and Opposition to Joseph Bonaparte

In 1807 a French Army under Napoleon, supported by his on again off again ally Spain, invaded Portugal in response to Portugal’s refusal to close its ports to British trade and impose Napoleon’s Continental System, a de facto blockade of Great Britain by the European continent. The Prince Regent of Spain fled with his family and the crown treasury, seeking refuge in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. The following year King Charles IV of Spain abdicated after the government of his ministers collapsed, and Ferdinand VII ascended to the throne. Meanwhile a French army of occupation remained in Spain, supposedly supportive of their Bourbon allies, and Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain.

Although the Spanish government accepted Joseph Bonaparte as the new King of Spain, the Spanish clergy and conservative nobles did not. Juntas formed in the cities and provinces in opposition to the French occupation. The population of Spain rose up against the French and Spain devolved into civil war, with the Spanish Army officially allied with the French, and Spanish guerrillas struck French outposts. The rivaling juntas fought each other for national control. The convulsions in Spain traveled with goods and exiles to the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The situation in Spain led to the formation of the Fifth Coalition against the French Empire of Napoleon.

The creation of the Cadiz Cortes in Spain, a regency which declared itself sovereign over Spain and all of its possessions, rejected all monarchies in Spain. When the news of its formation reached Spanish America, local juntas formed to protect Spanish autonomy, rejecting the Cadiz Cortes, largely because it was susceptible to capture by French troops at any time. The local juntas were formed around cities by regional aristocrats and wealthy merchants and planters, and quickly became jealous of the authority and influence wielded by each other. The juntas claimed to be representative of the true King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, but the distance from Spain allowed for the rise of independent thought and action based on local conditions.

By forming juntas which appeared to support the king, people of Spanish America were in fact declaring themselves opposed to the Cadiz Cortes, the ruling body of Spain opposing the French. In 1811 congresses composed of representatives from various juntas declared Paraguay, New Granada, and Venezuela independent of rule by the Cortes. The declaration and the absence of either Royal or Regency authority throughout Spanish America led to most of the colonies being in open revolt within themselves and each other, with royalists, those loyal to the Cortes, and those seeking outright independence at war with each other.

Between 1810 and 1814 there was a shift in the national attitudes of the juntas in Spanish America. Initially they had appealed to the people with the idea that they were Spanish, in opposition to the French who had usurped authority in their mother country, Spain. By 1814 the outlook was along the lines of being American, with an inherent loyalty to the cities and region of Spanish America in which they lived. The juntas also exacerbated tensions between the merchants and wealthy of the urban centers against the peasants of the farmlands and fields. Native and mixed-race rural peoples rose up against the landowners, who were mostly white. The seeds of revolution in Spanish America were planted by the French in the invasion of Spain.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
Troops of the Venezuelan revolution had liberated most of Venezuela and New Granada by 1821. Wikimedia

The Spanish Expeditionary Army of Ferdinand VII

When Spanish American liberals and moderates learned of the rejection of many of the liberal reforms in Spain, and by extension in the Spanish Empire, they became more united. Some liberals had sought a constitutional monarchy, others a full break with Spain. Ferdinand’s rejection of the reforms brought the liberals into a more unified structure, the militias under the control of rival juntas became more organized, and guerrilla actions in heavily royalist areas increased. Several expeditionary forces had been dispatched to Spanish America even as the Peninsular War raged, to assert Spain’s ultimate authority, but these troops were stretched thinly through the Spanish Empire.

Royalist forces and junta militias had exchanged control of regions of New Granada and Venezuela since the first resistance to the Cortes, and in 1815, in response to the growing strength of the insurgency, the restored King Ferdinand sent the largest army ever sent by Spain to the Americas. Until then the majority of the Royalist troops in South America were of native birth, about one in ten were from Spain, mostly adventurer officers. Ferdinand sent an expeditionary force of more than 10,000 men to pacify the regions of New Granada and Venezuela, a task at which they were initially successful, though the power of the forces was soon dissipated by its need to garrison large areas, and the susceptibility of the soldiers to tropical diseases.

By 1817 most of New Granada was pacified under the control of officers loyal to Ferdinand. But though the Spanish forces had asserted control over the regional machinery of government in several areas, they had not fully pacified the countryside, nor had they eliminated the spirit of full independence from Spain. Harsh methods instituted by Spanish authorities meanwhile increased the spirit of nationalism within the colonies of its empire. More troops were needed from Spain. As Ferdinand went about raising yet another expedition in Spain to be sent to subdue the unruly Spanish American colonies, liberals in Spain used the increased taxes necessary to fund it to push for a constitutional monarchy.

In 1820 an uprising among the Spanish military in Spain marched against the king and by March 7 Ferdinand was surrounded by mutinous troops, virtually imprisoned in the Royal Palace in Madrid. On March 10, Ferdinand agreed to restore the Spanish Constitution with its liberal reforms to the government and its curtailment of the powers of the clergy. This led to elections being held in Spain and in the colonies of its empire. The new Spanish government assumed that the constitutional reforms would be the basis of a reconciliation between the insurgents in the colonies and the government of the empire in Madrid.

The restored constitution was received with enthusiasm in Spanish America, but far from being the basis for reconciliation, it led to elections being held and representatives selected who favored the independence of the Spanish colonies rather than return to rule under the Spanish Cortes. Liberals in Spanish America feared the Cortes would not be a long-lived solution and conservatives were concerned about overreaching reforms of the Church and other areas. The result of the elections was an alliance in Spanish America between the factions which had formerly been in opposition to each other, and increased momentum towards independence of all of Spanish America.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
Venerated as The Libertador, Simon Bolivar was ruthless and brutal to Spanish troops and authorities who opposed him. Wikimedia

Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar Palacios Ponte y Blanco

Arguably the most famous of the leaders of the Spanish American wars of independence, Simon Bolivar was a Venezuelan military leader descended from a criollo family of wealth. The criollo people were then understood to be native people of Spanish descent, with a social standing beneath pure Spaniards, but above those of all others of Amerindian descent. A person could be considered a criollo if they had no more than 1/8 Amerindian ancestry. The criollo people were at the forefront of the independence movement in Spanish America in the early 19th century, both in its initial movements and throughout its completion.

Bolivar was sent to Spain when he was 16 to complete his education, and he later journeyed to France, as was expected of young, aristocratic men of his day, also visiting other European capitals. He was present when Napoleon crowned himself as Emperor of the French in 1804. He returned to Venezuela in 1804, and when the Supreme Junta of Caracas deposed the Spanish colonial authorities in 1810 and declared independence from Spain, Bolivar was deputized to travel to Great Britain with a delegation tasked with obtaining recognition from the British government. By 1811 he was back in Venezuela, having failed to gain recognition for Venezuela as an independent nation.

His military career began in 1812, during the early years of the struggle for separation from Spain. At one point Bolivar handed an ally in the struggle over to the Spanish authorities, angered at his defeatism, for which he was awarded by the Spanish with free travel to Curacao. Bolivar was criticized for the apparent moral lapse, and defended himself by saying that he had not been helping the Spanish, but instead punishing a traitor. In 1813 Bolivar pronounced himself to be El Libertador (The Liberator), and with a small force took Caracas from the Spanish authorities, declaring the Second Republic of Venezuela. Bolivar next attempted the liberation of New Granada, but political disputes and intrigues forced him to flee into exile in Haiti.

Bolivar raised an army in Haiti and in 1816 returned to South America and his campaigns to destroy the Spanish authorities. After five years of campaigning and unending efforts to unite the squabbling factions among the independence supporters, Bolivar established Gran Colombia, an independent state made up of what is now Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama, with himself as president. Bolivar then began the campaign for the liberation of Peru, during which he ordered his troops to loot and pillage the property of Spanish laic and clerical authorities. Bolivar also demanded and received tribute, in the form of gold, silver, and jewels, from the defeated Spanish.

A section of Peru was established as the Republic of Bolivia, making Bolivar one of the few persons to ever name a nation after himself. As the independent nations emerged, Bolivar opposed a federation of states, though he struggled to administer all of the components of Gran Colombia through a centrist government. In 1830 he stepped down from his position as head of Gran Colombia, urging his fellow citizens to retain its structure of government. Worshiped as a liberator, Bolivar administered his government as a dictator, and his legacy was a long period of civil wars and revolutions within the states freed from Spain.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
Emperor Pedro I of Brazil reigned for a short time before fleeing the country. Wikimedia

Brazilian Independence from Portugal

When Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807, the Prince Regent Joao, ruling the country in the name of his mother Queen Maria I (whom had been found insane in 1792), fled with his court to the Portuguese colony of Brazil. When Joao arrived in Brazil he established his court in Salvador and immediately enacted a trade agreement opening Brazilian ports to Great Britain. Prior to this arrangement Brazilian trade had been exclusively with Portugal. After the defeat of Napoleon Joao established through the Congress of Vienna the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves, which placed Brazil on an equal basis with Portugal.

In 1816 Joao acceded to the Portuguese throne as King Joao VI. He remained in Brazil, establishing an expanded commerce, education system, medical facilities, and the Bank of Brazil. He also established military academies, a gunpowder manufacturing facility in Rio de Janeiro, and a relatively free press. In 1821 he returned to Portugal facing financial difficulties and a revolt of the royal governors who had administered the country in his absence. One of the demands of their revolt was the king’s return to Lisbon. His heir, Prince Pedro, remained in Brazil. The royal governors also demanded the creation of a constitutional monarchy.

Brazil was by then the economic equal to Portugal, if not economically superior, and the new constitutional government demanded that Brazil be returned to its status of a colony, rather than the equal status granted by the Congress of Vienna. It also demanded that Prince Pedro return to Portugal. Pedro refused, and instead, with the support of the Municipal Senate of Rio de Janeiro, declared Brazil to be independent of Portugal and himself to be Emperor of Brazil, creating and assuming the throne as Dom Pedro I on September 7, 1822.

Portuguese garrisons remained in Brazil, and received the support of others who were unwilling to accept independence from Portugal. Emperor Pedro I took steps to create an army and navy, and ordered conscription of Amerindians, and forced enlistment of slaves, who were rewarded with their freedom. Brazilian ships began to interdict reinforcements from Portugal for the garrisons. The ships manned with volunteers from the British, recruited secretly by Brazilian agents in Liverpool, Bristol, Portsmouth, and other British ports. Many were veterans of the Napoleonic wars, beached on half-pay as the British Navy was reduced to peace time strength.

Ensuing naval victories led to the reduction of Portuguese garrisons and the cutting off of supplies, and the vast areas of Brazil were for the most part cleared of Portuguese troops and militant supporters by the end of 1823. Portugal recognized the Empire of Brazil as an independent nation in 1825. At the time Brazil included parts of today’s Uruguay (Montevideo) and other regions which later became separate nations in revolutions of their own. Although there were no official records kept which have survived to modern times, based on the size of the battles of the Brazilian War of Independence, estimates are that 5,000 – 7,000 casualties were incurred evicting the Kingdom of Portugal from the Americas.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
The troops led by Father Miguel Hidalgo, at first little more than a mob, killed those troops which had the misfortune to surrender to them, and other perceived royalists. Wikimedia

The Mexican War of Independence first phase

In Mexico, the war of independence was a series of conflicts which began, again as a byproduct of Napoleon’s invasion on Spain, on September 16, 1810. When news reached Mexico City of the removal of King Ferdinand and the placement of Joseph Bonaparte of the Spanish throne, the city council and the viceroy declared themselves sovereigns in the name of the rightful Spanish king. The attempt was stopped by a coup against the viceroy and the council members were arrested. Civil disturbances took root in other areas and cities, including in Dolores, where peasants and Amerindian residents were called to action by a Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo.

From the pulpit, Hidalgo issued the Grito de Delores (Cry of Delores), condemning the tyrannical Spanish government and calling the peasants to action. As his followers’ ranks swelled, they marched through several towns and villages, a growing mob exhorted to slaughter by religious fervor. The route of their march was marked by the bodies of any Spanish soldiers, authorities, or private citizens they encountered, invariably slaughtered. At the town of Guanajuato on September 28, they discovered about 500 Spanish and criollo supporters barricaded in a granary, and killed them all before marching toward Mexico City.

The mob swelled to an army of more than 25,000, marching under the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe. They were reinforced with troops from another revolutionary junta under Ignacio Lopez Rayon and defeated another much smaller Spanish force at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces, where they again disdained to take prisoners. Emissaries sent by Hidalgo to the Spanish commander in an attempt to avoid battle and bloodshed were executed by the Spanish, so there was disregard for the rules of war on both sides. By the time of the battle Hidalgo and his associate Ignacio Allende were at the head of an unruly mob of at least 70,000 men.

With Mexico City lying open and relatively helpless before him, Hidalgo ordered a retreat after defeating the Spanish force at Las Cruces. More than half of his “army” deserted following the victory, to pillage and take their loot home. The Spanish followed the remains of Hidalgo’s mob as it retreated. After the rebels were defeated at the Battle of Calderon, they began to flee towards the United States. They were cut off by Spanish troops, and the ringleaders, including Allende and Hidalgo were captured, as well as other leading supporters of an independent Mexico.

Allende and other officers were tried by a military court martial, convicted of high treason, and executed by firing squad, shot in the back to demonstrate their lack of honor. Hidalgo’s sentence was subject to the review of the Inquisition, and he was defrocked as a priest before he was executed on July 30. His head and those of several ringleaders were placed on display in the public square in Guanajuato as a warning to others. Spanish authorities ran down any accused of having taken part in the insurrection, and they were either executed or sentenced to slavery in Spain or other parts of the Spanish Empire. Another leader, Jose Maria Morelos, took over as the head of the rebellion.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
Revolutionary Jose Maria Morelos was another Catholic priest who was excommunicated by the Inquisition prior to his execution for treason. Wikimedia

The Mexican War of Independence second phase

In 1813 the Mexican provincial congress, known as the Congress of Chilpancingo, convened by Jose Morelos, enacted the Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of Northern America. Following the defeat of several insurgent armies scattered across Mexico the independence movement fell into the hands of small guerrilla bands. The conflict between the Spanish and those seeking independence became noted for its ferocity. Being captured be either side was a certain prelude to torture in order to extract information, followed by execution.

Morelos was a Roman Catholic priest who assumed the leadership of the irregulars and militia which had followed Hidalgo. As had happened in France in their Revolution, poor Catholic peasants had been exploited by the aristocracy, and the Church elders had been supportive of the exploitation through the church. Priests such as Hidalgo and Morelos found fervid support against the representatives of the Church in mostly Catholic Mexico, and exhorted their followers to depose the hierarchy in the name of the true gospel. Lack of supplies, armaments, and military discipline led to a long series of military defeats suffered by the revolutionaries.

Beginning in 1813 Morelos positioned the men under his command to protect the provisional congress. After several defeats, he was escorting the congress to a safe location when he was attacked by Spanish forces at Tezmalaca. Outnumbered, his troops fled for their lives and Morelos was captured. As a Catholic priest, he was spared immediate execution and was sent to Mexico City for trial under the Inquisition. Among the charges he faced, which included treason, was the crime of sending his sons to be educated among the heathen in the United States, rather than receiving a Catholic education in Mexico or Spain.

Morelos, whose guilt was never really in question as far as treason was concerned, was convicted of all 23 charges against him and executed in 1815, though his excommunication from the Church was later rescinded. The revolution continued, with Vicente Guerrero assuming a leadership role among the peasantry. Spanish forces led by Agustin de Iturbide were dispatched by the Viceroy to finally crush the rebellion. Iturbide was a criollo who had been an aggressive leader in the destruction of the armies of Hidalgo and Morelos. As Iturbide pursued the rebels under Guerrero in Oaxaca, word arrived in Mexico of the acceptance of a constitutional monarchy in Spain, accepting the reforms of the Constitution.

Iturbide and Guerrero joined forces against the Spanish government in Mexico and from the town of Iguala issued the proclamation of Mexican independence from Spain, declared Ferdinand as King of Mexico (or another Bourbon prince, should Ferdinand decline), established full equality of the criollos, and allowed the Church to retain its full authority and privileges. Thus the revolution shifted to being a conservative movement for independence from the reform minded government of Spain. The combined armies became known as the Army of the Three Guarantees, supporting Iturbide’s fiat which was known as the Plan of Iguala.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
Agustin Iturbide agreed to become Mexico’s first emperor after having his troops demonstrate for his accession. Wikimedia

Mexican War of Independence third phase.

Under Iturbide’s Plan of Iguala, the disputing factions of the Mexican citizenry were brought together, inspired by the piety expressed in support of Catholicism and the acceptance of a monarch (which the church taught was a divine right established by God). Iturbide dispatched messengers and emissaries to rebellious factions all over Mexico, explaining his position and soliciting their support. The Spanish forces and their allies, subject to constant guerrilla raids in the smaller towns and hamlets, began to withdraw towards Mexico City. Roving bands of guerrillas and more organized militia under the juntas rallied to Iturbide’s army.

In the summer of 1821 Iturbide’s army was too strong for the Spanish to overcome, and Iturbide dictated the Treaty of Cordoba, accepting the resignation of the Spanish viceroy, and establishing the independence of the Mexican Empire. Iturbide included a statement in the treaty which would allow the Mexican congress to appoint a criollo as Emperor should a suitable European prince not be persuaded to accept the throne. The Spanish Cortes did not accept the treaty, and in May 1822, after having his former regiments demonstrate in the streets of Mexico City demanding it, Iturbide was offered and accepted the throne and became Emperor Augustine I. In October the Emperor dismissed the Congress.

Spain attempted to reconquer the lost territory of what had been New Spain, through the ports of Veracruz and Ulua, and the Mexican Empire acquired warships from the United States and England, along with experienced naval officers to command them. Following the dissolution of the congress by the Emperor, the garrison at Veracuz, led by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, arose in rebellion against Iturbide, and gained the support of the Mexican fleet. The Imperial troops sided with Santa Anna, as did many of the heroes of Mexican independence and their followers. They demanded the restoration of Congress in the Plan of Casa Mata.

The Plan of Casa Mata was rapidly disseminated throughout all of Mexico, given extra urgency by the threat of the return of the Spanish. By the late winter of 1822 support for the plan was prevalent throughout all of Mexico save Mexico City, which was dominated by the Emperor and the few troops he still personally commanded. Face with the overwhelming strength of the opposition, which demanded a republican government, Iturbide reconvened the Congress, abdicated his throne, and ran for the hills, in March 1823.

The ensuing congress from the Mexican provinces and states (at the time the Mexican Empire stretched from California and as far north as present day Colorado to what is now Panama) established the Constitution of 1824, which established the United Mexican States as a federal republic. It prohibited any religion other than Roman Catholicism, created an independent judiciary, and though it did not specifically prohibit slavery, it did not repeal previously enacted laws which abolished slavery. In order to prevent Spanish incursion into the sparsely settled State of Texas, Mexico opened it to settlement from United States, offering citizenship and land to American settlers.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
The Argentine Declaration of Independence, printed in Spanish and Aymara, indigenous people of the Andes and Altiplano regions of South America. Wikimedia

The Argentine War of Independence

What is today Argentina was in the early nineteenth century the Viceroyalty of the Rio de Plata, governed by a viceroy from Spain, with most of the positions of authority throughout the province occupied by Spaniards. It included what became Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay, and because of the sheer size of the region and its topography, consisted of isolated areas of population centers. The viceroy’s seat of government was in Buenos Aires, which was connected by water with its rival city Montevideo, and both cities were thriving ports, trading with the Spanish ports of Cadiz and Ferrol.

The region was populated with criollos, who gradually came to the belief that the Spanish were over-represented in the government bureaucracy at their expense, despite the absence of legal barriers to the criollos. During the Napoleonic Wars British troops attacked the cities in the Rio de Plata, and the citizenry of the region was militarized formally, retaking the city of Buenos Aires from the British in 1806. The following year the British captured Montevideo, but another attack on Buenos Aires failed, though the criollos deposed the viceroy during the campaign. Spain appointed a new viceroy following the campaign, through the junta de Seville.

In 1810 the Peninsular War was at its nadir as far as the Spanish were concerned. The Junta de Seville was overturned when Seville was overrun by the French. In Buenos Aires, the authority of the viceroy was questioned since the body which had appointed him no longer existed, and the local military agreed, creating the Primera Junta to govern locally. Buenos Aires then petitioned other cities to send representatives to the new governing body, but found resistance from nearly all of them. The Council of Regency in Spain declared Buenos Aires to be in rebellion and created a new viceroyalty in Montevideo.

Both sides of the conflict remained loyal to King Ferdinand of Spain initially, the dispute was over the authority of the Regency and whether the King was a constitutional monarch or an absolute ruler. Eventually a third faction evolved, and all three battled each other during the war of independence and the ensuing Argentine Civil War. The War of Independence began in May 1810, and would last until 1818. Initially the campaigns were fought in the northeast and by the end the war was being fought in the west, in what is now Chile. As it unfolded the patriots began to develop the republican leanings which led to them opposing even a constitutional monarchy.

In 1815 King Ferdinand was returned to the Spanish throne, after promising to honor the constitutional reforms enacted by the Regency during his absence. Though he failed to honor those promises, the Argentine patriots declared their independence from Spain at the Congress of Tucuman in 1816. Royalist troops failed to suppress the revolution and in 1818 Chile, to which the revolution had spread, declared its independence from Spain as well. Spain did not formally recognize the independence of Argentina until 1857, and the country was plagued by political conflicts and civil war for decades.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
The Spanish American Revolutions were the catalyst for the creation of the Monroe Doctrine. Library of Congress

The Monroe Doctrine

The struggle for the nations of Spanish America to gain independence from Spain had a profound effect on the United States and its foreign policy. The United States was one of the earliest nations to recognize the independence of the emerging South American nations, and as such was determined to prevent their being re-colonized by Spain or conquered by another European power. At the same time it was determined to prevent the expansionism of the new nations, particularly Brazil and Mexico. When Mexico planned to expand its empire into Cuba, the United States made it clear that Cuba was to remain Spanish territory.

The Monroe Doctrine was announced during President Monroe’s seventh annual message to Congress, what later came to be known as the State of the Union Address. Its intent was clear; Spain and the other European powers’ intercession in the independence of the South American nations was not to be tolerated. Great Britain, happy to see the decline of its rivals Spain and France in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, accepted the Monroe Doctrine, and backed it at sea with the strength of the Royal Navy. The British welcomed the trade from the former colonies of Spain, and had no desire to see Spain regain them.

In the Spanish colonies, with many still fighting the local royalists and Spanish expeditionary forces, the Monroe Doctrine was given a mixed reception. Simon Bolivar was pleased with the announcement and its intention, but was realist enough to know that the United States lacked the military strength to enforce it on their own. The Royal Navy of Great Britain enforced the doctrine when it was in their interests to do so, but there was no official announcement by the British government that they would be the military teeth for the American declaration. Other revolutionary leaders questioned American motives.

During the American Civil War both Great Britain and France violated the tenor of the Monroe Doctrine, but the United States did not take steps to enforce it, concerned that doing so could lead to recognition of the Confederacy. The British reclaimed their crown colony of British Honduras, (today’s Belize) in 1862 and the French invaded Mexico, installing the Emperor Maximilian. In 1865 the United States moved a large army to the Mexican border, and the presence of the veteran troops convinced the French to abandon their Mexican adventure, leaving Maximilian to his fate at the hands of Mexican insurgents.

The Monroe Doctrine had little effect on the wars which emerged between the former Spanish viceroyalties and colonies which became the nations of South America. Throughout the nineteenth century, civil wars, revolutions, and coup d’ etats plagued the South American continent, and the United States intervened in Venezuela and other nations on several occasions. The South Americans initiated the ejection of Spain from the New World, but it was the Monroe Doctrine which prevented the Spanish from reasserting their authority and regaining their lost empire. After the Monroe Doctrine the Spanish Empire was reduced to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and a few other small possessions.

Here are 10 Things to Know About the Independence Movement in Spanish America
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 was just one of many revolutions, rebellions, coups, and wars, which occurred in the former New Spain throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Library of Congress

The Aftermath of the South American Revolutions

Regional differences, geographical isolation, trade rivalries, and religious policies, as well as the despotic nature of some leaders and the varying tribes of Amerindians, precluded the union of the South American nations into a confederation. It became a reflection of European nationalism rather than American union. Wars of conquest and revolutions against ruling governments continued for decades in nearly all of South America which had formerly been part of New Spain. Brazil, which had not, fought three major wars during the reign of Pedro II, including the Paraguayan War, which killed more than 70% of the adult male population of Paraguay.

Instability in the former Spanish empire led to numerous interventions by the United States, including the Mexican War, itself descended from unresolved border disputes left over from the Texas Revolution. The United States intervened in Venezuela, in still Spanish Cuba in the 1890s, and in the Mexican Revolution of 1911. Wars conducted between the South American countries invited the intercession of Great Britain, which in the early nineteenth century was the largest trading partner and financial investor in the former Spanish lands. The United States increased its trade with the former Spanish colonies to reduce British influence and interest throughout the nineteenth century.

The influence of Catholicism in the Spanish Empire continued in the independent nations after they broke away from Spain. Freedom of religion came gradually. Brazil established freedom of religion in 1890, the Catholic Church remained the state religion in Colombia until 1991. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church was such that Paraguay recognizes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Feast of the Assumption, and other Catholic feasts as national holidays. Religion classes are allowed in public schools. Bolivia did not grant freedom of religion until 2008.

Problems over slavery, which had been allowed in the Spanish Empire, plagued many of the nations which emerged from it. Mexico formally abolished slavery in the 1820s, after having invited American settlement in the Mexican state of Texas. Many of the Americans who migrated to Texas brought slaves with them, and they were a major factor in the Texas Revolution of 1835-36, which led to the Battles of the Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto, and Texas independence. Brazil remained a stable constitutional monarchy until it abolished slavery in 1889, leading to an overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the first republic.

The revolutions within the Spanish Empire, coupled with the damages inflicted on the Spanish economy and infrastructure, removed Spain from the great powers of Europe, and as a rival with Great Britain for global empire. Independence was achieved, but in many cases individual freedom was severely curtailed, and the many changes of government and policy restricted the growth of the newly emerged nations. By the 1890s the caricature of the tinpot Latin American dictator emerged, and it continued to thrive throughout the twentieth century, long after the dictatorial viceroys of Spain were long forgotten.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Peninsular War”, by Charles Esdaile, 2003

“The Spanish Army and the Loss of America, 1810-1824”, by Margaret L. Woodward, Hispanic American Historical Review, 1968

“Simon Bolivar’s Quest for Glory”, by Richard W. Slatta, 2003

“Citizen Emperor: Pedro II and the Making of Brazil”, by Roderick J. Barman, 1999

“The Independence of Latin America”, by Leslie Bethell, 1987

“The Mexican Wars for Independence”, by Timothy J. Henderson, 2009

“Liberators: Latin America’s Struggle for Independence 1810-1830”, by Robert Harvey, 2000

“Independence in Spanish America: A Comparative Approach”, by Richard Graham, 1994

“Monroe Doctrine, 1823”, by the Office of the Historian, United States Department of State, April 6, 2016, online

“Independence of Spanish America: Civil Wars, Revolutions, and Underdevelopment”, by Jay Kinsbruner, 2000