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The Spanish American wars of independence were the numerous wars against Spanish rule in Spanish America that took place during the early 19th century, from 1808 until 1829. The conflict started in 1808, with junta established in Mexicomarker and Montevideomarker in reaction to the events of the Peninsular War, and ultimately resulted in the creation of a chain of newly independent countries stretching from Argentinamarker and Chilemarker in the south to Mexicomarker in the north. Only Cubamarker and Puerto Rico remained under Spanish rule until the Spanish–American War in 1898. During the Peninsular War, Spain found itself cut off from its empire and without stable leadership. The war in Europe ultimately convinced the Spanish Americans of the need to establish independence from the mother country and various revolutions broke out through Spanish America.

The conflicts can be characterized both as civil wars and a wars of national liberation, since the majority of combatants on both sides were Spanish Americans and goal of the conflict for one side was the independence of the Spanish colonies in the Americas. In addition, the wars were related to the more general Latin American wars of independence, which include the conflicts in Haitimarker and Brazilmarker. Brazil’s independence shared a common starting point with Spanish America’s, since both were triggered by Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. Moreover, the process of Latin America's independence took place in the general political and intellectual climate that emerged from Age of Enlightenment and that influenced all of the so-called Atlantic Revolutions, including the earlier revolutions in the United States and France. Nevertheless, the wars in, and the independence of, Spanish America were the result of unique developments within the Spanish Monarchy.

Historical background

Map of the Hispanic American War

Several factors set the stage for wars of independence. First the Bourbon Reforms of the mid-eighteenth century introduced changes to the relationship of Spanish Americans to the Crown. In an effort to better control the administration and economy of the overseas possessions the Crown reintroduced the practice of appointing outsiders, almost all Peninsulares to the various royal offices throughout the empire. This meant that Spanish Americans lost the gains they had made in holding local offices as a result of the sale of offices during the previous century and a half. In some areas—such as Cuba, Río de la Plata and New Spain—the reforms had positive effects, improving the local economy and the efficiency of the government.

In other areas the changes in crown's economic and administrative policies led to tensions with locals, which at times erupted in open revolts, such as the Revolt of the Comuneros in New Granada and the Rebellion of Túpac Amaru II in Peru. Neither of these two eighteenth-century developments—the loss of high offices to Criollos and the revolts—were the direct causes of the wars of independence, which happened decades later, but they were important elements of the political background in which the wars took place.

Other factors included Enlightenment thinking and the examples of the Atlantic Revolutions. The Enlightenment spurred the desire for social and economic reform to spread throughout Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Ideas about free trade and physiocratic economics were raised by the Enlightenment. (See, Enlightenment Spain.) The political reforms implemented and the many constitutions written both in Spain and throughout the Spanish world during the wars of independence were influenced by these factors.

Collapse the Bourbon dynasty

The Peninsular War was the trigger for the wars of independence. The Peninsular War began an extended period of instability in the world-wide Spanish Monarchy which lasted until 1823. Napoleon's removal of the Bourbon dynasty from the Spanish throne precipitated a political crisis. Although the Spanish world almost uniformly rejected Napoleon's plan to give the crown to his brother, Joseph, there was no clear solution to the lack of a king. Following traditional Spanish political theories on the contractual nature of the monarchy (see Philosophy of Law of Francisco Suárez), the peninsular provinces responded to the crisis by establishing juntas. The move, however, led to more confusion, since there was no central authority and most juntas did not recognize the presumptuous claim of some juntas to represent the monarchy as a whole. The Junta of Seville, in particular, claimed authority over the overseas empire, because of the province's historic role as the exclusive entrepôt of the empire.

Creation of new governments

This impasse was resolved through negotiations between the juntas and the Council of Castile, which led to the creation of a "Supreme Central and Governmental Junta of Spain and the Indies" on September 25, 1808. It was agreed that the provinces of the peninsula would send two representatives to this Central Junta, and that the overseas provinces, would send one representative. These "provinces" were defined as "the viceroyalties of New Spain, Peru, New Kingdom of Granada, and Buenos Aires, and the independent captaincies general of the island of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Chile, Province of Venezuela, and Philippines."

This scheme was criticized for providing unequal representation to the overseas territories, but nevertheless, throughout the end of 1808 and early 1809, the provincial capitals elected candidates, whose names were forwarded to the capitals of the viceroyalty or captaincies general. Several important and large cities were left without direct representation in the Supreme Junta. In particular Quitomarker and Charcasmarker, which saw themselves as the capitals of kingdoms, resented being subsumed in the larger "province" of Peru. This unrest led to the establishment of juntas in these cities in 1809, which were eventually quashed by the authorities within the year. (See, Luz de América and Bolivian War of Independence.) An unsuccessful attempt at establishing a junta in New Spain was also stopped. In order to establish a more legitimate government, the Supreme Junta called for the convening of an "extraordinary and general Cortes of the Spanish Nation." The election scheme for the Cortes was more equitable and provided more time to determine what would be considered an overseas province.

The dissolution of the Supreme Junta on January 29, 1810, because of the reverses suffered by the Spanish forces, set off another wave of juntas being established in the Americas. French forces had taken over southern Spain and forced the Supreme Junta to seek refuge in the island-city of Cadiz. The Junta replaced itself with a small, five-man regency. Most Spanish Americans saw no reason to recognize a rump government which was under the treat of being captured by the French at any moment, and began to work for the creation of local juntas to preserve the region's independence from the French. Junta movements were successful in New Granada (Colombia), Venezuela, Chile and Río de la Plata (Argentina). Less successful, though serious movements, also occurred in Central America. Ultimately, Central America, along with most of New Spain, Quito (Ecuador), Peru, Upper Peru (Bolivia), the Caribbean and the Philippine Islands remained in control of royalists for the next decade and participated in the Cortes' efforts to establish a liberal government for the Spanish Monarchy. (See, Cádiz Cortes and Spanish Constitution of 1812.)

First phase of the wars of independence, 1810-1814

The creation of juntas in Spanish America set the stage for the fighting that would afflict the region for the next decade and a half. Political fault lines appeared, which often resulted in military conflict. On the one hand the juntas challenged the authority of all royal officials, whether they recognized the Regency or not. On the other hand, royal officials and Spanish Americans who desired to keep the empire together were split between liberals, who supported the efforts of the Cortes, and conservatives (often called "absolutists" in the historiography), who did not want to see any innovations in government. Finally, although the juntas claimed to carry out their actions in the name of the deposed king, Ferdinand VII, their creation provided an opportunity for people who favored outright independence to publicly and safely promote their agenda. The proponents of independence called themselves patriots, a term which eventually was generally applied to them.

That independence was not the initial concern is, nevertheless, evidenced by the fact that few areas declared independence in the years after 1810. The congresses of Venezuela and New Granada did so in 1811 and Paraguay in 1813. (See, Patria Boba and Venezuelan Declaration of Independence.) Some historians explain the reluctance to declare independence as a "mask of Ferdinand VII," that is, that patriot leaders felt that they needed to claim loyalty to the deposed monarch in order to prepare the masses for the radical change that full independence eventually would entail. Nevertheless, even areas such as Río de la Plata and Chile, which more or less maintained de facto independence from the peninsular authorities, did not declare independence until quite a few years later, in 1816 and 1818, respectively. Overall, despite achieving formal or de facto independence, many regions of Spanish America were marked by nearly continuous civil wars, which lasted well into the 1820s. In Mexico, where the junta movement had been stopped in its early stages by a coalition of Peninsular merchants and government officials, efforts to establish a government independent of the Regency or the French took the form of popular rebellion, under the leadership of Miguel Hidalgo. Hidalgo was captured and executed in 1811, but a resistance movement continued, which declared independence from Spain in 1813. In Central America, attempts at establishing juntas were also put down, but resulted in significantly less violence. The Caribbean islands, like the Philippines on the other side of the world, were relatively peaceful. Any plots to set up juntas were denounced to the authorities early enough to stop them before they gained wide-spread support.

Social tensions

Underlying social tensions had a great impact on the nature of the fighting. Rural areas were pitted against urban centers, as grievances against the authorities found an outlet in the political conflict. This is the case with Hidalgo's peasant revolt, which was fueled as much by discontent over several years of bad harvests as with events in the Peninsular War. Hidalgo was originally part of a circle of liberal urbanites in Queretaromarker, who sought to establish a junta. After this conspiracy was discovered, Hidalgo turned to the rural people of the Mexican Bajío to build his army, and their interests soon overshadowed those of the urban intellectuals. A similar tension existed in Venezuela, where the Spanish immigrant José Tomás Boves was able to form a nearly invincible, informal, royalist army out of the Llanero, mixed-race, plains people, by seeking to destroy the white, landowning class. Boves and his followers often disregarded the command of Spanish officials and were not concerned with actually reestablishing the toppled royal government, choosing instead to keep real power among themselves. Finally in the backcountry of Upper Peru, the republiquetas kept the idea of independence alive by allying with disenfranchised members of rural society and Native groups, but were never able to take the major population centers. Often, royalism or patriotism simply provided a banner to organize the aggrieved, and the political causes could be discarded just as quickly as they were picked up. The Venezuelan Llaneros switched to the patriot banner once the elites and the urban centers became securely royalist after 1815, and it was the royal army in Mexico that ultimately brought about that nation's independence.

Regional rivalry

Regional rivalry also played an important role in the wars. The disappearance of a central, imperial authority—and in some cases of even a local, viceregal authority (as in the cases of New Granada and Río de la Plata)—initiated a prolonged period of balkanization in many regions of Spanish America. It was not clear which political units which should replace the empire, and there were no new national identities to replace the traditional sense of being Spaniards. The original juntas of 1810 appealed first, to sense of being Spanish, which was juxtaposed against the French threat; second, to a general American identity, which was juxtaposed against the Peninsula which was lost to the French; and third, to a sense of belonging to the local province, the patria in Spanish. More often than not, juntas sought to maintain a province's independence from the capital of the former viceroyalty or captaincy general, as much as from the Peninsula itself. Armed conflicts broke out between the provinces over the question of whether some provinces were to be subordinate to others in the manner that they had been under the crown. This phenomenon was particularly evident in New Granada and Río de la Plata. This rivalry also lead some regions to adopt the opposing political cause from their rivals. Peru seems to have remained strongly royalist in large part because of its rivalry with Río de la Plata, to which it had lost control of Upper Peru when the later was elevated to a viceroyalty in 1776. The creation of juntas in Río de la Plata allowed Peru to regain formal control of Upper Peru for the duration of the wars.

Royalist ascendancy, 1814-1820

By 1815 the general outlines of which areas were controlled by royalists and pro-independence forces were established and a general stalemate set in the war. In areas where royalists controlled the main population centers, most of the fighting by those seeking independence was done by isolated guerrilla bands. In New Spain, the two main guerrilla groups were lead by Guadalupe Victoria in Puebla and Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca. In northern South America, New Granadan and Venezuelan patriots, under leaders such as Francisco de Paula Santander, Simón Bolívar, Santiago Mariño, Manuel Piar and José Antonio Páez, carried out campaigns in the vast Orinoco River basin and along the Caribbean coastmarker, often with material aid coming from Curaçaomarker and Haitimarker. And as mentioned above, in Upper Peru, guerrilla bands controlled the isolated, rural parts of the country.

Royalist military

During this period royalist forces made advances into New Granada, which they controlled from 1815 to 1819, and into Chile, from 1814 to 1817. Except for royalist areas in the northeast and south, the provinces of New Granada had maintained independence from Spain since 1810, unlike neighboring Venezuela, where royalists and pro-independence forces had exchanged control of the region several times. To pacify Venezuela and to retake New Granada, Spain organized and sent in 1815 the largest armed force it ever sent to the New World, consisting of approximately 10,000 troops and nearly sixty ships. (See, Spanish reconquest of New Granada.) Although this force was crucial in retaking a solidly pro-independence region like New Granada, its soldiers were eventually spread out throughout Venezuela, New Granada, Quito and Peru and lost to tropical diseases, diluting their impact on the war. More importantly, the majority of the royalist forces were composed, not of soldiers sent from the peninsula, but of Spanish Americans.

Overall, Europeans formed only about a tenth of the royalist armies in Spanish America, and only about half of the expeditionary units, once they were deployed in the Americas. Since each European soldier casualty was substituted by a Spanish American soldier, over time, there were more and more Spanish American soldiers in the expeditionary units. For example Pablo Morillo, commander in chief of the expeditionary force sent South America, reported that he only had 2,000 European soldiers under his command in 1820, in other words, only half of the soldiers of his expeditionary force were European. It is estimated that in the Battle of Maipú only a quarter of the royalist forces were European soldiers, in the Battle of Carabobomarker about a fifth, and in the Battle of Ayacucho less than 1% was European.

The American militias reflected the racial make-up of the local population. For example, in 1820 the royalist army in Venezuela had 843 white (español), 5,378 Casta and 980 Indigenous soldiers.
Royalist army

Restoration of Ferdinand VII

In 1814 with the collapse of the First French Empire, Ferdinand VII was restored to the Spanish throne in March. This signified an important change, since most of the political and legal changes done on both sides of the Atlantic—the myriad of juntas, the Cortes in Spain and several of the congresses in the Americas, many of the constitutions and new legal codes—had been done in his name. Before entering Spanish territory, Ferdinand made loose promises to the Cortes that he would uphold the Spanish Constitution. But once in Spain he realized that he had significant support from conservatives in the general population and the hierarchy of the Spanish Catholic Church, and so on May 4, he repudiated the Constitution and ordered the arrest of liberal leaders on May 10. Ferdinand justified his actions by stating that the Constitution and other changes had been made by a Cortes assembled in his absence and without his consent. He restored the former law codes and political institutions and promised to convene a new Cortes under its traditional form (with separate chambers for the clergy and the nobility), something which never occurred. News of the events arrived through Spanish America during the next three weeks to nine months, depending on time it took goods and people to travel from Spain.

This, in effect, constituted a definitive break with both the autonomous governments, which had not yet declared formal independence, and with the effort of Spanish liberals to create a representative government that would fully include the overseas possessions and was seen as an alternative to independence by many in New Spain, Central America, the Caribbean, Quito, Peru, Upper Peru and Chile. Yet, the news of the restoration of the "ancien régime" did not initiate an new wave of juntas, as had happened in 1809 and 1810. Instead most Spanish Americans were moderates who decided to wait and see what would come out of the restoration of normalcy. Liberals on both sides of the Atlantic, nevertheless, continued to conspire to bring back a constitutional monarchy, ultimately succeeding in 1820. The most dramatic example of transAtlantic collaboration is perhaps Francisco Javier Mina's expedition to Texas and northern Mexico in 1816 and 1817.

Spanish Americans in royalist areas who were committed to independence had already joined the guerrilla movements. Ferdinand's actions did set areas outside of the control of the crown on the path to full independence. The governments of these regions, which had their origins in the juntas of 1810, and even moderates there, who had entertained a reconciliation with the crown, now saw the need to separate from Spain, if they were to protect the reforms they had enacted.

Patriot advances

Towards the end of this period the pro-indendence forces made two important advances. In the Southern Cone, José de San Martín as the governor of Cuyo, organized an army as early as 1814 in preparation for an invasion of Chile. This became the nucleus of the Army of the Andes, which received crucial political and material support in 1816 when Juan Martín de Pueyrredón became Supreme Director of the United Provinces. From January to February 1817, San Martín led the Army over the Andes in an audacious move that turned the tables on the royalists in Chile. By February 10, San Martín had control of northern and central Chile, and a year later had control of the south. Chile was secured from royalist control and independence was declared that year. San Martín and his allies spent the next two years planning an invasion of Peru, which began in 1820.

In northern South America, Simón Bolívar devised a similar plan to liberate New Granada from the royalists. Like San Martín, Bolívar personally undertook the efforts to create an army to invade a neighboring country and collaborated with pro-independence exiles from that region. Unlike San Martín, Bolívar did not have the approval of the Venezuelan congress. From June to July 1819, using the rainy season as cover, Bolívar led an army comprised mostly of Llaneros over the cold, forbidding passes of the Andes, but the gamble payed off. By August Bolívar was in control of Bogotámarker and gained the support of New Granada, which still resented the harsh reconquest carried out under Morillo. With the resources of New Granada, Bolívar became the undisputed leader of the patriots in Venezuela and orchestrated the union of the two regions in a new state called Colombia .

Independence consolidated, 1820-1825

To counter the advances the pro-independence forces made in South America, Spain prepared a second, large, expeditionary force in 1819. This force, however, never left Spain, and instead it became the means by which liberals finally were able to reinstate a constitutional regime. On January 1, 1820, Rafael Riego, commander of the Asturias Battalion, headed a rebellion among the troops, demanding the return of the 1812 Constitution. His troops marched through the cities of Andalusiamarker with the hope of extending the uprising to the civilian population, but locals were mostly indifferent. An uprising, however, did occur in Galiciamarker, in northern Spain, and from there it quickly spread throughout the country. On March 7, the royal palace in Madrid was surrounded by soldiers under the command of General Francisco Ballesteros, and three days later on March 10, the besieged Ferdinand VII agreed to restore the Constitution.

Riego's Revolt had two significant effects on the war in the Americas. First in military matters, the large numbers of reinforcements, that were especially needed to retake New Granada and defend the Viceroyalty of Peru, would never arrive. Furthermore, as the royalist situation became more desperate in region after region, the army experienced wholesale defections of units to the patriot side. Second in political matters, the reinstitution of a liberal regime changed the terms under which the Spanish government sought to engage the insurgents. The new government naively assumed that the insurgents were fighting for Spanish liberalism and that the Spanish Constitution could still be the basis of reconciliation between the two sides. Government implemented the Constitution and held elections in the overseas provinces, just as in Spain. It also ordered military commanders to begin armistice negotiations with the insurgents with the promise that they could participate in the restored representative government.

New Spain and Central America

In effect, the Spanish Constitution served as the basis for independence in New Spain and Central America, since in two regions it was a coalition of conservative and liberal royalist leaders who led the establishment of new states. The restoration of the Spanish Constitution and representative government was enthusiastically welcomed in New Spain and Central America. Elections were held, local governments formed and deputies sent to the Cortes. Among liberals, however, there was fear that the new regime would not last, and among conservatives and the Church, that the new liberal government would expand its reforms and anti-clerical legislation. This climate of instability created the conditions for the two sides to forge an alliance. This alliance coalesced towards the end of 1820 behind Agustín de Iturbide, a colonel in the royal army, who at the time was assigned to destroy the guerrilla forces led by Vicente Guerrero.

In January 1821, Iturbide began peace negotiations with Guerrero, suggesting they unite to establish an independent New Spain. The simple terms which Iturbide proposed became the basis of the Plan of Iguala: the independence of New Spain (now to be called the Mexican Empire) with Ferdinand VII or another Bourbon as emperor; the retention of the Catholic Church as the official state religion and the protection of its existing privileges; and the equality of all New Spaniards, whether immigrants or native-born. The following month the other important guerrilla leader, Guadalupe Victoria, joined the alliance, and March 1 Iturbide was proclaimed head of a new Army of the Three Guarantees. The representative of the new Spanish government, Superior Political Chief Juan O'Donojú, who replaced the previous viceroys, arrived in Veracruzmarker on July 1, but found that royalists only controlled found that the entire country except for Veracruz, Mexico Citymarker and Acapulcomarker. Since at the time that O'Donojú had left Spain, the Cortes was considering greatly expanding the autonomy of the overseas Spanish possessions, O'Donojú proposed to negotiate a treaty with Iturbide on the terms of the Plan of Iguala. The resulting Treaty of Córdoba, which was signed on August 24, kept all existing laws, including the 1812 Constitution, in force until a new constitution for Mexico could be written. O'Donojú became part of the provisional governing junta until his death on October 8. Both the Spanish Cortes and Ferdinand VII rejected the Treaty of Córdoba, and the final break with the mother country came on May 19, 1822, when the Mexican Congress conferred the throne on Itrubide.

Central America gained its independence along with New Spain. The regional elites supported the terms of the Plan of Iguala and orchestrated the union of Central America with the Mexican Empire in 1821. Two years later following Iturbide's downfall, the region, with the exception of Chiapas, peacefully seceded from Mexico in July 1823, establishing the Federal Republic of Central America. The new state existed for seventeen years, centrifugal forces pulling the individual provinces apart by 1840.

South America

Unlike in New Spain and Central America, in South America independence was spurred by the pro-independence fighters that had held out for the past half decade. José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar inadvertently led a continental-wide pincer movement from southern and northern South America that liberated most of the Spanish American nations on that continent. After securing the independence of Chile, San Martín concentrated on building a naval fleet in the Pacific to counter Spanish control of those waters. By mid-1820 San Martín had assembled a fleet of eight warships and sixteen transport ships under the command of former British navel officer Thomas Alexander Cochrane. The fleet set sail from Valparaíso to Paracas in southern Peru. On September 7, the army landed on Paracas and successfully took Pisco. After this, San Martín chose to avoid direct military confrontation, preferring instead to engage in diplomacy with Viceroy Joaquín de la Pezuela, who was under orders from the government to negotiate with the insurgents on the basis of 1812 Constitution. However, these efforts proved fruitless, since independence and the Constitution could not be reconciled, so the army sailed in late October to a better strategic position in Huachomarker, in northern Peru. For the next few months, successful land and naval campaigns against the royalists secured the new foothold, and it was at Huacho that San Martín learned that Guayaquilmarker had declared independence on October 9.

Bolívar spent 1820 preparing to liberate Venezuela from Morillo's army. Bolívar was aided by Spain's new policy of seeking engagement with the insurgents, which Morillo implemented. Although Bolívar rejected the Spanish proposal that the patriots rejoin Spain under the Spanish Constitution, the two sides established a six-month truce and the regularization of the rules of engagement under the law of nations on November 25 and 26. The truce did not last six months. On January 28, 1821, the ayuntamiento of Maracaibomarker, declared the province an independent republic that chose to join the new nation state of Gran Colombia. Miguel de la Torre, who had replaced Morillo as head of the army, took took this to be a violation of the truce, and although the republicans argued that Maracaibo had switched sides of its own volition, both sides began to prepare for renewed war. The fate of Venezuela was sealed, when Bolívar returned to Venezuela in April leading an army of 7,000 from New Granada. At the Battle of Carabobomarker on June 24, the Gran Colombian forces decisively defeated the royalist forces, assuring control of Venezuela, save for Puerto Cabellomarker and guaranteeing Venezuelan independence. Bolívar could now concentrate on Gran Colombia's claims to southern New Granada and Quito.

In Peru, on January 29, 1821, La Pazuela was deposed by José de la Serna, but it would be two months before San Martín moved his army closer to Lima by sailing his army to Ancón. During the next few months San Martín once again engaged in negotiations, with San Martín offering the creation of a constitutional monarchy headed by a king chosen from a European royal family. But it came to nothing. By July La Serna judged his hold on Lima to be weak, and on July 8 the royal army abandoned the city in order to reinforce positions in the countryside. On the 12th San Martín entered Lima where he was declared "Protector of the Country" on the July 28, an office which allowed him to rule the newly independent state.

To ensure that the Presidency of Quito become part of Gran Colombia and not remain a collection of small, divided republics, Bolívar sent aid in the form of supplies and an army under Antonio José de Sucre to Guayaquil in February 1821. For a year Sucre was unable to take Quito, and by November both sides, exhausted, signed a ninety-day armistice. The following year, at Battle of Pichincha on May 24, 1822, Sucre's Venezuelan forces finally conquered Quito. Gran Colombia's hold on the territory was secure. The following year San Martín met with Simón Bolívar in Guayaquil on July 26 and 27, after which San Martín decided to retire from the scene, leaving his forces under Bolívar's command. For the next two years Colombian and Peruvian patriot forces mopped up royalist forces in Peru. Under the command of Sucre the combined army destroyed the still numerically superior remnants of the royalist army at Battle of Ayacucho on December 9, 1824. The only significant royalist area remaining on the continent was the highland country of Upper Peru.

As it became clear that independence was not going to be reversed, several of the new states began to receive international recognition. In 1822 the United States recognized Chile, the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, Peru, Gran Colombia and Mexico. Britain waited until after the Battle of Ayacucho to recognize Mexico, Gran Colombia and Río de la Plata in December 1824. Both nations recognized more Spanish American states in the following years.

After the Battle of Ayacucho, the remaining royalist troops under the command of Pedro Antonio Olañeta surrendered after he died in Tumuslamarker on April 2, 1825. Bolívar wished to maintain Upper Peru to Peru, but local leaders—both former royalists like Casimiro Olañeta, nephew of General Olañeta, and patriots—all supported the country's independence. Bolívar left the decision to Sucre, who went along with local sentiment. Sucre proclaimed Upper Peru's independence in the citymarker which now bears his name on August 6, bringing the main wars of independence to an end. In the following decade royalist guerrillas continued to operate in several countries and Spain would launch a few attempts to retake parts of the Spanish American mainland, but these were unlikely to reverse the new political situation. It was not until after Ferdinand VII's death in 1833 that Spain finally recognized the new states.

Effects of independence


The nearly decade and a half of wars greatly weakened the Spanish American economies and political institutions, which hindered the region's potential economic development for most of the nineteenth century and resulted in the enduring instability the region experienced. Independence destroyed the de facto trade bloc that was the Spanish Empire. After independence trade among the new Spanish American nations was less than it had been in the colonial period. Once the ties were broken the small populations that most of the new nations had provided little incentive to entice Spanish American producers to recreate the old trade patterns. In addition the protection against European competition, which the Spanish monopoly had provided to the manufacturing sectors of the economy, ended. Due to expediency protective tariffs for these sectors, in particular textile production, were permanently dropped and foreign imports beat out local production. This greatly affected Native communities, which in many parts of Spanish America specialized in supplying finished products the urban markets, albeit using pre-industrial techniques. The wars also greatly affected the principal economic sector of the region, mining. Silver production in Bolivia halved after independence and in Mexico it dropped by three quarters.

To compensate for the lack of capital, foreign investment, in particular from Great Britain, was courted, but it was not sizable enough to initiate an economic recovery. Finally the new nations entered the world economy after the end of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the economies of Europe and the United States were recovering and aggressively seeking new markets to sell their products after more than two decades of disruption. Ultimately Spanish America could only connect to the world markets as an exporter of raw materials and a consumer of finished products.


In addition to improving the economy, the lower social classes also had to be integrated into the new body politic, although they often got few rewards from independence. The political debate seeking answers to these questions was marked by a clash—at times on the battlefield—between liberalism and conservatism. Conservatives sought to maintain the traditional social structures in order to ensure stability; liberals sought to create a more dynamic society and economy by changing ending ethnically-based social distinctions and freeing property from economic restrictions. In its quest to transform society, liberals often adopted policies that were not welcome by Native communities, who had benefited from unique protections afforded to them by traditional Spanish law.

Independence, however, did initiate the abolition of slavery in Spanish America, as it was seen as part of the independence struggle, since many slaves had gained their manumission by joining the patriot armies. In areas where slavery was not a major source of labor (Mexico, Central America, Chile), emancipation occurred almost immediately after independence was achieved. In areas where it was (Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina), emancipation was carried out in steps over the next three decades, usually first with the creation of free-womb laws and programs for compensated emancipation. By the early 1850s slavery had been abolished in the independent nations of Spanish America.

Government and politics

Independence also did not result in stable political regimes, save in a few countries. First, the new nations did not have well defined identities, but rather the process of creating these was only beginning. This would be carried out through newspapers and the creation of national symbols, including new names for the countries ("Mexico", "Colombia," "Ecuador," "Bolivia," "Argentina"), that broke with the past. In addition, the borders were also not firmly established, and the struggle between federalism and centralism, which begun in independence, continued throughout the rest of the century. Two large states that emerged out of the wars—Gran Colombia and the Federal Republic of Central America—collapsed after a decade or two, and Argentina would not consolidate politically until the 1850s.

The wars destroyed the old civilian bureaucracy that had governed the region for centuries, as institutions such as the audiencias were eliminated and many Peninsular officials fled to Spain. The Catholic Church, which had been an important social and political institution during the colonial period, initially came out weakened by the end of the conflicts. As with government officials, many Peninsular bishops abandoned their dioceses and their posts were not filled for decades until new prelates could be created and relations between the new nations and the Vatican was regularized. Then as the Church recovered, its economic and political power was attacked by liberals.

Because of the lack of well-defined political and national institutions, for several of the new nations the nineteenth century was marked by militarism. The armies and officers that came into existence in the process of independence wanted to ensure that they got their reward once the struggle was over. Many of these armies did not fully disband once the wars were over and they proved to be one of the stabler institutions in the first decades of national existence, so they and their leaders could effectively influence the course of political development. Out of this new tradition came the caudillos, strongmen who amassed formal and informal economic, military and political power in themselves.

Specific articles

Wars, battles and revolts



See also



  • Kenneth J. Andrien and Lyman L. Johnson. The Political Economy of Spanish America in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1994. ISBN 9780826314895
  • Timothy Anna. Spain & the Loss of Empire. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1983. ISBN 9780803210141
  • Christon I. Archer (ed.). The Wars of Independence in Spanish America. Willmington, SR Books, 2000. ISBN 0-8420-2469-7
  • D. A. Brading. The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots and the Liberal State, 1492-1867. Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-521-44796-8
  • John Charles Chasteen. Americanos: Latin America's Struggle for Independence. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-517881-4
  • Michael P. Costeloe. Response to Revolution: Imperial Spain and the Spanish American Revolutions, 1810-1840. Cambridge University Press, 1986. ISBN 9780521320832
  • Jorge I. Domínguez. Insurrection or Loyalty: The Breakdown of the Spanish American Empire. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1980. ISBN 9780674456358
  • Richard Graham. Independence in Latin America: A Comparative Approach (2nd edition). McGraw-Hill, 1994. ISBN 0-07-024008-6
  • R. A. Humphreys and John Lynch (editors). The Origins of the Latin American Revolutions, 1808-1826. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1965.
  • Jay Kinsbruner. The Spanish-American Independence Movement. Huntington, N.Y.: R.E. Krieger Publishing Company, [1973] 1976. ISBN 9780882754284
  • Jay Kinsbruner. Independence in Spanish America: Civil Wars, Revolutions, and Underdevelopment (Revised edition). Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8263-2177-1
  • John Lynch. Caudillos in Spanish America, 1800-1850. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-821135-X
  • John Lynch. The Spanish American Revolutions, 1808-1826 (2nd edition). New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. ISBN 0-393-95537-0
  • Jaime E. Rodríguez O. The Independence of Spanish America. Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-62673-0

Works dealing with foreign intervention in the wars of independence

  • Matthew Brown. Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simón Bolívar, Foreign Mercenaries and the Birth of New Nations. Liverpool University Press, 2006. ISBN 184631044X
  • Alfred Hasbrouck. Foreign Legionaries in the Liberation of Spanish South America. New York: Octagon Books, 1969.
  • William W. Kaufman. British Policy and the Independence of Latin America, 1804-1828. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1951.
  • William Spence Robertson. France and Latin American Independence. New York, Octagon, [1939] 1967.
  • Moises Enrique Rodríguez. Freedom's Mercenaries: British Volunteers in the Wars of Independence of Latin America, 2 vols. Lanham, Hamilton Books, University Press of America, 2006. ISBN 9780761834380
  • Arthur P. Whitaker. The United States and the Independence of Latin America, 1800-1830. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1941.

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