Latin America when the French Revolution erupted in Europe was largely controlled by Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese colony was Brazil with a capital at Rio de Janeiro. Brazil included much of eastern South America and the amazonian Basin. Spain controlled the rest of South America, Central America, Mexico, and a few Caribbean islands. Spanish South America was divided into the three Viceroyalties of New Grenada (Bogotá), of Lima and of Rio de la Plata (Buenos Aires). Spain restricted power in its colonies to a small European born elite, not trusting the criollos, people of European ncestry born in the colonies. The growing number of locally born colonists who had acquired wealth as important landowners and merchants resented the inferior status assigned to them as "criollos". They wanted a share in the governing of the colonies. Unlike English North America, there were no colonial legislstures in Latin America. The mother country also severly restricted economic activity. The colonies were only permitted to trade with the mother countries. And both exports and imports were taxed. The Enlightenment provided a challenge to the legitimacy of monarchies. The American Revolution (1775) and French Revolution (1789) showed agrieved Latin American criollos that change was possible. And than the Napoleonic Wars weakend both Portugal and Spain, giving Latin American criollos the oportunity to seize theur independence, especially when French armies crossed the Pyranees to invade Spain and Portugal. Napoleon deposed the Bourbon monarch in Spain and the Portugese court fled to Brazil. The result was a two decade struggle involving many fronts on which opposing armies fought on some of the most difficult terraine imaginable.
Latin America when the French Revolution erupted in Europe was largely controlled by Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese colony was Brazil with a capital at Rio de Janeiro. Brazil included much of eastern South America and the amazonian Basin. Spain controlled the rest of South America, Central America, Mexico, and a few Caribbean islands. Spanish South America was divided into the three Viceroyalties of New Grenada (Bogotá), of Lima and of Rio de la Plata (Buenos Aires). Spain restricted power in its colonies to a small European born elite, not trusting the criollos, people of European ncestry born in the colonies. The growing number of locally born colonists who had acquired wealth as important landowners and merchants resented the inferior status assigned to them as "criollos". They wanted a share in the governing of the colonies. Unlike English North America, there were no colonial legislstures in Latin America. The mother country also severly restricted economic activity. The colonies were only permitted to trade with the mother countries. And both exports and imports were taxed.
The Enlightenment along with the Renaisance and Reformation was a key step in the formation of the Western mind. Many of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers were French, but the Enlightenment was a movement which over time affected all of Europe to varying degrees. The Enlightenment provided a challenge to the legitimacy of monarchies. The concepts of liberty, equality and democracy flowed from the Enligtenment inspired by the writing of the French philosophers Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire,
The American Revolution (1775) and French Revolution (1789) showed agrieved Latin American criollos that change was possible. The American Revolution was the first successful revolution against monarchy resulting in a republic. There were similarities witn the Latin American revolutionaries. It was both a revolution against monarchy as well as a colonial revolution against a mother country which was attempting to control its colonies. The issue of social limitations ob American-born colonials within the empire was another factor. And the American Revolution was also a basically conservative revolution. The French Revolution was a very different event. It began as a relatively moderate reform effort against riyal absolutism with the ideals of the of the Enligtenment. I developed developed into an increainly radical effort to remake society. This was not what the revolution thst the Latin American criollos wanted.
The Napoleonic Wars weakend both Portugal and Spain, giving Latin American criollos the oportunity to seize their independence, The Napoleonic wars began with the Spanish allied to the France. Nelson at Trafalgur destroyed the combined French-Spanish fleet (1805). The destruction of the Spanish fleet greatly weakened Spain's ability to control events in the colonies. This was followed by a British attack on Buenos Aires which set the revolution against Spain there in motion (1806). Porugal was the only British ally on the continent. Then Napoleon ordered French armies to cross the Pyraneees. The French moved on Lisbon. A small British force under the future Duke of Wellington was unable to defend Lisbon. The Prince Regent departed seeking refuge in Brazil (1807). Nexy Napoleon installed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne (1808). The ensuing Peninsular Campaign was ome of the most brutal of all of Napoleopn's campigns. Spain was devetrated. Spain was so weakened that it was limited in the degree it could muster orces need to resist the independence struggle after the Napoleonic Wars.
The result was a two decade struggle involving many fronts on which opposing armies fought on some of the most difficult terraine imaginable. Brazil achieved independence from Portugal without a war. The situation in the Spanish colonies proved very different. The export oriented south dominted by Buenos Aires very quickly embraced the independence movement. Royalist sentiment was strong in the Andean Sierra (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela). The economy here was more locally based and the influebce of the Catholic Catholic clergy stronger. As a result the military campaigns in the north proved much more difficult. The Latin American revolutions were generally very limited in their goals. They were primarily conducted by a relatively small criollo elite which can be seen in the relatively small size of the revolutionary armies that challenged royal authority. Only the weakened state of Spain prevented a more vigorous response thst could have maintained the Spanish Empire. The goal of the criollos was elininate the advantages fiven to Spanish born authorities and the restrictions on economic activities imposed by the Spanish. There was no desire to undo the social order. There was one exception to the moderate nature of the revolutiins and thst ws the slave rebellion against France in Haiti.
Potugal was a British ally in the struggle against Napoleon. A French Army crossed the Pyranees, launching the Peninsuar Campaign. As the French Army approched Lisbon, the Portuguese royal family fled to Rio de Janeiro (1807). This made Rio the new capital of the Portuguese empire which made considerable sense. Brazil was much larger and more prosperous than Portugal. Napoleon dominted the contindnt for more than a decde. Napoleon's Gran Armee, however, was destroyed in Russia (1812). The French were forced to withdraw from the Iberian Peninsula. The Portuguese royal family chose to stay in Brazil because of the unselttled situation in Portugal. King Joao VI made Brazil a kingdom equal to Portugal in status (1815). Joao ruled from Rio for several years. The only challenge was the Pernambuco Revolution (1817). Joao returned to Portugal (1822). He left his son Pedro to rule in Brazil. When his father began to rule from Portugal, Pedro defied him and declared Brazil an independent empire (September 1822). Even after Brazil declared independence, Portugal continued to hold its African colonies and a few Asian outposts. Brazilian independence was the most conservative of the Latin American revolutions. Brazil was the only monarchy among the Latin American nations. A factor in Brazil's conservatism was the importance of slavery in the colony. Brazilians wanted nothing to disrupt slavery and the economy and social structure was based on it. Brazil resisted the anti-slavery movement and the Royal Navy's efforts to stamp out the Atlantic slave trade. Brazil was the last western country to abolish slavery (1888). Brazil continued as a monarchy for several decades before a republic was finally proclaimed (1889).
It was the British who launched the wars of Libration against Spain. The Spanish began the Napoleonic Wars as a French ally. It was a British and Spanish fleet that challenged the Royal Navy at Trafalgur (1805). Nelson's great victory left the Spanish colonies cut off from the mother country and Spanish control weakened. A Royal Navy squadron attacked Buenos Aires (1806). The Spanish colonial forces offered only minor resistance. After only a few months, however, a volunteer militia formed by the Porteños (as the Buenos Aires population was known), forced the British to withdraw and prevented efforts to return. Gen. Manuel Belgrano emerged as the primary Poteño military commander (figure 1). Napoleon seized his Spanish ally, putting his brother Joseph on the throne (1810). Suddenly Bourbon Spain was a British ally, but powerless and the Porteños rejected King Joseph. Prominent Argentine Criollos with the support of the militia deposed the last Spanish viceroyr. A local junta assumed authority. Spain attempted to retake Buenos Aires by blockading the Rio de la Plata estuary. The British Royal Navy did not oppose this move as Spain was now an ally. There was very little support for Spain in Argentina. This was because the merchants and land-oweners were export oriented and Britain was a better market than Spain and did not seek to contro trade. This was different from the more conservative land-owners in the Andean Sierra (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela). This made the independence movement in the south a far easier effort than in the north. The Spanish were able organized an army in their conservative bastion of Peru which advanced south, but were defeated by the Argentine Porteño forces. The Argentines then organized to move against other Spanish royalist forces in Upper Peru (Bolivia) and Chile. This was not a centralized efforts. Porteño merchants hoped to benefit by the success of the local militia by controlling trade. Montevideo declared itself a separate independent 'Eastern Stat'" (1815). Uruguay emerged as an independent country under the leadership of José Gervasio Artigas who commanded an army of gauchos. In the interior, Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia , 'El Supremo' seized Asunción (1814). He resisted the Porteño forces and proceeded to organize Paraguay in complete isolation from the other developing Latin American states. Spanish colonial administration had been highly centralized. This gave rise to resentment of the viceregal capital at Buenos Aires which tended to create political centrifigal forces. An Argentine assembly at Tucumán formally declared independence, but several provinces did not participate (1816). Porteño forces continued the fight against the Spanish in Upper Peru (modern Bolivia), but withdrew. This left the fight for independence to be fought by the local Criollo, Mestizo, and Native American Indian guerrillas. Criollo General José de San Martín crossed the Andes with a force of 5,000 men and took Santiago (1817). He was supported by Chilean criollos led by Bernardo 0'Higgins who became Chile's first president. The Criollo armies were supported by the British Royal Navy. With the defet of Napoleon the British saw trade advantages in preventing the Spanish from restoring their empire. North Americans provided some financial assistance. San Martin's forces were able to take Lima (1821). There was considerable royalist sentiment in Peru. The influential Catholic clergy had royalist sympathies and Lima Criollos benefited from colonial monopolies. San Martin was unable to overcome conservative attitudes in the Sierra. The liberation of Peru would as a result come from Simon Bolivar's northern army.
Royalist forces in the north proved more formidable. Francisco de Miranda began the war for independence in the north (1806). Criollos in the Viceroyalty of New Granada organised a revolutionary government that promised social and economic reforms (1810). They declared independence (1811). Unlike the situation in the south, Spanish forces supporteed by Criollo loyalists fought the rebels from the beginning of the rebellion. Rebels led by Simon Bolívar seized Caracas and its immediatev surroundings, but were unable to make progress in the more conservative countryside. There the land-owners and clergy resisted the revolution against Spain, the smae situation as in Peru. Royalist forces scored an important victory and forced Bolívar into exile (1812). He returned with a new army (1813). The fighting took a more vicious "war to the death" phase. Royalistb commander José Tomás Boves and his llaneros (cowboy calvalry) again defeated the rebel army, forcing Bolívar into exile again (1815). A large Spanish military expedition dispatched by King Ferdinand VII reconquered Venezuela and most of New Granada from the rebels.
Bolívar launched another campaign that was decisivly defeated by the Roylists (1816). Another campaign by Bolívar finally scored important victoiries (1817). This time Bolívar was aided by mestizo llaneros led by José Antonio Páez as well as British mercenaries. Bolívar than moved west into the Andes. He decisively defeated a royalist army in the Battle of Boyacá (1819). Bolívar became known as El Libertador". He entered Bogotá the next month and proclaimed the independent Republic of Gran Colombia (Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador). Bolívar conducted further operations to destoy royalist forces throughout what is now Colombia abnd Venezuela. A constituent congress in Cúcuta chose Bolívar president of Gran Colombia (1821). Bolívar put Santander in charge of the government and headed the army as it marched south
against royalist forces in Ecuador. Marshal Antonio José de Sucre decisively defeated the royalists at the Battle of Pichincha fought high in the Andes near Quito (May 1822). The two great Libertadores (San Martín and Bolívar) met in Guyaquil (July 1822). History does not record the nature of their private discussions). San Martin ended his military campaigns and sailed for France. Bolívar and Sucre priceeded with the military campsign liberating Peru and Bolivia. Royalist forces threatened Lima and costal areas that San Martin had liberated. Bolívar marched south and fefeated royalist forces near Lima. He dispatches forces to liberate the Peruvian Sierra ans Upper Peru (Bolivia). Sucre fought the lost major battle of the independence struggle, defeating a royalist army in the Sierra near Ayacucho (1824).
Small centers of royalist resistance remained, but were slowly reduced and Spanish forces in South Anerica were eliminated (1826).
The French Revolution also help to stir oposition to Spain in Central America and Mexico. Mexicans were inspired by the Enlifhtenment and American and French Revolutions. This lead to talk of independence
The first indident was the failed Conspiracy of the Machetes (1799). Mexicans had a range of opinions about the future. There were independentists, autonomists and royalists. Napoleon invaded Spain and impose his brother José Bonaparte as king of Spain (1808). As in South America, aweakened provided an opportunity for disafected Criollos to seek independence. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla with the support of men like Iganacio Allende, Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez rang the bell of his little church, calling the Mexican people to fight for liberty--the Grito de Dolores. This was the beginning of Mexico's 10-year struggle for independence (1810).
Father Hidalgo failed and was executed. Father José Maria Morelos continued the revolution, but also failed and was executed. The struggle was taken over by the Criollo middle class with the Mestizo and Native American underclass only gradually becoming involved. Most of the fighting was done by losely organized isolated guerrilla bands (1815-21). There was no unifying Liberator figure that emerged out of the fighing as was the case in South America. It looked like the royalist forces had defeated the guerillabands by 1820. Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca
organized what he thought would be the final campaign against the insurgents (December 1820). He appointed a royalist criollo officer, Agustín de Iturbide, to Guerrero's army in Oaxaca. Iturbide had aeputation for the ferocity with which he had persecuted Hidalgo's and Morelos's rebels during the first phase of the independence struggle. He was devoutly religious and respected by the conservative Mexican church hierarchy. Iturbide was unknown to the royal governor disgruntled. Like many criollos, he was frustrated by the limitations that his criollo status posed in Spanis New Spain. It was Iturbide who finally united Mexicans in an independence movement
which finally suceeded. Iturbe attempted to found a monarchy, but failed. Mexico declared a republic (1824). Independence did not, however, in a social revolution. White criollos retained the social structure inherited from Spain relatively unchanged.
The Caribbean was much more diverse than the mainland. While Spain lost its colonies on the mainland--it retained in Caribbean colonies (Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico). These were the islands og the Greater Antilles. The islands of the Lesser Antilles were seized by the other European powers (Britain, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands). The larger Spanish popultion in the Greater Islands made them more difficult to seize. The islands were not swept up in the indepedence movement that swept South and Central America. Only in the late 19th century did resistance to the Spanish develop, primarily in Cuba. There were two rebellions in the Caribbean of some importance, neither involving the Spanish. The most important was the Haitian slave rebellion (1791). Haiti was by far the most valuable Euripean colony in the Caribbean because of its phenomenal sugar production. The rebellion had far reaching consequences. After the Napoleonic Wars, there was also a slave rebellion on a British island--Jamaica (1831-32). While it eventually failed, it played an important role in British emancipation. The last islands to be liberated from Spain were Cuba and Puerto Rico. This came with Spanish American War (1898). Cuba beczme the secoind Caribbean island to acheve independence (1902). Most of the other Caribbean islands achieved independence in the decolonization era following World War II (1960s).
We are not sure what the casualties were in the Latin American wars of liberation. The only thing that we are sure of is that the numbers were huge. The United States experiebced some 4,000-8,000 combat deaths in the Revolutionary War. Large numbers died as POWs in British hands. British losses incliding the Hessiains were about 2,500 men. Much larger numbers on both sides died due to disease. The death toll in the Latin American Wars of Indepencence which get relatively little historical attention were astronomically higher. We do not yet have a good histotical estimate. But there were battles in which more men were lost tham in entire American Revolution. And more Latin Americans may have died in the Independen Wars than in all of America's wars combined. We have seen references to 1 million men dying in Venezuela alone. And this is only one of the modern republics that were liberated. The tptal may be as high as 1.5 million, but we would like to find an actual hidtorical asessment. This is another example that the importance of a war or battle cannot be mesured in terns of the size of the armies or the battlefield losses. In may respects the future of North America was settled by the Battle of San Jacinto by an army of 910 Texans with two cannons.
The Congress of Vienna oversaw not only the redrawing of the European map, but made decessions affecting colonial possessions around the world. These involved the disposition of colonial possssions that had changed hands during the Napooleonic Wars, almost entirely possessions the British Royal Navy had seized. The Congress also condemned the slave trade. The Congress took no comcrete action to enforce the condemnation. The Great Powers except for Britain had no real stake in the slave trade which was primarily an Atlantic entrprise, at least as far as Europe was concered. It would fall upon Britain and the Royal Navy to end the slave trade. The Congress did not address the wars for independence against Spain rageing in South aznd Central America. I am not sure to whatt extent they were discussed, but any mention of them did not appear in the final agreement. Also not mentioned was the United States, a country Britain fought a war during the Napoleonic Wars (1812-15).
This is somewhat curious because as a democratic republic, America was a chllenge to the monarchial conservative regime that the Congress was reimposing on Europe. I am not sure why the Congress took no decesions on America. Perhaps the delegates felt that Amrica was not very important. Or perhpas that republican government would ultimately fail. Or perhaps the British did not want the other Great Powers interfering. This is a topic we need to persue. After the Congress of Vienna, a kind of Congress System operated--a kind of collective security arrangement for European monarchs. The French intervened to supress liberal uprising in Spain.
When the Congress System discussed restoring royal authority in the rebellious Spanish colonies, Britain objected.
Only Britain among the Comgress Powers had a substantial naval force. It was needed if Spain was to reasert its authority. The British had no particular smpathy toward South American revolutionaries. They did see trade advantages, however, in braking up the Spanish Empire. Spain had attempted to prevent the colonies from trading with Britain. Thus Britain persued the trade advantages rather than supporting the Congress powers desiring to supress the new republics and restore Spanish royal rule.
U.S. President James Monroe iwarned the Europeans powers that their intervention into the western hemisphere would be regarded as an unfriendly act (1823). This was not a realistic threat. The United States had virtually no navy or rmy with hich to back up the Monroe Doctine. The real power at the time was the British Royal Navy.
The Latin American rebellions suceeded in liberating the Latin American countries from Spanish and Portuguese rule. The newly independent republics proved generally unstable. Unlike the North American English colonies, there had been no long experience of local representative government. Few of the new republics developed stable democratic institurions or prosperous economies. The economies were weak, relying on the export of raw materials. Industries did not develop, Nor did the countries participate in the era of scientific discoveries and industril innovations. The middle-class tended to be very small. Many of the countries had citizens of African or Native American-ancestry that was largely outside the mney economy. Africans in Brrazil were kept emslaved. Many Ntive Americans worked on lrge haciendas a virtual serfs. Britain and to a lesser extent became major trading partners. Governmnts were cobtrolled by the small criollo landed elite which resisted land refor or other social reforms.
Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to Main specific 19th century war essay page]
[Return to Main Spanish history page]
[Return to Main Latin American history page]
[Introduction] [Animals] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Ethnicity] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]