Latin American Independence
The Spanish amassed great wealth and power in their American colonies through oppression, slavery and racism. An amazing variety of classes developed and created a social gap in the people. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the American-born population began to advance towards independence. The process did not happen over night. Instead, it developed slowly due to social, political, ethnic, and economic factors, and the often bloody war for independence raged for fifteen years.
Enlightenment radically altered the ideas of people in Europe and America. Ideas that challenged old truths began to develop; ideas that praised individual rights such as the notion that ultimate authority in society resides with the people, not with the king, or that all people are created equal in nature and possess equal rights. The French and American revolutions were strongly influenced by these new, bold beliefs. Inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the wars for independence in other parts of the globe, Latin American gained momentum to began their own revolution.
America was a mixing of many different races and each caste held specific rights and limitations. Natural born Spanish had access to the advantages and held the majority of power. The wealthy Creoles were able to ascend to positions of authority, but were always a step down the social ladder from the natural Spanish. Social inequality in America caused tension among the native population. When Spain, in an attempt to centralize their administration (spurred by the Enlightenment), began replacing Creoles with Spaniards in judicial and legislative offices, the tension was escalated even further. This challenged the position and comfort of wealthy Creoles, and motivated them to support independence. “The antagonism and bitter feelings between American Creaoles and those Spaniards born in the Iberian Peninsula who came to Latin America, helped ignite the emotional tinderbox that flared in 1810. (Clayton & Conniff, 20)
Creole unrest was widespread when Napoleon invaded Spain and Portugal in 1807. For the Latin American revolution, the timing could not have been better. The monarchs were disposed and Napoleon installed his brother as king. Spanish rebels fought the illegitimate Bonaparte in a civil war for six years. This left the colonies isolated and they rejected the authority of Spain. As a solution, they created local governments, of juntas, primarily filled with Creoles to rule in the king’s absence. “Dissatisfaction had been given ideological form by the Enlightenment, awhile the crown and peninsulares had thoroughly antagonized Creoles for decades by denying them what they considered their legitimate aspirations. Napoleon’s invasions of Spain, by suspending colonial loyalty to the Spanish sate, touched off the fuse to the powder keg.” (Clayton & Conniff, 22)
Independence took different courses between regions. Some, such as Brazil, were relatively peaceful, but others, such as Peru and Mexico, were bloody. The wars for independence distinguished many brave and courageous soldiers. The names of patriots such as Bolivar, Hidalgo, San Martin, and Artigas among many others, inspire pride in the Latin America. After the revolutions began, success did not come smoothly. Counterrevolutions took back many of the initial successes from the patriots, but tenacity and devotion finally, after fifteen years, won Latin America its freedom.
Independence brought new problems and challenges. The struggle to create new legitimate forms of government created differences, and political turmoil created confusion and tension. The church was attacked for being conservative and suffocating. Revolutionaries wanted to take the churches power and lands. This created clearly defined battle lines that caused enduring problems for the new nations.
One of the basic ideals of the revolution was freed for all people, but this created unexpected problems. Tributes were eliminated and Indians were given rights as citizens, but the national governments quickly realized they depended on the income obtained from the tributes. Thus, the tribute was restored. The revolutionaries also sought to give the Indians freedom, and they gave them individual property rights. The Indians who were not familiar with private ownership were easily taken advantaged. As a result of freedom and the end of the communal system, many Indians were left without protection and they slid even further down the economic ladder.
Political disorder and powerful leaders attempting to regulate authority marked the period after the revolutionary wars. Independence did not win Latin America its success; freedom created new problems and new challenges that had to be overcome.