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Spanish American wars of independence

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Independentist states victory, End of the majority of Spanish rule in the Americas.

Peru, Chile, Royalist, United Kingdom, Indigenous peoples of the Ameri

Mexican War of Independence, Peninsular War, Argentine War of Independence, Colombian Declaration of Indepe, Peruvian War of Independence

The Spanish American wars of independence were the numerous wars against Spanish rule in Spanish America that took place during the early 19th century, after the French invasion of Spain during Europe's Napoleonic Wars. Although various regions of Spanish America objected to crown policies that restricted trade and privileged Spanish-born officials over American-born, "there was little interest in outright independence; indeed there was widespread support for the Spanish Central Junta formed to lead the resistance against the French."


These conflicts started in 1809 with short-lived governing juntas established in Chuquisaca and Quito opposing the composition of the Supreme Central Junta of Seville. When the Central Junta fell to the French invasion, in 1810, numerous new juntas appeared across the Spanish domains in the Americas. The conflicts among these colonies and with Spain eventually resulted in a chain of newly independent countries stretching from Argentina and Chile in the south to Mexico in the north in the first third of the 19th century. Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under Spanish rule until the Spanish–American War in 1898.

The new republics from the beginning abolished the formal system of racial classification and hierarchy, casta system, the Inquisition, and noble titles. Slavery was not abolished immediately, but ended in all of the new nations within a quarter century. Criollos (those of Spanish descent born in the New World) and mestizos (those Indian mixed with Spanish blood or culture) replaced Spanish-born appointees in most political offices. Criollos remained at the top of a social structure which retained some of its traditional features culturally, if not legally. For almost a century thereafter, conservatives and liberals fought to reverse or to deepen the social and political changes unleashed by those rebellions.

These conflicts were fought both as irregular warfare and conventional warfare, and both wars of national liberation and civil wars, since on the one hand the goal of one group of belligerents was the independence from Spain, and on the other the majority of combatants on both sides were Spanish Americans and indigenous peoples, not Spaniards. Both armies originated from Spanish colonial troops of Americas. While some Spanish Americans believed that independence was necessary, most who initially supported the creation of the new governments saw them as a means to preserve the region's autonomy from the French. Over the course of the next decade, the political instability in Spain and the absolutist restoration under Ferdinand VII convinced many Spanish Americans of the need to formally establish independence from the mother country.

The events in Spanish America were related to the wars of independence in former French colony of St-Domingue, Haiti, and the transition to independence in Brazil. Brazil's independence, in particular, shared a common starting point with Spanish America's, since both conflicts were triggered by Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, which forced the Portuguese royal family to flee to Brazil in 1807. The process of Latin American independence took place in the general political and intellectual climate that emerged from the Age of Enlightenment and that influenced all of the Atlantic Revolutions, including the earlier revolutions in the United States and France. A more direct cause of the Spanish American wars of independence were the unique developments occurring within the Kingdom of Spain and its monarchy during this period.

Historical context

Political independence was not necessarily the fore-ordained outcome of the political turmoil in Spanish America. "There was little interest in outright independence." As historians R.A. Humphreys and John Lynch note, "it is all too easy to equate the forces of discontent or even the forces of change with the forces of revolution." Since "by definition, there was no history of independence until it happened," because Spanish American independence did occur, explanations for why it came about have been sought.

There are a number of factors that have been identified. First, increasing control by the Crown of its overseas empire via the Bourbon Reforms of the mid-eighteenth century introduced changes to the relationship of Spanish Americans to the Crown. The language used to describe the overseas empire shifted from "kingdoms" with independent standing with the crown to "colonies," subordinate to Spain. In an effort to better control the administration and economy of the overseas possessions the Crown reintroduced the practice of appointing outsiders, almost all peninsulars, to the royal offices throughout the empire. This meant that Spanish American elites were thwarted in their expectations and ambitions by the crown's upending long-standing practices of creole access to office holding.

The regalist and secularizing policies of the Bourbon monarchy were aimed at decreasing the power of the Roman Catholic Church. The crown had already expelled the Jesuits in 1767, which saw many creole members of the Society of Jesus go into permanent exile. Later in the eighteenth century crown sought to decrease the privileges (fueros) of the clergy, restricting clerical authority spiritual matters and undermining the power of parish priests, who often acted as agents of the crown in rural parishes. By desacralizing power and frontal attacks on the clergy, the crown, according to William B. Taylor undermined its own legitimacy, since parish priests had been traditionally the "natural local representatives of their Catholic king."

In the economic sphere, the crown sought to gain control over church revenues. In a financial crisis of 1804, the crown attempted to call in debts owed the church, mainly in the form of mortgages for haciendas owned by the elites. The Act of Consolidation simultaneously threatened the wealth of the church, whose capital was mainly lent for mortgages, as well as threatening the financial well-being of elites, who depended on mortgages acquiring and keeping their estates. Shortening the repayment period meant many elites were faced with bankruptcy. The crown also sought to gain access to benefices elite families set aside to support a priest, often their own family members, by eliminating these endowed funds (capellanías), that the lower clergy depended on disproportionately. Prominently in Mexico, lower clergy participated in the insurgency for independence with priests Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos.

The reforms had mixed results. 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 into open revolts, such as the Revolt of the Comuneros in New Granada and the Rebellion of Túpac Amaru II in Peru.

The loss of high offices to Criollos and the eighteenth-century revolts in Spanish South America were the direct causes of the wars of independence, which took place decades later, but they have been considered important elements of the political background in which the wars took place.

Other factors may include Enlightenment thinking and the examples of the Atlantic Revolutions. The Enlightenment spurred the desire for social and economic reform to spread throughout Spanish America and the Iberian Peninsula. Ideas about free trade and physiocratic economics were raised by the Enlightenment in Spain and spread to the overseas empire and a homegrown Spanish American Enlightenment. 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 of the Bourbon dynasty

The Peninsular War was the trigger for conflicts in Spanish America in the absence of a legitimate monarch. The Peninsular War began an extended period of instability in the worldwide Spanish monarchy that lasted until 1823. Napoleon's capture of the Bourbon monarchs precipitated a political crisis in Spain and Spanish America. Although the Spanish world almost uniformly rejected Napoleon's plan to place his brother, Joseph, on the throne, 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 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.

Response in Spanish America

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 kingdoms of the peninsula would send two representatives to this Central Junta, and that the overseas kingdoms would send one representative each. These kingdoms were defined as "the viceroyalties of New Spain (Mexico), Peru, New Granada, and Buenos Aires, and the independent captaincies general of the island of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Chile, Province of Venezuela, and the Philippines."

This plan was criticized for providing unequal representation to Spanish America; nevertheless, throughout the end of 1808 and early 1809, the regional capitals elected candidates, whose names were forwarded to the capitals of the viceroyalties or captaincies general. Several important and large cities were left without direct representation in the Supreme Junta. In particular Quito and Chuquisaca, which saw themselves as the capitals of kingdoms, resented being subsumed in the larger Viceroyalty 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. 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 plan for the election of the Cortes, based on provinces and not kingdoms, 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 after the Battle of Ocaña by the Spanish forces paid with Spanish American money, 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 Cádiz. The Junta replaced itself with a smaller, five-man council, the Council of Regency of Spain and the Indies. Most Spanish Americans saw no reason to recognize a rump government that was under the threat 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 Spanish Cortes effort to establish a liberal government for the Spanish Monarchy.

Wars for disputed sovereignty, 1810–14

The creation of juntas in Spanish America, such as the Junta Suprema de Caracas on April 19, 1810, set the stage for the fighting that would afflict the region for the next decade and a half. Political fault lines appeared, and were often the causes of 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.

The idea that independence was not the initial concern is 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 also Paraguay in same year (14 and 15 of May 1811). 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 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 widespread 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 was 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 Querétaro, 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, though 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. This period witnessed increasingly violent confrontations between Spaniards and Spanish Americans, but this tension was often related to class issues or fomented by patriot leaders to create a new sense of nationalism. After being incited to rid the country of the gachupines (a disparaging term for Peninsulares), Hidalgo's forces indiscriminately massacred hundreds of Criollos and Peninsulares who had taken refuge at the Alhóndiga de Granaditas in Guanajuato. In Venezuela during his Admirable Campaign, Simón Bolívar instituted a policy of a war to the death—in which and royalist Spanish Americans would be purposely spared but even neutral Peninsulares would be killed—in order to drive a wedge between the two groups. This policy laid the ground for the violent royalist reaction under Boves. Often though, 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 rivalries

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 counterposed to the French threat; second, to a general American identity, which was counterposed to the Peninsula 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 as they had been under the crown. This phenomenon was particularly evident in New Granada, Venezuela and Río de la Plata. This rivalry also leads some regions to adopt the opposite political cause to that chosen by 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.

King's war against independence, 1814–20

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 led by Guadalupe Victoria in Puebla and Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca. In northern South America, New Granadan and Venezuelan patriots, under leaders such as Simón Bolívar, Francisco de Paula Santander, Santiago Mariño, Manuel Piar and José Antonio Páez, carried out campaigns in the vast Orinoco River basin and along the Caribbean coast, often with material aid coming from Curaçao and Haiti. Also, as mentioned above, in Upper Peru, guerrilla bands controlled the isolated, rural parts of the country.

Restoration of Ferdinand VII

In March 1814, following with the collapse of the First French Empire, Ferdinand VII was restored to the Spanish throne. This signified an important change, since most of the political and legal changes made on both sides of the Atlantic—the myriad of juntas, the Cortes in Spain and several of the congresses in the Americas, and many of the constitutions and new legal codes—had been made 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; 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 legal codes and political institutions and promised to convene a new Cortes under its traditional form (with separate chambers for the clergy and the nobility), a promise never fulfilled. 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.

Ferdinand's actions constituted a definitive de facto break both with 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. Such a government 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 a new wave of juntas, as had happened in 1809 and 1810, with the notable exception of the establishment of a junta in Cuzco demanding the implementation of the Spanish Constitution. Instead most Spanish Americans were moderates who decided to wait and see what would come out of the restoration of normalcy. In fact, in areas of New Spain, Central America and Quito, governors found it expedient to leave the elected constitutional ayuntamientos in place for several years in order to prevent conflict with the local society. 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. However, 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.

Royalist military

During this period, royalist forces made advances into New Granada, which they controlled from 1815 to 1819, and into Chile, which they controlled 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 in 1815 the largest armed force it ever sent to the New World, consisting of 10,500 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 were 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 replaced 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 to South America, reported that he had only 2,000 European soldiers under his command in 1820; in other words, only half 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 Carabobo 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.

Pro-independence advances

Towards the end of this period the pro-independence forces made two important advances. In the Southern Cone, a veteran of the Spanish army with experience in the Peninsular War, José de San Martín, became the governor of the Province of Cuyo. He used this position to begin organizing an army as early as 1814 in preparation for an invasion of Chile. This was an important change in strategy after three United Provinces campaigns had been defeated in Upper Peru. San Martín's army 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. In January 1817, San Martín was finally ready to advance against the royalists in Chile. Ignoring an injunction from the congress of the Río de la Plata not to move against Chile, San Martín together with General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme, later Supreme Director of Chile, led the Army over the Andes in a move that turned the tables on the royalists. By February 10, San Martín had control of northern and central Chile, and a year later, after a war with no quarter, the south. With the aid of a fleet under the command of former British naval officer Thomas Cochrane, 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, after several failed campaigns to take Caracas and other urban centers of Venezuela, Simón Bolívar devised a similar plan in 1819 to cross the Andes and liberate New Granada from the royalists. Like San Martín, Bolívar personally undertook the efforts to create an army to invade a neighboring country, collaborated with pro-independence exiles from that region, and lacked the approval of the Venezuelan congress. Unlike San Martín, however, Bolívar did not have a professionally trained army, but rather a quickly assembled mix of Llanero guerrillas, New Granadan exiles led by Santander and British recruits. From June to July 1819, using the rainy season as cover, Bolívar led his army across the flooded plains and over the cold, forbidding passes of the Andes, with heavy losses—a quarter of the British Legion perished, as well as many of his Llanero soldiers, who were not prepared for the nearly 4,000-meter altitudes—but the gamble paid off. By August Bolívar was in control of Bogotá and its treasury, and gained the support of many in New Granada, which still resented the harsh reconquest carried out under Morillo. Nevertheless, Santander found it necessary to continue the policy of the "war to the death" and carried out the execution of thirty-eight royalist officers who had surrendered. 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 (Gran Colombia).

Independence consolidated, 1820–33

To counter the advances the pro-independence forces had made in South America, Spain prepared a second, large, expeditionary force in 1819. This force, however, never left Spain. Instead, it became the means by which liberals were finally 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 Andalusia with the hope of extending the uprising to the civilian population, but locals were mostly indifferent. An uprising, however, did occur in Galicia 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, now a virtual prisoner, agreed to restore the Constitution.

Riego's Revolt had two significant effects on the war in the Americas. Militarily, the large numbers of reinforcements, which were especially needed to retake New Granada and defend the Viceroyalty of Peru, would never arrive. Furthermore, as the royalists' situation became more desperate in region after region, the army experienced wholesale defections of units to the patriot side. Politically, 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. The 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 of 1812 adopted by the Cortes de Cadiz served as the basis for independence in New Spain and Central America, since in both 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 conservatives and the Church worried 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 that 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 Veracruz on July 1, 1821; but he found that royalists the entire country except for Veracruz, Mexico City and Acapulco. 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 who had held out for the past half decade. José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar inadvertently led a continent-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 in 1818, San Martín concentrated on building a naval fleet in the Pacific to counter Spanish control of those waters and reach the royalist stronghold of Lima. By mid-1820 San Martín had assembled a fleet of eight warships and sixteen transport ships under the command of Admiral Cochrane. The fleet set sail from Valparaíso to Paracas in southern Peru. On September 7, the army landed at Paracas and successfully took Pisco. After this, San Martín, waiting for a generalized Peruvian revolt, chose to avoid direct military confrontation. San Martín hoped that his presence would initiate an authentic Peruvian revolt against Spanish rule, believing that otherwise any liberation would be ephemeral. In the meantime, San Martín engaged in diplomacy with Viceroy Joaquín de la Pezuela, who was under orders from the constitutional government to negotiate on the basis of the 1812 Constitution and to maintain the unity of the Spanish Monarchy. However, these efforts proved fruitless, since independence and unity of the monarchy could not be reconciled, so the army sailed in late October to a better strategic position in Huacho, in northern Peru. During 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 Guayaquil (in Ecuador) had declared independence on October 9.

Bolívar, learning about the collapse of the Cadiz expedition, spent the year 1820 preparing a liberating campaign in Venezuela. Bolívar was aided by Spain's new policy of seeking engagement with the insurgents, which Morillo implemented, renouncing to the command in chief, and returning to Spain. 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. It was apparent to all that the royalist cause had been greatly weakened by the lack of reinforcements. Royalist soldiers and whole units began to desert or defect to the patriots in large numbers. On January 28, 1821, the ayuntamiento of Maracaibo, 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 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 there in April leading an army of 7,000 from New Granada. At the Battle of Carabobo on June 24, the Gran Colombian forces decisively defeated the royalist forces, assuring control of Venezuela save for Puerto Cabello 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, Viceroy Pezuela was deposed in a coup d'état by José de la Serna, but it would be two months before San Martín moved his army closer to Lima by sailing it to Ancón. During the next few months San Martín once again engaged in negotiations, offering the creation of an independent monarchy; but La Serna insisted on the unity of the Spanish monarchy, so the negotiations came to nothing. By July La Serna judged his hold on Lima to be weak, and on July 8 the royal army abandoned the coastal city in order to reinforce positions in the highlands, with Cuzco as new capital of viceroyalty. On the 12th San Martín entered Lima, where he was declared "Protector of the Country" on July 28, an office which allowed him to rule the newly independent state.

To ensure that the Presidency of Quito became a part of Gran Colombia and did 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, after a Peruvian patriot army was destroyed in the Battle of Ica, San Martín met with Simón Bolívar in Guayaquil on July 26 and 27. Thereafter San Martín decided to retire from the scene. For the next two years, two armies of Rioplatense (Argentinian), Chilean, Colombian and Peruvian patriots were destroyed trying to penetrate the royalist bastion in the Andean regions of Peru and Upper Peru. A year later a Peruvian congress resolved to make Bolívar head of the patriot forces in the country. An internecine conflict between La Serna and General Pedro Antonio Olañeta, which was an extension of the Liberal Triennium, proved to be the royalists' undoing. La Serna lost control of half of his best army by the beginning of 1824, giving the patriots an opportunity.

Under the command of Bolivar and Sucre, the experienced veterans of the combined army, mainly Colombians, destroyed a royalist army under La Serna's command in the Battle of Ayacucho on December 9, 1824. La Serna's army was numerically superior but consisted of mostly new recruits. The only significant royalist area remaining on the continent was the highland country of Upper Peru. Following the Battle of Ayacucho, the royalist troops of Upper Peru under the command of Olañeta surrendered after he died in Tumusla on April 2, 1825. Bolívar tended to favor maintaining the unity of Upper Peru with Peru, but the Upper Peruvian leaders—many former royalists, like Casimiro Olañeta, nephew of General Olañeta—gathered in a congress under Sucre's auspices supported the country's independence. Bolívar left the decision to Sucre, who went along with the congress. Sucre proclaimed Upper Peru's independence in the city which now bears his name on August 6, bringing the main wars of independence to an end.

As it became clear that there was to be no reversal of Spanish American independence, several of the new states began to receive international recognition. Early, in 1822, the United States recognized Chile, the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, Peru, Gran Colombia, and Mexico. Britain waited until 1825, after the Battle of Ayacucho, to recognize Mexico, Gran Colombia, and Río de la Plata. Both nations recognized more Spanish American states in the next few years.

Last royalist bastions

The Spanish coastal fortifications in Veracruz, Callao and Chiloé were the footholds that resisted until 1825 and 1826 respectively. In the following decade, royalist guerrillas continued to operate in several countries and Spain launched a few attempts to retake parts of the Spanish American mainland. In 1827 Colonel José Arizabalo started an irregular war with Venezuelan guerrillas, and Brigadier Isidro Barradas lead the last attempt with regular troops to reconquer Mexico in 1829. The Pincheira brothers moved to Patagonia and remained there as royalist outlaws until defeated in 1832. But efforts like these did not reverse the new political situation.

The increasing irrelevance of the Holy Alliance after 1825 and the fall of the Bourbon dynasty in France in 1830 during the July Revolution eliminated the principal support of Ferdinand VII in Europe, but it was not until the king's death in 1833 that Spain finally abandoned all plans of military re-conquest, and in 1836 its government went so far as to renounce sovereignty over all of continental America. During the course of the 19th century, Spain would recognize each of the new states. Only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under Spanish rule, until the Spanish–American War in 1898.


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 - Manila galleons and Spanish treasure fleets in particular. 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 of most of the new nations 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 to 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 it dropped by three quarters in Mexico.

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 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 slavery was a main labor source (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.

Role of women

Women were not simply spectators throughout the Independence Wars of Latin America. Many women took sides on political issues and joined independence movements in order to participate on many different levels. Women could not help but act as caring relatives either as mother, sister, wives or daughters of the men who were fighting. Women created political organizations and organized meetings and groups to donate food and supplies to the soldiers. Some women supported the wars as spies, informants and combatants. Manuela Sáenz was a long term lover of Simón Bolívar and acted as his spy and confidante and was secretary of his archive. She saved his life on two occasions, nursed wounded soldiers and has even been believed some historians to have fought in a few battles. Sáenz followed Bolivar and his army through the independence wars and became to be known in Latin America as the “mother of feminism and women’s emancipation and equal rights.” Bolivar himself was a supporter of women’s rights and suffrage in Latin America. It was Bolivar who allowed for Sáenz to become the great pioneer of women’s freedom. He wanted to set the women of Latin America free from the oppression and inferiority of what the Spanish regime had established. Bolivar even made Sáenz a Colonel of the Colombian Army due to her heroics which caused controversy because there were no women in the army at the time. Another woman who gained prominence in the fight for independence was Juana Azurduy de Padilla, a mixed-race woman who fought for the independence of in the Rio de la Plata region. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner posthumously promoted her to the rank of general.

According to gender stereotypes, women were not meant to be soldiers; only men were supposed to engage in the fighting and conflict. There were still plenty of women presence on the battlefields to help rescue and nurse soldiers. Some women fought alongside their husbands and sons on the battlefield. The majority of women assumed supportive and non-competitive roles such as fund raising and caring for the sick. Revolution for women meant something differently than to men. Women saw revolution as a way to earn equal rights as men, such as voting, and to overcome the suppression of the superiority of men over women. Women were usually identified as victims during the independence wars for the women of Latin America were forced to sacrifice for the cause. The ideals of womanhood meant that women must sacrifice what the situation required such as a mother sacrificing her son or a virgin knowing she might be sacrificing motherhood or being wife due to the loss of many young men. This view meant that women were meant to contribute to independence in a supportive role while leaving the combat and politics in the hands of the men.

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 identities 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 from 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 1860s.

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.

Despite the fact that the period of the wars of independence itself was marked by a rapid expansion of representative government, for several of the new nations the nineteenth century was marked by militarism because of the lack of well-defined political and national institutions. The armies and officers that came into existence during the process of independence wanted to ensure that they got their rewards 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. These armies and their leaders effectively influenced 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.


Spanish American wars of independence Wikipedia

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