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Factors of Independence in Spanish America Essay

Outline and discuss the main factors contributing to the movements of independence in Spanish America. The main factors contributing to the movements of independence in Spanish America can be seen to be influenced by international and domestic events, together with economic and socio-political conditions. These themes will be examined in considerable detail in this essay, together with the historical background which provides the foundation stone on which all movements of independence find their roots and ensures the uniqueness of each movement. The movements for independence were unique but equally many of the factors contributing to the movement are mirrored to a greater or lesser extent. The Enlightenment, which can be noted as a main factor which contributed to the movements of independence in Spanish America, was an era which focused mainly on philosophy, economics and science.

The Enlightenment commenced in the middle of the 17th century and came to a close in 1815 after Napoleonic wars. Carl Becker said that “The Enlightenment was an International climate of opinion”. This argument can be supported because by the end of the 18th century, the colonial system was based mainly around Enlightenment thinking, which promoted the power of human reason. The Spanish empire was very much set on conveying the ideas of modern science and bringing these ideas into Spanish America. They did this in the provinces of Peru, New Granada and Mexico, where botanical and mining missions were sent. As a result of these missions, by the end of the colonial period, all factors of the Enlightenment in Spain could be seen in Spanish America.

The Enlightenment familiarized the habitants who were affected by it, to the message that the idea of change was a normal process. This included change from “dangerous, damaging or demeaning” actions to the human condition, which they believed could be cured by the correct function of the power of the mind. By the end of the 18th century, the need for political change in Spanish America was evident. All inhabitants of Spanish America were believed to have absorbed the pressure of tradition and stability, which the Enlightenment carried. Only those who lived in very isolated areas of Spanish America escaped these ideas. However, throughout the period of Enlightenment, many laws became illegitimate as a result of being unjust or too ruthless, or even when the majority of people rejected them. It is important to consider the attitude of the people, for example, if they rejected some laws, they were more likely to question others. It can be said that is that this phase of noncompliance from the inhabitants may have been a spark for the movement of independence in Spanish America and that many prominent supporters of Independence were swayed in that direction by the Enlightenment.

Another approach concludes that the period of Enlightenment in conjunction with the way people were living at the time became too complex for all societies to favour independence. It may be considered that if the people actually cared about change due to their standard of living, or in fact the converse, where they cared too much about change, mainly political, because they had no economic or social worries. The Enlightenment caused people to question their outlook on life and the prospect of change, therefore causing the movements towards independence. Furthermore, the Bourbon reforms were a main factor of the movement towards independence in Spanish America. Carlos III and Carlos IV introduced Bourbon regimes throughout the 18th century, in order to reform economic and political programs which were created to strengthen the control of the empire and to make it produce more income for a very poorly financed imperial regime, as well as encourage manufacturing and technology, which would modernize Spain.

These reforms were carried into Spanish America in order to create a more efficient administration and promote the country’s economic, trade and physical development. Many efforts were made in order to create free-trade, create colonies with multiple monopolies in order to develop successful industries, and set up monopolies for the government for tobacco products to be produced and dispensed, alcohol and other items. The Bourbon reforms had a big impact on the movements of independence in Spanish America, for example after José de Gálvez was sent to New Spain as ‘visitador general’, ‘visitadors’ were allocated to other provinces in Spanish America as well as imperial officers and scientists who travelled to different provinces and suggested reforms in areas such as economic, social and political. Many of these reformers did not approve of the “confused radial compositions” in many of the provinces, where mestizos, mulattos and morenos played head roles in society, wanted more liberty or came across as reminders of the complex American population, which scared the reformers.

In 1767, Spain expelled the Jesuits from Spanish America, who were mainly the educated Creole leaders. Consequently, this shocked the population and riots and uprisings broke out in New Spain and elsewhere, illustrating a want for independence. Although the exile of the Jesuits did not seriously influence the independent movement, it did cause colonists to enquire the security of the imperial system. These outbreaks of violence were seen across the country, for example in Peru, a rebellion was launched by a mestizo leader who took the name Túpac Amarú. This rebellion was hard to suppress and lasted 3 years, in which time other uprisings were triggered, including Nueva Granada. These uprisings were a sign of the want for independence and move away from the Bourbon reforms. Although the American Revolution impacted the lives of the people of Spanish America, the French Revolution in the 1790s had a great impact.

It caused fears to arise among many of the colonial officials as well as thoughts of expelling suspected loyalties from the French residents. From 1790, Spain’s attempt to seal propaganda attacks tightened. Orders were made in order to prevent the importation into Spanish America of foreign items, for example medallions and coins which were inscribed with revolutionary slogans. The coast of Peru was hit with revolutionary propaganda in 1791, when items were sent over, which were engraved with a woman carrying a flag with the words ‘Libertad Americana’. In 1807, when Napoleon invaded Portugal and Spain, the propaganda attacks from the Spanish became even harsher. Jean François, a Spanish army general moved to Cuba, taking with him a coach and 6 white horses, and extremely luxurious household furniture. A sight like this had never been seen in Cuba before, and a person of such status and residence in a society of oppresses Castas and slaves would only be viewed in one light; as a redeemer of people who longed for liberty.

This is important as it highlights the want of independence from the people, especially the slaves, and now they had the axis to fight for it. However, the French Revolution also had an effect on people which was a turn for the worst, as they lived in fear after a man was wounded and a school girl died in Havana when a black man went crazy with a machete. These events caused many inhabitants to presume that this was a start of a revolution similar to that in France. Rumours started to spread through Havana that a black revolution would occur, which run alongside stories of a forthcoming revolution from the white community, who wanted independence. There were also rumours that the French prisoners, suspected of being disloyal during the French revolution, were to break out of their cells at a prison in Havana. All these stories caused fear and terrorized much of the population of Spanish America. Although there was no revolution in Havana, anxiety could be felt across the people of Spanish America, who thought that they could not escape from their problems.

All parts of the community, including the whites, the blacks and the Castas expected a disastrous event to occur, or actually wished that a revolution would break out and could improve their situations, and give them their wanted independence. Moreover, another factor which caused the movements of independence is free-trade. Many of the civilians were affected greatly by the liberated trade reforms, which did not favour Creole merchants. Many Chileans appealed for a free-trade order soon after the establishment of the first national Juanta in 1810. They desired to trade with whomever they wanted while they protected and promoted their individual industrial and agricultural trade. This was also true of other Spanish Americans, including Buenos Aires who declared its first general tariff in 1822. In the 19th century, it was clear in Spanish America that the colonialist needed a political economy which cared about their national requirements more than free-trade.

Although free-trade did not cause independence in Spanish America initially, it highlighted the need for an economic policy which would attend to the needs of the Spanish Americans motivated many people to move towards independence. Furthermore, the Intendancy system played a role in the movement towards independence. Prior to the Bourbon regimes, the Spanish monarchs made efforts in order to decrease the administration of the Imperials and centralize power and control. In order to do this, the Viceroyalty was created in New Granada in 1717. This caused the chain of Viceroyalties to occur and one was set up in Río de Plata in 1776, which would result in being extremely consequential as Upper Peru was separated from the Peruvian authority and was put into a new viceroyalty, with its capital being Buenos Aires. These happenings became the foundation of extraordinary trading activity between Buenos Aires and Upper Peru, while also causing dislocation in trading, economic problems for the viceroyalty in Peru, which would require decades to recover.

Those who were worked within the system, usually Peninsulars, had a great effect on life in the late colonial period. Intendants held political control directly over town councils and some introduced economic life into cities and brought in energy to the towns. However, they interfered in the councils business so directly that they sometimes annoyed local residents who were extremely influential, many of these who were creoles. In some places they were made to be not effective by the central authorities, who here highly jealous. Furthermore, their most permanent role was to alienate some parts of the Creole population. This caused them and many others to move away from this system and seek their independence in Spanish America. Finally, the controversy between the Creoles and the Peninsulars can be noted as a cause for the movements towards independence. The creoles were the potential nation in the various Spanish American countries who would take over politically.

This is where the controversy lay, as both groups wanted public office. It was clear that Spanish-born citizens would be given higher posts in decision making. In the 1820s, it was printed in a Chilean newspaper that the fight for independence was over the fact that the Peninsulars were preferred in society, and they were treated better. This encouraged some creoles towards independence. There was a strong feeling to move away from Spanish rule, especially among urban creoles on the east side of Spanish America. In conclusion, it is fair to say that all factors mentioned above all contributed to the movement towards independence in Spanish America.

However, it is important to note that if it was not for the American and French Revolution, then the initial push for independence in Spanish America may have not have happened at all, or until a lot later in history. The people of Spanish America were aware of the independence achieved by the United States and of the federal government being developed. This informed the people of the events of the French Revolution after 1789. These events of both revolutions inspired the colonials and they seemed so admirable. However, the other factors, including the different reforms introduced economically, socially and politically all contributed to independence, which can be seen through the many uprisings and revolts.


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