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Latin American Revolutions of the 19th Century From the time of exploration in the 16th century until the 1800s, Mexico, Central America, and South America belonged to Europeans countries, mainly Spain and Portugal.
Many political, social, and economic factors influenced Latin American revolutions in the 19th century, in which Toussaint L’Ouverture and Simón Bolívar played significant roles. These revolutions led to major shifts in property ownership and government systems, but not every new country underwent drastic changes, and some did not really alter the way of life for its citizens very much.
The various factors that influenced revolutions in Latin American countries can be categorized into three groups: political, social, and economic. In New Spain, for example, the colonies “mirrored developments in Europe” and were “kept subservient to the mother country in a number of ways.” This suppression was a contributing cause of the revolt for independence.
The governor of New Spain had absolute power and was rewarded with honor, respect, and a “handsome salary.
” The viceroys were nobles or of high birth, and some were church leaders; their job was to lead the military, govern the administrative court, enforce laws, and distribute land. (Document 2). The lower classes and slaves were resentful of the wealthy and powerful, and this added to what would eventually become a revolt. Over in Saint Domingue, the French Revolution impacted the Haitian way of life by bringing up the issue of independence, especially that of colored people; the uneducated lower class whites disliked the fact that black people had more status and could own land, which made them irritated because free people of color were often educated and owned land.
In 1791, anti-slavery movements in France led to the abolishment of slavery, which further infuriated the petit blancs because the majority were pro slavery. (Outside information) The African slaves, Natives, and the offspring of one and a European made up the bottom four social classes in Spanish colonies. The peninsulares, or pure blood European settlers were at the top of the hierarchy even though they colonized on the Native Americans’ land. (Document 1) The enslaved Africans outnumbered their owners 10:1, but they were treated extremely brutally. (OI) According to the online exhibition Russia Engages the World from the New York Public Library, “the seeds of independence were first sown among free black soldiers, sent by the white French governors to fight against the British in the American War of Independence, where they were exposed to anti-colonial ideas.” Over a decade later, the French Revolution’s motto “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood” stimulated an “independence movement” of minority whites and free blacks. The spark that began the revolt was an act of defiance in which whites ignored France’s order to enfranchise free blacks. A constitution was written in 1801 and Napoleon’s forces were soon after defeated, and Haiti declared its independence.
The slaves provided European mother countries with incredible profits, despite the extreme abuse that they endured (Document 3).
Toussaint L’Ouverture and Simón Bolívar are two of the most involved leaders of the Latin American revolutions.
L’Ouverture (1743-1803) was born into slavery and educated informally; he was freed in his thirties, and went on to train slaves to turn them into a well structured and fierce army. He successfully led the uprising between blacks, whites, and mulattos for years. (OI). In order to recruit Haitians, he wrote a letter in which he explained his goal: “Liberty and Equality to reign in San Domingo.” He wished to “unite [his] brothers” to fight for “the same cause…” C. L. R. James, in The Black Jacobins, has stated that “the work of Toussaint…endures in Hayti… The Haytian revolution has had a profound influence on the history of the nineteenth century…” L’Ouverture, among others, had inspired other Latin American colonies to revolt against their mother countries; “when the Spanish American colonies saw that such a small and weak community could win and keep its freedom, they took courage to fight for their own emancipation…” L’Ouverture, for his military strength and leadership, is referred to as the Black Napoleon. On the other hand, Simón Bolívar is known for his leading the revolution for independence in Venezuela. Manuel Belgrano writes, in his autobiography, his observations of the “change in ideas” from the French Revolution and the Latin American colonies, where “[he] saw only tyrants in those who would restrain a man…from enjoying the rights with which God and Nature had endowed him…the colonies could expect nothing from men who place their private interests above those of the community.” In a letter from Jamaica in 1815, Bolívar describes Spain as “distinguished…in ferocity, ambition, vindictiveness, and greed.” He quotes Montesquieu, saying “It is harder…to release a nation from servitude than to enslave a free nation.” Comparing Latin America to the United States, Bolívar understands that the colonies will never become one great nation as America will (and has done), so he “[dares) not desire it.” In his attempt to unite South America, he freed Venezuela and five other countries, and for that, is called The Great Liberator. Critics had mixed feelings about Bolívar; some “wanted him to be their dictator, their king,” while others considered him a traitor, and a few had even tried to execute him. (Documents 9, 10, and 11). As Enlightened ideas on ways of life, government, education, and freedom spread to the colonies, more and more became independent countries.
(Document 8 and Ol). The colonies’ revolutions led to many changes for hundreds of thousands of people.
“Officials all over South America were replaced by juntas, or local governing committees.” (Document 7). However, “despite the promise of widespread change… Latin Americans built new governments on the foundations laid by Spain.” People’s ideas of how the government should be run varied between “advancing liberal reforms and bringing back the old order. Constitutions were written and rewritten…” Some change occurred, as all voices of citizens were heard, not just the majority, and slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829. Mexico also became a federal republic, while Brazil, for example, restored absolute monarchy, but not to a European country.
Latin America began to trade independently from Europe, and profited, but also imported foreign goods, which “hampered the development of domestic industry.” (Document 12). By 1830, almost all of the western hemisphere was liberated from Europe, as opposed to thirty years before, when the majority belonged to Britain, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, or Spain.
(Document 13) The revolution for independence of Latin America was long awaited; after over 400 years of serving their mother countries, the colonies revolted, and most of them gained their independence. The uprisings had been brewing for some time, before L’Ouverture and Bolívar gained control of their respective armies. Factors having to do with social classes, whites and blacks, slaves and the economy, and the monarchy in the colonies contributed to the eventual liberties of the colonies. L’Ouverture and Bolívar helped their causes greatly, leading their militaries to many victories, and liberating much of Latin America. Afterward, when Europe owned so little of what it used to, the new countries enjoyed their freedom, although they did not necessarily become a democracy or republic. The nineteenth century was a significant for Latin America, as it was a time of replacing government, breaking the social classes, and discovering new ways of life.
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