In Early 1800s, Revolutionary Spirit Spread to Latin America

How did the revolutionary spirit in North America and Europe — particularly France — impact Latin America?

In the course of a few decades, the US, France, and Haiti all experienced revolutions. This spirit ultimately destroyed the colonial empires of Britain, France and Spain in the New World. But they did not give up on empire. They shifted focus to other continents — Asia and Africa.

Spanish conquistadors in the 1400s ventured into the New World to serve God, save souls, and get rich, find gold. Spain’s empire spanned as far north as Colorado and as south as Patagonia in Southern Chile. Spain’s empire lasted more than 300 years.

In just 19 years, 10 colonies declared their independence from Spain. Talk about dominoes falling!

  • Uraguay,
  • Paraguay,
  • Chile,
  • Mexico,
  • Ecuador,
  • United Provinces of Central America,
  • Peru,
  • Bolivia,
  • Columbia, and
  • Venezuela.


Spanish viceroys or governors were unwilling to share power. Spain believed the purpose of colonies was to generate wealth for the mother country. Under the economic system of mercantilism, Spanish officials took the majority of the profits from resources they found in the Americas.

As late as 1800, there was little revolutionary activity in Latin America. But when Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808, things changed. Spain was distracted, paid little attention to its colonies. Latin Americans rejected the prospect of rule by the French and Napoleon.

Much of Latin American gained independence from Spain between 1811 and 1830.

As late as 1808, Spain’s empire stretched from the western US to the southern tip of Chile, from the Caribbean to Pacific. By 1825, it was all gone except for a handful of Caribbean islands.


In 1788, Charles IV became king of Spain. He was very weak.

Under his leadership, Spain joined France to fight the British. Spain was distracted from paying attention to its colonies.

Law in Spanish colonies required that they only trade and sell cheaply to Spain. As a result, a black market developed to sell to British and Americans. Spain responded to this trade issue too late.

Spain refused to share power, and engaged in rigid racism with its colonies. Those born in Spain looked down on those born in the colonies or of mixed race.

Latin American Social Caste Pyramid (LASCP).

A class pyramid developed. At the top:

Peninsulares. Born in Spain
Creoles. Born in America but of pure Spanish blood. Artisans. Soldiers. Traders. Wanted same privileges as peninsulares. Creoles were discriminated against in favor of those born in Spain. They felt disrespected.
Mestizos. Mixed race.

Peasants. Poor farmers. Wanted to end privileges of landowners. Did not care to end slavery.

Slaves. 20% of pop. Oppressed.

The Spanish Reconquest which succeeded in 1492 was very intolerant. Spain kicked out the Moors, Jews, Romani or sent them to the Inquisition.

Wealthy could buy whiteness. This caused resentments. Dark side of revolutions was that they maintained the old racist class system.

Napoleon conquered Spain and Portugal in 1808. He replaced Charles IV with his brother Joseph.

Why Latin America wanted independence from Spain:

1. No respect for the Creoles. Men and women born in colonies but with European ancestors. Spain gave preference to native-born for important positions in colonial government. In Caracus, Venezuela, for ex, no native Venezuelans were appointed from 1786 to 1810. Creoles felt they were more American than Spanish.

2. No free trade. Empire produced coffee, cacao, textiles, wine, minerals. Colonies only allowed to trade with Spain. At prices favorable to Spain.

3. Other revolutions. American. Haitian (led by slaves) terrified landowners.

4. Spain was weakened by Charles IV who spent most of time hunting. He became king in 1788. Joined with France to fight Brits. Ignored colonies.

5. They felt they were Americans (in the broadest sense) not Spaniards

6. Racism.

7. Napoleon invaded Spain and installed his brother as its leader.


This outraged colonists. They were loyal to Spain but not Napoleon.

Ferdinand VII reclaimed the throne in 1813. But by then colonies in Mexico Argentina and northern part of South America were in revolt.

Jose De San Martin liberated Argentina and Chile.

In 1810, in Mexico, father Miguel Hidalgo rallied people to revolt against Spain’s oppressive rule and unfair taxation. He appealed to nationalism and religion, and against foreign Spanish oppression. He is the father of Mexican independence, which was achieved in 1821.

Simon Bolivar was the liberator who desired to create a national identity for Latin America. In 1821, he led the establishment of Columbia, Venezuela. Panama. and Ecuador. In 1824, Bolivar became dictator or supreme leader of Peru. In 1825, Bolivia was created. In 1828, he became absolute dictator. Bolivar lifted trade restrictions. Ended taxes on food. Slavery abolished. But in 1830, he stepped down.

Crash Course World History: Latin American Revolutions and Independence Movements

“John Green talks about the many revolutions of Latin America in the 19th century. At the beginning of the 1800s, Latin America was firmly under the control of Spain and Portugal. The revolutionary zeal that had recently created the United States and had taken off Louis XVI’s head in France arrived in South America, and a racially diverse group of people who felt more South American than European took over. John covers the soft revolution of Brazil, in which Prince Pedro boldly seized power from his father, but promised to give it back if King João ever returned to Brazil. He also covers the decidedly more violent revolutions in Mexico, Venezuela, and Argentina. Watch the video to see Simón Bolívar’s dream of a United South America crushed, even as he manages to liberate a bunch of countries and get two currencies and about a thousand schools and parks named after him.” Transcript.

Know these terms:

the royal fifth

Catholic Church


Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Cultural Blending

Virgin of Guadalupe

“Latin America had a great deal of racial diversity and a rigid social hierarchy to match. There were four basic racial categories: white, black, mestizo – a mix of white and American Indian – and mulatto, a mix of white and black. We try not to use that word anymore because it’s offensive, but that’s the word they used. ”

King Joao

“Brazil achieved independence without much bloodshed and managed to hold on to that social hierarchy with the plantation owners on top. And that explains why Brazil was the last new world country to abolish slavery, not fully abandoning it until 1888.”


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