Chapter 19 An Era of Expansion and Reform

Section 4 Independence in Latin America

By the early 1800s, events in North America and Europe had made a profound impact on Latin America.  The Enlightenment and the American Revolution inspired many Latin Americans to strive for independence.  The French Revolution led directly to Haitian independence, while the Napoleonic Wars spurred Spanish and Portuguese colonists to seek their freedom.

Haiti's Slave Revolution

In the 1700s the Caribbean island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was France's most prosperous colony.[91]  This prosperity, however, was achieved only through the exploitation of slaves.  In Saint-Domingue, slaves made up the vast majority of the population.[92] When news of the French Revolution reached Saint-Domingue, the free mulattoes demanded the same rights as French settlers.  When France refused to grant these rights, the mulattoes and slaves led by Toussaint Louverture (too-san loo-ver-toor), a freed slave, rebelled against the French.[93] 

            Napoleon sent an army to reestablish French authority in 1801.[94]  Toussaint was captured, and he died a prisoner in France.[95]  However, the rebel army soon defeated the French, who were weakened by yellow fever.   In 1804, Saint-Domingue declared its independence under its ancient name, Haiti.[96] Haiti became the first independent black nation in the world.  In France, however, the loss of Haiti convinced Napoleon to abandon his dream of a western hemisphere empire.

Spanish and Portuguese Colonies

Haitian independence affected many Latin American colonies.  Some people were horrified by Haiti's violent struggle.  Others took encouragement from Haiti's new freedom.  Like Haiti, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies' fights for independence began because of events in Europe.

Colonial economy and society.  Until the late 1700s, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies continued in a centuries-old pattern.  A small group of peninsulares and creoles remained at the top of society, followed by mestizos and mullatoes in an intermediate position. Indians and blacks had the lowest status.

            However, by 1800 the ethnic composition of the colonies had changed.  Peninsulares became an even smaller proportion of the population, as the number of creoles and mestizos increased.  Because of an increase in the slave trade, mullatoes and blacks became a larger part of the population.[97]

            In addition, creoles gained much political and economic power.  Spain had declined in strength, and it relaxed its administration over the colonies.[98]  This relative neglect of the colonies allowed creoles to become powerful by buying land, owning mines, and running haciendas.  Over time, the creoles became a sort of New World nobility.[99]

Spain reasserts control.  In the mid-1700s, however, Spain wanted to reverse its decline, in particular by reasserting power over its colonies.  Other nations had taken advantage of Spain's weakness by seizing its colonies.  In the late 1600s, England had conquered Jamaica,[100] and the French had taken St. Croix and Haiti.[101] 

            King Charles III took several steps to reverse Spain's weakness.  First, he created an intendancy system.  This system appointed peninsulares as intendants, or governors, who would be loyal to the king and not the viceroy.[102]  Second, Charles III tightened control over the Catholic Church in Spanish territory so that its power and wealth would not rival that of the monarchy.[103]  Third, he created a colonial militia to ward off foreign invasions.

            These reforms made colonial administration more efficient, but it did not please everyone.  The militia pleased some creoles, who now had opportunities for leadership and power.  Others resented the fact that having the peninsulares in government positions reduced the status and influence of the creoles.  However, the immigration of more peninsulares increased the creoles' hostility toward Spanish rule.

Independence from Spain.  While discontent among Spanish creoles grew, events in Europe encouraged the colonists to seek independence.  In 1808 Napoleon's army deposed the Spanish king Ferdinand VII and placed his brother on the throne.[104]

            [BIOGRAPHY]Spanish colonists believed that with no legitimate government in Spain, control over the colonies should revert to the colonists.[105]  In Venezuela, an independence movement began, led by Simón Bolívar (boh-lee-bar).  Born to a wealthy family in 1783, Bolívar envisioned an independent and united Latin America.  In 1811 he led Venezuela to declare its independence from Spain.  A series of startling victories against the Spanish earned Bolívar the nickname "the Liberator."[106]  After ten years of fighting Spanish forces, Bolívar finally defeated them in 1821.[107]

            True to his vision of a united Latin America, Bolívar established the state of Gran Colombia, which consisted of Venezuela, Colombia, and New Granada.[108]  In 1825 he tried to bring Upper Peru into the union, but leaders there had already organized Bolivia, a new state named after him.  At this time Gran Colombia was disintegrating, and in 1830, Venezuela and Ecuador withdrew from the union.  Bolívar lamented, "America is ungovernable.  Those who have served the revolution have plowed the sea."[109]  Bolívar, the Liberator, died that year of tuberculosis. [END BIOGRAPHY]

Independence from Portugal.  Brazil took a different path to independence.  Napoleon's defeat of Portugal in 1807 led the Portuguese king Dom João (zhwa-ooh) and the entire royal family to escape to Brazil, with the help of the British royal navy.[110]  In exchange for Britain's assistance, however, the royal family had to make two reforms.  First, they allowed freer trade between Brazil and Great Britain.  Second, they agreed to end the African slave trade. 

            While Dom João lived in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro became the center of the Portuguese empire.[111]  Trade became freer, the justice system was reformed, and communications improved.[112]  Dom João even built a national library, museum, and botanical gardens.[113]

            After the French were driven out of Portugal in 1808, the Portuguese demanded Dom João's return, but he loved Brazil and refused to leave.  He had begun to identify with the New World, and in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, he wrote about the "most perfect union and friendship which I hope will continue without interruption between the nations that occupy this new world."[114]  In 1815 Dom João elevated Brazil to an equal status with Portugal.[115]

            In Portugal, liberals wanted to return Brazil to its former dependent status.[116]  They persuaded Dom João to return to Portugal, then stripped Brazil of power by abolishing its government and excluding Brazilians from political and military offices.[117]  However, Dom João's son, Dom Pedro, had stayed behind in Brazil.  Refusing the liberals’ demands to return to Portugal, in 1822 he declared, "The hour has come! Independence or death!"[118]  By 1823, the Brazilians had driven out all Portuguese forces[119] in an almost bloodless revolution,[120] and Dom Pedro became Brazil's first emperor.


While independence movements grew in South America, colonists in Mexico fought for freedom as well.   After Napoleon conquered Spain, a priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla led a movement to seize power in Ferdinand's name.[121]  Thousands of mestizos and Indians joined him as he made his way to Mexico City.  They never made it, however, because in 1811 the Spanish captured and executed Hidalgo.[122]

            Another priest, José María Morelos, assumed leadership.  Morelos wanted land reform and the abolition of slavery, but above all, he wanted

“a new government, by which all inhabitants, except peninsulares, would no longer be designated as Indians, mulattoes, or castas [people of mixed race], but all would be known as Americans.”[123] 

In 1815 the Spanish captured and executed him.[124] 

            Changes in Spain, however, helped the Mexican independence movement.  In 1820 liberals in Spain forced King Ferdinand VII to create a constitutional government.  Inspired by ideals of the French Revolution, the constitution allowed freedom of speech and broke down some of the privileges of the Catholic Church.  These changes alarmed the conservatives in Mexico, who began to believe that the only way to protect themselves was to separate from Spain.[125]

            General Agustín de Iturbide (ee-toor-bee-thay) led the military campaign and declared Mexico's independence in 1821.[126]  Mexico fell into bloody revolution, with thousands of people killed and haciendas, mines, and villages destroyed. After the war, Iturbide declared himself emperor, building an empire that spanned all of Central America.[127]  However, his mismanagement left the nation's treasury bankrupt.  In 1823 he abdicated,[128] and Mexico declared itself a republic.

Foreign Reactions to Independence

Many nations were pleased by Latin American independence.  The British benefited tremendously by loaning the newly independent nations great sums of money and increasing trade.[129]  They invested heavily in railroads and mines, and by 1913, Britain was the biggest investor in Latin America, controlling nearly two-thirds of all foreign investment.[130]

            The United States favored an independent Latin America because it spelled the end European control of the New World.  This also opened up a market for American goods.  However, reports that Spain planned to retake its former colonies alarmed the U.S., and in 1823, President James Monroe responded with a policy that became known as the Monroe Doctrine.[131]

            The Monroe Doctrine simply stated that the United States would not tolerate European military intervention in the western hemisphere:

“We should consider any attempt on their [Europeans'] part to extend their system to...this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety....  But with the governments who have declared their independence and maintained it,...we...view any interposition [interference] any European power... as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.”[132]

The U.S. did not have the power to defend against European defiance of the Monroe Doctrine.  However, Britain backed up the U.S. with its powerful navy in order to protect its trade.  Therefore, the two nations together protected Latin America from recolonization.


Section 4 Review

IDENTIFY and explain the significance of the following:

Toussaint Louverture

Simón Bolívar

intendancy system


Dom Pedro

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla

Agustín de Iturbide

LOCATE and explain the importance of the following:


Gran Colombia


United Provinces of Central America

1.      MAIN IDEA  Why did France fight so hard to retain Saint-Domingue in the empire?

2.      MAIN IDEA    How did events in Europe affect independence movements in Latin America?

3.      GEOGRAPHY  What role did natural resources play in the economies of Latin American countries?

4.      WRITING TO PERSUADE   Imagine that you are Dom Pedro.  You have received a letter from Portugal urging you to return now that Napoleon's forces have departed.  Write a letter to the Portuguese government explaining why you will stay in Brazil.

5.      SYNTHESIZING Why did unification of large regions in South America ultimately fail?

[1]James Walvin, England, Slaves, and Freedom, 1776-1838 (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1986): 42.

[2]Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (New York: Capricorn Books, 1966):46.

[3]Walvin, 18.

[4]Walvin, 19.

[5]Walvin, 14.

[6]Betty Fladeland, Men and Brothers: Anglo-American Antislavery Cooperation  (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1972): 16.

[7]ANNO:                 In 1772, for example, Granville Sharp, an English lawyer and humanitarian, filed suit in the courts challenging the right of a slaveowner to send his slave James Somerset from England to Jamaica. The court agreed that English law did not recognize the institution of slavery—therefore a slave owner did not have the right to re-export his slaves to the colonies because in England they must be considered free men.[7] Abolitionists rejoiced, seeing the ruling as a first step toward declaring slavery illegal in Britain. 

[8]Walvin, 106.

[9]Walvin, 121.

[10]Walvin, 167.

[11]Prall. 575.

[12]Heyck, 300.

[13]Heyck, 304.

[14]Bronterre O'Brien, quoted in Max Morris, ed.  From Cobbett to the Chartists  (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1951):144.

[15]Emmeline Pankhurst, "Why We Are Militant," in Jane Marcus, ed., Suffrage and the Pankhursts (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987): 157.

[16]Bonnie S. Anderson and Judith P. Zinsser, A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present, Volume II (New York: Harper & Row, 1988): 364.

[17]Anderson, 365.

[18]Anderson, 366.

[19]Emmeline Pankhurst, "Why We Are Militant," in Jane Marcus, ed.  Suffrage and the Pankhursts (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987): 162.

[20]Prall, 613.

[21]ANNO: The olkd system had been in polace since the 1500s and was completely inadequate for an industrializing country. Moreover, adjustments made in the late 1700s to provide “outdoor relief,” or local government supplements to poor workers’ wages, had only caused wages in general to drop—thus creating more poor people. By the early 1800s, taxes for the poor law had grown so heavy and the system so ineffective that the middle classes demanded reform.

[22]ANNO:Life in the workhouses was harsh.  Families were separated, silence was imposed at meals, and the dead were buried as cheaply as possible and without dignity.

[23]Prall, 603.

[24]WD McIntyre, Colonies into Commonwealth  (London: Blandford Press, 1966): 41.

[25]McIntyre, 45.

[26]McIntyre, 46.

[27]McIntyre, 46.

[28]McIntyre, 67

[29]McIntyre, 69

[30]McIntyre, 71

[31]McIntyre, 77

[32]McIntyre, 51

[33]McIntyre, 53

[34]McIntyre, 58.

[35]McIntyre, 92

[36]McIntyre, 95.

[37]McIntyre, 95

[38]McIntyre, 95

[39]McIntyre, 81

[40]McIntyre, 59.

[41]McIntyre, 62

[42]McIntyre, 84

[43]McIntyre, 86

[44]McIntyre, 87

[45]Rosalind Miles, The Women's History of the World  (New York: Harper and Row, 1988): 204.

[46]McIntyre, 87

[47]McIntyre, 88

[48]Todd/Curti, 151.

[49]Todd/Curti, 141 (map).

[50]Todd/Curti, 206.

[51]Todd/Curti, 230.

[52]Todd/Curti, 312, 315.

[53]Todd/Curti, 320.

[54]Todd/Curti, 449.

[55]Todd/Curti, 566.

[56]Todd/Curti, 426.

[57]Todd/Curti, 426.

[58]Todd/Curti, 197.

[59]Todd/Curti, 79.

[60]The bill passed in Feb 1807, but didn't take effect until Jan 1808.  Fladeland, 78.

[61]Fladeland, 70.

[62]MA, NY, PA, and CT abolished it in 1788.  Fladeland, 53.

[63]Fladeland, 30.

[64]Fladeland, 48.

[65]Todd/Curti, 338.

[66]Todd/Curti, 337.

[67]Fladeland, 145.

[68]Fladeland, 96.

[69]Todd/Curti, 294.

[70]Todd/Curti, 293.

[71]Todd/Curti, 294.

[72]Todd/Curti, 389.

[73]Todd/Curti, 298.

[74]Fladeland, 266.

[75]Todd/Curti, 466.

[76]Todd/Curti, 467.

[77]Todd/Curti , 467.

[78]Todd/Curti, 289.

[79]Todd/Curti, 289.

[80]Todd/Curti, 290.

[81]Todd/Curti, 289.

[82]Todd/Curti, 290.

[83]Todd/Curti, 291.

[84]Todd/Curti, 476.

[85]Todd/Curti, 477.

[86]Todd/Curti, 535.

[87]Todd/Curti, 518-519.

[88]Todd/Curti, 495.

[89]Todd/Curti, 520.

[91]Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969 (New York: Vintage Books, 1984): 237-238.

[92]Williams, 246.

[93]Williams, 247.

[94]Williams, 252.

[95]Williams, 253.

[96]Williams, 254.

[97]Thomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith, Modern Latin America, Second Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989): 26. (Sue's book)

[98]Skidmore, 27.

[99]Skidmore, 22.

[100]Skidmore, 19.

[101]Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969 (New York: Vintage Books, 1984): 81.

[102]Skidmore, 27.

[103]Skidmore, 28.

[104]Skidmore, 29.

[105]Skidmore, 29.

[106]Skidmore, 31.

[107]Skidmore, 33.

[108]Skidmore, 33.

[109]Skidmore, 34.

[110]Skidmore, 35.

[111]C.H. Haring, Empire in Brazil: A New World Expeeriment with Monarchy (New York: W.W. Norton, 1958): 5. (David's book)

[112]Haring, 6.

[113]Skidmore, 35.

[114]Haring, 9.

[115]Haring, 10.

[116]Haring, 12.

[117]Haring, 15.

[118]Haring, 17.

[119]Haring, 22.

[120]Haring, 24.

[121]Skidmore, 31.

[122]Skidmore, 32.

[123]Skidmore, 32.

[124]Skidmore, 32.

[125]Charles C. Cumberland, Mexico: The Struggle for Modernity (London: Oxford University Press, 1968): 126-127. (David's book)

[126]Cumberland, 128.

[127]"Central America," Webster's Geographical Dictionary, 233.

[128]Cumberland, 144.

[129]Skidmore, 38.

[130]Skidmore, 44.

[131]Todd/Curti, 230.

[132]Todd/Curti, 1005.