V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > I. Latin America, 1806–1914 > 2. The Wars of Independence, 1806–1872
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1781)
2. The Wars of Independence, 1806–1872
a. Causes
Political, economic, and social factors inherent in the Spanish colonial system were the fundamental causes that led to the separation of the American colonies from the mother country. The Bourbon reforms prompted widespread discontent in Spanish America. Though export-oriented areas thrived with free trade policies, Spanish American entrepreneurs were excluded from transatlantic trade and shipping, which the Spaniards controlled. The opening of colonial markets to European manufactures affected local industries in certain areas. Popular sectors throughout Spanish America viewed new fiscal exactions as endangering their living standards. Sales taxes and the enforcement of state monopolies affected many ordinary traders and consumers. Tribute and forced sales of goods angered Indian and mestizo peasants.  1
The Bourbon reforms (See Administration) curtailed the ecclesiastical fuero, an institution that placed the clergy outside the control of civil authorities. In areas where the church had grown influential, this measure caused resentment, especially in the lower clergy. In contrast to the weakening of the church, the Bourbon reforms reinforced the military fuero, which placed Spaniards and creoles, and even people of color who served in the army, outside civilian jurisdiction. The army created an avenue of social recognition for creoles and nonwhite people, and allowed them to develop military skills that later proved useful in the struggle for independence. The creole aristocracy, however, felt threatened by policies that allowed nonwhites to achieve privileges previously reserved for the elite. The participation of popular sectors, most of them of nonwhite background, in the independence conflicts provoked “caste war” fears, since the elites, considering themselves white, framed any assault on their privileges as a racial attack.  2
The French Revolution of 1789 influenced the creole elite intellectuals of the Spanish colonies, but the slaves in the French colony of St. Domingue (Haiti) made a deeper impact on the creole elite when they destroyed the slave system and achieved independence (1804) through a violent social revolution. Slaveholders of the Americas learned from this defeat of French colonialism that they should avoid those conditions that might aid slaves in their struggle for freedom. To preserve slavery, creole aristocracies of Cuba and Puerto Rico remained loyal to the colonial state. The American Revolution was also a source of ideas for creole thinkers favoring independence. Many saw federalism as the most appropriate system for the new American republics, where unequal regional resources and political power became an immediate source of civil strife. The United States also provided an example of the coexistence of slavery with a republican state, an attractive model, given the economic benefits that sectors of the Spanish American elites derived from slavery.  3
Crucial for the growth and timing of the independence movements were the political developments in the metropolis. Napoleon invaded Spain and established his brother Joseph on the throne (See 1808, March). The American colonies refused to recognize him and proclaimed allegiance to the deposed Ferdinand VII. The Constitution of Cádiz (1812), issued by Spanish Liberals opposing absolutism, provided for a constitutional monarchy and the election of deputies throughout the Spanish domains. Such measures encouraged the formation of juntas in the American cities, which tried to govern in the name of the deposed king. The restoration of Ferdinand VII and his determination to restore the old system propelled the creole movement toward separatism.  4
The Wars of Independence passed through two phases; between 1809 and 1816, movements for separation failed everywhere except in the area of the Río de la Plata; between 1816 and 1825, independence was achieved.  5
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.