(CONSERVATIVE ORDER against CHANGE – continued)

home | 18-19th centuries index


previous | next

Rebellion against Spain in Latin America

Going into the 1800s, more than a few people in Spain's colonies were influenced by the Enlightenment and the American and French revolutions, and among these people was a growing dislike of Spain's restrictions over economic matters. There were restrictions on trading with foreigners, restrictions against growing crops that would compete with crops grown in Spain, and restrictions on making goods that would compete with goods made in Spain. Taxes imposed by Spanish authorities were also annoying. People of Spanish heritage born in Latin America were not participating in government the way that people of British heritage had been in Britain's colonies. Criólles (those born in America claiming pure Spanish blood) were living under the authoritarian tradition of the Spaniards. The Church and its Inquisition in Spanish America were dominated by Spaniards. The families of Spain's officials enjoyed their authority and higher status. They were haughty toward the Criólles as well as toward Indians, and the Criólles resented it and the soldiers from Spain. Many of them had a non-white in their family sometime in the 200 years since the Europeans had arrived in the New World, while people born in Spain prided themselves on their racial purity.

Ferdinand VII

Ferdinand VII


Father Miguel Hidalgo, father of Mexico's Independence


José María Morelos

A turning point for Latin America was Napoleon's move into Spain and Portugal from 1808 to 1814 and Napoleon holding Spain's King Ferdinand VII captive. To the Criólles this made Spain's authorities in Latin America agents of the French. Criólles of both liberal and conservative persuasion formed committees (juntas) that declared their loyalty to King Ferdinand – believed by some to be their divinely chosen authority. On May 25, 1810, a junta in Argentina claimed rule on behalf of Ferdinand VII. A junta in Santiago (Chile) declared independence on September 18, 1810, and in Asunción (Paraguay) independence was declared on May 14, 1811. A junta in Caracas declared independence on July 5, 1811, and independence was declared also in La Paz and in New Grenada in what today is Colombia. And fighting erupted between Spain's authorities in Latin America and those associated with the juntas.

Hildago and Morelos in New Spain (Mexico)

In Mexico City – the administrative center of New Spain – a Crióllo junta declared its support for Ferdinand VII and for independence. New Spain extended from Panama north to the territories of Alto California, Nuevo Mexico and Texas. Nuevo Mexico included territory between Texas and Alto California as far north as what eventually would be called Wyoming. New Spain had a population of around 1.2 million whites, 2 million mestizos (part Indian, part white), 4 million Indians (about a million more than a century and a half earlier but down from 15 million at the time of Cortez), and there were blacks on the Caribbean coast. The Criólles were interested in maintaining their property and status vis-à-vis the Indians and mestizos.

A sixty-year-old ordained Roman Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo, in the village of Dolores (about 110 miles northwest of Mexico City) had a more radical response to events. Hidalgo was an intellectual who had drawn from the Enlightenment, and he dismissed popular notions concerning race and had been fighting for the well-being of Mexico's Indians and Mestizos, including a call for the return of lands stolen from the Indians. Pursuing this in the wake of the more conservative independence movement in Mexico City he organized an uprising for December 8, 1810. Then, in the early morning of September 15 Hidalgo was warned that Spanish authorities in the nearby town of Querétaro had learned of his plans and were sending a force against him. Hidalgo rang the church bell, calling his Indian and Mestizo followers to action. And, according to reports, he shouted:

Long live Ferdinand VII! Long live religion! Death to bad government!

Hidalgo's followers, with their farm tools as weapons, marched to the town of San Miguel thirty miles to the northwest of Dolores, picking up hundreds of combatants from farms and mines along the way. The militia of San Miguel joined the uprising. Hidalgo's army swelled to several thousand. Encouraged by their numbers, the insurgents began to sack shops and loot the houses of whites. Within a week, Hidalgo's army reached the town of Guanajuato, sixty miles farther northwest, their army now numbering around 50,000. And now they met resistance. Defending soldiers killed 2,000 of Hidalgo's men. Shocked by the reality of warfare, Hidalgo's men went on a rampage, killing all opponents they could, including those who surrendered.

Hildago's growing army moved on, taking one town after another. They defeated an army of 7,000 that had been sent against them. But Hidalgo's force was tiring, and rather than push for control of the capital, Mexico City, Hidalgo ordered his force to the nearby provincial capital, Guadalajara, for a rest. There he set up a government, with one small printing press, and he began training his army. He sent another priest, José Maria Morelos, and 25 men on a mission to capture Acapulco (on the coast in southern Mexico).


Moving against Hidalgo's rebellion, 6,000 soldiers moved through Guanajuato and approached Guadalajara. Hidalgo's army outnumbered the rival force thirteen to one, but the battle outside of town went badly for them, and they panicked and fled. Hidalgo, with about a thousand men, retreated north to Saltillo in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains (near Monterrey). Those around Hildago replaced him as their leader while Spain's soldiers were capturing one town after another. And they captured Hidalgo. He was tried by the Inquisition, defrocked and executed in Chihuahua by firing squad on July 31, 1811.

José Maria Morelos, meanwhile, had gathered a force of around 9,000 men and was occupying towns and hills south of Mexico City. Following Napoleon's withdrawal from Spain and Ferdinand's return to power in 1814, King Ferdinand sent additional troops to Mexico. In 1815, the year of Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, the Spaniards overwhelmed Morelos and his force, with 2,000 escaping to Puebla and about 1,000 to Oaxaca. Morelos stood before the Inquisition, was defrocked, and he too was executed by firing squad, on December 22, 1815.

Hidalgo's uprising and the war that followed to 1816 had killed between 200,000 and 500,000 people. If the deaths were 200,000 that would have been about one in 600 of a population that demographers have estimated for Mexico at around 6 million in 1815. This is equivalent to the US in the year 2000 (with a population of 280 million) losing in war something like 466,667.

Into the 21st century, Father Hildago was to be considered by the people of Mexico the father of Mexico's independence. In 1816 that independence had not yet arrived. The crushing of Hidalgo's revolt and suited the conservatism of those joyed by the defeat of Napoleon and what they saw as the defeat of the French Revolution and its philosophical foundation.

Spain and Rebellion in South America


Simón Bolivar

Simón Bolivar was a Crióllo with a few drops of Indian and African blood and proud of it. He was born in Caracas into Venezuela's plantation society and into wealth, and in his late teens he enjoyed leisure in Europe. He was influenced by liberalism and the Enlightenment and acquired an admiration for Napoleon. In the year 1810, with Spain's King Ferdinand being held by Napoleon in luxurious captivity, Bolivar was back in Venezuela supporting Venezuela's pro-independence junta and at 27 having outgrown his youthful frivolity. The junta sent Bolivar back to Europe as the head of a delegation aiming at international support for independence. He returned in 1811 unsuccessful but with Venezuela's leading dissident, a vain revolutionary, Francisco de Miranda, who had been in exile in England.

In behalf of the junta in Caracas, Miranda declared Venezuela and New Grenada, in what today is Columbia, to be republics. The junta removed the trading restrictions that Spain had imposed. It exempted taxes from the sale of food, ended the paying of tribute to the government by Venezuela's Indians and prohibited slavery.

Battles were fought between Miranda's forces and a Spanish army that had been stationed in Venezuela, the Spanish forces winning considerable support among Venezuela's illiterate masses. In March 1812, an earthquake devastated Caracas. The Spanish clergy in Caracas claimed that the earthquake was God's anger against the sins of the rebel government. In July, Miranda's forces were defeated and the Spaniards regained control over Caracas.

Outside Caracas, small bands of rebels led by military chieftains continued their defiance of Spanish authority. Simón Bolivar built a force of 2,000 men and fought his way back to the city, entering in triumph on August 7, 1813. In 1814, following Ferdinand's freedom from Napoleon's captivity and more troops arriving from Spain, Bolivar was driven westward to New Granada.

Rebel forces could no longer claim power in the name of King Ferdinand, and Spanish forces were advancing against the rebels elsewhere in Spanish America. Bernardo O'Higgins, the leader of a liberal regime In Chile, was forced to flee with his army across the Andes mountains into Western Argentina, where he was welcomed by José de San Martín, the liberal-monarchist governor in the province of Cuyo. In Venezuela, the Spaniards put Miranda in a dungeon – where he died in 1816. The Spanish drove Bolivar from New Grenada, Bolivar fleeing to Jamaica and Haiti. He was depressed and without any of his former wealth, but his hopes of creating a new order in South America soon revived.

In 1817, San Martín and O'Higgins went with their armies back across the Andes Mountains to Chile. There they defeated the Spanish and took power in the city of Santiago. They laid plans to sail north to Lima in Peru, the center of Spain's authority in Latin America, the most wealthy and economically successful of Spain's Latin American cities. It was a city filled with conservative Criólles who, with an abundance of slaves, had never had to dirty their hands with any kind of work.

On the Atlantic coast, in an area called Banda Oriental (northeast of Buenos Aires), another rebel force was having successes. It was led by José Gervasio Artigas who was allied with other cattle-raising, gaucho, landowners. He distrusted urbanites, broke with junta leaders in Buenos Aires and fought against Brazil's intrusions. Eventually he was to be known as the father of his country: Uruguay.

In 1817 Bolivar and a small force returned to Venezuela and established a base inland in the rain forest along the Orinoco River. There he gathered new recruits, new supplies and added to his reputation. The drive of Spain's forces into Venezuela's interior aroused people there into a more active rebellion. There, Bolivar allied himself with the rebellious cattle herdsmen, Indians and semi-nomadic hunters. He found that liberating slaves gave him added support and strength, and where he and his army went he gave slaves their freedom.

In 1818, Spain invaded Chile again and defeated O'Higgins at Cancha Rayada, but San Martín defeated the Spanish at the Battle of Maipu. Bolivar arrived Bogotá in August 1819, and Spain lost that area (New Grenada) to Bolivar. Bolivar organized what became Gran Colombia, a political unity that included what today is Ecuador, Colombia and Panama, and became its president on December 17, 1819.

King Ferdinand, meanwhile, was having trouble in Spain. After returning to power in 1814 he was pursuing a policy of absolutism, and he was not paying his army. In 1820, soldiers assembled for embarkation to the Americas revolted, and various groups in Spain joined the revolt. They drove Ferdinand from power. Bolivar moved with his army back to Venezuela and late that year he signed an armistice with the commander of Spain's forces there. In 1821, Bolivar's armistice with the Spanish ended. On June 21 he won the Battle of Carabobo (about ninety miles southwest of Caracas). A few days later Caracas fell to Bolivar and Venezuela was free of Spanish rule.

By now San Martín had landed in Peru, with the help of a British sea captain, Thomas Cochran. The invasion force was welcomed by rebellious inhabitants of coastal towns and they were joined by Peru's Indians. Lima's conservative forces fled inland. Spain's viceroy in Lima preferred negotiations to fighting and invited San Martín and his force into Lima, San Martín entering the city on July 12 amid celebrations in the streets. San Martín had not come to rule. All he wanted was Peru's independence. And he had Bolivar's help. In May 1822, Bolivar defeated Spain's supporters at Quito. In July, Bolivar met with San Martín, who was still combating Spain's supporters in the interior, and San Martín turned Peru over to Bolivar and returned to Chile.

In 1823, Europe's Holy Alliance delegated the French to put Ferdinand back onto his throne. Louis XVIII of France sent an army of 100,000 into Spain, and a bloodbath in Spain followed Ferdinand's restoration – killing on a scale said to have sickened his conservative "rescuers." Some managed to escape into exile, and Ferdinand, to reign ten more years. He restored archaic university programs and had to put down occasional revolts in various regions.

Britain meanwhile was enjoying trade with Latin America that had been denied by Spain, and Britain warned against any attempt to reestablish Spanish rule in Latin America. The United States was also enjoying its new freedom to trade with Latin America, and in December that year President James Monroe proclaimed what became known as the Monroe Doctrine, which was aimed at Russian designs on Alaska and also against Spain attempting to regain its lost colonies.

In August 1824, Bolivar launched an important battle at Junin, in what was soon to be called Bolivia in honor of Bolivar. Next, in December, fighting alongside a Peruvian force, Bolivar won the Battle of Ayacucho, 200 miles southeast of Lima. Spain was no longer a colonial power in South America.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.