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Spanish Colonies Rebel and Other Independence Movements
Spain controlled large portions of South, Central, and even parts of North America. In these colonies, the top class consisted of the Peninsulares, those born in Spain. This was the ruling class who could hold powerful political offices. Next were the Creoles, those of Spanish decent born in the Spanish Colonies. They could not hold high office, but, like the Peninsulares, held the greatest amount of land and wealth. The lower classes consisted of other groups. Mestizos were those of Spanish and Native American ancestry. Mulattos were those of European and African descent along with African slaves. Last were the Native Americans of the regions.
There were many precursors independence movements that occurred before the Spanish colonies sought their own independence. The desire of the Spanish colonies to rebel against Spain and seek independence was preceded by other independence movements. The 13 Colonies of Great Britain rose up in the American Revolutionary War and achieved their own independence, becoming the United Sates in 1776 and securing their independence by winning their war against Britain, which officially ended in 1783. Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803) led a successful resistance against France, then led by Napoleon. The area declared itself independent and renamed the area Haiti in 1804.
The Enlightenment had a profound impact on the desire of Spanish colonies to seek independence. In Europe, Enlightenment philosophers began to challenge old institutions of class and government. John Locke (1632-1704) taught all people deserved the protection of their life, liberty, and property by the government. Montesquieu (1689-1755) taught that the government should be broken up and use checks and balances and Voltaire (1694-1778) taught just governments would protect the freedom of speech. The Creole class of the Spanish Colonies, those of Spanish descent, but born in the colonies, were often times educated in these novel European ideas. They began to champion these Enlightenment notions and this fueled the desire for independence in the colonies.
King Ferdinand the 7th (1784-1833) was ousted as the monarch of Spain during Napoleon’s Peninsular war in which he invaded the country. Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), Napoleon’s brother, eventually became the King of Spain in 1808. This chaotic change in the leadership in Spain encouraged the Spanish colonies to rebel. Various Spanish colonies began to attempt to separate and form their own nations based on Enlightenment ideals. Two pivotal leaders in this movement against Spain were José de San Martín (1778-1950) and Simón Bolívar (1783-1830).
Simón Bolívar led the movement in Venezuela to break away from Spain. Venezuela declared their independence on July 5th, 1811. Venezuela fought a series of battles with Spain. Spain didn’t want to give up the colony due to the profit and revenue it gained from the area. Eventually, Bolívar helped form the Gran Colombia, a union that included the areas of modern day Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Panama, portions of Peru, and Venezuela. They secured independence from Spain and the union lasted from 1821-1831, when Venezuela became its own separate nation. Simón Bolívar led Argentina to pursue independence against Spain as well. Argentina declared independence on July 9th, 1816. While not a member of the Gran Columbia, Argentina and the areas of the Gran Columbia had a common enemy in Spain and all longed for independence. Argentina helped Chili as they sought independence too. José de San Martín’s combatants, under the leadership of Simón Bolívar, united to push Spain out of Peru at the Battle of Ayacucho, in 1824. In the Spanish American Wars of Independence, this battle secured the independence of Peru.
The studying of Enlightenment ideas led Creoles in places like Venezuela to pursue independence. Yet, it was the Mestizos, those of Native American and Spanish descent, and Native Americans themselves that led the independence movement of Mexico. Father Miguel Hidalgo (1753-1811), a Catholic priest, played a leading role in Mexico's independence movement. Hidalgo marched around 90,000 men on Mexico City in 1811.
Hidalgo was defeated and executed. Yet, he had started a movement that would eventually end with Mexico breaking away from Spain. After Hidalgo’s death, José María Morelos (1765-1815), also a Catholic Priest, continued the movement toward independence for Mexico. Morelos led the Congress of Chilpancingo to declare independence for Mexico on September 13th, 1813. A Creole named Agustín de Iturbide (1783-1824) led the Spanish forces against Morelos and his followers. Morelos was captured by Spain and executed for treason for his role in Mexico’s independence movement on December 22nd, 1815.
While Iturbide did help to crush the resistance that Morelos was leading, it seemed Mexico was not rewarding him with the kind of colony he wanted. It seemed Spain was responding harshly to all groups, except the Peninsulares. They even seemed to treat Creoles with harshness. This led Iturbide to turn against Spain and join the independence movement he once fought. Now under the leadership of Iturbide, Mexico declared Iturbide to be Emperor of their nation in 1822.
As Mexico became independent, Iturbide declared himself Emperor of Mexico. Several Central American areas tried to break away from Spain and form their own independent areas. Iturbide refused to let them go. Eventually, the Federal Republic of Central America, consisting of modern day Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, broke away from Iturbide’s control. Even the colony of Brazil, a colony of Portugal, achieved its independence, peacefully, on September 7th 1822. By 1822, the 13 American Colonies, Haiti, a plethora of Spanish Colonies, and Brazil were no longer controlled by foreign powers, they were their own nations.