1) Post a discussion question of your own, and tell the class why you want to talk about it.
Rules for discussion
1) Post an original comment responding to the discussion question, utilizing the readings in your response. There must be at least two citations from the readings to receive credit for discussion. This post must be at least 200 words.
Alright, now we get down to it. So far, in leading up to this discussion about Independence throughout much of Latin America, we have been talking about all the ways in which the path to independence was complicated. First there were tensions between criollos and the Spanish Crown, the Bourbon Reforms, the Caroline Reforms, and then the larger context of the Enlightenment and all of the social change that was happening all over the world (notably France and Haiti) in the 1790s and into the early 1800s. We also read about the ways in which people in Spain resisted the installment of a French leader and created not only their own leadership group (the central junta), but their own constitution as well! So while Napoleon took on the Spanish Crown, the people in Spain were clearly saying,
(so I’m a big Kevin Hart fan…anyway, back to work!)
When talking about the central junta and the constitution that they wrote, it is important to keep in mind that initially, it was designed as a form of self-government to keep things going while they waited for Ferdinand to come back and did their best to ignore French rule. But along the way, some people started to take seriously the idea of self-government. Others wanted the old monarchy back (Ferdinand), and still others were looking towards a combination of the two (a constitutional monarchy). Ferdinand answered this when he returned:
Of course, this is 1814, and by then, at least a fledgling independence movement had started in Mexico, though without the support of the American elite (wealthy criollos, at least to start), and would eventually be led by Jose Morelos, until he was executed. But you will notice that if you look at the timeline at the beginning of your chapter for this week, 1818 was the earliest successful declaration of independence (Chile, after defeating the royalists that same year).
But initially, as your text points out, the fighting that occurred in Spanish America was not necessarily between loyalists and insurrectionists. Instead, the fighting was most often over “regional control, or for loot” (p. 360). Moreover, even when the fighting eventually turned into a pitched battle between insurgents and loyalists (the royal army), the people who were fighting were not necessarily “homegrown,” that is to say that the place in which they fought was not always where they were from. Irish and English adventurers, for example, fought for Bolivar between 1816 and 1825, and colonialists would fight in regions pretty far afield from where their homes were (p. 360-361). Sure, this lowered desertion rates, but it also meant that a lot more people died of disease, due to the change in climate and temporary living conditions that were often unsanitary (p.361).
The fighting continued all throughout South America and Mexico (Brazil escaped the overt fighting; their battles were much more political), but the military battles were only a part of the dramatic changes that were happening: there were also political battles being fought, on very different fronts. Despite the shifts in control in South America between royalists and insurgents (rebels has taken the viceregal capital, and large areas of both New Granada and Venezuela had come under their control), the balance of power for a long time was still with the royalists. Sure, for five years after the restoration of Ferdinand (1814-1819) the insurgents made some strategic gains here and there, but they had yet to confront the full force of the imperial state. But something happened on January 1, 1820, which would change everything: Ferdinand VII accepted the Constitution of Cadiz.
How did this happen? well, on January 1, 1820, an army of some 14,000 men, which had been assembled at Cadiz for the express purpose of reconquering insurgent territories of the River Plate (Río de la Plata) suddenly mutinied. Most garrisons (forts) in Spain joined the pronunciamiento, or revolt, and Ferdinand VII, his army having turned against him, was forced to renounce absolutism and accept the Cadiz constitution of 1812.
Why did the army revolt? The immediate cause had less to do with the liberal convictions (support for the Cadiz constitution) than with discontent over pay, and plans to reduce the size of the armed forces. The consequences of this were huge, though, because the existence of the Constitution of Cadiz provided an alternative source of political legitimacy– something that people could lean on; even if they weren’t “liberal,” they could still be against the absolute monarchy and have a framework for a legitimate government.
The truth is that after Napoleon’s intervention in Spain it was going to be impossible for the Spanish Crown to reconstruct its monopoly of legitimacy and power. And with this loss of total legitimacy on the Peninsula, their legitimacy in America would soon follow.
People from all different walks of life fought in the wars for Independence, and they fought on various sides. Some might have been hardcore royalists, others might have been “enlightened” folks seeking independence from Spain, and still others might have fought for their local caudillo, or strongman (a strong, local/regional political figure). Some people fought for loot and land, while other people fought for political ideals. The path to victory, or independence, however, was not a result of the strong will of Americans to be free; many things had to fall into place (or out of place!) for independence to finally come to fruition.
But with independence, now they had to govern, and this would prove a difficult task, one that would discourage and depress even Simon Bolívar. On December 17, 1830, Bolívar died of tuberculosis on his way to self-imposed exile in Europe. He had become a disillusioned man; shortly before he died he made his most famous observation on the colonies he had helped to emancipate: “America is ungovernable. Those who have served the revolution have plowed the sea.”*
So what happens next? Do the new countries of Latin America survive? What turbulence is coming their way in the wake of independence?
*Letter to General Juan Jose Flores, 9 November 1830, in Simón Bolívar: Obras Completas, ed. Vincent Lecuna, 2nd ed. (Havana: Editorial Lex, 1950), vol. 3, p. 501.
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