Seeds of Rebellion in Spanish America

This outline begins a series on the wars for independence in Spanish America. By 1750, the Spanish Empire in the Americas had been in place for two and a half centuries, and it was straining to survive. A powerful and increasing division had emerged between those Spaniards born in the Americas (Creoles) and those born in Spain (Peninsulars). Forces of intellectual and economic modernization both highlighted the backwardness of Spain in comparison with England and France and provided the impetus for Creoles to challenge the monarchy. In the mid-18th century, the Bourbon dynasty embarked on a series of political and economic reforms to revamp and revitalize the Spanish Empire. Ironically, these reforms were the source of some of the most important grievances of the Creoles and their motivations to break with Spain.

By 1750, the Spanish Empire in the Americas had been in place for two and a half centuries, and it was straining to survive.

A. A growing division emerged among those at the top of the social hierarchy, between the Creoles and the Peninsulars.

  1. Spaniards born in Spain (on the Iberian Peninsula) were known as Peninsulars.
  2. Those of Spanish descent born in the Americas were known as Creoles.

B. A sense of Creole identity had begun to emerge in Spanish America by the mid-17th century.

  1. This identity was reinforced by a growing sense of local pride and by the often open discrimination of Peninsulars when dealing with Creoles.
  2. Much like their English counterparts in North America, the Creoles increasingly saw themselves as the best judges of how to rule the colonies.

The process of modernization in Spanish America throughout the 18th century heightened the growing tension between Creoles and Peninsulars.

A. As it had in North America, Enlightenment culture forced Spanish Americans to rethink their relationship to authority.

  1. They began to rethink their relationship with the Spanish monarchy, especially with the profoundly different approaches of the Bourbons after they succeeded the Hapsburgs.
  2. Many increasingly questioned the power and authority of the Catholic Church, the most important cultural institution in Spanish America.
  3. The radicalism of the French and American Revolutions had a profound impact on the Creoles.

B. A trading revolution in the Atlantic world also had a powerful effect on the Creoles.

  1. By 1750, they acutely felt the inability to trade with the English and the restrictions on trading within the empire.
  2. The colonies had a larger population than Spain and produced more exports, but they were limited to trading with one port in Spain, and the trade was heavily regulated and taxed.

The Spanish Crown made a sustained effort in the mid-18th century to revamp and revitalize the empire with the Bourbon reforms.

A. The Hapsburg dynasty ended with the death of Felipe IV in 1700.

  1. The struggle for succession touched off an international war involving the Spanish, French, English, and Portuguese, known as the War of Spanish Succession.
  2. The French succeeded in placing a branch of the Bourbon royal family on the Spanish throne, but the English won the war and achieved important economic and political concessions.
  3. The Spanish Bourbons would reorganize Spain’s empire in the 18th century along the same lines that the French Bourbons had reorganized France in the 17th century.

B. Collectively known as the Bourbon reforms, these sweeping changes affected administration, commerce, and the relationship between the Crown and its subjects.

  1. The Bourbons rationalized the administration of the empire to centralize power in the hands of the king.
  2. The Crown also weakened the power of the nobles by creating many new nobles and excluding the older nobility from positions of power.
  3. The monarchy attacked the Catholic Church, severely weakening it in both Spain and the colonies.
  4. The monarchy reasserted control over the colonies after nearly a century of lax imperial rule.
  5. Although the Bourbons made a series of changes to stimulate more trade within the empire, the system was still closed to the English.

C. The reforms, nevertheless, were too little and too late to save an aging empire.

  1. The reassertion of imperial control, as in British North America, angered and alienated many of the Creoles.
  2. The continuing inability of Creoles to trade freely with the English also produced great dissatisfaction.
  3. These reforms, however, did not lead the Creoles to break with Spain.
  4. Few openly advocated a break—until events in Europe forced the issue.

Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas

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