The Aftermath of Independence

In this final outline, we come back to a larger vision of the Americas in the aftermath of the wars for independence. The outline begins with the key concepts of revolution and wars for independence and reemphasizes the complex nature of the different wars for independence, as well as their common patterns. Within a half century, from the 1770s to the 1820s, colonial empires crumbled across the Americas, from New England to Patagonia, yet independence did not come for all the European colonies in the Americas. Finally, the outline summarizes the legacies of the wars and revolutions, in particular, comparing the United States in roughly 1850 with Latin America. We close this outline series with some reflections on the legacies of these wars for the many peoples of the Americas.

In this final outline, we come back to a larger vision of the Americas in the aftermath of the wars for independence.

A. I want to reemphasize and reinforce the complex nature of the different wars for independence, as well as their common patterns.

  1. All these colonies emerged out of a common process of conquest and colonization in the century and a half after the momentous voyage of Columbus in 1492.
  2. All were paternalistic and hierarchically structured, with economies geared toward exports to and profits for the mother countries.
  3. Many were built on the exploitation of unfree labor, whether African slaves or indigenous peoples.

B. Yet, as we saw in the last outline, the processes and outcomes were very different across 19 new nations.

Let us turn, then, to the legacies of the wars for independence across the Americas.

A. Across all of the Americas, perhaps the central political dilemma was the nature of the relationship between a central government and states or provinces.

  1. The United States in 1850 had emerged as a vibrant and dynamic new nation, one with a strong head start on the nations of Latin America.
  2. Yet this system was torn between the full realization of its democratic and republican principles and the continuing growth and importance of slavery in the U.S. South.
  3. Already by 1850, this new nation had emerged as a growing economic and political force in the Atlantic world.
  4. By 1850, this young nation had already embarked on an aggressive process of expansion and conquest that put it in conflict with its newly independent Latin American neighbors.
  5. This expansion and the creation of new states heightened the central tension in the U.S. political system. Slavery would become the issue that ultimately created an unsolvable impasse that could only be settled by war.
  6. I emphasize this ongoing conflict in the United States after the American Revolution to highlight the extent to which the United States faced the same problems as the rest of the Americas.

B. Latin America in 1850 was just a generation removed from the wars for independence.

  1. The 18 new nations of Latin America moved into the process of nation-building following many different paths.
  2. The great political divide in Latin America in the 19th century was between Liberals and Conservatives (with capital letters).
  3. Some nations—such as Brazil and Chile—fairly quickly achieved political stability, which allowed them to begin the complex process of turning new states into true nations.
  4. At the other extreme, such countries as Mexico would experience decades of political instability and could not begin the process of nation-building for one or two generations.
  5. These are the extremes, but all the nations of Latin America would grapple with two principal problems in the early years of independence.
  6. Latin America, then, became independent later than the United States, started with a weaker economic base, and fell even farther behind in the 19th century.
  7. All the new nations of Latin America would eventually enter an Atlantic economic system dominated by England and, to a lesser degree, by the United States.

C. These multiple paths all point to the importance of the structural conditions developed during centuries of colonialism and the contingencies of the moments of rebellion.

  1. This important point brings us back to where we started this course.
  2. War and revolution are powerful forces that are capable of transforming societies, but their impact is never equal or predictable.
  3. The history of this period, from the 1770s to the 1820s, shares common traits because all these nations had their roots in a common process of conquest and colonization.
  4. The wars for independence across the Americas also led to greater fragmentation and a diminished sense of unity.

D. Let me come back now, at the end of these outlines, to another story about two men.

  1. One is today known as the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, and the other we have already introduced, the Mexican general and caudillo Antonio López de Santa Anna.
  2. Why focus on these two men? Because they illustrate the end of one era and the beginning of another in the history of the Americas.
  3. Santa Anna is the extreme example of the caudillo, the man on horseback, who plagued Latin America in the 19th century.
  4. Austin exemplifies the expansionist United States in the first half of the 19th century.
  5. By the 1830s, with the wars for independence in Latin America barely completed, the first independent nation in the Americas, the United States, had already begun to encroach on its American neighbors.
  6. The age of revolution was ending, and the age of U.S. expansionism was about to begin.

Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas

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