The Age of Spanish American Revolutions:

Spanish South America saw some of the earliest efforts towards independence. In 1806, Francisco de Miranda led a force to Venezuela hoping to incite the populace to rise up for independence. However, with memories of the bloody Tupac Amaru II rebellion (1780-1781) and its racial violence still within living memory, and the more recent Haitian Revolution still fresh in mind, the effort failed and Miranda was expelled. On the other hand, British invasions of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in 1806 and 1807, put down by local militias, showed the residents of Rio de la Plata that they themselves were the best protectors of their interests, not the metropole across the Atlantic.


Bourbon Reforms

Spain, La obstruccion é impedimentos que por inevitable conseqüencia de la guerra padecen la industria y el comercio en mis dominios de España… (Madrid: s.n, 1798).
Mariano Alejo Alvarez, Discurso sobre la preferencia que deben tener los Americanos en los empleos de America: prevenido en el año de 1811 (Lima: En la Oficina de Ruiz, a cargo de D. Manuel Peña, 1820).  

By the late 18th century, after decades of near constant war, Spain’s treasury was severely strained and the crown sought remedy from its overseas possessions. The Americas had been, since the earliest days of settlement, Spain’s primary source of precious metals, but American born Spaniards (creoles) shared unequally in the bounty. Moreover, with the Bourbon Reforms of the 1740s forward, financial measures placed the Americas under greater stress and displaced creoles from administrative positions, in favor of peninsular Spaniards. The first item here is a forced levy by the crown, imposed on citizens of Spain and the Americas; the second is an argument against the preference for peninsular Spaniards and in favor of creoles, first delivered publically in 1811, but archived until its publication in 1820.

Common Sense

Thomas Paine, La independencia de la Costa Firme (Philadelphia: En la Imprenta de T. y J. Palmer, 1811).  

The political articulation of creole resentment towards their economic exploitation and unfavorable position vis à vis peninsulars was shaped, in part, by political ideas emanating from the United States’ war for independence and from the French Revolution. Thomas Paine’s Common sense, issued in the midst of the American Revolution, argued forcefully for independence from Great Britain, and, though prohibited by the Spanish Inquisition, circulated in the Americas through this Spanish language translation.

Letter to the Spanish Americans

Juan Pablo Vizcardo y Guzmán, Lettre aux Espagnols-Américains (A Philadelphie.[i.e. London]: s.n., 1799).  

No less influential for creoles was Vizcardo y Guzmán’s Letter to the Spanish Americans. Born in Ariquipa, Peru, Vizcardo y Guzmán died in exile in London in 1798 as a result of the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. His work was published thanks to the precursor of Spanish American independence, Francisco de Miranda, who shared with Vizcardo y Guzmán his vision that three centuryies of Spanish domination in the Americas had only resulted in “ingratitude, injustice, servitude, and desolation.” The John Carter Brown Library published a facsimile of the second English language edition of 1810 in 2002.


Smuggled ideas

J. Dauxion Lavaysse, A Statistical, Commercial, and Political Description of Venezuela, Trinida, Margarita, and Tobago (London: G. and W. B. Whittaker, 1820).  

Dauxion Lavaysse’s work includes a vignette that makes it clear just how easily these and other works entered the colonies, “Mr___ gave me a bale containing five hundred copies of each of these writings, and as many by a Peruvian Jesuit who has long resided in London [Vizcardo y Guzmán’s Letter to the Spanish Americans]such bales are given to all traders who frequent the ports of Trinidad.”


Republican pornography

Tribunal de la Inquisición en México, Nos los inquisidores apostolicos contra la heretica pravedad, y apostasía, en la ciudad de México, estados, y provincias de esta Nueva España, Goatemala, Nicaragua, Islas Filipinas, sus distritos, y jurisdicciones, por autoridad apostólica, real, y ordinaria, &c. (Mexico: s.n, 1807).  

This Inquisition edict, printed in Mexico in 1807, lists 50 titles that were prohibited in whole or in part. Some of these works were prohibited even to those who possessed special license to read prohibited books. Many of the titles included are works of French pornography. As Robert Darnton has demonstrated, these works often contained highly political arguments, with pro-Revolutionary tendencies.

Acquired with the assistance of the Maury A. Bromsen Fund


British invasion of Buenos Aires

John Whitelocke, Authentic and Complete Trial of Lieut. Gen. Whitelocke, Late Commander of the Attack on Buenos Ayres. (London: Printed by Day, 13, Goswell Street, 1808).

Although many were arguing in favor of independence, few cared to trade one imperial power for another. In 1806 and 1807 the British launched a series of assaults against Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The 1806 occupation was successfully repelled by Santiago de Liniers after local merchants argued that opening the ports to free trade would damage their monopoly with Spain. The second assault was led by Lt. General John Whitelocke. He and his commander Robert Crauford met strong resistance from local militias, and were forced to surrender. For this disgrace, he was court-martialed and forced to resign from the service.


Miranda in Venezuela

Moses Smith, History of the Adventures and Sufferings of Moses Smith, During Five Years of His Life. (Albany: Printed by Packard & Van Benthuysen, for the author, 1814).  

With unofficial British help, Francisco de Miranda traveled to New York in 1805 for men and equipment, planning to liberate South America. From New York, he and a small force he recruited there sailed first for Haiti, where they added two ships and some additional men. On 3 August 1806, Miranda’s force landed in La Vela de Coro, Venezuela, and took over the fort. Local residents failed to rally to the cause of independence, and Miranda and his men were forced to retreat. A total of 57 of his men were captured on the expedition, and ten were executed.
Acquired from the estate of Maury A. Bromsen


Fear of the Haitian Revolution

Dubroca, Vida de J. J. Dessalines, gefe de los negros de Santo Domingo. (México: En la officina de D. Mariano de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1806).
Miranda’s incursion to the north, and the British to the south, bred concern among both creole and peninsular Spaniards about the dangers of revolutions, particularly those in multi-ethnic societies. Spaniards in Spanish America were vastly outnumbered by the indigenous, mestizo, and African populations, and the specter of the Haitian Revolution still haunted them. At the same time, both Miranda’s and Whitelocke’s incursions demonstrated to the creoles that Spain was unlikely to come to their defense in the future.

To next section: Formation of Local Juntas and the Spanish Attempt to Retain Control