In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin American Independence

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks And Surveys
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Maps and Illustrations
  • Document Collections
  • The Example of Saint Domingue
  • Precursors to Independence
  • Latin American Wars of Independence
  • The Brazilian Anomaly

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Atlantic History Latin American Independence
Jane Landers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 December 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0036


The various independence movements in Latin America drew on Enlightenment philosophies about proper forms of government and the Rights of Man and on the revolutionary examples of the American colonies and Saint Domingue. Spanish American creoles chafed under the increasingly more intrusive and extractive Bourbon monarchies, as well their declining status in imperial administrations staffed by peninsular Spaniards. Napoleon’s invasion of Spain gave creoles the excuse they needed to claim self-rule in the name of their imprisoned king, but early attempts at full-blown independence, such as Francisco Miranda’s in Gran Colombia and Father Hidalgo’s in New Spain, were crushed. Simón Bolívar led the independence wars in northern South America while Juan de San Martín led the southern campaigns. Spain responded by sending peninsular troops under General Pablo Morrillo to secure the north and the result was bloody race war. Royalists in the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru also held out against independence. Meanwhile, Brazilian independence took a completely different course. In 1808, in the wake of Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal, the king and court fled to Brazil, thus elevating the former colony to the royal headquarters. When King João finally returned to Portugal in 1821, his son Pedro I remained in Brazil to declare a bloodless independence.

General Overviews

Given the importance of the subject, there are a number of strong works by leading figures in the field including Bethell 1987, Lynch 1994, Graham 1994, and, more recently, Chasteen 2008, which takes a transatlantic perspective and also addresses popular and cultural history.

  • Bethell, Leslie, ed. The Independence of Latin America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Excellent collection of essays gathered from early volumes of the Cambridge History of Latin America. State-of-the-field essays when they were produced in the early 1980s.

  • Chasteen, John Charles. Americanos: Latin America’s Struggle for Independence. Pivotal Moments in World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Lively and accessible text that argues for the creation of an “americano” identity arising out of the wars of independence. Covers the main arenas and leaders from earliest failed revolts, through the creation of sovereign states based on liberal principles that many subsequently failed to honor. Includes a list of leading actors, a glossary, and recommended sources and readings.

  • Graham, Richard. Independence in Latin America: A Comparative Approach. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.

    This substantially revised edition of Graham’s 1972 survey combines synthetic thematic chapters interspersed with brief chapters on how the independence wars affected different modern countries. Best short survey available in English.

  • Lynch, John, ed. Latin American Revolutions, 1808–1826: Old and New World Origins. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.

    This excellent teaching tool includes chapters by top scholars from the United States and Latin America, introduced by the author of one of the most influential early surveys of the revolutions. Includes primary documents of the era written by Alexander von Humboldt, Simón Bolívar, and Manuel Belgrano, among others.

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