War of Independence of the Spanish-American Colonies of 1810-26

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

War of Independence of the Spanish-American Colonies of 1810-26


the liberation war of the peoples of Spanish America against Spanish rule. As a result of con-quests that began at the end of the 15th century, Spain seized vast territories in South, Central, and North America and several islands in the West Indies. By the beginning of the 19th century the Spanish colonial empire was made up of the viceroyalties of New Spain (Mexico), Peru, New Granada, and La Plata and the captaincies general of Guatemala, Venezuela, Chile, and Cuba. In the process of colonization most of the native population was exterminated, and the shortage of labor forces led to the importation of Negro slaves to America. The economic life of the colonies was subordinated to the interests of the mother country. The overwhelming majority of the population had no rights and was discriminated against. Almost all the higher administrative, military, and church positions were held by natives of Spain. The policy of the mother country evoked dissatisfaction among broad strata of society. During the 16th-18th centuries there were continuous anti-Spanish uprisings in various places. The beginning of the development of capitalist relationships contributed to the awakening of national consciousness. As a result of this, as well as the influence of the American Revolution (1775-83), the Great French Revolution (1789-94), and the revolution of Negro slaves in Santo Domingo, which led to the proclamation of the country’s independence in 1804, the resistance to the colonialists became a powerful liberation movement in the early 19th century. The immediate cause of its further upsurge was the revolutionary events in Spain in 1808.

On Apr. 19, 1810, an uprising broke out in Caracas (Venezuela). Spanish rule was overthrown, and the National Congress declared the independence of Venezuela on July 5, 1811, and adopted a republican constitution on December 21. However, in July 1812 the republic was crushed. At almost the same time as the uprising in Venezuela, the revolutionary movement seized New Granada as well. On July 20, 1810, an uprising began in Bogota. The state of Cundinamarca was founded on Mar. 30, 1811, and the Confederation of the United Provinces of New Granada was formed in November. With the support of the New Granada patriots the second Venezuelan Republic was formed in August 1813. However, by late 1814 the Spaniards succeeded in defeating the Venezuelan republicans. A short time after that, Spanish rule was reestablished in New Granada as well.

In Buenos Aires, the capital of the viceroyalty of La Plata, the patriots removed the viceroy from power on May 25, 1810, and transferred power to a provisional government junta. However, the junta’s attempts to bring the whole territory of the former viceroyalty under its control encountered the resistance of some provinces. In 1811 the independence of Paraguay was declared, and in 1813 a republican system was established there. In February 1811 the patriots of Banda Oriental (present-day Uruguay), under the leadership of J. Artigas, began a long struggle against Spanish troops and later Portuguese troops, who had invaded the territory from Brazil. This struggle was complicated by disagreements between the Uruguayans and Buenos Aires, which turned into an armed conflict in early 1815.

In Chile the Spanish administration was removed on Sept. 18, 1810, but the junta that came to power did not decide on a complete break with Spain. Taking advantage of this, the colonialists sent reinforcements from Peru and routed the Chilean patriots in October 1814. The uprising that began in Mexico on Sept. 16, 1810, was led by M. Hidalgo. It immediately assumed a broad, popular character. Therefore, the majority of Creole landholders and merchants and many officials and officers, who had originally supported the rebels, went over to the colonialists. In early 1811 the revolutionary army was defeated and its leaders executed. The patriots resumed the struggle under the leadership of J. M. Morelos and achieved important successes. The National Congress, which was convoked in 1813, declared the independence of Mexico. By the end of 1815 the Spaniards succeeded in routing the main rebel forces and executing Morelos. By that time the colonial regime had been restored in most of Spanish America.

A new upsurge of the liberation movement began in 1816. During 1817-18 a liberation army under the command of S. Bolívar freed a large part of Venezuela from Spanish troops. The independence of Venezuela was declared again by a congress convoked in the city of Angostura on Feb. 15, 1819. Bolívar then began a campaign in New Granada, most of which his army had liberated by August. In December 1819 the Venezuelan congress adopted a constitution, which provided for the unification of Venezuela, New Granada, and Quito into the Federal Republic of Gran Colombia. The de-feat of the main Spanish forces was completed in Venezuela in 1821 and on the territory of Quito (present-day Ecuador) in 1822. On July 9, 1816, the Congress of the United Provinces of La Plata in Tucumán promulgated their independence. In early 1817 an army commanded by J. San Martín crossed the Andes and routed the Spanish troops in Chile. B. O’Higgins was elected supreme director of the Chilean state. In 1820, San Martín’s troops landed in Peru, and in July 1821 they occupied its capital, Lima. The independence of Peru was proclaimed, and San Martín became ’’protector” of the new state. To complete the liberation of the country, he tried to secure Bolívar’s aid. However, unable to reach an agreement with him, San Martín resigned in September 1822.

The revolution of 1820 in Spain caused a new upsurge of the liberation movement in Mexico. This prompted the big Mexican landowners and merchants, the higher clergy, and the military and bureaucratic elite, who were led by A. Iturbide, to fight for separation from revolutionary Spain in order to restore the old regime in Mexico. In 1821 the independence of Mexico was proclaimed, and after the col-lapse of Iturbide’s short-lived monarchy a republic was established there in 1824. In 1821 the independence of the coun-tries of Central America was also proclaimed, and in 1823 they formed the federation of the United States of Central America.

The last stronghold of Spanish rule on the American continent was part of Peru, where Bolívar led a struggle against the colonialists in September 1823. On Aug. 6, 1824, Bolívar’s troops defeated the Spaniards at Junin, and on December 9 their last big grouping was routed at Ayacucho. In early 1825 the patriots liberated Upper Peru, where they formed the Republic of Bolivia. The last Spanish garrisons, which were stationed at Callao and on Chiloé Island (territory of Peru), capitulated in January 1826.

The war of liberation destroyed the colonial regime. All the Spanish colonies, except Cuba and Puerto Rico, gained political independence. Trade monopolies, prohibitions, and regulations that had hindered the economic development of the colonies were eliminated, and the poll tax and labor conscription were abolished. A republican system was established and constitutions were adopted in the liberated countries, and slavery was abolished in the majority of them. Antifeudal in its tasks and objectively reflecting the requirements of capitalist development, the war of 1810-26 was essentially an anticolonialist bourgeois revolution. However, it did not lead to radical transformations in the socioeconomic structure of the Spanish-American countries.


Marx, K.“Revoliutsionnaia Ispania.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nded., vol. 10.
Marx, K.“Bolívar-i-Ponte.” Ibid., vol. 14.
Marx, K., and F. Engels.“Aiakucho.” Ibid.
Al’perovich, M. S. OsvoboditeVnoe dvizhenie kontsa XVIII-nachala XIX vv. v Latinskoi Amerike. Moscow, 1966.
Al’perovich, M. S., and L. lu. Slezkin. Obrazovanie nezavisimykh gosudarstv v Latinskoi Amerike (1804-1903). Moscow, 1966.
Voina za nezavisimost’ v Latinskoi Amerike (1810-1826). Moscow, 1964.
Slezkin, L. lu. Rossiia i voina za nezavisimost’ v Ispanskoi Amerike. Moscow, 1964.


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