American Revolution, Influence of

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American Revolution, Influence of

The American Revolution influenced Latin America because it was the first modern movement of anticolonialism. Drawing its ideology from the Enlightenment, it manifested a deep faith in the ability of people to advance their rights.

As the Seven Years' War ended (1763), the balance of power shifted in England's favor at the expense of the French and Spanish Bourbons, thus setting the scene for the period (1775–1825) that Herbert Eugene Bolton has called "the greater American Revolution," during which most European powers lost their colonies. Americans shared a keen resentment of Europeans for their obsession with the balancing of power, which often coincided with the loss of American lives and money. President George Washington underscored this dislike for European entanglements in his Farewell Address.

From the mid-1760s, England expected its colonists to participate in and help pay for the defense buildup. When the colonists resisted, the North American struggle for independence began; Spanish Americans likewise complained of increased levies and resorted to insurrection. In 1781, José de Abalos, a Spanish official in Venezuela, noted the "vehement desire for independence" among South Americans influenced by the success of the North Americans. A. R. J. Turgot warned the Bourbons in 1776 that the American Revolution stood for anticolonialism in the New World—a fact that Spain could no longer ignore.

Turgot's message registered in Spain, where Charles III (1759–1788) introduced governmental reforms to produce greater defense revenues. "Free" trade conducted through Spain (1778) and the adoption of the Intendancy System also were meant to stop British threats. The opening of new ports and the formation of merchant guilds overseas attracted American capital for regional economic development. The Bourbons also sponsored measures favoring laissez-faire, among which were the publication of the Informe de la ley agraria (Agrarian Report) of 1795 and the 1807 recommendation to study political economy in the universities, using Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations as a text. Documenting conclusions from varied sources, the Agrarian Report cited figures from the United States—a convincing example of what a free economy could contribute to national prosperity. It also underscored economic "federalism" by stressing the advantage of regional production rather than Bourbon centralization. Although the Portuguese-Brazilian context differed, the Marquês de Pombal's reforms had the same effect: Regional economies under the Brazilian elites expected to align themselves with Europeans, as long as the relationship was one of equality.

To provide this equality, the Iberians promoted "federative" monarchies in accord with the regional economic structures. This type of commonwealth relationship, however, failed in practice through lack of trust between Europeans and Americans. Through this monarchical reform, however, Latin Americans were exposed to two models: the republican United States and the Iberian constitutional projects. They preferred the hemispheric model because of its remarkable success by 1808.

The Spanish world was fascinated with events in North America from the outset, and the contacts were many. Spain was well aware of the possibility of furthering anticolonialism among its subjects. Thus, the choice was made not to resort to censorship; instead, Spanish subjects were permitted to read freely about the American Revolution in books and periodicals. Spanish Americans thus were able to study the debates that were held in Philadelphia, the minutes of sessions in England (Parliament) and America, and the list of grievances. In short, Latin Americans were fully exposed to the American Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the prosperous United States republic.

Francisco de Miranda, having served as a Spanish officer in the American Revolution, subsequently witnessed the young nation's transition from war to peace (1783–1784). He recorded his impressions in a diary and gained the close friendship of the nation's key leaders. From 1785 until his return to his native Venezuela in 1810, Miranda tried to secure England's help for his projects to emancipate Venezuela. His greatest contribution was the propaganda sent from London—bundles of documents and letters that specified revolutionary procedures as well as the type of government that should be emulated: that of the United States of America.

The most influential writer for Miranda on behalf of Britain's assistance with Latin America's emancipation, and especially as an advocate of the American model, was the pseudonymous William Burke, who reflected the ideas of two great English reformers: James Mill and Jeremy Bentham, Miranda's close friends. From 1810 to 1812 James Mill was the principal organizer of Burke's editorials in Venezuela. These writings offered an excellent analysis of the American Revolution and the successful growth of the United States from 1787 to 1810. Among other things, they provided a review of Alexander Hamilton's financial program; the first full version of "Western Hemisphere idea," the promotion of inter-Americanism; and an account of the development of a Spanish American political unit (March 1811) that would join with the United States in guiding the destiny of the Americas.

See alsoDemocracy; Enlightenment, The.


William Spence Robertson, The Life of Miranda, 2 vols. (1929).

Charles Carroll Griffin, The United States and the Disruption of the Spanish Empire, 1810–1822 (1937).

Harry Bernstein, Origins of Inter-American Interest, 1700–1812 (1945).

José De Onís, The United States as Seen by Spanish American Writers, 1775–1890 (1952).

Arthur Preston Whitaker, The Western Hemisphere Idea: Its Rise and Decline (1954).

Mario Rodríguez, "The Impact of the American Revolution on the Spanish- and Portuguese-Speaking World," in The Impact of the American Revolution Abroad, edited by Richard B. Morris (1976), pp. 100-125; La revolución americana de 1776 y el mundo hispánico: Ensayos y documentos (1976); "The First Venezuelan Republic and the North American Model," in Revista interamericana de bibliografía 37, no. 1 (1987): 3-17; and "William Burke" and Francisco de Miranda: The World and the Deed in Spanish America's Emancipation (1994). For Portuguese America, see Kenneth R. Maxwell, Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750–1780 (1973) and "The Generation of the 1790s and the Idea of Luso-Brazilian Empire," in Colonial Roots of Modern Brazil, edited by Dauril Alden (1973), pp. 107-144.

See also E. Bradford Burns, "The Intellectuals as Agents of Change and the Independence of Brazil," pp. 211-246; Emilia Viotti Da Costa, "The Politics of Emancipation of Brazil," pp. 43-48; and A. J. R. Russell-Wood, "Preconditions and Precipitants of the Independence Movement in Portuguese America," pp. 3-40; all in From Colony to Nation, edited by A. J. R. Russell-Wood (1975).

Additional Bibliography

Brading, D. A. The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1867. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Lewis, James E. The American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood: The United States and the Collapse of the Spanish Empire, 1783–1829. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

                                    Mario RodrÍguez

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