A New World in the Making

The search for legitimacy

The Articles of Confederation which bound the rebellious North American colonies together into a precarious Union were agreed by Congress, after intense debate, in November 1777. Union did not come easily. The intensity of local loyalties had traditionally militated against inter-colonial collaboration, and numerous boundary disputes, like those which pitted Virginia against its neighbours for control of Indian territory west of the Alleghenies, fanned the flames of rivalry. There were, too, deep social, political and ideological divisions within each of the newly united states over the character of the republic that was now to be established.

Resistance and revolution had both encouraged and brought into positions of prominence radical elements in the various colonies, motivated not only by hostility to continuing British rule but also by resentment at the dominance of traditional elites. These radicals, deeply engaged in framing their own state constitutions, had no intention of replacing one centralizing authority - that of the King of England - by another, the Congress of the United States. The new Confederation must be firmly grounded on the rights of individual states and the principle of popular sovereignty, and, for some at least, this sovereignty had to be `popular' in the most democratic sense of the word. Against these populist radicals were ranged those more conservative elements in society, not least from among the mercantile and planter elites, who were horrified by the outbreaks of mob violence that had accompanied the Revolution, viewed with deep concern the prospect of `democratic' rule in the new republic, and were convinced of the need for a strong executive, both to prosecute the war of independence to a successful conclusion, and to maintain political and social stability once the war was won.1

Given these deep differences, it is not surprising that it took until March 1781 for the Articles of Confederation to be ratified by all thirteen states. The western land question in particular proved enormously contentious, with states that had no western land claims anxious to ensure that newly settled territories should form part of a genuinely national domain. A combination of hard bargaining and the pressures of war eventually brought the recalcitrant states to heel, with Maryland taking up the rear. The approval of the Articles formally endowed the new republic with a national government. Reflecting the balance of political forces during the revolutionary years, however, the `national' element in the Confederation set up by the Articles was weak in relation to the federal element. As the new republic found itself confronted by the enormous problems of the post-war era - a heavy burden of debt, a depreciated currency, widespread social unrest, and the unresolved question of expansion to the west - there were growing doubts about its long-term prospects for survival. The states were drawing in again on themselves, and Congress, its reputation in decline, was proving increasingly powerless to mediate disputes and halt the general process of drift. Each new problem that emerged in these immediate post-war years appeared to strengthen the force of the conventional argument that a republic could only be viable so long as it was small.2

Those Americans who gave thought to the future of their country as one in which a kingless people would live together in harmony on a continental scale were driven by the logic of events to realize that they were faced by a challenge of even greater magnitude than that of overthrowing British rule. Their revolution would not be complete until they had succeeded in devising a new political order in which the claims of the component states to sovereign rights and of individuals to their fundamental liberties would be balanced by the creation of a central executive strong enough to regulate matters of mutual concern and to defend American interests on the international stage. In the years after the winning of independence this challenge was to exercise the most creative minds in the new republic, and not least that of James Madison, who had become keenly aware, while representing his home state of Virginia in the Congress, of the weaknesses and inadequacy of the Articles of Confederation.

The balance of forces in the Congress had favoured those elements in the society of revolutionary America determined to secure in perpetuity the rights of the states by granting a bare minimum of powers to the central executive. The 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention which met in Philadelphia in May 1787, on the other hand, were of a background and temperament that tended to predispose them towards a strengthening of the national government. For Thomas Jefferson, scrutinizing the list of names in Paris, where he had been posted as the minister of the new republic, the Convention was `an assembly of demigods'.3 Largely drawn from the political elite of their states, most of the delegates had been associated with the Revolution in one way or another, and between them they had accumulated an impressive range of political experience at both the local and the national level. Of the 55, 42 had served at one time or another in Congress,4 and in spite of their intense loyalty to their own state, many of them, like Madison, had come to see the overriding need for a more effective system of government.

The task that Madison set himself was to replace the Articles of Confederation with a constitution that would establish a strong national government, but one that was firmly based on the foundation of genuine popular sovereignty. The task inevitably required much squaring of the circle. Hard and often acrimonious bargaining was required to hammer out often painful compromises between competing interests. The most successful of these compromises was the provision whereby representation in the lower house of the legislature would be apportioned on the basis of population, while in the upper house the states would enjoy equal votes. The least successful was on the hopelessly divisive issues of slavery and the slave trade. Any attempt to abolish slavery would effectively strangle the union at birth, and the overriding concern at this moment was to keep the republic alive and ensure that its vital organs were strong enough to let it breathe and grow This could only be achieved by a series of deals in which the continuation of slavery was obliquely confirmed by a number of sections in the articles of the new constitution. For purposes of representation in the House of Representatives, slaves were to be counted as three-fifths of a person, and a further period of twenty years' grace was allowed before Congress would return to the issue of the slave trade.' Evasiveness in this instance was the prerequisite for survival.

Having appropriated the name of `Federalists' for themselves, those who favoured a strong national executive took their case to the people in the great national debate over the ratification of the proposed new constitution in 1787-8. In the hard-fought struggle between Federalists and anti-Federalists, it was the Federalists who prevailed. With its ratification by the ninth of the thirteen states, New Hampshire, in June 1788, the new constitution officially became the law of the land, although four states, including Virginia and New York, were still holding out. But when both these major states agreed to ratification a few weeks later, although by narrow majorities, the battle was won.

When it came to choosing the first president of the new republic, the choice was foreordained. One figure, the hero of the war of independence, towered above the rest. The election of George Washington in March 1789 conferred dignity on the institution of the presidency while guaranteeing moderation and common sense in the exercise of its powers. Above all it linked, in the person of a renowned and universally respected individual, the revolutionary struggle against the British to the great constitutional experiment on which the newly established United States of America was now well and truly embarked.

In 1787, while the Federalists and anti-Federalists in North America were fighting each other for the soul of the new republic, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris to the secretary of the American delegation in London: `You ask me if any thing transpires here on the subject of S. America? Not a word. I know that there are combustible materials there, and that they wait the torch only.'6 His assessment, however, proved premature. In New Granada and Peru the fires had been effectively extinguished, and in the central regions of the viceroyalty of New Spain no figure emerged to light the torch of rebellion when harvest failure and a devastating shortage of food provoked widespread social disruption in 1785-6.7 Although the North American example encouraged a few radicals like Francisco de Miranda to dream and conspire, the Spanish crown seemed to have succeeded in damping down the combustible materials, and had emerged from the conflagrations of the early 1780s with its authority reaffirmed.

With the confidence given them by the sense of a crisis overcome, Jose de Galvez and his colleagues in Madrid pressed ahead with their restructuring of the old administrative system, extending administration by intendants to Peru in 1784 and to New Spain in 1786. Galvez himself died in 1787 but ministers continued to pursue the programme of reform, and most notably the reform of the transatlantic trading system which had been inaugurated by the proclamation of `free trade' in 1778. In this they were responding to continuing pressures from the peripheral regions of the Iberian peninsula for a foothold in a commercial system long dominated by the Consulado of Cadiz. Statistics suggesting that the ten years since the promulgation of the decree had seen a threefold expansion in colonial trade were sufficiently encouraging to persuade them to extend the system to Venezuela in 1788, and then in the following year to New Spain.

In reality the trading system remained heavily protectionist, in spite of its gestures towards the now fashionable economic liberalism. Yet for all its limitations it did afford greater latitude to Iberian and Spanish American merchants conducting business outside the old monopolistic structure. It also helped to stimulate economic activity in hitherto marginalized regions of the Indies, although simultaneously generating new inter-colonial rivalries as different provinces competed for a share of the expanding opportunities.'

The fiscal and economic rewards which Madrid anticipated from the latest phase of the reform programme were, however, soon offset by the impact of war. Spain would pay a high price for its intervention in the American War of Independence. Trade was disrupted by the English naval blockade, ships were lost and businesses paralysed. New wars brought further disruption in the 1790s. Charles III died at the end of 1788, and the new reign of Charles IV was overshadowed almost from the start by the outbreak of revolution in France. In the spring of 1793 revolutionary France declared war on Spain, shortly after Charles IV had dispensed with the services of the last of his father's team of ministers, the Count of Aranda. The royal favourite, the young and politically inexperienced guards officer Manuel Godoy, now became first secretary of state. The new war brought Spain into uneasy partnership with Great Britain, whose maritime supremacy was resented and feared by Madrid. It also had the effect of cutting off the supply of French products traditionally re-exported by Spanish merchants to the Indies, opening the lucrative Spanish American market to penetration not only by British merchants but also by those of the United States.

Godoy's anxieties over the threat to Spain's American empire from British naval and commercial power persuaded him of the need to change tack. In October 1796 Spain joined regicide France in an offensive and defensive alliance against Great Britain. French support was to come at a price. In 1800, at the treaty of San Ildefonso, Spain agreed under pressure from Napoleon to restore Louisiana to the French, although Charles IV, anxious about the growing power of the United States and its implication for the future of the Floridas, only accepted the transfer on condition that Louisiana was not subsequently relinquished to a third party. In 1802 Spain duly transferred Louisiana to French rule, but in the following year Napoleon reneged on his promise and sold it to the United States. Thanks to President Jefferson's opportune negotiation of the Louisiana purchase the new republic had doubled its territory at a stroke, weakening in the process Spain's already precarious hold on the Floridas, which would eventually be ceded to the United States in 1819, and opening the road to the colonization of the American interior.9

The concessions forced upon Charles IV to secure the support of the French failed to yield the expected results. The war with Great Britain, which continued until 1802 and was then renewed in 1804, proved a disaster for Spain. In February 1797 its fleet was defeated at the battle of Cape St Vincent, and the British seized the island of Trinidad, off the Venezuelan coast. The blockade of Cadiz by the British fleet made it impossible for Spain to keep the American market supplied, and Madrid was compelled to open Spanish American ports to neutral carriers. Again United States traders were the great beneficiaries, supplying wheat, flour and other commodities to the Spanish Antilles, Venezuela and New Granada. The new protectionist system launched by Madrid under the deceptive flag of `free trade', and intended to make the peninsula the metropolis of a great commercial empire on the British model, had effectively collapsed.'°

While economic control of the Indies was slipping irrevocably out of Spanish hands, more than a decade of almost continuous warfare placed the finances of the Spanish crown under intolerable strain. Both in Spain and in the Indies the wealth of the church and of religious and charitable institutions proved an irresistible attraction to a near-bankrupt state. An encouraging precedent existed in the seizure of Jesuit property on both sides of the Atlantic in 1767. In 1798 the crown decreed the disentailment and auction of church property in peninsular Spain, the resulting funds being used to consolidate loans to meet the costs of war. In 1804, following the renewal of war with England, this Law of Consolidation was extended to charitable funds in Spanish America. The measure aroused intense anger. Over large parts of America, church assets were integral to the working of the credit system, and the new law meant in effect the forced sale of large numbers of private estates and businesses as proprietors were compelled by the withdrawal of credit to redeem the capital value of their loans. Not all regions were equally affected, but New Spain, where mining and other enterprises were heavily reliant on credit and where the viceroy Jose de Iturrigaray energetically enforced the royal order, was especially hard hit. By the time the decree was revoked five years later enormous damage had been done. Mining, agriculture and trade had all been drastically affected, and parish priests and clergy living on interest from loans saw their livelihood gone. Already undermined by the regalist policies of Charles III, the church-state alliance, the central pillar of the elaborate edifice of Spain's empire of the Indies, was beginning to totter."

In spite of increased revenues from the Indies, which constituted a fifth of the Spanish treasury's receipts in the period between 1784 and 1805,12 the Spanish state was now struggling to keep afloat. Its finances were heavily mortgaged; the combination of harvest failures and depression in Spain's war-damaged economy was generating fresh social tensions; and Godoy's government was in disarray. In March 1808 he was overthrown in a palace coup and Charles IV was forced to abdicate in favour of his son and heir, Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias. But Napoleon had had enough of his unreliable Spanish ally. As French forces moved on Madrid, the new king, Ferdinand VII, was lured to France, where he joined his parents and Godoy in exile at Bayonne. On 10 May he too was forced to abdicate. When Napoleon subsequently transferred the crown to Joseph Bonaparte, there was no longer an uncontested source of legitimate authority in Spain and its empire of the Indies.

The overthrow of the Bourbons and the French occupation unleashed a popular uprising which plunged the peninsula into years of chaos and war that would only end with the defeat of the French and the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814. Not only metropolitan Spain but also its overseas empire were confronted with a crisis of unprecedented proportions. With a power vacuum at the very centre of the imperial government in Madrid, where did legitimate authority lie? To some extent, Spain's American empire had been faced with a comparable problem on the death of Carlos II in 1700, but the problem had been quickly transcended as the overseas viceroyalties fell into line behind Carlos's legally designated successor, Philip V But the situation this time was very different. Joseph Bonaparte was a usurper; Ferdinand VII was in exile; and, as Jefferson had written in 1787, `there are combustible materials there and they wait the torch only.' Would the overthrow of the dynasty prove to be the torch?

The collapse of royal power in the Hispanic world precipitated a very different kind of crisis from that which faced Britain's American colonies in the 1770s. The Spanish American crisis of 1808 was brought about by the absence, not the exercise, of imperial authority. In this sense it was closer to the situation created in the English Atlantic world by the execution of Charles I. But although the regicide of 1649 and the subsequent transfer of imperial authority to the people in parliament posed serious constitutional and practical problems for colonies that owed their existence to royal charters, the policies pursued by the imperial government under the Commonwealth and Protectorate were sufficiently respectful of established institutions and interests to prevent violent confrontation, even with those colonies which had proclaimed their loyalty to the dead king's son.13 The transition was further eased by the willingness of the new regime to abide by the largely non-interventionist approach of its predecessor to the internal affairs of the colonial societies. Moreover, the Cromwellian government spoke a language of national power which they could both understand and respect.

The peoples of Spanish America, on the other hand, had lived for centuries under a royal government which was traditionally interventionist in principle, if not always in practice. They had grown accustomed to conducting their lives by reference to the royal authority, however ineffectual it might often have been. Now suddenly that authority was gone, and they found themselves drifting rudderless on an ocean of uncertainty. Nor could they expect metropolitan Spain to come to their rescue. The country was in chaos, and the ships that arrived from Spanish ports at irregular intervals brought conflicting messages and tardy news of a war that was going from bad to worse.

As the people of Spain took up arms, a number of regional and local juntas sprang to life in the peninsula to organize popular resistance against the French. In September 1808 these juntas were co-ordinated with some difficulty into a Junta Central, which took refuge in Seville after the French capture of Madrid. As French forces moved southwards into Andalusia in January 1810, the junta again fled, this time to Cadiz, which was sheltered by the protective power of the British fleet. Here the junta dissolved itself in favour of a Regency Council acting on behalf of the exiled Ferdinand VII, the deseado, the longed-for king.

Although the Regency Council was a conservative body, it was dependent on the mercantile oligarchy of Cadiz, which was politically liberal, although tenacious in its determination to cling to what remained of its privileged position in the American trade. Under pressure from the Cadiz elite, the Regency Council went ahead with plans already set in train by the junta Central for the convocation of a great national assembly, or Cortes, in which deputies from Spanish America were also invited to participate. The Cortes assembled in Cadiz on 14 September 1810 and were to remain in session until the restoration of Ferdinand VII in 1814.14

With the king in exile, and metropolitan Spain apparently on the point of being engulfed by the tide of the French advance, the four viceroyalties and nine presidencies and captaincies-general which constituted Spain's American empire were thrown back on their own devices. In contrast to the British American colonies, these diverse territories had no colonial assemblies to act as potential alternative sources of leadership if royal authority were challenged or collapsed. The cabildos of major cities, like Mexico City, Lima and Bogota, traditionally put forward claims to speak on behalf of the wider community, but these claims were liable to be contested by rival town councils, and there was no generally accepted forum for the discussion and resolution of problems of common concern to the territory as a whole. Not surprisingly, therefore, in 1808 different territories adopted different ad hoc solutions to the problem of legitimacy - solutions which reflected the balance of local forces in societies already under strain from the tensions created by ethnic diversity and by the antagonism between creoles and peninsulares.

Yet it was the search for legitimacy rather than aspirations after independence that initially dictated the course of events. The instinctive reaction, in Spanish America as in metropolitan Spain, was to resort to the principle that, in the absence of the legitimate monarch, sovereignty reverted to the people. This was the principle that legitimized the juntas that had sprung into life in the peninsula when the monarchy was overthrown. When `the kingdom found itself suddenly without a king or a government', declared the supreme junta of Seville in 1808, `... the people legally resumed the power to create a government."' As news of events in Spain trickled across the Atlantic, the Americans followed the Spanish example. Following the arrival of letters in Caracas in July 1808 ordering the authorities to take the oath of allegiance to Joseph Bonaparte, the city council urged the captain-general to set up a junta to decide on the course of action to be taken.16 Similarly, the councils of Mexico City, Bogota, Quito and Buenos Aires would all see in the formation of provisional juntas acting in the name of Ferdinand VII an appropriate mechanism for ensuring the legitimation of authority through the assertion of the popular will.''

There was, however, in America as in Spain, an inherent tension between the absolutist traditions of Bourbon monarchy as legitimately represented by the exiled Ferdinand VII and a doctrine of popular sovereignty which, although rooted in medieval Hispanic constitutionalism, was in the process of acquiring the colouring and characteristics of a new and very different age. The reforming ministers of Charles III had persistently sought to remould the aggregated territories of the old Habsburg monarchy and their privileged corporations into a unitary nation-state subordinate to a benevolent but all-powerful monarch.18 In the peninsula the incipient sense of Spanish nationhood that ministers had tried so hard to inculcate was dramatically transmuted by the French invasion into the full-blooded nationalist response of a mass uprising. But at the same time the crisis of legitimacy created by the events of 1808 gave those sections of Spanish opinion which had assimilated revolutionary French and American notions of popular sovereignty an unparalleled opportunity to reconstruct on liberal foundations the antiquated edifice of old regime Spain. Their instrument for the process of reconstruction would be the Cortes of Cadiz, which enthusiastically set about endowing Spain with a written constitution that would hold monarchical power in check. Ferdinand in his exile might still be an unknown quantity, but a liberal Cortes and an absolutist dynasty were infallibly set on a collision course.

In America, the attempts of Charles III's ministers to encompass his New World subjects within the framework of the unitary nation-state had proved counter-productive. The imposition of unpopular fiscal measures and the replacement of creoles by peninsulares in offices which they believed belonged to them of right had merely heightened traditional resentments against the mother country. Denied participation in the Bourbon nation-state on an equal basis with the peoples of metropolitan Spain, the creoles were confirmed in their belief that they had been rejected by the community to which they had always thought they belonged. In British America the colonial elites had felt a similar sense of rejection when confronted by the assertive nationalism emanating from the metropolitan centre in the triumphalist years of Britain's victory over France. For reasons they failed to understand they had been excluded from the victory feast.19

The British colonists, however, had not gone as far as their Spanish American counterparts in developing a historically based creole patriotic mythology into which their sense of injustice could be incorporated. Unable to win redress for their grievances by asserting their claims to their hereditary English privileges, they turned in exasperation to the invocation of their natural rather than their historic rights. The consciousness of a distinctively American identity that eventually emerged in the thirteen colonies was less a cause than a consequence of revolution, the outcome of their shared experience of war and nation-building as they sought to establish a republic dedicated to the consecration and diffusion of those natural rights.

By contrast, renewed metropolitan pressure since the mid-century on the creoles of Spanish America had reinforced an existing sense of distinctive identities already well rooted in time and place. By 1808 a new generation of Spanish Americans had begun to pick up the new international language of universal natural rights, but the predominant language remained that of a plurality of creole patriotisms, operating within the traditional framework of the Spanish imperial monarchy. These local patriotisms, however, were too circumscribed, both socially and geographically, to have created by 1808 genuinely `national' movements aspiring to independence from Spain.20 Socially they hardly extended beyond the creole elite, leaving only the most notional space for the other ethnic groups. Geographically they tended to be confined to the leading cities and their hinterlands. Even within the larger-sized administrative units created by Spanish imperialism, local patriotism proved dangerously divisive.

The question posed by the catastrophe of 1808 was whether creole patriotism could still be contained within the framework of the imperial monarchy once legitimate authority had collapsed. Spurred by hostility to France and to Godoy, who had appointed several of the peninsular officials currently in office'21 creole elites across America responded initially to the news from Spain by rallying to the cause of Ferdinand VII. At the same time, however, they saw in the crisis their chance to reverse the unpopular royal policies of recent years, like the Law of Consolidation, and secure a degree of control over their own affairs which would effectively amount to self-government. As they began to talk of sovereignty reverting to the people in the absence of the king, and organized town meetings and juntas to chart the way forward, their behaviour inevitably provoked confrontations with royal officials and peninsulares, who feared that Spain's American empire would soon go the way of Britain's, and who were desperate to cling to the remnants of metropolitan authority.

Normality, or at least the appearance of it, was best maintained in Peru, where memories of the Tupac Amaru revolt were still raw, and where the viceroy, Jose Fernando de Abascal, played his cards with skill.22 Elsewhere, 1808 and 1809 were years of conspiracies and coups. The situation was especially acute in New Spain, where the viceroy, Jose de Iturrigaray, was regarded by peninsular officials as too sympathetic to creole aspirations, and was deposed in October 1808 by a group of peninsulares, acting with the connivance of Spanish merchants, landlords and high-ranking clerics. The conspirators, supported by a privately recruited militia, known as the Volunteers of Ferdinand VII, followed up their success by imposing a repressive and reactionary regime which would only serve to stoke the fires of resentment against Spanish domination.23

In 1809 a British observer, possibly James Mill writing under the pseudonym of `William Burke', wrote that `Spanish America is, virtually, independent at this moment.'24 Whether creole hopes for autonomy, however, would tip over into full-blown demands for independence was very much an open question in 1809-10. The situation was changing in both Spain and America with extreme rapidity, and what was unthinkable one day became thinkable the next. On the one hand there were indications of a new receptiveness to creole aspirations in Spain itself, while inside America, on the other hand, there was growing disaffection over the opposition of Spanish officials and Spanish interest groups to those aspirations. At the same time, the loosening of imperial control created opportunities for radicals, especially on the fringes of empire, to spread, and act upon, revolutionary ideas which were now emerging into the open after years of twilight circulation.

In January 1809 the Spanish Junta Central issued a decree which suggested that metropolitan Spain was at last prepared to listen to long-standing American complaints. In the name of Ferdinand VII it affirmed that `the vast and precious dominions which Spain possesses in the Indies are not properly colonies, or fac- torias, like those of other nations, but an essential and integral part of the Spanish Monarchy.' In order to tighten `the sacred bonds uniting the various dominions', the overseas territories were now to enjoy `national representation', and were asked to send deputies to join the junta Central.21 There was a clear inequality of numbers - nine Americans to thirty-six deputies from metropolitan Spain - but for the first time American representatives had been asked to take their place in a central organ of Spanish government. These were, moreover, to be elected representatives, one for each kingdom. This, too, was a novelty. The elections were to fall to the city councils, and there were lengthy and complicated debates over electoral procedures and over how important a city must be to qualify for the franchise.26

The elections in America were overtaken by the decision of the junta Central to summon a national assembly, and the American territories were duly invited to send deputies to the Cortes that eventually met in Cadiz in the autumn of 1810. These Cortes, entrusted with the task of restructuring the government of Spain, were to embark on an unprecedented exercise - the drafting of a constitution for a nation-state of which an overseas empire formed an integral part.27 The House of Commons had shown no interest when Franklin argued in 1767 that `a fair and equal representation of all parts of this Empire in Parliament, is the only firm Basis on which its political Grandeur and Stability can be founded.'28 Instead it was happy to assume, as Thomas Whately assumed in 1767, that the colonists were `virtually represented' in parliament, and that this was sufficient.29 Now the Regency Council and the Cortes of Cadiz were taking the road that Britain had failed to take, although they were doing so with very little knowledge of the true situation in Spain's American territories. In its place they cherished a blind faith that Spain and America were afflicted by the same ills, and that a `common cure' would do for both.3o

The number of deputies allocated to the American territories was in fact very far from allowing for that `fair and equal representation' that Franklin had demanded for the American colonists in the British imperial parliament. This inequality in their representation was to be a major source of grievance to the Americans even before the Cortes assembled. The Junta of Caracas complained in May 1810 of the `disproportion in the number of deputies to the population of America', and the question of proportionality was promptly taken up, although unsuccessfully, by the American representatives when the Cortes convened. This was a point on which the Spanish deputies were afraid to give ground. Contemporary estimates put the population of Spanish America at between 15 and 16 million, as against a Spanish population of 10 million, and metropolitan Spain could not afford to let itself be outvoted by its imperial possessions.31

Beyond the question of numbers lay the even more intractable question of how to integrate into a nation-state established on the principle of popular sovereignty a number of erstwhile colonies that were now to enjoy juridical parity with the metropolis. The British colonies after winning their independence solved a comparable problem by transforming themselves into a federal republic in which central authority and local autonomy were carefully balanced. Spanish liberals, however, rejected the notion of a republic, which was too closely associated with revolutionary France and its invading armies to be an acceptable solution, and hoped instead to turn their country into a British-style constitutional monarchy. But their instincts were to centralize, and it was not easy to see how centralizing tendencies could be reconciled with American demands for local autonomy, or how the resulting structure could be convincingly articulated into a unitary nation-state in the form of a constitutional monarchy spanning the Atlantic.32

The times, in any event, could scarcely have been less propitious for a novel constitutional experiment of this kind. From early 1810, when it seemed that the entire peninsula was about to fall into French hands, the American territories independently began taking emergency measures to ensure their own survival. The city council of Caracas was the first to act. The captain-general, Vicente Emparan, was looked upon as a francophile who might well deliver Venezuela into the hands of Joseph Bonaparte. The new Regency Council in Spain, for its part, was seen as the instrument of the Consulado of Cadiz merchants, and therefore as a threat to the freedom of trade essential to the survival of Venezuela's export economy. In April 1810 the Caracas council transformed itself into a Supreme junta, and voted Emparan out of office, while simultaneously rejecting the authority of the Regency Council in Spain. It was careful, however, to explain that it was not declaring its independence of the mother country, but was acting to preserve the rights of Ferdinand VII.33

A month later the mercantile and landowning elite of Buenos Aires reacted in much the same way as that of Caracas to the news from Spain, and for much the same reasons, although here the city council was dominated by peninsulares, and the pressure for action in May 1810 came from outside the council. Since the creation of the viceroyalty of La Plata in 1776 and its release from its old dependency on Lima, Buenos Aires had prospered.34 The liberalization of trade had brought growth in the export trade in hides and agricultural produce, although the silver of Upper Peru remained the viceroyalty's principal export. It was with this silver that Buenos Aires merchants paid for the European manufactured goods which they made it their business to distribute through the continent.35

The French occupation of Spain and the establishment of a Regency Council suspected of wanting to promote the restrictive interests of the Cadiz merchants made the creole elite of Buenos Aires, like that of Caracas, fearful for the future. But the successful repulse by the militia regiments of two attempted invasions by British expeditionary forces in 1806 and 1807 had generated a new sense of local pride and self-reliance, while leaving the inadequacy of the viceregal administration painfully exposed. The creole elite, therefore, with the support of the local militia, felt confident enough to bypass the peninsula-controlled city council, establish a junta and overthrow the viceroy.36

Over the summer and autumn of 1810 similar moves for the removal of local governors and officials and the establishment of juntas occurred in Santiago de Chile, Cartagena and Santa Fe de Bogota, as a chain reaction developed across the continent. The juntas all claimed, like that of Caracas, to be acting in the name of the people to preserve the rights of their legitimate ruler, Ferdinand VII. The next step, intended to broaden the basis of support for further action, was likely to be the calling of a national congress, as in Buenos Aires in the `May Revolution' of 1810, and in Caracas and Santiago de Chile in March and July of 1811 respectively.37 The Cortes of Cadiz, at least as much as the French and American models, were the inspiration behind the calling of these assemblies.38 Based on a narrow electorate of property-holders, their convocation would allow the creole elites to consolidate their still precarious hold on power while simultaneously speaking the language of popular sovereignty.

Beneath a veneer of legality, therefore, one after another the creole elites of Spanish America were exploiting the weakness of the metropolitan government to grasp at local autonomy. This was still autonomy within the framework of the monarchy and empire, but the framework was now so weak that autonomous provinces would in practice be more or less free to do as they pleased. These years, however, had seen the emergence of constellations of radicals who would be content with nothing less than separation from the Spanish crown and total independence. This was particularly true of Venezuela, where the gilded youth of Caracas responded with enthusiasm to the ideas of liberty enshrined in the French and American revolutions. A minority among the members of the newly founded Patriotic Society, influenced by that veteran revolutionary Francisco de Miranda and the visionary young Simon Bolivar, was now actively working for a free and independent republic. It was under the inspiration of Bolivar's oratory in the national congress that the old creole elite joined forces with the young Patriots on 5 July 1811 to proclaim the independence of Venezuela - the first such declaration in the territories of Spain's American empire. They proceeded to draft a new and nominally democratic constitution on the model of the federal constitution of the United States. Its life, however, was short. The decision taken by the national congress plunged the country into civil war, and within a year the first Venezuelan republic had collapsed.39

The failure of the Venezuelan republic was an early indication of the obstacles on the road that led to genuine independence. From the beginning, strong forces were ranged against movements for autonomy, which looked to many people like mere preliminaries to total separation from Spain. The coup that had been launched in New Spain in 1808 by peninsular Spaniards and creoles closely identified with Spanish interests revealed the strength of these forces. Their subsequent dominance provoked a backlash in October 1810, when Miguel Hidalgo, the parish priest of the town of Dolores in the Bajio, tolled the church bell to launch what he hoped would become a national insurrection. As massed bands of peasants - Indians and castas - rallied behind the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Hidalgo's southward march, it looked for a moment as if the entire viceroyalty would be swept up in a general rebellion which would put an end to the dominance of the hated peninsulares. But Hidalgo's inability to restrain the indiscriminate violence of his followers, and a programme of social reforms that included the abolition of Indian tribute and of ethnic distinctions, rapidly alienated the creole elite which had at first seen the rebellion as favouring their bid for autonomy. Their fear of social upheaval, as in Peru after the revolt of Tupac Amaru, proved stronger than their dislike of peninsulares, with whom they now made common cause to stem the tide of violence. With the great mass of provincial as well as regular troops remaining loyal to the authorities, Hidalgo's revolt was crushed.40

If alarm at the prospect of ethnic and class warfare held back even those creoles most anxious to free themselves from metropolitan shackles, local and provincial rivalries also obstructed their moves to seize autonomy. The town councils of Coro and Maracaibo, for instance, refused to follow Caracas in 1810 and instead declared their support for the Regency Council in Spain.41 Similarly, the revolution of May 1810 in Buenos Aires was opposed by the rival city of Montevideo in the so-called Banda Oriental - the future Uruguay - and also by the interior provinces of the viceroyalty of La Plata, Paraguay and Upper Peru.42 These regions had their own agendas and their own economic concerns, and were more inclined to rally to the Spanish authorities than to follow a Buenos Aires whose dominance they resented.

Loyalism in Spanish America, as in the rebel British colonies a generation earlier, had many different faces.43 As the reactions of Maracaibo or Montevideo indicated, it contained, as in British America, a strong economic and geographical determinant. In Venezuela the fault-line ran between the mercantile and landowning elite of Caracas and the Indian peasants and pardon (people with some degree of African ancestry) who ranged freely with their animals over the llanos - the grasslands of the interior - and saw the crown as their protector against the growing menace of encroachment by the Caracas landowners.44 In British America the loyalist regions similarly tended to be those regions facing, or already suffering from, the economic and political dominance of richer adjoining areas. Such regions included the Appalachian frontier territories whose thinly settled inhabitants looked to the crown to protect their way of life as hunters, trappers and traders against the advance of close agricultural settlement.45

Geography was far from being the sole determinant of loyalty. As events in the viceroyalties of Peru and New Spain suggested, the extent of the ethnic division in Spain's American territories was liable to make loyalists of creoles who might otherwise have been inclined to favour the struggle for autonomy. The fear of social and racial upheaval in a Venezuela where over 50 per cent of the population was of mixed blood and where there were repeated slave rebellions was to act as a similar restraining influence on the Caracas elite in 1812 and 1814.46 But in Spanish as in British America there were many whose loyalism was instinctive, rather than merely opportunistic. Creole patriotism had always been compatible with a deep reverence for monarchy, and, as the British North American experience showed, traditional instincts of loyalty died hard even after the king himself came to be seen as the direct source of the people's ills. When, as in Spanish America, the monarch was not the oppressor but the oppressed, an extra emotional element was added to the fervour of loyalty.

Whereas native British officials were relatively few and far between in the prerevolutionary colonies, there was a hard loyalist core of Spanish officials in Spain's American territories. There were also many Spanish troops and officers in the military establishment in the Indies, although by 1800 European wars and the problem of sending troop reinforcements through British-controlled waters had drastically reduced their number. By the beginning of the new century, Spanish officers, who until 1770 had been in the majority, constituted no more than 36.4 per cent of the total officer corps, with creole officers now predominating. Only 5,500 of the 35,000 men in the army of America were natives of Spain.47 The church hierarchy had experienced a similar process of Americanization over recent decades, but just over half of the American prelates in the second half of the eighteenth century were still Spanish-born, and these occupied the richest and most influential dioceses.41

Alongside Spaniards holding high positions in church and state in the Indies, there were many recent immigrants from Spain, especially in the mercantile community, whose prime affiliation was still likely to be to the country of their birth. Lima alone, with a total population of some 55,000, had 10,000 Spanish residents in 1820.49 The prominence and wealth of many of these peninsulares, and the influence which some of them enjoyed with their fellow Spaniards in the royal administration, made them an exposed and vulnerable group. Yet the widespread antipathy to the gachupines did not necessarily rule out an alliance of convenience between them and sections of the creole elite in troubled times. The terror provoked by Hidalgo's insurrection inspired the formation of just such an alliance in New Spain. When the Cortes of Cadiz convened in September 1810 there was still a chance that the shaky edifice of Spain's empire of the Indies might yet be sustained, as Britain's American empire could not be sustained, by a mixture of loyalty and fear.

The end of empire

The most effective grave-diggers of empire are usually the imperialists themselves. The Cortes of Cadiz proved as incapable as the British House of Commons of finding an adequate response to the concerns of the Americans. They could, however, claim a greater justification for their failure. With Spain engaged in a desperate struggle for national survival, the Spanish deputies could not afford to run the risk of losing essential American revenues with which to fight the war. This inevitably limited their room for manoeuvre when confronted with American demands. In particular it meant that American requests for the extension of free trade were consistently rejected. `No disposition exists here', the British ambassador to the Cortes, Henry Wellesley, wrote from Cadiz in July 1812, `to make any commercial concessions, even for the important object of tranquillizing America.'S0 Concessions on this front would have further reduced revenues that were already shrinking as a result of troubled conditions in America, although the dominance of the Consulado of Cadiz over the Cortes meant that the lack of any `disposition' to make commercial concessions was persistently reinforced by the strength of vested interests."

For all the expressions of sympathy coming from liberal Spanish deputies, the American question proved a continuous source of conflict in the debates that eventually culminated in the approval of the new Spanish constitution of 1812. The American representatives naturally saw the Cortes as an opportunity to right long-standing wrongs. Here was the chance to secure for themselves not only control over their own economic activities, but also the equitable share of appointments to offices in church and state which, as the creoles constantly claimed, had been denied them since the earliest years of colonization. 52 They were members of a generation that had felt the full impact of the Bourbon reforms. As a result, they instinctively tended to see the history of Spain's record in America through the distorting lens of their own experience. For them it was a history of 300 years of oppression by an imperial power that had consistently sought to deprive of their proper rights and rewards the descendants of Spaniards who had conquered and settled the land through blood and toil. Theirs was an interpretation of the past that ignored the considerable degree of control acquired by the creoles over their own societies during a long stretch of Spanish rule - a control that had only been seriously challenged in the last decades of the eighteenth century. Now, in the Cortes of Cadiz, they saw their opportunity to redress the balance of an alleged three centuries of tyranny, misunderstanding and contempt.

Liberal-minded Spanish deputies, on the other hand, came to Cadiz with a different agenda, which had little place for, or interest in, American concerns. For them, misgovernment began at home. They looked on the Cortes not, as the Americans looked on them, as a traditional forum for the discussion of grievances and the redress of wrongs, but as a genuinely revolutionary assembly that would set about the task of reconstructing the Spanish nation on the firm constitutional foundation of the sovereignty of the people.53

This Spanish nation spanned the Atlantic, but the presence of the American deputies in the Cortes of Cadiz immediately raised the awkward question of who exactly constituted the `people' of America. No census existed for the overseas territories, and deputies were therefore forced to rely on the estimates contained in the work of Alexander von Humboldt, partially published in French and Spanish between 1806 and 1811.54 It was thought that of the 15 or 16 million inhabitants of the American territories, some 6 million were Indians, 6 million were castas, and the remainder creoles or Spanish residents." This demographic pattern inevitably propelled the racial question to centre stage. It was in the interest of the American deputies to swell the numbers of those entitled to enjoy full political rights in order to give America parity of representation with Spain in the Cortes. Yet as creoles they were not about to jettison their own predominance over other ethnic groups in the name of a factitious equality. For their part, liberal Spanish deputies spoke with enthusiasm the language of equality, but would not contemplate a system of representation that gave the American deputies a majority in the Cortes over metropolitan Spaniards. Each side therefore had its own strong sectional interests to uphold.

The issue was eventually resolved by compromise and dishonourable deceit. The first article of the 1812 constitution proclaimed the fundamental principle that `the Spanish nation is the union of all Spaniards of both hemispheres'. The definition of `Spaniards' in article five was drawn so widely as to include Indians, mestizos, castas or castas pardas (defined as those with some element of African ancestry) and free blacks.56 Slaves were excluded. It turned out, however, that not all `Spaniards' were deemed to be equally Spanish. Creoles, Indians and mestizos were to have, at least in principle, the same entitlement to representation and participation as metropolitan Spaniards, but members of the castas pardas, whose black ancestry carried with it the taint of servility, saw their rights whittled away as the constitution proceeded. Even if deemed `Spaniards' they were not to be classed as `citizens', although it was open to individuals to apply to the Cortes for letters of citizenship if they satisfied certain criteria, like good conduct and meritorious service.

Nobody in fact knew what proportion of the population of Spanish America fell under the heading of castas pardas. They formed a substantial part of the population of the Antilles, Venezuela and the coastal regions of Peru, and a still appreciable one in Chile, the La Plata provinces and New Spain, where the 1812 census, carried out in accordance with the new constitution, registered some 214,000 persons of African blood out of a total population of 3,100,000.57 Here, as elsewhere, so many of them had by now been assimilated into the increasingly mixed Indian and white population that one American deputy felt able to assert that no fewer than 10 million of the 16 million inhabitants of Spain's empire of the Indies possessed some element of African ancestry. It was assumed, however, that the effect of their exclusion would be roughly to equalize the participating populations on the two sides of the Atlantic, thus opening the way to the acceptance of parity of representation for Spain and America in future meetings of the Cortes.58

The discrimination against people of African ancestry was reinforced by the failure of attempts in the Cortes to abolish either slavery or the slave trade. The constitution of the United States had notoriously side-stepped the issue of slavery, although Section 9 of Article 1 opened the way to the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, after a twenty-year interval.59 Under the influence of British pressure and the British example, the slavery question was discussed in the Cortes of Cadiz in 1811, but the Cuban representatives played the same role as the southern delegates to the American Constitutional Convention and succeeded in closing off the issue.60

If the new Spanish constitution, like that of the United States, was silent or equivocal on matters relating to the black population, it was, at least in principle, far more generous where the Indians were concerned. It was only in 1924 that the United States extended citizenship to the entire North American Indian popula- tion.61 But in their approach to the Indians, as elsewhere, the Cortes, through ignorance or a refusal to face unpleasant facts, were remote from American realities. The nominal concession of full citizenship rights did nothing to alleviate the lot of the Indians, and, if anything, worsened it. Equality meant an end to the system of legal protection they had hitherto enjoyed, leaving them still more exposed to creole exploitation.62 At the same time, the abolition of the traditional Indian tribute payments, on which the viceregal administrations of New Spain and Peru were dependent for a substantial portion of their annual revenues, threatened to paralyse their operations and drove them to look for alternative forms of contribution that could well bear more heavily on Indian communities than the tribute they replaced.63

The gulf between the high-minded intentions of the Cortes of Cadiz and the practical results of its deliberations only served to intensify the disillusionment of American populations which already by 1810 had begun to despair of the mother country. In proclaiming the peoples of Spain and America a single nation with a common constitution, the Cortes had, at least in principle, moved - in ways that the British parliament was never prepared to move - in a direction that would logically end in the creation of a federal structure. As a body in which two-thirds of the members were Spanish, however, the Cortes showed no inclination to accept the implications of their own actions. From the beginning they displayed an arrogance in their attitude to America which alienated those they had hoped to attract. In Chile a leading patriot, Juan Martinez de Rosas, told the opening session of the national congress of 1811 that the Americans had been summoned to attend the Cortes in an insulting manner and would therefore not attend.64 Similarly, the unwillingness to make concessions over trade or appointment to offices made it painfully obvious that some members of the new and egalitarian Hispanic nation considered themselves more equal than others.

Even where the reforms instituted by the Cortes were acceptable to many Americans, there was a strong possibility that the royal authorities in the Indies would be unwilling to implement them. Jose Fernando de Abascal, as viceroy of Peru, did everything in his power to obstruct those reforms of which he disapproved, winning in the process the support of creoles and peninsulares who disliked the new liberal policies emerging from Cadiz and feared the social and political upheaval that they were likely to provoke. The natural result was to polarize opinion in the viceroyalty, reinforcing conservative attitudes on the one hand and liberal attitudes on the other .61

Yet for all the deficiencies of the Cortes and the attempts of local officials to obstruct or delay the implementation of reform, the constitution of 1812 - proclaimed and accepted throughout America - opened the way to major political and constitutional change, peacefully achieved. Effectively it transformed Spain and its American possessions into a single nation-state, based on a much wider franchise than that of the Anglo-American world, since it included no literacy or property requirements. All adult males were given the vote, other than those of African descent, together with members of the religious orders, domestic servants, public debtors and convicted criminals.66 The effect of this was to place 93 per cent of the adult male population of Mexico City on the electoral register for 1813.67

A massive process of decentralization now began, under a new system of representative government, which, given time and good will, might have accommodated creole aspirations for home rule without destroying the structure of Spain's monarchy and empire. All cities and towns with more than a thousand inhabitants were given their own ayuntamientos, and America was divided into twenty provincial deputations, or governments - six, for instance, for New Spain - which effectively meant the end of the system of omnicompetent viceregal administration. These ayuntamientos and deputations were to be representative bodies, voted into office by a much expanded electorate, although there was widespread confusion as to who was actually entitled to vote. While Indians and mestizos, as `Spanish' citizens, were at least nominally included in the franchise, the exclusion of blacks and mulattoes, on whom the militia regiments were heavily dependent, led to ugly incidents.68 Women, too, who had traditionally been able to vote if they headed a household, found themselves disenfranchised under a system in which men voted not as heads of households but as individuals.69

During 1813 and 1814, large parts of Spanish America - although primarily those that were still under the control of royalist authorities - embarked on a vast electoral exercise, which was conducted amidst considerable confusion, and with varying degrees of impartiality.70 Inevitably, the creole elites tended to dominate the electoral process. Yet now, for the first time, large numbers of Spain's American subjects found themselves pitchforked into some form of political participation. While Indian communities had continued all through the colonial period to engage in often vigorous elections for their local officials'71 creole town councils were essentially self-perpetuating oligarchies, offering little or no scope for wider citizen involvement. Some modification of this occurred in the course of the Bourbon reforms, at least in New Spain, where in the 1770s a form of municipal election was introduced into a number of towns in an attempt to limit the power of the oligarchies and reduce corruption.' It was also true that Spanish Americans were used to elections for confraternities and other corporate bodies, but the contrast with the North American colonies, with their relatively wide franchises and their long tradition of elections for representative assemblies, remains striking. The fledgling United States were considerably better prepared for popular politics than the new provincial units into which the Cortes of Cadiz had divided Spain's American territories.

Yet while there was no substantial tradition of popular participation in the political process, the dramatic events of the past two decades had the effect of politicizing growing numbers of people, especially in the cities. This was particularly true of New Spain, where the educational reforms promoted by church and crown during the second half of the eighteenth century had produced a society sufficiently literate for the written word to shape and sway opinion, even in relatively remote communities.73 With freedom of the press decreed by the Cortes of Cadiz, reports of the Cortes debates were widely followed, both inside and outside the peninsula, and Havana became a major centre for the publication and distribution of Spanish political news. In America there was an upsurge in the regional printing of pamphlets and newspapers, with a single day's issue of the Diario de Mexico in 1811 enjoying a print run of 7,000 copies. Yet even following the publication of the Cadiz constitution in the New World, freedom of the press remained precarious. It was not difficult for the authorities, as in New Spain, to suspend the operation of the decree, although printed matter originating in Spain, Britain and the United States still continued to keep Spanish American populations abreast of new developments both in Europe and in their own hemisphere.74

The more informed people became about events in Spain, however, the greater was their disillusionment with the response of the Cadiz Cortes to American complaints. At the same time, conditions in America itself were proving unfavourable to effective American representation in the new, regular, Cortes that were due to be inaugurated in October 1813. Venezuela, Buenos Aires, Chile and New Granada all declined to participate in the elections for deputies.'s Even if other parts of the continent hesitated to follow the Venezuelan example in proclaiming independence, disaffection and insurgency were spreading. In New Spain, where Hidalgo's rebellion had been crushed in January 1811, another priest, Jose Maria Morelos, took over the leadership of the defeated rebellion, and - exercising greater control than Hidalgo over his troops - launched highly effective guerrilla operations into the Mexican heartland. Under such conditions, it was often difficult to proceed with the elections to the Cortes under the new constitution, and even where deputies were elected, the authorities in some instances intervened to prevent them from travelling to Spain. Only 65 Americans - of whom a mere 23 had been elected under the new constitutional system - therefore took part in the sessions of the new Cortes, which were abruptly terminated in May 1814, following the return of Ferdinand VII to a peninsula now liberated from the occupying armies of the French.76

No event had been more eagerly anticipated than the restoration of Ferdinand VII to his throne, and no event was to be more cruelly disillusioning for those already disillusioned by the failure of the Cortes to satisfy American demands. The new regime annulled all the acts of the Cortes of Cadiz, and abolished the liberal constitution of 1812. The reaction was soon to extend from Spain to America, where the large majority had shown themselves initially happy to welcome the return of the king. Although a determined minority would by now be content with nothing less than full independence from Spain, the difficulties faced by insurgents across the continent suggest that a broad mass of opinion would have been satisfied with some form of autonomy within the structure of the empire. Veneration for the person of the monarch ran deep, not least among the Indian population of New Spain, where, during the years of his captivity in France, Ferdinand had allegedly been glimpsed in a black coach travelling across the Mexican countryside and urging the people to follow Hidalgo in revolt. Such was the mystical faith in a messianic king that some of the insurgent leaders understandably feared that the news of his return to the throne would undermine Indian support for their rebellion."

Following his restoration, the king was bombarded by representations from his American subjects, still hopeful for the reforms that the Cortes had denied them. But, as so often had happened in the past, the representations received careful consideration only to be shelved.78 With the Spanish state bankrupt, the crown was desperately in need of its American revenues, and it was counting on the effectiveness of its local representatives and the innate loyalty of the Americans to restore the status quo that had existed before 1808. Now that Morelos had been driven on to the defensive in New Spain, and Viceroy Abascal had stamped out rebellion in Chile, Quito and Upper Peru, Madrid assumed that the old order in the New World would rapidly be restored. Ferdinand's advisers showed little or no awareness of how profoundly times had changed. Six years of turmoil and constitutional upheaval in Spain itself, the breakdown of authority over large parts of America, the rise of a more informed public opinion with a new taste for liberty, and heavy pressure from Great Britain and the United States, eager to capture valuable American markets - all this made a return to the past impossible.

Madrid's expectations of a rapid return to normality were belied by continuing revolt in Buenos Aires and New Granada, and by the persistence of bloody civil conflict in Venezuela, in spite of - and in part because of - the harshly repressive activities of royalist forces under the command of Captain Juan Domingo Monteverde. In the autumn of 1814 the newly restored Council of the Indies recommended the despatch of an expeditionary force from Spain to restore order and crush the rebellions. In February 1815 an army of 10,500 men under the command of a Peninsular War veteran, Field Marshal Pablo Morillo, set sail from Cadiz. His arrival in Venezuela and his counter-revolutionary campaign, which included the confiscation of the estates of creoles associated with the patriot cause, among them Bolivar, wrecked the chances of a negotiated solution to the problem of America.79

The restoration of the monarchy in Spain, therefore, which might have paved the way for reconciliation between the American territories and Madrid, proved to be the catalyst for movements aimed at winning outright independence. Ferdinand VII's American army, like that of George III, only succeeded in exacerbating the problem that it was sent to cure. It was now a question of which party could persist longer on its chosen course - a bankrupt Spanish monarchy which had opted for repression, or groups of insurgents determined to fight to the end for the cause of independence.

By 1816 the royalist cause, backed by military power, appeared in the ascendant. In Chile, the Patriot army was decisively defeated in October 1814 by royalist forces descending from Peru; in New Spain, a year later, Morelos was caught, defrocked and executed; and by the end of 1816 Morillo's army had recovered control over most of Venezuela and New Granada. The remoteness of the La Plata region offered at least temporary protection from royalist attempts to recover it, but even here by 1816 the cause of independence was in serious trouble. The newly instituted regime in Buenos Aires proved incapable of asserting its authority over Paraguay, which had declared its own independence in 1811, or over the Banda Oriental, which was later to evolve into an independent Uruguay. One after another the military expeditions that it despatched to Upper Peru were driven back; and although a congress in Buenos Aires proclaimed the 'independence of the United Provinces of South America' in July 1816, the provinces of the Argentine interior, resolutely opposed to domination by the portenos of Buenos Aires, proved to be very far from participating in the unity. By this time, Spain was planning to send a military expedition to the River Plate, and the movement for independence threatened to unravel.80

The subsequent five years, however, were to see a spectacular reversal of fortunes, brought about in large measure by the courage, skill and persistence of a handful of revolutionary leaders who were not prepared to abandon their struggle for independence. In the southern half of the continent the breakthrough for the independence movement came with Jose de San Martin's creation of an army of the Andes. In 1817 his forces struck westwards from Mendoza, hazardously making their way across the mountains in a bold attempt to break the power of the royalists and their hold over Lima. With his victory at Maipo, outside Santiago, on 5 April 1818 San Martin effectively freed Chile, only to find on entering Peru that its creole population showed no enthusiasm for liberation from Spain.81

Away to the north, Simon Bolivar, having fled with other patriot leaders to Jamaica from New Granada in the spring of 1815, sought to rally support for the cause of independence in his famous `Jamaica letter' of 6 September. Defeated once again by royalist forces in his attempt to raise rebellion in his native Venezuela in the summer of 1816, he embarked at the end of the year on yet another, and this time successful, bid to liberate the continent. Forging an army of creoles, mulattoes, and slaves to whom he offered emancipation in return for conscription, he was gradually able to move over to the offensive. A brilliant campaign for the liberation of New Granada culminated in victory over the royalist army at the battle of Boyaca, north-east of Bogota, in May 1819. Bolivar then turned on Morillo's forces in western Venezuela, and entered Caracas in triumph in June 1821.

Now that the liberation of his homeland had been achieved, he could turn his attention to winning independence for Quito and the viceroyalty of Peru. In the struggle for Quito, his most faithful commander, Antonio Jose de Sucre, was victorious in May 1822. Peru, the greatest prize of all, still awaited Bolivar. Effectively marginalizing San Martin, he defeated the royalist army at Junin in the summer of 1824. The creoles of Peru, ambivalent to the end, were at last brought face to face with the challenge of independence when Sucre decisively defeated the one remaining Spanish army on the continent at the battle of Ayacucho on 9 December.82

For all the skill and daring of San Martin, Bolivar and other insurgent leaders, their eventual triumph also owed much to Spanish weakness and ineptitude. The royalist forces in America were heavily over-extended, and financial problems in Spain made it difficult, or impossible, to send reinforcements when they were needed. When an expeditionary force of 14,000 men was finally ready to embark at Cadiz for the recovery of Buenos Aires, a section of the troops under the command of Major Rafael Riego mutinied early in 1820, and demanded a return to the 1812 constitution. The revolt turned into a revolution, the constitution was restored, and for the next three years, before a French invading force restored the status quo, Ferdinand VII found himself acting in the unaccustomed and uncongenial role of a constitutional monarch.83

Ironically, the restoration of a liberal regime in Spain was to prove the prelude to the independence of those regions of the American mainland that had not yet been lost. In its early stages the new administration in Madrid, deeply absorbed in domestic problems, was unable to pay more than fitful attention to the American question, and when it did so it showed no greater understanding of American realities than its 1810 predecessor. The Cortes approved a law in September 1820 depriving the officers of colonial militias of the privilege they had enjoyed since 1786 of trial by court-martial for non-military offences. Simultaneously, news crossed the Atlantic that the Cortes were also planning to curtail the privileges and property rights of the church. In the face of these threats to their corporate rights, creoles and peninsulares in New Spain sank their differences and joined in a fragile coalition to make common cause against Madrid. A group of army officers and clerics began to lay plans for independence from Spain.84

The independence of Mexico was achieved by conspiracy, and not by revolution or a prolonged war of liberation. The social and ethnic violence unleashed by the unsuccessful rebellions of Hidalgo and Morelos in the preceding decade stood as a dreadful warning to the elite of New Spain. Although willing to contemplate the nominal abolition of caste barriers in order to neutralize the dangers of social conflict, its aim, like that of the leaders of the British American Revolution, was to achieve home rule with a minimum of social upheaval. This was to be a counter-revolution designed to defend an established order in church and state no longer guaranteed by its traditional protector, the Spanish monarchy.

The forces of political and social conservatism found their champion, or their instrument, in Agustin de Iturbide, a creole officer in the royalist army who had been ruthless in repressing the earlier revolts. Iturbide and his fellow conspirators prepared the ground well. Under the Plan of Iguala of February 1821 - a constitutional scheme carefully crafted to appeal to different sections of the society of New Spain - Mexico was proclaimed a self-governing Catholic and constitutional monarchy. In those instances where royalist forces did not defect to the rebels, they showed little inclination to resist. Independence in Mexico therefore rode to an almost bloodless triumph on the back of counter-revolution. Iturbide, as the hero of the hour, possessed the prestige and military authority to assume the leadership of the newly independent state. In quick succession he was proclaimed president of the Regency, and then - evoking an Aztec past which the creoles had appropriated as their own - the first emperor of a Mexico now metamorphosed into a `constitutional' empire. If he was no Bolivar, he was also no Washington.

In the meantime, what remained of Spanish government in America was disintegrating, and even Santo Domingo, Spain's first island possession in the New World, declared its independence in December 1821.85 Mexico's break from Spain was followed by that of Guatemala and the other central American territories. By the end of the decade, of the once proud transatlantic empire of Spain only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained. Like the planter elite of the British West Indies in the later eighteenth century the Cuban elite calculated that it would lose more than it stood to gain by independence. Not only had it been shaken by the savagery and the success of the slave revolt of 1791 in Saint Domingue (Haiti), but it had prospered in the years after 1790 from the opening of the island to international trade and its growing sugar exports to the United States.86 The experience of Virginia to the contrary, plantation economies based on slave labour were not the natural breeding-grounds of elite revolt.

The emancipation of America: contrasting experiences

Independence came to Spanish America some forty to fifty years after it came to British America, and in very different circumstances. It would not have come, or come in the form that it did, without the American Revolution to the north. As George Canning observed when looking back in 1825 on the events of the preceding forty years, `the operation of that example sooner or later was inevitable', although in his opinion the mistaken policies of the metropolis helped to make it so. `Spain,' he continued `untaught by the lesson of the British American war, has postponed all attempt at accommodation with her Colonies until their separation is now irretrievably established.'87 But Spain found itself in a much less favourable position than Britain at the outbreak of the struggle for independence, and independence, when it came, was the consequence less of metropolitan pressure on the periphery of empire than of collapse at its centre. Not the Declaration of Independence but the armies of Napoleon set in motion the process that would culminate in the emancipation of Spain's empire of the Indies.

It was a process that proved to be devastatingly costly in terms of societies disrupted and lives destroyed, and the new Iberian America that arose from the ashes of the old Spanish Empire was to live with the consequences of this for generations to come. In the North American War of Independence acts of brutality had been perpetrated by both sides, with soldiers in the British armies engaging in wide-scale rapine and plunder, some of it the result of deliberate policy. Lord Rawdon, a young British officer, wrote in 1776: `I think we should (whenever we get further into the country) give free liberty to the soldiers to ravage it at will, that these infatuated creatures may feel what a calamity war is.'88 The rebels, for their part, gave short shrift to the loyalists.89 But British America was never subjected to the kind of massive campaign of terror and destruction conducted in Venezuela by the royalist commander Juan Domingo Monteverde. Nor did the hostility between rebels and loyalists in the British colonies lead, as it did in Venezuela, to full-scale civil war between the colonists themselves. British commanders like General Sir Henry Clinton hesitated to unleash loyalist forces to wage campaigns of terror that could only serve to alienate those sections of the population whose hearts and minds they needed to win.90

In Spanish America, and notably in Venezuela, the savagery of civil war was enhanced by the extent of the ethnic divisions, which all too easily came to overshadow what had begun as a domestic dispute within the Hispanic community. While the ethnic question was always present in North America, it played a less prominent part in the British-American War of Independence than in the conflicts in Spain's colonies, where non-white or mixed populations predominated. In Peru, for instance, of the 1,115,000 inhabitants in 1795, only 140,000 were whites. The remainder consisted of 674,000 Indians, 244,000 mestizos and 81,000 blacks of whom half were slaves.91 While many of the non-whites sought to steer clear of commitment in these internal Hispanic disputes, it was difficult to avoid being sucked into the conflict, given the extent of drafting and recruitment by both sides. With many militia regiments made up of blacks and mulattoes, the loyalties of their creole commanders could be decisive in determining whether they fought as rebels or royalists. Both sides armed the slaves, and Indians formed the majority of the soldiers in the royalist army in Peru.92

The British crown made no concerted effort to mobilize Indians or blacks, in part at least out of a justifiable fear that this would alienate the white population whose loyalty it hoped to recover or preserve. When defending the ruthlessness of Bolivar's `war to the death' in the United States Congress, Henry Clay would ask rhetorically: `Could it be believed, if the slaves had been let loose upon us in the south, as they had been let loose in Venezuela; if quarters had been refused; capitulations violated; that General Washington, at the head of the armies of the United States, would not have resorted to retribution?'93 Shortage of manpower did, however, compel an initially reluctant Congress and General Washington to accept slaves into the ranks of the Continental Army, with the offer of freedom in return. But when the British moved their war effort to the south in 1779, the southern colonies were understandably resistant to the idea of defending themselves against attack by arming their slaves.94

Apart from any risk involved in supplying arms to slaves, their diversion into military service meant an inevitable loss of labour on plantations and estates. As a result of the recruitment or the flight of slaves, production on many haciendas in Peru was abandoned as the conflict reached a climax, adding one further element of disruption to an economy already disrupted by naval blockade and the shortage of mercury supplies for the refinement of silver from the mines.95 Although seven years of war in North America brought widespread economic dislocation and social distress, with levels of income and wealth at the outbreak of the war possibly not reached again until the early nineteenth century,96 it is hard to believe that the British colonies suffered anything like the level of destruction reached in Spanish America, where the conflict was frequently not only more savage, but also much more prolonged. Even if some parts of the Spanish American world, like the cities of central Mexico, managed to remain `islands in the storm''97 others were subjected to almost continuous battering over a decade or more.

It is not only the intensity of the internal divisions and the obstinacy of metropolitan Spain in refusing to relinquish its tight grasp on its empire which explain the length and ferocity of the wars of independence. When the British colonies revolted, active involvement by the European powers in the form of French and Spanish intervention against Britain notably shortened the length of the struggle the rebels would otherwise have faced. The international conjuncture a generation later proved less favourable to the winning of independence by the Spanish American rebels. Although Francisco de Miranda, Bolivar and other rebel leaders met with a warm reception on their arrival in London, there was no question of Britain coming forward with military or naval help for their independence movements once Britain and Spain had become allies in the struggle against Napoleon. Trade - those lucrative Spanish American markets on which British eyes had been fixed for so long - was, and remained, the overriding concern of British foreign policy. While London was happy, and indeed anxious, to mediate between Spain and the rebels in the hope of restoring the peace and stability essential for trade, this was officially as far as it would go.98 It was therefore left to mercenaries and adventurers, like Admiral Cochrane and his captains, or the officers and men who took service under Bolivar after the ending of the Napoleonic wars, to provide the vital British contribution to the independence of Venezuela and New Granada, Chile and Peru.

For its part, the young republic of the United States might have been expected to lend support and encouragement to movements for the establishment of fellow republics in its own hemisphere. Yet while political circles did indeed engage in lively discussion about the potential advantages of Spanish American independence to the United States, generalized sympathy - tempered by characteristic Anglo-American scepticism about the capacity of Spanish Americans to govern themselves - was no more translated into decisive assistance than it was in Great Britain. Not only did the new republic lack the military strength to intervene in support of the insurgents, but the overriding preoccupation of the administration during the period of the Napoleonic Wars was to steer clear of actions liable to provoke military and naval confrontation with a Britain that was now allied to Spain. Although after 1810 it was sending consular agents to South America to protect its growing commercial interests, the United States therefore held back from giving official recognition to the new republics. National self-interest remained here, as in Great Britain, the order of the day.99

Lacking the active assistance of foreign powers, Bolivar, San Martin and their fellow insurgents were consequently compelled to mount and sustain campaigns which depended heavily on their own inner resources and powers of leadership. Since their invading armies were faced with strong resistance and could count on only limited local support, they were perpetually struggling to mobilize reluctant populations that were deeply divided by ethnic and social antagonisms. As a result, the process of liberation became a grinding struggle, which inevitably gave victorious military leaders a commanding influence in the task of nation-building that followed emancipation. In this respect, the winning of independence by Spanish South America contrasted sharply with the winning of independence by the British colonies. Here a Congress reasonably representative of different sectional interests retained general control, however inefficiently exercised, over the colonial war machine. At the same time it had chosen in General Washington a supreme commander who displayed a rocklike adherence to the tenets of the political culture in which he had been educated - a culture that looked on standing armies as instruments of tyranny, and insisted on the subordination of the military to the civil authority (fig. 42).

During the colonial period, authority in Spanish America was and remained pre-eminently a civil authority, although the Bourbon reforms, in extending the fuero militar to members of the colonial militias, had to some extent made the military a corporation apart. Along with military titles and uniforms, exemption from civilian jurisdiction had become one of the great attractions of service in the colonial militias for the sons of the creole elite.100 The militias themselves may not have provided much more than a rudimentary military experience, but they constituted a natural breeding-ground for future leaders of the independence movements, in part because they brought young creoles into contact with Spanish officers who had imbibed some of the spirit and attitudes of the European Enlightenment. They fostered, too, a corporate spirit nurtured by resentment at the way in which creoles found themselves excluded from positions of command in the regular regiments, in spite of the changes that occurred during the 1790s as Spain's European wars reduced the number of native Spanish officers who could be spared for service in America. By the time the wars of liberation began, creole officers were well placed, through their local influence and their command of the colonial militia regiments, to exercise considerable influence over the course of events. The collapse of the civil authority and the breakdown of law and order gave ambitious officers an opportunity to seize the initiative on behalf of either the insurgents or the royalists, and provided the occasion, and the pretext, for an Iturbide to irrupt on to the stage.

The liberators of Spanish America, however, were far from being the products of a narrow military culture, and several had received an extensive and wide-ranging education. Simon Bolivar, who joined the militia at the age of fourteen, came from one of the wealthiest creole families in Caracas and received a private education which made him an enthusiast for the works of the philosophes, and above all of Rousseau (fig. 43). Manuel Belgrano, the son of a rich Buenos Aires merchant, was given the best education to be had in his native city before being sent to Spain to study law at Salamanca, Valladolid and Madrid.101 While Iturbide, like Washington, had never crossed the Atlantic, not only Belgrano, but also Miranda, Bolivar, San Martin and Bernardo O'Higgins all spent at least some of their formative years in Spain, either to pursue their education or to receive professional training in a military academy.

Once in Europe they were exposed, like Belgrano, to the ferment of ideas brought about by the impact of the French Revolution. `Since I was in Spain in 1789', he wrote in his autobiography, `at a time when the French Revolution was causing a change in ideas, particularly among the men of letters with whom I associated, the ideas of liberty, equality, security and property, took a firm hold on me, and I saw only tyrants in those who would prevent a man, wherever he might be, from enjoying the rights with which God and nature had endowed him.'102 Enthused by the ideals of liberty and equality, and impressed by the potential of a now fashionable political economy, they would set the world to rights. In Spain they experienced, like North Americans in England, the arrogance with which an imperial power treated mere colonials. They also saw for themselves the defects of a society condemned by the philosophes for its superstition and its backwardness. Those of them who, like Miranda, Bolivar and O'Higgins, also travelled to England can only have been struck by the sharpness of the contrast between the sluggishness of their own mother country and the dynamism of a society in which industry and commerce flourished, and freedom was the norm.103

The extent of their European experience distinguishes the liberators of Spanish America from the leading actors in the American Revolution, with the notable exception of Benjamin Franklin. George Washington had never travelled further abroad than to the West Indies, and was later described by John Adams as having seen too little of the world for someone in his 'station'.104 These, however, were the words of a man who himself had seen nothing beyond North America before 1778, the year in which, at the age of 42, he was sent by Congress on a mission to Paris to secure French support. This would later enable him to look back on the revolutionary period with the superiority of a man who, in contrast to Washington, had indeed by that time seen something of the world. Of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence, six had been born in the British Isles, and five of the six were still young when they or their families moved to America.'05 Twelve of the remaining 49 spent some time in the British Isles. Most of these, like three of South Carolina's four representatives, were sent to England for their schooling or for study at the Inns of Court. The most travelled among them, apart perhaps from Robert Treat Paine, a Massachusetts merchant whose voyages included a trip to Spain in 1751, appears to have been the one Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration, Charles Carroll of Carrollton in Maryland, who was educated at the Jesuit College of St Omer, and spent sixteen years in England and continental Europe before returning home. 106

By the time the Philadelphia Convention met in 1787, the situation had changed. At least 18 of the 55 delegates to the Convention had spent a year or more of their lives abroad as grown men.107 If, however, the Spanish American leaders had seen more of the world before launching their revolutions than their North American counterparts, it is not easy to assess the impact on them of their foreign experience. In so far as it confirmed their impressions of the archaic character of the imperial power to which they owed allegiance, it is likely to have encouraged them to turn their backs on their inherited political culture and seek to build anew. Where British Americans, proud of their British constitutional traditions, sought to purge their inherited political culture of the corrupting elements introduced by power and privilege, and adapt it to new purposes within the broad context of universal rights, Bolivar turned first to universal principles to construct on the ruins of a collapsing Spanish empire a new nation of new men. 10'

Yet as Bolivar and his fellow liberators soon came to discover, this ambition was not easily realized in the inhospitable landscape of Spanish America. First, they had to liberate an entire continent, and not merely, as in British America, the corner of a continent. Having accomplished this in the face of ferocious resistance and almost impossible geographical odds, they then had to build a new political order on the slenderest of foundations. Although the Spanish empire possessed the superficial unity given it by a common culture, there was no way in which its territorial integrity could be conserved in the wake of emancipation. Even in Britain's more compact American empire, the rebels had failed to carry with them the West Indies and Canada, and only an ingenious constitution, together with a tacit agreement to ignore the fundamental question of slavery, had prevented further fragmentation.

The difficulty of preserving any semblance of unity in Spain's liberated empire was compounded not only by its vast scale and extreme physical and climatic diversity, but also by the strength of the local and regional traditions that had developed over three centuries of imperial rule. The administrative and juridical boundaries delimiting viceroyalties, Audiencias and lesser territorial units had hardened sufficiently to provide a focus for the development of loyalties to a host of patrias more sharply defined than the generalized American patria which the rebels sought to liberate. Bolivar dreamt of replacing the old and discredited Spanish Monarchy with a pan-American continental union, or - failing this - an Andean confederation comprising Venezuela, New Granada, Quito and Peru. But he discovered to his disillusionment that no amount of constitutional tinkering could hold together a union of territories so historically and geographically diverse. Once the danger from Spain was removed, his Greater Colombia of Venezuela, New Granada and Quito was torn apart by local loyalties. The same fate befell the Federation of United Provinces of Central America, created in 1824.

The thirteen British colonies, although widely diverse in character, had joined together in 1776 in a common act of defiance against the British crown. Their battle for independence, conducted under the aegis of a shared constitutional body, the Congress, and waged by a shared Continental Army, had accustomed them to working together, and had created a network of personal acquaintance and friendships that transcended state and local boundaries. By the time the battle had been won, the transition to a more lasting union, although still difficult to achieve, was at least within the bounds of practical politics. The Spanish American colonies emerged into independence without having gone through a comparable educational experience of close and continuing collaboration in a common cause. Not only did independence come to them at different times and in different ways, but the liberators - Bolivar, San Martin, Santander, O'Higgins - working on a vast continental canvas, found it difficult to co-ordinate their efforts, or set aside their rivalries.

As the transcontinental Spanish imperial system foundered, and attempts to replace it with a number of federal unions broke down, the challenge confronting Spain's former colonies was to transform themselves into viable nation-states. But a sense of nationhood was an elusive concept, more prone to generate rhetoric than encourage an engagement with reality. The pronouncement in Mexico's Act of Independence that `the Mexican nation, which for three hundred years has had no will of its own, nor free expression, emerges today from the oppression under which it has lived', was no doubt intended to resonate down the ages.109 Yet what continuities linked the empire of Montezuma to that of Iturbide, and were they strong enough to give cohesion and direction to an ethnically diverse society now suddenly cut loose from its traditional moorings?

Creole patriotism was woven out of religion and history - or, more specifically, a selective interpretation of the past - and provided at least some of the elements that could be used to create a new sense of national identity. Mexico, with its strong historiographical tradition and a religious symbol, in the figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who commanded the loyalties of wide sections of the population, was better placed than the majority of the new states to fashion itself as a nation. Everywhere, however, there were tensions between centralizing aspirations and local patriotisms. These were especially acute in regions, such as the viceroyalty of La Plata, where Bourbon reformers had redrawn the boundary lines, incorporating older jurisdictional units like the Audiencia of Las Charcas, or Upper Peru, which in 1825 broke free from the grasp of Buenos Aires to proclaim itself the independent republic of Bolivia. Old loyalties ran deeper than new political geography Everywhere, too, creole patriotism was closely identified with the interests of privileged elites bent on exploiting the break with Spain to tighten their grip on power. This limited its ability to generate a genuinely national consciousness in new states whose republican constitutions, by contrast, spoke the contemporary language of universal rights and gave at least nominal representation to social and ethnic groups traditionally regarded as inferior."o

State-building itself proved a difficult, elusive and time-consuming task. The wars of independence had destroyed political institutions elaborated over 300 years of imperial rule. For all its failings, the Spanish imperial state had created an indispensable framework for colonial life, as the British imperial state in North America had not. Royal decrees emanating from Madrid might he ignored or subverted, but the imperial administrative apparatus was an overshadowing presence, which could not be indefinitely ignored. Where the disappearance of the imperial state from British America left individual colonies to manage their own lives much as they had before, the disappearance of the Spanish imperial state therefore left a vacuum that the successor states were ill prepared to fill.

Although the creole societies of Spanish America had enjoyed a substantial degree of effective autonomy, at least before the advent of the Bourbon reforms, this was exercised in particular by city councils dominated by small, self-perpetuating oligarchies, and had constantly to be mediated through negotiation with the agents and institutions of the crown. The absence of representative bodies like the assemblies in the British colonies meant that there was no provincial legislative tradition, and little practical experience of local representatives gathering to discuss and frame policies in response to common needs. The summoning of deputies to the Cortes of Cadiz and the convoking of elections over wide areas of territory in 1813 and 1814, however, marked the beginnings of an important change in the political culture of Spanish America. Not only did the new electoral arrangements enable a newly enfranchised populace to participate for the first time in the political process, but they also meant that those chosen to represent the American territories in the Spanish Cortes gained valuable experience of parliamentary procedure and debate. This could later he turned to account, as it was in Mexico, where former representatives to the Cortes of 1810-14 and 1820-2 returned from Europe to play an important part in the building of the new Mexican state. "

The experience of active political representation, however, came very late in the day, and the pool of experienced legislative talent on which the new states could draw would seem to have been substantially smaller than that available for the construction of the United States. This is likely to have reduced the chances of constructing governmental systems capable, as in the United States, of turning to creative purpose the tension between the centralizing and separatist tendencies inherent in the colonial tradition. Instead, a series of federalist movements in the 1820s - in Mexico and central America, Gran Colombia and Peru - mounted a challenge to potentially authoritarian regimes which laid claim to the centralizing traditions of the old imperial state. Under the banners of either centralism or federalism, the old creole family networks fought among themselves over the division of the spoils. As they did so, the new states descended into anarchy, and all too often the only escape from anarchy appeared to be the surrender of legitimacy to a strong-armed caudillo. Only Chile, with a closely interlocking creole elite, was able to achieve reasonable stability, on the basis of a strongly centralized government and the perpetuation of the hierarchical social order of colonial times.11'

If British America enjoyed a smoother transition to independence than Spanish America, fortuitous as well as structural elements would seem to have played their part. While federalists and anti-federalists were still bitterly disputing the character and extent of the powers to be exercised by the central government of the new republic of the United States, the energies and attention of Europe were diverted by the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. These brought unexpected bonanzas to the United States.

At the time of its birth, the security and prosperity of the republic depended heavily on decisions being taken in London, Paris and Madrid. Ignoring the terms of the peace settlement, Britain showed no inclination to evacuate its military positions along the lakes in the Northwest. As long as it retained them, there was a danger that it might reconstitute its alliances with the Indian peoples, who stood in the way of American expansion beyond the Appalachians. Similarly, Spain's closure of navigation of the Mississippi to citizens of the United States in 1784 reduced the viability of the Mississippi and Ohio valley settlements by depriving them of access to the sea.

The descent of Europe into war, however, provided a welcome opening for American diplomacy. The Jay treaty of 1794 secured the evacuation of Britain's Northwestern forts, and in the following year Spain agreed, under the Pinckney treaty, to accept the 31st parallel as the boundary between the United States and Spanish Florida, and open the Mississippi to American shipping.113 Spain itself inspired little respect among the leading figures in American political life, but behind Spain there loomed the shadow of post-revolutionary France. Napoleon's ambitions seemed limitless, and there was a growing apprehension that he planned to use Louisiana, once Spain restored it to French sovereignty, as a launching-pad for the reconstitution of France's former American empire. The situation was saved by the failure of a large French expeditionary force to suppress the slave revolt on Saint Domingue, and the resumption of war with England after a brief interlude of peace. Any plans for the restoration of French America now had to be abandoned, and Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana from France in 1803 delivered into the hands of the United States almost half a continent. However tenacious the resistance put up by the Indian peoples of the interior, nothing could now thwart the national enterprise on which the peoples of the new republic were embarking - the building of a continental empire, an `empire of liberty'.

The Napoleonic wars brought not only new prospects for westwards expansion, but also new prospects for the expansion of America's international trade. Although the Jay treaty was fiercely denounced by Republicans as once again subordinating the United States to British commercial and maritime dominance, the European demand for American grain to feed its hungry peoples and the British demand for the cotton of the southern states combined to open up new opportunities for American merchants, farmers and planters. The commercial infrastructure inherited by the republic from the colonial period was strong enough to allow United States merchants and shippers to capitalize on American neutrality to become the carriers to the belligerent powers of Europe. A dramatically expanding Atlantic trade in exports and re-exports brought a new prosperity to the mainland, revitalizing the eastern seaboard and providing employment for a growing population.114

The international conjuncture proved considerably less favourable to the Spanish American republics at the moment of their birth. Napoleon had now been defeated and peace had returned to Europe. In the intervening period, the Spanish Atlantic trading system had collapsed, and the Peninsular War had ravaged the economy of metropolitan Spain. In the aftermath of emancipation, trade between Spain and the new Spanish American republics almost disappeared, whereas Britain rapidly resumed trading relations with its former colonies after they won their independence."' Instead, with their economies shattered by years of war and civil disorder, the new states, still groping for political stability, found themselves on the fringes of an international trading community that wanted their markets but did not want their produce. They also found themselves overshadowed by an increasingly confident and assertive United States, to which Mexico would lose half its territory between 1845 and 1854.116

The new republics, too, found themselves saddled with a colonial legacy, both political and psychological, that made it difficult for them to adjust to their new situation. Governed for three centuries by a bureaucratic and interventionist state, they instinctively sought to re-create after independence the system of government with which they were familiar. Strong central control seemed in any event necessary to prevent the spread of anarchy. Liberal elements in the new societies might aspire to throw off the shackles of the past, but they too needed an administrative apparatus that would enable them to realize their dreams.

The consequence was the survival into the era of independence of longestablished attitudes and practices inherited from the old political order which tended to reduce the capacity of the new republics to respond to the economic challenges of a new age: government interventionism that was either arbitrary or inclined to favour the sectional interests of one group in society at the expense of another; a plethora of overlapping laws and an excess of regulation; continuing discrimination against the castas, in spite of all the egalitarian rhetoric; and old-style reliance on patronage, kinship networks and corruption to secure economic advantages and influence the decisions taken by a state that was too closely modelled on the pattern of the old. The effect was to inhibit innovation and entrepreneurial enterprise, with results that became all too apparent as the nineteenth century advanced. Around 1800 Mexico produced more than half as many goods and services as the United States. By the 1870s the figure was down to 2 per cent."'

Unlike the former American dependencies of Spain, the United States had favourable winds behind them as they set out on their voyage into uncharted seas. Their population was growing by leaps and bounds - from 3.9 million in 1790 to 9.6 million in 1820118 - their economy was buoyant, and westwards expansion offered unlimited possibilities for the investment of energies, resources and national enterprise. Deep divisions over the scope, character and direction of the new federal republic may at moments in the 1790s have raised the spectre of civil war, but the curtain on the Federalist era was rung down peacefully in 1800 with the election of Jefferson to the presidency and a formal transfer of power which showed how firmly the new republic had been grounded on the principle that the will of the people must prevail. In the new Spanish American republics it would take much more than a single election to dispel the notion that membership of the social elite carried with it automatic entitlement to the exercise of political power.

The upsurge of prosperity, the opportunities for westwards expansion and the democratization of America in the age of Jefferson all helped to release individual energies for participation in the great collective enterprise of constructing a new nation. The first post-revolutionary generation was coming into its own, innovative, entrepreneurial, and infused with optimism over the prospects of its country.119 The society in process of creation would not, as the Federalists had feared, descend into chaos under the impact of mob rule. But neither, as Jefferson and his Republican friends hoped and expected, would it transform itself into the virtuous agrarian republic of their dreams.

With the consolidation of the Union and the building of a new society came a developing sense of national identity. This was reinforced by the war of 1812-14 with Great Britain over neutrality and trade - a war which vindicated the conception of the United States as God's Republic, and gave it a new set of heroes and a future national anthem in `The Star Spangled Banner'. In holding off the British the Americans saved their Revolution, and the spectre of imperial reconquest was finally removed.120

Yet the sense of national identity coalescing around the young republic was neither all-inclusive nor universally shared. For all its successes this was, and remained, a partisan and faction-ridden society. While foreign observers were impressed by the character and extent of its democracy, its egalitarian spirit and the totality of its rejection of secular and ecclesiastical controls, it still excluded many who lived within its borders. Suffrage, although in process of extension in state constitutions, remained largely the preserve of a white male population, to the exclusion not only of women and slaves, but also of American Indians and many free blacks.121 Above all, the old fault-line between North and South was becoming more pronounced as the boom in cotton exports clamped slavery more tightly on the southern states.'22 In turn, an increasingly strident abolitionist response drove the South back on itself, leaving the field open for northern society to dictate the values and aspirations that would shape the self-image of the new republic, and with it the image that it would offer to the world.

Those values and aspirations - a spirit of enterprise and innovation, the pursuit of individual and collective improvement, the restless search for opportunity - would come to constitute the defining characteristics of an American national identity. They were values which conflicted at least in part with those of the traditional honour culture of the South. 12' They were alien, too, to the inherited culture of the newly independent states of Spanish-speaking America, where constitutions articulated in terms of universal rights sat uneasily with societies in which the old hierarchies had not lost their hold. But it was the possession of those values that would allow the new American republic to make its way, with growing confidence, in the ruthlessly competitive environment of an industrializing western world.

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