South American Wars of Independence

From Academic Kids

The South American Wars of Independence were fought in the 1810s and 1820s by colonies of Spain and Portugal that desired to break free from the nations that ruled them. The wars were fueled by a philosophy known as "nativism" that espoused the unification of people of all races and backgrounds (white Creoles, African-Americans, Native Americans, etc.) to oppose a common enemy.

Spanish Colonies

Because Spain was virtually cut off from their colonies during the Peninsular War of 1808-1814, Latin America was in these years ruled by independent juntas. These provisional governments claimed allegiance to the Bourbon king in exile, Ferdinand VII, but in practice operated independently.

One of the most influential leaders in the Wars of Independence was Simon Bolivar, known as "the Liberator". Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Bolivar was able to promote his personal vision of South America powerfully enough to gather and direct the efforts of several of the colonies after their initial revolt. Bolivar's first victory occurred in 1817 at Angostura in eastern Venezuela. In 1819, he led his army over the Andes and attacked the Spanish by surprise, thereby taking control of Bogotá. He occupied Quito and Caracas soon thereafter, at which point Bolivar controlled all of northern South America. The former colonies Venezuela, New Granada (modern-day Colombia) and Quito (modern-day Ecuador) formed the Republic of Greater Colombia, but after Bolivar's death in 1830 they separated, because the immediate need for unity had disappeared with independence. In the absence of this unifying cause, the remaining political and economical ties between the countries were weak and dissent spread among the different territories.

The southern South American colonies of Spain, including Argentina, Chile and Peru, fought their wars of indepence under José de San Martín, another influential military leader and politician. He served as "Protector" of Peru until its parliament was assembled. San Martín met secretly with Bolívar at Guayaquil to plan the future of Latin America on July 26 1822. Some have speculated that during this meeting Bolívar would have refused to share command of the combined forces, and this may have contributed to San Martín's withdrawal from Perú and subsequent settlement as a farmer in Mendoza, Argentina.


Brazil was a Portuguese colony. In 1807 the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil during the French invasion of Portugal. In 1815 John VI of Portugal declared Brazil a kingdom of its own, with himself as its king. He returned to Portugal in 1822, after which his son Pedro declared himself Emperor of Brazil.

After the wars

At the end of the Wars of Independence, virtually all of mainland South America was free from European control.

The independence won in these wars was, to a certain extent, made more sure by the Monroe Doctrine, in which the United States pledged to defend the Americas against encroachment by the European empires.

Many of the independence fighters (among them Simon Bolivar) dreamed of a United States of South America, but that goal has not been achieved yet.


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