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How do the Latin American and U.S. independence processes compare and contrast?

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Both the American Revolution and the Latin American revolutions were spurred by the philosophy of Enlightenment, in which the belief that every person was capable of governing themselves through rational thought and reason, instead of blind faith to the monarch, took hold. The American colonies and the Latin American lands and islands were filled with natural resources. The European colonizers wanted to keep their colonies in order to make money, so diplomatic negotiations were futile and independence required blood to be spilled.

However, other social dynamics surrounding the fights for independence drive a larger wedge in between the American and Latin American revolutions.

First, the American revolution was really a war of financial control. The revolutionaries included those at the highest levels of the social order and they did not wish to change that order. They instead wished to gain control of the government that would levy taxes on them. They were untrustworthy of the crown and how it would pull financial levers against them in the future. Because they were fighting against England, there were able to receive support from France.

On the other hand, in Latin America, there had been significantly more mixing of cultures between the Europeans and the indigenous peoples, which created a mixed-race class. The mixed-race and indigenous classes did not have power in the social order and their fight for independence was largely driven by their desire to secure previously unrealized rights.

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There were a number of separate revolutions in Latin America that differed from each other to a certain extent. Despite their differences, we can still, to some degree, compare them to the US Revolution.

In each case, the goal of the revolutionaries was to gain independence from a foreign imperial power. They were inspired by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, which advocated for self-rule through a democratic process. However, in order to achieve their ends, the revolutionaries needed to engage their imperial overlords with military power. Most of the time, their military strategies were not very different. Washington, Bolivar, and Morelos all struggled just to keep their respective armies intact. Capturing strategic locations and winning battles was mostly a secondary objective. Rather, keeping the British and Spanish occupied in an expensive and unpopular conflict was their primary military strategy.

In the English colonies, the leaders of the Revolution were mostly those who already had some power and influence. Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, John Adams, and many others were wealthy landowners or businessmen. They were already at the top of the social pyramid and wanted to keep it that way. Latin American independence leaders tended to be from among the lower circles of society. They were not struggling to maintain power, but to gain it.

Hence, while all the revolutionaries wanted to establish their own self-governing nations, their social aims were different. In what would become the United States, the revolutionaries wanted a political change. They were less concerned with uprooting the social order. This was not the case in Latin America. A major goal of those revolutions was to empower the indigenous and mestizo classes. This is mostly because of the ethnic and racial makeup of the two regions. Most people in the British colonies were of British descent themselves. They saw themselves as Englishmen and Englishwomen who just wanted more autonomy to protect their rights. The Spanish colonies, on the other hand, were mostly populated by indigenous and mixed-race peoples who were ruled by a European elite. Unlike the American revolutionaries, they wanted to empower a new class of people and reshape the overall social order of their countries.

In achieving its goals, the US Revolution was more successful overall. The former colonies effectively established themself as a new nation with a distinct political separation from Great Britain. In Latin America, despite the efforts of the revolutionaries, power often remained in the hands of the Criollos. While formerly marginalized groups did achieve more rights, these gains were often short-lived, as class and racial power struggles continued for generations.

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There are both similarities and differences in the way the peoples of Latin America and the United States achieved their independence. The differences outnumber the similarities, however.

One similarity is that both were influenced by the Enlightenment. This movement emphasized logical thinking and scientific research. Also, individual freedom and democratic ideas became much more important.

A second similarity is that both won their independence on the battlefield. George Washington led his army to victory against the British after years of warfare. Although Brazil was a notable exception, Latin American independence was won in battle, too.

One difference prior to the revolutions was the class structure of the two societies. Latin America had more distinct social classes than North America. The Latin American social classes were based on race. A small minority—at the top—were those Spaniards who were born in Spain. Below them were the creoles (Spaniards born in Latin America). Below the creoles were mixed-race groups. At the bottom were enslaved Africans and Indians. The creoles would lead the revolution in most of Latin America.

Another difference between the two revolutions was the importance of foreign intervention. Foreign help—especially that provided by France—played a key role in helping North America win independence. Latin America, on the other hand, did not benefit from foreign intervention during its wars for independence.

A third difference was in military and political leadership. George Washington was a capable leader both during the war and as the first president of a new nation. Latin American revolts were led by numerous men: Simón Bolívar and José de San Martin (South America), Toussaint L'Ouverture (Haiti), and Agustín de Iturbide (Mexico). Some of these men were just as good as Washington in generalship. But none of them was able to provide effective and democratic leadership for Latin America after independence was won. Iturbide was assassinated. Bolívar narrowly escaped assassination. Compared to North America, Latin America seemed ungovernable.

Despite some similarities, the differences between the regions during this period were much more striking.

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Compare and contrast the way Latin American nations achieved independence with the process in the United States.

The American revolutionaries initially fought to maintain their accustomed rights of self-government under the British Crown rather than independence from the mother country. The continuance of a stable political order with the right of self-representation was their focus, not rebellion. Only when these efforts failed was the decision to fight for separation made.

The spark that lit the fuse of revolution in Latin America was the classical liberal Bourbon Reforms, which intended to scale back the trading privileges of the criollos. When Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 and Charles VI abdicated, the Mexican authorities were split over whether Joseph Bonaparte or Charles's son Ferdinand VII was the rightful king. The criollos initially sided with Ferdinand VII, whom they petitioned for redress of their perceived grievances. They thought the Spanish-born Peninsulares were usurping their privileges. Viceroy José de Iturrigaray supported the criollos's proposal of a new council to govern the colony. Peninsulares, seeing the danger of their exclusion from the new council, organized a coup to maintain their rights and authority. After the coup, Iturrigaray was replaced by a Spaniard, and the power struggle between the criollos and the Penisulares was underway in New Spain.

Reform-minded classical liberals in Spain put forward a new Constitution calling for the separation of powers, church reform, checks on the power of the monarchy, and enhanced powers for parliament in 1812. The Creole elites feared the loss of the privileges they enjoyed under the old system and threw their influence behind independence. Unlike the American revolutionaries, the criollos focused on independence rather than on securing the rights of all of the proposed citizens or subjects of their country. The Americans, on the other hand, fought for the maintenance of their traditional political liberties first and foremost and for independence only as a last resort. Despite popular myths to the contrary, the classical liberal reformers were in Spain, and the local revolutionaries were the political reactionaries trying to cling to their colonial privileges against broader reforms for the good of the nation.

Rather than put their best efforts into constructing a sound foundation for a new and lasting political order, the criollos focused their efforts on demonizing and killing the Spanish and on securing their own privileges rather than broader national interests.

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