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Wars of Independence

After almost three centuries of economic exploitation and political injustice, the South American colonies were swept by a powerful revolutionary movement. The movement, which was led by the Creoles and which was basically liberal in character, was stimulated by the successful revolt of the British colonies in North America (1775-1783) and by the French Revolution (1789-1799).

In general the struggle for political freedom in Spanish South America may be divided into two phases. During the first phase, extending from 1810 to 1816, independence was achieved only in part of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata (in what are now Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay); during the second phase, from 1816 to 1825, the colonials won complete freedom from Spain. Among the outstanding leaders of the fight for independence were Venezuelans Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Miranda and Argentinian Jose de San Martin.

On May 25, 1810, the Creoles of Buenos Aires deposed the Spanish viceroy and established a provisional governing body for the provinces of La Plata. Although this body was established in the name of Ferdinand, direct Spanish authority was not again restored. On August 14, 1811, the Paraguayans, who had rejected the help of Buenos Aires, proclaimed their independence from Spain and, in 1813, from the provisional government as well. San Martin began to organize in 1814 a patriot army in western Argentina, with the intention of liberating Chile and then moving by sea against Peru, the chief Spanish stronghold on the continent. In his successful campaign of 1817 to 1818 to liberate Chile, San Martin was greatly aided by Chilean revolutionary leader Bernardo O'Higgins. On February 12, 1817, San Martin defeated a Spanish army at Chacabuco. One year later, on the same date, revolutionary leader Bernardo O'Higgins declared the independence of Chile. San Martin was offered the leadership of the new Chilean government but refused in favor of O'Higgins. With the defeat of a Spanish army at Maipu on April 5, 1818, Chilean independence was assured. San Martin then began to prepare for the attack on Peru.

The next great victory of the Wars of Independence was won in Colombia. At the head of an army of patriots and of soldiers of fortune recruited in England, Bolivar defeated the Royalists on August 7, 1819, at the Battle of Boyaca. While the fighting still continued, a congress meeting at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela) was organizing the State of Greater Colombia, to comprise the former Audiencia of New Granada, present-day Panama, and, on their liberation, Venezuela and Quito (Ecuador). Bolivar later became president and military dictator. Although Venezuelan independence had been proclaimed on July 7, 1811, the colony had been taken by the Royalists. Bolivar defeated the Royalists at Carabobo on June 24, 1821, ensuring the independence of Venezuela. Under Antonio Jose de Sucre, one of Bolivar's lieutenants, a patriot army triumphed over the Royalist forces at Pichincha on May 24, 1822, and liberated Ecuador.

Meanwhile, on September 7, 1820, San Martin had landed an army of 6,000 men on the Peruvian coast. He entered Lima, the capital, on July 9, 1821. The independence of Peru was proclaimed on the following July 28, but Royalist forces remained in possession of the greater part of the country. Accordingly, following the Battle of Pichincha, Bolivar and Sucre began to prepare a military expedition in support of the beleaguered patriots in Peru. A spearhead contingent of this expedition was defeated in 1823, but Bolivar and Sucre were victorious on August 6, 1824, at Junin, and on December 9 Sucre won the decisive Battle of Ayacucho. Although the last Royalist forces were not expelled from Peru until January 1826, the Battle of Ayacucho was the final major engagement in the winning of freedom from Spain. Upper Peru was proclaimed independent on January 5, 1825, and on August 25 of that year was named Bolivia in honor of its liberator.

Brazil had achieved independence from Portugal on October 12, 1822, but retained a monarchical form of government until 1889, when a republic was established.

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