The new political map of North and South America was formed in the 19th century as a result of the Atlantic Revolutions and subsequent political and social processes. The Atlantic Revolutions were the reaction to the oppression of absolutists governments and the result of popular wishes for sovereignty, economic autonomy, and liberal freedoms. They resulted in the establishment of various forms of state: from the democratic United States of America to dictatorships and the Brazilian Empire.
The formation of the United States of America was the groundbreaking and most influential event in the history of the Americas. In 1776, the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from the British rule as a result of the American Revolution that was an ideological and political protest against the policy of the British Crown towards the colonies. In 1788, the United States Constitution was adopted, and a new form of state was formed based on the liberal ideas of justice, freedom, and equality. The newly established United States of America was a democratic state, ruled by the President and the national government, which subsequent development transformed it into one of the world’s most powerful and influential nations. As the most developed and organized state on the territory of the Americas, the United States was able to establish its own political position and ideology after a period of civil instability and maintain it throughout the years.
Dictatorships and Authoritarian Republics
The decline in the Spanish monarchy at the beginning of the 19th century led to the Spanish-American wars of independence. Spanish colonies, tired of economic and religious pressure, did not necessarily strive for political independence. However, they gained it as a result of the wars that ended in Spain losing dominion over all its possession in the continental Americas and the formation of a number of new states on the continent (Sabato, 2018). The United States adopted the Monroe Doctrine that prevented Spain from reimposing its rule on the already independent countries and declared that the United States would not permit any new colonization (Hoffman, 2013). The weak newly established states were left to themselves, striving for strong governments, which they struggled to establish all throughout the 19th century.
In many liberated countries, dictators came to power after the collapse of Spanish colonial rule. Often leading a private army, they attacked weak national governments and took control over the regions’ political and economic resources. In Mexico, for example, several decades following the War of Independence (1810–1821) were marked by political instability, until in 1876, Liberal General Porfirio Diaz came to power and succeeded in rapidly modernizing Mexico (Beezley, 2011). In Peru, Simon Bolivar was pronounced dictator in 1822 and given the power to organize the military in order to fully liberate Peru. After him, Peru was also under the rule of an authoritarian leader, President Ramon Castilla, who abolished slavery and modernized the state (Sabato, 2018). Dictatorships were beneficial for foreign investors and politicians because they ensured political stability and the security of their investments.
In many countries that were previously under the Spanish rule, republics were established. In Chile, after several decades of anarchy, a merchant named Diego Portales inaugurated a pragmatic constitutional order known as the autocratic republic in 1833 that endured for sixty years until the civil war of 1891 (Lockhart, 2019). Paraguay became a republic after the War of Independence but was ruled first by various military officers and then by the Lopez family, who modernized Paraguay and opened it to foreign commerce (Sabato, 2018). Despite acquiring the formal name of a republic, most newly formed states needed strong government, which only authoritarian leaders were able to provide.
Brazil was a Portuguese colony until 1815 and gained its independence in 1822. Within a few months, the country was declared an empire, and Prince Pedro, the son of the Portuguese king, became the first Emperor of Brazil. His reign was not a success, and the country suffered a period of political turmoil until 1889, when the monarchy was overthrown by a military coup, and Brazil was declared a republic, which was also similar to a military dictatorship in its form of government (Sabato, 2018). The monarchial efforts failed, and Brazil’s experience proved once again that strong leadership was a prerequisite for keeping newly liberated nations united and protected.
Analyzing the reasons behind the formation of new nations in the Americas in the 19th century and the effectiveness of the established forms of government, several conclusions can be drawn. First, the reasons behind the wars of independence were primarily connected with the policies and actions of the empires that occupied the territories at the beginning of the 19th century. The decline of empires and the political crisis in Europe resulted in poor implementation of their colonial policies and consequent wars of independence. Second, although the forms of states that the newly liberated countries adopted were different, most of them tended towards authoritarian rule or dictatorship. Newly formed countries were weak and suffered from political instability and required strong leadership to survive. Authoritarian forms of government were also beneficial to European investors because dictators could ensure political stability and the security of investments. After periods of political instability, most countries of Latin America were drawn to the authoritarian leadership that answered their needs for strong political power.
Beezley, W. (2011). Mexico in world history. Oxford University Press.
Hoffman, E. C. (2013). American Umpire. Harvard University Press.
Lockhart, J. (2019). Chilean expansion and Southern South America’s integration into the modern capitalist system, 1879–1931. In S. Joseph (Ed.), Commodity frontiers and global capitalist expansion (pp. 183–214). Palgrave Macmillan.
Sabato, H. (2018). Republics of the New World: The revolutionary political experiment in nineteenth-century Latin America. Princeton University Press.