Revolutions in the Western Hemisphere

The Emergence of Latin America
Background Information
The discovery of massive precious metal wealth in
the New World by the conquistadors had a
dramatic impact on the peoples of the Spanish
The New World was a subject of a huge “Silver
The 16th Century saw the world develop several
significant trade networks.
Century Trade Networks
Asia became the focus for Europeans seeking spice.
Central and South America became coveted prizes
for their mineral wealth.
The Importance of Silver
“Silver went around the world and made the world
go round”.
Spanish America produced 85% of the silver.
The Mines
“New people arrive by the hour, attracted by the smell
of silver,” commented a Spanish observer in the 1570s.
With 160,000 people, Potosí became the largest city in
the Americas and equivalent in size to London,
Amsterdam, or Seville. Its wealthy European elite lived
in luxury, with all the goods of Europe and Asia at their
disposal. Meanwhile, the city’s Native American miners
worked in conditions so horrendous that some families
held funeral services for men drafted to work the mines.
One Spanish priest referred to Potosí as a “portrait of
Spanish Pieces of Eight
Became the standard for the worlds currency
Broad Significance
The trade in silver led to an age of Spanish dominance
until the silver market collapsed in the 17th century.
Prior to that Spain took great care to build a great
empire of exploitation in the New World.
The Spanish called the mountain Cerro Rico, or Rich
Mountain, for the silver they extracted from the mountain.
Some 3 million Quechua Indians were put to work here
over the years. Hundreds of thousands died, casualties of
cave-ins, or killed by overwork, hunger and disease. (NPR
Report: Man Eating Mines of Potosi)
Revolutions in Spanish America
Enlightenment ideas from France and America
began to filter into the Spanish controlled realm
during the 19th century.
The upper class intellectuals (Creoles) had grown
weary of Spanish rule.
These areas had little or experience with self
The areas unique social situation made it a strong
candidate to revolt.
“An Imported Revolution”
The early 19th century experience of Europe made
it impossible to maintain colonial rule over the
By 1826 most of the continent had gained
It wasn’t one independence movement—rather it
was many.
Contrasts with America and France
The presence of slavery and a remarkably diverse
economy made this revolution unique.
In many cases such as Mexico and Colombia it was
a peasant uprising.
Unique case of Simon Bolivar
The George Washington of Latin
Bolivar had a vision that the ideal shouldn’t be a
number of Latin American countries—rather one.
Bolivar pushed across the northern rim of South
America for the continent to develop along
American lines—a United States of Latin America.
Unfortunately he concluded that Latin America is
“ungovernable” and those who serve the rebellion
“plough the sea”.
Gran Colombia
Future of Latin America
The United States who didn’t have the same cultural,
economic, and social barriers as the Latin American
The result was the transformation of the United
States to a world power, whereas the Latin
American states remained riddled with economic
and social division and politically fragmented.
Atlantic Slave Trade: Background
The most painful link for this hemisphere to the
European world was the transatlantic slave trade.
Between 1500 and 1866 an estimated 15 million
Africans were taken from African societies.
Approximately 1.8 died on the infamous middle
passage to the New World.
Triangle of Trade
What Fueled Slavery?
As we have discussed with Guns Germs and Steel,
the Native Population of the New World could not
sustain the direct contact with the disease bearing
Europeans needed an alternative labor source to
work in the sugar fields of the New World.
This later transformed to other labor intensive crops
such as indigo, rice, and cotton.
The Haitian Revolution: 1791-1804
Saint Domingue was a wealthy colony of France
with over 8,000 slave bearing plantations.
Slave population of over 500,000 on a small
Caribbean island about the same size as
In contrast to the 500,000 slaves, there were only
40,000 white plantation owners and other slavery
This led to a startling social class crisis.
A Place of Exploitation and Inequality
Haiti was vastly different than the societies we have
discussed based on the slave based economy.
Several revolutions in one:
 Slaves-Freedom
 Freed
blacks-greater social freedom
 White/slave owners-independence from financial
restrictions in France.
The Only Successful Slave Revolution in
World History
Led by Touissant L’Overture a former slave, the
slave class was able to navigate trough the
turbulent 1790’s.
A strange mix of social revolution and foreign
interference amidst the fall of Napoleon makes
Touissant’s achievement so impressive.
Haiti’s future prospects?