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The origins of the independence movement in Spanish America

During the colonial period some sectors of the Creole population (Spanish descendents born in the Americas) became increasingly frustrated by Spanish rule. Their discontent grew out of the belief that local ambition and prosperity were stifled by colonial administrative, tax and trade policy and the superior status conferred to Spanish-born residents. Another grievance was the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 by the Spanish Crown in order to secure its power in the colonies.

The occupation of Spain by Napoleon in 1808 paved the way for the independence of the Spanish American territories. The constitutional crisis in Spain caused by the imprisonment of Fernando VII in France and the imposition of Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne created an opportunity for the Creoles to proclaim their independence from Spain. Widespread revolts and civil war broke out across the region and juntas (local governing bodies) took matters into their own hands. Fernando VII returned to the Spanish throne in 1814 and initiated a ‘reconquest’ of the Spanish American colonies but the resolution of the crisis came too late to stem the tide of rebellion.

enlarged image Enlarged image Source: El grito de libertad en el pueblo de Dolores, Mexico, 1825, p. 1.
The Cry for Freedom in Dolores

Image: El grito de libertad en el pueblo de Dolores/The Cry for Freedom in Dolores, Mexico. [BL 11451.bbb.44.(42).]

Caption: This book commemorates Miguel Hidalgo, a priest in the Mexican village of Dolores. Hidalgo’s battle cry for freedom in 1810 began the fight for independence in Mexico. He was executed by Royalists in 1811. Here we see a soldier breaking the chains of Spanish rule while a woman representing America holds the laurel branches and palm fronds of victory.

enlarged image Enlarged image Source: Colonel John Hamilton Potter, Chief Commissioner from his British Majesty, Travels through the Interior of Colombia, London: 1827, p. 168.
Lancers of the Plains of Apure attacking Spanish Troops

Image: Lancers of the Plains of Apure attacking Spanish Troops [BL 1050.h.24]

Extract: "No troops have distinguished themselves so much among the natives of Colombia, in the long sanguinary war carried on between Bolivar and [Spanish General Pablo] Morillo, as the irregular cavalry - cossacks perhaps would be an appropriate term - of the wide extended plain of Apure, through which the river of that name winds its course; who by their intrepidity, great personal activity, excellent horsemanship, and remarkable skill in the use of a long light lance, became at last quite the dread and terror of the Spanish troops, particularly of their cavalry... read full excerpt read full exerpt

enlarged image Enlarged image Source: William Burke, Additional reasons, for our immediately emancipating Spanish America, London, 1808, p. 96.
Cover 'Letter to the Spanish Americans'

Image: Cover “Letter to the Spanish Americans” [BL 8175.b.18.1446.h.14]

Caption: Letter to Spanish Americans, published for the first time in London in 1791, was originally written in French around 1791 by the exiled Peruvian Jesuit Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzmán. The document describes the growing frustration of the Creoles in regard to the colonial system.

Extract: Letter to Spanish Americans by D. Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzmán read full excerpt read full exerpt

enlarged image Enlarged image Source: Simón Bolívar, The Speech of his Excellency General Bolivar, on the Act of the Installation of the Second National Congress of Venezuela, on the 15th day of February, 1819, in which is detailed the form of government and laws recommend by his Excellency to be adopted in that Republic, London: 1819.
Cover: Speech of his Excellency General Bolivar to the Congress of Venezuela

Image: Cover: “Speech of his Excellency General Bolivar to the Congress of Venezuela” [BL 601.m.19.(2.)]

Extract: “Speech of his Excellency General Bolivar to the Congress of Venezuela” read full excerpt read full exerpt

enlarged image Enlarged image

Venezuela 1880 1 Bolivar green. Unused. Portrait by C. Fernández. Lithographed by F.Rasco, Caracas.

Venezuela 1882 1 Bolivar deep violet. Unused. Recess printed by American Bank Note Company, New York.

Stamp images - Bolivar

Stamp images: Bolívar, on two Venezuelan stamps.

Caption: Independence leader Simón Bolívar, also known as the Liberator, was born in Caracas in present-day Venezuela. His name was adopted for the nation of Bolivia in tribute to his leadership. Today Bolívar continues to be hailed as the main historic figure to symbolise the Spanish American fight for emancipation. Recently his name has been incorporated into the official name of Venezuela which is now called the ‘Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’.

As well as being used for postage, the lithographed stamps were also used to pay tax on packets of cigarrettes. The stamps used in this way were cancelled by a variety of methods, but it was found that the stamps were being cleaned, the cancellations removed, and the stamps reused. It is for this reason that the American Bank Note Company were contracted to print the next issue of stamps.

Ref: Santiago Hernandez Ron, Origenes de las dos Primeras Emisiones de las Estampillas de Correo de Venezuela. Caracas: Tipografia Eizmendi Scrs, 1956.

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Discover more:
Introduction
The origins of the independence movement
in Spanish America
 
Excerpts from texts
The Spanish American republics
Britain and Spanish American independence

British travelogues of independence-era
Spanish America

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