Between 2010 and 2025, most Latin American countries celebrate the bicentenary of their independence from Spain and Portugal. At first sight, the Latin American independence appears to be a separation between Latin America and Europe. In 1825, the Spanish Empire in the Americas was reduced to Cuba and Puerto Rico, and there was nothing left of the Portuguese one. However, the independence at the beginning of the 19th century did not separate the Americas from Europe. Rather, they were a moment in a shared history between the two continents that brought them closer together in the long run.

The origins, as well as the events and results of the independence were part of a common Euro-American history. The political and social conflicts in Latin America before the independence bore a strong resemblance to similar problems in Europe. The reforms of the monarchies in the 18th century aimed at a greater concentration of power in the hands of the king and the court. The reforms were part of what is often called the Enlightenment, i.e. the development of a worldview in which the focus was no longer on an all-mighty God but on the human being who, thanks to his rationality, can rule the world. The kings’ politics of enlightenment opposed the believes of the Church, the old nobility and the bodies and estates in the territories of the monarchies. In Latin America, the Spanish and Portuguese political reforms were perceived as an attack on the legitimate rights of the American elites. The reforms were therefore criticised both by those who defended the rights of the Church, the old nobility and other traditional bodies, as well as by those who sought more economic and intellectual freedoms. But both groups united when rebellions broke out that threatened the status quo of the established order. Nowhere did elites rise up against Spain or Portugal. They did not think of independence but reluctantly accepted the reforms because they feared the poor more than the king.

This changed in 1808 when Napoleonic France invaded Spain and then advanced towards Portugal, forcing the Court to seek refuge in Rio de Janeiro. The invasion triggered a series of events that resulted in the independence of all Iberian territories on the American continent. Since France had forced the Spanish king to abdicate, from 1808 onwards, the Spanish territories in America faced the problem of whether or not to recognise the new king of Spain, Napoleon's brother. There were very different ways of resolving this question. For some, the absence of the king meant that sovereignty fell to local American bodies until the legitimate king returned. For others, the king’s sovereignty had been transferred to the Spanish Junta that had been formed in Spain in rejection of the French. However, the Junta had no military power and sought refuge in the port city of Cadiz, which, thanks to the British navy, had not been conquered by the French. In Cadiz, the Junta abdicated and in 1810 the first Spanish national parliament, the Cortes of Cadiz, was installed. These Cortes were attended by representatives from the Americas, some of them Americans and some Spanish with some connection to the territories on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Cortes of Cadiz tried to solve the problem of the king’s absence through parliamentary representation. However, they failed to solve the problem of American representation. Many Spanish-Americans did not believe their rights would be defended by an assembly in a Spanish city. They preferred to support different models of autonomy that ensured them more self-determination. Other Americans opted for independence from Spain because without a king and the introduction of the principle of citizen representation there was no reason to remain with Spain. From the beginning, the different interests in Spanish-America clashed violently. The fall of the king and the subsequent political instability triggered armed conflicts for many years. In Mexico, these conflicts developed into a genuine popular uprising during which the insurgents almost took over the Mexican capital. Only after the defeat of Napoleonic France and the return of Spanish King Ferdinand VII in 1814 did Spain intervene in these fraternal Spanish-American struggles. Although the troops sent by Ferdinand VII could no longer prevail, the royalist side in Spanish-America remained strong until a liberal revolution in Spain in 1820 cut off the king's power, which in the Americas was perceived as a second revolution after the Napoleonic invasion. From 1820 onwards, there was no doubt that the Spanish monarchy was no longer a viable political system.

Consequently, the Spanish-American uprisings were not initially directed against the Spanish monarchy but rather attempted to solve the problem of the absence of the king. But over the years it became evident that the old monarchy was not going to be restored in Spain and, in fact, Spain was to experience decades of political instability. That is why in Spanish America there was no other option but to create new political systems. This secular change took place in Brazil as well. In 1821, the liberal revolution in Portugal forced the king to return from Rio de Janeiro to Lisbon, leaving his son in Brazil. One year later, the king’s own son declared independence and Brazil became a constitutional monarchy, which had evidently never existed before, neither in Brazil nor Portugal.

The Ibero-American independence was the consequence of the collapse of the Iberian monarchies. In the face of the Napoleonic invasion and the Iberian liberal revolutions, the monarchs no longer guaranteed social, political and religious order, but rather became the cause of endless violent conflicts. However, the collapse of the monarchies on the Iberian peninsula does not explain the character of the new political systems in Latin America. For in all the countries that emerged after their independence, nation-states were established. Whereas monarchies were made up of collective bodies such as provinces, cities and estates, nation-states consisted of subjects and citizens, that is all inhabitants within a clearly delimited (though often disputed) territory. And whereas the old monarchies had been divided into a myriad of jurisdictions and legal spheres, the new nation-states had constitutions and laws that were to govern the entire national territory for all inhabitants.

It was the same transformation that had taken place in Anglo-Saxon America a few decades earlier and was taking place in Europe, albeit more slowly and with more conflict. It was the understanding of the enlightened elites of the time that social, political and economic problems could not be solved without the creation of nation-states. This conviction was shared on both sides of the Atlantic just as the ideas of the Enlightenment had been shared. As a result, the emerging political systems were very similar. The American countries did not copy European models. Rather, common political ideas and beliefs led to similar political systems. In contrast to Europe, opposition to the new systems was weaker in the Americas because the old political and social bodies did not play as important a role as in Europe. Therefore, the transformations developed more rapidly than in Europe.

Since the 16th century, the Americas shared many aspects of the political cultures of Europe. The Independence did not break this community. On the contrary, after the independence, Latin America established political regimes that were identical twins of the new regimes in Europe. In fact, the difference lay in the speed with which Latin American countries had been transformed in comparison with Europe. From a political point of view, a German, a Frenchman or an Englishman was at home when he visited a Latin American country in the mid-nineteenth century, while in Asia and Africa he was either in a quite different world or in territories under European rule. The Latin American independence broke the dominance of the Iberian kings on the American continent, but they did not destroy the community of ideas and political, social and economic systems. Instead, it can be said that based on this community, the subsequent history was to bring Europe and Latin America ever closer together.

Alegoría de la Independencia en la que se aprecia cuatro personajes: uno en el piso, sujetando con su mano izquierda una cadena que pasa por su espalda, sobre la que posa un águila con las alas extendidas y la cabeza inclinada al piso; de pie junto a él, el cura Hidalgo sujeta en lo alto con su mano derecha una corona de olivo, al parecer para colocarla sobre la cabeza de una mujer, que probablemente representa a la Madre Patria, la cual se encuentra sentada sobre un basamento, con un tocado con tres plumas

"Allegory of Independence". The image belongs to the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico:…

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