Bourbon Dynasty in Latin America

Bourbon Dynasty in Latin America
Bourbon Dynasty in Latin America

In 1700 Philip V became king of Spain and inaugurated the House of Bourbon, which was to rule Latin America until Napoleon deposed King Ferdinand VII in 1808 and put his (Napoleon’s) own brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne. In the events that followed, all of Latin America gradually gained its independence.

When Philip V became king of Spain the Spanish dominions in the Americas were divided into two viceroyalties—the Viceroyalty of New Spain and the Viceroyalty of Peru. New Spain consisted of the Viceregal Audencia of Mexico (established in 1529) and the interlinked Audencias of Santo Domingo (1511), Panama (1538), Guatemala (1544, as Audencia de los Confines), Manila (1583), and Guadalajara (New Galaicia) (1549).

Thus it controlled Mexico, the Spanish Caribbean, Central America, and the Philippines. The Viceroyalty of Peru included the Viceregal Audencia of Lima (1542), the Audencias of Santa Fé de Bogotá (New Granada) (1549), Chile (1609), Buenos Aires (1661–71), Characas (1559), and Quito (1564). The audencias were further divided into provinces.

Strictly speaking the two viceroyalties held the same position as the kingdoms of Valencia, Catalonia, Aragon, León, and Castile. All colonial matters since 1524 had been decided by the Royal and Supreme Council of the Indies, and this process continued until 1714 when most functions were assumed by the Ministry of Marine and the Indies, although the council remained in existence until 1834.

The Bourbon rulers in Spain always felt that their American colonies could deliver more in tax revenue. Philip V (r. 1700/01–1724, 1724–46) started a campaign to reorganize the administration, assume greater control, and increase trade. One of the greatest handicaps to trade with South America was that goods from Spain to the Americas had to go through Lima. This led to emerging centers for contraband.

The most important of these was the town of Colonia, founded by the Portuguese in 1680 on the east bank of the Río de la Plata (River Plate), directly opposite Buenos Aires. From there Spanish, Portuguese, and British goods were smuggled across the river while the city authorities in Buenos Aires proclaimed themselves helpless to deal with the problem.

Sailing Regulations

In 1720, measures were introduced to regulate the sailing of ships to remove the need for people to buy smuggled goods. During the 1720s and 1730s, there was a rebellion in Paraguay with settlers attacking the Jesuit privileges. The religious order had established communes (known as reductions) in southern and eastern Paraguay and the low prices of their crops undercut many small farmers.

The Communero Revolt saw many farmers march on Asunción and the governor, José de Antiquera, refuse to accept a new governor sent from Lima. However the rebels were ousted by Indian levies from the Jesuit reductions.

A force from Buenos Aires arrived in 1724, and two years later Antiquera was captured. At the same time there was also a small rebellion among the Araucanian Indians in southern Chile. In 1736–37, there was also a small rebellion led by Juan Santos with Indians rebelling against harsh conditions in mines in central Peru. The rebels damaged the city of Oruro but then dispersed.

A more serious conflict broke out in 1735 when the Spanish took advantage of being on the opposite side to Portugal in the War of the Polish Succession. A small Spanish force from Buenos Aires captured Colonia, but two years later the British persuaded them to return it.

The task of reforming the colonial administration was left to Philip V’s successor, Ferdinand VI (reigned 1746–59). He established the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1739 with a viceroy taking up the position in the following year.

However the Anglo-Spanish War of 1739–48 (known in England as the War of Jenkins’ Ear) initially hampered links between Spain and its colonies. Further attempts were made to reduce smuggling but too much was at stake, especially in Buenos Aires, where people still objected to goods’ having to be shipped through Lima.

In the Treaty of Madrid of 1750 the Portuguese finally agreed to hand over Colonia, in return for taking the region of the Upper Paraná. When some Jesuits refused to hand over the latter, Portugal sent in soldiers who easily drove back the lightly armed Indians in the Jesuit reductions.

As it felt that Spain had not honored its side of the treaty, the Portuguese held on to Colonia. This caused Charles III of Spain to annul the treaty in 1761 and send in soldiers, who finally captured Colonia in 1762. Smuggling, however, continued.

Seven Years’ War

The Seven Years’ War (1756–63) resulted in a humiliating defeat for Spain. It had stayed out of the war for the first three years, and when in 1760, it entered the conflict, the British attacked the Philippines and Cuba, taking both territories. Spain did manage to take most of the Banda Oriental (now Uruguay).

Both the Philippines and Cuba were returned at the Treaty of Paris at the conclusion of the war, but Spain conceded Florida to the British. The easy losses that Spain sustained at the hands of the British illustrated the military vulnerability of Spain’s American colonies. King Charles III (r. 1759–88) decided to push ahead with further administrative reforms.

One of the first measures was to increase taxes to help pay for the costly and futile involvement in the Seven Years’ War. In 1765, people in Quito rioted. The colonial administration held firm, and in 1776 Charles III created the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata, with a viceroy taking up the position in 1778.

It covered modern-day Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay and eroded further the power of the Viceroyalty of Peru. This move followed a delineation of the land boundary between Portuguese Brazil and the Spanish territories that confirmed the east bank of the River Plate, covering modern-day Uruguay, as Spanish.

Buenos Aires was made capital of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata, and the important silver mines in Upper Peru (modern-day Bolivia) were given to the new viceroyalty. Trade was now allowed to come from Europe. In one stroke, smuggling was reduced and the revenue from tariffs increased.

Gálvez, fresh from his triumphs in Mexico, returned to Madrid and was appointed minister of the Indies in 1776. He sent officials who worked on increasing revenue, bolstering defenses, and helping increase agriculture and mining.

One of the first changes was the Law of Free Trade in 1778, which enabled one part of the Spanish Americas to trade with another more easily. This further reduced smuggling. Gálvez then introduced the position of intendant.

This person worked in the Americas but was directly responsible to the Spanish Crown, not the viceroy, so was able to give an independent report on events in the Americas. An intendant was introduced in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1782, in Peru two years later, and finally, in 1786 in New Spain.

Although these moves followed the economic liberalization that was taking place in Europe, the government in Spain also introduced new laws that served to destroy much of their support in the Americas. New laws reduced the ability for governors to appoint officials. Massive dissent arose, some of it leading to talk of rebellion and even moves for independence.

This coincided with the Tupac Amaru rebellion; the great-grandson of Inca leader Tupac Amaru rallied his followers near Cuzco in modern-day Peru. He led the first major uprising against the Spanish in two centuries. At its height tens of thousands of Indians joined the rebellion with the Spanish having to send in large numbers of soldiers to restore colonial rule at the cost of thousands of lives. The rebellion was brutally crushed.

The Tupac Amaru rebellion also showed that there might not be enough Spanish soldiers in Latin America should another large rebellion or external invasion take place. Furthermore a brief stand-off with the British over the Falkland Islands in 1771 had ended when France indicated itself not willing to give military assistance to Spain.

In 1715, there were only 500 soldiers in Buenos Aires. These were largely for protection of the governor and in case Portuguese from Colonia caused trouble. In 1765, the numbers had been increased to 5,500 and 7,000 in 1774.

The same happened in Asunción, Santiago, Caracas, Quito, and Bogota. In 1776, the Spanish were sufficiently strong to take back Colonia; at the Treaty of San Ildefonso, Colonia, and the Banda Oriental was awarded to Spain forever.

Spain’s involvement in the American Revolution was expected to have brought greater wealth to the Spanish colonies. However, as with the French, it was a costly venture and although it broke up the British Empire in the Americas, it left both Spain and France with large bills to pay.

Furthermore exposure to the ideas of democracy affected soldiers like Francisco de Miranda (1750–1816), who, after time in the United States, served in the French Revolutionary Army before trying to free Venezuela from Spanish rule. When Spain sided with France against Britain in the first part of the Napoleonic Wars, 1796–1808, some people in the Americas saw it as their opportunity to use the British to gain independence.

Furthermore Britain at the time was unable to sell any of its goods to Europe because of Napoleon’s rigorously enforced “Continental System” and thus also had a commercial motive in South American independence. When Napoleon ousted the king of Spain and placed Joseph Bonaparte on the throne, the days of Bourbon rule in Spain were numbered.

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