The Influence of the Enlightenment Period on Revolutions: From America to Latin America and Beyond

Category: Conflict, Peace, Wars
Last Updated: 21 Jun 2023
Pages: 4 Views: 96

Beginning in the 1700’s, the Enlightenment is believed to have sparked the age of revolution, which would affect many countries throughout the world, beginning with the American Revolution in 1775 and was a major influence until approximately 1848.  The American Revolution is a great example of how these two figures influenced the Revolution.  The British had colonized America and started imposing heavy taxes after 1763.  Restrictions were placed on the colonists, which prevented them from moving into the frontier areas.  The also began to argue that they were being taxed without representation and the Stamp Acts of 1765 was a major factor that sparked the Revolution.  In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed which lead to the creation of an army to begin the war.  With the aid of the French America was able to gain its independence from France and ever since 1789 the Constitution has been in effect.

The Constitution established the checks and balances system between the three branches of government (legislative, judiciary, executive), which was a concept, obtained from Montesquieu.  Although voting was restricted to white men with property, this was a huge step in history, inspired by the beliefs of Rousseau.

There were many factors, which lead to the French Revolution.  Powerful aristocrats, and ineffective government and huge economic problems in 1787 and 1788 were the main problems, which lead to the Revolution.  Street riots in Paris in 1789 cause Louis XVI to cave into the demands of the middle class to form a Parliament, which included voting and representation for nonnoble property owners.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens followed not too long after.  Inspired by Enlightenment ideals, this Declaration declared freedom of thought and preached rights to “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression”.  Peasants seized manorial records and many large estates, seeking to end manorialism.  The revolutionaries fought for in freedom or religion, press, and property, and a powerful parliament was set up to limit the king, and all males with property were granted the right to vote.  There were all ideals of the Enlightenment, so we see how much of an influence the Enlightenment had on the French Revolution.

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The Haitian Revolution was different from the French and the American Revolution in that they did not want to undermine the church’s authority and they did not agree with the Declaration of the Rights of Man because of how it would affect the social system.  Because of the problems in France at the times, political conflicts arose in Haiti, separating the free people and the whites.  This ultimately led to a slave rebellion under Toussaint L’Overture.  Haiti managed to gain independence in 1804.  The Enlightenment inspired the revolutionaries to take power, and Haitians agree with the slogan of the French Revolution, “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” to some extent.

In the 1800’s, we see that Latin American leaders followed the ideals of the Enlightenment by promoting progress, reform, representational/constitutional government, and private property rights.  Problems began with the creoles questioning the power of Spain and Portugal and they were supported by peasants who were against the increasing power of the government, which resulted in higher taxes and changes in administration.  However, the creoles did not want to work with the mestizos and mulattoes in fear that they would one day no longer be able to control them.  The revolution was not sparked until 1810, when there was severe confusion in Spain.  The French Revolution had resulted in the invasion of Spain and Portugal.

This resulted in confusion over who was ruler because a central committee (junta central) was placed in charge to replace the king, but Napoleon had also appointed his brother as king.  Juntas were set up to rule in king Ferdinand’s name, however they took control for themselves.  In Mexico, the Creoles worked with Father Miguel de Hidalgo, who was able to obtain help from the American Indians and the Creoles.  Creoles gave up on the independence because the fear of the mestizos taking control, which resulted in the execution of Hidalgo.  In 1820 the weakening Spanish government resulted in Augustín de Iturbide, a Creole officer at the head on an army, who created an agreement with the insurgents instead of eliminating them.  He ended up becoming the emperor of Mexico.  Mexico became a monarchy, however, it collapsed in 1824, which resulted in Mexico becoming a republic.  Central had attempted to combine with the Mexican Empire, however once it became a Republic, the Central American states split into independent nations.

In South America, Simon Bolívar, a wealthy Creole officer, lead the revolts against Spain in northern South America.  The years 1817-1822 were a time of victory for Bolívar; he had many victories in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.  All these countries managed to remain united until 1830 under the named Gran Colombia, however they split up due to political differences and regional interests.  Simon refused to take the title of king, and kept on fighting for independence and a republican government until his death in 1830.  In the southern parts of South America, José de San Martín had taken control of the revolts.

Buenos Aries became a huge commercial center and its residents (porteños) disliked the trade restrictions put in place by the Spanish.  They fought for freedom of trade, but settled for autonomy in 1810.  There was a time of confusion in South America because Upper Peru (Bolivia) was still under Spanish control, Paraguay declared independence in 1813, and the Banda Oriental (Uruguay) resisted the central authority of Buenos Aires.  Peru’s upper class resisted movements for independence; however, San Martin’s forces entered Peru and won in the battle of Ayacucho in 1824.  By 1825, all of Spanish South America gained political independence.  Although they tried to establish monarchies, all the countries became independent republics, following the example set by the Enlightenment.

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The Influence of the Enlightenment Period on Revolutions: From America to Latin America and Beyond. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from

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