Argentina’s Independence From Spain As The Direct Result Of The French And American Revolutions

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Back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s Spain governed and controlled most of Latin America. One of Spain’s largest ruled areas was the Río de la Plata, which was a viceroyalty loyal to the Spanish Crown. The Río de la Plata was the region that is modern day Argentina. In the early 1800’s Spain was dealing with a conflict with France and Great Britain. The sides were in a war over the Iberian Peninsula. The war was the Peninsular War. Spain was too focused on its problems in their homeland that they paid less attention to their territories in Latin America. Over in Europe the Age of Enlightenment was going on in the late 18th century. The new idea of natural rights from Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau inspired the people of Argentina. During the years of Spain’s territorial rule over the Río de la Plata the American and French revolutions occurred. The citizens revolted against their former government and requested independence and social reforms from their previous ruler. One of the main leaders of the revolutionary movements was José de San Martín. He fought with Spain against France in the Peninsular War. However, in 1812 San Martín returned to Argentina to help fight for its independence from Spain. He was promoted to general of the Argentine army. It is important to look at these events in a comparative view to compare other opinions from other historians. All of these events eventually led to the May Revolution and Argentina’s independence from Spain. Argentina’s independence from Spain was the direct result of the Peninsular War, the idea of natural rights from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French and American Revolutions, and help from José de San Martín.

The May revolution was a result of the Peninsular War. In 1810 Napoleon flooded Iberia with his army, which changed the way the citizens felt in Buenos Aires. That was the moment the citizens knew they had a chance at a revolution. The news that the French controlled Andalucía and Seville came over on an English ship on May 13, 1810. The news probably took a while to come over since it was on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. However the creoles were ready, a group of members had gotten support from the local militia and the revolution began on May 19, 1810. Soon after the start of the revolution the creoles created their own government. King Ferdinand VII of Spain was vulnerable, Napoleon unmasked Ferdinand when he gained control of Iberia. However, Ferdinand quickly regained power and ruled over the Río de la Plata in a cruel and oppressive way. All the creoles wanted was to have freedom against foreign imperialism, but the Spanish wanted to have war. The periodical El Censor explained the situation well. “We still placed our hopes in Ferdinand. But these hopes were destroyed when he actually reached the throne, for he waged bloody war against America. And we began to detest so unjust a king.” In other words, when the French occupied parts of Iberia, Spain needed to focus on protecting its homeland not the territories thousands of miles away. It allowed for the creoles to begin a revolution. However, when Ferdinand regained control of the throne he was angry and wanted to go to war to stop the revolution. These events began the fight for independence. Therefore the Peninsular War directly affected the revolutionary movements in Argentina.

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The Age of Enlightenment in Europe had a huge influence on Argentina’s independence movement. Throughout Latin American revolutionary movements different countries based their declaration of independence on the idea of natural rights, which was one of the main ideas from the Age of Enlightenment. Each country felt they were treated unfairly by their imperial leader. The idea of natural rights from the Enlightenment movements asserted a major political role as a cause of the revolutions. Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau were the three main influencers of the revolutionary movements. The only reasonable explanation that men were born free, and they had natural rights was from the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers in Europe. Research on history has demonstrated that the behavior of politics in South America had been influenced by the Enlightenment. An example of the influence of the Enlightenment on the Río de la Plata was that slavery was abolished. Lastly, France’s declaration for human civil rights was shared in South America. North America also had documents published and shared in South America. The published works were seen as propaganda and it was a way for creoles who are able to read to learn the new ideas. These are just a few of several other examples of influences from the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment.

Another influence on the independence movements in Argentina was from the French and Americans, especially the American and French Revolutions. The United States influenced Latin America just as it did to the French. The United States influenced the minds of men all over the world; this was definitely the greatest contribution they had. This influence affected Spain dearly. Spain failed to see it and it was too late. Another influence was that America sent some ships and men to Latin America. This allowed for republics to arise in Argentina. However the United States didn’t play as great a role as the French did. One way France affected the revolutions in Latin America was its effect it had on the mother countries. Even before 1808 there were signs of revolution, however it wasn’t until Spain’s king was captured, Spain was invaded, a revolution by the Junta occurred and a democracy controlled the government that officially started the revolution. The results of these events shattered the Spanish Empire’s structure and ruined Spain’s balance in its territories and its motherland. The revolutionaries didn’t even know they were revolutionaries yet. Another example is Sir Home Popham’s strafe on Buenos Aires. It was considered a filibuster expedition because it was done by himself without proper permission from his government. However, in 1806 they captured Buenos Aires very fast and vice versa the Argentines retook control just as fast. These events are important because it gave pride and encouragement to the Argentinian people and they realized they could one day govern their country by themselves. Lastly, there is a good first hand example of the French Revolutions influence on Buenos Aires. Following the years after the May Revolution a group of people called afrancesados, who are the smart people in the group, emerged out of the revolution. A Portuguese spy stated:

There exists [in the Río de la Plata] an independence party, French in origin, and republican…. The inhabitants of Montevideo have fewer leanings in this direction than those of Buenos Aires, but they are still inclined towards French ideas, a plague which has infected the Río de la Plata to an inconceivable degree.

This quote introduces first hand the influence the French had on the Argentinians. Overall, the American Revolution only had subtle influences on Latin America, while the French Revolution directly affected the revolutionary movements in Spanish America much more.

One of the most influential people who helped gain independence for Argentina was José de San Martín. Just after George Washington turned 46 and the American War for Independence was over, San Martín was born in a tiny village in Argentina in 1778. San Martín was intrigued by the military from his father since he was a soldier and intrigued by religion from his mother. San Martín and his family moved back to Spain where his parents were from and he was interested in the languages of French and English. In 1789 the French Revolution began and San Martín joined the Spanish army in 1811. During his time in the army he became intrigued by revolutionary ideas and new philosophical ideologies. San Martín traveled to England and France to learn different governmental institutions. He also joined a group that focused on revolutionary ideas. Just like he did in Spain San Martín united with other Latin Americans who wanted freedom from the imperial country they were controlled by. Both the group in Spain and London influenced San Martín’s ideas for reform in Spanish America. In 1812 San Martín decided to travel to Buenos Aires and it was the perfect timing cause that is when the fighting really started to get going and he offered to help fight against the Spanish. The revolutionaries immediately made him Lieutenant-colonel of the cavalry and did what he did best, which was helping free colonies from Spanish rule. An example of San Martín’s military capabilities was when he and Simón Bolívar tried to squeeze the Spanish from two sides. One of the armies was run by San Martín from Argentina and was moving northwest. The other army was run by Bolívar heading southwest. San Martín was very good at strategizing and keeping things in line, however Bolívar was not. The problem was that San Martín needed Bolívar to unite his army with San Martín so that they could end the coup in the Andes. Bolívar offered San Martín three battalions to help fight the Spanish in the Andes. San Martín replied by saying that wouldn’t do and that he needed more troops. San Martín reiterated saying:

Practically the whole royalist army is in the highlands above Lima. To superiority of numbers they add enormous superiority of position. It would be unsafe to advance into the Andes without defending the coast and Lima itself against a flank attack. The Spaniards cannot reconquer their possessions; the fate of America is sealed; but they can draw out, almost indefinitely, a harrying campaign.

San Martín was a very important person in Argentina’s independence. First, that San Martín was very skilled in military tactics and is very knowledgeable when it comes to strategizing. Second, that San Martín lead the Argentine army during the Argentine War of Independence which eventually led to Argentina’s freedom from Spain. What San Martín did for several countries including Argentina was the act of a true hero. Thirty years after his death in 1850 Argentina realized how much of an effect he had on their independence and he was buried in a gorgeous cathedral in Buenos Aires where he deserves to be honored by Argentina for what he did for them.

It is important to look at the independence movement in a comparative view. The movements of independence in South America can be very confusing and has made it hard on historians to determine what intellectual and spiritual ideas developed during them. One of the reasons for the difficulty to understand the ideas is that they come from different backgrounds. Many of the people who were the head men were influenced by the Age of Enlightenment in Europe. However, some ideas came from the United States and their culture, from Anglo-Americans, and from the Iberian Peninsula. Some people could see their country being both part of the Spanish and partially separate as well as not having only American ideals. One example of this is how the people of the church accepted these ideas in South America. The Enlightenment had a large impact on Latin America in the early 19th century. The ideas the creoles obtained from the Age of Enlightenment mirrored the “counter tendencies” in America and Europe. One historian named Ruben Darío Restrepo prefers Rousseau to other philosophers and he likes Rousseau’s idea of “independent thoughts”. Restrepo also talks about the impact of “natural law” by Francisco Vitoria and Francisco Suárez on the Río de la Plata. Some other historians from the U.S., Latin America, and other places have realized influences from Anglo-Americans such as and American documents. One specific author from Argentina named Enrique de Gandía demonstrated that an article that was published in Spanish called La independencia de la Costa Firma justificada por Thomas Paine treinta anos ba was put into circulation to learn about and French independence ideas. This article shows that it was hard to distinguish between the United States ideologies and those from Europe or Latin America. One comparison of ideas was those from Latin America and North America. Both believed in anti-colonialism instead of some nationalistic belief. However during the French Revolution they believed in Nationalism rather than anti-colonialism. The French citizens wanted to unite together and have pride in their country. When the creoles were able to revolt against the Spanish they depended economically on Great Britain. Due to this Latin Americans have developed a sense of nationalism which went against the dependence of and towards the U.S instead of against Spain. This article is important because for one it compares different opinions of other historians and two it represents other opinions which makes this argument even more credible.

Argentina’s independence from Spain was the direct result of the French and American Revolutions, the Peninsular War, help from José de San Martín and the idea of natural rights from Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Back in the late 18th century when Spain first imperialized the Rio de la Plata no one could have predicted how it would of turned out. However, if it wasn’t for certain events and influences then it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did. The first event that influenced the independence movements in the Rio de la Plata was the Peninsular War fought between the Spanish and the French and. The turning point in the war that lead to Argentina’s movement toward independence was when Napoleon took control of the Iberian Peninsula. This led to the Spanish paying much more attention to the Peninsular War and less attention to their colony of the Rio de la Plata. The Age of Enlightenment in Europe influenced the creoles of Argentina to revolt against the government of Spain. The idea of natural rights from Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau greatly influenced Argentina’s movement of independence. The American and French revolutions occurred both in the late 18th century. The independence movements in Latin America didn’t start till the early 1800’s and Argentina didn’t even really start until 1810. Both revolutions directly influenced the May Revolution even though France had the greatest impact. José de San Martín was the most influential figure in Argentina’s independence movement. He commanded the Argentine Army to a victory against the Spanish in the Andes Mountains. Lastly, looking at how other historians compare the influences that affected the revolutions is just as important as the events that actually happened. Overall, several events and people have greatly affected Argentina’s independence from Spain.


Primary Sources

  1. Caillet-Bois, Ricardo R., Ensayo sobre el Río de la Plata y la revolución francesca, 1789-1800. Buenos Aires: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1929. Quoted in Humphreys, R. A. and John Lynch, The Origins of the Latin American Revolutions 1808-1826. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1965.

Secondary Sources

  1. Browning, Webster E. ‘The Liberation and the Liberators of Spanish America.’ The Hispanic American Historical Review 4:4 (1921): 690-714. Jstor.
  2. Caillet-Bois, Ricardo R. “The Rio de la Plata and the French Revolution.” In The Origins of the Latin American Revolutions 1808-1826, eds. R. A. Humphreys and John Lynch, 94-105. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1965.
  3. Davis, Harold Eugene. “Hispanic American Independence: A Comparative View.” Revista de Historia de América 1:100 (1985): 63-78. Jstor.
  4. Frank, Waldo. ‘San Martín and Bolívar.’ The Virginia Quarterly Review 7:3 (1931): 354-70. Jstor.
  5. Griffin, Charles C. “Enlightenment and Independence.” In Latin American Revolutions, 1808-1826 Old and New World Origins, ed. John Lynch, 247-257. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.
  6. Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1973.
  7. Webster, Sir Charles Kingsley. “, French, and American Influences.” In The Origins of the Latin American Revolutions 1808-1826, eds. R. A. Humphreys and John Lynch, 75-83. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1965.
  8. Wilgus, Curtis A. “San Martín, the George Washington of Southern South America.” World Affairs 102:4 (1931): 234-236. Jstor.


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