A Brutal Colonial System in the Americas

Throughout the 19th century, countries such as Spain and Portugal would form colonies in the New World under the practice of colonialism, or the governance of one state over another. These areas were taken by force and often involved brutal tactics towards indigenous populations. Within these acquired lands, the “mother country” would set up systems modeled on their own countries as it related to religion, government, and other aspects of society. This meant keeping the indigenous people of those areas at the bottom.

As part of the colonial system, cities are seen as outposts of control for Europe. Catholicism was the dominant religion and colonies were to adhere to this as well as mirror the practices of their mother countries. Wealth during this time was usually gained through the mining of precious minerals like gold and silver. Mines were built in Spanish colonies and the native populations were forced to work in dark, dangerous conditions. Viceroys were the royal officials who ruled and oversaw all of these processes.

Many people across the Americas, as you might expect, did not take kindly to the colonial system and fought for their independence. For over ten years, the island of Haiti struggled for independence in the form of a rebellion led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and other formerly enslaved people. The Haitian Revolution lasted from 1791 to 1804, and during that time, France and the Napoleonic armies were defeated, and the island saw the abolition of slavery. Haitian Independence Day is celebrated on January 1.

In Mexico, an independence movement was led by Miguel Hidalgo, who had formerly been a priest. He, as well as other Mexicans, were unhappy with Spain’s oppression of their country. On September 16, 1810, he led a march to Mexico City from the town of Dolores. His call for freedom, the “Grito de Dolores” is often considered the symbolic beginning of the independence movement. Although his efforts were quashed and he was eventually executed, September 16 is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day, for Hidalgo’s efforts were among the first to try and renounce Spanish control over the country.

In South America, a young Creole named Simón Bolívar from Venezuela had begun to read the teachings of Enlightenment thinkers, such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Bolívar was also inspired by the vigor of the French Revolution, and made a promise to himself that he would liberate his country from Spanish rule. Additionally, Bolívar was upset that Napoleon Bonaparte of France had become such a dictatorial figure throughout Europe. Bolívar would be instrumental in leading northern Latin America to independence from Spanish rule and in overturning the rigid class system that plagued the area. Venezuela gained their independence on July 5, 1811.

Portugal had laid claim to the country of Brazil for more than three hundred years. Prince Dom Pedro, who was the son of the King of Portugal, took control of Brazil in 1821 when he and his family travelled there from their native Portugal. Since his father had to return to their home country, Dom Pedro acted as an almost stand-in for his father. During this time, he was encouraged to declare Brazilian independence from Portugal, which is exactly what he did. On September 7, 1822, he declared Brazil independent, and the country became a constitutional monarchy.

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