The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact

By Gail M. Schwab; John R. Jeanneney | Go to book overview

22
The French Revolution of 1789 and its Impact on Spanish- American Independence

Gregory Ludlow

Historians have paid relatively little attention to the impact of the French Revolution on Spanish America. 1 Although this may not seem altogether surprising, given the location of the events, it should nonetheless, be noted that the movements for Spanish-American independence, lasting from 1808 to 1826, followed closely on the events of the French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath. Those historians who have attempted to interpret the impact of the French Revolution on the Spanish-American independence movements have come primarily from the English and Spanish-speaking worlds. They are the first to assert, however, that the French Revolution was only one of several external factors to have an impact on Spanish-American independence. Setting aside the internal causes, such as the Bourbon reforms and the Creole-peninsular controversy, 2 the other external factors mentioned include the American Revolution; the crisis of Spanish government during the period 1808-1814; and the growing British commercial penetration of Spanish America. 3

The various assessments of the impact of the French Revolution on Spanish-American Independence differ according to the importance attached to the Revolution relative to these other external factors, as well as to their own ideological bent. Some historians tend to enhance its importance, whereas others diminish it. In this sense, one may speak of both a positive and a negative impact of the French Revolution on Spanish-American independence.

The first group of writers maintains that Anglo-Saxon ideas, as distinct from Anglo-Saxon action, have never exerted much influence on Latin Americans, in contrast to the French philosophes who spoke a language they could understand. In their view, the French Revolution had a far greater effect on the outlook of Latin Americans than any republican theories produced in the United States. In short, Rousseau was a far greater force in the Spanish-American struggle for independence than the Founding Fathers. This school of thought recognizes, however, that it was above all the French Revolution in its Napoleonic expression that constituted the greatest of all the forces that made revolution in Spanish America inevitable. 4

The second group of authors stresses that political influence was less favorable to revolution than to reform within the established order, and even

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