Jump to accessibility statement Jump to content

War and Nation: identity and the process of state-building in South America (1800-1840)

1808 – 1814 The Revolutionary Civil War in Chile

Dr Juan Luis Ossa Santa Cruz, a co-investigator on the War and Nation project, and a specialist in the history of independence in Chile, divides the independence struggle in the region into three key phases. The first phase was what he terms the Revolutionary Civil War. This stretched from about 1808 (or 1810 if we use the date that is normally considered as the start of the war of independence in Chile) and lasted until 1814, when the revolutionaries were defeated at the Battle of Rancagua and fled over the Andes to Mendoza. The second phase of the struggle for independence in Chile was the period in which Bernardo O’Higgins started to form an alliance with the Argentine Army of the Andes. The crossing of the Andes was a key moment in the independence struggle. O’Higgins’ goal was actually to use the conquer of Chile as a springboard to taking Lima in Peru. The third phase was the militarization of the army in Chile.

The First Phase of the Independence Struggle in Chile

One of the catalysts for the first phase of the independence struggle in Chile, was the abdication of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII in Spain. Their replacement by the French monarch Joseph Bonapart caused instability in The Captaincy General of Chile, as it did in other regions. The region was one of the less prosperous regions of the Spanish empire and it also faced internal problems as the governor of the Captaincy General of Chile had died and so the region was led by an interim regency, before the position was assumed by the most senior military officer, Brigadier Francisco García Carrasco. Although most of Chile was fervently royalist at this time, the struggle in the country was initially between Chilean revolutionary criollos who favoured independence from Spain and royalist criollos who wanted to remain as part of the Spanish Empire.

In the podcast below, Dr Juan Luis Ossa, of the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez speaks about the revolutionary civil war in Chile.

The instability in Chile caused by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain (and the subsequent power vacuum in Spain) was compounded by the fact that Brigadier Carrasco was not supported by the criollo elites under his command. Further research is needed on the importance of social factors in the wars of independence but recent research by War and Nation co-investigator Dr Juan Luis Ossa has outlined the importance of commercial networks and social communities in the struggle for independence. Ossa Santa Cruz explains that there were a number of powerful elite groups in Latin America when the King of Spain was usurped in 1808 and the different groups had a variety of heterogeneous interests and aspirations. Some groups, for example, sought to rupture the constrictions imposed by the peninsular corporations that governed the Americas in the name of the King, but this did not mean that they wanted to break away from the Spanish monarchy. It is also important that commerce in the Americas crossed the boundaries of the colonial viceroyalties and so business networks connected the elites in Santiago to those in Lima, Buenos Aires and even Cádiz. This left the business community in a strong position when it came to considering and altering the political landscape. Despite these wide business networks, the elites in the cities often lived in a relatively small geographical area. In Santiago for example, the elites lived in a relatively small neighbourhood which consisted of a few blocks. Many of these Chilean elites came from a small number of Basque families. However it was not just the elites living in the main cities that had an interest in the changing political landscape. The lifting of trade restrictions was one of the key debates at the time and merchants from far and wide also had an interest in the differing political measures that would be imposed by a local junta. In Chile there was call for trade restrictions to be removed. Free trade, it was argued, would help mitigate against the economic crisis caused by the uncertainty that arose from the Napoleonic invasion of the Spanish Peninsular and the abdication of the royal family. The elites in Santiago were not simply questioning who should govern in the absence of the King, but also whether restrictive Spanish monopolies should be opened up to allow trade with other regions at a time of economic instability.

Further Reading

Ossa Santa Cruz, Juan Luis. “Miguel Eyzaguirre: las redes de un chileno reformista en la Lima del virrey Abascal, 1803-1816.Revista de Indias 77, no. 269 (2017): 137-167.