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

1809 Small Rebellions in the Andes


The Napoleonic usurpation of the King of Spain caused a power vacuum that had reverberations in the Americas, however the american people remained surprisingly loyal to the monarchial system.

In Spain the usurpation of the King led to the establishment of provincial juntas, which resisted the new Bonaparte king (Napoleon’s brother) and maintained that they were acting on behalf of the Spanish King Fernando VII. In 1808 delegations from the juntas of Seville, which considered itself the Supreme Junta of Spain, travelled to the americas to seek collaboration and assert their administrative authority. While the americans were loyal to Fernando VII, they responded less favourably to the authority of the Spanish juntas. This was compounded by disagreements between the Spanish juntas about whether the Junta of Seville had supreme authority.

The instability in the ruling authorities in Spain also caused instability in South America.  In Chuquisaca (the city we now know as Sucre in Bolivia) the viceroy and Spanish governor were overthrown so a junta could be installed. The governor was overthrown by people loyal to Fernando VII as he (the governor) was rumoured to be in discussions with Carlota Joaquina, the Portuguese Prince Regent’s wife. Likewise in La Paz the royal administrator was deposed and a junta was formed. Thus began the establishment of juntas in the Americas. The junta in Quito was one of the original juntas. It sought to provide an interim government until Fernando VII returned to the throne. One of the interesting things about these initial juntas therefore is that they did not necessarily intend to break from royalist rule, but rather they sought to act on behalf of the king in his absence. As Daniel Gutiérrez Ardila mentions in his study of the Quito junta, these early representatives acted in similar terms to their counterpoints in Spain and they used religion and the defence of the king and crown to justify their position. The junta in Quito lasted less than three months, but it is an interesting case study, as the diplomatic structures it implemented would shape those of New Granada in the years to come. The original juntas in Quito and La Paz were quashed by the Viceroy of Peru, Viceroy Abascal. By November 1809 Abascal had executed or imprisoned the leaders of the juntas and restored the original order of the Viceroy of Peru.

Some leaders in South America, (Francisco Miranda, for example), sought to promote ideas of the Enlightenment, such as ideas of liberty, equality and the rights of man – ideas inspired the French Revolution, however with the exception of Haiti, where there had been a successful slave revolution, such ideas did not make much of an impact on the inhabitants of the americas, who remained loyal to the hierarchical system of the monarchy.

In the video podcast above, Gabriel di Meglio speaks about the spread of intellectual ideas during the Wars of Independence.

Further Reading

Gutiérrez Ardila, Daniel. “Revolución y diplomacia: el caso de la primera Junta de Quito (1809).” Fronteras de la Historia 12 (2007): 341-370.