Latin American Revolutions: Crash Course World History #31


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course
World History, and today things are going to get a little bit confusing, because we’re going to talk
about revolution and independence in Latin America. It’s a bit confusing because:
1. Latin America is big, 2. It’s very diverse,
3. Napoleon makes everything complicated, and
4. As we’ve seen in the past, sometimes revolutions turn out not to be not that revolutionary.
Witness, for instance, the New England Revolution, who instead of, like, trying to form new and
better governments are always just kicking balls around like all the other soccer teams. [theme music] Right, so before independence, Latin American
society was characterized by three institutions that exercised control over the population. The first was the Spanish Crown, or if you
are Brazilian, the Portuguese crown. So, as far as Spain was concerned, the job of the
colonies was to produce revenue in the form of a 20% tax on everything that was called
“the royal fifth.” So government administration was pervasive and relatively efficient – because
it had to be in order to collect its royal fifth. Then there was the Catholic Church. Even more
than royal officials, the church exercised influence over people’s everyday lives. I
mean, the church even controlled time – the church bells tolled out the hours and they
mandated a seven day work week so that people could go to church on Sunday. And finally, there was patriarchy. In Latin
America, like much of the world, husbands had complete control over their wives and
any extra-or-pre-marital skoodilypooping was severely punished. I mean, when it was the
women doing the illicit skoodilypooping. Men could basically get up to whatever. This was
mainly about property rights because illegitimate children could inherit their father’s property,
but it was constructed to be about, you know, purity. To get a sense of how patriarchy shaped Latin
American lives, take a gander at Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, whose name I’m actually
abbreviating. A child prodigy who spoke five languages by the age of 16, de la Cruz wanted
to disguise herself as a boy so she could attend University, but she was forbidden to
do so. Still, she wrote plays and poetry, she studied math and natural science, and
for being one of the leading minds of the 17th century, she was widely attacked, and
eventually forced to abandon her work and sell all 4,000 of her books. That’s a shame
because she had a great mind, once writing that “Aristotle would have written more
if he had done any cooking.” Couple other things:
First, Latin America led the world in transculturation, or Cultural Blending. A new and distinct
Latin American culture emerged mixing: 1. Whites from Spain called Peninsulares,
2. Whites born in the Americas called creoles, 3. Native Americans, and
4. African slaves. This blending of cultures may be most obvious
when looking at Native American and African influences on Christianity. The Virgin of
Guadalupe, for instance, was still called Tonantzin, the indigenous earth goddess, by
Indians, and the profusion of blood in Mexican iconography recalls the Aztec use of blood
in ritual. But transculturation pervaded Latin American life, from food to secular music
to fashion. Somewhat related: Latin America had a great
deal of racial diversity and a rigid social hierarchy to match. There were four basic
racial categories: white, black, mestizo – a mix of white and American Indian – and mulatto,
a mix of white and black. We try not to use that word anymore because it’s offensive,
but that’s the word they used. And from the 16th century on, Latin America
had a huge diversity of mixed race people, and there were constant attempts to classify
them and divide them into castes. You can see some of these in so called casta paintings,
which attempted to establish in a very weird and Enlightenment-y way all the possible racial
combinations. But of course that’s not how race works,
as evidenced by the fact that successful people of lower racial castes could become “legally
white” by being granted gracias al sacar. So by 1800, on the eve of Latin America’s
independence movements, roughly a quarter of people were mixed race. All right, now let’s have us some revolutions.
How shall we organize this, Stan? Let’s begin with Latin America’s most successful country
as defined by quality of soccer team. So Brazil – he said as thousands of Argentinians
booed him – is obviously different because it was ruled, not by Spain, but by Portugal.
But like a lot of revolutions in Latin America, it was fairly conservative. The creoles wanted
to maintain their privilege while also achieving independence from the Peninsulares. And also like a lot of Latin American revolutions,
it featured Napoleon. Freaking Napoleon. You’re everywhere. He’s behind me, isn’t he?
Gah! So when Napoleon took over Portugal in 1807, the entire Portuguese royal family and
their royal court decamped to Brazil. And it turned out, they loved Brazil. King Joao
loved Brazil so much… Off topic, but do you think that J-Woww named
herself after King Joao? I mean, does she have that kind of historical sensibility?
I think she does. So King Joao’s life in Rio was so good that
even after Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, he just kind of stayed in Brazil.
And then, by 1820, the Portuguese in Portugal were like, “Hey, maybe you should come back
and, like, you know, govern us, King of Portugal.” So in 1821, he reluctantly returned to Lisbon,
leaving his son Prince Pedro behind. Meanwhile, Brazilian creoles were organizing themselves
around the idea that they were culturally different from Portugal, and they eventually
formed a Brazilian Party – no, Stan, not that kind of party, come on – yes, that kind – a
Brazilian party to lobby for independence. Then in 1822, they convinced Prince Pedro
of boring, old Portugal that he should just become King Pedro of sexy, big Brazil. So
Pedro declared Brazil an independent constitutional monarchy with himself as king. As a result, Brazil achieved independence
without much bloodshed and managed to hold on to that social hierarchy with the plantation
owners on top. And that explains why Brazil was the last new world country to abolish
slavery, not fully abandoning it until 1888. Right, so even when Napoleon wasn’t forcing
Portuguese royals into an awesome exile, he was still messing with Latin America. Let’s
go to the Thought Bubble. So Latin America’s independence movements
began not with Brazil, but in Mexico when Napoleon put his brother on the Spanish throne
in 1808. Napoleon wanted to institute the liberal principles of the French Revolution,
which angered the ruling elite of the Peninsulares in what was then called New Spain. They were
aristocrats and they just wanted to go back to some good old-fashioned divine right monarchy
with a strong church. So the Mexican Creoles, seeking to expand their own power at the expense
of the Peninsular elite saw an opportunity here. They affirmed their loyalty to the new
king, who was French even though he was the king of Spain. I told you this was complicated. Then, a massive peasant uprising began, led
by a renegade priest Padre Hidalgo, and supported by the Creoles because it was aimed at the
Peninsulares, even though they weren’t actually the ones who supported Spain. This was further
complicated by the fact that to the mestizo peasants led by Hidalgo, Creoles and Peninsulares
looked and acted basically identical – they were both white and imperious – so the peasants
often attacked the Creoles, who were technically on their side in trying to overthrow the ruling
peninsulares. Even though it had tens of thousands of supporters, this first peasant uprising
petered out. But, a second peasant revolt, led by another
priest, Father Morelos, was much more revolutionary. In 1813, he declared independence and the
revolt lasted until his death in 1815. But since he was a mestizo, he didn’t gain much
Creole support,so revolutionary fervor in Mexico began to fade… until 1820, when Spain,
which was now under the rule of a Spanish, rather than a French king, had a REAL liberal
revolution with a new constitution that limited the power of the church. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So, in the wake of Spain’s liberalizing
movements, the Mexican elites, who had previously supported Spain, switched sides and made common
cause with the creoles in the hopes that they could somehow hold onto their privileges.
And pushing for independence together, things went very well. The Creole general Iturbide
and the rebel mestizo commander Guerrero joined forces and won independence with most of the
Peninsulares returning to Spain. Iturbide – the whiter of the two generals
– became king of Mexico in 1822 (remember, this was a revolution essentially AGAINST
representative government). But that didn’t work out and within a year he was overthrown
by the military and a republic was declared. Popular sovereignty was sort of victorious,
but without much benefit to the peasants who actually made independence possible. This
alliance between conservative landowning elites and the army – especially in the face of calls
for land reform or economic justice – would happen over and over again in Latin America
for the next century and a half. But before we come to any conclusions, let’s discuss
one last revolution. So Venezuela had a cadre of well-trained creole
revolutionaries, who by 1811 had formed a revolutionary junta that seized power in Caracas
and formed a republic. But, the interior of Venezuela was home to mixed-race cowboys called
Llaneros who supported the king. They kept the Caracas revolutionaries from extending
their power inland. And that, is where Simon Bolivar, “el Libertador,”
enters the picture. Bolivar realized that the only way to overcome the various class
divisions (like the one between the Caracas creoles and Llaneros) was to appeal to a common
sense of South American-ness. I mean, after all, the one thing that almost all South Americans
had in common: they were born in South America, NOT SPAIN. So then, partly through shows of toughness
that included, like, crossing flooded plains and going without sleep, Bolivar convinced
the Llaneros to give up fighting for Spain and start fighting against them. He quickly
captured the viceregal capital at Bogota and by 1822 his forces had taken Caracas and Quito. Hold on, hold on. Lest I be attacked by Argentinians
who are already upset about what I said about their really good soccer team, I want to make
one thing clear: Argentina’s general Jose de San Martin was also vital to the defeat
of the Spanish. He led an expeditions against the Spanish in Chile and also a really important
one in Lima. And then, in December of 1824, at the battle
of Ayacucho, the last Spanish viceroy was finally captured and all of Latin America
was free from Spain. Oh, it’s time for the open letter? That’s A chair, Stan, but it’s
not THE chair. An Open Letter to Simón Bolívar. But first,
let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, Llanero. I wonder if his hips swivel
when I wind him up. Context is everything. They do! Hey there, cowboy. Dear Simón Bolívar, First, you had fantastic
muttonchops. It’s as if you’re some kind of handsome Martin Van Buren. You were a man of immense
accomplishments, but those accomplishments have been richly rewarded. I mean, you have a country named
after you. Not to mention, two different currencies. But for my purposes, the most important thing
you ever did was die. You may not know this, Simón Bolívar, but when I’m not a world
history teacher sitting next to a fake fireplace, I am a novelist. And your last words, “Damn
it, how will I ever get out of this labyrinth,” feature prominently in my first novel, Looking for Alaska.
Except it turns out, those weren’t your last words! Your last words were probably, “Jose, bring
the luggage.” But I decided to use your fancy, romantic, inaccurate last words. It’s
called artistic license. Put that in your luggage. Anyway, fantastic life; I just wish you’d
nailed it a little bit better with your last words. Best wishes, John Green. So by 1825, almost the entire western hemisphere
– with a few exceptions in the Caribbean – was free from European rule. Oh, right.
And Canada. I’m just kidding, Canadians. It’s so easy to make fun of you because
you’re so nice. So I tease you and then you’re like, “Aw, thanks for noticing
that we exist.” It’s my pleasure! Anyway, this is pretty remarkable, especially
when you consider that most of this territory had been under Spanish or Portuguese control
for almost 300 years. The most revolutionary thing about these independence movements were
that they enshrined the idea of so called popular sovereignty in the New World. Never
again would Latin America be under the permanent control of a European power, and the relatively
quick division of Latin America into individual states, despite Bolivar’s pan South American
dream, showed how quickly the people in these regions developed a sense of themselves as
nations distinct from Europe, and from each other. This division into nation states prefigures
what would happen to Europe in the mid-19th century, and in that sense, Latin America
is the leader of 19th century world history. And Latin American history presages another
key theme in modern life – multiculturalism. And all of that makes Latin America sound
very modern, but in a number of ways, Latin American independence wasn’t terribly revolutionary.
First, while the Peninsulares were gone, the rigid social hierarchy, with the wealthy creoles
at the top, remained. Second, whereas revolutions in both France and America weakened the power
of the established church, in Latin America, the Catholic Church remained very powerful
in people’s everyday lives. And then, there is the patriarchy. Although
there were many women who took up arms in the struggle for independence, including Juana
Azurduy who led a cavalry charge against Spanish forces in Bolivia, patriarchy remained strong
in Latin America. Feminist ideas like those of Mary Wollstonecraft would have to wait.
Women weren’t allowed to vote in national elections in Mexico until 1953. And Peru didn’t
extend voting rights to women until 1955. Also, Latin America’s revolutionary wars
were long and bloody: 425,000 people died in Mexico’s war for independence. And they
didn’t always lead to stability: Venezuela, for instance, experienced war for much of the 19th
century, leading to as many as a million deaths. And it’s important to note that fighting
for freedom doesn’t always lead to freedom; the past two centuries in Latin America have
seen many military dictatorships that protect private property at the expense of egalitarian
governance. “Freedom,” “independence,” and “autonomy”
are complicated terms that mean different things to different people at different times.
So too with the word “revolutionary.” Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Location change because I forgot to record
the credits, and my shirt matches the wall. Probably should have thought about that one
a little bit harder. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our script supervisor
is Danica Johnson, the show is ably interned by Meredith Danko, and it’s written by my
high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Our graphics team is Thought Bubble. Last week’s phrase of the week was “giant
squid of anger.” If you want to suggest a future phrase of the week or guess at this
week’s, you can do so in comments, where you can also ask questions that will be answered
by our team of historians. Look at the beautiful Crash Course poster! Available
now at DFTBA.com; link in the video description. Thanks for watching, and, as we say in my
home town, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome. Ow! That’s much harder to do when there’s carpet.

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