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From Colony to Nation

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 43, Number 2, 2008
pp. 241-250 | 10.1353/lar.0.0003

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

From Colony to Nation
Simón Bolívar: A Life. By John Lynch. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. Pp. 350. $35.00 paper.
South American Independence: Gender, Politics, Text. By Catherine Davies, Claire Brewster, and Hilary Owen. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2006. Pp. 321. £50.00 cloth.
Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simón Bolívar, Foreign Mercenaries and the Birth of New Nations. By Matthew Brown. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2006. Pp. 266. £50.00 cloth.
Freedom's Mercenaries: British Volunteers in the Wars of Independence of Latin America, Volume I: Northern South America. By Moisés Enrique Rodríguez. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. Pp. 426. $58.00 paper.
Freedom's Mercenaries: British Volunteers in the Wars of Independence of Latin America, Volume II: Southern South America. By Moisés Enrique Rodríguez. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. Pp. 524. $58.00 paper.
El primer liberalismo español y los procesos de emancipación de América, 1808–1824: Una revisión historiográfica del liberalismo hispánico. By Roberto Breña. Mexico City: El Colegio de México, 2006. Pp. 580. $37.00 cloth.
The Conquest of History: Spanish Colonialism and National Histories in the Nineteenth Century. By Christopher Schmidt-Nowara. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006. Pp. 296 $39.95 cloth.
Nineteenth-Century Nation Building and the Latin-American Intellectual Tradition: A Reader. Edited and translated by Janet Burke and Ted Humphrey. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2007. Pp. 366. $47.95 cloth.

What caused the Spanish-American wars of independence? Was it the philosophical influence of the Enlightenment, the disruptive impact of the Bourbon reforms, the slow development of Creole patriotism, the destabilization provoked by the Peninsular War or some combination of these and other factors? Many nineteenth-century savants were quite certain that the answer lay in the distinctive Iberian heritage introduced into the continent [End Page 241] by its Spanish colonizers. Independence, wrote the Argentine historian president Bartolomé Mitre, originated in the "individualistic spirit" that the conquistadors "bequeathed through their blood to their descendants, together with their instincts for independence." Creoles, the heirs to this legacy, were therefore the authors of independence: "they invented Spanish-American independence and they alone founded the republic and alone they made it triumph," he wrote in 1859.1 "Intimations of our independence palpitated in the innermost desires of the first conquistadors," agreed the Mexican scholar and politician Justo Sierra.2 While the Creoles, drawing on this Hispanic essence, championed the cause of independence, other sectors of the population were declared either to have stood aloof from this apogee of national self-expression or to have supported the Spanish crown. In either case, such indifference to patriotic sentiments surely resulted from some grave defect that impeded active participation in national politics. Indians in particular had failed to play an "active and intelligent part" in the Peruvian independence process because of their "mental backwardness," in the view of the conservative priest Bartolomé Herrera.3

Current understandings of how different sectors of society engaged with the independence process naturally eschew explanations based on mental inadequacy, and scholars have also questioned the view that nonelites viewed independence uniquely with hostility. A number of innovative works have probed the independence-era activities of indigenous villagers, free people of color, and other subaltern groups, and a growing number of studies—including one reviewed here—consider the role of women in promoting independence.4 The significance of the Creole elite to the independence process remains, however, undisputed. Leaders such as Simón Bolívar continue to occupy the position of honor they were accorded by nineteenth-century historia patria, although interpretations of their actions have altered significantly. In John Lynch's magnificent new biography [End Page 242] of the liberator, the origins of Bolívar's commitment to independence are located not in his innate Spanish heritage, but rather in the Bourbon monarchy's "deconstruction of the creole state" (29) and the subsequent alienation of the Creole elite. Bolívar's extensive familiarity with Enlightenment texts infused his rhetoric, but, Lynch stresses, ideology alone was not the motor that powered Bolívar's vision of an independent America...