Liberty, fragile fraternity and inequality in early-republican Spanish America: assessing the impact of French Revolutionary ideals

David J. Robinson

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3 Scopus citations


Though the French and American Revolutions provided Spanish America with examples of social action and institutional change, they were viewed as French national and British colonial responses to particular historical circumstances, and were thus adopted only selectively as models by Spain's colonies. While the ideological bases of the French Revolution provided key ingredients for revolutionary thought in Spanish America, the violence and social restructuring that resulted from it, and especially the dramatic seizure of power by ex-slaves in France's own colony of Saint-Domingue, provoked many to question the benefits of such radical change. The white colonial elite, while seizing the opportunity to free themselves from the metropolis after Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808, were nevertheless unnerved by the removal of what they viewed to be the legitimate royal authority. Although they sought liberty from Spain, and fraternity amongst the former Spanish dependencies, the newly-empowered white population did not wish to jeopardize their own position of authority by providing equality for all. Revolutionary change which threatened the structure of power and the old social order was postponed indefinitely. If French revolutionary ideals were not allowed to bring about as much social change as many would have liked, Napoleonic France provided an obvious model for efficient governmental organization and administration. Indeed, the ever-widening cultural gulf separating Spain from its former possessions progressively stimulated a second wave of French influences which affected key components of the evolving nation states of Spanish America throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-75
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Archaeology


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