Friday, 3 February 2012

Friendly and Fractious Relationships between Liberals, Monarchists and Agents of Empire: Colombia 1828-1829

This is an extract from a working paper that I am presenting to a workshop at the Institute for the Study of the Americas in London on Friday 10th February 2012: Liberalism, Monarchy and Empire. The full paper uses the relationship between Daniel O'Leary and José María Córdova to explore some of the points made here.

Approaching Liberalism, Monarchy, Empire and Independence

The debate over the intellectual origins of independence in Hispanic America has been revived in recent years, perhaps catalysed by the bicentennial commemorations. Historians have also become increasingly aware of the international dimensions of independence, be it the geopolitics of the separation of Iberia’s American colonies, or the transatlantic or transnational nature of travel, knowledge transfer and communication technology that shaped the process of independence.
Together, these factors have created something of a renewed scramble for detecting (or claiming) the geographical origins of ideas that shaped independence. Karen Racine has written persuasively of the cultural influence of British ideas upon Latin American independence leaders, stressing their partiality for systems of checks and balances, upper houses, the Lancasterian system of monitorial education, trial by jury and laws to guarantee the freedom of the press.[1] Other authors have explored the influence of British liberalism, anti-slavery or anti-colonialism upon Latin American independence.[2] But the British are far from the only ‘presence’ is this debate. French influence has generally been considered much stronger than that of the British. The contribution of French thinkers upon the processes of independence has often been conflated with ‘Enlightenment’ ideas of liberty, fraternity and nationhood. A considerable body of work has examined the hold that ideas, arriving in the Americas from France (sometimes via the U.S.A), had upon those fighting for (and against) independence.[3]
            The idea of Spanish influence upon the independence of Spain’s own American colonies has long been relatively absent from discussion. But a new and exiting strand of this research agenda focuses on the role of Spanish Liberalism, and investigates the development of that political ideology in the Americas. Much of this research centres around the Cádiz Convention, and the Constitution of 1812 which it produced. These publications suggest that Liberalism in nineteenth-century Hispanic America cannot be understood without tracing its origins to Cádiz and the seminal debates and proposals that occurred there.[4]
            These intellectual histories have told us a lot about the writers and activists that Latin Americans looked to as they moved towards and into independence. They have also caused us to remember the contingent nature of the ways ideas crossed the Atlantic – not only in printed tracts, or translations of key Francophone or Anglophone texts, but also in the minds and experiences of migrants in both directions. Most obviously, the ‘lessons’ of the French revolutionary experience and subsequent Liberal experiments, were as often used by Latin Americans as something to be avoided, rather than emulated, because of their anxieties about social order and, especially, slavery.[5] The direct influence of the Cádiz democratic experiment were necessarily limited to those areas which had not yet thrown off colonial rule. And finally, any desire to follow or borrow ideas from Great Britain, whether liberal and democratic or conservative and aristocratic, was always contingent on thinking away around the problem that the British system was intrinsically monarchical. The at once friendly and fractious relationship between Liberal ideas of freedom with proposals to introduce a British model of constitutional monarchy – and the way empire shaped all these discussions – is the subject of this working paper.
            In my work with Gabriel Paquette and others in recent years I have tended to stress the significance of social and political change after independence in Latin America within a comparative perspective, whilst drawing attention to imperial and geopolitical continuities within the Atlantic world.[6] This approach allows us to explore in detail the many ‘ambiguous relationships’ between ideologies, parties and individuals that shaped processes of independence. During the 1820s and 1830s the relationship between Europe and Latin America was transformed out of all recognition by the rupture of independence and the warfare that brought it about in many areas. Yet many historians have pointed to substantial continuities in commerce and political thinking. Brian Hamnett has provided compelling overviews of the impact of independence upon the Iberian metropoles, and Natalia Sobrevilla’s work on the trajectories of the royalist officers from Ayacucho, shows how Spanish liberalism was shaped by the experience of colonial defeat.[7]
It is clear, then, that the emergence of liberalism in Latin America, and specifically in the Andes, occurred somewhere towards the centre of a confluence of currents of empire, anti-colonialism and political transformation. Liberalism was not intrinsically republican, as the work on Cádiz and its consequences have shown, and nor was it naturally national. The existence of national, republican traditions of Liberalism in later nineteenth-century Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, for example, was not the obvious or natural culmination of the planting in American soil of a republican, liberal seed during the process of independence.[8]

[1] Karen Racine, “‘This England and This Now’: British Cultural and Intellectual Influence in the Spanish American Independence Era”, Hispanic American Historical Review, 90:3 (2010), 423-454.
[2] For a summary of the literature, see Matthew Brown, Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simón Bolívar, Foreign Mercenaries and the Birth of New Nations (Liverpool: LUP, 2006), 1-21, also Gabriel Paquette, Gabriel. “The Intellectual Origins of British Diplomatic Recognition of the Spanish American Republics, c. 1800-1830” in Journal of Transatlantic Studies 2:1 (2004), 75-95.
[3] See summaries in Anthony McFarlane, ‘Identity, Enlightenment, and Political Dissent in late Colonial Spanish America’ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Series, 8 (1998), 309-36; J.P. Daughton, J.P. ‘When Argentina was ‘French’: Rethinking Cultural Politics and European Imperialism in Belle-Époque Buenos Aires’, Journal of Modern History 80:4 (2008),831-864.
[4] The bicentennial of 1812 has triggered a wave of conferences in 2012, out of which more publications will certainly arise. For now see Mario Rodriguez, The Cadiz Experiment in Central America, 1808 to 1826. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978, Jaime E. Rodriguez O., The Independence of Spanish America, (Cambridge: CUP, 1998); Ivana Frasquet, ‘Cádiz en América: Liberalismo y Constitución’, Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, 20:1 (2004) 21-46; Roberto Breña, El primer liberalismo español y los procesos de emancipación de América, 1808-1824 (Una revisión historiográfica del liberalismo hispánico) (Mexico: El Colegio de Mexico, 2006).  
[5] For example, David Geggus, ed., The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001).
[6] Brown and Paquette, ‘The Persistence of Mutual Influence: Europe and Latin America in the 1820s’, European History Quarterly (2011), 41:3, 387-396; and Brown and Paquette, eds., Continuities after Colonialism, Europe and Latin America in the 1820s, (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, forthcoming 2012), esp. our introduction, ‘Between the Age of Atlantic Revolutions and the Age of Empire: Europe and Latin America in the Axial Decade of the 1820s’, 1-25.
[7] Brian Hamnett, ‘Spain and Portugal and the Loss of their Continental American Territories in the 1820s: An Examination of the Issues’, European History Quarterly July 2011 41: 397-412; Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, “From Europe to the Andes and back: Becoming ‘Los Ayacuchos’”, European History Quarterly. (2011).
[8] On this subject see Ivan Jaksic and Eduardo Posada-Carbó, eds., Liberalismo y el poder: Latinoamérica en el siglo XIX (Santiago de Chile: FCE, 2011), especially the chapters by Joseph Straka on Venezuela, Eduardo Posada-Carbó on Colombia and Carmen McEvoy on Peru.

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