The article attempts to identify the principal processes and patterns, divergences and contrasts that operated during the Independence period in Latin America. These are frequently lost among the detail involved in discussing this period either in monographic or general textual form. The method is to take Spanish and Portuguese America together. Comparison takes place here at a number of levels, not just between Spanish and Portuguese America. The article gives prominence to the regional and social dimensions, rather than to the economic, since this would require separate treatment in view of the issues that emerge.
The argument is that: (1) Independence formed part of a broader historical process that covered the readjustments of the period from c. 1770–c. 1870 not just between metropoles and dominions but also within colonial territories; (2) there was not always a clear-cut dichotomy between Empire or Independence, but many different positions between the two polarities; (3) cross-class and multi-ethnic coalitions emerged in several instances; considerable evidence exists of popular participation; essentially, though, the process of Independence was elite-directed and led frequently to elite-dominated ‘national states’, within which pre-existing social issues remained unresolved; (4) nationalism did not make independent states; nation and national identity would have to be created after Independence.
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