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Some Late Colonial Changes of the Spanish Bourbon Monarchs (revised)

©    2001    Donald J. Mabry 

The Enlightenment involved the belief that reason could be used to achieve progress. The influence of Benjamin Franklin was great.

Jerónimo Feijóo did a lot of his work in the first half of the 18th. He climatized some of the Enlightenment ideas to the Spanish environment; to make them acceptable to Spain. People such as Feijóo hid the foreign origins of the ideas, couching them in Spanish terms. He was a vehicle of the Enlightenment into Spain and Spanish America.

José María Campomanes and Gaspar de Jovellanos were examples of Enlightenment men in office. José Celestino Mutis was a Spanish botanist who worked in New Granada, leading the Royal Botanical Expedition to America. Taught a group of Colombians to observe the natural environment closely.

Spanish crown was interested in the scientific and technological work of the Enlightenment and thought it could keep out new political and social ideas. The French Revolution the turning point; it so scared the Crown that the acquisition of new ideas was discouraged as being un-Spanish.

Some sixty Sociedades Económicas del Amigos del País were formed in Spain between 1775 and independence and fourteen in Spanish America in 1783-1819. They were apolitical but their focus on local conditions and how to improve the economy inevitably led to some dissatisfaction with the status quo. In America, the work of the Societies encouraged Americanism as their studies made criollos realize that they did not need Spain.

Inquisition after 1789 especially became more and more political. There were anachronistic institutions which were recognized as such.

Spain was more dubious about the Societies in America than Spain.

J. T. Lanning in writing about the introduction of new ideas, said that these ideas were taken in under all sorts of disguises. They didn't state source, that they were from Voltaire, Franklin, and Rousseau, etc. By the end of the colonial period, the ideas were transferred immediately. However, there were still barriers.

Crown displeased with the Societies' examination of local problems, especially since they did it without supervision.


Colonial newspapers contributed to a sense of Americanism. They were a focus for a discussion of the problems of isolation. They didn't have people comparable to Campomanes and Jovellanos Didn't have printed materials dealing with America. A few little ephemeral news sheets were printed in the early 18th century such as the Gazeta de Guatemala. But in late 1780s, in the 1790s and in the first two decades of the the 19th century, there were more. Creole and Enlightenment oriented, printed for a considerable period of time. Some became controversial. One example was the Mercurio Peruano which was published for four years in the 1790. It was a creole publication sponsored by the local Society members and enlightenment members. A friar, just arrived from the Philippines, criticized Peru and criollos. The Mercurio Peruano replied and engaged in debate with the pro-Spanish paper. Gazeta de Guatemala.

During the French Revolution, the Crown suspended publication because of a "paper shortage." The printer replied that it was another attempt to shut up consideration of new ideas.

Majority of the literate population was indifferent or opposed to new ideas. It is possible, however, that a lot just said nothing,

Crown didn't like the aggregation of power in private groups, especially if they engaged in criticism.

The Gaceta de Guatemala held an essay contest on the question of whether Indians should wear Spanish clothing. Articles written by Sociedad members. Concerned that encouraging the Indians to dress like Spaniards might encourage integration, which "white" society opposed.

In latter part of the 18th century, colonials got pretty excited about the argument that men couldn't live in the tropics, that the American climate and diet caused America to be a cultural desert. Criollos resented that assertion [rightfully, since it is scientifically wrong].


Lots of work has been done on this subject and there are plenty of records. It is difficult hard to find records that show why or how people thought. How many tumults? A lot. What does it mean? Focusing on tumults creates a biased understanding of life. People tend to report excitement not things that are calm. Or upheavals. Control of the upper class was very firm. Don't get attempted revolutions. Tumults were riots. There was no pattern but in late colonial period one does begin to see something more closely approaching a pattern. More, bigger, and with a high frequency. Why? Precursors acted on the basis of these.

Some of these late colonial tumults were:

Yucatan Indians created a kingship as a result of complaints, trying to get away from the tribute system, the system of justice, and the Christian church.

In Paraguay there was the revolt of the comuneros, townsmen revolting against the centralization of authority.

In the Colombian province of Socorro in 1781, there was a protest against new taxes and the collection practices of the visitador. The criollo leaders, aided by mestizos, threw out the Spanish officials and elected a junta. They then marched to Bogotá to oust the governor but they dispersed after the archbishop persuaded them that reforms would be made. Then the Crown jailed some of the leaders and sought out other radicals.

Tupac Amarú II, born José Gabriel Condorcanqui, was an educated Indian and direct descendant of the Inca Tupac Amarú, was educated by Jesuits. He opposed the suppression of the Indians. When new taxes were imposed, he seized a corregidor and executed him. He adopted the name Tupac Amarú and called upon Indians, mestizos, zambos, criollos, and slaves to join him in driving the Spanish out. The rebellion lasted from 1780 to 1783. The upper class (Spanish and Indian) closed ranks as well as most mestizos. The Spaniards feared a race war. He was caught, mutilated, and executed in 1781, his body parts displayed in various towns to discourage possible rebellion. His Indian followers continued the bloody rebellion until finally defeated.

You can read about and other topics in colonial Latin American history by buying and reading
Colonial Latin America by Don Mabry.

Click on the book cover or the title to go to Llumina Press.