Americas in the Revolutionary Era

Course No. 8617
Professor Marshall C. Eakin, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
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Course No. 8617
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Course Overview

The revolution that created the United States was only one of many American revolutions. From 1776 to 1825, wars for independence erupted throughout the Americas—from Boston to Buenos Aires—creating 19 new nations. What common roots did these revolutionary movements share? What role did such events as the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the French Revolution play? How did the "radicalism" of the U.S. revolution affect other European colonies in the Western Hemisphere? How did Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion and occupation of Spain spark revolts across Spanish America?

The Americas in the Revolutionary Era answers these and many more important but often overlooked questions about the tumultuous political history of our part of the world. Professor Marshall C. Eakin explains the cultural, economic, and political pressures each of these new American nations faced in achieving independence. In addition, he examines—through the unique figures and situations present in each country—exactly why each revolution progressed as it did, succeeding or failing, its history written "in ink and in blood."

The Americas' "Other" Revolutions and Founding Fathers

Beginning with the revolution in our own 13 colonies, these lectures examine the uprisings and invasions that created the independent nation of Haiti in 1804; the wars for independence in Spanish South America; the bloody uprisings that led to Mexican independence; and the relatively bloodless revolt in Brazil. You will also consider "counterexamples," nations that failed to become independent or followed unusual patterns, such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, the British West Indies, and Paraguay.

This is also an opportunity to learn more about the "other" founding fathers of the Americas: Haiti's Toussaint L'Ouverture; Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar in Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador; José de San Martín in Argentina and Bernardo O'Higgins in Chile; and Agustín de Iturbide of Mexico.

The Individuals Who Shaped Our Hemisphere

Professor Marshall C. Eakin is ideally suited to lead this fascinating excursion across so many cultures. Originally a student of both anthropology and history before focusing on the latter, he has worked, lived, studied, and done research across all of Latin America since he was a high school student. As Professor Eakin points out, "structures and institutions matter, but history is made by individuals." The significant figures you will meet, whose stories are brought to life in episodes that are often as surprising as they are fascinating, include:

  • José Antonio Páez, the charismatic leader of the llaneros—the Venezuelan horsemen who first fought and then allied with Bolívar—who rode into battle accompanied by an immense African bodyguard who would protect and carry him during his frequent epileptic seizures.
  • The colorful Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, the British naval mercenary whose key role in helping to win the independence of Brazil, Chile, and Peru included managing to steal the Peruvian flagship during an important battle.
  • José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, the authoritarian dictator who walled off Paraguay from the surrounding world for 30 years, spurning modernity at the same time as he achieved for his nation such self-sufficiency that today historians are reconsidering their once negative view of him.
  • André Rigaud, the mulatto son of a Haitian native and a French nobleman. Fiery, intellectual, and idealistic, he commanded troops on behalf of the colonists in the American Revolution. Yet he eventually developed a visceral hatred of whites, and would arrive in Haiti preaching the gospel of class and race genocide.

The Human Side of the Quest for Independence

Throughout these lectures, as Professor Eakin explores the forces that shaped each nation's path to independence, he never allows you to forget that these forces ultimately translate into the events of people's lives. He brings his perspective down to ground level, spanning oceans and mountain ranges to translate those forces into dramatic events, including:

A riveting portrait of life among the slaves of what was then known as Saint Domingue (later Haiti), including the conditions of their plight and the brutal Code Noir under which they lived. The Haitian revolt remains to this day the only successful slave rebellion in the hemisphere: the nightmare that white slaveholders had always feared.

A brilliant description of the chaotic evacuation of the Portuguese royal family and its entourage—10,000 people in all—as they fled to Brazil only an hour ahead of Napoleon's troops. They would rule the remains of their empire from Rio, which they would attempt to make, ironically, into a tropical version of Versailles.

The bold exploits of Simón Bolívar, including his remarkable and dramatic march from the tropics of eastern Venezuela through the 13,000-foot passes of the Andes to defeat the Spanish at Boyacá and liberate Colombia. Embittered late in life by his failure to foster true freedom or stable governments in five South American nations, Bolívar wrote that "he who serves a revolution, ploughs the sea."

The heroic resistance to Napoleon exhibited by the Spanish people—with some of our best documentation available in the paintings of Goya—including the tactics that gave the world the term "guerilla warfare."

This 24-lecture course is both grand drama and an absorbing intellectual exercise in comparative history. At the end of these lectures, you will have a detailed understanding of how our hemisphere took shape, and why.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Revolutions and Wars for Independence
    This lecture outlines the plan and logic of the course and puts forth its major themes, along with an explanation of the critical difference between the concepts of revolution and wars for independence. x
  • 2
    Origins of Revolution in the Atlantic World
    Important transformations have shaped the Atlantic world by the middle of the 18th century, including the Enlightenment, the revolution in commerce and trade, and the Industrial Revolution. x
  • 3
    Colonial Empires on the Eve of Revolution
    Professor Eakin surveys the dimensions and key characteristics of the large empires that Spain, Portugal, France, and England had established in the Americas by the middle of the 18th century. x
  • 4
    The "North" American Revolution Emerges
    After surveying the origins of the Thirteen Colonies, as well as their similarities and differences, Dr. Eakin traces the emergence of the colonies' unity and their movement toward independence. x
  • 5
    From Lexington and Concord to Yorktown
    Here we find a chronicle of the course of the fighting during our own U.S. revolution, from the action at Lexington and Concord to the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. x
  • 6
    The Radicalism of the American Revolution
    Here we consider a debate that still rages after more than 200 years: Was the American Revolution really a radical break with a monarchial past, or did it represent a conservative effort by planters to seize power and control the development of an already divided society? x
  • 7
    Slave Rebellion in St. Domingue
    This is the first half of a two-part examination of the only successful slave rebellion in the Americas, including the impact of the American and French Revolutions, the two most important influences on Latin American revolutionaries after 1789. x
  • 8
    The Haitian Revolution
    Over more than a decade, Haiti's rebellious slaves, along with some free blacks, manage to defeat invading armies from France, England, and Spain, with implications that will continue to resonate throughout the Americas. x
  • 9
    Seeds of Rebellion in Spanish America
    By 1750, the Spanish Empire in the Americas has been in place for two-and-a-half centuries and is straining to survive. This lecture begins an examination of the wars for independence faced by Spain. x
  • 10
    Napoleon Invades Spain and Portugal
    Although modernization and reform have set the stage for the wars for independence, it is the Napoleonic Wars—especially Napoleon's invasion of Spain when he sparked rebellion by removing King Fernando VII from power in 1808—that trigger Spanish America's wars for independence. x
  • 11
    Francisco de Miranda—The Precursor
    This lecture introduces the most glamorous and dashing figure in the wars for independence, whose life and work foreshadow the generation of leaders who will lead those wars and who mentors the most famous of those liberators. x
  • 12
    Simon Bolivar—The Liberator
    Professor Eakin looks closely at the life of the most famous of Latin America's revolutionary figures, comparing and contrasting him as the "George Washington" of a half-dozen South American nations. x
  • 13
    Liberating Northern South America
    Bolivar overcomes a disastrous early failure and exile in the Caribbean to liberate Venezuela and the rest of northern South America in a bloody struggle that will consume more than a decade. x
  • 14
    San Martin and Argentine Independence
    The struggle for independence in Argentina and Uruguay revolves around the figure of José de San Mart'n, the southern South American counterpart of Bolivar. x
  • 15
    Bernardo O’Higgins and Chile
    The illegitimate son of the Irish-born former viceroy of Peru, who struggled to win the recognition denied him by his father, Bernardo O'Higgins emerges as the great military hero of Chilean independence. x
  • 16
    Liberating Peru
    The liberation of Peru, the great Spanish stronghold in South America, is accomplished from two directions, with Bolivar leading the attack from the north and San Martin from the south. x
  • 17
    Mexico—Race and Class Warfare
    Professor Eakin looks at the first of two stages in the war for Mexican independence—the race and class war that begins in 1810 and which is the ultimate nightmare of the Latin American elites. x
  • 18
    Mexico—Empire and Chaos
    In the aftermath of social revolution and racial war, Spaniards and Creoles close ranks to preserve peace, but events in Europe spark a second war for independence. x
  • 19
    Brazil—A Royal Revolution?
    The path to independence taken by Brazil, despite being similar in many ways, differs from that taking place in Spanish America in crucial respects. x
  • 20
    Failed Movements in the Caribbean
    Some American colonies, despite the successful wars for independence taking place around them, do not achieve independence in this era. This lecture looks at Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the troubled case of the Dominican Republic. x
  • 21
    The British West Indies and Canada
    Professor Eakin looks closely at the British West Indies and Canada, two more counterpoints to the successful wars of revolution and independence swirling around them. x
  • 22
    The Strange Case of Paraguay
    Perhaps the most unusual country in Latin America in the 19th century, Paraguay was led by the authoritarian José Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, who forced it to turn inward in isolation. x
  • 23
    Revolutions Made and Unmade
    Professor Eakin returns to the "big picture" of the age of revolutions, examining the processes at work and comparing the revolutions of the Americas. x
  • 24
    The Aftermath of Independence
    The course concludes with a wide-angle look at the Americas in the aftermath of the wars for independence, and reflect on the legacies left by these wars for the many peoples of the Americas. x

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Your professor

Marshall C. Eakin

About Your Professor

Marshall C. Eakin, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
Dr. Marshall C. Eakin is Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, where he has taught since 1983. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Costa Rica and at the University of Kansas, where he also earned his master's degree. He earned his Ph.D. from UCLA. Before taking his position at Vanderbilt, he taught at Loyola Marymount University. He has won many teaching awards at Vanderbilt, including the...
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Americas in the Revolutionary Era is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 35.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a fabulous course This is an amazing course that covers a ton of material in a way that manages to address both the common themes and the particularities of the various nations profiled. Like many Americans, I have very little sense of the history that has occurred south of the Rio Grande. This course has gone a very long way toward remedying that. And some of the characters profiled are absolutely fascinating. I kind of can't believe that they aren't better known.
Date published: 2018-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Liberty for Whom? This course is a rich feast for anyone who loves comparative history. Professor Eakin puts the American Revolution into its proper context as merely the first in a series of anti-colonial movements that ended European rule in most of the New World during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Those other movements, however, were anything but imitations of the American and differed from each other as well. The differences began with the colonial era. The 13 British colonies that later became the US were already far more liberal as to local self-rule and religion than their Latin American counterparts, because Britain itself was Europe’s most liberal great power with a strong parliament, limited monarchy, and some toleration for worship outside the official church. In the colonies, Britain practiced “salutary neglect” until 1763. France, Spain and Portugal, by contrast, had strong monarchies, legislative assemblies that were weak or non-existent and religious repression, so their colonies were likewise strongly top-down and conservative. There were at least three types of colonies: those populated mostly be settlers from the European homeland (northern British America, Chile), those representing a small white elite atop a large Indian majority and a mixed-race (mestizo) caste (Peru, Mexico, Central America, Venezuela and Colombia), and those with a small white elite and perhaps a white commoner class, a huge population of African slaves, and a mixed-race (mulatto) caste (Saint Domingue, Jamaica, Cuba). Southern British America, especially South Carolina, looked less like the northern colonies and more like the Caribbean. Independence movements broke out at various times and for various reasons. Mainland British colonists rebelled in 1775 because the Parliament in London ended its “salutary neglect” policy by trying to impose new taxes and assert its authority from 1763-74. Saint Domingue (soon to be Haiti) erupted in response to the French Revolution in 1789. Latin America remained formally loyal despite the resentments of native-born whites (creoles) against European-born officials (peninsulars) until Napoleon invaded Portugal and took over Spain in 1808. Political and social change varied greatly according to the social structure in each colony. The new United States, where white settlers held an overall majority, replaced monarchy with a republican government responsible to masses of white male voters. Northern states abolished slavery, but southern states protected and extended it westward, creating a divergence that led to civil war in 1861. The most radical case was Haiti, where a massive slave rebellion wiped out the white presence entirely, serving for the next two generations as a warning to plantation colonies elsewhere not to risk aspiring to independence. Cuba, for example, remained loyal to Spain until the 1890s. In much of South America creole elites who fought for independence did so against royalist Indians and mestizos as well as regular troops from Spain because both sides understood that the creoles intended in no way to share liberty or prosperity with the non-white masses. The result was postwar territorial fragmentation and dictatorship. Brazil achieved independence easily because it remained a monarchy under the Portuguese royal house with slavery kept intact. In the Caribbean Britain abolished slavery from above and kept its colonies until after World War II. Canada received self-rule as a gift in 1867 and remained loyal to the monarchy; no revolution was necessary. This course also shows off a fascinating cast of rebel characters. Americans will naturally know about George Washington and likely have heard of Simon Bolivar, but there are many others previously unknown to me, like Bernardo O’Higgins, the rebel leader in Chile, José Francia, who in Paraguay combined dictatorship with radical land reform and autarky, and José de San Martin, the liberator of Argentina and Peru. The most fascinating is Francisco de Miranda, the first great advocate of independence for Spanish America. He fought for Britain and Spain, met top politicians in the new US, toured and womanized throughout Europe, fought for the French revolution, and tried to interest the British in supporting rebellion in South America. On his own he led two small invasions of Venezuela and at the end of the second (1812) was betrayed into Spanish hands by Bolivar. In this lineup Washington, for all that he was a slaveholder, looks much the best. He ordered no atrocities as did Bolivar and Haitian leader Toussaint de L’Ouverture. He willingly gave up power twice and helped establish long-lasting precedents for the constitutional exercise of presidential power, unlike, for example, Bolivar, O’Higgins or the opportunistic Emperor Agustin de Iturbide and President Lopez de Santa Anna in Mexico. Only San Martin’s resignation and self-imposed exile after a mysterious 1822 meeting with Bolivar compares to Washington’s honorable conduct. I usually have at least one or two quibbles about Teaching Company courses, and here it’s two. Lecture 20’s description of events in Santo Domingo (the Spanish half of the island Haiti is on) seemed muddled. Lecture 5 would have been even better with a brief discussion of the famous proclamation by Lord Dunmore offering freedom to any slave who joined the British side; this policy was similar to French and Spanish alliances with rebel slaves and peasants in Haiti and South America. Otherwise, this course, now available only as an audio download, is an excellent learning experience and a real bargain.
Date published: 2017-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evolution of US put in context... I very much enjoyed the content of these lectures, often opening my eyes to historical facts of which I had not been aware...particularly the role the Caribbean colonies/nations played in the establishment of the independent spirit of Britain's North American colonies. The lectures' organization, structure, style and pace was excellent, but Dr Eakin's presentation style sometimes lacked the enthusiasm I enjoy in lectures. The accounts of the struggles for independence in South America, pitting the likes of Bolivar, San Martin, Miranda and the ever-favorite O’Higgins against the Iberian Empires could easily have been presented in a more animated fashion. The exploits of San Martin's crossing of the Andes could be one of history's more famous military maneuver, rivaling Hannibal's crossing of the Alps. (BTW, San Martin crossing apparently occurred in December...the 'dead of winter'...which is, of course summertime in the southern hemisphere). I particularly enjoyed the last few lectures in which Dr Eakin compared the America's Revolutions...placing the US and Haiti as the most revolutionary in style and novelty, and Mexico as perhaps the least successful (omitting Paraguay because of that country's unique situation). Canada, and some of the British-held colonies/nations serve as a counterpoint to revolution, showing more of a peaceful evolution away from crown-rule to self-rule that could be interpreted as continuing to this day. Overall, a very good course that serves well as a prerequisite for any examination of early US history...particularly events leading up to, and including, the North American Revolution. Recommended...when offered on sale, with an additional 50% discount (I love that part).
Date published: 2017-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of South American Independence The course surveys the processes of independence in the American continents. There is quite a wide spectrum of these: from the (only) successful slave uprising in Haiti, to Canada’s gradual, almost evolutionary gaining of independence from England. Through these stories of independence, starting with the American revolution of 1776 against Britain, Professor Eakin explains why many of the independent countries developed the way they did. Many fantastically famous South American liberators are surveyed, including Simon Bolivar, San Martin, and O’Higgins. I spent a lot of time backpacking in South America about twenty years ago, and these names were practically everywhere, so it was nice to finally get a comprehensive understanding of their contribution. The course provides a lot of insight on the reasons that the Latin American and North American countries developed so differently. Professor Eakin tells us that this is primarily because the North was influenced most strongly by England which had a relatively parliamentary government, and was involved in commerce – creating a more modern economy. The Spanish colonies were governed by the absolutist regime of the Spanish Monarchs, so they never developed the concepts of enlightenment natural rights in these territories as they did in the North. The Spanish and Portuguese monarchies were fading away during the 19th centuries, much with the help of Napoleon, so many of the wars of revolution that took place in Latin America were not as bloody and difficult as what the North Americans had to face against the British. The heart of the course is to go over the narrative of these processes, be they revolutionary wars or diplomatic contracts. Professor Eakin provides a lot of insight as to similarities and differences between these processes, as well as plotting down in some detail the stories of the great men involved. Overall this has been an interesting, primarily narrative account of the gaining of independence of the modern American nations – with most of the focus being on the South American countries. Professor Eakin’s presentation was interesting and insightful, though I did not find it particularly thrilling in any way. The course provided a lot of new knowledge for me and I’m glad I decided to hear it.
Date published: 2016-08-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course on independence in the Americas This one is a very good course on the subject, with an entertaining delivery. I am from Southern South America, so parts of this history I know quite well, like the San Martin and O'Higgins history. From the course, I've learned quite a bit about Mexico and Central America's road to independence, where I had little knowledge, and also about Northern South America (Bolivar and Sucre), where my knowledge was average. Having said this, at least regarding Southern South America, sometimes Prof. Eakin is sloppy. For example, he says that San Martin crossed the Andes in January 1817, winter (unless I heard it wrong, I listen to courses while I drive to work). Actually, January is summer in the Southern hemisphere, I don't think San Martin's feat could have been accomplished in winter (Prof. Eakin certainly knows this, I just point it out as a sign of sloppiness). He insinuates that Artigas, the Uruguayan hero of independence, had to exile himself in Paraguay after being forced by the Portuguese. In fact, Artigas escaped to Paraguay after being defeated by another "caudillo". The professor also claims that San Martin remained faithful to his wife. Certainly, his austere manners were a contrast to Bolivar, but it is documented that he had at least a mistress in Lima (not that this is very important, but it was brought up in the course). Another point where I differ is on his assessment of Paraguay. I agree that it is a very strange case. Certainly, Gaspar de Francia kept the country completely isolated until 1840. The professor claims that Paraguay continued isolated under the Lopez (father and son) until 1870. I disagree with this. Solano Lopez, as a young man, traveled in Europe (where he would meet his future wife, Madame Lynch), and he was an admirer of Napoleon III. When he succeeded his father in the 1860s, he brought English engineers to build his railroads, and then got heavily involved in other South American countries affairs. He attacked Brazil in 1864 in opposition to Brazil's meddling in Uruguay, and later, Argentina in 1865, on Argentina's insistence of remaining neutral. This became what is known as the Triple Alliance War, which was disastrous to Paraguay (perhaps it would be nice to have a course on this war). In spite of these minor points, I strongly recommend the course.
Date published: 2016-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Both Prof Eakin courses are excellent. In this one he does a very nice comparative study of how different areas chose different paths after severing their ties to Europe. This was very exciting and a history not so easy to find and am glad the great courses filled the gap. I think the professor clarified the impact of for example the Haitian revolution in other areas of the continent. Some went even more ultraconservative and never really changed their social structure even up till now as he called "same mule different rider" is a clear way to describe them. The narrative of the life of caudillos as Bolivar and San Martin is also great, the former attached to power and glory and later frustrated on his own words. The latter a former soldier for the empire than turn his back on them to later go back in exile. I even read The General in his labyrinth once more after 10 years and this time with way more appreciation.
Date published: 2016-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course on a Neglected Subject Audio download reviewed As a resident of Mexico, it is possible, more likely probable that my view is biased. Comprehensive surveys of Latin America and the Caribbean are noticeable in their absence. I knew about Simon Bolivar, San Martian and some others before taking this course, even to the extent of visiting Bolivar's birthplace in Caracas. However, liberators such as Bernardo O'Higgins were completely unknown to me before listening to Professor Eakin's lecture. As one more example of something I did not know, the meeting of San Martian and Bolivar in Peru, and San Martin's decision to withdraw back to southern South America, was another event of which I was unaware. Dr. Eakin has a measured and deliberate delivery style, often pausing for effect or to reassess his notes, sometimes perhaps taking a bit too long in his pauses. But that is quibbling, as his content and his ability to connect what was happening in the New World as being influenced by matters in Europe was eye-opening to me and something I found quite fascinating. Of course this is not a complete history, but rather the focus is on the wars and movement toward independence for all of the Americas. The professor also includes places such as Canada and some islands in the Caribbean that did not have revolutions and his view as to why not. This course is highly recommended for those with an interest in the similarities and differences in the American revolution and those of Latin America. Or for those of us who are not so aware os some of the early history of Latin America. And some students of Lating American history will benefit from the inclusion of the revolutionary era in America and Canada.
Date published: 2015-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent In Every Way AUDIO: CDs Professor Eakin has produced an excellent course, following up on his equally impressive TC course ‘The Conquest of the Americas’. His lecture style, clarity, and organization make him a stellar (more than five stars!) TC professor. A lot of territory is covered in here, from Canada to the tip of South America, and a lot of information and analysis are brought to bear on a great variety of countries. What I like most about this course is how Professor Eakin provides pertinent historical and other background on each country. Especially important are such matters as colonial status, demographics (e.g., European born, Creole, Native Americans, African slaves), culture, and geography. Despite the wealth of information and insight, I did not feel rushed or overwhelmed. What I did take away from this course is that there were few true revolutions in the Americas from the late 18th through early 19th centuries. Professor Eakins cites Haiti and the United States as true revolutions, with most others simply “trading riders for the same mule”. He also takes a close look at the leaders of the period (e.g., Toussaint L’Ouverture, Simon Bolivar, and George Washington), often comparing and contrasting them and explaining the conditions and events that contributed to their successes and failures. This course has an excellent guidebook, including many maps, a timeline, glossary, and biographical notes. Very highly recommended!
Date published: 2015-10-13
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