Chilean War of Independence: History, Causes & Consequences

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Chilean Declaration of Independence

Independence of Chile: Political and military process that allowed Chile to be liberated from Spanish domination at the beginning of the 19th century.

1808 – 1814 The Revolutionary Civil War in Chile

What was the Independence of Chile?

The political and military process that freed Chile from Spanish domination at the beginning of the 19th century is known as Independence of Chile.

Chile was part of the Spanish Empire since the mid-16th century, when the conqueror Pedro de Valdivia occupied the central valley and founded the city of Santiago in 1541.

The independence process began on September 18, 1810, when the First National Government Board was formed. It concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Tantauco, which in 1826 ended the war between patriots and royalists.

Chilean War of Independence: History, Causes & Consequences

Chilean War of Independence

Proclamation and oath of the Independence of Chile (1945), painting by the Chilean artist Pedro de Subercaseaux.

Stages of the Independence of Chile

The process of Independence of Chile can be divided into 3 stages: Old Homeland, Spanish Reconquest and New Homeland.

  • Old Homeland (1810-1814)

After the news of the dissolution of the Central Board of Seville was known in America, the Chilean patriots formed the First National Board of Government, on September 18, 1810.

This first autonomous government displaced Spanish officials from power, even though they still formally maintained loyalty to the captive king, Fernando VII.

In September 1811, a radical Creole leader, José Miguel Carrera, led a coup in order to convene a congress that would proclaim independence and break ties with Spain.

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Alarmed by this situation, the viceroy of PeruJosé Fernando de Abascal y Sousa, sent royalist troops to regain control of Chile.

After several armed confrontations, in May 1814, patriots and royalists signed the Treaty of Lircay, according to which the Viceroyalty of Peru would stop intervening in Chile, in exchange for the patriot government recognizing loyalty to Fernando VII and sending representatives to the Cortes de Cádiz, which had sanctioned the Spanish Constitution of 1812.

But when it was learned in America that Ferdinand VII had dissolved those courts and restored absolutism, the royalists breached the treaty and resumed the fight.

On October 2, 1814, royalist troops under the command of Mariano Osorio defeated the independentistas in the battle of Rancagua, thus ending the Old Homeland.

  • Spanish Reconquest (1814-1817)

After Rancagua, the royalists occupied the city of Santiago, while hundreds of patriots crossed the Andes Mountains and took refuge in San Juan and Mendoza.

During the Spanish Reconquest, full Spanish rule was restored, so the freedoms conquered since 1810 were suppressed.

  • New Homeland (1817-1826)

It began on February 12, 1817, when the Army of the Andes, led by José de San Martín from the River Plate, defeated the royalists in the battle of Chacabuco.

After that victory, the patriotic forces made their triumphal entry into the city of Santiago, on February 14. The following day an open council was held, which offered the position of supreme director to San Martín, but he rejected it and then fell to Bernardo O’Higgins.

After the surprise defeat of Cancha Rayada, the independence of Chile was assured after the triumph achieved by O’Higgins and San Martín in the battle of Maipú, on April 5, 1818.

From then on, San Martín concentrated his energies on the preparation of an Argentine-Chilean army, which on August 20, 1820 left the port of Valparaíso for the coast of Peru.

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O’Higgins, for his part, planned a military campaign in southern Chile, where royalist troops had regrouped. But due to internal conflicts, he had to resign as Supreme Director on January 28, 1823.

He was succeeded by Ramón Freire, who concluded the war against the royalists and signed the Treaty of Tantauco which, in 1826, established the incorporation of the Chiloé archipelago into the Republic of Chile.

Resignation of O'Higgins in Chile

The resignation of O’Higgins as the supreme director of Chile, according to a painting by the Chilean artist Manuel Antonio Caro, made in 1875.

Most Important Battles of the Independence of Chile

Among the most important weapons facts of the war for the Independence of Chile, the following stand out:

  • Note: the underlined correspond to the belligerent side that triumphed in each confrontation.
Name Date Belligerents
Striped Court Combat March 29, 1814 Patriots vs. Realistic
Combat of the 3 Acequias August 26, 1814 Carrerinos vs. O’Higginists
Battle of Rancagua October 1-2, 1814 Patriots vs. Realistic
Battle of Chacabuco February 12, 1817 Patriots vs. Realistic
Battle of Cerro Gavilán May 5, 1817 Patriots vs. Realistic
Talcahuano Assault December 5 and 6, 1817 Patriots vs. Realistic
Battle of Striped Court March 19, 1818 Patriots vs. Realistic
Battle of Maipú April 5, 1818 Patriots vs. Realistic

Causes of the Independence of Chile

In the independence process, both external and internal causes can be identified.

External Causes of the Chilean War of Independence

The external causes of the Independence of Chile are the following:

  • The Independence of the United States, proclaimed in 1776, which was a model to be imitated by the Chilean patriots.
  • The influence of the ideas spread by the Enlightenment and by the French Revolution, especially those of freedom, equality before the law and division of powers.
  • The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), in which the invasion of Spain took place, which in 1808 put the Bourbon monarchy in crisis.
  • The formation of boards of autonomous governments in Caracas, Buenos Aires and Bogotá.
  • The irruption of the liberating expedition from the United Provinces of South America, which crossed the Andes commanded by San Martín.
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Internal Causes of the Chilean Declaration of Independence

The internal causes of the Independence of Chile are the following:

  • The rivalry between the peninsulares and the Creoles, who competed to occupy the most important positions in the colonial administration.
  • The validity of the commercial monopoly, which prevented Creole merchants from trading with Great Britain and other European powers.
  • The dissatisfaction with the abuses of power committed by Francisco Antonio García Carrasco, last governor of the Kingdom of Chile.

Consequences of the Independence of Chile

Political, social and economic consequences of the Chilean independence process can be identified.

Economic-Social Consequences of the Chilean War of Independence

The socio-economic consequences of the Independence of Chile:

  • The continuity of the social structure inherited from the Colony, which remained intact for many years.
  • A severe economic crisis, due to poor harvests, financial disorders and the destruction of the fields of large farms during the wars of Independence.
  • The liberalization of trade, which benefited a group of merchants, known by the name of tobacconists.

Political Consequences of the Independence of Chile

The political consequences of the Independence of Chile:

  • The replacement of the monarchy by the republican form of government, with division of powers.
  • The writing of the Constitution of 1822, which regulated the relations between the three powers and enshrined the rights and guarantees of Chilean citizens.
  • The suppression of titles of nobility and the establishment of equality before the law.
  • The conflicts between centralists and federalists, which led to the suppression of the Constitution of 1822 and the sanction of the constitutional text of 1826.

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