15.8 The Americas in the Age of Imperialism

After the wars of independence in the early 1800s, Latin American nations hoped to build democratic governments. That dream soon faded as power struggles erupted across the region. During the Age of Imperialism, Latin American economies became increasingly dependent upon those of more developed countries. Britain, and later the United States, invested heavily in Latin America.

Illustration of a battle at sea between boats. Some of the ships fly the American flag.

Check Understanding

The United States helped Cuba fight Spain in the Spanish-American War. The U.S. Navy destroyed a Spanish fleet off Santiago de Cuba in 1898. What did the United States gain after the war?


  • Identify the political problems faced by new Latin American nations.
  • Describe Mexico's struggle to achieve stability.
  • Explain why Latin America entered a cycle of economic dependence.
  • Analyze the influence of the United States on Latin America, including the opening of the Panama Canal.
  • Analyze how Canada achieved self-rule.

Key Terms

  • regionalism
  • caudillo
  • Benito Juárez
  • La Reforma
  • peonage
  • Monroe Doctrine
  • Panama Canal
  • confederation
  • dominion
  • métis

Political Problems Linger

Simón Bolívar had hoped to create a single Latin American nation. After all, the people shared a common language, religion, and cultural heritage. But feuds among leaders, geographic barriers, and local nationalism shattered that dream of unity. In the end, 20 separate nations emerged.

These new nations wrote constitutions modeled on that of the United States. They set up republics with elected legislatures. During the 1800s, however, most Latin American nations were plagued by revolts, civil war, and dictatorships

The Legacy of Colonialism

Many problems facing the new nations had their origins in colonial rule. Spain and Portugal had kept tight control on their colonies, giving them little experience with self-government. The wars of independence barely changed the colonial social and political hierarchy. Creoles simply replaced peninsulares as the ruling class. The Roman Catholic Church kept its privileged position and still controlled huge amounts of land.

For most people—mestizos, mulattoes, blacks, and Indians—life did not improve after independence. The new constitutions guaranteed equality before the law, but deep-rooted inequalities remained.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments