Voting rights were limited. Racial prejudice was widespread, and land remained in the hands of a few. Owners of haciendas ruled their great estates, and the peasants who worked them, like medieval European lords.

Illustration of Mexican women sitting next to piles of what appears to be rocks.

Life did not improve for many Latin Americans after they gained independence. Here, peasant women process crops grown on a hacienda in Mexico in the 1800s.

The Rise of Dictators

With few roads and no tradition of unity, the new nations were weakened by regionalism, or loyalty to a local area. Local strongmen, called caudillos (kow THEE yohs), assembled private armies to resist the central government.

At times, popular caudillos, sometimes former military leaders, gained national power. They looted treasuries and ignored constitutions. Supported by the military, they ruled as dictators.

Power struggles among competing strongmen led to frequent revolts that changed little except the name of the leader. In the long run, power remained in the hands of a privileged few who had no desire to share it.

Conservatives and Liberals

As in Europe, the ruling elite in Latin America were divided between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives defended the traditional social order, favored press censorship, and strongly supported the Catholic Church. They wanted to maintain the current social order, fearing that change would bring chaos and disorder.

Liberals backed Enlightenment ideas of liberty, equality, and popular sovereignty. They supported laissez-faire economics, religious toleration, and freedom of the press. They wanted to weaken the power of the Catholic Church by breaking up its vast landholdings and ending its monopoly on education. Liberals saw themselves as enlightened supporters of progress but often showed little concern for the needs of the majority of the people.

Mexico's Search for Stability

During the 1800s, each Latin American nation followed its own course. Mexico provides an example of the challenges facing many Latin American nations.

Western men stand on wooden scaffolding and fire rifle shots over a stone wall. Some of the men shoot while others ready rifles.

During the Texas Revolution, defenders of this San Antonio fort were outnumbered by Santa Anna and his Mexican forces. How does this image portray the defenders of the Alamo?

In the years after independence, large landowners, army leaders, and the Catholic Church dominated Mexican politics. Deep social divisions separated wealthy creoles from mestizos and Indians who lived in desperate poverty. Bitter battles between conservatives and liberals led to revolts and the rise of dictators.

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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