An examination of the first 50 years of United States history in relation to South America.
It was not the American Revolution that sparked revolutions in Latin America; it was the changes in European empires and years of war at the hands of Napoleon, which left the colonies open to trade with whomever they pleased. When he marched into the Iberian Peninsula, installing his brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne, Spain’s colonies were on their own. In her first book, Fitz (History/Northwestern Univ.) digs into little-tapped historical resources to demonstrate how support for South American revolutionaries grew and ebbed. The revolutions included the creation of towns named for Simón Bolívar, more common in the West but less so in New England. Curiously, the praise of revolutions that included the end of slavery never dwelt on that fact. It seems as if the U.S. was ambivalent to slavery. News articles were reprinted throughout the country, and they morphed from universalist to racialized rhetoric within 10 years. That early support shattered with Bolívar’s proposal of a Panama Congress of Latin America; he noticeably did not invite the U.S., but his vice president did. The hue and cry in Congress and in the press was verbalized most vocally by Virginia’s John Randolph, who decried the fact that U.S. delegates would have to sit with African descendants, mixed breeds, and Indians. Randolph concluded that the concept of “all men born equal” was a pernicious falsehood. Throughout, the author is a deft guide to this reinterpretation of early American history, a time when “earlier rhetoric of inalienable rights and self-evident truths was increasingly challenged by assertions of white superiority and U.S. exceptionalism.”
Historians will appreciate the wide research and the serious look at the voice of the common man and occasional woman. Fitz shows that history is not always written by wars, treaties, and administrative actions; often, the people take the lead.