Liberalism and conservatism in Latin America have unique historical roots. Latin American independence began to occur in 1808 after the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars that eventually engulfed all of Europe. French revolutionaries in the 1790s began an intellectual awakening called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment period opened the door for ideas of positivism in Latin American society. People in Latin America turned to liberal ideologies. Liberalism means the idea of liberty, equality, and popular sovereignty. Liberalism during the early 19th century in Latin American clashed with conservative views. Liberals wanted to see change in the ruling systems of Latin America. They wanted to "step out of the box" of tradition, meaning that liberals wanted to open the boxes of the church system, cultural background inequalities, and slavery. These issues for many years strongly affected the way that Latin American society was organized. Liberals wanted to see kings no longer in power. The majority of liberals believed in a democratic system of government. This system would create many changes and much confusion in Latin American communities in the early 19th century.
On the other hand, conservatism was a pre-existing dominant system that was rooted in Latin America. Conservative governing systems consist of kings and ruling blood lines. Unlike liberalism, conservatives wanted to stay inside the box. They didn't want to step out and try a new ruling system, they felt that chaos and disorder in society would break out. Latin American conservatives greatly believed in class stratification. In a nutshell, conservatives didn't want to see any change in government in Latin America.
The contest between Liberals and Conservatives in Latin America, while sweeping in effect, was largely fought between members of the landed, white or creole elite. Systems in place from the colonial period—such as slavery, patronage by the elite, and debt peonage—meant that the great mass of Indians, Africans, and people of mixed race had little, if any power compared to the very small creole ruling class. Thus, the concern that liberalization would lead to "disorder" that the conservatives spoke about was often a veiled or transparent fear of race war.
Caudillos soon came to power in some Latin American societies, such as Argentina and Mexico. Caudillos were conservatives who promised protection and restoration of traditional ways to the people. They were generally pragmatic, believing in a ruling system of what works best. Caudillos used military force to hold society together.