Decolonization of the Americas
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of the Americas
Decolonization of the Americas refers to the process by which the countries in the Americas gained their independence from European rule. Decolonization began with a series of revolutions in the late 18th and early to mid-19th centuries. The status quo then prevailed for more than a century, excepting the independence of Cuba (whose war for independence culminated in the Spanish–American War).
Peaceful independence by voluntary withdrawal of colonial powers then became the norm in the second half of the 20th century. However, there are still many British and Dutch colonies in North America (mostly Caribbean islands), and France has fully "integrated" most of its former colonies as fully constituent "departments" of France.
The United States of America declared independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776 (although the event is now commemorated on July 4, the date when the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted by Congress), in so doing becoming the first independent, foreign-recognized nation in the Americas and the first European colonial entity to break from its mother country. Britain formally acknowledged American independence in 1783 after its defeat in the American Revolutionary War.
Although initially occupying only the land east of the Mississippi between Canada and Florida, the United States would eventually acquire various other North American territories from the British, French, Spanish and Russians in succeeding years, effectively decolonizing these areas formerly under European control.
Haiti and the French Antilles
The American and French Revolutions had profound effects on the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies in the Americas. Haiti, a French slave colony, was the first to follow the United States to independence, during the Haitian Revolution, which lasted from 1791 to 1804. Thwarted in his attempt to rebuild a French empire in North America, Napoleon Bonaparte sold Louisiana to the United States and from then on focused on the European theater, marking the end of France's ambitions of building a colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere.
The Spanish Kingdoms in the Americas won their independence in the first quarter of the 19th century.
During the Peninsula War, Napoleon installed his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish Throne and captured the King Fernando VII. Several assemblies were established after 1810 by the Criollos to recover the sovereignty and self-government based in Seven-Part Code, for restoration the laws of Castilian succession to rule the lands in the name of Ferdinand VII of Spain.
This experience of self-government, along with the influence of Liberalism and the ideas of the French and American Revolutions, brought about a struggle for independence, led by the Libertadores. The territories freed themselves, often with help from foreign mercenaries and privateers. United States, Europe and the British Empire were neutral, aimed to achieve political influence and trade without the Spanish monopoly.
In South America, Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín led the final phase of the independence struggle. Although Bolívar attempted to keep the Spanish-speaking parts of the continent politically unified, they rapidly became independent of one another as well, and several further wars were fought, such as the Paraguayan War and the War of the Pacific.
A related process took place in Spain's North and Central American colonies with the Mexican War of Independence and related struggles. Independence was achieved in 1821 by a coalition uniting under Agustín de Iturbide and the Army of the Three Guarantees. Unity was maintained for a short period under the First Mexican Empire, but within a decade the region had also split into various nations.
Unlike the Spanish, the Portuguese did not divide their colonial territory in the Americas. The captaincies they created were subdued to a centralized administration in Salvador which reported directly to the Crown in Lisbon. Therefore, it is not common to refer to "Portuguese America" (like Spanish America, Dutch America, etc.), but rather to Brazil, as a unified colony since its very beginnings.
As a result, Brazil did not split into several states by the time of Independence (1822), as happened to its Spanish-speaking neighbors. The adoption of monarchy instead of federal republic in the first six decades of Brazilian political sovereignty also contributed to the nation's unity.
In the Portuguese colony Dom Pedro I (also Pedro IV of Portugal), son of the Portuguese king Dom João VI, proclaimed the country's independence in 1822 and became Brazil's first Emperor. This was generally peacefully accepted by the crown in Portugal, although some guerrillas were fought between Portuguese troops and civilians. Portugal recognized Brazil's independence 3 years later upon compensation.
Canada's transition from colonial rule to independence occurred gradually over many decades and was achieved mostly through political means, as opposed to the violent revolutions that marked the end of colonialism in other North and South American countries. Attempts at revolting against the British, such as the Rebellion of 1837, were brief and quickly put down. Canada was declared a dominion within the British Empire in 1867. Originally the Canadian Confederation included just a few of what are now Canada's eastern provinces; other British colonies in modern-day Canada, such as British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, would join later. Additionally Britain's and Norway's claims to Arctic lands were ceded to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century. By 1931 the United Kingdom had relinquished its control over Canada's foreign policy. What few political links that remained between Canada and the UK were formally severed in 1982 with the Canada Act.
Other countries did not gain independence until the 20th century:
From the United Kingdom:
- Jamaica: from the United Kingdom, in 1962
- Trinidad and Tobago: from the United Kingdom, in 1962
- Guyana: from the United Kingdom, in 1966.
- Barbados: from the United Kingdom, in 1966
- Bahamas: Granted internal self-government in 1964 and, then achieved full independence from the United Kingdom in 1973.
- Grenada: from the United Kingdom, in 1974
- Dominica: from the United Kingdom, in 1978
- Saint Lucia: from the United Kingdom, in 1979
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines: from the United Kingdom, in 1979
- Antigua and Barbuda: from the United Kingdom, in 1981
- Belize (formerly British Honduras): from the United Kingdom, in 1981
- Saint Kitts and Nevis: from the United Kingdom, in 1983
From the Netherlands:
Current non-sovereign territories
Some parts of the Americas are still administered by European countries or the USA:
- Anguilla (United Kingdom)
- Aruba (Netherlands)
- Bermuda (United Kingdom)
- British Virgin Islands (United Kingdom)
- Cayman Islands (United Kingdom)
- Clipperton Island (France)
- Falkland Islands (United Kingdom)
- French Guiana (France)
- Greenland (Denmark)
- Guadeloupe (France)
- Martinique (France)
- Montserrat (United Kingdom)
- Netherlands Antilles (Netherlands)
- Puerto Rico (United States)
- Saint Barthelemy (France)
- Saint Martin (France)
- Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (France)
- Turks and Caicos Islands (United Kingdom)
- U.S. Virgin Islands (United States)
The remaining non-sovereign territories of the Americas have generally retained this status by choice, and enjoy a significant degree of self-government. (Some have nevertheless been placed on the U.N. list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, an ongoing subject of controversy.) Aruba, for example, seceded from the Netherlands Antilles on January 1, 1986, and became a separate, self-governing member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence by 1996 was halted at Aruba's request in 1990. French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique are not considered colonies of France, but have been "incorporated" into France itself, as overseas départements (départements d'outre-mer, or DOM).
- Wars of national liberation
- Predecessors of sovereign states in South America
- Timeline list arranged according to current countries. Explanatory notes are added in cases where decolonization was achieved jointly or where the current state is formed by merger of previously decolonized states.
- Some territories changed hands multiple times, so in the list is mentioned the last colonial power.
- Date of decolonization. Subsequent mergers, secessions and civil and other wars in the period after decolonization and the resulting states and federations are not part of this list – see the list of sovereign states by formation date.
- First head of state after independence. For current and former Commonwealth realms instead of first head of state is listed the first head of government.
- After independence the United States colonized and later incorporated in their federal structure, territories on their own. The last acquisition in the Americas was in 1935, the last incorporation in 1959, but some of the territories remain unincorporated.
- Composed of the following leaders: Vicente Ignacio Iturbe Domínguez; Juan Valeriano de Zevallos; Fulgencio Yegros; Pedro Juan Caballero and José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia
- After gaining independence of Spain the territory of present-day Uruguay in 1817 was occupied and in 1921 annexed by Portugal to be administered as Brazilian province.
- The Rebellions of 1837 were a pair of Canadian armed uprisings that occurred in 1837 and 1838 in response to frustrations in political reform.