Decolonization of the Americas

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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.

United States[edit]

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 later 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[edit]

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.

Spanish America[edit]

Places in the Americas by date of independence. Note that the United States did not complete its continental territorial expansion until 1867; Canada did not complete sovereignty as an independent country until 1982.

The Spanish Kingdoms in the Americas won their independence in the first quarter of the 19th century.

During the Peninsular 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 what is now Mexico, Central America, and parts of North America between 1810 and 1821 with the Mexican War of Independence. 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 fought against the United States over the border lands (losing bordering lands of California and Texas). Most of the heat was during the official Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848.[1]

In 1898, in the Greater Antilles, the United States won the Spanish–American War and occupied Cuba and Puerto Rico, ending Spanish territorial control in the Americas.


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 three 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.

20th century[edit]

Other countries did not gain independence until the 20th century:

From the United Kingdom:

From the Netherlands:

Current non-sovereign territories[edit]

Some parts of the Americas are still administered by European countries or the USA:

Some of the remaining non-sovereign territories of the Americas have 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 dependent territories of France, but have been "incorporated" into France itself, as overseas départements (départements d'outre-mer, or DOM). Other regions however have had or currently have movements to change their political status, for example different movements to change the political status of Puerto Rico and intermittent calls for independence in other non-sovereign territories such as Martinique and others, with differing amounts of support.


Country[2] Colonial name Colonial power[3] Independence date[4] First head of state[5] Independence won through
 United States Thirteen Colonies  British Empire September 3, 1783[6] George Washington[7] American Revolutionary War
 Haiti Saint-Domingue  First French Empire January 1, 1804[8] Jean-Jacques Dessalines[9] Haitian Revolution
 Paraguay Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata  Spanish Empire May 14, 1811 Junta[10] Paraguay campaign
 Argentina May 25, 1810 and July 9, 1816[11] Juan Martín de Pueyrredón[12] Argentine War of Independence
 Chile Captaincy General of Chile February 12, 1818[13] Bernardo O'Higgins[14] Chilean War of Independence
as part of  Gran Colombia
Viceroyalty of New Granada August 7, 1819[15] Simón Bolívar Bolívar's campaign to liberate New Granada
as part of  Gran Colombia
Captaincy General of Venezuela June 24, 1821 Simón Bolívar Venezuelan War of Independence, Battle of Carabobo
 Costa Rica
as part of Federal Republic of Central America
Viceroyalty of New Spain September 15, 1821[16][17] Gabino Gaínza[18][19] Act of Independence of Central America
as part of Federal Republic of Central America
September 15, 1821[16][20] Gabino Gaínza[18][21]
as part of Federal Republic of Central America
 British Empire September 15, 1821[16] Gabino Gaínza[18]
as part of Federal Republic of Central America
 Spanish Empire September 15, 1821[16][22] Gabino Gaínza[18][23]
 El Salvador
as part of Federal Republic of Central America
September 15, 1821[16][24] Gabino Gaínza[18][25]
 Mexico September 27, 1821 Agustín I Mexican War of Independence
 Dominican Republic[26] Captaincy General of Santo Domingo November 20, 1821[27] José Núñez de Cáceres[28] -
as part of  Gran Colombia
Viceroyalty of New Granada November 28, 1821 Simón Bolívar -
as part of  Gran Colombia
May 24, 1822[29] Simón Bolívar[30] Ecuadorian War of Independence
 Peru Viceroyalty of Peru December 9, 1824 Simón Bolívar Peruvian War of Independence
 Bolivia Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata August 6, 1825[31] Simón Bolívar[32] Bolivian War of Independence
 Brazil[33] United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves  Portuguese Empire August 29, 1825[34] Pedro I Brazilian War of Independence
 Uruguay Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata;
Cisplatina Province
 Spanish Empire;
 Empire of Brazil
May 18, 1811;
August 27, 1828[35]
José Gervasio Artigas;
Juan Antonio Lavalleja
Battle of Las Piedras;
Cisplatine War
 Dominican Republic[36] Captaincy General of Santo Domingo  Spanish Empire August 16, 1865[37] José María Cabral Dominican Restoration War
 Canada Province of Canada
New Brunswick
Nova Scotia
 United Kingdom July 1, 1867[38] John A. Macdonald[39] Canadian Confederation[40]
 Cuba Captaincy General of Cuba  Spain[41] December 10, 1898[42] Tomás Estrada Palma[43] Cuban War of Independence[44]
 Jamaica  Jamaica  United Kingdom August 6, 1962 Alexander Bustamante -[45]
 Trinidad and Tobago  Trinidad and Tobago August 31, 1962 Eric Williams -
 Guyana  British Guiana May 26, 1966[46] Forbes Burnham[47] -
 Barbados Barbados November 30, 1966 Errol Barrow -
 Bahamas  Bahamas July 10, 1973 Lynden Pindling -
 Grenada  British Windward Islands February 7, 1974 Eric Gairy -
 Suriname Suriname  Netherlands November 25, 1975 Johan Ferrier -
 Dominica  British Windward Islands  United Kingdom November 3, 1978 Patrick John -
 Saint Lucia February 22, 1979 John Compton -
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines October 27, 1979 Milton Cato -
 Belize  British Honduras September 21, 1981 George Cadle Price -
 Antigua and Barbuda  British Leeward Islands November 1, 1981 Vere Bird -
 Saint Kitts and Nevis September 19, 1983 Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw -

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mexican-American War | Mexico-United States [1846-1848]". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-05-06.
  2. ^ 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. For simplicity sake, the numerous U.S. military occupations that occurred during the Banana Wars are not listed here despite accusations of American imperialism.
  3. ^ Some territories changed hands multiple times, so in the list is mentioned the last colonial power.
  4. ^ 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 and are only noted – see the list of sovereign states by formation date. Any discrepancies between dates listed here and public holidays celebrating the country's independence (and whether the date listed is celebrated as a holiday at all) are noted, as well as the national day if the country does not have an independence day. Date of when a commonwealth realm abolished its monarchy are noted. Note that a large number of states (i.e. those formed in the aftermath of the Spanish American wars of independence) would not be recognized by their colonial power as independent until decades later.
  5. ^ For countries that became independent either as a Commonwealth realm or as a parliamentary republic the head of government is listed instead.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Assumed office on April 30, 1789 as President. From September 5, 1774 until Washington's inauguration the United States was nominally headed by the President of the Continental Congress. Elias Boudinot held the office on the date of independence.
  8. ^ Not recognized by France until April 17, 1825.
  9. ^ Jean-Pierre Boyer was President on the date of France's recognition.
  10. ^ Composed of the following leaders: Vicente Ignacio Iturbe Domínguez; Juan Valeriano de Zevallos; Fulgencio Yegros; Pedro Juan Caballero and José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia
  11. ^ Not recognized by Spain until April 29, 1857.
  12. ^ Justo José de Urquiza was President on the date of Spain's recognition.
  13. ^ Not celebrated as a holiday. The date September 18, 1810 (when the Government Junta was formed) is celebrated as Chile's date of independence. Chile would not be recognized by Spain until April 25, 1844.
  14. ^ Assumed office four days after independence as Supreme Director. Manuel Bulnes was President on the date of Spain's recognition.
  15. ^ Celebrated as Battle of Boyacá Day. The date July 20, 1810 (when Viceroy Antonio José Amar y Borbón formally declared New Granada's independence) is celebrated as Colombia's date of independence.
  16. ^ a b c d e After gaining independence from Spain, the Federal Republic of Central America was annexed by the Mexican Empire on January 25, 1822. The Federal Republic would regain independence on July 1, 1823.
  17. ^ On November 15, 1838, Costa Rica formally withdrew from the Federal Republic of Central America and then declared itself as an independent republic on September 28, 1848
  18. ^ a b c d e Pedro Molina Mazariegos, Antonio Rivera Cabezas, and Juan Vicente Villacorta Díaz assumed office as a triumvirate nine days after the Federal Republic of Central America regained independence from Mexico, succeeding Chief of State Vicente Filisola.
  19. ^ Braulio Carrillo Colina was Head of State when Costa Rica withdrew from the Federal Republic of Central America. José María Castro Madriz was President when Costa Rica declared its sovereignty.
  20. ^ Sometime around 1840 Guatemala formally withdrew from the Federal Republic of Central America and became an independent republic on March 21, 1847.
  21. ^ Mariano Rivera Paz was Head of State around the time of Guatemala's withdrawal from the Federal Republic of Central America. Rafael Carrera became President upon the declaration of Guatemala's sovereignty.
  22. ^ On November 15, 1838, Honduras formally withdrew from the Federal Republic of Central America and became an independent state.
  23. ^ Francisco Zelaya y Ayes was sworn in as Acting President on September 21, 1839. From November 12, 1838 from the Federal Republic to Zelaya y Ayes's inauguration, Honduras was headed by a provisional President. José Lino Matute held the office on the date of independence.
  24. ^ On February 18, 1841, El Salvador (by then the only member remaining in the Federal Republic of Central America), formally withdrew and became an independent state.
  25. ^ Juan Lindo was President when El Salvador withdrew from the Federal Republic.
  26. ^ as the Republic of Spanish Haiti
  27. ^ Not celebrated as a holiday. After gaining independence from Spain, the Republic of Spanish Haiti was annexed by Haiti on February 9, 1822. On November 6, 1844, after months of fighting starting from February 27 of that year, the Dominican Republic regained sovereignty upon the ratification of the Constitution of the Dominican Republic. The February 27 date is celebrated as the Dominican Republic's date of independence.
  28. ^ Pedro Santana was the President of the Central Government Junta on the date of ratification of the Dominican Constitution.
  29. ^ Celebrated as Battle of Pichincha Day. The date August 10, 1909 (when the city of Quito formally declared Ecuador's independence) is celebrated as Ecuador's date of independence. On May 13, 1830, Ecuador formally seceded from Gran Colombia.
  30. ^ Juan José Flores was Jéfe Supremo when Ecuador seceded from Gran Colombia.
  31. ^ Not recognized by Spain until July 21, 1847.
  32. ^ Assumed office six days after independence as President. José Ballivián was President on the date of Spain's recognition.
  33. ^ As the Empire of Brazil.
  34. ^ Not celebrated as a holiday. The date September 7, 1822 (when then-Prince Regent Dom Pedro formally declared Brazil's independence) is celebrated as Brazil's date of independence.
  35. ^ After gaining independence from Spain the territory of present-day Uruguay in 1817 was occupied and in 1921 annexed by Portugal to be administered as Brazilian province.
  36. ^ On March 18, 1861, the Dominican Republic under Pedro Santana formally rejoined the Spanish Empire as a colony. This proved to be very unpopular among the Dominican people, and on August 16, 1865, the Dominican Republic became independent once again.
  37. ^ Celebrated as Restoration Day.
  38. ^ Celebrated as Canada Day. The Dominion of Canada was constituted through the Constitution Act, 1867 entering into force on July 1, 1867. On December 11, 1931 it got increased self-governance powers through the Statute of Westminster, followed by complete sovereignty on April 17, 1982 after the passage of the Canada Act 1982. Because of these decades-long steps, Canada Day is not considered to be a celebration of Canada's independence (although it is usually celebrated as such).
  39. ^ R. B. Bennett and Pierre Trudeau were respectively the Prime Minister on the date of passage of the Statute of Westminster and the Canada Act.
  40. ^ The Rebellions of 1837 were a pair of Canadian armed uprisings that occurred in 1837 and 1838 in response to frustrations in political reform.
  41. ^ De jure. De facto the  United States.
  42. ^ Date marking the end of Spanish rule over Cuba. Not celebrated as a holiday. From this date to May 20, 1902 Cuba was occupied by the United States, supposedly to help Cuba prepare for independence. However, the terms of the Platt Amendment meant that the United States continued to dominate Cuba long after independence, including another period of occupation. This dominance would last until the end of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959. As a result, Cuba celebrates the date October 10, 1868 as its date of independence, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes formally declared Cuba's independence and launched the Ten Years' War.
  43. ^ Assumed office on May 20, 1902 as President. Although Fidel Castro was the de facto leader of Cuba in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, he would not assume office until February 16, 1959 as Prime Minister. Manuel Urrutia Lleó was sworn in as President two days after the end of the Cuban Revolution.
  44. ^ The Ten Years' War was an earlier armed uprising that failed to gain independence from Spain.
  45. ^ See Independence of Jamaica.
  46. ^ Abolished its commonwealth monarchy on February 23, 1970.
  47. ^ Remained Prime Minister when Guyana abolished its monarchy. Arthur Chung was sworn in as President on March 17, 1970. From the abolition of Guyana's monarchy and Chung's inauguration Edward Luckhoo served as Acting President.