History of the Pan-Americanism Movement

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Pan-Americanism was a movement started in the early 19th century that encouraged unity among the Americas. Learn about the failure of early attempts and the importance of trade to the success of later attempts. Updated: 11/04/2021

What Is Pan-Americanism?

Put yourself in the shoes of the first leaders of American republics. No, I'm not just talking about the United States but also all those countries in Latin America that had gained their independence in the 1820s and 1830s. Freshly independent, determined in most cases to become republics and woefully distrustful of anything originating in Europe, these early states soon found themselves looking at each other. The liberator of Northern South America, Simon Bolivar, openly admired the American Revolution, going as far as to send family members to study in the new country.

Given the fact that so many newly independent countries were being established and the open disdain for Europe, there was a line of thinking that suggested that the Americas could do better than the Europeans. After all, the elites in these countries had been motivated in no small part by economic concerns to revolt in the first place, and places like Rio de Janeiro or New York City offered markets that compared to any in Europe. This idea that the countries of the Americas should have some form of unity is Pan-Americanism.

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  • 0:01 What Is Pan-Americanism?
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Early Attempts at Pan-Americanism

This idea that the Americas should be for citizens of American countries was widely embraced. Most famously, the United States was eager to prove itself on the world stage and, in doing so, gain influence over other American nations. This was accomplished through the Monroe Doctrine, which promised that the U.S. would stay out of European colonial affairs in the New World but only if the Old World stayed out of the affairs of the Americas. Since the United States had no real way of enforcing this, it was only possible due to the fact that Britain, secure in her colonial possessions in Canada and the Caribbean, could point to it in order to justify the Spanish and Portuguese loss of their extensive colonies in South America.

In fact, it was the British who would be the real winners of early Pan-Americanism. Bolivar, the liberator of much of Latin America, wanted to have a meeting of all the newly independent states of the Americas in Panama in 1826, with the goal of uniting many of the states into a giant alliance. This meeting is known as the Congress of Panama. Needless to say, the United States was very eager to know what was going on at this meeting. However, a lack of willingness from Southern states to authorize any further recognition of Latin American countries that had forbidden slavery meant that by the time the sole representative from the United States arrived, all the important business of the conference was complete. Instead it was the British, who literally just showed up out of curiosity, who were able to make meaningful agreements with most of the countries present. Meanwhile, unfortunately for Bolivar's vision of a United States of South America, too much infighting and regional rivalry meant that none of that was possible.

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