Independence for Central America: History, Timeline & Events

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  • 0:04 Aftermath of the…
  • 1:34 History of Central America
  • 2:38 Central American Independence
  • 5:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will take a look at Central American independence from Spanish colonial rule. We will learn what led to these independence movements, and we will highlight key themes.

Aftermath of the American and French Revolutions

Have you ever participated in or witnessed a 'game-changer?' You know, that one moment or move that changes everything? Maybe it's the capturing of a queen in a game of chess, or an interception that is run back for a touchdown in football. That one action changes the entire game.

The American Revolution and the French Revolution were game-changers. Although largely unrelated, they both took place at the end of the 18th century. And they both sent powerful messages to the rest of the civilized world. See, for centuries the people of Europe had grown accustomed to monarchal rule. And those in New World colonies felt there was little they could do but go along with the European imperialist agenda. To them submission made sense. After all, for centuries political power was held tightly in the hands of the few.

The American Revolution (which lasted from the 1760s to 1783) and the French Revolution (from 1789 to 1799), however, inspired various people groups throughout the world to believe that they had the power to throw off the shackles of foreign rule and establish self-rule. Central America was no exception.

History of Central America

Central America, of course, is the region in North America between Mexico and South America. Central America is made up of the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Before Europeans arrived in the New World, Central America was inhabited by various Mesoamerican tribes, such as the Aztec, Maya, and Olmec.

By the mid-16th century, Mesoamerican tribes were in decline and they easily fell subject to Spanish colonial rule. The colony of New Spain extended throughout Mexico and Central America. At the height of its power, it even extended into what is now the northern Midwest of the United States. What is now Central America was then known as the Kingdom of Guatemala. But the colony of New Spain ceased to exist by the 1820s, as we will find out in just a few moments.

Central American Independence

Inspired by Enlightenment thinking and the successful American and French Revolutions, many ethnic groups in New Spain began dreaming of independence from Spanish rule. Adding to the instability throughout New Spain was the removal of Spanish King Ferdinand VII during the Peninsular War. The long and short of it is that Spanish influence was declining. Little by little pockets of resistance began popping up.

The Mexican War of Independence began on September 16, 1810 when a Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla proclaimed the Grito de Dolores, which was basically a call to revolt against Spanish rule. Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, after 11 years of war. The Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire was ratified September 28, 1821.

Independence movements were also gaining momentum south of Mexico. In El Salvador, a revolt broke out in 1811. This rebellion is often referred to as 'The First Shout for the Independence of Central America.' It was led by Jose Matias Delgado, who urged liberal and disgruntled Creoles to break away from Spain. Although the revolt was soon suppressed, it helped spread the independence movement.

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