Spanish American politics underwent a dramatic cultural transforma-
tion between the middle of the eighteenth century and the middle of the
nineteenth. Around 1750, society and state were envisioned through para-
digms of royal sovereignty and colonial corporate and ethnic di√erence. By
the 1850s, society and state were idealized through images of popular sov-
ereignty and republican citizenship. The most obvious manifestation of this
shift in political culture was the replacement of an absolutist monarchy with
various forms of republican government. The new republican model gave
Spanish American economic elites the opportunity to control government
and write laws. Yet, the cultural transformation of politics did not a√ect
only elites. Spanish America’s impoverished majorities also experienced and
participated in the dramatic revolution in political culture.
The transformation of Spanish American politics that began in the eigh-
teenth century was sparked by the Enlightenment and competition among
European powers, which together changed the ways in which Spanish
American political elites viewed politics and the state. These political elites,
at times voluntarily and at other times by default, altered the largely hege-
monic set of political ideologies that underpinned the colonial order. The
political innovations were fundamental, but the impulse that drove them
came largely from the most powerful social groups. To examine this histor-
ical situation, then, is to explore what happens when a hegemonic system is
transformed not by resistance from subalterns but instead by the actions of
political elites.
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