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The American Revolution on the Periphery of Empires: Don Bernardo de Gálvez & the Spanish-American Alliance, 1763–1783

In: Journal of Early American History
Author:
Luke Ritter Ph.D. Lecturer, Department of History, Troy University, ritterl@troy.edu

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It was something of an embarrassment to the founding generation of the United States that freedom had been won with the aid of English America’s two arch enemies, France and Spain. The Spanish Empire in America was clearly at odds with the revolutionary cause. Not only had it stood as a traditional enemy, but it adhered tightly to monarchy and Roman Catholicism – which together amounted to probably the worst evil an American Patriot could imagine, second only (at the moment) to British tyranny. The Spanish American campaign against the British from 1776 to 1783 did not at all reflect a shared democratic political identity or solidarity with the English American rebels. Even so, Bernardo de Galvez’s Spanish campaign in the Southeast is a quintessential American story. This essay argues that new Enlightenment ideas about government were birthed within the Spanish imperial system and did not necessarily entail American independence, that the American environment bred unprecedented social cooperation between diverse peoples, and finally that Galvez was successful in Louisiana precisely because he adopted Enlightenment ideals of governance such as transparence and tolerance.

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