The Bourbon monarchy began the 18th Century facing grave economic, military and political troubles at home and abroad. Local commerce and industry were depressed, military campaigns on the continent had ended in defeat and Spain's colonial holdings were attacked on many fronts. The British, French and Portuguese traders had made inroads into Latin America, breaking Spains economic hold on the region. The Bourbon efforts to address these problems, known as the Bourbon reforms and overseen by Charles III, would improve Spains standing by the end of the century, but it would be its last gasp as a continental and colonial power.
The Spanish crown attempted to regain its commercial monopoly in Latin America through a number of strategic reforms based on reports and first-hand evidence coming from Latin America. Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa issued one such report in the 1740s following their travels through the Viceroyalty of Peru. The report, along with other information, led to the establishment of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate in 1776. This vast region included Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Buenos Aires with its port and militia to fight foreign incursions became the audiencia, the highest judicial body advising the Viceroy. The city flourished, evolving from a small port city, known as a contraband trading post, to the port of entry for Spanish goods and exit for silver brought from the mines of Potosí.
Charles III also ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. This act highlighted the crowns attempts to control the Latin American church, which was the colonies intellectual and moral center. The Jesuits were particularly powerful as they answered directly to the papacy, rather than the Spanish crown, and oversaw vast property holdings. Considering that many of the expelled priests were sons of creole parents, children born of Spanish parents in Latin America, and greatly admired by the populace, protests and riots broke out and had to be quelled by Spanish troops. In response to the crowns act, expelled Jesuit priests, such as Juan Pablo Vizcardo y Guzmán, Juan Ignacio Molina, and Francisco Javier Clavigero, wrote works highly critical of the Spanish administration in Latin America.
By the end of the 18th century, the Spanish monarchy had significantly added to its royal coffers through commercial reform of their Latin American colonies. The cost of these reforms for the monarchy though was high. The placement of Spanish bureaucrats to control commerce, the expulsion of the Jesuits, and the creation of militias that fought the Latin American people as much as foreign intruders, all strained allegiance to the Bourbons.
Antonio de Ulloa and Jorge Juan. Relación histórica del viage a la América meridionale. Voyage historique de l ́Amerique. Amsterdam et a Leipzig: Chez Arkstee et Merkus, 1752.
Giovanni Ignazio Molina, 1740-1829. Compendio de la historia geográfica, natural y civil del Reyno de Chile, escrito en italiano / por el abate Don Juan Ignacio Molina. Primera Parte, que abraza la historia geográfica y natural... Madrid: Por Don Antonio de Sancha, Año 1788.
Francesco Saverio Clavigero (1731-1787). The History of Mexico. Edition 2d. London: J. Johnson, 1807.
Miguel Marcó del Pont. Manuscript. Lima, Perú, May 2, 1813.