Comparing 19c North and South America

Why did North America and South America develop differently?

Similar pressures, different beginnings.

North America

South/Central America

Original colonies established under

British traditions of parliamentary government, self-rule

Iberian traditions of monarchic autocracy, strong central control

Political independence

Result of internal tensions and activism
Some outside assistance: finances, training

Outside conflicts create opportunity for internal uprisings to succeed

Political System

United States and Canadian Dominion: Constitutional republics with federal decentralization.

Federal systems short-lived.
rule, frequent economically based uprisings


Protestantism: individualistic.

Catholicism: institutional, Inquisitional and missionary (both conservative and progressive)


entrepreneurial, as well as agro-product exporter

peripheral, importing manufactured goods and exporting raw materials

Foreign investment

strong domestic economy: foreign investment useful but not essential
High-return industrial investment

Limited local capital.
Foreign investment maintains peripheral economy
limited interest in industrial development

Rich in natural resources, including prime agricultural land

agricultural exports industry-related (cotton)
food production supporting urban growth
Mineral resources fuel industry
Government support of industrial development (esp. Canadian National Policy, US railways)

low value-added food exports (esp. beef) controlled by foreign investors
weak productivity increases; tendency to fall behind
Exporting raw minerals, not finished products


plantation system ends after US Civil War
Agricultural entrepreneurs, urban, industrial labor
anti-immigrant sentiment rising steadily, somewhat deflected by land availability

plantation labor
Limited new agricultural development (until 20c)
no anti-European immigration movements

Multi-racial society

shallow binary hierarchy, but white society is largely open

strongly hierarchical with clear creole domination


Slavery replaced — with difficulty — by wage labor and sharecropping

Slavery replaced — usually right after independence — by indentured servitude, debt peonage

Indigenous peoples

Steep population declines due to displacement and disease
Indigenous peoples forced out of high value areas, but not without resistance in both US and Canada
Except as hunter/trappers, not economically integrated

Steep population declines due to displacement and disease
Indigenous peoples forced out of high value areas.
Widely exploited as low-wage, low-mobility labor

Women’s movement

yes, including suffrage and social reform activism (temperance, anti-prostitution, etc.)

not until 20c, despite strong Enlightenment-influenced Liberal movements

© 2004, 2006 – Jonathan Dresner