First, the most prominent liberal intellectuals, such as Juan Bautista Alberdi in Argentina, José María Luis Mora in Mexico, and José Victorino Lastarria in Chile, did develop distinctive liberal positions that are worth examining.
Alberdi and Lastarria, in particular, also produced theoretical works in which they systematized their own political convictions.
Ideas such as popular sovereignty, civil equality, individual representation, the conventional nature of political authority, freedom of thought and of the press, and a division of powers that privileges the legislative became central to early Latin American liberalism.
The latter was by no means identical to Spanish liberalism or to the political ideas of the French revolution, but these two are its main initial sources.
This may be the reason why the reconstruction of Latin American nineteenth century liberalism has been dominated by historians, while philosophers and political theorists have been mostly absent.
Nevertheless, this reconstruction is also of philosophical interest for at least two reasons.
Since what was meant by “liberalism” turns out to be sometimes surprising from a contemporary perspective, the consideration of nineteenth century Latin American liberalism can contribute to enrich our current understanding of liberalism as a far more internally heterogeneous ideology than is usually assumed.
In light of the variety and complexity of Latin American liberal views, this entry provides only a brief and general introduction to the topic that is far from being the whole story.
The crisis of the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies upon the Napoleonic invasion set off the process of independence in of most of Latin America and opened the way for the free circulation, for the first time, of modern political ideas in the region (the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions had prohibited freedom of thought and of the press).
Though the Cadiz constitution was influential in both Hispanic and Portuguese Americas, liberalism developed in quite different directions in these two regions.
The seventh section considers the influence of positivism and the triumph of liberalism as an ideology of nation building.
The final section briefly considers the decline of liberalism in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Later, in the second half, liberalism was firmly established as an ideology of nation building in most of the region.