The French Revolution would prove doubly toxic to the Spanish and Portuguese New World empires. Its liberation ideology would infect the local Criollo elites (of sole or mainly Iberian descent), while the Napoleonic occupation of the Iberian Peninsula (1808–14) disrupted imperial control over far-flung colonies. By 1833, all the mainland American colonies had secured independence. The huge wealth generated by the colonies had long since turned into a poisoned chalice, expended on courtly fripperies, and, in Spain’s case, inveterate and usually unsuccessful war-mongering. By the 18th century, gold and silver revenues had begun to decline, with the depletion of the richest and most accessible deposits. In the silver mines of the Andes, Indian forced labour was used for extraction, and as ‘human mules’ in the mints. At lower levels, imported African slaves were preferred both in mines and for the panning of riverbed ‘placer’ deposits. In addition, the sale of slaves helped to balance trade for the perennially bankrupt Spanish exchequer.
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