Revolt of the Comuneros (New Granada)

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The Revolt of the Comuneros was an uprising by the inhabitants of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (now Colombia and parts of Venezuela) against the Spanish authorities in 1781. While underlying causes may have been economic, ideas of freedom and self-government were expressed. These uprisings preceded the fight for independence against Spanish rule that took place in the 19th century.

The conflict between the Comuneros in New Granada and the Spanish government began to heighten between March and October 1781. Previously, between 1740 and 1779, Neograndans had expressed displeasure—at times violently—about the long-standing conditions and policies enforced by the Spanish government. During the second half of the 18th century the Spanish government initiated a series of changes and reforms to the policies regarding the colonies, which involved increased taxes and establishing stricter control of the colonial government. These reforms were a catalyst to the Comunero Revolt of 1781.

The revolt

On March 16, 1781, in Socorro, grocer Manuela Beltrán tore down posted edicts about new tax increases and other changes that would have reduced the profits of the colonists and enlarged the benefits of Spain. Many other towns in New Granada began to have the same occurrences with colonists livid about the conditions of the ruling government. Local colonists began to assemble and elect a body of officials known as el común, or a central committee “to lead the movement.”[1] The rebels unified under the leadership of Juan Francisco Berbeo, a Criollo elite. Despite coming from the upper classes of society, the rebels exposed the idea of the unity of different social classes and the organization of the common people. The endorsement of the elites furthered the rebels’ efforts to join together. Berbeo brought together 10,000 to 20,000 troops of rebels to march on the capital, Bogotá. Once the rebels defeated the soldiers sent against them from the capital, then they reached a town just north of Bogota. Spanish officials agreed to meet with the Comuneros and sign an agreement stating the conditions and complaints of the rebels.[2] However, once the rebels dispersed and became unorganized, the Spanish government officials signed a document that discarded the agreement on the basis that it was forced upon them. Once reinforcements for the Spanish government arrived, they were sent to rebellious cities and towns to enforce the implementation of the increased taxes. José Antonio Galán, one of the leaders of the revolt, continued on with a small amount of rebels, but they were quickly defeated and he was executed, while other leaders of the rebellion were sentenced for life in prison for treason.

The influence of the revolt led to similar uprisings, with a similar outcome, as far north as Mérida and Timotes, now in Venezuela but at the time under jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of New Granada.[3]


Many causes contributed to the revolt of 1781. Some causes were long-standing, related to the viceroyalty in New Granada in 1717. There is a debate among historians over what the main factor was that contributed to the start of the rebellion of 1781, but what is clear is the fact that the need for economic and political reform and the idea of self-government were all contributors.

A series of reforms to the economy and government of the colonies, now called the Bourbon Reforms, are believed to be a factor in the beginning of the revolt. As the growth of the population and development of the New World began to outgrow that of Spain, Spain began to look for ways to make the colonies more profitable. The Spanish government sought to eliminate tax evasion to reduce benefits of the colonies and created new laws and taxes to establish greater support and a larger revenue for the home country. Spain also created trading companies, allowed for agricultural and industrial “royal monopolies” and encouraged a greater amount of imports to the colonies to decrease the manufacturing capability of the colonies. These economic and social reforms increased the limitations for colonists to produce crops and changed their economy.[4] Another factor considered by scholars is the major political reforms that the Spanish government forced on the colonies. In order for Spain to benefit economically from the colonies, it needed stricter control over their government. These political changes were also part of the Bourbon Reforms. Some historians such as Brian Hamnett believe that it was the age-long battle between “absolutism versus the unwritten constitution” of New Granada that spurred on the colonists. He believes that the imperialism of the Spanish home country and its dependence upon the colonies contributed for the need of the colonies’ “decentralization.” He states that the revolt was started, not with the goal of an independence movement, political freedom and self-government, but only with the hope of reversing the reforms.[5]

See also


  1. Young, Ronald. "Comuneros' Revolt in New Granada.” Modern World History Online. Facts on File , 2008. Accessed 29 January 2010.
  2. Phillip, Charles, and Alan Axelrold. “Comunero's Revolt in New Granada.” Modern World History Online. Facts on File, 2005. Accessed 29 January 2010.
  3. See Muñoz Oraá, Los comuneros de Venezuela.
  4. “Bourdon Reforms.” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, n.d. Accessed 29 January 2010.
  5. Hamnett, 415-416.


  • “Bourdon Reforms.” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, n.d. Accessed 29 January 2010.
  • “Comunero Revolt.” World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, n.d. Accessed 29 January 2010.
  • Hamnett, Brian R. (1980). "Review of The People and the King: The Comunero Revolt in Colombia, 1781 by John Leddy Phelen". The Americas. 36 (3): 415–416. JSTOR 981304.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Loy, Jane M. (1981). "Forgotten Comuneros: The 1781 Revolt in the Llanos of Casanare". The Hispanic American Historical Review. 61 (2): 235–257. doi:10.2307/2513830.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Muñoz Oraá, Carlos E. (1971). Los comuneros de Venezuela. Mérida, Venezuela: Universidad de Los Andes.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>