Purity of Blood during Revolution. Race and Republicanism in Bolivarian America (1790-1830)

By Clément Thibaud

While the origins of the concept of purity of blood have been considerably studied in the Iberian world, the disappearance of this concept as a legal principle of the social order has not yet been specifically researched. The pureza de sangre originated in 16th century Spain to exclude all New Christians from public office. With the conquest of America, this principle took on crucial importance in the new societies born after the destruction of Native American polities. It became one of the frameworks for organising social hierarchies, distinguishing between individuals and groups. Purity of blood thus defined race, understood as the genealogical transmission of dignity or indignity through blood. In the late 18th century, following a European movement, all public institutions gave renewed attention to the purity of blood of their members. However, after 1810, as wars of independence began in Latin America, this restrictive period was followed by a general consensus among patriotic fighters that the purity clause should be abolished. How can we explain such a sharp reversal ? This paper endeavours to show that the repeal of purity of blood, the importance of which has remained unnoticed in historiographic terms, was in fact a fundamental issue for early republicanism in Hispanic America. The decision was a reaction to a set of interconnected causes, including the actions of certain coloured freedmen and Indians, a constitutional rationale, and the memory of the revolutions of Santo Domingo.

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