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Europe and the Americas

Social Studies
Series Editor
Wil Arts

Editorial Board
Duane Alwin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Wil Arts, Tilburg University, The Netherlands
Mattei Dogan, Centre National de la Recherche Scientique,
Paris, France
S.N. Eisenstadt, Hebrew University Jerusalem, Israel
Johan Galtung, Professor of Peace Studies, France
Linda Hantrais, Loughborough University, UK
Jim Kluegel, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
Chan Kwok-bun, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, China
Frank Lechner, Emory University, Atlanta, USA
Ron Lesthaeghe, Free University Brussels, Belgium
Ola Listhaug, Norwegian University of Science and Technology,
Trondheim, Norway
Rubin Patterson, University of Toledo, USA
Eugene Roosens, University Leuven/Louvain, Belgium
Masamichi Sasaki, University of Tokyo, Japan
Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, New York, USA
John Rundell, University of Melbourne, Australia
Livy Visano, York University, Toronto, Canada
Bernd Wegener, Humboldt Universitt zu Berlin, Germany
Jock Young, London, UK

Europe and the Americas
State Formation, Capitalism and
Civilizations in Atlantic Modernity

Jeremy Smith

With an Introduction by
S. N. Eisenstadt

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Smith, Jeremy.
Europe and the Americas : state formation, capitalism and civilizations in Atlantic
modernity / by Jeremy Smith.
p. cm.(International comparative social studies, ISSN 1568-4474 ; vol. 12)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-90-04-15229-8 (alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 90-04-15229-6 (alk. paper)
1. EuropeHistory. 2. EuropeCivilization. 3. EuropeColoniesAmerica.
4. State, TheHistory. I. Title. II. Series.

D208.S57 2006

ISSN 1568-4474
ISBN-13: 978 90 04 15229 8
ISBN-10: 90 04 15229 6

Copyright 2006 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.

Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill Academic
Publishers, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers and VSP.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated,

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Fees are subject to change.
printed in the netherlands
For Bronwyn

Introduction by S. N. Eisenstadt ............................................ xi

Chapter One Atlantic Modernity and Its Dimensions ...... 1

Chapter Two Civilizational Sociology and the Atlantic .... 23

Chapter Three Absolutism and Post-absolutism in

Europes Empires .......................................... 37

Chapter Four Civilization and Pre-colonial Traditions ...... 74

Chapter Five Discovery in the West ................................ 105

Chapter Six Mercantilism, Slavery and the Part Played by

the Transatlantic Empires in the Formation
of Capitalism .................................................. 140

Chapter Seven Communities of the Colonial Order .......... 193

Chapter Eight War and Imperial Re-Division between

Utrecht and the Seven Years War ............ 233

Chapter Nine Raising the Decibels: Republican

Revolutions of the Colonial Order ............ 251

Chapter Ten The Atlantics Distinct Modernity .............. 292

Bibliography .............................................................................. 315

Index .......................................................................................... 333

These voyages have not only confuted many things which had been
armed by writers about terrestrial matters, but besides this, they have
given some cause for alarm to interpreters of the Holy Scriptures, who
are accustomed to interpret those verses of the Psalms in which it is
declared that the sound of their songs had gone over all the earth and
their words spread to the edges of the world, as meaning that faith
in Christ had spread over the entire Earth through the mouths of the
Apostles: an interpretation contrary to the truth, because since no
knowledge of these lands had hitherto been brought to light, nor have
any signs or relics of our faith been found there, it is unworthy to be
believed, either that faith in Christ had existed there before these times,
or that so vast a part of the world have never before been discovered
or found by men of our hemisphere.1 (Francesco Guicciardini, 1538)
It is surprising that for so long a time so little should have been known
of the new world, even after it was discovered. Barbarous soldiers and
rapacious merchants were not proper persons to give us just and clear
notions of this half of the universe. It was the province of philosophy
alone to avail itself of the information featured in the accounts of voy-
agers and millionaires, in order to see America such as nature hath
made it, and to investigate its anity with the rest of the globe.2 (abbe
The great distance of our colonies is not an inconvenience that aects
their safety; for if the mother country, on whom they depend for their
defence, is remote, no less remote are those nations who rival the
mother country, and by whom they may be afraid of being conquered.3
(Charles de Montesquieu, 1748)
Nosotros ni aun conservamos los vestigios de lo que due en otro tiempo;
no somos europeos, no somos indios, sino una especie media entre las
aborigines y los espanoles. Americanos por nacimento y europeos por
derechos, no hallamos en el conicto de disputar a los naturales los
titulos de posesion y de los mantenernos en el pais que nos vio nacer,
contra la oposicion y de los invasores; asi nuestro caso es el mas extra-
ordinario y complicado.4 (Simon Bolivar, 1819)

Francesco Guicciardini, The History of Italy, ed. and trans. Sidney Alexander
(London: Macmillan, 1968), p. 1504.
abbe Raynal (Guillaume-Thomas-Francois), A Philosophical and Political History of
the British Settlements and Trade in North America (Glasgow: Angus & Son, Aberdeen; &
E. Wilson, Dumfries, 1782), pp. 1112.
Great Books of the Western World (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1958), vol.
38, p. 171.
Simon Bolivar, Discurso pronunciado por el Libertador ante el Congreso de
Angostura el 15 de febrero de 1819, dia de su instalacion, in German Carerra
Damas, Escritos Fundamentales (Caracas: Monte Avila Editores, 1982).

S. N. Eisenstadt

J. Smiths book on Europe and the Americas: The Atlantic Modernity of

State Formation, Capitalism and Civilizations constitutes a distinct contribution
to comparative historical and sociological analysis. This contribution
is a triple one, to three distinct arenas or dimensions of comparative
historical analysis and perhaps above all in the combination thereof.
The rst such dimension is the emphasis on the importance of
the Atlantic experience in the formation of early European state,
economic and culture formations, i.e. of early European modernity.
Several works have already pointed out that the crystallization of
early modern states and economic formations was inuenced by the
colonial expansion and by the European colonization in the Americas
as for instance the inuence of the extraction of gold from the
colonies on early modern Spanish economyand on its ultimate
decline, or as C. H. R. James has pointed out earlier on that slave
trade and slavery were the basis of the French Revolution. Other
researchers have pointed out that the colonial experienceas for
instance the experience of the British raj in India has been of crucial
importance to the formations of the British modern state and society.
But Smiths analysis goes beyond such important indications. He
shows that it is not enough to point out that the political, economic
and cultural formations of early modern states was inuenced by the
colonial experiencebut that basically the colonial formations were
part and partial of crystallization of political, economic and cultural
formations in Europe, that the two processes constitute part of the
one common broader process. Or in other words he shows that the
European and the Atlantic formations were constitutive of one another,
or perhaps more precisely that they constitute components of one
processthat of constitution of Atlantic modernity or modernities.
This type of analysis is also in principle highly attuned to these
works which attempt to put dierent local state or national
developments in the wider context of world historical developments
such as for instance the analysis of the formations of the Qing dynasty
xii introduction

in China in the framework of Eurasian global developments1a

mode of analysis which points to possible reformulation of the rela-
tions between national and world historical processes.
The second distinct innovative dimension of Smiths work is the
analysis of the patterns of early modernity as they crystallized in the
dierent Atlantic countriesboth in Europe and in the Americas.
As against the relatively wide-spread view to be found, even if mostly
implicitly, especially in the many theories of modernization that the
European modernity is the natural model thereof according to
which others have to be judged, Smith shows that not only even in
Europeor to be more exactin the framework of Atlantic moder-
nitiesthere developed in dierent historical contexts not one, but
several patterns of multiple modernities, i.e. the Atlantic modernity
or modernities is only one of several patterns of multiple moderni-
ties which develop in dierent historical contexts.
The third contribution of Smiths analysis is, following recent devel-
opments in social and historical analysis2i.e. the emphasis on the
importance of civilizational institutional and cultural frameworks,
encompassing dierent political and economic formations in shaping
the self-understanding and collective identities of Atlantic countries.
But perhaps above all the distinctive contribution of Smiths analysis
is the combination of all these dimensionsas they converge in the
formations of multiple modernities in their historical and civilizational
contexts. It is this combination which provided important indications
for new directions in a comparative historical research.

See for instance Struve, L. A. (ed.) 2004, The Qing Formation in World-
Historical Time. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
See for instance Arjomand, S. A. and Tiryakian, E. A. (eds.), 2004, Rethinking
Civilizational Analysis. Sage Publications.


Renaissance Europes encounter with the American New World

inspired doubt. Reports of Columbus voyage in 1492 had little imme-
diate impact. But they were the rst moments in an ongoing cross-
Atlantic relationship between continents that both shaped and troubled
Western Europe for the next three centuries. The relationship brought
a growth of European state and economic power. This was a vital
juncture in which an Atlantic prospect came into view. It was as
much metaphor as reality. Initially unsure of what might be found
there, Europeans had no immediate new paradigm of what to expect
and depended on old ones. Certainty that the new landmass was a
protrusion of the Asian continent prevailed until even the 1570s.
Monstrous races listed in ancient accounts were said to exist there.
Where romantic optimism shadowed interpretation, the natives were
cast as child-like innocents inhabiting a lost Garden of Eden that
had once also been the condition of Christians. Early metaphorical
ourishes did not fade as the forces of colonialism further penetrated
the continent, but were complimented by further bewilderment. The
Atlantic vista was disconcerting. It unsettled, and then became the
locus of coalescing forces of economic and imperial state power. It
also disturbed reputable assumptions about the mundane world and
the larger cosmos.
In a way, doubt came readily. Humanism had gestated in Western
monasteries of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Its principal thrust
was that an autonomous conscience existed and was capable of moral
agency and therefore doubt. More far-reaching contact with Islamic
cultures in the fourteenth and fteenth centuries returned unavailable
classics of Ancient thought. A new nexus with the declining Byzantine
Empire also prompted meditation on the Greeks.1 Knowledge of
another landmass sent scholars scurrying for references amongst the
Greeks and the Romans to an antipodean land. In a short sixteenth

Johann P. Arnason, Civilizations in Dispute: Historical Questions and Theoretical Traditions
(Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 14445.
2 chapter one

century, the existence of a further land became apparent and con-

sequently the size of the globe known to Europeans grew dramatically.
Uncertainty about how dierent lands were peopled appeared.
The existence of stateless societies and stratied empires hitherto
unaccounted for in the annals of European thought confounded scrip-
ture and the Churchs interpretation of it. Where had the other peo-
ples come from? Could they be really considered human? Or were
they pre-social or pre-civil? Should they be enslaved? Such per-
plexities circumscribed the Junta de Burgos (1512) and the famous
Dispute of Valladolid (1550) between Bartolome de las Casas and
Juan Gines de Sepulveda. The theological debate raged around the
humanity of the indigenous of the Caribbean. It was not settled at
that time. These turned out to be the early hesitant steps of an ency-
clopaedic imagination which pre-dated anthropology and that aimed
to catalogue and describe other non-European peoples comprehen-
sively. Where Americas indigenes should t in the annals of Western
knowledge remained unclear. There is ample evidence of uncertainty
continuing to linger in the eighteenth century. The inhabitants of
the New World acquired a romantic prominence. By this time, the
continent as a whole was again a source of quixotic fascination,
much as it had been in the sixteenth century.
Most contemplation of this New World marked its supposed
extremes, rather than its actual diversity. America was rugged, un-
domesticated and alien. Yet it could be considered untainted by the
vices of the old world: it was untouched, free and a place where
Utopia could be contemplated. It was wild, but it also awoke older
myths of humanitys Golden Age. The utopian imagination had been
stirred in the sixteenth century by reports of the New World and
its echoes could still be heard loudly in the eighteenth. Here was a
perceived antithesis of Europe that called upon utopians to examine
existing forms of social organization and devise new ones.2 The
Americas served as a contrast in the mind to the Mediterranean
world. It was a kind of mental category to aid moral and political
judgment of familiar European societies and hence was easily given

J. C. Davis, Utopia and the New World 15001700, in Roland Schaer et al.,
Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2000). On utopian experiments in the Americas, see Silvio Zavala, New
Viewpoints on the Spanish Colonization of America (New York: Russell and Russell, 1968),
chap. 10.
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 3

to representational excesses that instructed Europeans about the dier-

ence of their civilization.
In the rst century of reconnaissance and intrusion, the new lands
seemed an enigma. Relations with Islamic and Asian societies had
brought Spanish, English and French into conict with established
powers. The encounters inaugurated by transoceanic imperial rule
would be greatly dierent.3 Mesoamerica confronted the coercive
face of European power. Conquistador intrigue and force established
the rudimentary extensions of the Spanish presence through the out-
right extermination or subordination, marginalization and reconstructive
study of indigenous civilizations. The establishment of immigrant
settler societies accompanied the armed intrusion. Western states may
have attempted to replicate and extend European institutions in the
state forms that were exported to the non-European world. But these
were then conditioned by regional political, economic and cultural
circumstances in ways so profound that it is feasible to speak of dis-
tinct civilizations.4

Elizabeth Mancke, Early Modern Expansion and the Politicization of Oceanic
Space, Geographical Review 89 (1999): 2, and Negotiating an Empire: Britain and
its Overseas Peripheries c. 15501780, in Christine Daniels and Michael Kennedy,
eds., Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the Americas 15001820 (London and
New York: Routledge, 2002).
Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, The Civilizations of the Americas: The Crystallization
of Distinct Modernities, Comparative Sociology 1, no. 1 (2002): 4361; Luis Roniger
and C. H. Waisman, Globality and Multiple Modernities: Comparative North American and
Latin American Perspectives (East Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2002). In my view,
this point is not drawn out to the fullest possible conclusion in Eisenstadts main
writing on the civilizations of the Atlantic. His dominant argument is that the reli-
gious divide in Western culture between Latin and Protestant states spills over into
the cultural premises of colonial formations in the Americas. Surprisingly, he has
only a little to say of the interaction of religions within the Americas, particularly
within Hispanic America and the Caribbean. His tempered analysis can be easily
explained. For Mesoamerican cultures there was no cultural breakthrough leading
to a monotheistic consolidation of world orientation. An adaptation of Catholicism
to Meso and Andoamerican cultures occurred. Otherwise, bodies of spiritual belief
were forced into segregated coexistence. The absence of world religions prior to
European colonialism prompts Eisenstadt to overlook one side of the interciviliza-
tional dimension of the Americas. The European invasion brought powers that
related to cultural cataclysms that occurred in Greece and were re-founded in the
thirteenth century coalescence of humanism. They were proselytizing forces, but did
not encounter known world religions. Eisenstadt treats civilization in the plural, but
plainly his notion of Axial transformation, which privileges religions connected to
empires, obstructs the conception of Amerindian cultures as a signicant part of
that plurality. What is more, any prospect of theorizing the Euro-American empires
as truly groundbreaking oshoots of the West fades.
4 chapter one

The invasion and colonization of the Western hemisphere established

two civilizational complexes. One was with Amerindian peoples. The
other was with nascent colonial communities that were of European
extraction, but which, from their inception, had their own character.
With regard to European encounters with Amerindian societies, some
distinction of the three powers can be made. The near-genocidal
conquest of indigenous civilizations in the Caribbean and the destruction
of the Mesoamerican and Andean empires launched a new sort of
domination unexperienced by the Spanish before, even though it was
based on previous patterns of warfare and occupation of territory.
The French or English that followed conquered the northern continent
by expanding limited colonies. North American aboriginal societies
were pushed steadily westwards of Lake Ontario and the Alleghony
Mountains by their advancement. Their advance was slowed by
Indian nations that preserved their strategic power through resistance,
diplomacy and trade.
For good reasons, the historical intrusion of the British, French
and Spanish is remembered today as an era of destruction and loss.
However, there was also continuity in some regions and even renewal
in the indigenous civilizations overcome by European expansion and
not only in the sheer fact of physical survival of aboriginal cultures.
During the era of imperial rivalry, some North American nations
showed themselves to be eective strategists in the episodes of open
warfare between the French and British. Their control of the inte-
rior made them participants who could trade their allegiance with
one side or the other. For the time being, the connement of French
and British colonies to the geographically limited eastern estuaries
helped the tribes to keep alive their form of warrior organization,
their confederal alliances and the cultural premises of their spiritu-
ality. In the Spanish Indies, the fortunes of indigenous peoples var-
ied more wildly. Closer to mining, trading and ranching centers,
they found themselves trapped in the quasi-enslavement of encomienda
and repartimiento modes of social relations. Paternalistic domination
constrained their ability to revolt, escape or, indeed, to conserve the
fabric, identity and leadership of their ethnic groups. Miscegenation
a widespread practice of colonistsbroke down their previous social
associations further. Elsewhere, a comparative isolation from Spanish
colonial centres permitted the perpetuation and reconstruction of cul-
tural and social forms. Endurance was more exceptional in these
areas, suggesting a greater level of civilizational survival.
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 5

The other civilizational relationship lay in the creation of Creole-

American communities. Neither the American colonies nor the
European homelands were passive parts of the empire in terms of
polity, economy or culture.5 The foundation of colonial societies and
new forms of government did not simply produce submissive and
dependent territories. Instead there was a tension-ridden nexus between
metropolitan centres and colonial realms. In this context, the self-
image held by Europeans diered palpably from the identities that
sat in contrast. American views of the wider imperial dominion of
Spain, France and England started to appear in the late seventeenth
century. Divergence, but also profound dependence, was a recurring
condition for peripheral communities that could trace their founda-
tions to a formative colonial period.
Many historians have re-examined the application of notions of
centre and periphery in Atlantic history.6 The American colonies
had been cast as dependent peripheries of metropolitan centres, espe-
cially in the histories generated out of the dependency and world
systems theory traditions. Atlantic scholarship has re-worked these
categories to accentuate the manner in which some peripheral zones
functioned as lively centres in their own right. The current reconstructed
historical sociology of empire state formation presumes a developmental
logic that is autonomous in important respects. As an expression of
the relations of the American colonies to their respective governing
imperial powers, I like the phrase mutual dependence to describe
the transatlantic empires. It captures well the manner in which the
home countries, indeed the whole of Europe, relied on the Americas,
as indeed the colonies depended on imperial support and protection.
Mutual dependence encapsulates precisely the extent to which colonial
centres constituted themselves as self-governing entities. This feeling

See, for example, Silvio Zavala, The Political Philosophy of the Conquest of America,
trans. Teener Hall (Mexico: Editorial Cultura, 1953).
Daniels and Kennedy, Negotiated Empires; Jack P. Greene, Peripheries and Centers:
Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States
16071788 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1986); Jack P. Greene, Negotiated
Authorities: Essays in Colonial Political and Constitutional History (Charlottsville, VA:
University Press of Virginia, 1994); Donna S. Guy and Thomas Sheridan, Contested
Ground: Comparative Frontiers on the Northern and Southern Edges of the Spanish Empire
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998). For a sociological perspective that
examines these comparative issues in light of the Japanese expenerience, see the
introduction to Johann Arnason, The Peripheral Centre: Essays on Japanese History and
Civilization (Melbourne: TransPacic Press, 2002).
6 chapter one

of shared dependence echoes through the written record of colonists

views from the time of conquest through to the republican revolts and
is present in the philosophy of empire variously espoused by the
proponents of imperial rule. It underpins the basic relationship between
the European homes of imperial formations and their colonial settlements.
What were the contours of mutual dependence? Spain, France,
England and others furnished the colonies with governors, councils,
soldiers, markets, and more immigrants and, of course, slaves. The
benets were tangible. The colonies developed harbours for imperial
navies to compete for greater inuence in the Atlantic or in regional
sheries or the Caribbean trade. They were fresh commercial out-
lets for European manufactures. Religious and criminal outcasts could
nd a haven in the North American colonies. America gave Europe
an unprecedented volume of common goods, such as specie and the
products of its immense sheries. It also produced new commodities
that revolutionized consumption: tobacco, chocolate, sugar and coee.
The exchange between continents was not limited to resources.
The ow and counter-ow of ideas evinced original American per-
spectives as well as ongoing deep connections with established philo-
sophical and scientic traditions. Dependence was unbroken for all
colonies, until the 1776 Revolution and the Napoleonic occupation
of the Iberian Peninsula. The lasting settlements reected Spanish,
French and English cities, towns and villages in their organization,
if not their architectural design. The steady growth of the colonies
was possible because of military and naval protection, especially in
the rapidly developing Spanish Indies. French forts in North America,
naval patrols in the Caribbean and the force represented by con-
quistador armies secured the safety of colonial towns, ports and cities
from rivals and real or perceived local threats. The elite classes of
the colonial communities were ever concerned about unrest from
within. Spains peninsulares (the Spanish born) and English and French-
born administrators and traders were quite a distinct and visible class
onto themselves. Colonial communities shared their language and cus-
toms. But other divisions between local Creole societies and imported
administrators served to highlight the latters dependence, and feel-
ings of dependence, on imperial protection.
At the same time, the isolation of settlements right across the con-
tinent compelled colonists to rely on their own resourcefulness, a
condition that fostered autonomy as well as a sense of vulnerability.
Circumstances forced self-reliance. The body of trade regulations and
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 7

ordinances along with rm imperial direction in government implied

tight control. However, all could be relaxed in response to rebellion
or the threat of it or indeed simply for short term expediency. It
was habit for the administrations of colonial and imperial govern-
ment to interpret directives from the centre pragmatically. The eco-
nomic value of American resources, trade and markets gave colonists
some power to inuence the application of imperial law as imper-
ial bodies were reliant on colonial cooperation.
Mutual dependence colored the regard that Europeans and Ameri-
cans had for each other. Creole views of the local representatives of
European representatives uctuated. In some periods they were
ambivalent, at others spiteful and resentful. They also varied according
to position in colonial society. The ambivalence of colonial anity
was the most pronounced in the British Empire. Divisions between
loyalists and early republicans in the home countries were replicated
in Englands North American colonies. In fact, there was a direct
connection, as colonists absorbed the leading philosophical and
scientic works in circulation. English Americans took European
thinkers as their own. The long century of revolution in England
generated political traditions that they read and understood. The
language of virtue and corruption appealed to their understanding
of British public life, although it could be appropriated and turned
into a critique of imperial domination and indeed eventually was.
Americans too contributed substantial works of philosophy to
Europes political cultures in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Bolivar, Miranda, Viscardo, Jeerson, Paine, Adams were interlocu-
tors of sorts in an intercontinental trac in ideas. Mutual depen-
dence also meant the expansion of Western political and moral
discourse. That growth was unprecedented in the era of colonial
revolt, as some colonists re-wrote philosophy in light of their common
understanding and in light of collusion with one another. It then
peaked as revolutionary thinkers came to the fore in the new repub-
lican governments.
Sentiments of loyalty and deance were therefore transformed over
time, as the colonies built up more robust economic and other rela-
tionships with each other. A rmer nexus between British North
America and the Caribbean and increased trade between the vice-
royalties of the Spanish Indies are two instances of this. Although
dependence on imperial administration continued, additional devel-
opments were creolizing American societies.
8 chapter one

Three Dimensions of Atlantic Modernity

This book elaborates the above themes in connection with an exam-

ination of the process of imperial state formation, an emerging con-
ception of Western Europe as a discrete civilization and the coalescence
of capitalism. An early Western modernity of the sixteenth to eight-
eenth centuries can be re-conceptualized in two ways.7 Firstly, the
trajectory of Western civilization is one among a number. In fact,
the civilizational unity so often presumed of the West, if found any-
where, is found mainly in the twentieth century. Europe itself con-
tained three civilizations at the beginning of the era under discussion:
Occidental, Byzantine-Slavic and Ottoman.8 These inhabited and
fought over the European continent, although it should be noted
that dierent struggles had dierent chronologies and there was no
time in which all three were contemporaneously engaged in conict.
Secondly, the Wests longue duree should be re-evaluated against a
growing body of analysis of multiple modernities.9 Two conclusions
can be taken from this perspective. Firstly, states do not preside over
closed and self-contained societies or even neat imperial centers and
peripheral territories. They oversee cultural, economic and political
syntheses that result from inter-societal and inter-civilizational contact

I do not propose to explore political modernity here, except in the nal two
chapters. In contrast to the general arenas of social life that can be characterized
as modern, political modernity can be understood as a modern culture of self-
reexivity, agency and historicity (that is, a historical sensibility). See Peter Wagner,
Theorizing Modernity (London: Sage, 2001).
Gerard Delanty, Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality (London: Macmillan, 1995).
Johann P. Arnason, Multiple Modernities and Civilizational Contexts: Reections
on the Japanese Experience, in The Peripheral Centre; Eliezer Ben-Rafael and Yitzhak
Sternberg, eds., Comparing Modernities: Pluralism Versus Homogeneity, Essays in Homage to
Shmuel N Eisenstadt (Leiden: Brill, 2005); S. N. Eisenstadt, Comparative Civilizations and
Multiple Modernities (Leiden: Brill, 2002); Shmuel N. Eisenstadt and Wolfgang Schlucter,
Introduction: Paths to Early Modernities: A Comparative View, Daedalus 127, no.
3 (1998); Francois-Xaviar Guerra, Modernidad e Independencias: Ensayos sobre las Revoluciones
(Madrid: Fundacion Mapre, 1992); Dominic Sachsenmaier, Jens Riedel, and Shmuel
N. Eisenstadt, Reections on Multiple Modernities: European, Chinese and Other Interpretations
(Leiden: Brill, 2002); Luis Roniger and Mario Sznajder, Constructing Collective Identities
and Shaping Public Spheres: Latin American Paths (Brighton: Sussex University Press,
1998); Sanjay Subramanyam, Connected Histories: Notes towards Reconguration
of Civilization of Early Modern Eurasia, Modern Asian Studies 31, no. 3 (1997); and
Goran Thernborn, Entangled Modernities, European Journal of Social Theory 7, no.
3 (2003). Daedalus 129, no. 1 (2000) is a special issue on multiple modernities. See
also Roniger and Waisman, Globality and Multiple Modernities.
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 9

and ow. The forces at play are not entirely under their control,
however; indeed, they transcend the empires that took possession of
the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Next, the notion of the universal spread of the generic elements
of a single model of modernity should be abandoned in favour of a
more discerning picture of interactive formations. When applying
this to the relationship of Europe and the Americas, there is a man-
ifest complexity. However, rm conclusions are still not hard to
deduce. There can be little dispute that the Americas came to share
in the Western heritage. The point, however, is that the idea of mul-
tiple modernities can undercut completely the proposition that America
was simply subject to the long colonial project of reproducing Western
societies in a dierent climate.10 It can do so by problematizing the
widely held sociological presumption that Western Europe instigated
a universal logic of modernization and more-or-less reproduced its
key societal features in a New World environment. Instead, it becomes
possible to bring to light the ways in which north-western European
societies and states interacted with embryonic social formations in
the Americaswhich they, of course, encompassed, but did not
exhaustively determineand those that Europeans conquered. The
societies that emerged were quite distinct and were shaped by a vari-
ety of Amerindian, immigrant-settler and Creole traditions. Critically,
they drew on ows and inuences from three continents and did
not merely extend the reproduction of societies from Atlantic Europe
to the American mainland. In this context, it then makes better sense
to talk about an Atlantic modernity of three continents, many soci-
eties and many states engaged in dynamics that modied all involved,
rather than an outgrowth of the Western impulse to modernity.
This early modernity that encompassed the sixteenth to the eight-
eenth centuries is better thought of as Atlantic in its geographical
and social-historical scope and character. The view that I am fol-
lowing has implications for the conception of Western modernity that
has dominated the social sciences. Instead of searching for endoge-
nous factors that may explain Western European exceptionalisma
common strategy in the social sciencesI propose to look at how
internal dynamics were inseparable from the expansionary thrust of

See, for example, Louis Hartz, The Founding of New Societies (New York: Harcourt
and Brace, 1964).
10 chapter one

north-western states into the Atlantic zone during this period. In fol-
lowing this line of argument, I refer to the growth in European and
American historical scholarship of a current of trans and circum-
Atlantic study. Historians initiated a turn to Atlanticism in the 1980s
and 1990s. This approach has crystallized as a species of compara-
tive history. Its appeal lies in the transnational activities and relation-
ships that it gives visibility to. It incorporates large-scale geographical
or environmental histories of the kind prized by Braudel and Fernandez-
Armesto without being bound to their assumptions. Truly, it deserves
the attention of scholars from other disciplines working in inter-
disciplinary elds also.11 The original insights of Atlantic History
emerge from making connections between dierent points of the
Atlantic nexus, by exploring transatlantic activity as an area in its
own right, by regarding national histories as, in some part, regional

Its major works include the following titles. Note also that a journal, Atlantic
Studies, commenced publication in 2004. See Ida Altman and James Horn, To Make
America: European Emigration in the Early Modern Period (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1991); David Armitage and Michael J. Braddick, eds., The British Atlantic World
15001800 (London: Palgrave, 2002); Bernard Bailyn, The Idea of Atlantic History,
Itinerario 20 (1996) was a formative essay; Nicholas Canny, Writing Atlantic History,
or Reconguring the History of Colonial British America, Journal of American History
86, no. 3 (1999); Alison Games, Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic:
Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993);
David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the English
Atlantic Community 17351785 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Daniel
W. Howe, American History in an Atlantic Context: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered Before the
University of Oxford on 3 June 1993 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); Will
Kaufman and Heidi Slettedahl MacPherson, eds., introduction to New Perspectives in
Transatlantic Studies (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002); John J.
McCusker and Kenneth Morgan, eds., The Early Modern Atlantic Economy (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2000); Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic
Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) (an Atlantic history that
avoids Transatlantic scope in order to accentuate disaporic patterns of performance);
David Harris Sacks, The Widening Gate: Bristol and the Atlantic Economy (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1991); Ian Steele, The English Atlantic 16751740 (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1986) is an early work in Atlantic history that started
out as a study in transatlantic communications; John Thornton, Africa and Africans
in the Making of the Atlantic World 1400 1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1999). John H. Elliot admonishes the current trends in Atlantic history for
its overwhelming focus on the British world. He calls in a positive way for more
work on the Hispanic and French Atlantic in Afterword: Atlantic History: A
Circumnavigation, in Armitage and Braddick, The British Atlantic World. However,
see Itinerario 23, no. 2 (1999) for some sketches of possible lines of inquiry into the
Francophone and Iberian empires. This issue is dedicated to the concept of Atlantic
history, as is no. 20 of the same journal. American Historical Review 104, no. 2 (1999)
is also a thematic issue, dealing specically in this case with the British Atlantic.
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 11

histories and by restoring Africa and African contributions to a more

proper place after decades of historiographic suppression. So, British
history is reconstituted as a history of the British Isles.12 Ireland,
Bristol and Liverpool are seen as more integral to life in the Caribbean
and New England. Migration patterns in Central Europe and France
are connected with the movement of peoples across to the New
World. The cultural and economic impact of slavery is accentuated
by circum-Atlantic study that brings movements in Africa and America
into the frame simultaneously. The signicance of the formation of
the Canadian nation is re-cast in a framework of imperial and inter-
imperial histories. These are some of the patterns revealed by the
broader scope of scholarship. It is less of a comparative history of
empires that runs along a north-south axis and more of a zonal his-
tory that ventures into an examination of east-west interactions.
Where historians have regarded the Atlantic as a zone of histor-
ical scholarship, and variously reached the above conclusions, I pro-
pose to explore it as a form of multidimensional modernity. This
strives for a degree of abstraction or overview in comparative analy-
sis that is not necessarily the goal of historical scholarship. Capitalism,
civilization and empires are the three dimensions. They are inter-
related, but mutually irreducible. They exhibit separate though over-
lapping patterns that can be analysed in isolation from others.
Moreover, each encompassed the specialized disciplines of distinct-
though-intersecting institutions. I can illustrate this point tangibly.
The public banks and chartered companies formed by states are
involved in capitalist expansion in ways that vice-regal administra-
tion is not. Scientic associations in the colonies are vehicles, per-
haps unwittingly, of civilizational thinking but are not direct partners
in trade. Aside from their incarnation in institutions, imperial states
and early capitalist enterprises elicit cultural presuppositions in the
guise of formalized patterns of behaviour, established values and
philosophies of government and political economy. These too are
independent, but share considerable anity with one another.

J. G. A. Pocock, The New British History in Atlantic Perspective, American
Historical Review 104, no. 2 (1999); and The Atlantic Archipelago and the War of
the Three Kingdoms, in Brendan Bradshaw and John Morrill, eds., The British
Problem c. 15341707: State Formation in the Atlantic Archipelago (London: MacMillan,
12 chapter one

The approach in Europe and the Americas is to examine each of these

dimensions separately, whilst being attentive to the nexus between
them. Instead of new empirical, historical and archival research, in
the manner of Atlantic Studies, a re-theorization of this path of
modernity highlights and addresses lingering conceptual issues in the
social sciences to do with capitalism, civilization and state formation.
This can be seen in even a brief synopsis of the course of European
intrusion into the Americas. The nature of the westerly opening of
Europe is itself important. Western powers were drawn beyond the
Mediterranean in a slow incremental movement towards western
Atlantic islands that soon became familiar, and then beyond them.13
The launch into the Atlantic Ocean favoured deep-sea maritime
trade and opened up inter-oceanic connections for commerce. It
linked the heavily populated European landmass to a hemisphere
not occupied by recognized powers. Taking one step beyond this
view, it becomes clear that this was not merely a geo-political expan-
sion of borders or an incorporation of hemispheric conditions into
the life of the major civilizations. It was the opening action of an
early modernity that was transatlantic in its dynamic. A rapid qual-
itative advance took place in the creation of a western Atlantic zone
that opened up the longer-term possibility of an alteration of the
existing global conguration of powers. The momentous historical
potential is self-evident in the case of the Iberian powers; it is true
in other ways of France and Englands empires also.
Each of these threecivilization, imperial state formation and cap-
italismconstitutes a dimension of Atlantic modernity. A short dis-
cussion of states and capitalism commences in the passages below.
Before proceeding to this rst point, I want to draw attention to a
potential pitfall in dealing with the notion of civilization. A clarication
of terminology and some remarks on the politics of the word civi-
lization itself is called for. There is a risk as the word is not inno-
cent, given its historical connotations. It is associated with colonialism
and not only European versions of it.14 The standing claim that civ-
ilizations analysis has not fully assimilated the consequences of colo-
nialism needs to be repeatedly answered. My response is a critical

See Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Civilizations (London: Macmillan, 2000), chap. 15.
For Japanese genealogies of the term, see Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Rewriting
History: Civilization Theory in Contemporary Japan, Positions 1, no. 2 (1993).
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 13

hermeneutical one, or one of interpretation if you will.15 It involves

the danger of uncritically taking on the language of civilization, which
brings with it a legacy of self-belief in Western superiority. This is
a heritage internal to the very notion of civilization and is evident
from an etymological study of the word.16 A hermeneutical strategy
foregrounds the concerns of the present when it comes to evaluat-
ing the legacy of the notion of civilization. That legacy includes the
modern construction of the concept in the context of colonialism. It
also incorporates the classical writings of civilizations analysis that
endeavored, through synthesized world histories, to connect reections
on civilization with the human sciences. While the broad body of

Contemporary critical hermeneutics is a pursuit of meaning through a com-
bination of interpretation and ideological disclosure of the major societal inuences
on ideas. Its aim is simultaneous reection on the sources of socio-cultural under-
standing and the specic intended contents of texts and practices. Put simply,
hermeneutical thinkers are explicit about their own purposes. Concepts and actions
can be critically evaluated on this basis, not in the manner of a deconstructionist
strategy of positing absences and excesses of discourse, but by bridging the histor-
ical distance between symbolic meanings inherited from the past and values thrown
up by the modern condition. Hans Georg Gadamers notion of the fusion of hori-
zons captures this intention well. He argues that the most we can hope for in
terms of objective grasp of meaning is to maximize the reconciliation of (a) often
seemingly foreign interpretations either authored in the past, or whose original
meaning is blurred, that come to us as objectied artifacts or texts and (b) current
perspectives of our more familiar present.
A hermeneutical method of this sort has some suitability in the application of
civilizational sociology. However, it needs to be absorbed critically and be aware
of a hermeneutics of suspicion that can also establish an analytical distance, a healthy
suspicion if you will. To examine the problematic notion of civilization, we need
to not only get close to its past meanings, but alsoat the same timekeep a cer-
tain kind of detachment. To put this another way, distance from the concrete social
structures and forces that have produced the ethnocentricity of accepted civiliza-
tional beliefs is required if that ethnocentricity is to be correctly identied. Bringing
the principles and positions of the present to bear on sociologies of non-Western
societies, on analyses of intercultural interaction and on time-honored perspectives
in the human sciences can simplify what is valuable and what needs revision or
rejection in civilizational thinking. This calls for keen critical sensibilities that are
alert to ideological inuences on concept formation. The concepts of civilization
and, as we see in chapter ve, discovery are suitable candidates to undergo such
critical sociological scrutiny that emerge in civilizational sociology.
See Zymunt Bauman, Hermeneutics and Social Science: Approaches to Understanding
(London: Hutchinson, 1978); Josef Bleicher, The Hermeneutical Imagination: Outline of a
Positive Critique of Scientism and Sociology (Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1982), chap. 8;
and Hans Georg Gadamer, Theory and Method (London: Sheed & Ward, 1975).
John Rundell, From Indigenous Civilization to Indigenous Modernities, in
Said Arjomand and Edward Tiryakian, eds., Rethinking Civilizational Analysis (London:
Sage, 2004).
14 chapter one

writing in World History is open to the charge of Eurocentrism,17

careful scrutiny of the contemporary social science turns up critical
currents and a general attempt to problematize the very European-
centredness that is the object of post-colonial critique. There is ample
countervailing critique of Western modernity in the mainstream of
social theory.18 Marx, Freud, Simmel, Weber, Mauss, Durkheim and
earlier even Montaigne and Rousseau were all alternative and inquir-
ing voices that brought the idea of civilization into question. The
hermeneutical approach calls for the kind of reection on civilizational
thinking that enlists current standards of critique along with detached
insights of classical social theory in order to produce a reconstruction
of formative ideas. In other words, the notion of civilization cannot
be taken at face value, as it often has been within civilizational his-
tories in the Western human sciences. Rather than abandoning it,
the better alternative is to subject it to contemporary critical crite-
ria and methodical analysis. This is risky and the risk must be explic-
itly stated if the pitfalls so amply highlighted in post-colonial criticism
are to be avoided. But the prevailing opinion here is that, on the
whole, it is worth it as the hazards can be circumvented through a
critical sociological reconstruction of the best of civilizational sociology
that, in a way, rescue the concept from aspects of its own heritage.
The second dimension under discussion is state formation. There
is a vast literature in historical sociology on states and empires. No
risk is taken in suggesting that modern European state formation is
the single greatest preoccupation of this eld. Some of this body of
research informs my approach. However, there are three premises
of the manner in which the problematic of state formation is handled
in Europe and the Americas.
The rst is that the scope of analysis is expanded to cover the
full reach of actual modern north-western European states. A good
number of substantive histories of European state formation paid
insucient attention to the imperial character of Western states, at
least prior to the rise of Atlantic history. This partial occlusion of

See for example, Edward Said, Orientalism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985);
and Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (London: Routledge,
J. P. Arnason, Social Theory and the Concept of Civilization, Thesis Eleven
20 (1988); and Arnason, Civilizations in Dispute, chap. 5.
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 15

the inter-continental expanse of states emerges in the self-limitation

of history and historical sociology to either the European or American
theatres of imperial formations. The assumption suggested by an
exclusive focus on one continent or the other is that the develop-
ment of the Atlantic empires involved two isolated processes of state
formation. However, the events and developments in both arenas
were often related and were superintended by overarching imperial
states. Casting state formation in the inter-continental frame, rather
than an exclusively European one, opens up its internal tensions as
they are played out on both sides of the Atlantic. The similarities
and stark distinctions between European and American spheres of
imperial states invite comparison and suggest an enlargement of the
eld of study under examination. In the Atlantic zone, grander forms
of statecraft were induced. The creation and consolidation of the
modern centralist institutions of state rule was an empire-building
process in this era.19 Furthermore, the empires that were constructed
were oceanic, rather than mainly land-based. A zone of imperial
rivalry developed in which states opposed one another on the seas,
jealously guarding strategic and territorial interests.
Previous experiences of colonizing furnished Europeans with models
or exemplars to bring to America. In turn the colonization of the
American world fed a paradigm for the consolidation of territories
in Europe and elsewhere. Regal authorities had, in the amalgamation
of Spanish territories, a conquistador experience, which was very much
contemporary, to reect on in their encroachments on the Caribbean
and South America. Similarly, the English had mutually transform-
ing experiences in the conquests in Ireland and the incursion onto
the northeast coast of America. State formation in both the Spanish
and British empires was a process of dierent theatres. However, it
produced supra-provincial and imperial bodies that governed at an
Atlantic level and addressed trans-territorial problems. The thrust of
the analysis of processes of institutional formation undertaken here
is to work on this inter-continental and imperial plane.
The second feature is comparison of absolutist states that were also
empires with Britain after its historical experience of Stuart absolutism.
Absolutism itself deserves more penetrating denition. Can France

Anthony Pagden, introduction to The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European
Union (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
16 chapter one

and Spain be fruitfully characterized as, in some sense, empires of

absolutism? In a sense they can and not because absolute monarchs
administered them, arguably a myth created by nineteenth century
historians.20 Nor is posthumous characterization of these regimes as
absolutist grounds for more far-reaching study. As empires of absolutism,
France and Spain can be distinguished from Europes empires of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which were built on nation states.21
More importantly, for comparative purposes, the principal feature of
their existence was an internal conict of elites over the terms and limits of
power.22 In this regard, there clearly is something in common between
the two empires of absolutism and Britain. This was a conict in
the European territories of all three states between provincial and
municipal elites.
A comparable, though not simply analogous, tension embroiled
imperial and colonial elites. Colonialism involved a sort of compact
between colonial and imperial elites during an era of early modern
state building when the resources and legitimacy of state power were
insucient to eect an outright domination of distant and remote
colonies. Indeed, outright domination was not a pattern that Western
Europes rulers were accustomed to in dealing with provincial privileges

Nicholas Henshall, The Myth of Absolutism: Change and Continuity in Early Modern
Europe (London and New York: Longman, 1992); and K. A. Stanbridge, England,
France and their North American Colonies: An Analysis of Absolutist State Power
in Europe and in the New World, Journal of Historical Sociology 10, no. 10 (1997).
For a helpful typology of European empires see David B. Abernethy, The
Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires 14151980 (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2000), chap. 3.
I analytically dierentiate the dynamic of this conict from early modern class
struggles. Historically, to varying degrees in dierent cases, the two over-lapped.
The European-based conict that most clearly combined the internal clash of elites
and separate classes was the long English revolution. This involved class-based revolts
and the contests of elite interests, which eected a decisive transformation of the
country. It wasnt only a collision of class forces, however; it was also a matter of
acting out the rivalries of elites within the more powerful contending classes. The
multi-faceted nature of the long revolution is well captured in Christopher Hill, The
Century of Revolution 16031714 (Berkshire: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980). For class
analyses of absolutist state formation, see Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist
State (London: Verso, 1974); Rodney Hilton, Class Conict and the Crisis of Feudalism
(London: Verso, 1985); and Colin Mooers, The Making of the Bourgeoisie: Absolutism,
Revolution and the Rise of Capitalism in England, France, and Germany (London: Verso,
1991). Mooers analysis is most interesting as it considers the separate dynamics of
class and elite in play on pp. 5052 (in regard to the Fronde) and in chap. 4 (with
regard to the Civil War).
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 17

and municipal corporations. All three powers generated national and

imperial institutions in response to internal and inter-continental
tensions and struggles. Imperial government embodied and eected
the routinization of tension between central monarchical and imperial
authority, on one side, and regional and colonial bodies, on the other.
The third feature of the way that state formation is handled here
is a metatheoretical view about processes of state formation in them-
selves. In Max Weber and Norbert Elias sociologies of the state,
power is captured in the monopolies of violence, law and legitimacy
held by the ruling apparatus.23 This image of state formation as a
steady process of the monopolization and rationalization of power
has been easily interpreted in a functionalist frame. Against this view,
I see state institutions as creations out of the internal tension between
rival spheres. The metatheoretical stress falls on the creative innovation
of new institutions that governed on a supra-provincial and transatlantic
plane and, in the case of the non-contiguous clusters of domains, a
trans-European plane. The new monarchies corps of state did draw
upon existing monopolies of authority in the bodies of jurisprudence,
city administrations and in mercantile-regulatory organisations. But
they also invented new positions of command and a layer of institutions
that confronted the basic problems of ruling larger and more diverse
territories. These were the vehicles of the abstraction of governmental
power and they embodied the qualitative advance of the principles
of monarchical sovereignty. Surviving bases of power were not simply
absorbed. In fact, these state powers continued to ght against provin-
cial and urban elites that contested its authority at various junctures.
They forged another supra-provincial level of rule that predominated.
The distinguishing feature of absolutism was the complex relationship
of tension with other institutional constellations, most notably the
church and provincial and urban powers. It pulled these together in
managing social order, but it also conicted with them. Its conictual
orientation was directed towards clerical, urban and provincial elites
as well as the subordinated classes. Out of intra-class and elite conict,
new governmental bodies were forged.

Norbert Elias, State Formation and Civilization (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982);
and Max Weber, Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978),
pp. 22331, 90410. For one critique of Webers approach, see Michael Braddick,
The Early Modern English State and the Question of Dierentiation from 1500
1700, Comparative Studies in Society and History 38, no. 1 (1996).
18 chapter one

Concentrations of military and administrative resources were nec-

essarily accompanied by a re-expansion of the horizon of power itself.
Power was organized into national and imperial matrices. The forms
and images of power were evident in the ensemble of symbols and
identities associated with the institutional apparatus of the monar-
chies and post monarchical states. These enabled not only the exer-
cise of power, but also its active extension, especially in the form of
colonization and conquest that is its symbolic objectication. Institu-
tional forms contained more than the coercive resources available to
ruling elites. The institutions and counter-institutions of rule symbol-
ized power and generated the identities of those who executed it.
The establishment of the monarchical apparatus was a series of inven-
tions of new authority. Their ecacy had to go beyond the exer-
cise of sheer force or of ideological device. The symbolization of
authority became part of the reach of governmental sovereignty.
Indeed, it was the representation, or rather re-enactment, of the rit-
uals, customs, semiotics and objects that signied and expressed the
condensation of state authority and the abstraction of its power.
The third dimension is capitalism. A glance through the historio-
graphy of capitalism gives the impression that this should be a
familiar story. But, it is still the subject of signicant disputes. What
are the origins of capitalism? Do they lie in the feudal pre-history?
What signicance can be accorded to Protestantism? The English
agrarian revolution of the seventeenth century? Proto-industrial devel-
opment? Industrialization in the nineteenth century? The political
revolutions? The growth of trade? A more recent dispute revolves
around doubts about European exceptionalism.24 These questions are
not addressed directly, but this book is also not silent on the mat-
ter either. The historical connection of the economic worlds of
Western Europe and their cultural focus with Caribbean trade and
production, pre-existing networks of trade in Africa, the northeast of
America and the hinterlands of Central and South America has not
received its due in twentieth century political economy, despite the
observations of contemporaries that attested to the dynamism of early

See Andre Gunder Frank, Reorient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1998); and Jaroslav Krejc, Before the European Challenge:
The Great Civilizations of Asia and the Middle East (Albany, NY: State University of
New York Press, 1990).
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 19

capitalism. One contribution of this book is to revive and test ear-

lier insights in a framework that is alert to political and civilizational
inuences on the formation of capitalism.
Mercantilism should be regarded as a crucial component in this
analysis. The historical debate about mercantilismwhether it was
real in some sense or an invention of economic historiansis
unsolved. The mainstream view in economic history is that the sum
of local and national institutions of economic regulation makes up
mercantilism. While that is accepted here, a more broad-sweeping
analysis redenes it as the economic infrastructure of transatlantic
imperialism. The transformative eects of the imperial superstruc-
tures reached further than the territories held by any of Western
Europes powers. Bernard Bailyns observation that the British Empires
economic involvement in the Atlantic world radiated through the
entire inter-hemispheric system,25 applies equally to Spains and
Frances empires. The reach of all three empires extended beyond
recognized jurisdictions. The economic matrices of production, sup-
ply and distribution of goods and services overlapped with one
another. Imperial economic coordination reached levels that were
not possible for the feudal polities of the Middle Ages. It patterned
early modern trade and so-called primitive accumulation as suggested
by Marx. It also reveals a consolidation of the cultural premises of
economic action and economic relationships characteristic of early
modern capitalism. The increased velocity of trade movements
prompted mercantilist policies throughout the European continent.
In turn, they bound the Atlantic world together as an economic zone
through the various laws and instruments applied by metropolitan
elites to the regulation of colonial production and trade. These demar-
cated the patterns of trade and accumulation that were the dynamism
of capitalist development in the Atlantic zone.
Slavery was a vital component of this formative phase of capital-
ism and orthodox economic history has failed to appreciate this in
the past. It established a wide-ranging set of social relations across
three continents involving merchants, insurers, commodity produc-
ers and slaves. Its impact reached deep into many spheres of the
European economy, but was also cultural inasmuch as it sharpened

Bernard Bailyn, preface to Armitage and Braddick, The British Atlantic, p. xv.
20 chapter one

the kinds of modern rationality associated with capitalist production

and trade.26 Culture also shaped the conditions in which colonies
were integrated into Atlantic trade. Widening the appreciation of
historical capitalism to the larger Atlantic zone brings the overarching
role of states and unfree labor into the frame. This returns the vital
pre-history of industrial capitalism to its proper place and not only
as a consideration of the transition from feudalism in Europe, but as
the creation of an international system with global possibilities.


The book is structured in two ways. Firstly, the narrative unfolds

more-or-less chronologically. The historical sociology of state formation,
capitalism and civilization spans the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.
This choice of era is easy. It is marked out discretely by the main
lives of the Atlantic empires from the beginning through to their
fragmentation. In the main, however, the argument tracks the three
dimensions of Atlantic modernity. Of course, the three dimensions
all exceed the lifespan of each empire and cannot be reduced to the
cumulative activity of each. This is true also of imperial state formation
with its pre-history of continental conquests. Nonetheless, for heuristic
purposes, the formal Euro-American empires provide a frame for
exploring the three dimensions. There is no exclusive nomothetic
approach presumed here, but nor is this a pure ideography either.
The actual ows and interactions of each dimension and between
each empire can be examined without being forced to choose decisively
between the dilemma of nomothetic and ideographic explanation.
Examining capitalism, state formation and civilizational comprehension
within the frameworks of empire does bring to attention institutional
patterns. Each is elaborated separately in dierent chapters with
intersecting themes receiving simultaneous treatment at times.
Chapters three and seven through to nine concentrate on imperial
state formation. They pick up in explicit terms the problems of mutual
dependence and distance as they are expressed above. Additionally,

This is the core argument of Robin Blackburns The Making of New World Slavery,
from the Baroque to the Modern, 14921800 (London: Verso, 1997). See also the pro-
logue and epilogue to Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of
Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).
atlantic modernity and its dimensions 21

state formation is historicized through the categories of absolutism,

provincial power, empire and colonial edice. Chapter three pre-
sents an overview of all four categories. Sociological images of abso-
lutism and monopolies of power are problematized. In their place,
the aristocratism of provincial government and the command of cities
over their own jurisdiction are oered to counterbalance the one-
sidedness of assumptions made in some currents of historical sociol-
ogy. Early modern states were intrinsically tension-ridden polities in
their domestic and overseas realms. This guration is dealt with in
detail and alludes to a like-though-unalike relationship between impe-
rial authorities and colonial organs, an analysis that commences in
the third chapter and is rejoined in the seventh. It was similar in
all three empires inasmuch as the struggle between contending forces
was mostly subdued, though it was occasionally vivid, taking the
form of negotiation over jurisdiction and the implementation of met-
ropolitan commands. The overseas domains were distinguished by
the ecacy of the colonial order, the intervention of distance and
the fragility of royal clientage. Chapters seven to nine describe the
development of the colonies political edice. They explore how
colonists came to put into questionthrough reinterpretation of their
own political and cultural traditionsthe imperial structures that
ruled over them to which they had remained largely loyal. The last
substantive chapter argues that the nal revolt of Creole and Anglo-
American republicans can only be understood in terms of the breadth
of possibility given by prevailing social structures, inherited traditions
and by the limited capture of the sphere of politics by institutional-
ized power.
Capitalism is discussed in chapter six only. The chief aim is to
re-problematize the early era of capitalist social relations by drawing
attention to the multifaceted involvement of states in its formation.
It is impossible to fully appreciate this without taking the Atlantic
perspective and without exploring Western Europes premier powers
as empires and not just nation-states in the making. Mercantilism
was a sine qua non of the dynamism of early capitalist relations, as
it provided the infrastructure and coordination that could not be
achieved by private interests alone. Equally, slavery was a vital form
of labor that spurred the outgrowth of capitalism. It was the centerpiece
of tri-continental trade and the object of experiments in rationalized
production. Its products, apart from their extraordinary protability,
helped to transform consumption. These aspects of early capitalism
22 chapter one

have been the lacunae of the historical sociology of its development.

They have a place here as they relate directly to state formation
and the Atlantic zone as a crucible of civilizational interaction.
Civilization is an especial problem. It denes Atlantic modernity
in one respect; namely that the opening of the Atlantic world to
Europeans and their continent and to Africa made it a zone of civ-
ilizational exchange where there was no precedent of the external
inuence of another major empire. The impact of Spanish, British
and French colonialism on the Americas that occurred as part of
this long historical process is well documented. However, interest in
the civilizational consequences of continual interaction on Europe
has been, on the whole, secondary. Chapters four and ve deal with
this problem of how the expansion of Atlantic states into the American
world altered the terms in which the world was known, interpreted
and pictured by Europeans. One of the most profound shocks was
ethnographic: it lay in the knowledge of cultures and societies that
were not accounted for in the canons of wisdom. Europeans basic
sense of Self and Other was thrown into ux in the confrontation
with human diversity in a way that it wasnt elsewhere. How per-
sistent cultural transaction with the Americas sharpened modern civ-
ilizational self-consciousness is the principal problem pursued in those
two chapters.
The institution of centralist imperial states and the formation of
capitalism were allied processes that connected with the broadening
of northwest Europes civilizational horizon. The comparative frame-
work developed here makes one assumption. The presupposition of
this framework is that a civilizational awareness emerged without
being fully and clearly uttered until the late eighteenth century. To
best understand how the pre-text of identity of modern Europe
formed, the conceptual tools of recent civilizational sociology need
to be reviewed and some further theoretical work done. The next
chapter sets in motion a realignment of the sociology of civilizations
in order to establish the theoretical ground on which Europes his-
torical consciousness can be substantively explored.


Civilizational sociology is a branch of the social sciences that has

come together at the cusp of the twentieth and twenty-rst centuries.
It has a strong sense of its own historicity in two respects. Firstly, it
self-reects on the conditions of its development, that is, on the post-
Cold War context. The conditions are political, cultural and global.
The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the rivalry of super-power
blocs and removed an axis of inter-state conict that the world was
preoccupied with. Large-scale migration and the rise of multicultur-
alism have challenged monocultural conceptions of ethnicity. The
comparative success of developmental states in East Asia and Latin
Americaalthough that success was fragile and uncertain and remains
so at this timealong with the formation of the European Union
suggests that the world is still comprised of regional blocs and is
therefore multipolar. A new attention to the idea of civilization makes
some sense in light of these developments. Above all, the opening
for this kind of thinking exists because of the widely held opinion
that the new context is post-national. To be sure, neo-liberal theses
of the end of History and the clash of civilizations feed on this con-
text also. However, the civilizational sociologies identied here have
joined the sharp, critical response to the chief advocates of those
theses, Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntingtons views.1 In my
view, these are the most far-reaching as they challenge the histories
of the West that Fukuyama and Huntington depend on.
Secondly, civilizational sociology is a body of critical revision of
earlier traditions of civilizations analysis and classical social theory.2
Reecting on the theoretical heritage of Weber, Durkheim and Mauss

This facet of civilizational sociology cannot be developed in these pages but
see Gregory Melluish, The Clash of Civilizations: A Model of Historical Develop-
ment? in Arjoman and Tiryakian, Rethinking Civilizational Analysis.
Sources on the sea change in thinking in comparative sociology include Arjomand
and Tiryakian, Rethinking Civilizational Analysis; Johann P. Arnason, S. N. Eisenstadt and
Bjorn Wittrock, eds., Axial Civilizations and World History (Leiden: Brill, 2004); Arnason,
Civilizations in Dispute; and Eisenstadt, Comparative Civilizations and Multiple Modernities.
See also Thesis Eleven 62 (2000), which is a reference point for the current work.
24 chapter two

is a hermeneutical exercise, as indicated in the opening chapter. It

emphasizes their scholarship of the many diverse cultural, religious
and political orders that went against the grain of those who dened
civilization in the singular as the attainment of a standard of eco-
nomic, political and moral development.3 Earlier Western sociology
produced valuable observations on diversity and plurality when it
developed in an open-ended ethnological mode, although insights
were sometimes forestalled and underdeveloped. Regrettably, their
twentieth century heirs have not followed their richest insights through
and the idea of civilization all but disappeared from the Western
social sciences.4 Civilizational sociology is a revival of that idea, but
one that is keenly aware of the limitations of earlier schools of
thought. The paths of civilizations analysis and to some degree social
theory were constrained by the ethnocentricity that was co-present
in their own frameworks and existed uneasily with other theoretical
and empirical ndings. The hermeneutical method evident in much
current civilizational sociology combines contemporary perspectives
with reinterpretation of classical social theory and civilizations analysis.

Civilizational Sociology in Short Summary

Some of the most well known latter day comparative and macro-
sociologists are contributors to the reconstruction of civilizational theory:
Shmuel Eisenstadt, Johann Arnason, Benjamin Nelson, Marcel Gauchet,
William McNeill and Louis Dumount to name only a few.5 There is

Johann P. Arnason, Civilizational Patterns and Civilizing Processes, in Arjomand
and Tiryakian, Rethinking Civilizational Analysis; and Praesenjit Duara, The Discourse
of Civilization and Decolonisation, Journal of World History 15, no. 1 (2004).
There are some exceptions in thinkers that emerged after the First World War
who worked at the margins with notions of civilization. Pitiram Sorokin, Norbert
Elias, Lucien Febvre, Marc Bloch, Franz Borkenau, Karl Jaspers, Alfred Weber and
the Chicago School of sociology are notable. Antonio Gramsci could also be added
on the grounds of his reections on Americanism. Well-known historians Arnold
Toynbee, Oswald Spengler and Lewis Mumford waxed a conservative agenda during
the interwar years that, nonetheless, conceptualized multiple civilizations. Later
gures who were solitary though prominent sociologists and anthropologists who
contributed during the reign of American functionalism include Eric Voegelin,
William McNeill and Pierre Clastres. See Bjorn Wittrocks essay, Cultural Crystalli-
zation and Civilization Change: Axiality and Modernity, in Ben-Rafael and Sternberg,
Comparing Modernities, for a realignment of cultural and historical perspectives.
Louis Dumount, Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1980); Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, The Origins and Diversity
of Axial Age Civilizations (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), European
civilizational sociology and the atlantic 25

neither the space nor the need to rehearse their perspectives in full.
For my purposes, a review of this synthesising body of comparative
analysis can be taken in two stages. Firstly, some general comments
about the presumptions of the eld draw out generic insights that
can be applied to a study of the civilizational dimension of Atlantic
modernity, with particular attention paid to the inter-relationships
developed between more-or-less cohered cultural regions. Then, a
closer and more detailed inspection of particular perspectives will
ow into an elaboration of my own approach.
The sociology of civilizations oers includes important pointers for
this study of transatlantic colonialism, even though its general han-
dling of colonialism is insucient. It overturns any proposition that
traditional societies were isolated and unconnected. The agenda is,
by necessity, reorganized around encounters between societies. Flows
of goods, ideas, people, capital, armies and beliefs become the priv-
ileged material of investigation. The intensity and types of contact
between societies comes into focus, even where dierent societies
regard each other with great hostility. Civilizations rarely clashed
pure and simple, but were and continue to be deeply embedded in
a variety of external relationships that sometimes involve warfare.
They can be characterized by inter-societal and inter-civilizational
contacts that are ongoing and that compel internal change. Post-
functionalist historical sociologies formulated in this vein presuppose
that human societies of the past were interactive and porous, more
than they were closed, defensive or remote. The formation of states
and the modern system of capitalism are social processes that are
revisited here with this civilizational interactivity in mind.
The general lessons of civilizational perspectives have a good deal
to oer an examination of Atlantic modernity and yet civilizational
thinkers have been surprisingly subdued on the Americas. The conclu-
sion most salient to the current work that can be drawn from the
recent scholarship is that the level of inter-cultural contact from
the High Middle Ages to the early modern era between the major

Civilization in a Comparative Perspective: A Study in the Relations between Culture and Social
Structure (Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 1987), introduction to vol. 1 of Patterns
of Modernity (London: Francis Pinter, 1987), and The Civilizational Dimension in
Sociological Analysis, Thesis Eleven 62 (2000); Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment
of the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Toby E. Hu, ed., On the
Roads to Modernity: Conscience, Science and Civilizations: Selected Writings of Benjamin Nelson
(Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littleeld, 1981); and William McNeill, The Rise of
the West after Twenty-Five Years, Journal of World History 9, no. 2 (1998).
26 chapter two

civilizational centers of Islam, Western Europe, Eurasia, China and

India is still underestimated. I would add that this is the case also
with the intercontinental trac passing through the Atlantic empires.
Indeed, in the context of the progress made in this genre of com-
parative social science towards an understanding of the intercourse
of civilizations, the conspicuous absence of the Atlantic zone and the
modern Euro-American empires suggests that there is a space to be
lled. To this point, civilizational sociologists have not really addressed,
much less assimilated, the work of historians of the region.
This general review of the eld now narrows to examine those
conclusions that are germane to the current projects purpose. I want
to briey canvass the ideas of Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss and
Johann Arnason in order to establish the argument that civilizations
are zones of interaction and exchange. This will also set the scene
for an eective conception of civilization for suitable for study of the
old worlds of Europe and America.
Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss can be put together as they
experienced a conuence of ideas that produced an original synthesis.6
Durkheims early sociology stressed the functional division of labor
in self-contained national societies. His later turn to anthropology was
a move to a plane of cultural comparison. The border-bounded soci-
ety became a problematic unit of analysis, as did a notion of civili-
zation that privileged the unity of societies in symbolic representations.7
This met Mauss own anthropological insights which concentrated
on the cultural fabric that exceeded societies but also linked them
in a civilizational constellation. Consequently, it can be seen that
they generated two salient notions of civilization. Firstly, civilization
is a cultural form subject to rationalization, that is to national appro-
priation, modication and abuse by states. It cannot, however, be
completely conned to any particular state. Indeed, state-less societies
can also be attributed a cultural unity-of-sorts, a move supported to
some degree by ethnographies of their day.8 This implies that civilization
can only be understood in the plural, as delineable cultural unities.

Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, In Between Sociology and Anthropology:
Note on the Notion of Civilization, Social Research 38, no. 4 (1971).
John F. Rundell and Stephen Mennell, eds., introduction to Classical Readings
in Culture and Civilization (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 2021.
On the uses of power in stateless societies and anthropologys mistaken esti-
mation of archaic societies as pre-political, see Pierre Clastres, Society against the State:
The Leader as Servant and the Humane Uses of Power among the Indians of the Americas (New
York: Zone Books, 1987).
civilizational sociology and the atlantic 27

It also indicates that they recognized the complexity of the cogni-

tive systems that anthropology was studying.
Secondly, their neglected writings established the rst principles of
critical civilizational sociology through their focus on symbolism. The
attention paid to the symbolic dimension paved the way for a notion
of civilization that did not bind itself to the project of nationalism
of any one state. To Durkheim, this was a conscience collective, or a
fabric of taboos, representations and symbols that sacralized mean-
ing across pre-industrial societies. Mauss too accepts the conscience col-
lective as the denitive feature of civilization. It surpasses existing
nations and is widely recognized as a broader and, in most respects,
de-territorialized form (notwithstanding the nationalist mobilization
of the term by Mauss contemporaries). In more general terms, the
conscience implied that the proper domain for the study of civilization
is not the range of emblems of progress, but rather the symbolic
realm in which social intercourse is made meaningful. To re-phrase
this in a manner more in keeping with the tone of this work, the
symbolic realm is the set of inherited and emergent premises that
can be activated in a zone of intercultural and dialogical exchange.
This approach is not conned to neglected insights of classical
sociology. Johann Arnasons post-Weberian perspective infuses the
best insights of Durkheim and Mauss with those of Castoriadis,
Elias, Marx, Luhmann and Said.9 The outcome is a re-conception
of the inter-linkage of culture and power in which neither is seen
as inert and both are mutually modifying. The institutions of power
that emerge in the process of state formation are inseparable from
complexes of meaning that, in turn, are interpreted through the
objectication and wielding of power. However, the richest of his-
torical studies which inform civilizational sociology suggest that com-
plexes of meaning and interpretationoften taken in Weberian
sociologies as the world religionsmainly thrive in the crucible of
civilizational encounter with each other. Instead of power and cul-
ture appearing as juxtaposed things, both can be seen as varying

Johann P. Arnason, introduction to Social Theory and Japanese Experience: The Dual
Civilization (London: Kegan Paul International, 1998). For a comparison between
Arnason and Eisenstadt, see also Jeremy C. A. Smith, Theories of State Formation
and Civilisation in Johann P. Arnason and Shmuel Eisenstadts Comparative Sociologies
of Japan, Critical Horizons 3, no. 2 (2002).
28 chapter two

across history and across dierent civilizational bases, according to

the post-Weberian view. If this is so, then there seems to be little
reason to view civilizations as sealed formations that were more-or-
less remote from each other until the modern age, rather than
dynamic and self-transforming over a much longer period. Arnasons
theory and his actual historical sociologies submit that it is through
cultural, religious, political and economic exchange, contact, deriva-
tion and connection often encompassed by expansive empires that
cultural self-transformation occurs. His conceptual reworking of
Weberian schools of thought clears the ground for a comparative
sociology that stresses civilizational interaction over the longue duree,
instead of isolation prior to the modern epoch of globality.
The process by which Arnason claries and synthesizes Weberian
sources sharply focuses the conception of civilization on meaning.10
This alludes to the shared background, or substratum, that provides
the assumptions behind competing ideologies within a discrete, nor-
mally multi-societal, region.11 Similarly, in economic and political
spheres where power is exercised, that very exercise of power is
framed by a common store of meaning. His three categories of multi-
dimensional analysis are wealth, meaning and power. The inter-
connections and dissonances between them single out civilizations
from each other. They can be used in comparative analysis to high-
light civilizational patterns and identify the terms on which civiliza-
tions engage and interact.
On the face of it, the three categories suggest anity with the
three dimensions of Atlantic modernity discussed here. To be sure,
there is much in common. However, the points of connection and inter-
penetration between wealth, power and meaning are not the same
as the articulation of state power, capitalist formation and civiliza-
tion that is theorized here and in chapters to follow. There is not
the space to set out Arnasons argument and hold it up for comparison,
nor would this be really necessary. However, one feature will serve
to illustrate a major point of departure. How cultural principles frame
the parameters within which states negotiate confrontation with one
another, conduct their foreign exploits and how they dene the terms
of recognition, non-recognition, misrecognition and appropriation of

Arnason, Civilizations in Dispute, chap. 4.
Ibid., pp. 205207.
civilizational sociology and the atlantic 29

other societies is treated dierently in these pages. To put this another

way, civilizational confrontations of the kind that occurred in the
Americas have be theorized in a framework that is more sensitized
to the extreme dierences that Europeans could perceive in the inter-
facing social formations of the Western hemisphere. Arnasons own
classication of civilizations privileges only those clearly connected
to imperial and national states. The status of non-stratied, stateless
civilizations is not considered in enough depth. In fact, outright dis-
missal of non-imperial cultures is implicit in post-Weberianism and,
in this regard, Arnasons civilizational theory falls short of fully con-
cluding the direction of Durkheim and Mauss incomplete, but deeply
insightful, formulations.
This has a pressing importance for consideration of the Atlantic
as a crucible of civilizational exchange that was contextualized by
colonialism, given the prominence of non-imperial pre-Colombian
civilizations that coexisted with the Mesoamerican and Andean empires
on the American continent and in the Caribbean. Their part was
not inconsiderable and while the European impact was devastating,
their counter-reaction on the civilizational order and sense of identity
of Europeans inuenced the reconstruction of theological, ethnological
and scientic assumptions, as argued in chapter ve. In addition, the
colonized survivors were able to variously mark out a civilizational
space (in both a sociological and geographical sense) for preservation
and for modern forms of ongoing engagement. Notwithstanding these
critical comments, there can be little doubt that Arnason has gone
further than any other social theorist in revitalizing the cultural
insights of civilizational analysis and the classical heritage of sociology
and anthropology.
This class of theorists oers the most salient historical understanding
of the formation and ows of civilizations. Two notions of civilization
are at work here. While they are compatible, they are not used in
equal measure. Comparative sociologists draw a potent image of civi-
lizations as geo-cultural clusters that embody unity-in-tension for con-
stellations of discrete societies. Together, these make up a useful
heuristic guide for the current approach. They spell out how civilizations
have been harmonized by an overarching cultural imagery, but have
also been demographically, ethnically and economically diverse. Global
history has demonstrated that such clusters are frequently found to
encompass a rich diversity of peoples, migratory movements, ideas
30 chapter two

and styles.12 Historical civilizations were open to internal alterations

prompted by contact, exchange and war with other societies and
geocultures; such inter-connections are arguably more inuential today
than ever before.13
There is a second notion. If understood as unied by shared pre-
sumptionsthough still containing conicting ideological, institutional
and structural patternsthen it can be admitted that civilizations do
not simply generate functional requisites of ethnic, economic, polit-
ical or linguistic homogeneity. In this sense, they are not just units
of analysis for historians and comparativists. They are also the sym-
bolic and, sometimes, material means through which intercultural
encounters become meaningful, especially those of the kind involved
in the colonization of the Americas. They establish the terms of iden-
tity and dierence between peoples, societies and places. Thus, in
the second notion of civilization, the distinctive trait for compara-
tive purposes is the assemblage of cultural suppositions that provide
the background to trajectories of development.

Rethinking Civilizational Sociology in the Atlantic Context

This is a careful and purposeful selection of civilizational sociology.

Bearing its main precepts in mind, I propose the following working
schema. It is designed to raise the best theoretical platform for the
following discussion, which privileges the second over the rst notion.
The civilizational sociology constructed here examines:
1) The forms of engagement in intercultural encounters amongst
Europeans and between Europeans and Amerindians.14 Engage-
ment should be taken here in the broadest sense: dialogue,

See, for example, Jerry Bentley, Old World Encounters: Cross Cultural Contacts and
Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
This is a perspective distinct from Samuel Huntingtons understanding of civili-
zational clash and indeed is at odds with it. In that version, civilizations seem to
be great historical entities that are immunized against external inuences and endure
long periods with their essential cultural traits preserved. Here they are re-conceptualized
as symbolically thickly bordered rather than automatically equated with either
alliances of discrete state powers or seemingly stable supra-state forces. In this regard,
they also encompass stateless cultures or indeed may be constituted by them. Compare
with Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). See, for contrast, Subramanyam, Connected
Some space is devoted to the experiences of enslaved and freed Africans, though
admittedly this is an under-explored aspect of this exposition of Atlantic modernity.
civilizational sociology and the atlantic 31

study, representation, diplomacy, treaties, alliances, trade, as

well as the modes of conquest, violence and warfare.
2) The emergence of a self-consciousness of civilization amongst
Europeans. Civilizational dierence was posited by Europeans
in the Atlantic zone in ways that it was not elsewhere. The
confrontation with the American world and its ethnic plurality
which colonialism added European and African identities to
fuelled a conception of radical otherness that coincided with an
awareness of diverse civilizations. It can be gauged in the grow-
ing comprehension of cultural juxtaposition of the societies of
Western Europe and the social imaginary of the Amerindian
world. This consciousness is evident well in advance of the
appearance of civilizational discourses of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries.
3) The signs of civilizational interpretation. Europeans made sense
of the American world through a variety of modes: maps and
topography, travel literature, art and scientic works, the use
and translation of language and urban and village architecture
that reected known traditions and New World conditions.
These produced a materiality, or material expression, of par-
ticular civilization identities that were mostly European, but
could also be mestizo, Creole and African-American. Some of
these circulated widely adding to the common fund of Atlantic
meaning, for example maps and books. They enhanced a feel-
ing of civilizational particularity that developed in Europe in
the eighteenth century.
This civilizational theory that is part of my overall conception of
Atlantic modernity is developed in detail in chapters four and ve.
It centres on a sharpening European awareness of dierent civilizational
forms or, in other words, a capacity to map the world as a place
of civilizations. Inter-civilizational interaction in the Americas involved
the collision of universes of meaning. The transformation of cultural
understanding that took place across three centuries of transatlantic
exchange involved a complex combination of the mobilization of tra-
ditions and incorporation of innovations. One way to understand
this as a civilizational process is to conceptualize it in the terms of
Cornelius Castoriadis theory of the social imaginary.15 Civilizational

Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society (Cambridge: MA: MIT
Press, 1987).
32 chapter two

thinking was not central to Castoriadis concerns. However, it is pos-

sible to view the major thrust of his work as a parallel and perti-
nent development.16 Instead of searching out intercultural applications,
his philosophy revolves more explicitly around the root meaning that
human societies construct to explain existence in both ontological
and societal terms. Another way of expressing this is to pose it as
forms of image making through which the universe, the world and
society are interpreted. As a body of work, his theory is distinctive
and subject to substantial reception.17 The principal interest for the
current argument lies in the specic notion of the instituted and
instituting imaginary. The distinction is between:
. . . on one hand, given structures, materialized institutions and works,
whether these be material or not; and, on the other hand, that which
structures, institutes, materializes. In short, it is the union and the ten-
sion of instituting society and of instituted society, of history made and
of history in the making.18
Symbols, language, ideas, rules, conicts and structures are created
by humans and order the social world. However, they are both
made in the sense that they are received from the past and in
ux or they are in the process of making in the sense that they
institute what is new and thereby bring about change.
To render this key principle of the theory of the imaginaire suit-
able for the civilizational sociology I am proposing I will highlight a
minor thread of Arnasons reception of Castoriadis, one in which he
deals with this precise question. The formation of meaning can be
re-worked and re-presented as, in his words, a process of creative
transformation of earlier cultural orientations.19 All social formations
variously develop dynamics of transformation based on inherited

See Arnasons reading of Castoriadis as a contributor to the metatheory of
civilizational forms in Civilizations in Dispute, pp. 22632.
See, for example, Fabio Ciaramelli, The Self-presupposition of the Origin:
Homage to Cornelius Castoriadis, Thesis Eleven 49 (1997); Hans Joas, Institutionaliza-
tion as a Creative Process: The Sociological Importance of Castoriadis Political
Philosophy, American Journal of Sociology 44, no. 5 ( JanMay 1989); Kanakis Leledakis,
An Appreciation of Cornelius Castoriadis: Theorist of Autonomy and Openness,
European Journal of Social Theory 2, no. 1 (February 1999): 9598.
Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution, p. 108.
Johann P. Arnason, The Imaginary Institution of Modernity, Revue Europeenes
de Sciences Sociales 27, no. 86 (1989), p. 22. Arnason develops this line of argument
about the place of traditions in deeper and more general terms in Culture and
Imaginary Signications, Thesis Eleven 22 (1989). Later publications build on these
civilizational sociology and the atlantic 33

beliefs, ideologies and visions. The emphasis in Arnasons evaluation

is quite dierent: there is not, for all comparative intents and purposes,
overriding creation of institutions ex nihilo, that is, a distinguishable
side of utter creation. Where Castoriadis places the accent on the
novelty of world-historical cultural breakthroughssuch as the Greek
invention of democracyArnason acknowledges the weight of tradition
that falls heavily on the makers of history (who are at the same time
interpreters of the past). The implication of this view is that the inven-
tiveness of imaginary creations is exaggerated by Castoriadis and that
the development of symbols, language, ideas and rules always depend
upon given traditions in acts of reinterpretation. However, Castoriadis
point is that the instituted imaginary should not be conceived of as
an unshakeable burden. Historical agents are engaged in processes
of creative change of ideal conditions (and, for that matter, material
ones). There is never a complete moment of absolute determination
of anything social by the past; there is always an element of inde-
terminacy or ux through which other possibilities can be exploited.
This is a helpful reformulation in which social and cultural change
is conceptualized in terms of accessible traditions derived from the
past that can be mustered to make particular events, developments,
structures and symbols meaningful. To put this another way the forms
of intercultural engagement make sense in the context of frames of tradition.
At the same time, it accounts for creative agency mobilized in the
present in the invention of modes of interpretation that incorporate
the novelty of what is discovered in inter-societal settings. The central
image becomes one of collective arrangement and reorganization
based on an inherited order and a creative horizon. Implicit in this
conclusion is the supposition that societies are anything but closed
entities and civilizations as families of societies (to borrow Mauss
phrase) are likewise porous. If societies have boundaries set by tradi-
tions, they are also movable; that is, they are subject to creative
transformation. Civilizations have symbolical borders too that are
arguably even more mobile, especially if we accept the second notion
of civilizational detailed above. The broader cultural context is more
visible in this kind of understanding of societal and civilizational

insights through application to substantive cases, although the phrase creative trans-
formations does not gure prominently in them. See Social Theory and Japanese Experience,
and The Future that Failed.
34 chapter two

However, there are still outstanding questions about the relation-

ship between specic inherited traditions and general civilizational
transformationparticularly as it occurred in the Americasthat are
not solved in Mauss sketch of theoretical principles or Arnasons
elaboration. If we accept Mauss denition of civilization, we are still
left with traces of particularistic traditions that often take society or
nation as their referent. Intercultural transmission can be comprised
of the opposition of distinct constellations of societies. However,
specic traditions are also carried into such encounters. More to the
point, specic traditions or national traits can be captured and trans-
nationalized in the civilizational exchange. I can illustrate this point
by abridging an important argument that is elaborated in chapter
ve. Spanish, English and French approached Amerindian cultures
in a variety of ways that mirrored their own national preconceptions
of ethnic dierence and savagery. However, there was also a com-
mon basis for specic ethnological beliefs that derived from Christianity,
the writings of the Ancients and, indeed, from medieval myths and
legends. With a common background, Europeans could agree on the
juxtaposition of civilized and barbaric nations and on cultured
society against the State of Nature. Particular interpretations devel-
oped against that common background did circulate, however, in
the form of travel writings, philosophical, theological and scientic
works, and graphic representations of indigenous American cultures.
Circulation trans-nationalized approaches to Amerindian cultures that
had a Europe-wide appearance. What I characterize in chapter ve
as inter-civilizational encounters, therefore, involves modication on
all sides, so to speak, and not just the confrontation of two clusters
of societies that are assumed, mistakenly, to be harmonized. More
exible and open-ended comparison of particular cases of civiliza-
tional exchange can advance condently on this basis.
The outline of general approaches carried out in this chapter clears
the ground for a historical sociology of Atlantic encounters involving
European and native powers, Caribbean-based stateless societies and
North American indigenous proto-federations. There were a num-
ber of societies engaged in this many-sided upheaval of the Americas
and the kind of mutual modication involved in creative transformation
is readily evident. At the outset, we can identify two overarching
patterns. One involves the conict of European and indigenous civ-
ilizations. The other is a juxtaposition of particularistic European
civilizational sociology and the atlantic 35

and American traditions that accumulated in cross-Atlantic encounters

within a universalizing Western civilization. A substantive discussion
of these two dierent patterns of Euro-Atlantic civilization takes place
in chapters four and ve. The emphasis there falls on the always-
current mobilization of traditions and creation of original institutions
that occurred in the creative transformation of the Atlantic. For ana-
lytical purposes, chapter four outlines the traditions, or inherited
imaginary to use Castoriadis terminology, while chapter ve focuses
more on expressions of new civilizational perceptions (the emergent
or instituting imaginary).

Further Questions

Several questions are untreated to this point about the relationship

of Atlantic modernity and civilization. One should be sharply put at
this point. In the opening chapter, a multidimensional notion of
modernity was elaborated that encompassed state formation, the
development of capitalism and idealsor mythsof civilization.
The expansion of new and self-transforming kinds of administrative
and economic power need no general theoretical preamble in advance
of more detailed discussion that will occur in the chapters that follow.
The same cannot be said of the problematic of civilization. This
chapters goal has been to set out a procedure for rethinking views
within civilizational sociology to generate a framework that is applicable
to the Atlantic scenario. Progress in setting out the case for the specicity
of the historical-civilizational experiences of the Americas awaits the
detail of chapters four and ve. Some further questions about Atlantic
modernity have to be highlighted ahead of that however. The con-
cluding chapter will advance a summary judgment following the
detailed examination of the three-century history of the Americas.
If Atlantic modernity was the historical breakthrough that produced
the Euro-American world and realigned the place of Western Europes
premier powers, then what can we dene as civilization in relation
to it? This book is largely, although not completely, silent on the
indigenous survival and self-renewal after Conquest and focuses on
civilizational currents that originated in the European incursion into
Amerindian worlds. This is to facilitate the examination of complex
questions. Is civilization Atlantic? Spanish, British, French? Or is it
Western? On the schema Ive established here, civilization is the
36 chapter two

variety of intercultural engagements, the means of making American

worlds meaningful (to Europeans) and the broad consciousness that
Euro-Americans developed out of immigrant-settler colonialism. In
short, it is a sort of European consciousness actualized in a variety
of social practices that set broad multi-societal formations apart from
one another in the Atlantic. It should be regarded as Spanish, British,
French and ultimately Creole, Anglo-American and French Canadian;
that is, as specic. However, it translates into Western and European
or, properly speaking, Euro-American realms at the same time; that
is, it should be thought of as universalizing in its thrust. How partic-
ular traditions that later informed nationalisms should be analysed
with respect to the common core of the Western tradition is a chal-
lenging question. But civilization reconceived as a general consciousness
is certainly too open-ended to be restricted to specic empires. In
other words, it is obviously too simplistic and reductive to posit the
Spanish, British and French empires as the self-contained vehicles of
their own integral civilizations (and, by extension, the logical unit of
analysis for sociology). The volatility of civilizational encounters in
the historic Atlantic zone is too great to go down that path. That
much can be concluded on the basis of this chapter. However, this
draws us only a little closer to a more satisfactory explanation of the
question of the relationship between the general context of European
universalism and particular carriers of Europes civilizational pre-
conceptions and transformed beliefs about the Atlantic. The main
body of this book sheds more light on this matter. The Conclusion
then returns to the general problem to summarize.
The next chapter begins the substantive discussion of the three
dimensions of Atlantic modernity. It begins with imperial state for-
mation, which had absolutist and post-absolutist logics. Then, it
establishes the tension of state formation and explains how its domes-
tic iteration can be compared to a colonial or imperial form and
where the two varied. This is a launching pad for the elaboration
of civilizational themes in chapters four and ve.



This chapter proles the intricate composition of the British, French

and Spanish empires. The structures and world views of embryonic
absolutist centres, as well as those that had superseded absolutism,
spread across the Atlantic. Modern state building on both sides of
the Atlantic occurred in synchrony, but did not necessarily entail
identical processes. While the Spanish, the French and the English
were establishing colonial settlements in the Americas and setting up
governmental bodies to administer imperial aairs, they were also
consolidating the core institutions of state power. The paths to cen-
tralized and institutionalized power diered vastly, although they also
shared common features that invite comparison. Examination of this
pattern of historical variation throws into relief the underlying capac-
ity of each state for institutional self-innovation. The ability of state
leaders to work up the institutions of government was forged in both
metropolitan and imperial settings.
Most explanations of absolutist state formation lend little insight
into this transatlantic nexus of early modern European states. A com-
parative analysis that draws out the transatlantic character of early
modern states, in fact, hinges on a re-examination of the idea of
absolutism. There has been considerable dispute over the precise
nature of absolutist states.1 Much of it dwells on the terminology.
How did early modern states acquire this label? It was not because

Denitions vary amongst the following sources: Perry Anderson, Lineages of the
Absolutist State; William Doyle, The Old European Order 16601800 (New York: Open
University Press, 1978); Elias, State Formation and Civilization, and The Court Society
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983); John H. Elliot, A Europe of Composite Monarchies,
in Past and Present 137 (November 1992); Thomas Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan:
Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997); Anthony Giddens, The Nation State and Violence (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1985); Hill, The Century of Revolution 16031714; Henry Kamen, European
Society 15001700 (London: Unwin Hyman, 1984); Victor G. Kiernan, State and Society
in Europe 15501650 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982); Helmut G. Koenigsberger,
Dominium regale or dominium et regale? Monarchies and Parliaments in Early
Modern Europe, in Johan Goudsblom, Human Figurations: Essays for Norbert Elias
38 chapter three

they were administered by centralized and autocratic monarchies,

arguably a myth created by nineteenth century historians.2 Yet, in
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Europes absolutist states
were seen as despotic, and not only in Europe. Those states had
also established outposts in the Americas and could be viewed from
there as oppressive inasmuch as they sought to structure colonial life
around the needs of the metropolitan centres.
Of course, for some time historians have understood this view as
an oversimplication of the institutional make-up of early modern
states. It also underestimated the gap between the formal structure
of imperial institutions and the actual capacities to govern eectively.
To view absolute monarchies, or their immediate successors in the
case of the United Provinces and Britain, as proto-bureaucratic states
in which royal dynasties exercise masterly control over aristocratic
and urban elites is to eace their complexity. The reach of the
empires transatlantic bodies was never so complete. Back in Western
Europe, autocracy was not possible and was rarely desired.

(Amsterdam: Amsterdams Sociologish Tijdschrift, 1977); Roger Mettam, Power and

Faction in Louis XIVs France (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988); Mooers, The Making of
the Bourgeoisie; Lloyd Moote, The Revolt of the Judges: The Parlement of Paris and the Fronde
16431652 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972); David Ogg, Europe of the
Ancien Regime 17151783 (Glasgow: Collins, 1965); Donald H. Pennington, Europe in
the Seventeenth Century (New York: Longman, 1989); and Gianfranco Poggi, The
Development of the Modern State (London: Hutchinson, 1978).
Nicholas Henshall argues that absolutism is a modern myth. His case rests on
two versions of earlier historical views. Firstly, the literature overestimates the strength
of monarchical rule. Monarchs incorporated local powers and elites extensively.
Rather than aggressively subsuming them, monarchical authorities pursued co-opta-
tion. Rulership was therefore more a strategic than conictual matter. It was on
the strength and presence of pre-existing apparatus and not new institutions that
this type of state was built:
Some commentators refer to a royal power which was absolute and limited at
the same time. Royal power was absolute and limited in the entirely logical
sense of relating to dierent areas of a kings activities. His people were sub-
jects in relation to his prerogative: he commanded and they obeyed. As mem-
bers of Estates and corporations they were citizens, upholding their rights and
participating in aairs. The two elements were held in balanceand some-
times in tension. (The Myth of Absolutism, p. 144)
Secondly, and less importantly, absolutism is not a guration to be studied, but a
nineteenth century prism of historiographical interpretation. It was ideologically-
weighted notion in the charged atmosphere of Europes and Americas republican
revolts. Henshalls genealogy of the term seems sound, but I take issue with the
rst claim, or at least its emphasis on the continuities with the feudal guration. It
overlooks the qualitative development of the states as conglomerations of national
institutions, that is as distinct and novel formations. Furthermore, he understates
the ssures in relations between municipal and patriciate elites. Variance of interests
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 39

An image of internal provincial tension accords better with the

historical shape and internal shifts and self-alterations in the com-
position of the early imperial states. Domestically, the absolute states
were European-based court societies, in Norbert Elias terms,3 and
a guration of institutional capacities, symbolic intrigue and ritual.
At court, patronagethe lifeblood of absolute monarchical rule
was the means by which strategies were enacted to manage the ten-
sion with provincial and urban independence. There is a remarkable
similarity in the pattern of integration that it generated in states on
the continent and indeed in Britain.4 Aristocratic status was determined
through court society and the cultural centres in Madrid, Lisbon and
Versailles drew all in. Even the most peripheral elites gured in the
world of the court and had to in order to achieve essential legal and

and perceptions were more pervasive and did not always manifest themselves openly
in revolt. See Henshall, The Myth of Absolutism. See also Mark Greengrass, Conquest and
Coalescence: The Shaping of the State in Early Modern Europe (New York: Routledge, 1991).
Elias, The Court Society. In institutional terms, the growth in the administrative
and military bodies of the state is worth detailing, even if only briey. Fernand
Braudels reading of the historical literature on bureaucracy gives two examples of
the modest dimensions of the French and Spanish bureaucracies. In 1500, he esti-
mates that France had around 12,000 in public oces. By comparison Spain had
a bureaucracy numbered at 70,000 by 1624. It had a smaller population than
France, but, of course, a larger empire to govern. Many of the Western monarchies
had the shell of a bureaucracy in place at this time, but few had the vast resources
of the modern nation-state. See Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce (London:
Fontana, 1985), pp. 54950; Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System (San
Diego: Academic Press, 1974), vol. 1, pp. 13637, especially fn 16; and Kamen, European
Society, p. 301. Nevertheless, states apparatuses did grow. The spread of oces in
France was symptomatic of the expanse of the French apparatus. It is alleged that
Louis XIII alone created 50,000 new oces during his reign. However, it was under
Louis XIV that the French bureaucracy was substantially expanded, with very little
resistance from the nobility. These are simple illustrations of the extent of the state
in France. The English did not lag either, although their pattern of bureaucratization
reected constant renement. Henry VII ensured that the English state was a power-
ful and penetrating apparatus: by the time of his death, receipts for revenue had
trebled. As Wallerstein notes (see The Modern World System, vol. 1, pp. 23233) the
Henrician Reformation brought in its wake an administrative reorganization and
strengthening of this apparatus during the course of the sixteenth century. The
English also expanded their bureaucratic apparatus during this period; however, this
was an expansion primarily of its inuence rather than its quantitative size. See Pen-
nington, Europe in the Seventeenth Century, p. 241; Giddens, The Nation-State and Violence,
pp. 102103; Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolute State, pp. 100101, 119; and Ogg,
Europe of the Ancien Regime, pp. 28, 34.
Samuel Clark, State and Status: The Rise of the State and Aristocratic Power in Western
Europe (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1995).
40 chapter three

public recognition in the cosmos of aristocratism. The web of clientele

relations was an indispensable medium of control for monarchical
heads and an obligatory commitment for nobles. Aristocratic motives
for involvement often reected clan, friendship and factional interests
and this had an impact on the form of their agency.
Court society embraced such counter-strategies as well as the
monarchs program of centralizing inuence. Provincial leaders were
bound by a grave dilemma in enacting such strategies. They were
so often torn between the interests of their own power bases and
obligations to higher authorities. They depended on patronage from
above, just as they did on support from below. Clientage was the
mode of life in what can be characterized as the baroque state,5
which gave the appearance of strength and solidity, but masked the
ux of monarchical and provincialized elites. The courts of Spain,
Portugal and France encompassed institutional constellations that Ive
described above: these might be called a provincial and municipal order.
Similar networks connecting elites are evident in the British and
Dutch cases, where absolutism had been overthrown. Local and
urban bodies did not simply transmit the rule of peak governmen-
tal bodies, but they did share identication with the greater state
There are now ample historical studies of the absolute regimes
that illustrate how the court society of regional aristocratic potentates
curbed monarchical rule while, through patronage, the royal cadre
were able to contain provincial and corporate factions. What they show
up is the states internal fragility, particularly in France and Spain. In
French historiography, revisionism has opened up new lines of enquiry
into absolutism. A number are relevant to the current study. In mid-
seventeenth century France, Bourbon prerogative was precarious.6
A strategy of compromise and cooptation adopted in the face of the
fronde undoubtedly strengthened it.7 Nonetheless, provincial and urban
bodies sustained a remarkable and sometimes conictual resilience

Peter R. Campbell, Power and Politics in Old Regime France 17201745 (London:
Routledge, 1996).
Mettam, Power and Faction in Louis XIVs France.
William Beik, Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth Century France: State Power and
Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); and
James B. Collins, The State in Early Modern France (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1995).
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 41

within a more general pattern of regular cooperation.8 The intendancy

was introduced by the Bourbon monarchy to curtail this indepen-
dence. However, it was also compromised by the nexus of patron-
age, which could be the only basis for the Kings men having any
authority. In the study of baroque Spain, there are some discerning
histories that drew into relief the provincial character of monarchi-
cal rule. The Spanish Habsburgs inherited a territory unied through
dynastic marriage. While the monarchy was unquestionably absolute,
its centralist control over Castile was not assured, much less that of
the other regions. It was thus guided to seek cooperation with provin-
cial nobility. Even so, Castilian dissatisfaction with the Union erupted
in 1520 in the comunero rebellion.9 The revolts in Catalonia and
Portuguese more than a century later revealed the limits of monar-
chical integration in Spains peripheries.10 In its old world territo-
ries, Spanish royal authority was greatly constrained. Apart from its
long campaign to hold on to the Netherlands, it was limited, to vary-
ing degrees, to observe long-standing local laws in its Italian terri-
tories. In Sicily, in particular, royal authority had to compromise the
monarchs will consistently.11 This was, arguably, the zone of the
Habsburg Empire in which Spanish authorities were compelled to
the most extreme type of adaptation.
A more nuanced depiction is evident in these revised views of
absolutism. It is echoed in the current argument and it is possible,
at this point, to take stock of it. Early modern states encompassed
the monarchy and those around it, and other relatively independent
spheres of provincial and colonial government and administration.
The latter restrained the former often through resistance or, alter-
natively, collaboration or indeed outright allegiance with monarchi-
cal authorities. In all cases, a relationship of tension prevailed.
Overarching and superintending institutions of government issued
from it and monarchies sustained limited rule through them. Provincial
limitations did not militate against the main power centres in those

Julian Swann, Provincial Power and Absolute Monarchy: The Estates General of Burgundy
16611790 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
L. F. Martin, El Movimiento Comunero en Los Tierra de Campos (Leon: Centro de
Estudios e Investigacion San Isidoro, 1979).
John H. Elliot, The Revolt of the Catalans: A Study in the Decline of Spain 15981640
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964).
Helmut G. Koenigsberger, The Government of Sicily under Philip II of Spain: A Study
in the Practice of Empire (New York: Staples Press, 1951).
42 chapter three

states that can be characterized as absolutist; they were, in fact, its

central characteristic.
Through their opposition to various court measures at certain his-
torical junctures, the Church, provincial nobilities and urban asso-
ciations were also able to generate new institutions or re-vitalize old
ones that checked the growth of monarchical power. Their actions
sustained the conict over which decision making organs could legit-
imately govern in various spheres of power. Signs of this tension in
north-western Europe included a low-level war of attrition and open
conict as well as the routinized engagement of monarchical and
local or municipal elites. Social struggles for power that began later
in the mid-sixteenth century and peaked in the mid-seventeenth cen-
tury emerged from this tension. A number of these are watersheds
in Western European national histories, as both dramatic class strug-
gles and conicts amongst the elites of Europes ruling classes. The
elites of state produced a capacity to create and mobilize an insti-
tutional edicealbeit unevenlyand could exercise an ability to
expand spheres of control and regulation under many circumstances.
In their eorts to establish the regulatory and infrastructural apparatus
of central government, they encountered the recurrent resistance of
city-based associations, the Church and provincial forces. Monarchical
cadres were able to autonomize their own positions even within a
web of networks of patronage that brought all aristocrats.
The noteworthy conicts of the early modern period were clashes
of dierent forces within the dominant classes and a form of inter-
class war. They include following: the Dutch Revolt against the
Spanish monarchy, the English Civil War, the comunero rebellion and
Catalan revolt, and the fronde. Each manifested the tension between
monarchies and the provinces and the cities and assumed the spirit
of provincial insurrection.12 In the Dutch and English cases, the rebel-

Perez Zagorin sees provincial rebellion during this period as resistance to exter-
nal rule. Provincialism and localism presented themselves in all rebellions. However,
provincial rebellion has a particular character. It was comprehensively provincial and
encompassed all classes. A number of revolts can be classed in this manner. Zagorin
discusses three of the four revolts Im concerned with as revolutionary civil wars,
to distinguish them from provincial rebellions. The process of state formation, if
seen as a tension of absolutism, brought out provincialism in all four conicts, but
not only as a local identity proered to strengthen local autonomy, but also as a
means of identifying centers vital to the provincial and municipal order. Parliament,
the comunidades, the parlement courts and the states-general became the recognized
centers for the provincial and municipal order. Similarly, through a provincial
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 43

lions successfully instigated new states that advanced political principles

of representation.13 They were realizations of a wider re-composition
of social relations. The other two revolts also prompted a re-dis-
persal of power with the result that the monarchical state was shored
up as a self-limited form. The surviving absolute monarchies could
only be eective where relatively independent spheres of the state
were compelled to orient to the central court apparatus. Spain and
France came out of rebellious episodes retaining a monarchical form
that was recongured in two ways. Firstly, both monarchies were
compelled to accommodate the routine expressions of corporate and
provincial interests. Secondly, both developed additional resources
for government through separate royal institutions.
The tumultuous early modern history of England warrants some
brief notes because the manner of its revolutionary settlement shaped
its early modern imperial path. England assumed a constitutional
monarchy after the Cromwellian interlude and brief Stuart recovery.
The state that was embroiled in the seventeenth century conicts
had a composite character. The wider British dimension of Englands
long civil war oriented the regimes that replaced the Stuart monarchy
to the problem of multiple kingdoms.14 The long revolution was
fought on the frontiers of the state and in dierent theatres of war
on the island. After 1689 this tension within Britain continuedin
some ways, resembling the tension of state formation that delimited
the exercise of absolute ruleand encompassed the American territories
in a particular way. The principle of dominium politicum et regale con-
fronted the central government in Scotland. It also confronted the

outlook it was possible to distinguish the regency in Brussels, the Stuart Dynasty
and the new Catholic monarchy in Madrid as other centers associated with the
court state. For Zagorins denition of provincial rebellion and his analysis of the
Dutch Revolt, the English Civil War and the Fronde, see Rebels and Rulers 15001660
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), vol. 2.
Christopher Hills analysis in The Century of Revolution best frames the English
Civil War in a context of religious, political and economics movements across a
longer period than the one often carried out in histories of England. See also Alan
Houston and Steve Pincus, Modernity and Later-Seventeenth Century England,
in A Nation Transformed: England after the Restoration (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2001). On the United Provinces, see Helmut G. Koenigsberger, Monarchs,
States-General and Parliaments: The Netherlands in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); and Georey Parker, The Dutch
Revolt (London: Penguin, 1977).
Conrad Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War: The Ford Lectures Delivered in
the University of Oxford 19871988 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
44 chapter three

monarchy when it came to governance of the American territories.

This embodied a compact between Englands rulers and local poten-
tates in their dominions comparable to many composite absolute
monarchies.15 The benets of a wider association with the empire
were available to the elites of Englands kingdoms and colonies, while
local self-government remained in place. The extension of dominium
politicum et regale to the colonies in America and to Scotland was an
outcome of the overthrow of Stuart rule. Meanwhile, the status of
Ireland remained a vexed problem. There was therefore a vital anal-
ogy between the tension-ridden guration of local and central author-
ity in England and the imperial-colonial divide that straddled the
British Atlantic.
In wake of this modied view of the absolute and post absolute
monarchies, it becomes possible to vary the scope of analysis in a
way that is more alert to the discordant character of imperial state
formation. The Americas can then be brought into view and the
trans-continental dimension of the guration of tension can be under-
lined. A dynamic of non-contiguous colonial extension was initiated
with the founding of American colonies. Western states were breaking
new ground in the way in which they consolidated national institutions,
when they turned to transcontinental state building. Indeed, domestic
and imperial developments are best understood in relation to each
other, where they exhibited a similar dynamic and, more importantly,
where they diverged. In many instances, supra-provincial organs of
authority had to govern both single territories in which they were
domiciled and imperial provinces abroad. Relations with remote colo-
nial elites were complex and amplied by distance. Many governors
and high administrators based in the colonies were removed from
the immediate presence of the court and the representative and juridi-
cal bodies of the imperial state. Provincial and urban elites back in
France, England and Spain had a nearer presence and inuence and

Michael Braddick presents an image of early modern English state formation
that also casts it as a battle of local and central authorities fought over the terms of
civility as much as anything else. See his State Formation in Early Modern England c. 1550
1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). See also John H. Elliot
A Europe of Composite Monarchies, Past and Present 137 (1992); and Helmut
G. Koenigsberger, Composite States, Representative Institutions and the American
Revolution, Historical Research 62 (1989): 13553, on the character of the composite
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 45

were bound by the strong links of patronage, while settler communities

and colonial governors of one sort or another were often more remote
and had little access to the privileges and inuence of metropolitan
location. This is not to say that metropolitan-based imperial elites
would pay no heed to colonial interests. Ocials mindful of the
internal discordance of early modern states drew up imperial directives
carefully. Not only would they have to consider the weighty inuence
of military commanders, leading manufacturers and parliamentary
or judicial factions; they had to take account of the views of colonial
authorities and leading merchant groups. However, for ocials sta-
tioned in America, who were responsible for colonial administration,
it was the communities of colonists that were even more potent con-
stituencies. The colonies were far removed from the baroque state
of court society (or parliamentary government in the British case)
and depended on separate networks of inuence and sponsorship.
Distinct sets of American interests coalesced early and were, in turn,
reected in colonial administration. Where the sta of organs of colo-
nial government objected to imperial cadre or simply deed them,
or even where they merely performed the formalities of passing guber-
natorial or vice regal ordinances, they distinguished themselves as
leaders of structures that were separate from the metropolitan apparatus.
Sheer distance conditioned these terms of imperial rule, and I turn
to this aspect of colonialism now.

Ruling Over Continents

As European states advanced into the Americas another dynamic of

imperial extension was set into play. Many of the diculties faced
by imperial and colonial administrations stemmed from the tyranny
of distance. To a great degree, distance dictated the terms on which
the supra-colonial authorities of Spain, France and Britain could
capably superintend their domains. The problem of government from
afar consistently confronted imperial bodies responsible for settlement,
trade and regal representation. Furthermore, consolidation of a single
locus of command that arched over dissimilar social and ecological
environments furthered the strain on government. The result was a
dissonance of de jure authority and de facto power.
Donald Meinigs geographical typology of transoceanic empires is
useful as a point of departure when it comes to the relationship of
46 chapter three

distance and control.16 His work on the North Atlantic has a special
salience here. Its relevance lies in his premises more than his con-
clusions. He starts from the premise that commonly used categories
of core and periphery or metropolis and frontier do not adequately
capture the strategic range of points in the transatlantic transect; a
premise now shared by other historians.17 Colonization did not estab-
lish cores and peripheries so much as a zone of interaction. Interaction
is dened by the character of the dominant colonizing activities:
exploration and gathering lead to casual contacts, while establishing
outposts and imperial colonies leads to articulation of dierent areas
and stratication of new nuclei settlements. Casual links between
dierent points in the Atlantic transect develop more formal attach-
ments: the axis between port and court. The number of transoceanic
connections multiplies and thickens until numerous sites on both
sides of the Atlantic, and on the islands in it, are involved. The sites
are characterized by Meinig as types: hinterland, Indian core area,
outpost, frontier entrepot, colony, port and Atlantic port.
These sites were political, economic and migratory sites in a dozen
or so geographical transects and cannot be reduced to categories of
metropolis/frontier or core/periphery. Apart from a concern about
Spanish mercantile monopoly, Meinig mostly connes his analysis to
the British Empire. I will set this typology against the Spanish expe-
rience to illustrate the problems that confronted the Habsburg and
Bourbon monarchies in establishing an absolutist empire, in a way
that deepens Meinigs point about the governmental problem of
The consequences of distance were well dened for the Spanish
Indies.18 Spains centre seems to be obviously Madrid. Arguably,
however, Seville and Cadiz were also centres due to their privileged
near-monopoly status as the conduits of trade, as well as ports. Seville
housed the Casa de Contratacion and was subsequently subject to impe-
rial regulation, although this was often breached.19 The hinterland
was less important compared to English regional production, as Dutch

Donald W. Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 years
of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), pp. 25867.
Greene, Negotiated Authorities.
Lyle N. McAlister, Spain and Portugal in the New World: 14921700 (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press), chap. 11.
Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce, pp. 15253.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 47

merchants freely brought goods into Spanish ports, albeit through

agents. In addition, the existence of dierent layers of trade brought
many locations of supply into the trade networks. Slavery and con-
traband diversied economic activity. Administratively, this could
undermine the Crowns regulatory regime and it frequently did. The
Canary Island trade was itself another layer. Without doubt, it was
an outpost, as Meinig would have it. But it also traded directly with
the Caribbean and was governed by a separate body of regulations.
Colonial ports were many and more widely spread. Havana and
Santo Domingo in the Caribbean, Veracruz in New Spain, Cartagena
on the north coast below the Central American isthmus, Panama to
its northwest and, later, Buenos Aires in the La Plata region were
major economic centres in their own right. Many were also seats of
colonial administration. The colonial outposts were mostly mining
zones, although these too were another kind of centre.20 Potosi and
Zacatecas were the main ones. They utilized a variety of forms of
labor. Indians were either freely engaged or paid a debt in the repar-
timiento system of communal labor. Slavery was widespread from the
seventeenth century onwards. The outposts fed Mexico City and
Lima as frontier entrepots. The production hinterland was comprised
of communal economies working according to subsistence values, but
delivering surpluses to Spanish or Creole agents. The Colombian
Choco was also this type of mining zone, although its combination
of African and indigenous slave labor was quite unique.21 Unlike the
North American hinterland, it was not incorporated into Atlantic
trade. Instead, it was part of interregional exchanges.
This gives some insight into the limitations of Meinigs typology.
Applying it to the geography of Spains Atlantic system begs a
dierent, and more dierentiated, classication. I am not proposing
to generate one here. But a few comments on the problem of dis-
tance are called for. Links across space in the Spanish Indies were
tenuous, more so than even for the English colonies to the north.
A greater proportion of trade had to go through Caribbean ports,
which were subject to extensive piracy. The great landmass of the

Lyman L. Johnson and Susan Migden Socolow, Colonial Centers, Colonial
Peripheries, and the Economic Agency of the Spanish State, in Daniels and
Kennedy, Negotiated Empires.
William F. Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier: The Colombian Choco 16801810
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976).
48 chapter three

southern continent was under Spanish and Portuguese jurisdiction.

But much of it was not as thoroughly exploited as the St Lawrence
delta or the hinterlands east of the Appalachians. Indeed, it could
not be before the nineteenth century. Also, European settlement was
sparse compared to the Caribbean, the British North Americas or
the St Lawrence Valley. Put simply, Spains colonies were further
removed. Trac to and from them had to negotiate the Caribbean
much of the time. Moreover, the major production zones on the
southern continent were remote and their hinterlands produced far
less for world markets. The connections between miners and local
merchants in the outposts to regional agents and ocials in the fron-
tier entrepots and to transatlantic commerce conducted from Havana
or Vera Cruz were more threadlike.22 On this basis, it is argued
here that the bearing that geography had was more deeply felt in
the process of Spanish imperial state formation than in the north.
The argument to this point has momentarily stressed divergences
between Spanish possessions and those of the French and British.
Nevertheless, the similarities are also startling. The distance of the
New World from Europe routinely undermined imperial rule, as the
apex of power was separated from the realms of its exercise in two
ways. Firstly, the sheer stretch of space between the continents proved
to be a barrier to the limited existing capabilities in transportation,
military manoeuvre and communication. Space and time in combi-
nation governed the conditions under which the Spanish, French
and British could govern their own dominions. Absolutism in the
states of Western Europe was a guration that juxtaposed the European
monarchical court and the provincial and municipal order. In the
imperial context, this tension reached a third institutional cluster:
that group of institutions that settlers maintained hegemony over.
This was a tension between the high ministerial apparatus concerned
with imperial aairs and the colonial order. In all cases, it was
amplied by distance. Ideals and legislative enactments that were
based on a remote continent often conicted with the real and per-
ceived institutional needs in the colonies. The conditions of European
life, polity and economy could not therefore be simply reproduced
in the colonial setting. In many areas, the institutional ambitions of
empires often ran ahead of their organizational capacities or even

Ibid., pp. 32637.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 49

their real control over their colonies.23 To a large extent, it can be

armed that imperial perceptions that guided decisions were for the
consumption of Europeans in the metropolitan centres, far removed
from the harsh New World. Distance not only problematized the gov-
ernability of the Americas, it also skewed imperial perceptions of it.
Distance across the Atlantic also amplied dierence separating
Western Europe and the Americas. British, French and Spanish
colonists confronted a physically distant and thoroughly unfamiliar
environment. They endeavoured, in the context of civilizing goals,
to forge American social structures, administrative and economic
forms and patterns of consumption and fashion that approximated
the European world. To the extent that this was held as a goal, it
was a nave one. A complex relationship existed between the aspi-
rations of French, British and Peninsula settlers and their experi-
ences of migration. The complexity involved the distance from the
homeland cultures that immigrants came from and the colonial towns
and frontiers of the lands that they occupied. Many of these emigrated
with settler communities and underwent a process of substantial alter-
ation to suit the new climate. Of course, the presence of anything
that seemed European represented a reduction of the social distance
and dierence between the two continents, a kind of comforting asso-
ciation with their place of origin. Identication with the cultures of
empirewhether it took the form of French aristocratism in Montreal,
Hispanicism in cities of the south or reclaimed ancient English lib-
ertieshedged against the impositions of Americas diverse environ-
ments. However, in the New World, such familiar traits were regularly
complemented, if not supplanted altogether, by new ones that had
instituted themselves as the fabric of American life.
The exploration and then colonization of far o American places
entailed an invasion of a world of Amerindian civilisations that were
completely unfamiliar. This unknown could only be understood,
mapped and conquered by the cultural and institutional means that
Europeans were acquainted with, and that were accessible to them.
These means were derived from a known set of practices. Inter-
civilizational contact in the removed American environment set some
fundamental conditions in which colonial societies and an imperial

Jack P. Greene, Transatlantic Colonialism and the Redenition of Empire in
the Early Modern Era: The British-American Experience, in Daniels and Kennedy,
Negotiated Empires.
50 chapter three

state edice could develop. Features common to the three enterprises

of colonialism can therefore be distilled from the specic gurations.
The known institutional practices were applied to three problems
of colonizing, if we identied by David Fieldhouse.24 Firstly, Atlantic
expansion was colonization in its true sense.25 The early waves of
conquest and genocide of the indigenous inhabitants dissolved these
social formations and implanted settler-colonial institutions. Furthermore,
they had to be populated on a signicant scale. This lent them the
character of immigrant societies that can be distinguished from later
occupied states of Asia, the sub-continent and Africa that were more
common in an era of so-called High Imperialism.
Secondly, the Atlantic empires encompassed vast territories that
they could never fully administer. The means through which the
problems of distance could be tackled did not develop easily in the
Americas, or at least could not be developed under the auspices of
vice-regal and gubernatorial authorities. Some imperial bodies were
extended and modied to suit the new demands of cross-Atlantic
government; for example, the Council of the Indies was a body akin
to other consejos responsible for other Spanish domains. Others were
invented afresh to tackle the transoceanic character of the burgeon-
ing Atlantic empires. However, these were not always successful.
Local institutions with a Creole or settler inuence were more operative
in the organization and regulation of colonial life. The urban cabildo
in the Spanish provinces, the town-based meetings of British North
America and the Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture in the
French Caribbean all represented organized colonial interests. To
the extent that they exercised autonomy from vice-regal representatives,
it was partly due to the distance from the centres of monarchical
authority. Consequently, through to the nineteenth century, cross-
Atlantic distances would always trouble the European administrations
of the ve empires.
A third feature can be delineated from the rst two and relates
to the early development of modern capitalism. The transatlantic empires
created spheres of mercantilist regulation intended to augment the
benets that accrued to states from accumulation and trade. All ve

David Kenneth Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires: A Comparative Survey from the
Eighteenth Century (London, Macmillan, 1982), chap. 16.
Ibid., p. 372.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 51

imperial contenders in the Atlantic zone jealously guarded dierent

types of monopolies in shipping, trade and nance, especially as they
found themselves in the unusual situation whereby the only powers
operating in this vast region were European. The economic forms
particular to each empire gave rise to dierent administrative prob-
lems and, consequently, dierent regimes of mercantile governance.
The extractive economies of the Spanish Indies promoted an annual
trac of gold and silver carried by large otillas. They were orga-
nized out of Seville by the Casa de Contratacion as a monopoly and
required signicant naval protection. Slavery was a major feature of
mining and African slaves were acquired and used more and more
under the instrument of the asiento (that is, the legally sanctioned
contracts to trade slaves). The great imperial trades coexisted with
an intra- and inter-colonial commerce. Contraband was an abiding
feature of this other economy and could not be tackled eectively
by either imperial or municipal authorities. Without question, dis-
tance hampered eorts to halt trade with other colonies or, indeed,
other European powers. The two coeval economic forms made piracy,
smuggling and the asiento signicant issues in treaty negotiations with
other powers.
There is a further feature. Europes American empires were inter-
continental and oceanic. Mastery of the Atlantic and its trade routes
was the prize sought by the Euro-American empires. The control of
sea-lanes was a great challenge and this stimulated the development
of maritime imperial expansion. The American territories, on the
other side of the ocean, were remote and non-contiguous. The
Spanish, British and French attempted to structure their colonies as
imperial territories domains. As inter-state relations became the subject
of more complex negotiationafter Westphaliathe international
dimension gured more in domestic politics. Political life in the
colonies, especially in Anglo-America, acquired an acute awareness
of domestic developments on the other side of the Atlantic as a result.
The imperial capture of the Americas by European states can be
summarized as follows. Through conquest and expansion, European
states transformed themselves into conict-driven empires marked by
a more pronounced structural tension between European bases and
the colonies. In the metropolitan perspective, institutional primacy
lay mainly with imperial bodies. However, the license to govern was
diused by the distance between dierent regions of rule and by the
colonial autonomies that emerged in New World settings and from
52 chapter three

the structure and shared understanding of power. Mediating institu-

tions that were either created or captured by the colonial order were
recurrently at odds with the rule of imperial bodies.
The next section turns to the formation of colonial societies and
the impact that foundational patterns had on the trajectories of insti-
tutional development. To this point of the chapter, I have general-
ized the traits of the Dutch, Portuguese, French, Spanish and British
empires. The focus here is on France, Britain and Spain. Crucial
comparisons between them highlight not only the dierences in their
respective gurations of power, but also the similarities in the ways
in which each reproduced the central tension of European state for-
mation. The beginning of each represents critical divergence.

Foundations and Trajectories

Although English-American colonies were established during the reign

of the Stuarts, they were private corporate ventures with little direct
involvement of the court state apparatus. The Stuarts were, however,
continuing a pattern set by Elizabeth that was continued after the
Civil War. Companies and colonies chartered by the Crown did not
involve the state in their founding, but were instruments of foreign
policy.26 Hispanic claims to hegemony over the Atlantic were not
openly contested until the mid-seventeenth century. Until then, missions
of reconnaissance and exploration under the auspices of chartered
companies and the consolidation of existing claims to settlements on
the northeast coast of the continent constituted a more subtle challenge.
The early colonies were therefore a part of a greater strategic set of
interests that were very much the domain of the court state apparatus.
Parliament did endeavour to oversee their development, but was
blocked by Charles I and later by Charles II.27 The colonies were legiti-

Elizabeth Mancke, Empire and State, in Armitage and Braddick, The British
Atlantic World, pp. 18889.
From the 1620s to well after the Seven Years War, control over crown lands
in America was a battle between the monarchy and Parliament, then the monar-
chy and the Privy Council and then the Privy Council, the Board and Trade and
settlers. On the status of Crown lands, see Elizabeth Mancke, Negotiating an
Empire: Britain and Its Overseas Peripheries c. 15501780, in Daniels and Kennedy,
Negotiated Empires, pp. 25557.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 53

mated by monarchical grants of charters. Crown land in America

was considered part of a royal largesse. The last granted was
Pennsylvania, to William Penn in 1681. After the 1688 Revolution,
the Privy Council and Parliament took over the supervision of Crown
lands. Until that time, many colonies were established as acts of
direct patronage. The trajectory of colonization was set early. The
private and fully corporatist character of the rst coloniesexemplied
in the failed Virginia Companyinstituted a principle of colonial
autonomy that would remain an enduring feature of Anglo-American
colonization from inception until the American Revolution.
These origins set the manner in which colonial settlers established
and shaped New England. The seventeenth century inaugurated a
condition of exile that underpinned the historical experiences of
migration to colonial North America. Moreover, private and corpo-
rate origins continued to inform the radical independence of the
colonial orders strategic location. In this regard, the nascent colonies
were remote from the structure of the island empire governed by
the Stuarts.28 The non-state origins of English colonialism were
matched culturally by ercely independent versions of Protestantism.
The settlements of farmers bound by the Covenant struggled to sur-
vive in the early decades. But colonies did last and would receive
far greater attention later from the post-revolutionary British state.
Values of possession and an ethos of industry emerged as the cul-
tural settings of the colonies. They were shaped according to exist-
ing models of social organization that stressed integration of families
into a wider colonial unit. With these values, colonists began to trans-
form the land by posting fences and tending gardens and agricul-
tural plots. English law was unique in that it did not mandate a
procedure for acquiring land that involved written title of any sort.
Instead, the act of enclosure symbolized ownership and was sucient
to claim property.29 The values that inhered in the land that was
now workedwhere it had previously lain idlewere the sign of
possession. Private colonies sub-divided into private farms that tted

Compare with the argument developed by Nicholas Canny in The Elizabethan
Conquest: A Pattern Established 156576 (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1976).
Canny draws strong parallels between patterns of colonialism in the UK and the
Patricia Seed, American Pentimento: The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), chap. 1.
54 chapter three

into an integrated colonial matrix. When corporate colonies gave

way to royal sovereignty, this blueprint of private possession remained.
The small farmer appeared the archetypal character of English colo-
nial society who embodied colonial and personal autonomy. A notion
of private property unique to the English underpinned the arche-
type. It survived the transfer of colonial authority to the Crown. The
Empire that developed after the Stuarts and the constitutional set-
tlement of 1689 inherited the North American colonies that were
on this trajectory.30 Culturally, imperial agents and agencies drew on
similar imagery as the settlers, one that animated agrarian industri-
ousness and notions of discrete ownership.
John Lockes intervention at the end of the seventeenth century
consolidated conceptions of property.31 He counselled colonists to uti-
lize methods of enclosing land. Arguing against government concepts
of aboriginal sovereignty and against the opponents of colonial plan-
tations, he claimed that natural right to the land inhered in its
improvement through tilling, laboring and planting and in subse-
quent settlement. This championed a notion of private ownership
through agricultural cultivation and the use of money. In turn, this
is bound up with the lack of recognition of the proto-federative char-
acter of northern aboriginal political societies. In Lockes interpre-
tation, the two go hand in hand: English property is made possible
by the eclipse of idle aboriginal forms. Native Americans repre-
sented a lost past, in Lockes eyes, one that England shared as its
autochthonous origins.32 However, colonists could take comfort from
the knowledge that they were bearers of an inevitable progress revealed
to them as Providence.
The cultural character of the empire that claimed sovereignty in
Atlantic America was, by necessity, tolerant of competing variants

H. V. Bowen, Elites, Enterprise and the Making of the British Overseas Empire 16881775
(London, MacMillan, 1996), chap. 2.
Barbera Arneil, The Wild Indians Venison: Lockes Theory of Property and
English Colonialism in America, Political Studies 44 (1996): 6074; Anthony Pagden,
The Struggle for Legitimacy and the Image of Empire in the Atlantic to c. 1700,
in Nicholas Canny, ed., The Origins of Empire, vol. 1 of The Oxford History of the British
Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); and James Tully, Rediscovering
America: The Two Treatises and Aboriginal Rights, in An Approach to Political
Philosophy: Locke in Contexts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). Compare
with Herman Lebovics, The Uses of America in Lockes Second Treatise of Government,
Journal of the History of Ideas 47 (1986): 56779.
Seed, American Pentimento, pp. 4042.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 55

of Protestantism and with it, a broad and diverse spectrum of views.

The agencies of the Great British state had to be especially lenient
towards those remote colonies whose foundation and trajectory dur-
ing the seventeenth century were based on ight from England. This
is not to say that all American colonies were founded on religious
pluralism. The original Puritan colonies were as remarkably intoler-
ant as any in the Americas.33 But, by the beginning the eighteenth
century a dierent pattern had emerged: a patchwork of alternative
Christian creeds made up the British North Americas. The imper-
ial apparatus showed a laissez-faire attitude to this unmovable diver-
sity. It asserted an overarching institutional authority to the extent
that it realistically could. Meanwhile, the colonies were left alone to
enjoy the general principle of religious liberalism, even though it was
not wholly realized.
Where British America incarnated a degree of autonomy, Spains
colonies had dierent origins and directions. The Columbian ven-
tures and other explorations were nanced and completely supported
by the Crown. Colonialism built on extensive participation in the
reconquista unication of the state. Although Spanish unity was mainly
dynastic in its early years, it did embody monarchical ambition that
reached beyond the range of possibilities for fteenth century Spain.34
The ideal of the Universal Monarchy provided legitimacy to the
Crowns eorts and to its legal pronouncements. Its laws revolved
around its economic goals to control labor and generate mineral
wealth. Where the British were preoccupied with land and property,
the Spanish looked to mobilize communal labor during the early
years of colonization.35 As a result, Spanish conquerors had the clos-
est interface with Amerindian civilizations of the three Western states.
The theological, strategic and legal debates that this interface pro-
duced pitted the Crown and the clergy against the encomienderos. In
the Spanish territories, indigenes were an issue of division between
the Royal Government and settler forces. Consequently, Spanish
powers were well versed in the practices of cultural confrontation.

See Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The Americas: The History of a Hemisphere (London:
Weidenfeld and Nicholson), 2003, p. 52.
M. A. L. Quesada, Los reyes catolicos: La coruna y la unidad de espana (Valencia:
Association Francisco Lopez de Gomara, 1989).
Seed, introduction to American Pentimento.
56 chapter three

The form was centralist, but the Spanish were accustomed to inde-
pendent self-administration also. In the Americas, Spanish coloniza-
tion imperfectly copied the Castilian guration of the court centre
and its opposing provincial and municipal order. The colonial order
was a self-appointed encomiendero elite that, despite its Hispanicism,
was embroiled in low level conicts with the vice-regal governor.
Compromise and mutual recognition of an arena of joint rule was
less evident in the Spanish states American reinos, then it was in its
domestic realms. In this manner, the institutions of imperial and
colonial rule echoed the tension of the Spanish state, while centralism
marked attitudes to those outside the Castilian world, whether Muslim,
Jewish or American. This divergence between private English and
royal Spanish colonization prevailed until the mid-seventeenth century.
The French-American Empire issued from intense competition with
England.36 French reconnaissance in the 1580s led to the early devel-
opment of the fur trade and consequently a strong interest in the
northern continent. Both English and French vessels were shing o
the northeast coast and up the St Lawrence River at this time.37
French colonialism suered a series of false starts in this region,
many of which were Huguenot initiatives.38 An experiment with an
agricultural colony at Acadia in 1604 failed. In 1608 Quebec was
established and although its early years were dicult, miserable and
precarious, it did survive. For the French, as for the English, this
was a period of tentative steps. Huguenot persecution, civil conict
and then the Thirty Years War preoccupied Frances rulers. As the
expanses of American continent became apparent, a scramble for
colonial possession began.
The impact on the French was profound and has, perhaps, been
underestimated.39 The French empire at the core of imperial com-
petition was a Colbertian regime and remained one after Colberts
demise. There was certainly French interest in the Americas, particularly
in the vielles colonies of the Caribbean, in the sixteenth century as well

Jonathan Hart, Comparing Empires: European Colonialism from Portuguese Expansion
to the Spanish-American War (London: Palgrave, 2003), pp. 8687.
A. N. Ryan, France and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century, in John B.
Hattendorf, ed., Maritime History (Florida: Kriegar Publishing Co, 1996), vol. 1.
William J. Eccles, France in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), chap. 1;
Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 2527.
Robert Aldrich and John Connell, Frances Overseas Frontier (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1992), pp. 1415.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 57

as Huguenot interest in Spanish Florida and Portuguese Brazil.40

However, it was Colbert who began the development of French
imperial institutions. This regime confronted American possessions
with its own particular dynamic. Private settlements in Canada and
most of the Antilles predated Louis XIVs reign. Henri IV had shown
interest in colonization by chartering a company at the end of the
sixteenth century. Cardinal Richelieu went further by establishing a
charter colony in 1627. However, royal resolve superseded private
eorts. Colbert ended charter colonialism beginning with the char-
tered Company of One Hundred Associates that had barely sus-
tained the settlements in New France. It became a royal colony and
he brought other colonies under the auspices of the Crown with his
compact colony policy.41 Cardinal Richelieus earlier eorts had great
ambition, produced modest achievements and were, in a way, rened
. . . and amplied by Colbert.42 The stated goal was not only the
glory of the monarchy, but the protable exploitation of the new
colonies. Consequently, the mercantile regulation of shipping associ-
ated with the pacte colonial began. In all, the state apparatus from the
mid-seventeenth century directed its energies, fairly aggressively,
towards the consolidation of a transatlantic imperial nexus. Its success
in doing so was greatly tempered by the institutional autonomies of
its colonies. It was, I have argued elsewhere,43 a deliberate imperialism.
The results of the foundation of the colonies can now be briey
summed up. The minimal administration of non-economic colonial
aairs by the English state sanctioned by default an autonomy that

See comments by La Popeliniere and Richard Hakluyt on the possible benets
of colonization for France in John H. Elliot, The Old World and the New 14921650
(Cambridge, Canto, 1970), pp. 8384, 91. See also Olive Patricia Dickason, The
Myth of Savage: And the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas (Alberta, University
of Alberta Press, 1984), pp. 12527. Compare with Brian Slatterys French Claims
in North America 15001559, Canadian Historical Review 59, no. 2 (1978).
Pierre H. Boulle, French Mercantilism, Commercial Companies and Colonial
Protability, in L. Blusse and F. Gaastra, Companies and Trade: Essays on Overseas
Trading Companies during the Ancien Regime (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 1981);
William J. Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV 16631701 (London: Oxford University
Press, 1964).
Math, French Colonial Policy in America and the Establishment of the Louisiana Colony,
PhD diss., University of South-West Louisiana, 1984, p. 36.
Jeremy C. A. Smith, A Deliberate Imperialism: France in the Americas in
the Eighteenth Century, in Michael Adcock, Emily Chester and Jeremy Whiteman,
eds., Revolution, Society and the Politics of Memory: Proceedings of the Tenth George Rude
Seminar on French History and Civilization (Melbourne: University of Melbourne, 1996).
58 chapter three

was similar to its existing provincial and municipal order. However,

colonial institutions in the Thirteen Colonies were based on principles
of representation rather than those of urban association. In all, this
contrasts with the situation in the Hispanic and Franco-American
empires.44 In the Spanish Indies, the early municipal cabildos were
often corporatist societies. Likewise in the French Antilles, the Chambers
of Commerce and Agriculture represented corporate interests. British
North American institutions exercised some legislative powers that
gave settler communities some control of the executive of the imperial
state. Although this eect was unintended, it amounted to limited
regional authority. This was a spectacular instance of the tension
between colonial autonomy and imperial jurisdiction that can be found
as a generic feature of all three states.

British, French and Spanish States in the New World

In an alien New World, the Spanish, English and French attempted

to develop states and societies by using the cultural, economic and insti-
tutional means that they were familiar with. Each empire, drawing
on a general set of socio-cultural conceptions, made and re-made its
own particular structures and forms of the tension of state formation,
although they did not do so without constraint. English, Spanish or
French states themselves bore the particular marks of their own pasts.
Each empire grappled with its own particular structures inherited
from these foundational experiences. Formal arrangements posited
peak bodies as the decisive nodes of economic and administrative
exchange. It was the needs and demands of imperial authorities that
were, to varying degrees considered to be the chief imperative. More
generally, the tension of European state formation, the character of
the colonies origins and trajectories and the types of social relations
that prevailed in Europe, set the circumstances in which the Spanish,
English and the French projected their extant structures into empires
and ensured that colonial realities did not resemble imperial ideals.
It was the structures of the Spanish Empire that most faithfully
mirrored this general guration. Spain constructed an imperial
apparatus that endeavoured to replicate the society and culture of

John H. Parry, The English in the New World, in K. R. Andrews, N. P.
Canny and P. E. H. Hair, eds., The Westward Enterprise: English Activities in Ireland,
the Atlantic and America 14801650 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1978).
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 59

Castile. Spains colonies were its patrimonies during the Habsburg

era, and remained its realms after the Bourbon reforms. The cen-
tralist impulse of Hispanic absolutism was imported with conquest;
it was a product of Castilian statecraft and administrative precision.45
The Habsburg Empire that colonized America was a sixteenth cen-
tury amalgam of Spanish, Austrian and other European kingdoms
united under six vice-regal councils.46
The Council of the Indies was exceptional amongst these inas-
much as it commanded its own administration. In theory, it repre-
sented and assisted the monarchy in management of the colonies,
whilst more practically it was granted more authority than other
councils. A distinctly Spanish executive coalesced around the Council.
At its head was an aristocracy-dominated chancellorship supported
by a large bureaucracy of letrados, attorneys who had extensive pow-
ers and a crucial social role. Clerks, secretarial sta, geographers and
treasurers lled out the ranks below. In collaboration with the monar-
chy, the Council legislated in all major spheres of imperial-colonial
life. It was meant to subsume a number of responsibilities under its
auspices: legal enactment, jurisdiction, taxation, ecclesiastic appoint-
ments, papal responsibility, trade duties and government of indige-
nous peoples.
This ideal structure was destined to be modied in its practices.
The priorities of the large composite monarchy would see to that. The
wealth extracted from South American mines in the sixteenth century
underwrote the Habsburgs domestic strategies.47 Wars in Central Europe
and against France, the Ottomans and the Dutch were possible because
of the ow of precious metals. The monarchy endeavoured to spread
the stability of rule that it enjoyed in Castile to its Iberian kingdoms
and to the remainder of its European territories and it used the
wealth hauled out of its American inheritance to do it.
Spanish mercantilism was designed to render the economic sphere of
the Americas an instrument in this ght, especially the mining sector.48
It was institutionalized in the Casa de Contratacion. With these two

This is Claudio Velizs main thesis in The Centralist Tradition of Latin America
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).
See H. G. Koenigsberger, The Habsburgs and Europe 15161660 (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1971).
Richard Herr, Spain (Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971).
R. D. Gonzalez, El monopolio estatal del murcurio en Nueva Espana durante
el siglo XVIII, Hispanic American Historical Review 82, no. 4, pp. 685718.
60 chapter three

bodies, the council and the Casa, the Spanish absolutist monarchy
could, ideally, rule the Americas through the media of a hierarchy
of oces: viceroyalty, general captaincy, provincial governorships,
district judges (oidores), audiencias (viceregal courts), town councils (cabil-
dos) and town mayors (corregidores). The last three institutions were
the only ones in the structure in which regional representative auton-
omy was invested. Only they could acquire a relative independence
from the central court state. The rigidity and size of the viceroyal
bureaucracy generated its own dynamic of centralization.
Habsburg rule in Spain collapsed at the end of the seventeenth
century. The succeeding Bourbon dynasty was determined to restore
Spain to its former position. The institutional edice bestowed the
Bourbon regime was remodelled over a period of seventy years. New
oces decreed with greater powers replaced some older ones. But
the logic of a centralist regime confronting a corporatized urban
order in the Americas remained. In fact, the Bourbon regime vig-
orously pursued centralism. In doing so Madrids letrados and func-
tionaries broke with Habsburg methods, especially in the philosophy
of government. However, in the purposeful quest for eective direction
of the empire, they were consistent with their Habsburg forebears.49
A detailed discussion of this complicated transformation follows in
later chapters.
The structure of the British Empire diered clearly from the
Spanish case. The initially non-monarchical projects of English colo-
nialism gave way to imperial involvement, as charters were ceded
and unocial colonies incorporated into constitutional ones. However,
there was signicant indeterminacy and uncertainty before consolidation
occurred. The Cromwellian Protectorate faced great domestic instabi-
lity and was incapable of fully aiding English Americans. Colonists
were divided over the Civil War to some extent. A web of interests
had linked many planters in the Caribbean to the parliamentary
cause, while others had allied with the King. Moral hesitancy about
the foundation of enslavement plagued the interregnum, which in
turn created uncertainty amongst planters in Barbados, Jamaica and
Virginia.50 The Restoration appeared to conrm greater independence
and increased security for the Thirteen Colonies. Accordingly, this

See Brian R. Hamnett, The Mexican Bureaucracy Before the Bourbon Reforms 17001770:
A Study in the Limits of Absolutism (Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 1979).
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 24349.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 61

event was received with cautious relief on the American continent.51

Colonists perceived that they were less impeded by subordination to
direct British needs. Their observations were belied by their ongoing
economic, political and cultural dependence on England.52 Dependence
could favour colonial interests and it did through the codication of
slavery and the acceleration of slave trading.53
English imperial interest and involvement in the American colonies
began in earnest after the Restoration. It was increasingly recognized
that colonies were essential to the economic vitality of the wider
commonwealth. This meant more intensive settlement, a mercantilist
orientation to trade and a new engagement with existing Anglo-
American communities. An increase in the rate of emigration along
with diversication of its sources, the failure of American joint-stock
companies and the abandonment of colonial charters cleared the
way for greater English regulation of colonial aairs. The institu-
tional renement of the Empire was a set of tasks left mostly to the
post-1689 constitutional state. A national division of powers between
the executive and legislature loosely connected structures of national
and imperial government. In the Restoration, Anglo-Americans had
foreseen greater independence for themselves and their institutions.
Aside from these concerns, the colonists had to act prudently in rela-
tion to events in England in order to be seen not to commit themselves
too heavily to the monarchys cause. The absence of real represen-
tation of colonial interests continued, even though it was lessened by
British constitutional measues that engendered stubborn colonial auto-
nomies. Imperial governance rested on an assertive English parliament,

On Anglo-American conceptions of imperial and colonial rule before and imme-
diately after the 1689 Revolution, see David S. Lovejoy, The Glorious Revolution in
America (New York: Harper and Row, 1972). Lovejoy places the accent on local
conditions in which interpretations of the imperial order were shaped. He sees in
the rebellions in New England the portents of republicanism where Sosin sees an
ideology shared with the gubernatorial and imperial elite. Sosin argues that the
New English rebels simply sought to consolidate representative colonial assemblies.
See J. M. Sosin, English America and the Revolution of 1688: Royal Administration and the
Structure of Provincial Government (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982).
Whichever explanation one accepts, there can be little doubt as to the colonists
aspirations of autonomous self-direction.
This argument is elaborated at length by Robert Bliss, Revolution and Empire:
English Politics and the American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Manchester
University Press, 1990); James Williamson, A Short History of British Expansion: The
Old Colonial Empire (London: Macmillan, 1943).
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 25056.
62 chapter three

as the Revolutionary Settlement brought a constitutional re-arrangement

of relations between Scotland, Ireland and England. The vision of
empire that emerged in the 1690s assumed a united kingdom.
Moreover, there was a turn in this outwardly oriented imperial admin-
istration to mercantile success and not the subsumption of colonial
autonomies per se.54
The institutional composition of the British Empire was more com-
plex than that of its French and Hispano-American counterparts.
The legislative corpus of this constitutional state included successive
Navigation Acts, the codication of customs and duties and the Acts
of Trade, and support for institutional regulation provided by the
Board of Trade and the Bank of England. In addition, the devolution
of dierent responsibilities to other ministries further decentralized
colonial aairs.55 The Treasury was notable for its role in collecting
(and, if need be, withholding) duties, excise taxes and postal revenues.
Secretaries of State accumulated greater authority after 1689, which
they duly shared with the Board of Trade. Parliament was well
known for its opposition to royal power. But in practice Parliaments
role when it came to imperial aairs was minimal and limited to
mercantilist legislation. Its main contributions to the colonies aliation
to Britain were additional Navigation Acts and the Acts of Trade,
both of which enhanced Britains economic interests. Constitutionally,
the Privy Council had executive jurisdiction over the empire that it
dispensed through a series of committees. Mercantile interests also
gured prominently in its deliberations. The most signicant committee
after 1696 was the Board of Trade. In spite of the separation of
governmental functions between them, both Parliament and the Privy
Council endeavoured, in tandem, to engineer imperial activity to
British needs. Imperial rule in the British Americas was thus conducted
through a series of ministries and committees. Authority was thereby
entrusted, on paper, to a range of working institutions accountable
in principle to Parliament and the Crown. This arrangement was
geared to an empire that was simultaneously commercial and martial
in its enterprise.
Frances imperial structure was marked by a paradox. Centralism
reigned at the apex of the state apparatus, and in France manoeuvre

David Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000), chap. 6.
H. V. Bowen, Elites, chap. 3.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 63

against the rival powers was reckoned more strategically important

than colonial growth. Imperial ocials felt caught between maritime
ambitions and aspirations suited to a land-based empire. Either objec-
tive was bound to be expensive. The cost of the American empire
to the royal purse was substantial and outweighed any real or prospec-
tive revenue returns. Even by questionable contemporary calculations,
it is clear that state revenues could not have been the motivation
for colonial enterprises. Fiscally, the Empire was expensive and a
direct burden.56 On top of this, colonial companies were consistently
able to shift some of their costs onto the state right up until the
nineteenth century.
Instead, it was the aristocratism and the strategic interests of the
European theatre that ruled the attentions of the court. Dynastic
advantage was . . . thought to be the key to the New World.57
However, at the furthest limits of the French sphere the states
inuence was extremely faint. The arc of French presence reaching
from the mouth of the St Lawrence to the delta of the Mississippi
was more a network of colonial footholds than fully edged posses-
sions. This is evident in the pattern of sparse, though deliberate,
peopling.58 Population gures for the whole course of French-American
history are instructive.59 New France by the mid-seventeenth century
was still thinly populated. Colbert resolved to boost emigration to
the edgling colony and charged the Ministry of Marine with the
task of recruitment. The population doubled within ten years of it
being declared a royal possession.60 This optimistic interlude belies
a more general pattern, however. Seven out of ten settlers returned
to France disappointed, it seems, by the experience.61 Perhaps this

Catherine M. Desbarats France in North America: The Net Burden of Empire
during the First Half of the Eighteenth Century, French History 11, no. 1 (1997), pp.
128; and Boulle, French Mercantilism, in Blusse and Gaastra, Companies and Trade.
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 29899.
Robert Aldrich, Greater France: A History of French Overseas Expansion (London:
Macmillan, 1996), pp. 1112; Ralph Davis, The Rise of the Atlantic Economies (Ithaca,
New York: Cornell University Press, 1973), chap. 8; Leslie Choquette, Recruitment
of French Migrants to Canada 16001760, in Altman and Horn, To Make America,
chap. 6.
Silvia Marzagalli, The French Atlantic, Itinerario 23, no. 2 (1999), pp. 7274.
Frederick Quinn, The French Overseas Empire (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000), p. 52.
On returning emigrants, see Peter N. Moogk, Reluctant Exiles: Emigrants
from France in Canada before 1760, The William and Mary Quarterly 46, no. 3 ( July
1989), pp. 463505. Initially, they came from a number of dierent sources within
France. The French were accustomed to a high level of internal migration, so they
64 chapter three

is not surprising as state policies on population were quite directive.

French mercantilism cultivated a fear of domestic depopulation and
did not ocially allow the colonies to become Huguenot refuges,62
nor did it encourage emigration in general. Instead a policy of fur-
ther populating the settlements with military men was enacted.63
Jesuit missions were organized early and the missionaries went to
great lengths to encourage emigration. After Louis and Colbert, a
distinct pattern of transatlantic migration becomes clear. French emi-
grants to Canada more typically hailed from Frances trading cities
and their immediate hinterlands and not from more sedentary rural
areas.64 They were more likely the embodiment of modernity and
not tradition, as has often been thought. The numbers emigrating
increased, but the growth was dwarfed by the spectacular ow of
migrants to the British seaboard colonies. Aside from Montreal and
Quebec, mainland Canada remained a series of thinly spread mili-
tary and trading outposts as much as a conglomeration of colonial
settlements. Furthermore, the spread of French Americans through-
out the continent over a long period of time, assumed a diasporic
French Guyana on the northeast coast of the southern continent
suered worse fortunes, due to the presence of the small colonies of
other powers and impenetrability of the dense jungle. The Dutch
briey overtook it. Conditions were poor. Two separate companies
established colonies there in quick succession in the mid-seventeenth
century failed dismally.66 A more concerted eort by the duc de
Choiseul after the Seven Years War brought an inux of settlers.
Their numbers suered heavily from disease and the experiment was
plagued by a lack of social organization. Such sporadic attempts to

were anything but sedentary. Deliberate recruitment set the emigration pattern but
resulted in a signicant rate of return migration, especially amongst indentured ser-
vants. See Peter Moogk, Manons Fellow Exiles: Emigration from France to North
America Before 1763, in Nicholas Canny, Europeans on the Move: Studies on European
Migration 15001800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
Hart, Comparing Empires, pp. 8485.
Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV, pp. 4852.
Leslie Choquette, Frenchmen into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling of
French Canada (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).
P. Anctil, The Franco-Americans of New England, in Dean R. Louder and
Eric Waddell, eds., French America: Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience across the
Continent (London: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
F. Quinn, The French Overseas Empire, pp. 5960.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 65

bolster the colony met with little success and only a small founda-
tion that was heavily dependent on slavery was sustained.67
In economic terms, the French were not able to seriously control
the northern half of the continent. In many ways colonial strategy
sought a combination of economic forms, rather than a straight sub-
jugation of the indigenous economy, as occurred in the slave and
encomienda colonies. Colberts compact colony policy attempted to
limit habitation to the St Lawrence delta. The regime persevered
with this approach until Louis XIV claimed the interior of the north-
ern continent in 1701. At that time, the fur trade was a forceful
economic imperative. It called traders west into the hinterland and
drew them deeper into the interior. This seemed a necessity, but it
undermined Colberts developmental strategy.
The centrality of the fur trade to the colonys economy had a
number of consequences. Its vitality depended on consistent trading
relations with established indigenous networks. The conquest of land
did not take place as it had elsewhere. Relations with the indigenes
were marked by an economy of exchange and by military alliances
punctuated by sporadic clashes, rather than by a brutal and genocidal
subordination.68 This was a matter of necessity for the French as the
Iroquois retained a powerful level of combat organization.69 Whilst
outright defeat of the Indian nations was not realistic, other colonial
activities werent neglected. The French did try to reconstruct the
indigenes in their own image. Attempts at conversion by Jesuits and
eorts to create reservations were extremely signicant, but met with
only limited success in more remote regions. The fur trade stood in
place of the missions. It generated an economic alliance of traders
and trappers. Three zones of participation were evident by the mid-
eighteenth century.70 Around the banks of the St Lawrence River
surviving indigenes were greatly reliant on the colonial economy.
Beyond that, however, lay a region of articulation and inter-dependence

Aldrich and Connell, Frances Overseas Frontier, pp. 2527.
See Gilles Paquet and Jean-Pierre Wallot, Nouvelle-France/Quebec/Canada:
A World of Limited Identities, in Nicholas Canny and Anthony Pagden, Colonial
Identity in the Atlantic World 15001800 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1987), pp. 95115. See also Blackburn, The Making of Modern Slavery, p. 280; and
Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires, pp. 3449.
William J. Eccles Sovereignty Association 15001783, in David Armitage,
Theories of Empire 14501800 (Hampshire, UK: Agate Publishing Ltd., 1998).
Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 20813.
66 chapter three

where the Micmac, Abenaki and Iroquois engaged in economic rela-

tionships established in common with one another and with French-
Americans. Where English colonists had a political economy based
on land and the use of money, the French accommodated the exist-
ing gift-giving economy in order to take advantage of the potential
trade.71 Mutuality did not assure symmetry of relations, but it meant
that colonists could not freely dictate terms. In a third area of
European participation and reverberation, the fur trade was most
lively. Around the Great Lakes and beyond, the alliance of trappers
and traders was at its starkest. The boundaries between the three
zones would eventually shift with calamitous consequences for the
indigenous nations. During the era of greatest imperial rivalry, how-
ever, this division was quite stable. In this context, the Iroquois
retained their independence and became a powerful strategic factor
right through to the Seven Years War in the 1750s.72
As a result of isolation, the relationship of colonists to the land
was less xed than in other parts of the continent. A great and
neglected tradition of migration traveled with colonists to Canadas
river empire.73 Those accustomed to movement across regions were
able to adapt to the mobility demanded by the fur and shing
trades.74 Mobility sat in tension with a more sedentary lifestyle in
the settlements along the St Lawrence River. Until the Seven Years
War, it was mobility that dominated. Nomadism was less conducive
to a colonial reconstruction of space in both cultural and economic
terms as it was land that dominated the settlers, rather than the con-
struction of townships and forts that could dominate the landscape.
Where land in Europe was relatively scarce and highly valued, it
seemed endless in Canada. It was a wilderness land that did not
acquire the same social and economic meaning that it had in France.

Seed, American Pentimento, pp. 2122.
See William J. Eccles, The Fur Trade and Eighteenth Century Imperialism,
in Alan L. Karras and J. R. McNeill, Atlantic-American Societies: From Columbus through
Abolition 14921888 (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 21245; Eccles, France in America,
chap. 4; and Arthur J. Ray, The Hudsons Bay Company Fur Trade in the
Eighteenth Century: A Comparative Economic Study, in James R. Gibson, ed.,
European Settlement and Development in North America: Essays in Honour and Memory of Andre
Hill Clark (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), pp. 11636.
Eccles, France in America, p. 156; Choquette, Frenchmen into Peasants.
See Christian Morissonneau, The Ungovernable People: French-Canadian
Mobility and Identity, in Louder and Waddell, French America, pp. 1533.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 67

The traits of rural life could not be simply transferred to this envi-
ronment.75 While a system of de jure seignoriality prevailed, the
material and social underpinnings that sustained it in France were
absent and so the unintended consequences of its introduction were
quite dierent.76 It was a means of clearing the land and not a repro-
duction of the social relations of the old world,77 although historical
evidence suggests that seignorial grants did not always lead to clear-
ing and development.78 Land was plentiful and free to till, placing
potential tenants in a strong position. Seignorial dues were low and
they were paid to the non-ennobled. The holders were as likely to
pursue the protable trades of townships, which promised greater
returns than their landed rents.79 There were no taxes levied. A
unied legal system was the law of the land. Instead of producing
a country of villages clustered around local churches, seignoriality,
on one hand, opened up territory and, on the other, concentrated
settlement on the St Lawrence River, where economic trac was
greatest. It also produced a sharp contrast between residential life
and the mobility of the fur trade. Therefore a colonial relationship

R. Cole Harris, The Extension of France in Rural Canada, in Gibson,
European Settlement and Development, French America, pp. 2746.
L. R. MacDonald develops a Marxist analysis of New France that departs
from the fallacious seignorial mode of production argument in France and New
France: The Internal Contradictions, Canadian Historical Review 52, no. 2 (1971). I
am following his analysis for the purposes of this argument. However, two other
views should be acknowledged. Allan Greer takes a unique position on French
Canada based on a general reconsideration of post-medieval feudalism. He argues
that New France from its inception combined a rural feudalism with urban com-
mercial connection to the mercantile absolutist empire. This was feudalism, to be
sure, in Greers mind, and it was quite compatible with a nascent capitalist world
economy. See Allan Greer, Peasant, Lord, and Merchant: Rural Society in Three Quebec
Parishes, 1740 1840 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985). I dont see that
conceptualizing the internal social relations of colonial New France as feudal adds
much depth to the analysis of the overall mercantile guration of the French Empire.
However, Greers connection of colonial economic life to imperial economic move-
ments, despite its internal patterns, is laudable. There is a larger controversy about
the feudal or capitalist character of New France, which I dont want to assess in
full here, although I am clearly expressing a view by endorsing MacDonald. Much
of the discussion about feudalism, seigniorial patterns and the economy follows the
contours of a historiographic debate over nationalist inuences in history-writing.
See Serge Gagnon, The Historiography of New France 19601974: Jean Hamlin
to Louise Dechene, Journal of Canadian Studies 13, no. 1 (1978).
Allain, French Colonial Policy, pp. 6168.
Miguelon, New France 17011744, pp. 19498.
Choquette, Frenchmen into Peasants, pp. 28487.
68 chapter three

to the land remained undened as long as the mobile industries of

fur and shing led colonial concerns. This was the situation until
the nineteenth century.
The extremely limited re-shaping of the North American world
stood in stark contrast to the pattern of exploitation in the Caribbean.
The French Antilles were more deeply colonized. Although European
colonists were in a minority overall, they constituted a self-legislat-
ing colonial order. Largely, the French Caribbean corresponded more
to Spanish and British American models on the mainland than it
did to life in New France. In addition, the elites of French West
Indian colonies were acutely aware of the nearby Spanish presence
and exhibited deep anxiety about Spains movements.80 Of course,
what was exceptional about it was the systemic slavery that was
its predominant form of labor.81 Land and labor were everywhere
rmly in the hands of French planters. Here the thrust of imperial
possession was far more complete, partly because of the protable
character of the slave and sugar trades of the eighteenth century.82
The French West Indies were the richest colonies in the world at
this time. Indeed, they surpassed their British rivals in eciency.
This was largely because they were able to prosper without in any
way threatening French trading interests. But, due to the unparal-
leled productivity of the plantation economy, the merchant-planter
nexus constituted a formidable force in the French imperial structure.
The actual reach of French possession in the Americas was there-
fore fairly limited. Sovereignty was held in the huge Canadian wilder-
ness, but New Frances de facto reign was substantially curbed by
Iroquois power. In contrast French command in the Caribbean was
rm, though the possessions were small. Sovereignty was most closely
guarded in those colonies of great strategic and economic value. The
Franco-American empire generated transatlantic institutions that con-
centrated on these colonies. In the early seventeenth century, colo-
nial undertakings were jointly sponsored by private companies and
the marine de guerre.83 Over time the weight of responsibility was

Hart, Comparing Empires, pp. 93100.
See the introduction to Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery
17761848 (London: Verso, 1988).
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, chap. 10; Doyle, The Old European
Order, p. 527.
Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires, pp. 28183
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 69

assumed by the latter as the former subsided and then dissolved.

The reforms to the French government of the 1690s added consid-
erable numbers of new oces to the institutional edice and stabi-
lized it until the Revolution.84 Together, these had the authority to
govern the empire. A Council of Commerce and Secretariat of the
Foreign Oce were instituted, bringing greater superintendence to
colonial aairs. The Council was a vital body of the court state.85
It brought together merchant interests, representatives of the Crown
and leading administrators of the trading monopolies in a negotiat-
ing forum. The colonies were subject to its regulation of trading
companies and its resolutions on taris and trade policies. It lasted
only until 1716 and after a period of abeyance, its functions were
taken up by the bureau du commerce. The bureau dovetailed with the
interventionist tenure of Maurepas who took charge of the Ministry
of Marine in 1725. Maurepas acquired extensive responsibility for
the Atlantic colonies and developed a philosophy of commerce that
accorded colonial activity equal status within the mercantile system.
Many of his projects, launched with the support of Cardinal Fleury,86
drew heavily on this outlook that was so rare in the French polity.
Other changes had implications for the colonies. A Director-General
for fortications was appointed. The admiralty was rendered an oce
that was independent of the King. The reforms of this period were
a response to internal dynamics at court and in the bureaucracy,
although fear of an Anglo-Dutch alliance compelled the restructure
of the Marine.87
By the eighteenth century, overall responsibility for colonial aairs
had been handed to the Ministry of Marine. The Marine was in a
decrepit state by this time and was substantially restructured. The
new State Secretariat of the Marine was handed jurisdiction of trade
and colonial matters. The Ministry was subject to ongoing reorganiza-
tion during the early decades of the eighteenth century.88 The new

John C. Rule, Royal Revisions of the French Central Government in the
1690s, in Adcock et al., Revolution, Society and the Politics of Memory.
Thomas J. Schaeper, The French Council of Commerce 1700 1715: A Study of
Mercantilism after Colbert (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1983).
Peter R. Campbell, preface to Power and Politics in Old Regime France.
Donald G. Pilgram, France and New France: Two Perspectives on Colonial
Security, Canadian Historical Review 55, no. 4 (1974).
Dale Miquelon, New France 17011744: A Supplement to Europe (Toronto:
McClelland and Stewart, 1987), pp. 8891.
70 chapter three

Minister, Jerome de Pontchartrain, created the bureau des colonies in

1710 to take specic command of colonial aairs. The Marines
authority in Canada was tenuous. Its eorts to close Western forts
provoked a serious response. It had to concede and cancel its deci-
sion. For much of the century, the lines of ministerial demarcation
remained unclear.
The level of eective centralism present in the Spanish consejo was
not paralleled in the French empire. Direct administration was the
dual responsibility of colonial governors, some of whom held the title
of intendant. Governors were military aristocrats appointed because
of their proximity to the King more than anything else. Some inten-
dants were legal functionaries, but they also acquired their positions
as a reward for their loyalty. They were supported by a small num-
ber of ocials, including ordonnateurs responsible for nance. At times,
there was friction between the oces of intendant and governor,
often a reection of dissonance between royal government and its
colonial representatives. More typically, the governorship and the
intendancy simply remained distinct oces and not conicting ones.
In this unique arrangement, governors focussed on aairs that would
concern the Crown, while the intendancy regulated legal institutions.
Gubernatorial powers were not open to challenge except by author-
ities in Paris. Some colonial assemblies were called, although none
were elected until 1787. Colonial government was rmly located in
the hands of French agents. However, their role was far from despotic.
In matters of taxationan area of government that was a source of
great antagonism elsewhere in the Americasthe colonists were
largely left alone. The most onerous of taxes in France were not
levied in the colonies, nor was tithing practiced. Those taxes that
were imposed on the Caribbean possessions were only feasible after
a degree of indirect consultation. For the most part, the Crown was
reluctant to permit the inuence of colonists to expand and therefore
made little eort to extract more revenue than it realistically could.
In Canada, royal taxes were waived to encourage emigration.89 In
other governmental matters, centralism reigned. Unlike the Spanish
Empire, colonial autonomy in legal matters was precluded, except
at the margins of colonial jurisdiction. The sale of administrative

R. Cole Harris, The Extension of France in Rural Canada, in Gibson,
European Settlement, p. 40.
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 71

oces to local inhabitants never occurred; that avenue of enfran-

chisement that was important to Spanish-Creoles was not available
to New Frenchmen.


In the opening chapter, three premises of state formation in the era

under considered in this book are set forth. A transatlantic per-
spective is privileged in the place of national histories of colonialism
that have dominated historical scholarship, at least until the recent
advent of Atlantic Studies. A reconstructed notion of absolutism is
marked as a concept that can provide some heuristic value for com-
parative analysis. The British conguration is more correctly considered
a post-absolutist state in this framework. Thirdly, a metatheory of
state formation as a process of institutional creation is preferred over
Weberian sociologies of the functional monopolization and rationali-
zation of power.
The analysis provided in this chapter supports four claims about
the character of early modern European state formation that are
derived from these premises. First of all, the argument for an Atlantic-
wide perspective on early modern state formation is profoundly com-
pelling. Analysis of the transatlantic expanse of European states calls
for comparison of the three main empires to seek similarities and
measure dierences. What this draws into relief is the distinctiveness
of domestic and colonial theatres, despite the continuities between
them. Provincial and urban elites were drawn closer to the centres
of power through networks of patronage. Rebellions and low-level
and routine forms of resistance to monarchical rule provided the
impulse to internal changes in the Spanish, English and French
baroque states. However, clientage also acted to integrate more
secluded aristocratic forces into the regime. Colonial governments
were another matter. They were more remote and had to be self-
reliant. Moreover, they answered to a separate and additional set of
constituencies whose voice could, at times, sound loud to elites with
less inuence to ply with imperial decision makers. There were, there-
fore, two types of tension within Western Europes imperial states:
a domestic tension between central and provincial elites, while the
other marked the imperial sphere and set imperial administrators
against colonial leaders.
72 chapter three

The second claim is that a re-theorized notion of absolutism has

some explanatory power in a comparison of the British, Spanish and
French empires. Traditional conceptions of absolutism have centred
on its allegedly autocratic nature. The work of historians has put
that idea to rest, suggesting that the only viable understanding of
absolutism must be based on its demonstrable divisions. As a category
of historical-sociological analysis, it is redened as a tension-laden
monarchical guration. This adequately captures the social character
of the regimes that governed France and Spain from the sixteenth cen-
tury. It also helps to explain the emergence of the British constitu-
tional monarchy and some of the particular features of its rst imperial
state. However, examination of domestic conicts makes it dicult
to avoid the glaringly obvious discordance in imperial arrangements.
The third contention is that the vastness of the expanding empires
stimulated exceptional relations of mutual dependence between metro-
politan administration and colonial societies. Distance set the terms
of government and it did so in the unique zone of the Atlantic where
the only oceanic powers were European. Categories of core and
periphery are of little use in studying this aspect of state formation.
Thinking about how states confronted the problem of distance in
terms of multiple centres is far more helpful. It brings into play the
agency of local elites, economic patterns and partial autonomy of
colonial institutions. Of course, distance also magnied the frictions
between imperial bodies and American-based authorities. Comparatively
isolated colonies had to be self-reliant. At the same time, a sense of
vulnerability compelled colonists to look to martial and naval forces
for protection. In addition, abiding feelings of loyalty and identication
with the Empire integrated communities. This is a dimension of colo-
nial existence that is detailed in a further chapter.
The nal argument is that the colonies foundational patterns left
an imprint on the trajectories of imperial expansion in each case.
The divergent circumstances confronting the English, Spanish and
French states are foregrounded in this discussion. Private and cor-
porate English colonies were founded on the ideals of a complete
autonomy. Their self-understanding was that they were re-enacting
the Exodus. Labor-centred acts of enclosure symbolized their colo-
nization of the land. The Spanish sanctioned colonies through regal
ritual, the charter of towns and the mobilization of labor for min-
ing and ranching. The nucleus of decision-making aimed to provide
standard methods of colonial development. Although this could not
absolutism and post-absolutism in europes empires 73

achieve its own ideals in full, it put in place an enduring logic of

centralism. The French were deliberate in their colonial manoeuvres.
However, Europe consumed their attention and, up until the War
of Spanish Succession, they had little regard for their American
territories. Control of their continental and Caribbean possessions
was dicult and the response of the state was a far-reaching militari-
zation of colonial authority. Even the garrisoned and fortied colonies
were prey for the British, however.
It must be emphasized that the powers that faced one another in
the New World did not operate solely in a Hobbesian environment
of perpetual hostility. The states that vied for territory and occasionally
clashed shared something of a common cultural background that cir-
cumscribed their engagement. The process of territorial and imperial
state formation in Europe was informed by the growth of a conscious-
ness of Europe as a civilization apart. This did not assuage the inter-
nal or international conicts of states. It framed them in an Atlantic
world where colonists had to be acutely mindful of the dierence of
the physical environment of the Americas and the dierence of its
inhabitants and their social forms. In the violent intercession into
America, European traditions were sharpened in some respects and
transformed in so many others. This transformation propelled the
crystallization of a self-awareness of civilizational dierence.


Imperial states were built across two continents by monarchies adapted

to tradition but ever adjusting to new conditions. Each enjoyed a
denite relationship to the medieval past. They were also oriented
to a constantly expanding Atlantic theatre. Perceptions of empire in
this historical process were therefore inherited and emergent. They
drew on collective memories or legacies of Rome that represented
an empire of highly condensed power. In turn, the inherited under-
standing of Europes ancient imperial past was an aid that helped
make sense of the new Atlantic nexus. Each would have been incon-
ceivable in their form without that common legacy of imperium, or
the historical experiences of conquest, or the impermanent unity pro-
vided by Christendom. The forward movement of Spanish, French
and English power was animated by these legacies. In encounters
with Amerindian societies and purportedly antipodean environments,
dierent facets of the conquering states heritage remained meaningful
to varying degrees for the conquering forces and the elite cadre of
the imperial apparatus. It also set the ways in which traditions were
transformed, relativized or even relinquished. The feudal and Christian
past was part of a conceptual apparatus that helped Europeans to
comprehend and describe the Atlantic world to Europes west. The
New World enlarged the civilizational self-perception of the apparatus
of states and forcefully inuenced the decisions of rulers.
This chapter is the rst of two dealing directly with the dimen-
sion of civilization. It looks at the civilizational inheritance with which
Europeans approached that astounding American horizon. This is a
matter of existing traditions that informed colonialism in the Americas.
Another way to present this that is consistent with the outline in
chapter two is to call it the instituted imaginary or the imagery of
tradition that creative transformation was infused with. Three kinds
of traditions inuenced European entry into the Atlantic and arrival
in the American world. The turns in conception that emerged in
the Renaissance and that were coeval with the early voyages into
the Atlantic Ocean furnished a disposition to explore westwards.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 75

Similarly, an early mercantilist orientation to extraction, production

and trade supplied motivation to expand. The Spanish, English and
French had their own traditions of conquest that contextualized the
movements of each state. Some were shared and others were unique.
One that was shared was the memory of the Roman Empire and
this endured in the idea of the monarchia universalis.
These were all pre-existing factors. The emergent signs of a civ-
ilizational consciousnessthe other side of creative transformation
coalesced in the encounters with New World. Chapter ve takes up
three aspects of the emergent imaginary. What is taken to be the legacy
of Europes past combined with the disposition to scientic inquiry,
a new continental and geographical imagination and an expanded
ethnological awareness. Some brief remarks made at this point fore-
shadow greater elaboration in chapter ve. New science has a longer
and unexamined history in the rise of medieval rationalism. The break-
throughs to modern science depend less on the development of the
techniques of improved perception and observation associated with
the so-called Scientic Revolution and more on a discernible meta-
physical transformation.1 The twelfth century transformation of ratio-
nalistic philosophy altered the terms of intellectual thought for
Europeans.2 They set loose logic and dialectics as methods of inquiry.
The balance of faith and learning shifted. It was the late medieval
pre-text for the development of scientic approaches that would co-
exist with and could contest the sacred authority of the Church.
This early background of Western humanism wont be explored
at length in these pages, but it is acknowledged. The argument here
is that the internal mutation of theology became more meaningful in
the context of the opening up and exploration of the American con-
tinent by Europeans. This has been understood as the process of

See Arnason, Civilizations in Dispute, pp. 28087; and Toby E. Hu, ed., On the
Roads to Modernity.
Benjamin Nelsons distinctive history of civilizational developments is promis-
ing. One of the pivotal moments in the life of European civilization is the critical
renaissance in the thirteenth century in which the relationship between faith and
knowledge began to alter. Rationalism enjoyed a good reputation in Christian Europe
during this period. This is the most decisive and comprehensive development on
the road to rationalized consciousness, according to Nelson. It is a breakthrough
either ignored or understated elsewhere and it serves to highlight the neglect of
monasticism as an incubator of civilized subjectivity. The mutation of High Medieval
scholasticism is the backdrop to Renaissance thought examined in this chapter.
76 chapter four

DiscoveryEuropean and not universal discovery to be sureand

there are several aspects of it. While knowing and inquiring as modes
of human endeavour had been problematized by medieval humanism,
the transformation of the precepts of Western knowledge took place
in the branches of cosmology, geography, natural philosophy and
ethnological disciplines that emerged in Atlantic and American explo-
ration. Indeed, the European breakout into the Atlantic had a pro-
found eect on the metaphysics of perception by encouraging doubt
of mind and a sharpened sensitivity to the visual. In other words,
the status of debate and dispute and the very contestability of authority
became meaningful in the long confrontation with the Americas.
A modern continental and geographical imagination formed rapidly
in the sixteenth century as the actual proportions of the Earth become
apparent to Europeans. The Western hemisphere pressed itself on
European minds more and more. Historians have now established
that it took much of the sixteenth century for the geographical prop-
erties of the American landmass to be absorbed, but after that initial
period, it began to gain more attention.3 By centurys end America
and Europe were increasingly thought of as continents. Western
Europe had entered the Renaissance entrenched in the Christian
mindset. Christendom was a name and a racialized identity.4 It had
unied Europeans against Ottoman encroachment and established
the imagination of the Christian Empire. However, the late fteenth
century inaugurated a shift in prospect as Europeans thought increas-
ingly in terms of Europe and less and less in terms of Christendom.5
The name Europe entered the vocabulary of literate Europeans
more frequently as the western prospect of their existence was disclosed.
By 1500 it was possible to imagine Europe balancing between eastern
and newly found western lands. It could be depicted as one of four

Oswalde A. Dilke and Margaret S. Dilke, The Adjustment of Ptolemaic Atlases
to Feature the New World, in Wolfgang Haase and Meyer Reinhold, The Classical
Tradition and the Americas (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1994).
Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change
950 1350 (London: Allen Lane, 1993), pp. 25055.
Margaret Aston, The Fifteenth Century: The Prospect of Europe (London: Thames
and Hudson, 1968); Delanty, Inventing Europe, chap. 3; Barnet Litvino, Fourteen Ninety
Two: The Year and the Era (London: Constable, 1991); John Hale, The Civilization of
Europe in the Renaissance (London: HarperCollins, 1993), chap. 1. On the identity of
Christendom, see Pagden, The Idea of Europe, pp. 7476. See also Denys Hay who,
in Europe: The Emergence of an Idea (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1968),
chap. 5, stresses that earlier uses of the word Europe were important, but restricted.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 77

continents and not one of three bequeathed to the sons of Noah.6

A concept of Europe is illustrated in artefacts that survive. Renaissance
maps and their pictorial marginalia suggest such a specic conception.
So also do works of art that departed from Byzantine and Gothic
techniques to develop a High Renaissance style, particularly in rep-
resenting America. The reinterpretation of the classics helped to
induce this change of artistic representation as the immediate medieval
past was rejected in favour of a more remote Antiquity, whose
imagery could be used to valorise Europes conquest.7 Whilst the
classical heritage had been clearly preserved by Islamic scholarship,
it could be reected upon as European in its civilizational origins.
The transformation of civilizational outlook was also evident in
ethnographic thought. The expanding elds of humanist and scientic
inquiry were fraught with tensionthe classication of humankind
and the re-conception of Nature were especially contentious areas.
Americas peoples were variously subject to curiosity, to romantic
interpretation as the inhabitants of paradise and to theological debate
about their Noachic origins. These are hints of an early apprehension
of the astounding anthropological diversity of humanity.8 Ethnological
judgment and deliberation began to crystallize in the sixteenth century
as the cultural universe of Europe expanded. New ethnological knowl-
edge pressed the Wests re-evaluation of its conceptions of a multi-
civilizational and multi-continental order. This was the uid consciousness
of otherness that vacillated between conception of other peoples as
similar and constructions of those same peoples as alien. It was pro-
duced and elaborated in the ferment of interaction with foreign
worlds, the Americas being the most momentous of these. Three cen-
turies of transatlantic engagement generated a self-ordering image of
civilization, even though the terms to describe it that became current
much later.

Benjamin Braude, The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and
Geographical Identities in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods, The William
and Mary Quarterly 54, no. 1 (1997).
Denise Albanese, New World, New Science (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996),
pp. 2439.
See Fernandez-Armesto, Before Columbus: Exploration and Colonisation from the Mediter-
ranean to the Atlantic 12291492 (London: MacMillan, 1987), pp. 22345.
78 chapter four

The Tributaries of Civilizational Orientation to the Atlantic

These three aspects that are detailed in chapter ve are introduced

here to convey the novel and dramatic changes brought about in
the early Colombian era. They can be seen as an abiding contrast
to established traditions that guided Spanish, English and French
ventures into the Atlantic. Four sets of traditions oriented Europeans
to the western Atlantic: the conceptual realignment associated with
Renaissance thought; the economic or mercantilist regard for possession
and motion; pre-established models of conquest and colonization that
emerged out of Latin Europes late medieval expansion, Spains
unication and Englands plantations in Ireland; and the ideal of the
universal kingdom, the new Rome.

Exploration in the Renaissance Mind

The precepts of humanism stimulated and circumscribed naval explo-

ration and steady colonial possession of the Atlantic. They contained
the potential of adaptability and improvisation. Humanism involved
two movements: the division in philosophy between human-centred
and canonical authority and the growth of empirical judgement.9
The rst and foremost preoccupation was with texts. The humanists
demanded disciplined exegesis. Ancient works thought lost entered
the body of philosophical thinking through more regularised and
thorough contact with Islamic sources and systematic searching of
the declining Byzantine heritage. As the volume of imported works
grew, the humanists insisted on thorough and scrutinizing examination
of the original sources of scripture. The new exegetes were preoccupied
with what rst authors wrote, whether it was in Hebrew, Aramaic
or Greek. Scriptural interpretation was thereby relativized and opened
up to dispute.
This was the rst and continuing impact of medieval humanism.
It forced a division between theology and philosophy as the latter
acquired a this-worldly and hence humanist orientation. A realignment
of schools of thought followed.10 Thomist and Averroist coalitions

Jaroslav Krejc, The Human PredicamentIts Changing Image: A Study in Comparative
Religion and History (New York: St. Martins Press, 1993), pp. 99110.
See Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual
Change (London and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 48790.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 79

anchored a new spectrum of opinion and debate to which competing

versions of nominalism oriented. The institutional bases of competing
factions were also distinctive; papal appointments went one way, uni-
versity teachers another, while monarchical administrators and courtiers
were more typically of a humanist persuasion.11 They were rooted
in dierent centers also and enjoyed the patronage and protection
of dierent rulers. The fracturing of knowledge was forced by the
attention paid to scriptural reading that facilitated a climate of dis-
putation and disagreement. The interaction of new sources that came
from outside of Western Europe with the problematization of the
Churchs monopoly on knowledge which had already occurred in
the monasteries and universities encouraged the will to inquiry. While
the intricacy of late medieval and early Renaissance intellectual
milieux cannot be explored here, it is clear that transformation of
the terrain of orthodoxy provided a humanist impulse to an outward-
looking curiosity.
The second result of humanism is also relevant. The preoccupation
with textual interpretation induced an adjustment to the phenomenal
world. An enlargement of the scope of empirical sensibility relativized
more rigid conceptions of geography and anthropography. The change
in attitudes to sight was vital.12 Medieval Christianity had denigrated
vision and the visual senses. But vision as a sense found a dierentiated
place in Western aesthetics. The thirteenth century recovery of Aristotlean
works that were sympathetic to the privilege of the senses helped to
create the cultural pre-conditions for perspectivism. It also generated
a tension between the theological Canon and the new authority
accorded to the senses that endured the early modern transformation
of European culture. The reputation of perception and the empirical
was itself up for grabs and was problematized in philosophical dis-
course. Europeans entered the sixteenth century and the American
hemisphere, trusting the witness of those who could give rst or sec-
ond hand accounts. At the risk of over-simplication, the epistemological
tension of the Renaissance can be summarized as follows. Two kinds
of interpretation coexisted in Renaissance thought and was the basis
of judgement. The world could be read through the texts of Holy

Ibid., pp. 497501.
Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth Century French
Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), chap. 1.
80 chapter four

Scripture or comprehended through the lens of sensual experience,

direct interpretation, discovery and requestioning.13
In the fteenth and sixteenth centuries both forms of comprehension
were accommodated in quite dierent combinations, often synthesized
in the new natural philosophy.14 Proto-scientic thinking was not eas-
ily distinguishable from the humanist endeavours of the day. Indeed,
specialized scientic inquiry disposed to an empirical epistemology
did not originate in the Renaissance; that is, it did not exist as a
separate activity. Scientia was closely allied with the arts, with trade
and with philosophy.15 It was cultivated in the milieux of major cities
and courts across Europe.16 Its appeal was tactile and aesthetic, where
the existing corpus of natural philosophy associated with monastic
knowledge was textual. In the cities and at court, secretaries, engineers,
physicians and philosophers lived in close proximity to the practitioners
of the constructive arts, that is, the painters, sculptors, instrument
makers, alchemists and architects. They mingled in inner-urban envi-
ronments that stimulated a cross-fertilization of ideas. Such networks
were the intersections of artisanal skill and technique, academy-based
instruction, natural history and naturalistic philosophy. They fomented
a mode of cognition characteristic of the world of artisans and traders,
one in which the senses were privileged. This generated a vernacular
epistemology easily given to naturalistic pursuits.17 Artists, seafarers
and merchants were observers and interpreters of the physical world.
Nonetheless, whilst theirs was an experience-based knowledge, it was

Anthony Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1992).
Anthony Grafton, Defenders of the Text: The Tradition of Scholarship in an Age of
Science (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), introduction and chap. 1.
Owesi Temkin, Science and Society in the Age of Copernicus; in Owen
Gingerich, ed., The Nature of Scientic Discovery: A Symposium Commemorating the Five
Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Nicolaus Copernicus (Washington: Smithsonian
Institution Press, ISA, 1975); Collins, A Sociology of Philosophy, chap. 10.
Pamela O. Long, Objects of Art/Objects of Nature: Visual Representation
and Investigation of Nature, and Deborah E Harkness, Strange Ideas and English
Knowledge: Natural Science Exchange in Elizabethan London, in Pamela Smith
and Paula Findlen, Merchants and Marvels: Commerce and the Representation of Nature in
Early Modern Europe (New York: Routledge, 2001); Paula Findlen, Courting Nature,
in Nicholas Jardine, James A. Secord, and Emma C. Spary, eds., Cultures of Natural
History (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996). See also Margaret C. Jacob,
The New Science and Its Audience, in Scientic Culture and the Making of the Industrial
West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Larry Silver and Pamela Smith, The Powers of Nature and Art in the Age
of Durer, in Smith and Findlen, Merchants and Marvels, pp. 4647.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 81

not closed o from the inuences of humanism.18 Indeed, in the age

of exploring and colonizing, the boundaries of clerical scholarship
and nautical practice were porous. Moreover, these spheres of knowl-
edge were not unied in themselves and they contained ambiguities
and contradictions. At rst sight, one appears scholarly and the other
experiential. However, both drew on ancient references, as well as
practical application in a manner that should defy over-simplication.
Canonical authority was tested by the epistemological weight accru-
ing to perception that resulted from the voyages of reconnaissance.
The disposition to set out from Mediterranean shores emerged from
the merchant culture that was not bookish, but which was inuenced
by scholarship. It was also shaped by a number of nautical elements.
Merchant life involved calculation of prot and loss, the arithmetic
of a commercial mind. It also embodied debate between religious
and material concerns. The colloquial knowledge of merchants was
the knowledge of places. Their textual diet involved an adaptable
capacity to read maps as well as the Latin classics. Merchant lives,
like those of scholars, were pregnant with ideas received from Antiquity.
Those ideas were fed by the stories of travelers, which seemed to
conrm ancient myths. However, sailors and traders also drew from
a pool of experience that included what they saw. That acted as a
dierent mode of understanding.
Voyaging was followed by settler-colonialism, although this was
unintended in the fteenth century and there was no necessary con-
nection between exploration and colonization. Nonetheless, the
Renaissance exuded a predisposition to voyaging. The technological
and economic means for deep-sea exploration had been developed
and available for some time.19 In the fteenth century, however, the
practical experience of European mariners had been limited to the
Mediterranean basin and the trade routes of the Black Sea. Minor
incremental breakthroughs facilitated the expansion of navigation.
There were a number of important developments in cartographic
techniques, most of them Portuguese: the emergence of latitudinal

On English colonialisms relationship to humanism and the infusion of its sea-
faring milieux with humanist ideas, see Andrew Fitzmaurice, Humanism and America:
An Intellectual History of English Colonisation 15001625 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2003), pp. 919.
John H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance: Discovery, Exploration, and Settlement
1450 1650 (London: Sphere Books Ltd, 1973), pp. 1618.
82 chapter four

calculation, navigational innovations acquired from Arab sailors, the

production of new charts and improvements in compass technology.20
Advances in cartography steadily overtook Ptolemaic cosmography
without immediately displacing its authority. Indeed, the Ptolemaic
conception proved durable as it could easily accommodate the discovery
of new lands simply adding to existing maps.21 The establishment of
trading footholds on East Atlantic islands and on the North African
coast set the boundary of trade further to the West and began this
long process of testing Europeans mental picture of the world.
Technological capacities and new maritime experiences merely
established potential. More was needed to propel oceanic exploration.
Some stories of distant places remained in the domain of the monas-
teries and academies. Others, however, emerged from the realm of
travelers tales to hasten nautical adventure. Stories told by Marco
Polo and Mandeville stimulated curiosity about distant realms that
were foreign to European experience, and perhaps inhabited by mar-
vels and monsters.22 Nearby eastern lands were enshrined in the social
memory of Christendom and in the journals recorded for the literate
by travelers. However, the western vista was more mysterious.
Reconnaissance in the eastern Atlantic prior to 1492 excited the imagi-
nation of a western Antipodes in humanist circles.23 The metaphor
of the Antipodesa place at the foot of the world or on the other
side of ithung over European perception of all unchartered regions.
Some of Columbus contemporaries took it literally.24 It had a general
inuence on Renaissance perceptions of the Americas: freedom from
the tyranny of impassability that was associated in Ancient myth with

Patricia Seed, A New Sky and New Stars: Arabic and Hebrew Science,
Portuguese Seamanship, and the Discovery of America, in Ceremonies of Possession
in Europes Conquest of the New World 14921640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1995).
Frank Lestringant, Mapping the Renaissance World: The Geographical Imagination in
the Age of Discovery, trans. David Fausett (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994).
Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (New
York: Clarendon Press, 1991), chap. 2; and Seymour Phillips, The Outer World
of the European Middle Ages, in Stuart B. Schwartz, ed., Implicit Understandings:
Observing, Reporting, and Reecting on the Encounters between Europeans and Other Peoples in
the Early Modern Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Before Columbus, pp. 24551; and Gabriella Moretti,
The Other World and the Antipodes: The Myth of the Unknown Countries
between Antiquity and the Renaissance, in Haase and Reinhold, The Classical
Fernandez-Armesto, The Americas, p. 4.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 83

the so-called torrid zones of the world turned European eyes to other
lands that could be navigated. Italian humanists were thus able to
entertain ideas of an unchartered western land.25 Ancient maps by
Crates and Macrobius circulated in Renaissance Europe supporting
the idea of a western hemisphere.26 Peter Martyr thought Columbus
had stumbled across it:
A certain Colonus has sailed to the western Antipodes, even to the
Indian Coast, as he believes. He has discovered many islands which
are thought to be those of which mention is made by cosmographers,
beyond the eastern ocean and adjacent to India.27
Martyr was not alone in this conclusion. With the possession of the
Americas, Europeans had conrmation of the existence of the unknown.
At this time, the Antipodes could signify either southern regions or
people. References to the Americas as the Antipodes were frequent,
especially with regard to the southern part of the hemisphere.28 The
mythical heritage was another necessary, though insucient, pre-
condition of exploration. Incremental gains in technological capacity
and pre-existing expectations of what lay beyond the Pillars of
Hercules extended the borders of the known European world,
encouraged further exploration. Well-known lands lay elsewhere,
while beyond the Mediterranean and the closer islands of the Atlantic
the unknown was only just within grasp. For the Arab heirs of the
Ptolemaic conception of the universe, the Atlantic Ocean had rep-
resented a feared green sea of darkness. However, for Europeans
a predisposition to set out for other centres had amassed out of cen-
turies of foreign exploits. Their fear of the Atlantic was not so great;
at the very least it did not restrain Renaissance explorers.
Up until the mid-fteenth century, Latin Europe had looked east
for territorial and ecclesiastical expansion. Portuguese naval advances
disrupted this eastern gaze and then the Colombian breakthrough

Germn Arciniegas, The Foreshadowed Continent, and Imago Mundi, in
America in Europe: A History of the New World in Reverse, trans. Gabriela Arciniegas and
R. Victoria Arana (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1986).
See James S. Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought: Geography, Exploration
and Fiction (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992); and Thomas Suarez,
Shedding the Veil: Mapping the European Discovery of America and the World (London: World
Scientic Publishing, 1992), pp. 2960.
Peter Martyr, cited in John H. Parry, The Discovery of America (London: Paul
Elek, 1979), p. 77.
Peter Mason, Deconstructing America: Representations of the Other (New York: Routledge,
1990), chap. 5.
84 chapter four

dislodged it.29 Christendoms Eastern borders continued to front onto

Islamic states, but these were known civilizations. Its Persian and
Eurasian expanses were familiar. Entry into the Atlantic and the
Caribbean opened up a new domain for Christian and imperial ex-
pansion creating a Western aspect for it. Iberian experiences in con-
quering combined with the commercial seafaring talents of Venetians,
Genoese and Jews from the ports of the Mediterranean.30 Maritime
Hispanic culture welcomed newcomers, especially Italians and Basques.
It stoked enthusiasm for exploration and it was suggested that this
was a Christian, regal and economic enterprise all at once. The re-
orientation of Christianitys sacred imagination to a new centre other
than Jerusalem or Byzantium hastened Iberian ambition. The new
centre was America and it was considered a place for material, strate-
gic and spiritual gain. A search for souls and wealth was the explicit
motivation for a deeper probe into the unfolding Atlantic world.
Economic and evangelical pursuits were one and the same in the six-
teenth century mercantilist projection of the world to Europes west.

Possession and Motion

Strands of the medieval Judeo-Christian heritage blended with early

mercantilist values. There are two sides to mercantilism that matter
in this discussion. Firstly, it set the pre-conditions of capitalist devel-
opment as Europeans began to trade extensively. Mercantilism involved
a set of values that were commercial, though they were often couched
in the language of virtue. Secondly, it was the creation of state mech-
anisms to coordinate economic activity and the construction of national
infrastructure. At the same time as Western Europes empires began
to develop such early forms of supra-provincial economic regulation
they were also being propelled into exploration. This second denition
will be dealt with extensively in the sixth chapter, while the rst is
drawn out here.
Europes business with the rest of the world was conducted quite
dierently. Trading alliances and joint stock or state-sponsored com-
panies of international trade were its main vehicles. European explo-
rations and colonial ventures were driven largely by commercial

Aston, The Fifteenth Century, pp. 4147.
Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 4346.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 85

imperatives geared to mercantilist values.31 Colonization of the world

to Europes east, however, was not feasible. The sheer disparity of
power between the exploring states and other civilizations ruled out
attempts at occupation at this time.32 Many were also the nodes of
already existing networks of trade and had a good deal to oer
European merchants. Long-distance trade joined European networks
to established matrices of commerce and production, in particular
those dominated by China and Mogul India. The technologies,
resources and logic of colonial expansion beyond Europe could not
be mobilized for some time outside of the Atlantic domains of the
ve empires. Elsewhere, commercial networks based on trading posts
and forts were developed by European states as the conduits of trade
and contact with the rest of the world.
Annexation of lands to the east was therefore unrealistic and pos-
sibly undesired. In contrast, a mentality of conquest characterized
the Spanish entry into the New World. It was based partly on mer-
cantile values. The exploratory ambitions of Iberian navigators and
merchants revolved around gold, spices, mobility, proselytizing and
land. Gold was a spiritual pursuit and conversion was an economic
matter. A close relationship between these can be found in the express
motives of explorers. Spiritual and economic goods were ideologi-
cally connected, even though each was the sphere of quite dierent
institutions. These objects of early conquest gured prominently and
in Spanish and Portuguese perceptions were associated with one
another. The lure of gold and the call to evangelize were well adapted
to trading and crusading.
Gold was especially important. In one sense its charm was illusory.
It fuelled the dreams of the non-landed Spanish nobility seeking
wealth and prestige. Their ambition for gold was sustained by a
long-standing awareness of trade around the West African goldelds.33
Moreover, the routes to that region were clearly navigable. Para-
doxically, there was a shortage of gold in the fteenth century due to

John H. Parry, The Establishment of the European Hegemony 14151715: Trade and
Exploration in the Age of the Renaissance (New York: Harper and Row, 1966) and The
Age of Reconnaissance; Pierre Vilar, A History of Gold and Money: 14501920 (London:
Verso, 1991), chap. 7.
Abernethy, Global Dominance, pp. 18485.
Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, pp. 2627.
86 chapter four

a fall in production.34 Hoarding ceased and states exported portions

of their gold reserves to realize high prices. In a century in which
the price of general commodities fell, it must have seemed that gold
was the most cherished of all goods, even though its actual nancial
benet often proved elusive.35
Notwithstanding the immediate eects of the inux of specie on
specic economic movements, gold had a wider symbolic or imagi-
nary value in Europes trade economy. It represented mobility and
ownership. Its portability and its seemingly universal identity lent it
enormous importance as a symbolic good and as a sign of posses-
sion.36 Its allure lay in its capacity to represent and enable motion
and exchange. This is supplemented by another signal that it imparted.
The pursuit of gold embodied movement in itself. Gold was a potent
mercantile symbol. It struck at the insular borders of the mindset of
Renaissance Europe by valorizing new sources of production and
new routes of trade.
It enticed Europes adventurers to the Western Atlantic and then
further. The growing urge to set out in motion is well captured by
Columbus. Columbus diary is replete with passages on gold.37 They
express more than his idiosyncrasy. Indeed they were carefully crafted
for a larger audience: the Catholic monarchy and its court. Portuguese
colonization of West Africa and Columbus ventures to the Caribbean
opened up the Atlantic nexus of trade in gold. Conversion and the
search for wealth went hand-in-hand in the extension of the west-
ern perimeter. Proselytizing, like gold, could be transported. It was
a forceful universalizing practice. The newly found landmassso it

Peter L. Bernstein, The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession (New York:
John Wiley and Sons, 2000), pp. 10911.
Vilar, A History of Gold and Money, chaps. 89.
Anthony Pagden, European Encounters with the New World (New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1993), pp. 2627.
Columbus constantly makes reference in his journal to the search for gold or
spices. In the rst two voyages it is mentioned sixty-ve times. What his diary indi-
cates is an ever-present awareness of the need to make his ventures return some
small fortune, or at least the prospect of one, to his regal benefactors. Bartolome
de Las Casas also makes biographical notes of the Admirals pursuit of both met-
als and other tradable substances in his Historia de Las Indias. S. Lyman Tyler draws
extracts from both and prefaces them with his own commentary, reading and con-
textualization of these artifacts of exploration and conquest. See Two Worlds: The
Indian Encounter with the European 14921509 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah
Press, 1988). Peter Hulme also pursues this line of thought in Colonial Encounters:
Europe and the Native Caribbean 14921797 (New York: Metheun, 1986).
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 87

must have seemedbrought new opportunities for precious metals,

spices and souls. All of these contextual elements of early mercan-
tilism were the metaphorical cargo of Columbus voyages and the
ships of conquest that followed.
The lure of gold and new subjects was complemented by other
important pressures. Traditional land-based trade routes had been
disrupted at the end of the Middle Ages, especially for traders
connecting the Iberian peninsula to France and northern Europe.
The One Hundred Years War cut o routes to the northeast.38
Commercial openings from other regions were also constricted. By
the end of the fteenth century a large part of the spice trade had
been captured by Islamic forces in India, along East Africa and
through the Southeast Asian archipelago.39 More importantly, the
Ottoman hold over Eastern Europe was growing. Trade with the
Ottomans and beyond was the speciality of Italian merchants who
consequently solidied monopolies in the Mediterranean trade for
competing city-states.40 The city-states beneted considerably from
their pivotal location and their economic self-organization. The sit-
uation facing Spain, Portugal and most of Europe at the end of the
fteenth century was not so propitious. It was one of relative isola-
tion from the hub of the world economy. Great incentives therefore
existed to nd either new routes by sea or new sources of spice. For
the Spanish and the Portuguese, spice assumed an immediate impor-
tance second only to gold. Both formed the economic basis for impe-
rial rivalry. In focussing on Africa, Portugal was able to win a share
of the Asian spice trade. Spain reconnoitred America instead with
a view to nding a westward passage to China and India and recon-
necting directly with the Asian centre. In fact, this goal was kept
alive well into the sixteenth century.41
The Spanish and the Portuguese therefore were drawn to establish
the transatlantic economy by the squeeze on trade to their east. In
doing so they built on a Portuguese, state-centred model of exploration
supplanting the Italian approach to long distance trade that brought

Marc Ferro, Colonization: A Global History (London and New York: Routledge,
1997), pp. 68.
John H. Parry, Europe and the Wider World 14151715 (London: Hutchinson,
1966), pp. 3235.
Parry, Age of Reconnaissance, pp. 3637.
Parry, The Discovery of America, pp. 11136.
88 chapter four

together consortia of interests.42 However, a fresh understanding of

the realities of world economic links pressed on the expansionists.
The mercantile propensity to explore and trade was also stimulated
by a growing awareness in Europe that Asia was a major, if not the
major, centre of economic gravity in the world economy.43 The goals
of exploration gained impetus from the constriction of trade to the
immediate east and interaction with the high tempo of the central
zone of the world economy in Asia. The switch in orientation from
east to west that emerged paradoxically from vigilance about Asian
centres acted as a further stimulus to exploration and an expansion
of the Renaissance perception of the world.
Closed trade routes and a honed mercantilist orientation were not
the only factors. Money itself facilitated greater European participa-
tion in trade as it was utilized more extensively. After Columbus
initial passages to the Americas and the settlement of the rst colonies,
the use of hard currency grew. The further development of mone-
tary exchange in the sixteenth century was bolstered by the inux
of bullion from West Africa and then the Americas. Minting and
coinage became industries in the Spanish Indies quite early.44 Moneys
role as an imaginary bearer of value was augmented by the increased
rate of circulation of specie and currency throughout Europe and
Asia. Gold and silver acted as a mercantile guarantee of debts. Over
time precious specie became the media of trade between Western
European states, Asian countries and the Ottoman Empire.45 These
developments enhanced the general circulation of economic inter-
ests, which could be embodied in currency or in notes of credit.
In later centuries, the connection between money and the circu-
lation of interests would be even closer and a higher level of social
interdependence stretched over greater real world spaces.46 In the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the circulation of money intensied

Helen Nader, The End of the Old World, Renaissance Quarterly 45 (1992).
See J. M. Blaut, On the Signicance of 1492, Political Geography 11, no. 4
( July 1992); and Frank, Reorient. For a more generalized version of this kind of
argument, see also Jack A. Goldstein, The Problem of the Early Modern World,
Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 41 (1998).
McAlister, Spain and Portugal, pp. 24041.
Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce, pp. 199204.
This is an important theme, which Marx provided a thumbnail sketch for in
the chapter on money in Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough
Draft) (Middlesex: Penguin, 1973). From this standpoint, money mediates the spheres
of production and consumption. However, it acquires a force of its own through
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 89

institutional mercantilism, which both mediated and coordinated the

connections between economically signicant communities in the
Atlantic sphere and beyond. This newfound mobility in exchange
hastened economic development. It was not only goods and services
that were being exchanged. It was a transfer of values also or rather
an outgrowth of mercantile values. In the sixteenth century those
values motivated further conquest of the American continent. In a
way they were forward-looking, a culture of capitalism that was still
forming. The movement of Spanish imperial power into the Atlantic
world also drew on a past that was two-sided. On one side, a received
imagery of a civilizational past conferred general purpose on Spains
historical move beyond the Mediterranean. In addition, specic Iberian
and Christian historical experiences also shaped European intrusion
into America. The next section delves into this second side.

Traditions of Expansion: Rome and Conquest

Colonization had historical precedents that served as paradigms for

the forward movement of states. There were three models: medieval
Christian colonization, the reconquista and Englands incursions into
The expansion of Christendom in the High Middle Ages brought
Europes warrior cavalries together in common ventures. This was
more than a just a forward movement; territory that was notionally
under control was properly consolidated. Medieval conquest involved
the decree of new lordships and towns, the organization of further
bishoprics and the advance of knightly forces. There is ample evidence
of an expansionary mentality that emerged from the system of col-
onization.47 The orders of crusaders that participated in the campaigns
in the Baltic, East Mediterranean, Jerusalem and the southern peninsula

the symbolic act of exchange and its impact on acting subjects. It plays a part in
the creation of interdependence not only by connecting dierently functioning indi-
viduals but through the simulation of social intercourse that emerges through
exchange. This isnt solely functional interdependence. It symbolizes the social rela-
tions of a complex system of capitalist production and trading and it captures them
in a meaningful way every time actors reproduce them through the act of exchange.
On Marx articulation of functional and symbolic acts of exchange and how each
is theorized in what are, for Marx, competing economic sociologies, see John F.
Rundell, The Origins of Modernity: The Origins of Modern Social Theory From Kant to Hegel
to Marx (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), pp. 17882.
Bartlett, The Making of Europe, pp. 9096.
90 chapter four

came together in what was seen as civilizing missions.48 This received

widespread support from all corners of Western Europe and com-
bined diverse Christian constituencies. The orders themselves were
a fusion of monastic and warrior forces in which each modied the
other. They embodied uniformity in social organization that endowed
their members with the experience of seizing territory. They created
a powerful memory of the advancement of Christendom as well as
spreading the institutional nexus of monasteries. Other institutions
complemented the extended reach of the monastic orders. Chartered
towns with urban liberties completed the colonial movement. A
mother city, at the centre of a cluster of towns, would base settle-
ment on common legal privileges.49 Urban growth buttressed the
internal and external growth of Christendom. Like the military orders,
cities nurtured and extended uniformity in social organization.
Latin Europe therefore had methods of colonialism on the conti-
nent and some of its components could be emulated in the Americas.
As land was seized, ecclesiastical missions were started and new town-
ships and administration were chartered. Consequently, when the
Spanish conquered, colonized and converted they were exercising
already acquired collective habits. Safe traditions were vital in the
advance into the Western Atlantic. Thus, the 1493 Papal Bulls that
divided the New World between the Spanish and the Portuguese
lent legitimacy, in a recognizable form, to the seizure of the newly
found islands in the Caribbean basin. It was a valuable gesture for
the Spanish because it demarcated new international lines of control,
even though they did not last. It provided continuity with the estab-
lished and respected approach to colonization. This was essential as
the daunting new situation brought about by Columbus voyage called
for oceanic and not only territorial expansion. The wider late medieval
growth of Christendom provided a necessary backdrop to the conquista.
The Spanish edice has been described as an empire founded and
continued on conquest.50 Spanish colonization was an inter-continental
re-run of the conquista. The original invasion of the Islamic south of
the peninsular was not a sudden movement, but occurred over
centuries. The method of conquest jelled during the long campaigns

Ibid., pp. 26068.
Ibid., pp. 17277.
James Lang, Conquest and Commerce: Spain and England in the Americas (New York:
Academic, 1975); Anthony Pagden, Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain,
Britain and France c. 1500c. 1800 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995).
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 91

in the Iberian south. Successful expulsion or conversion of Jews and

Muslims established a religious despoblado. Hispanic Christians then
colonized the southern frontier.51 Many Islamic forms and rituals of
warfare and conquest were appropriated by the conquerors and com-
bined with Castilian traits. The result was a hybrid method of con-
quest that had no real equivalent in Christian traditions of warfare.
It was deployed in the Americas involving features that were Islamic
in origin. At its heart was the Requerimiento, the most ritualised and
elaborate protocol of conquest.52 It was a summons to accept sub-
mission to a superior religion. Like the Arabic jihad, it did not require
belief, only obedience. Exposure to the Moors conduct of war over
a period of time led to direct assimilation of its key elements in the
Hispanic approach to subjugating peoples. This constituted a Hispanic
tradition that was taken quite seriously in the imperial polity, even
though it caused initial apprehension amongst theologians. This was
also a source of debate for Spanish clerics when it placed strain on
those theological interpretations of warfare belonging to the other
crusading tradition. When it was found not to conict with biblical
scriptas it was interpreted in non-Iberian theologyit was conrmed
that this tradition was compatible with other components of the
Spanish vision of war.
The Spanish conquest of the Americas was distinct in its reach
and ferocity. The French, Spanish and English all shared the mer-
cantilist impulse that led beyond the bounds of the old world. However,
Spains uninhibited drive spread the sphere of its possession from
the Antilles on to the continent, through the hinterland and to the
south and, they had hoped, beyond to Asia. The long historical expe-
rience of conquest imbued the conquerors with a specic outlook on
wealth, land and subjugated peoples.53 The singular tenacity of the
conquest did distinguish its project from English and French advances,
which were geographically conned to the north-eastern seaboard
and the Laurentine region. It was the enthusiasm for conquest that
stands out from 1492 through to the end of the sixteenth century,
notwithstanding important clerical reactions against its excesses.
The zealotry that propelled the Spanish reconquista over hundreds
of years was nally triumphant at the point of union of the Castilian

McAlister, Spain and Portugal, chap. 2.
Seed, The Requirement: A Protocol for Conquest, in Ceremonies of Possession.
John H. Elliot, The Seizure of Overseas Territories by the European Powers,
in Armitage, Theories of Empire.
92 chapter four

monarchy. Granada had been the hub of civilizational exchange.

Castile over-ran it, repopulated it and then cut short its previous
pluralism. Spain purged of heresy bred a martial mood. It estab-
lished the monarchy as a serious power within and outside of Spain.
It brought the long period of continuous civil war to an end and
set about wresting control of the judiciary from local lords. It also
endeavoured to curb the independent power of the Church. However,
it was always challenged externally and from within and can be
regarded as a weak state, despite its leadership on the European
continent,54 with coercive capacities that depended ultimately on vol-
untary coalitions of elites.55 The comunero and Catalan uprisings were
the main Iberian insurgencies and they were evidence of the con-
strained nature of Castilian integration. They emerged from provin-
cial institutions: the cortes with its fueros (liberties). Habsburg rule was
defeated externally in the arduous and exacting Dutch revolt. Its
other European consejos could hardly rule their respective territories
with impunity and were forced to adjust to prevailing legal and
administrative conditions. In the Americas, there were also limitations.
A self-ennobled class formed in America, part of Spain and yet
also separate from it. This was an eventual outcome that was not
anticipated. On one hand, in the strange Americas an internal moti-
vational order united the conquistadores as the advance party of
the Castilian crown.56 On the other hand, the conquistadores were not
only a part of colonialisms march, but also a force branching o
independently from it. Spains invasion was a distinctly mercantilist
action combining Christian goals, the subjugation of peoples and
their subsequent transformation into a labor force.57 While royal
sponsorship was essential it was on these grounds that the conquerors
claimed the land for themselves as the spoils of a just war:
They possessed this land not because they had bought it, or because
it was unoccupied. They possessed it because their blood, in that hal-
lowed metaphor, had literally owed into the ground, and made them
and their descendants its true owners and its true rulers.58

Herr, Spain.
Jan Glete, War and the State in Early Modern Europe: Spain, the Dutch Republic, and
Sweden as Fiscal-Military States 15001660 (London: Routledge, 2002), chap. 3.
Lang, Conquest and Commerce, p. 11.
Ibid., chap. 1; Pagden, Lords of all the World, pp. 6466, 9293.
Pagden, Lords of all the World, p. 93. On the Aquinan roots of the notion of a
just war and debates about the legitimacy of conquest, see Zavala, New Viewpoints,
chap. 4.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 93

Undoubtedly, they were boosting Spains world empire. But they

were also forging a Spanish-American identity in the blood spilt on
American soil. This produced a collective identity separate from
Castile. In this sense, the conquerors were both a power with origins
in the unication of the monarchy and a portent of future colonial
The third paradigm of conquest is the English colonization of
Ireland. This is controversial and no overall consensus exists amongst
historians. The dispute is worth rehearsing briey and some short
remarks are called for. Was Ireland really a colony? If so, was there
continuity between the process of colonization in Ireland and north-
east America?
The rst question can be dealt with quickly. The rst point to
note is that this was an issue of debate amongst Anglo-Irish settlers
in the sixteenth century.59 The English saw it as a civilizing process
on a shifting frontier. The spread of manners to a coalescing Anglo-
Irish and Scottish elite propped up English authority.60 However,
while Ireland may have been a frontier for civilizing experiments,
its status as either a kingdom or a colony is quite unclear. Undeniably,
it was a province of a widening composite monarchy. Indeed it was
declared a kingdom in 1541. But it assumed some of these charac-
teristics in name only; eorts to remake it to resemble other dominions
reduced it to a colony in many respects.61 Numerous waves of so-
called New English immigration regularly set the country into turmoil
until they stopped in the later part of the seventeenth century. At
this time, English hegemony was more complete, but the continuation
of religious conict and the reinforcement of English administrative
policy attest to the instability of Britains Irish territory.
If judgment of Ireland as a kingdom or a colony is not conclusive,
then a question mark also hangs over parallels drawn with early

Nicholas Canny, Ireland as Terra Florida, in Kingdom and Colony: Ireland in
the Atlantic World 15601800 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).
Michael J. Braddick, Civility and Authority, in Armitage and Braddick, The
British Atlantic World. Canny suggests that there were limits to the civilizing process
prior to Cromwell. Authoritarian models of plantation cultivated a shared mentality
amongst serving soldiers, a pre-disposition to the savagery of locals. But there is
little evidence that the immigrating poor were imbued with the same outlook. See
The Permissive Frontier: Social Control in English Settlements in Ireland and
Virginia 15501650, in Andrews et al., The Westward Enterprise.
Karl S. Bottigheimer, Kingdom and Colony: Ireland in the Westward Enterprise
15361660, in Andrews et al., The Westward Enterprise.
94 chapter four

English colonies. While comparison of contemporaneous processes of

colonization may be valuable, much of the recent historical literature
seems paradoxically preoccupied with identifying limitations to com-
parison. The strong proponents of this perspective are David Quinn
and those who have followed his scholarly path.62 On this view, the
parallel is a direct correlation. Some of English Americas most impor-
tant adventurers were also Irelands (or at least had experience of
life there to draw upon): Walter Raleigh, Humphrey Gilbert, Ralph
Lane, William Penn, Viscount Faulkner and Thomas White.63 Their
experiences may not have traveled with them as enduring models,
but there can be little doubt that their past exploits inuenced their
direction in settling America. For example, images of Barbary projected
onto Americas indigenes by these colonial founders had origins in
A less direct relationship is suggested elsewhere.64 The Atlantic zone
involved England in dierent colonial relationships that each shaped
an imperial mindset in distinct but comparable ways. Ireland was a

David Beers Quinn, The Voyages and Colonizing Enterprises of Sir Humphrey Gilbert
(London: The Hakluyt Society, 1940), Raleigh and the British Empire (London: Hodder
and Stoughton for English Universities Press, 1947), The Roanoke Voyages 15841590,
Documents to Illustrate the English Voyages to North America under the Patent Granted to Walter
Raleigh in 1584 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1955), Ireland and Sixteenth Century
European Expansion, in T. D. Williams, ed., Historical Studies: Papers Read Before the
Second Irish Conference of Historians (Cork: Cork University, 1987); Nicholas Canny,
The Elizabethan Conquest: A Pattern Established 15651576 (New York: Barnes & Noble
Books, 1976); The Irish Background to Penns Experiment, in Richard S. Dunn
and M. M. Dunn, eds., The World of William Penn (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1986). Quinn presents a historical survey of the Irish popula-
tion of the Americas in Ireland and America: Their Early Associations 15001640 (Liverpool:
Liverpool University Press, 1991). See also A. L. R. Rowse, The Elizabethans and
America (London: Macmillan, 1959).
Nicholas Canny, conclusion to Making Ireland British 15801650 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001).
Jane E. Ohlmeyer, Seventeenth Century Ireland and the New British and
Atlantic Histories, American Historical Review 104 (1999). Steven Ellis reverses the
thesis to argue that American settlements were a model for colonies in Ireland. In
his view, Spanish conquest of America served as a prototype for the Elizabethan
conquest. It seemed to Englands colonizers that some features of Gaelic Ireland
were comparable to the equivalents in indigenous America and that this incited
their take-over. Where Ireland had been a borderland to be administered and
patrolled, it now appeared ripe for a fuller assault. Even the attempts at plantation
settlement were open to comparison with other European enterprises in the New
World, although for Ellis colonization of a land perceived to be populated was
anachronistic in sixteenth century Ireland. Irish conquest had been unintended,
according to this account. Elizabeths reign brought about a change in Tudor dis-
position towards borderland territories that precipitated English forward movement.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 95

near periphery, while America constituted an outer periphery.65

The Atlantic zone provided examples of diverse eorts to transform
strange environments and those that inhabited them. Near and outer
peripheries were zones of learning for English colonizers whose own
doctrines were tested and altered as a result. Moreover, Ireland
became a conduit in the British Atlantic. From the late seventeenth
century there was a sharp increase in the rate of transoceanic
migration.66 At the same time, Irish ports began to service growing
demand in British trade, although often Irish traders did the carrying.
Irelands strategic location in the commerce with the West Indies,
Virginia and the Amazonian coast, in combination with the greater
ow of people into America, induced an Atlantic orientation.
There are further criticisms that bear on the question of models
of colonizing.67 The absence of intention to colonize Ireland raises
questions about the idea of a model of colonialism implicit in the
Quinn-Canny approach. While plantation settlements were experi-
mented with in Ulster and Munster, they were not nished forms
in any sense and were not readily transferable to an uncharted envi-
ronment. Moreover, they encountered a very dierent reaction. The
military strategy of Gaelic warlords in response to English encroach-
ments transformed the Irish situation in fundamental respects: so
much so that comparison with the American colonies becomes unten-
able. Attitudes to the rebellious Irish may have resembled, and indeed
informed, subsequent dispositions to Americas indigenes. However,
both had more potent precedents to draw upon in the Romanesque
juxtaposition of Barbary and the ordered organization of urban life
and in Anglo-Norman traditions of conquest.
Evaluating these criticisms leads me to one conclusion: the rela-
tionship to Ireland did constitute a minor and fresh tradition in the
English expansion into the Atlantic. However, balanced comparison

To my mind, this suggests a comparison with the disinterest shown by the Stuarts
and the Cromwellian Protectorate towards the American colonies. However, Ellis
position is open to dispute. Nicholas Canny is one who disagrees; see Kingdom and
Colony, pp. 911. See Steven Ellis, Ireland in the Age of the Tudors 14471603: English
Expansion and the End of Gaelic Rule (London: Longman, 1998).
This observation is credited by Ohlmeyer to Jack Greene in Seventeenth
Century Ireland.
Bernard Bailyn, Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve
of the Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1986), pp. 126206.
See Hilary Morgan, Mid-Atlantic Blues, Irish Review 11 (1991/2); and Meinig,
The Shaping of America, pp. 3839.
96 chapter four

of the two theatres of colonial enterprise brings out the distinctions

more than urging the similarities. Ireland resembled a realm of a
composite monarchy far more closely than English America could.68
Englands promotional materials cast an optimistic view about the
opportunities in the American colonies, while views of Ireland were
shadowed by anxieties about civilitys movable frontiers. Its proxim-
ity set it apart from America, even though it was also part of the
greater English Atlantic. That proximity was not only geographic;
Ireland and England showed a history of partial and failed con-
quests. Each time England had left an invader-elite to struggle against
its insecurity. That struggle took place in more densely settled ter-
ritories in which close contact with the Irish was unavoidable; so
much so that a process of ethnic homogenization was possible for a
short time.69 Of course, long term implantation did not generate a
conquering, colonizing tradition. However, planting in north-eastern
America was carried out in a land in which there were no European
precedents. Coexisting plantations in Ireland (the island in the
Virginian Sea) were points of comparison, but North America was,
at the time, a barely reconnoitred proposition, while the Irish fron-
tier was more familiar. The ideal of civility that had emerged by
the end of the seventeenth century was more distinct and varied in
the North American settlements; it was a form of local Englishness.70
The civilizing enterprise in Ireland produced a sort of renement
for Americas colonies that more closely resembled that of the English
ruling class.
The conquest of Ireland was a minor exemplar for Americas
colonies. The results of the colonial experience for Anglo-Americans
seem to conrm this in the distinctiveness and variation of American
societies in all dimensions. Most certainly, Ireland gured in the
background of the English advance into the Atlantic. But it was a
secondary inspiration and even then it was shadowed by the more
distant, but in some ways more potent, Roman past.

Karl S. Bottigheimer, Ireland in the Westward Enterprise, in Andrews et al.,
The Westward Enterprise, pp. 5557, 6061.
A point granted by Canny as a dierence between Ireland and America. See
Kingdom and Colony, pp. 6667.
Braddick, Civility and Authority, Armitage and Braddick, The British Atlantic
World, p. 107.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 97

The universal monarchy: memories of Rome

Colonial expansion into the Americas reinvigorated a notion of uni-

versal monarchy. The latter was a cultural vessel for the memorial-
ization of Rome. The concept had survived the Middle Ages and
gained a new lease of life in the Renaissance. All three states under
consideration here embraced its legacy and were still claiming it in
the seventeenth century. At the beginning of this period, its association
with the Kingdom of Christendom receded. Nonetheless, Rome was
a memory that was frequently invoked in empire building. This mem-
ory had an institutional edice in the form of the Church.
Beyond wider perceptions of a community of Christendom, however,
what Rome signied varied from one state to another.71 The Portuguese
believed that they succeeded the Roman heritage due to the size of
their empire and the excellence of their sciences. The French incor-
porated Roman art into sixteenth century ceremony and legal codes
into juristic theory. In turn Roman legal principles supported the
claims of lawyers that the monarch was imperator in regno suo. This
was not a rival bid for the emperorship or papacy, but a claim
designed to assert authority over aristocratic, provincial and urban
contenders for power. The English monarchy exercised a dierent
and more wide-ranging relationship to the legacy of imperium left
by Rome. English understanding of Roman colonial settlement
furnished leading adventurers with a paradigm of civilizing to follow
and experiment with.72 The establishment of white colonies abroad
draw in indirect and sometimes tenuous ways on a history of Irish
plantation that more powerfully echoed Roman precedents. For exam-
ple, Cromwells proposal to form a new Commonwealth based on
the seizure of Hispaniola was cast as the foundation of a new Western
Roman Empire.73 Romes legacy was not limited to the territorial
outgrowth of Englands imperium. It girded a whole world view.
English possession in the North Americas was legitimated by reference
to the literary classics. Miltons works built on these by projecting

Patricia Seed, The Habits of History, Ceremonies of Possession; Armitage, The
Ideological Origins, pp. 2936.
Canny, introduction to The Origins of Empire.
David Armitage, The Cromwellian Protectorate and the Language of Empire,
The Historical Journal 35 (1992).
98 chapter four

an English vision of empire that was reminiscent of Rome, whilst at

the same time slighting the Spanish Black Legend.74
All built empires in the image of Rome as that image was variously
projected. All laid claim to the universality of their sovereignty over
land and sea on the basis of Roman ancestry. Yet it was Spain that
rigorously pursued this antiquity. Spain came to be identied as an
actual monarchia universalis by some in the Spanish court. It claimed
to inherit the entire legacy of Rome, viz. the custodianship of
Christendom. This particular outlook melded easily with the philo-
sophical matrix of Spanish imperialism and was the general perspective
of the Habsburg dynasty.75 It represented an early attempt to manage
the tension between the Church, on one hand, and the Spanish
experience of conquest, on the other. Spain diered from English
and French ventures in its form of conquest, in the extraction economy
it developed and in the interpretation of the American world. These
distinctive features continued to inform the parameters of Spains
self-understood mission in the New World. Graeco-Roman tradition
was potent inspiration for the baroque generally. In the case of Spain
it led to a rmer embrace of the project of a universal monarchy.
Hispano-American colonies bore the mark of universalism. For
this and other reasons, its logic of colonial formation was distinctly
centralist. Culturally the Spanish Indies were enveloped by an
orientation to the authority accorded to the past. The early phase
of debate around the project of universal monarchy can be explained
as an episode in which universalism combined with an appeal to the
prestige of the Ancients to rationalize Spains imperium. Under Charles
V, the Habsburg historians labored a debate over the legitimate
reach of Spains jurisdiction. The 1493 Papal Bulls that conferred
the right of the Spanish and Portuguese to occupy the new hemisphere

John Evans argues in Miltons Imperial Epic that there are themes in Paradise
Lost that are reminiscent of Americas conquest. The epic form is conducive to
imperial comparison. It is an anti-colonial text that speaks to the Black Legend
perceptions of Spanish colonialism and a pro-colonial text that speaks for English
attempts at settlement in Virginia and New England. Against other critiques of
Paradise Lost, Evans argues that this is no indictment of English colonialism. See
John Martin Evans, Miltons Imperial Epic: Paradise Lost and the Discourse of Colonialism
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).
Colin M. McLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World: The Role of Ideas in
Institutional and Social Change (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), chaps.
12. For Timothy Anna, the main forms of Christian consociation emerged from
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 99

were taken immediately as license to extend the Western Empire.

Interpretation of the grant fed on the assumption of universal legitimacy
throughout the sixteenth century.76
Yet this remained an issue of contention in Spain and later in the
Italian territories. The notion of universal monarchy formed the con-
ceptual battleground for pamphleteers from both the camps of sup-
porters and opponents of Habsburg rule.77 The height of Spains bid
for universal sovereignty coincided with sustained eorts to consolidate
the monarchical hold over its immediate dominion. Universal monarchy
was the bedrock on which the legitimation of the Spanish state rested.
However, the actions of government authorities could be tested on
this basis also. Prior to the end of Spains comunero rebellion in the
1520s, the states claim to possession of the Americas provoked the
beginning of debate at court and mild resistance in Castiles towns
and provinces. The debate outlived the revolt and took on renewed
concern with the legitimacy of Spains rule over the Americas and
its peoples.78 But both the comunero rebellion and the debate over
legitimacy were understood by authorities to be responses to the rule
of the Catholic monarchs to which they had to pay careful attention.
The Crown maintained a self-formulated obligation towards its subjects
that was continuously negotiated between cultural and political elites
in the nascent public sphere of the Habsburg court.79 The bid for
legitimacy was treated with suspicion by most of Spains theocratic
intelligentsia.80 This was a long-lasting and lively period of political
theorizing involving previously accepted beliefs. The limits of rule
and the moral duties of the Christian monarchy were the main point
of discussion in theocratic publics.

the potent, but more general, self-understanding of Spanish imperialism. See also
Timothy Anna, Spain and the Breakdown of the Imperial Ethos, Hispanic American
Historical Review 62, no. 2 (1989).
Pagden, Lords of all the World.
Franz Bobach, The European Debate on Universal Monarchy, in Armitage,
Theories of Empire.
Anthony Pagden, Dispossessing the Barbarian: The Language of Spanish
Thomism and the Debate over the Property Rights of the American Indians, in
The Languages of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1986).
Victor Perez-Diaz, State and Public Sphere in Spain during the Ancient
Regime, Daedulus 127, no. 3 (Summer 1998). See also Guerra, Modernidad e Indepencias,
chap. 7.
Pagden, Spanish Imperialism and the Political Imagination, pp. 56.
100 chapter four

More generally, the idea of the universal monarchy fuelled Spains

moral doubts at court and in the colleges. However, it also repre-
sented a resolution of the tension between the legitimation of rule
and existing jurisdiction in the Americas that was preferred by the
high apparatusas opposed to Cortes images of a dominion of New
Spain.81 Of course French and English commercial activity suggested
that the aim of Charles V to establish a monarchia universalis would
be contested. Besides this, pamphleteers had captured the previously
medieval notion of universal monarchy and were using it for the
purposes of propaganda in international aairs.82 Other states opposed
Spains bid to universal legitimacy. Nonetheless, Spains command
of the Americas continued to preoccupy theological, legal and his-
toriographic debate at court long after any possibility of complete
colonization of the northern and southern continents had passed.
Two points of reference that informed Thomist and humanist per-
spectives sat in tension in the Habsburg court. The command of the
Ancients remained, but the fact and the principle of discovery inter-
rupted their prerogative. The power of tradition was unsettled, albeit
only slightly at rst. The world of Romes civitas engendered a uni-
versalism that did not sit so easily with the competition of powers.
The relative immobility of the ancient city republic had formed a
dierent context for the ius perigrinandi, the archaic right to free pas-
sage. In contrast the world of the nautical Renaissance was transoceanic,
one in which the right of access to nations of the high seas was a
point of debate.83 Humanism became more attuned to the mobile
exploration as it was open to a large body of texts and did not hold
to a conservative view of inquiry. This left the humanists more recep-
tive to the signicance of the New World.84 The writings of Domingo
de Soto, Diego Covarrubias y Leyva and Fernando Vasquez de

See Victor Frankl, Imperio Particular e Imperio Universal en las Cartas de
Relacion de Hernan Cortes, in Armitage, Theories of Empire. Cortes articulated uni-
versal and limited images of empire. The latter found grounds for justication in
the system of vassalage that he was mindful of. In addition, he formulated a third
vision based on appropriated Aztec myth (which in turn became a Hispano-Mexican
myth). The Aztec pre-history was a foundation for a dominion of New Spain, inde-
pendent of the monarchy, but which would set Charles V as an Emperor who
inherited the Aztec legacy.
Bosbach, European Debate on Universal Monarchy.
Ibid., p. 61.
Grafton, New Worlds, pp. 2835.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 101

Menchaca shifted the frame of interpretation from a notion of empire

grounded in the eschatological vision of Ptolemy of Lucca, Augustine
and Aquinas to the universal empire of human creation that should
be a limited dominion.85 The inuence of ancient texts was rela-
tivized by the stubborn fact of new discoveries, but it was sustained
in the imagination of the universal monarchy.
Little of all this debate mattered outside of Habsburg Spain, as
Pagden points out,86 but Spain was the foremost power in the six-
teenth century. Over time, the project of universal monarchy slowly
faded from juristic and historical memory. The industrious thinking
it prompted did continue until the eighteenth century. The Habsburg
pretension to the rule of Christendom was nally supplanted in Spain
by the Bourbon vision of an empire made up of distinct and par-
ticular possessions. The universal monarchy was a vital component
of baroque culture. The other was the manner in which the clash
of the paradigm of discovery and scholastic orthodoxy was managed.


Instances of creative transformation are described in this chapter as

traditions brought to the inter-civilizational experience of colonial-
ism. That historical experience for the Spanish, British and to a
degree the French was one of brutal subordination, but also one of
newfound cultural interaction with dierent physical and social worlds.
Colonialism, in this sense, should be regarded as both a form of vio-
lence and an inter-civilizational mode of encounter. Four sets of tra-
ditions equipped Euro-Americans with the cultural apparatus of both
conquest and more general cross-Atlantic connections. In summary,
these include a growing elasticity of Western knowledge that more
readily allowed the assimilation of new phenomena; the mercantile
esteem of gold that stimulated Iberian exploration; long experiences
of colonialism accumulated in the crusades and in regional conquest

Pagden, Lords of all the World, pp. 5359.
Ibid., p. 40. Cecil Clough argues that the exploration of the New World trun-
cated the Italian Renaissance as the center of humanist gravity shifted to Spain.
See The New World and the Italian Renaissance, in Cecil H. Clough and P. E.
H. Hair, eds., The European Outthrust and Encounter: The First Phase c. 14001700: Essays
in Tribute to David Beers Quinn on His Eighty-Fifth Birthday (Liverpool: Liverpool University
Press, 1994).
102 chapter four

and encroachment; and the enduring legacy of the Roman example

received as the ideal of the universal monarchy and reconstructed
in a modern Atlantic context.
In toto, this background contextualized the respective projects of
colonialism. I point out that it combines traditions that are held in
common, some that have national inections and others that are
wholly Hispanic, French or English. I indicate this in order to con-
nect this chapter with the theses presented in chapter two. As argued
there, civilization has two axes. One runs from a general Western
heritage to outlooks conned to particular states. In other words,
where traditions are collective or circulate freely in Europe, they can
be depicted as Western and where they infer national or at least
bounded patterns, they exhibit specic civilizational features. The
other axis dierentiates the instituted and emergent dimensions of
civilizational consciousness. At the risk of over-simplifying the more
detailed analysis in this chapter, I will try to relate each of its main
sections to way of thinking about civilization.
The transformation of modes of acquiring and constructing knowl-
edge associated with humanism is as well judged in terms of cen-
tres and networks as much as countries. The movement of knowledge
across Western, Southern and Central Europe fostered a public sphere
of philosophical, theological and scientic debate and common opin-
ions. The networks that made up this public sphere participated in
activities of ow and exploration. They privileged the physical, mun-
dane and empirical world and thereby incubated motives that encour-
aged voyaging and exploration. Europes powers were nding that
their access to countries to their east was increasingly crowded out
by the growth of the Ottoman Empire. Only the gateway to the
Atlantic and to the West African coastline remained easily accessi-
ble and even then it seemed open primarily to Atlantic coast states.
This gured in the instituted civilizational background that ordered
the forms of engagement with the Western hemisphere. Western
knowledge was suciently elastic to permit multi-faceted encounters
with American environments, people and social forms. The open-
ness to learning was robust enough to encourage a searching curios-
ity to coexist with other ways of knowing the New World. Moreover,
it endowed Europeans with a structure of comprehension of dissim-
ilar modes of lifethat is, with othernessalthough it must be
acknowledged that that structure often involved outright perplexity,
mis-recognition and miscomprehension.
civilization and pre-colonial traditions 103

The second section of this chapter deals with mercantile values

that seemed to compel exploration and colonizing. The prized sta-
tus of gold was foremost amongst these. While it circulated through-
out the European economy and was widely valued, it held an especial
worth in Spain. The worldview of the monarchy was a specic trait.
Early adventures in the Caribbean and the north-eastern coast of
South America privileged the pursuit of gold. It guided the Spanish
drive into the interior and dictated some of the terms in which the
conquistadores met Mesoamerican and Andoamerican powers and sought
to defeat them. While the conception of golds materiality was changed
by the experience of Conquest, it remained an instituted cultural
attribute that cohered Spaniards on both sides of the Atlantic.
Habits of conquest during the crusades were the general property
of Christian Europe. They distinguish Western civilization from Islam.
Without them, Europeans would not have had the intricate and
developed armature of subjugation and colonial settlement that they
deployed in the Americas. Particular forms of conquering were equally
important, however: the Spanish blend of Christian and Islamic sym-
bols of defeating and founding that were learnt in the long recon-
quista was a signicant inuence, as was the English record in Ireland.
In the latter case, one might add the pre-programmed attitude to
enclosure of land. The example of Romes Ancient greatness paral-
leled all other tributaries of Iberian, French and English imperial
self-understanding. It inspired the ideal of universal statehood and
just claims to empire, that is, those that were widely recognized by
competing sovereign states. A dialectic of universality and particu-
larity is most evident in the way that this concept gured in Spains
political imagination. It helped to set the conditions of entry into
the American hemisphere and subjugation of its lands, cultures and
societies, especially for the Spanish.
The traditions and established patterns of subordination that
Europes modern empires brought to America can be contrasted with
their colonial capture of possessions elsewhere around the globe prior
to the nineteenth century. Instead of simply engaging and trading
with contrasting societies, dierent economic networks and other state
powers (such as those civilizational centers in Asia), European states
inaugurated settler-colonialism as a form of empire building. Atlantic
encounters were therefore more focussed on expansion in lands that
seemed to promise a tabula rasa condition but in reality enlivened
European ideas about unknown worlds. America seemed to contain
104 chapter four

so many cultural opposites, interpretations of which invigorated

Europeans sense of civilizational dierence. Modern colonial con-
structions of otherness were not conned to confronting the stag-
gering diversity of the human community. They encompassed a
number of areas of cultural experience. The next chapter canvasses
these within a framework of a critical hermeneutical reconstruction
of the notion of Discovery. In other words, the next chapter will
turn the mirror of European civilizational consciousness on itself by
looking at how the breakthrough to the Western hemisphere further
stimulated natural, philosophical and ethnological thought.


This chapter picks up the thread of discussion of the emergent imag-

inary begun in the opening pages of chapter four. It continues the
application of a civilizational sociological perspective to Atlantic
modernity. The cultural impact of the opening of the Americas to
European expansion has been extensively researched.1 It is re-examined
in these pages as a process of emergence of a European perception of
civilizational particularity and an amplied awareness of the range
of human, environmental, cultural and societal forms. The impact of
intercultural experience is evident in dierent endeavours: the eorts
to assimilate new phenomena; the rapid development of more exact
modes of science; debates about proto-evolutionist thought in the
eighteenth century; the development of the cartographical and con-
tinental imagination; the greater incorporation of the experiences of
travel into the realms of knowledge; and the changing conception
of the spectrum of Americas indigenous inhabitants. These are
explored in this chapter through the prism of a reconstructed notion
of discovery.
In the opening chapter I indicated that writing historical sociology
from the vantage point of a civilizational perspective risks mis-
understanding. This is due to the inherited understanding of the
notion in the human sciences that reects the circumstances of
imperial domination in which it was formed. The term discovery
is similarly hazardous, perhaps even more so. I am acutely aware
of this danger, especially given that this study simultaneously ranges
across problems of growing cognition of civilizational dierence and
of colonialism as a power and range of practices of conquest and
expansion. Some comments on discussions within American historio-
graphy on the language of discovery are therefore in order.

The literature drawn on in this chapter relies on the results of this research.
Two works that, although quite dierent, are widely recognized are Arciniegas,
America in Europe; and Walter D. Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy,
Territoriality and Colonisation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).
106 chapter five

The notion that Columbus discovered an uninhabited continent

in 1492 has been laid to rest.2 Forty years before the hemisphere-
wide Quincentenary protests of 1992, Edmundo OGorman critiqued
the fallacy that America was discovered.3 Discovery suggests that
the intention to nd unknown continents enveloped Columbus and
Vespuccis missions. Columbus writings themselves indicate his belief
that he had discovered unknown lands on the eastern perimeter of
Asia and entitled them the Indies. This was a suitably vague name
that reected Columbus cautious uncertainty about what he had
found.4 It is clear, however, that it was some years before it was
conceived as a continent apart from Asia. Then indeed it was not
until the late sixteenth century that the continent became widely
known as America. At that time it acquired a new signicance. If
the being of America is attributed and not innate, then it was
invented, not discovered, declares OGorman. Today the signicance
of 1492 has been put into perspective as a formative period of
European colonization of an already inhabited world. Postcolonial
views on this matter are beyond serious challenge now, as is
OGormans main point. The proposition that Columbus discovered
America now nds no place in social scientic thinking.
Yet this can still be pictured as a time of discovery, if the terms
connotation is modied and broadened.5 What was discovered is a
subject that should be probed in greater depth. Vast regions of the
world that sat on the outskirts of European consciousness were charted

The literature on this subject is voluminous. A limited selection might include
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, ed., America in European Consciousness 14931750 (Chapel
Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Mario B. Mignone, Columbus:
Meeting of Cultures: Proceedings of the Symposium held at The State University of New York,
October 1617, 1992 (Stony Brook, NY: Forum Italicum, 1992); Nader, The End
of the Old World; and John Yewell, Chris Dodge and Jan Desines, eds., Confronting
Columbus: An Anthology ( Jeerson, MO: McFarland and Co., 1992).
Edmundo OGorman, The Invention of America: An Inquiry into the Historical Nature
of the New World and the Meaning of its History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
Wilcomb E. Washburn presents a sustained critique of the signicance of
Columbus own beliefs in The Meaning of Discovery in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth
Centuries, American Historical Review 68, no. 1 (October 1962), 121. This essay is a
sharp critique of the histories of OGorman and Germn Arciniegas.
Peter Mason conducts an interesting discussion of the ways that examination
of the New World repeated classical motifs and problems. Ethno-anthropological
novelty emerged much later, on his account. See Classical Ethnology and Its Inuence
on European Perception of the Peopels of the New World, in Haase and Reinhold,
The Classical Tradition.
discovery in the west 107

for them. This set in train a series of internal discoveries Europeans

made about European worlds, which were not really discoveries about
wondrous America.6 Discovery was, in a sense, primarily paradigmatic
in this era and involved a confrontation with the radical otherness
of a fourth continent. The realization of the existence of another
hemisphere and more divergent formations forced a change of ways
of thinking and opened a prominent vein of internal reexivity in
scientic cultures in Europe. This was a process of cultural realignment,
that is, the questions that were being asked about nature, humanity
and society were paradigmatically altered.
Little of this had anything to do with the real continent. In the
rst instance, the study of America did not aspire to realist vigour,
as it would be seen in todays terms. There was an extraordinary
paucity of knowledge of the Americas in the sixteenth century.7 Few
books discussed it.8 The initial impact did not stimulate empirical
inquiry. Interest was not lacking entirely, however. Curiosity drove
Europeans to more far-reaching exploration of the real fourth continent.
During the rst two centuries of transatlantic history, the Americas
could still be classied and understood within Ptolemaic and Aristotlean
systems of thought, even though these were under challenge.9 The
oscillation of Renaissance thinking proved painstaking in the con-
frontation with the New World, as it did in physics and astronomy.
Prevailing views were modied by actual discourses and through
learned debates and discussion, but this was an uneven process.
American phenomena did not shatter long-established frameworks of
thinking for some time, as America made better sense when viewed

Arciniegas, America in Europe, preface and chap. 1.
On the English reception, see Canny, Englands New World and the Old
1480s1630s, in The Origins of Empire. See also John H. Elliot, The Process of
Assimilation, in The Old World and the New 14921650 (Cambridge: Canto, 1970);
Sabine McCormack, Limits of Understanding: Perceptions of Graeco-Roman and
Amerindian Paganism in Early Modern Europe, in Kupperman, America in European
On one count, there was little literary acknowledgement of the Americas.
Between 1480 and 1609, books circulating in France on Islamic countries out-
numbered those on America twofold, whilst pamphlets on Islam outnumbered those
on America tenfold. According to Honour, Jean Bodins 1566 bibliography of history
mentions only three works on the New World. See Hugh Honour, The European
Vision of America: A Special Exhibition to Honor the Bicentennial of the United States (Cleveland:
Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975), pp. 8385.
Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of
Comparative Ethnography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).
108 chapter five

through the classical and humanist heritage. The impact of the new
on the old world was tempered by the fact that Europeans sought
out what was common to both, although they did so by following
dierent national traditions.10 The matchless singularity of the Americas
was ignored or rendered in familiar form. Europeans were not looking
for reality, but commonality (so) that they could secure the full
incorporation of the peoples of America into the human community.11

There is a case for the view that the English had already developed a dierent
anity with humanism. Andrew Fitzmaurice diverges from Pagden, Elliot, Stephen
Greenblatt and others on the epistemological reasons why Europeans converted
impressions of the New World into forms that were familiar. He highlights the case
of English colonization as distinctive. Classical and humanist rhetoric was employed
in promotional materials to build support for American settlements through a psy-
chology of persuasion. Those materials carried great weight in sixteenth and seven-
teenth century England, while the categories of humanist understanding were situated
in dierent media in Spain and France. Extensive eorts to promote the colonies
struck a chord by appealing not to familiar renderings of the Other, but through
accommodation of the unfamiliar to audiences accustomed to rhetorical style. It is
accepted that Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences were aware of Americas dierence
and the accent is placed on what is valued greatly in the Old World that can be
demonstrated to-be-present in the New. Persuasion to adventure to the colonies
was truly an art form that pre-dated the deep intrusion onto the American continent
and was a more potent factor in English assimilation than the epistemic shock of
discovery, according to Fitzmaurice.
Promotional literature was historically far more inuential in England, that much
is certain. Loren Penningtons survey of English promotional literature builds up an
impression of a more intricate intellectual engagement relationship with humanism.
The images that informed it were less isolated than Fitzmaurice seems to suggest
and more the result of contact with Spanish and French sources. Prior to 1590,
Spanish translations of Martyr, Francisco de Lopez and Gonzolo Fernandez de
Oviedo y Valdes left their mark on early English adventurers, including Richard
Hakluyt, and the literature that they produced. After 1590, a more sanguine picture
of the indigenes emerges. It is only at this point that English sources become visible
as experiments with settlements began. Karen Kupperman takes this point one step
further. English writings in general stressed a similarity of civil form between the
appearance of the natives and the colonials. The Indians could be admired in their
physique, style of hair, attire and visible social hierarchy. The more time that writers
spent in America, the closer the form, claims Kupperman. This was not only exem-
plary, but could be seen as containing salutary lessons in the maintenance of order
in England. Her account places the accent on proximity to the subject and implies
a resemblance to Spanish and French writings highlighted by Pagden and Elliot.
See Andrew Fitzmaurice, Classical Rhetoric and the Promotion of the New World,
Journal of History of Ideas 58, no. 2 (1997), and the introduction to Humanism and
America; Loren E. Pennington, The Amerindian in English Promotional Literature
15751625, in Andrews et al., The Westward Enterprise; and Karen Ordahl Kupperman,
Presentment of Civility: English Reading of American Self-Presentation in the Early
Years of Colonization, The William and Mary Quarterly 54, no. 1 (1997).
John H. Elliot, Final Reections: The Old World and the New Revisited,
in Kupperman, America in European Consciousness, p. 398.
discovery in the west 109

The originality of the New World was absorbed selectively into pre-
vailing categories of natural and enthnological thought.
Internal accommodation and adjustments led to the eventual prob-
lematization of the classical and humanist heritage. Many developments
of science were informed by what has been characterized as the
assimilation of the New World into the sum of knowledge of the
Old,12 which is an interesting though still unresolved subject of debate.
Instead of delving into it, I will draw a limit at two observations.
Firstly, there was a dynamic tension between medieval perspective
and the empirical persuasion encouraged by new experiences of
travel. This tension underscored the ordering of Americas peoples,
ora and fauna. Secondly, little was really discovered in the strictly
empiricist sense about America in the rst two hundred years of
colonialism, except perhaps by anonymous subjects in the new colonies.
There was no overall transparent inventory of things from the
Americas. However, the idea of novelty had to be grasped and this had
great ramications for the conduct of cosmography, ethnology, biology
and botany. After the early sixteenth century ourishes of universalism,
general astonishment at the unfolding diversity of the New World
cultivated a deep feeling of particularity. A focus on particulars
emerged in the human sciences, in botanic studies of the microscopic,
in the preference for more exact cartographic representations of land
forms (rather than sensual and familiar depictions of important fea-
tures) and in the growing application of mathematics. Europeans
civilizational self-denition was also stimulated by the accumulated
focus on particulars. The process through which a civilizational con-
sciousness amassed began with protracted eorts to account for the
fundamental distinctiveness of America. It then took shape as Europeans
searched the lands of the western Atlantic further. The next part of
this chapter takes up the forceful tensions within Renaissance human-
ism. A nal passage examines the symbolic universe that Europeans
fashioned to understand the Atlantic New World.

A few scholars can be listed here, although the discussion amongst historians
extends further. John H. Elliot, The Uncertain Impact, in The Old World and the New,
sparked an ongoing reconsideration of the history of Europes awareness of America.
See also Michael Ryan, Assimilating New Worlds in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries, Comparative Studies in Society and History 23 (1981). John Mandalios reconsiders
these issues in the context of the breakdown of monogenesis and the emergence of
a European sense of Otherness in Being and Cultural Dierence: (Mis)understanding
Otherness in Early Modernity, Thesis Eleven (62) 2000.
110 chapter five

From familiarity to dierence: the New World as a mirror for Europe

Humanism began with a complex and multifaceted interest in a clas-

sical age whilst rejecting the immediate medieval past. Translation
of ancient texts precipitated the challenge to faith, producing a kind
of scrutiny of existing patterns of belief. It posited other sources of
interpretation and popularized, to a degree, the thoughts of the
Greeks and the Romans. The widening spectrum of available ancient
philosophy was easily adapted to a variety of competing humanist
and scholastic perspectives. The texts were the basis of the ssures
of dispute within and between dierent schools of thought. With
respect to reection on the New World, Spain was the rst center
of dispute. Ancient texts and Holy Scripture had forceful and enduring
inuence in the context of the Spanish Empire. Nonetheless, Spain
formed a focus for disputation over the signicance of the unfold-
ing Atlantic world. Sixteenth century Spain has been pictured as a
Catholic fortress against the perils of heresy, but actually was a cru-
cible of doctrinal conict and revision. The entry of lay thinkers into
universities and the diusion of debate through a growing public of
courts, academies and printers steadily dislodged the clergys purchase.
The epistemological status of the canonized textual authority of the
Ancients had brought comfort and familiarity as props of the existing
order.13 Discovery itself epistemologically unsettled this order and
over time led to a dicult condition of ongoing reinterpretation.
Grappling with what was found in the Americas set a new balance
of the phenomenal and unsettled scriptural interpretation. Retrospectively,
it is obvious that the New World contradicted the ancient texts. To
many contemporaries it seemed to conrm them. The transformation
of the prevailing modes of cognition was disjointed. Deeper exploration
of the New World animated scientic reection, but animated is
the operative word. The ferment of interaction with the Americas
relativized pre-existing epistemological self-condence. Hence Europes
assimilation of the western Atlantic world was full of alternating and,
on the face of it, contradictory beliefs.
Approaches to Nature exemplify how fresh inquiry was stimulated.
Nature had been a prominent theme in Ancient Greece. It returned

Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have
Shaped Our World View (London: Random House, 1991), chap. 4.
discovery in the west 111

as an object of dispute in the Renaissance controversies about the

attributes of the American kingdoms and their environs:
The discovery of America unquestionably acted as a powerful stimulus
to naturalistic and anthropological enquiries. The eect on European
philosophical thought was felt more slowly, beginning only toward the
end of the sixteenth century, with Montaigne and Bruno. The philosophy
of humanism was in fact already perfectly capable of accommodating
the new geographical discoveries, which, in their inmost essence,
belonged to the same spiritual current: the enlargement of the physical
world beyond the Ocean was immediately paralleled with the expansion
of the historical horizon resulting from the rediscovery of classical
There was uncertainty about what to make of America. This was,
as German Arciniegas states, a change of horizon for Europeans
or a westwards orientation.15 This could also be called a new continental
imagination. The sheer size of the recognized world grew and along
with it the minds of Europeans.16 Between Columbus rst voyage
and the turn of the sixteenth century, the sum landmass that Europeans
were aware of doubled. By 1525 it had tripled. A growing realization
that the world was widely inhabited, temperate and navigable cut
through previous assumptions about lands that Europeans might have
intuited, but not really known.17 Explorers and cartographers began
to portray the landmass as a single, unied New World that could be
named America in the singular.18 With the new hemisphere appear-
ing as another horizon, it became possible to think in planetary terms
and the elites of Europes imperial states began to do just that. This
involved a dierent visualization of the continents. From the sixteenth
century portraits of the world began to allegorically depict the four
continents in ways that accentuated the distinctions between them.19

Antonello Gerbi, Nature in the New World: From Christopher Columbus to Gonzalo
Fernandez de Oviedo (Pittsburg, PA: University of Pittsburg Press, 1985), pp. 89. See
also Zavela, America and the Wider World, and De Lamar Jensen, The Expansion
of Europe: Motives, Methods and Meanings (Lexington: MA, D. C. Heath and Company,
Arciniegas, America in Europe, p. 24.
Bernstein, The Power of Gold, p. 112.
On changing perceptions of the habitability of the world, see John Headley,
The Sixteenth Century Celebration of the Earths Total Habitability: The Issue
of the Fully Habitable World for Renaissance Europe, Journal of World History 8,
no. 1 (Spring 1997).
Fernandez-Armesto, The Americas, pp. 23.
Honour, Hugh, The European Vision of America, pp. 11222.
112 chapter five

The only landmass that counted was continental and its chief features
were taken to be civilizational. America appears the strangest of all
these. It was often pictured in classical pose as a woman with an
iguana or an armadillo or in Aztec headdress. This was one style
of projection of the new western hemisphere. It was another place
unaccounted for in the bequest of Ancient geographies. Other distant
places were starting to matter more.
A horizon of change also loomed large. Europeans deferred to
ancient texts but were also struggling to comprehend the change of
horizon. They were put between two poles of authority and, in this
sense, when confronted with a horizon of change responded by
searching for similarities. Early classicist iconography of America
pictured only common humanity, an image eected by positing
Romanesque gestures and appearance as trans-cultural. Artists and
cartographers portrayed America in classical similes. This was the
only way that the New World could be meaningfully depicted without
disclosing a broad dissimilarity. Ancient heritage felt more familiar
and thus the interruption of the Americas could be accommodated
in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
The search for the origins of civilized humanity brought scientists,
artists and philosophers to the New World. They could express their
preoccupations with the classical heritage and the problems of the
present in accounts and images of that place. A paradox emerged
between European images of the Americas and new narratives based
on on-the-ground experience. Colonizers and travelers had to attempt
to reconcile an established philosophical outlook and inexplicable
experience. During the era in which the Spanish dominated the
Atlantic nexus, this perplexity was common. In the sixteenth century,
Spanish clerics tried to develop histories of Mesoamerica. They based
their attempts on the existing understanding of the progress of civi-
lizations. Yet other texts also mattered and were grappled with in
an unprecedented attempt to understand the historical self-image of
others. This opened up an emergent, though contested, vein of
hermeneutical thinking in European civilization that was subsequently
present, even in the minority currents of natural philosophy and the
human sciences.20 Unfamiliar quipus and codices of Incan and Aztec
history and other types of indigenous script were treated as credible.21

See Bruce Mazlish, Civilization and Its Contents (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2004), pp. 3435.
Esguerra-Canizares, How to Write the History of the New World, chap. 2.
discovery in the west 113

To be sure, they believed the sources to be biased and primitive,

but they regarded local information as suciently authoritative in the
context of an unknown past. Even within these parameters, explanations
of inexplicable experience remained pliable, especially when pressed
into the polemical argument of a disputatio, that is, a formal clerical
and scholarly debate.22 Disputation occurred in Europe far removed
from the American environment in which variance between well-
accepted views and lived experience must have seemed sharper. At
this time, the authority of eyewitnesses was high, but under challenge.
In Spain and Italy the authority of tradition was often invoked in a
highly expedient manner. Where experience would seem to refute
the book, the refutation would remain incomplete. Observations and
events that deed written wisdom could be neglected because the
canonical trinity of the Bible, clerical opinion and ancient wisdom
provided the paradigmatic design in which certain questions could
be accommodated and only certain answers attended to. Those dis-
coveries which acquired signicance for much of the sixteenth century
seemed to be those that conrmed a tract of prevailing opinion, or
at least those for which credibility could be found in ancient expla-
nation. Nonetheless, the reports of witnesses were treated as serious
materials and, in this sense, the empirical endured as a problematic.
Both eyewitness accounts and tracts of debates on the continent
entered into growing elds of knowledge. They circulated freely
around Europe, creating an impression of continent-wide dialogues
amongst and between distinct networks of science and philosophy.23
There were also signicant national and denominational variations.
Protestant and Catholic interpretations were at odds. Within each,
there were further dierences, for example between Lutheran and
Calvinist, and between Franciscan and Dominican. As well, these
varied in dierent waves of colonization.24 On the whole, however,
a level of general communication meant that philosophy and science
became shared elds. A mobile technology of powerthe repro-
ducible printed wordunited otherwise diverse representations in
shared civilization-wide observations.25 A common eld of discourse

Pagden, European Encounters, pp. 5254.
See Collins macrosociology of rapid-discovery science. The seventeenth century
juncture built up and intensied contacts and density of networks, according to his
account. See Randall Collins, Sociology of Philosophies, pp. 53362.
Greenblatt, introduction to Marvelous Possessions.
Ibid., pp. 89.
114 chapter five

and literature threw up a synthesis of world-views beyond the imme-

diate control of Europes ruling temporal and ecclesiastic powers.
The monarchies of Spain, France and England and their apparatus,
to varying degrees and in quite particular ways, endeavoured to cast
their American possessions in the mould of the European homelands.
But perspectives coming from the colonies disturbed this aim. The
New World inducted travelers and immigrants into societies where
enduring certainties were susceptible to revision. All explanations
returning back to European circuits were informed by sensual as well
as traditional authority, at least to some degree.
During the seventeenth century, the kind of scientic thinking that
might be more recognizable today was elevated, led by the coalescence
of the Newtonian paradigm in physics. Its natural philosophers and
ethnologists tended to dismiss earlier Spanish accounts of the Central
and South American continent. The general impact of science during
this phase was more notable beyond the Iberian Peninsula. Also, in
the Italian territories, the authority of the Canon was interrupted
increasingly by the expansion of science. Contemporary readings of
this movement identied Columbus voyage as its starting point.26
This laid the groundwork for Enlightenment philosophies that were
deeply sceptical of American accounts. In the eighteenth century they
increasingly clashed with growing American knowledge of the continent.
Evolutionary thinking associated with Cornelius de Pauw, abbe Raynal,
Buon, Voltaire and William Robertson distrusted human perception
and thoroughly doubted the reliability of earlier eyewitnesses.27 Their
ascendant philosophy of history contained contradictory perceptions
of the New Worlds natural and ethnic make-up. Amerindians were
ostensibly strong, war-like and dignied, and yet weak and in need
of benevolent paternity. It was a young, virgin continent and yet
also inhospitable and unforgiving. It was a world of depravity, inhabited
by the depraved. De Pauws method of philosophical criticism became
tremendously inuential in a new eighteenth century species of writing

Pagden, European Encounters, pp. 9096.
Caizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World, chap. 1. See also
Stuart Andrews, The Rediscovery of America: Transatlantic Crosscurrents in an Age of Revolution
(New York: St. Martins Press, 1998), chap. 12. On the ambiguities of European
images of America and American self-imagery, see Thomas K. Murphy, A Land
Without Castles: The Changing Image of America in Europe 17801830 (Lanham, MD:
Lexington Books, 2001), chap. 2.
discovery in the west 115

on America.28 The reliability of written histories and scientic trea-

tises was judged by standards of internal consistency. The frame-
work of evolutionary history was the paradigm of judgement which
would over-ride more empirical attempts to describe dierence. De
Pauw and his followers inspired relatively closed systems of thought
that derided American culture, where previous Spanish accounts of
Amerindian world culture drew stereotyping though nevertheless more
attering analogies with classical Europe.
Those living in and traveling extensively through the American
continent were also attuned to dierence. But they lived through it
as direct observers and their experience was not limited to remote
criticism. A kind of Spanish-American patriotic epistemology built
up a critique of the scientistic contempt for the American world and
the eyewitnesses who gave account of it.29 The social standing of
Creole interpreters was privileged in the defence of American his-
toriography, where it was resolutely maligned in European versions.
Americans thought that only they could understand the complex
compendium of local sources that were the raw materials of history.
In defending their histories they were also upholding a partisan
position in continent-wide dialogues in Europe that countered social-
evolutionary philosophy.
This was an epistemological battle over the civilizational eminence
of the Americas. It marked out two dierent basic perceptions of
the value of the peoples, societies and ecosystems that inhabited the
Western hemisphere. In other words, by the eighteenth century there
were two dierent orientations that indicated a more sharply dened
conception of civilizational specicity. Spaniards sensed alterity, while
Creole Americans dierentiated themselves from both Spaniards and
northern Europeans and from subaltern mestizos. This battle for cul-
tural possession of the past informed the accumulation of civilizational
distinction in the present. European disdain for the American world
had grown in the eighteenth century in competition with the coun-
tervailing position. At times, it reached the pitch of outright hostility
to Creole-Americans and enduring Amerindian cultures. The new evo-
lutionist philosophy of history demarcated a strong and more insular
identication with European civilization that was now more loudly
declared superior.

Canizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World, pp. 2949.
Zavala, The Political Philosophy of the Conquest, pp. 10714.
116 chapter five

However, it must be recognized that eighteenth century evolu-

tionism did not proliferate. When it did spread, it was opposed by
romantic and primitivist reections on the New World. The latter
enlarged on prevailing utopian trends. To explain how, it is neces-
sary rst to return to the sixteenth century to examine the rst
impulses to utopian imagining. Wonder and utopian perception related
directly to the process of internal discovery that Europeans were
embroiled in. Those American experiences that seemed irreconcil-
able with the given conceptual apparatus assured the status of the
wondrous. Contemporaries took wonderful to mean awe-striking
marvels,30 which assaulted the senses with their alterity. Travelers,
explorers, scholars and writers wrestled to t new marvels from
American lands into familiar moulds.31 The uncanny and the mar-
vellous sat in the interstices of familiar and inexplicable ndings.
This was a confrontation with the unknown for Europeans. Columbus
intrusion into the Caribbean initiated a century of intense wonder
in which explorers, conquerors and settlers grappled with what they
encountered and perceived in contrasts.32 In this struggle with con-
trasts, received wisdom did sustain its forcefulness. However, sense-
dependent understanding expanded as the trac of ideas, people
and goods across the Atlantic world grew. An awareness of horizons
of here and there increased; that is, an awareness of Atlantic
seaboard states and their new distant colonies on the other conti-
nent. This literal horizon added more dramatically to the body of
experiences in the colonies that were at some variance with metro-
politan perceptions. On both the European and American sides of
the Atlantic, experience blended with canonical preconceptions, some-
times with harmony and sometimes with friction. Later, the divergence
of the two would be enlarged.
This was a crucial discovery: that the representation of experiences
might not be consolidated within pre-existing schemas. It brought
unease and was accommodated by attempts to render the incom-
mensurable familiar. It also stimulated utopian imagination. From
Peter Martyr and Columbus letters and from Mores Utopia onwards,
a current of Golden Age thinking pictured the Americas as an

See Rachel Roggett, ed., New World of Wonders: European Images of the Americas
14921700 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992).
Pagden, European Encounters, pp. 1012.
Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions, p. 14.
discovery in the west 117

original utopia.33 Reports of the condition of Amerindian peoples

were coached in the language of a liberty, natural virtue, a state
of nature or a true Eden. The Golden Age current drew on impres-
sions of the old and new worlds using metaphors to enable unied
comprehension of the contrasting conditions of each. The contrast
could serve as a means of critiquing the existing state of European
civilization. The New World was used in utopian writings as a mirror
reected onto European societies to defamiliarize them. The enthu-
siasm for the discovered metaphorical Eden sustained the Creation
story as an allegory as well as a story taken literally as truth. For
much of the seventeenth century enthusiasts bustled about lling in
the gaps in the Bible and in their own imagination, debating whether
America was a separate Creation or not.34 It seemed that in America,
Europes own prehistoric originsnow freshly discoveredhad been
preserved. The utopian impulse drew succour from the assumption
that Europe could be redeemed from its present state, if it had
enjoyed a more ideal past, even if that past was remote. By the end
of the century such wonder and romantic retrospectivity had begun
to fade as speculation about the New Worlds contained and distinct
history over-shadowed the belief in common anthropological origins.
Europeans had discovered what they did not know: an expand-
ing horizon of another vast land. Utopian metaphor was not the
only means by which the contrasting environment could be grasped.
The wondrous was the rhetorical process that lled the gaps of New
World imagery and complemented the catalogue of the exotic to

Beatriz Bodmer delineates a specic mode of thinking that is utopian at this
time. Its locus utopica is America, but it brings together the dark recesses of the
European invasion as well as the hopeful desire for perfection. More and Columbus
views contributed along with others. See El Jardin y el Peregrine: Ensayos Sobre el
Pensamiento Utopico Latinoamericano 14921695 (Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi),
1996. See also William Brandon, New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New World and
their Eect on the Development of Social Thought in Europe 15001800 (Ohio: Ohio University
Press, 1986) and Stelio Cro Classical Antiquity, America and the Myth of the
Noble Savage, in Haase and Reinhold, The Classical Tradition. In this period, Mario
Gongora also sees utopian thought, as a particular current, breaking o from escha-
tological vision, which was the established basis of Christian hope. Utopianism
came to dominate writings of the sixteenth century and spiritual hopes were invested
in them. Their distinctive traits lay in rationalism, which was an element absent
from the eschatological imagination. See Gongora, Studies in the Colonial History of
Spanish America, trans. Richard Southern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1975) pp. 23038.
Philip C. Almond, Adam and Eve in Seventeenth Century Thought (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1999).
118 chapter five

produce a remarkable unity of comprehension. The exotica of monsters,

savages, plants and animals that did not accord with anything in
the ancient inventories were rendered in forms digestible for Europeans.
A gift economy involving the exchange of actual transported novel-
ties from the Americas, Africa and the sub-continent also emerged
amongst Europes rulers. Mostly, it was representations from the cat-
alogue of exotica that circulated. Apprehension of dierence became
a growing challenge. But it was not a challenge without any prece-
dent. Myths of the Wild man and of monsters facilitated the con-
sumption of the strange and unfamiliar were rmly established in
traces of Ancient writings and the dark and fearful side of the medieval
imagination.35 They were mobilized in a wide and ongoing exercise
of comprehension. Yet the surprise of the American continents exis-
tence and the particularity of its features lent the description of its
natural and human landscape a unique place in the compendium
of European representation. The tracts, diaries, tales, paintings, carv-
ings, specimens, captive natives on display and pageants celebrating
New World paraphernalia that brought impressions of America to
Europe had to render alien features comprehensible.
This was a more dicult process, as many Europeans did not
appreciate Americas antiquity. Myth provided a prism of recognition
for perplexed Europeans, one that endured. But this was insucient.
Forms of visual, graphic and other textual representation dedicated
to the imitation of Nature developed at the intersection of art, science
and natural philosophy.36 Museums, gardens and libraries induced
transition in this regard as they assembled and housed a selection
of artefacts that could be taken as representative. Artefacts on exhibit
gave the appearance that the phenomenal diversity of the New World
could be grasped, managed and indeed even possessed.37

Susi Colin, The Wild Man and the Indian in Early Sixteenth Century Book
Illustration, in Christian F. Feest, ed., Indians and Europe: An Interdisciplinary Collection
of Essays (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999). Jerey Janome Cohen,
The Order of Monsters: Monster Lore and Medieval Narrative Traditions, in
Francesca Canad Sautman, et al., eds., Telling Tales: Medieval Narratives and the Folk
Tradition (New York: St. Martins Press, 1998); Jacques Le Go, The Medieval Imagination,
trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Lorraine
Datson and Katherine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature 11501750 (New York:
Zone Books, 1998).
P. Smith and Findlen, Commerce and the Representation of Nature in Art
and Science, in Merchants and Marvels.
Paula Findlen, Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting and Scientic Culture in Early
Modern Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
discovery in the west 119

Botany is an area where the assimilation of New World ora was,

arguably, more rapid and complete. Natural philosophy as its epis-
temological underpinning was a catalyst. Sixteenth century sciences
preoccupation with the similarity of plants was a struggle with com-
parability. Early botanists strove to match unusual plants with those
classied by Pliny, Aristotle and Dioscorides. In fact, few specimens
were considered until the mid-sixteenth century and even fewer were
transported. Often enough the natural history of the day relied on
human sources and neglected eyewitness accounts.38 Original dis-
coveries provided the impetus to rene the standards of illustration
and classication of new species. Of course, species unknown to
Europeans were being found in many places. But the growing vol-
ume coming from the Americas made it a special source of scientic
renewal.39 Furthermore, it compelled naturalists to focus more on
the genus of plant life than on references to them in erudite texts.
Many felt additional compulsion to represent them with greater
accuracy to accentuate their wonder. Curiosity about the New Worlds
natural phenomena increased noticeably from the mid-seventeenth
century onwards,40 paradoxically during the period where investiga-
tive inquisitiveness into the universe of its aboriginal inhabitants
declined. Scientic institutions, such as the Royal Society and the
Paris Academy of Sciences, gathered collections in a quasi-public
space. A physical interface with New World materials fostered an
early scientic public sphere. Criticism of hitherto respected ancient
texts emerged. In summary, botany was an area of endeavour where
representation in realistic proportion and perspective prevailed earlier.
Many mediated the initial botanical and ethnographic observa-
tions of travelers and receptive audiences across the Atlantic. Anthony
Pagden alludes to these in discussing the relational positions of con-
querors, travelers, missionaries and settlers.41 Attachment to the New
World is the principle on which commensurability pivoted for all
those dierent types of colonizers. Their perception was dictated to
partly by their relationship to the environment. Travel, in particu-
lar, was a compelling stimulus to enquiry, one that had begun to

Henry Leywood, The New World and the European Catalog of Nature, in
Kupperman, America in European Consciousness.
Honour, The European Vision of America, pp. 5758.
Katie Whitaker, The Culture of Curiosity, in Jardine et al., Cultures of Natural
Pagden, European Encounters, chap. 1.
120 chapter five

gain momentum before Columbus voyages.42 Returning traveler-

ethnographers did not have to face the permanent condition of accli-
matizing to unfamiliar environments as settlers did.43 They returned
with memoirs or with artefacts of elements torn from their contexts
and habitats and, in this sense, what they brought back was ephemeral.
English travelers of the seventeenth century are a good example.
They were instructed to tour with purpose.44 They were to take an
inventory of all things that they saw, perhaps with a view to pub-
lishing when they returned. Traveling amateurs sketched or painted
many landscapes and illustrations.45 Their records were additional
materials for botany and geography. Far from being only personal
experiences, impressions of America were passed around an eager
reading and viewing public, whose appetite for representations of
American ecology seemed insatiable. This was a public that incor-
porated the naturalistic and scientic sensibilities that Miltons Paradise
Lost appealed to.46 Collectively, they helped to build up impressions
of other places. They were a major source of information about the
New World environment, but could amount to little more than
eeting portraits excised from the contexts in which they were formed.
Consequently, the signicance of habitat and ecology could not be
completely conveyed and was therefore piecemeal, in spite of the
advances in botany and in spite of a growing public that was hungry
for reports on the American environment.
Translations disseminated impressions also, although these mat-
tered less in the eighteenth century due to the progress of proto-
evolutionism. Missionaries, historians, artists and visitors were acutely
aware of their inability to understand or indeed to transport the ele-
ments of the other continent. Yet it was in the attempt to convey

Aston, The Fifteenth Century, chap. 3.
Pagden, European Encounters, pp. 3638.
Peter J. Marshall and Glyn Williams, The Great Map of Mankind: British Percep-
tions of the World in the Age of Enlightenment (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982),
chap. 2.
Honour, The European Vision, pp. 67, 179.
Karen Edwards argues that Paradise Lost reects how this public measured the
natural world against experiential knowledge. It was a record of new natural science
derived from exploration. Nature is depicted as a book of knowledge open to inter-
pretation. It captured the insurgent interest in microscopic sight eager to explore
the inner universe of plants and animals. This universe was open to interpretation
by experimentalists much as the world was open to new interpretation by Miltons
Adam after the Fall. See Karen L. Edward, Milton and the Natural World: Science and
Poetry in Paradise Lost (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
discovery in the west 121

impressions of the environment that a common frame of cultural

encounter can be found. There were weak, but nonetheless dis-
cernible, links between Americans, Europeans and the myriad of
intermediaries. Their translations not only applied on the frontier,
the coast or in the central hinterlands. Their words reached other
audiences in Europe in both scholarly and vernacular languages. Of
course their role was not solely one of benign functionaries. Strange
European ideas were translated for the Arawaks of Hispaniola, for
Moctezuma, in John Guys trading expedition in 1612 and for many
after the early encounters. Although they did not always nd equiv-
alents in the Amerindian universe of understanding, these were acts
of representation of European intentions. Greenblatt singles out trans-
lators as the factor that gave the Spanish decisive edge in using the
rivalries of the central Mesoamerican empires to advantage.47 To be
sure, they occupied a pivotal position in the nexus of intercourse.
However, the indigenes were relegated to the margins of philosophical
history over time. Reconstructions of their pasts could attribute
dierent traitssome civilized, some savageto distinct tribes and
societies.48 In this way, evolutionary accounts of the continents past
that appear self-contradicting to modern observers could be easily
pieced together. During the rst century of confrontation, the Spanish
had retrieved and relied on Amerindian sources of information.
Denigration of non-alphabetical languages was not their custom. A
sea change in attitudes came in the eighteenth century as Mesoamerican
cultures were situated within evolutionist schemas as lower than
Egyptian and Chinese civilizations. Non-stratied societies did not
fare nearly as well. They were designated natives without history.
For cultures with a physical record and a recognizable hierarchy, it
was the image of savagery that was the nucleus of European com-
prehension and not a treatment of their interpretations of the past.
Given all of the above, if this can be aptly described paradigmatically
as a period of Discovery, what then was discovered? The discovery

Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions, pp. 1113. Stuart B. Schwarz is implicitly crit-
ical of Greenblatts theorization of representation as the essential core of cultural
encounters. Instead, encounters do capture and retain some of what is reported. In
the case of the Americans, Schwarz sees a complicated range of encounters, only
some of which are linguistic, textual, symbolic or pictographic, and not all of these
are exercises of power, for that matter. See his introduction to Implicit Understandings.
Ter Ellington, The Myth of the Noble Savage (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2001), chaps. 15.
122 chapter five

was that little was known. A profound feeling of new and expand-
ing limits of European knowledge unfolded. In Pagdens words the
boundary of what was known was a receding horizon, stretching
on forever, further out of reach as more and more was added to
the store of European knowledge.49 This was a discovery in itself
that resulted from an accumulation of numerous and smaller obser-
vations. Civilizational encounters in the Atlantic zone cultivated a
pragmatic disposition as ethnological awareness and scientic imagery
began to incorporate a greater diversity of environments. This raised
the prospect that the existing fund of knowledge held by European
civilization was limited and therefore the categories of scientic think-
ing should be relativized to admit future ndings.
Awareness of the span of humanity was a horizon of knowledge
that receded most rapidly. Confrontation with other peoples whose
status was uncertain led to much debate. Strictly speaking this can-
not be calculated as the early rise of anthropology. However, it might
be seen as its pre-history.50 The continent-wide contact with peoples
to that point unknown by Europeans did spark an ethnological aware-
ness or a curiosity that was proto-anthropological. It was steeped in
an ambiguity that was not present in the founding writings of nine-
teenth century anthropology.51 The impulse to comparative inquiry
meant that questions about others had to be open-ended to some
degree. Empirical sensibilities competed with philosophically-abstract
principles by demonstrating that there were now clearly exceptions

Pagden, European Encounters, chap. 3.
Robert Wokler, Anthropology and Conjectural History in the Enlightenment,
in Christopher Fox, Roy Porter and Robert Wokler, eds., Inventing Human Science:
Eighteenth Century Domains (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
(M)any . . . discern during the rst half of the nineteenth century a harden-
ing of racist attitudes and a withering of what is seen as a genuine curiosity and
empathy for other cultures, characteristic of Enlightenment explorers and natural
philosophers. (Nicholas Thomas, Colonialisms Culture: Anthropology, Travel and Government
[Oxford: Polity Press, 1994], pp. 6869).
Fuyuki Kurasawa takes this view a great deal further in his analysis of cross-
cultural counter-currents in the history of social theory. An intercultural sensibility
can be traced back to Montaignes essay on cannibalism, then to Montesquieus
Persian Letters and to Rousseaus far-reaching critique of European civilization. This
ethnological imagination forms a backdrop to the critical dimension of modern
social theory. Sociologys capacity to constantly reinterpret gives it an inter-cultural
disposition, which at rst glance might seem to be missing in anthropology. However,
in-depth interpretations of dierent aspects of Durkheim and Levi-Strauss show that
anthropology too shares the ethnological imagination with sociology. Kurasawas
strong argument is that the counter-current has been present in Western social
discovery in the west 123

to the accepted universal story of the spread of humanity.52 In other

words, they countered universalism with illustrations of diversity that
demanded alertness to relativity.
In hindsight, this inquisitiveness clearly echoed the main ethical
dilemma of Spanish colonialism: how to relate to actual peoples
whose genesis and character were unexplained.53 To this dilemma
there was a spectrum of responses. The scholarly exchange between
Juan de Sepulveda and Bartolome de Las Casas in the well-known
Valladolid controversy was an early instance, although it was per-
haps the most spectacular.54 The reactions continued through to the
eighteenth century.55 By this time, polygenesis had supplanted mono-
genesis in explanations of the anthropographic spread of humanity.56
Public admission that the peoples of the New World might have a
dierent origin lent legitimacy to the notion that it was a separate
world altogether. It remained for many a perplexing and barbaric
world. Spanish and French ethnographic thought spanned a new
spectrum that variously ascribed traits of savagery in impressions
of indigenous civilizations. Some of them reected a romantic and
primitivist mood and attributed nobility to those living in lost nat-
ural conditions. Others endorsed the collective sense of superiority
in tune with evolutionist currents. The self-assured condence of the
Renaissance that attributed brotherhood to Americas people and
searched for a common genesis was starting to fall away. A con-
founding New World was displacing it.

theory since the sixteenth century. In fact, tellingly, he consistently describes Western
modernitys sphere as North Atlantic and Euro-American. See The Ethnological
Counter-Current in Sociology, International Sociology 15, no. 1 (March 2000), and
The Ethnological Imagination: A Cross-Cultural Critique of Modernity (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2004). See also Philip Bagby, Culture and History: Prolegomena to
the Comparative Study of Civilizations (London: Longmans, Green, 1958). In his introduction,
Bagby re-visits the pre-anthropological writings of Montaigne and Latau and traces
a relationship to romanticism in anthropologys nineteenth century emergence.
See Mazlish, Civilization and Its Contents, pp. 2627.
Pagden, European Encounters, pp. 18488, and The Fall of Natural Man, chaps.
For a commentary about the revival of Ancient writings in the disputes involv-
ing Las Casas, Juan de Sepulveda, Jose de Acosta, Pere Latau and the American
Jesuits, see Mario Gongora, Studies in the Colonial History of Spanish America (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 22530.
Arciniegas, Europe in America, chaps. 5 and 11.
Joyce E. Chaplin, Race, in Armitage and Braddick, The British Atlantic World.
124 chapter five

However, the appearance of variety continued to provide stimu-

lus in a range of elds of inquiry as it had since the sixteenth cen-
tury. During this time, theology acquired a secular aspect kindling
the urge for new pursuits.57 The rst generation of scientic, geo-
graphical and philosophical responses is indicative of a rupture in
thinking precipitated by exploration and colonialism, but neglectful
of American realities. Partial, yet signicant, revisions were made to
the ancient texts on ndings in medicine, geography, cosmology,
physics and political science. Some landmarks were notable. Early
in the sixteenth century, Columbus and Vespuccis journals brought
doubt on the questions of the shape of Earths overall landmass and
its peopling. Munsters cosmographie charted lands, seas and peoples
in an encyclopaedic way. Copernicus re-charted the heavens, while
Vesalius went back to Galen to check his anatomy against fresh dis-
sections of the body. Vespucci, Munster and Vesalius were all icono-
clasts in their day, but they also accommodated Aristotlean precedents
and concepts in elucidating their breakthroughs. Hugo Grotius captured
wider concern about the lack of sound explanation of the ancestry
of American peoples in the Bible. Mercators refutation of Ptolemy
and Galileos abolition of heaven were bolder responses; in Galileos
case, a later one.
Although a common tension in conceptual apparatus united these
gures, the spectrum of perspectives was also broadened. The reception
of images of America was at once bound by the cognitive heritage
and divided by a splintering of interpretative bases. An expressed
notion of civilization, internally fragmented from inception, was also
discovered in the mid-eighteenth century. It was preceded by dis-
cernible awareness of civilizational dierence. Europeans had chronicled
awareness of other societies since Antiquity. Aside from familiarity with
Islamic states in the Middle Ages there was some acquaintance with
southern Chinese dynasties and empires in the Indian sub-continent.

Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientic Imagination: From the Middle Ages to
the Seventeenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986). Funkenstein focuses
on European developments in his historical survey. It was lay education and
Protestantism that eroded the Churchs theological monopoly and led to a ourishing
of scientic pursuits. See also Blair Worden, The Question of Secularization, in
Hornston and Pincus, A Nation Transformed. For one alternative view that science
during this period was more varied than this image suggests and mirrored a great
perception of variety in nature go to Lisa Roberts A World of Wonders, A World
of One, in Smith and Findlen, Merchants and Marvels.
discovery in the west 125

However, they were not the objects of a projected Golden Age

counter-posed to an advanced, though perhaps decadent, civilization
in the manner that the Americas were in the sixteenth century.58
America was a mixture of states and societies and while there was
some accommodation of Andean and Mesoamerican states, it was
the primitivism of non-stratied societies that dominated. This made
the other unknown continent across the Atlantic more known and
gave great impetus to a self-sustained and more sharply dened sense
of particularity that underpinned European notions of civilization.

Curiosity lost? New signs of dominance

Europes penetration and conquest of the world beyond its borders

did not just involve the extension of its institutional and economic
order. In constructing new societies, the empires came to see them-
selves as bearers of civilization. This was boosted by French, British
and Spanish incarnations of colonialism. A glance at the adventures
of the concept of civilization reveals a longer history and a vital for-
mative period in which images of the civilized were crafted.59 Latter-
day etymologies of the term civilization indicate many historical
lineages. The Romans used various termscivilis, civis, civitas, civilitas
in a quasi-anthropological classication of those races they saw as
non-civilized. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this family
of terms acquired an association with civilized renement and
conduct regulated by manners. In the context of the debates over
the Americas and the validity of ancient texts, the idea of civiliza-
tion was endowed with the values of progress and exceptionality. It
was the basis for a philosophical defence of the imperial project
against the antagonists of colonialism who mobilized a notion of cul-
ture to advance their views. In the Enlightenment debates around
the idea of civilization, a notion of civilizing mission held meaning
a full century before it was incarnated in the French mission civilisatrice.

Brandon, New Worlds for Old, pp. 15152.
Bruce Mazlish, Civilization in a Historical and Global Perspective, International
Sociology 16, no. 3 (2001); Anthony Pagden, The Defence of Civilization in Eighteenth
Century Social Theory, History of the Human Sciences 1, no. 1 (1998); and Rundell
and Mennell, Classical Readings, p. 6. See also Lucien Febvre, Civilization: Evolution
of a Word and a Group of Ideas, in Peter Burke, ed., A New Kind of History: From
the Writings of Lucien Febvre (London: Routledge, 1973).
126 chapter five

It was present in the philosophical discourse of Western Europes

public sphere. In the Americas, it had a practical application, as it
was borne by missionaries and perhaps conned to their communities.60
The word civilization coined in the eighteenth century was a noun
that took the action of civilizing and turned it into an image of
development. The more frequent usage of the word in the eight-
eenth century was necessarily plural. It referred to things that were
developed such as achieved standards of cultivated behaviour, a state
of social order, a universal goal and, most importantly, a stage of
social and economic development.61
Civilization as an idea denoted dierent particular things for
Europeans. But a comprehensible imagery embraced all. While pos-
session in Africa, Asia and Ireland provided points of reference for
the colonial mind-set, the Americas more forcefully dominated impe-
rial imagery until the early nineteenth century. Indeed the breadth
of European possession circumscribed the contours of civilizational
thinking for supporters of colonial purpose such as Sepulveda, Hakluyt,
Bodin and Acosta and its mildest and most trenchant critics such as
Las Casas and Montaigne. Civilizational consciousness had not crys-
tallized ideologically in the sixteenth century in the way that it would
in pre-revolutionary France or Britain after the Seven Years War.
Nonetheless the conceptual signage that buttressed European under-
standing of Asian, African and American societies had materialized.
It did not at this time impart to Spanish, English and French sub-
jects an unambiguous language through which they could represent
themselves as the civilized. But it could guide the premises of sci-
ence and provide paradigmatic coherence for Europes relationships
with pre-Colombian societies.
Expansion across continents altered the structural and economic
dynamics of Iberian and north-western Europe. A dicult yet crucial
release of its cultural energies accompanied the rapid spread of
European power. While the Spanish, French and English intrusion
into the American world was theological in its thrust, science and phi-
losophy were also travelers.62 After an initial era in which nave and
benign curiosity coexisted with colonization, sciences of classication,

F. Quinn, The French Overseas Empire, pp. 56.
Thomas C. Patterson, Inventing Western Civilization (New York: Monthly Review
Press, 1997), chap. 2.
Pagden, The Idea of Europe, pp. 1011, 504.
discovery in the west 127

collection and cataloguing were practiced in new ways in an inter-

civilizational environment. They established a body of signs symbolizing
the civilizational dierence between Europeans and Americans and,
more vividly, between Europeans and the indigeneity of the American
world. With this objectication of civilizational dierence, European
powers could systematize the worlds spaces and civilizations for the
purposes of collective understanding, for trade and commerce, for
the mercantile re-ordering of inter-state relations, for warfare and
for travel.
However, this particularization of European identities was marked
by its own tension with universalizing patterns and ideals that shaped
empires as vehicles of European civilization. The accumulated self-
belief in civilizational distinctivenessincreasingly underscored by a
proto-evolutionist paradigm in the eighteenth centurywas forged
in a dialectic of universality and particularity. Looking at how this
played out in the American colonies, it is evident that there are two
areas in which this tension is well illuminated: the experiences of
migration and settlement and the relationship to conquered and
transformed aboriginal worlds.
On the side of the colonizers, the ontological renewal of identities
fostered singularity through the confrontation with America. Migration
disembedded and for those who undertook it, it was a process of
transformation in itself. Migrants carried diverse regional or religious
identities, rather than national ones.63 Waves of new migrants repeated
the importation of geographical and denominational identity. However,
the accumulation of experiences of distant surroundings and peoples
honed a two-sided appreciation of both European homelands and
new American homes as singular entities. At the moment of joining
colonies, settlers may have felt intensely aware of the diversity of
their place of origin. Migration did not stop at the settlements on
the east coast. Repeat migration was a common feature, as settlers
moved a second time, following a period of acclimatization. Immersion

Altman and Horn To Make America; Patrick Grin, introduction to The People
with No Name: Irelands Ulster Scots, Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World
1689 1764 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); James Horn, Adapting to
a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth Century Chesapeake (Chapel Hill, NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 1994), chap. 1. Meinig, The Shaping of America,
pp. 8082. Meinig cites Michael Kammens telling remark that colonials didnt
come from Europe. They came from East Anglia, Bristol, London, Ulster, Leyden
and Nantes (p. 80).
128 chapter five

in a new environment had a creolizing eect. The contrasts that

mattered more were those that were immediately sensed and those
that were remembered in the local community cultures. Invoked in
those cultures were images of the old world more in tune with con-
ditions of the new one. Moreover, fear of indigenous populations
that were colonized or just beyond the reach of established settle-
ments forced a communal unity on colonists that were otherwise cul-
turally diverse. Fear of the indigenous presence fostered a similarity
of colonial interests and an integration of perceptions of the Spanish,
French and English. In other words, migrants were turned into French
and Spanish Creoles or Anglo-Americans.
Growing uniformity on the side of the colonizers inuenced the
ways that they re-shaped the American world. After the initial and
normally pacic encounters,64 dierent indigenous cultures were judged
in terms of civilization and savagery. The juxtaposition of the two
sets of standards was more pronounced in the Americas than in the
trading entrepots and naval bases that comprised European imper-
ial holdings in Asia and the Indian Ocean. In the settler colonial
empires, the language of civilization and savagery was honed into
the sharpest instrument of empire.65 It was turned on relationships
with indigenous worlds, but also on places and values. The distinc-
tion between civility and savagery in the nexus of European and
Amerindian encounters was actualized in three practices: cartogra-
phy, geographic nomenclature and linguistic dominance. Each is elab-
orated in more detail below, after some general remarks on the
proliferation of European signications.
In the Colombian scenario of the rst relatively passive encoun-
ters, respective European and indigenous semiotics of territory co-
existed.66 Colonization brought a universalizing logic into a general
scenario of coexisting conceptions of time, space and culture. European
names for American places prevailed as the ocial geographical
nomenclature marginalized indigenous signiers. The diversity,
dierence and novelty of the New World were displaced by European

This is a well-known facet of Columbus early voyages. However, English set-
tlers too had non-violent relations with Indians in the New England area before
the 1620s. See Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing o in the Early
America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000).
Hulme, Colonial Encounters, pp. 23.
In other places, indigenous and European knowledge were blended, at least
for a time. See Gerald R. Crone, Maps and their Makers: An Introduction to the History
of Cartography (London: Hutchinson, 1968), pp. 9092.
discovery in the west 129

representations of it. The Americas were named, understood and

described in the terms and language of the Old World. The new
continent had to be illustrated in a recognizable semiotics.67 Thus
confrontation with dierence entailed the mobilization of an idiom
that was familiar to Europeans, even while it could only partially
conceal the particularity of the American world.
Representations of the New World were part and parcel of the
universalist subsumption of non-European civilizations and their cul-
tural horizons. Yet such universalizing ideals sat uncomfortably with
the reality and experience of dierence in the colonies where they
could, to say the least, become uncertain. A tension emerged between
the civilizing practices of empires and the real limits to the exer-
cise of European culture in the colonial frontiers.
Mapping was such a practice. During the long era of imperialism,
the world was re-mapped within European consciousness as a place
foreign to Europe, but under the auspices of its major powers.
Mapping the world was an important step in cultivating this pretension
and, in itself, was an impulse to imperial state formation.68 In Euro-
American empire-building these steps were precarious and unstable.
Heightened competition between imperial powers for the most accurate
and contemporary maps suggests that they were highly sought after
objects. Their political, economic and military importance to competing
states and their apparatus made them valuable commodities in them-
selves. The mercantilist projection of the world mandated a scientic
and rationalized representation of space. Renaissance perspectivism
accorded a new privilege to visual perception.69 The ocular objects
of measurement that it generated rationalized the representation of
space. They were used to craft materials for the consumption of the
seeing individual. The transformation of mapping is a measure of
the early modernity of spatial conceptions.
Renaissance maps acquired a descriptive aspect that enhanced the
textualism of the age.70 Their medieval antecedents had centered mainly
on stylized symbolic and mythological representation. In contrast,

Hulme, Colonial Encounters, pp. 3439. See also Elliot, The Old World and the
New 14921650.
Michael Biggs, Putting the State on the Map: Cartography, Territory and
European State Formation, Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, no. 2 (1999).
David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural
Change (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), pp. 24053.
Jeremy Black, Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past (New Haven and
London: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 69.
130 chapter five

objectivist impulses were plainly inuential in the rise of geograph-

ical realism. Mercantile exploration encouraged common standards
of cartography within imperial states. The commensurability of spa-
tial representations that the exploring states strove for was one impe-
tus to uniformity in cartography. Standard representations of the
semiotics of space within the institutions of the state (notably the
mercantile Casa de Contratacion, the Academie Royal des Sciences and the
Portuguese Padron Real ) animated European conceptions of the world
as a series of imperial domains.71 In the early years, the maps of the
Casa depended heavily on Columbus and Vespuccis accounts.
Portuguese innovations continued to aid navigation adding more
detail to the realistic representation of proportionate spaces and geo-
logical and geographical features. The Academie produced less elabo-
rate utilitarian maps that made best use of Mercators projections of
the planets sphericity. Thus the lessons of the early voyages faded
as a source of information for cartographers.
The invention of printing enabled a wider distribution of maps
and intensied inter-state competition for more advanced versions.
The minimal Portolan charts ceded ground by the end of the six-
teenth century to more elaborate and expansive Dutch maps.72 Later
products were not just artistic and they went far beyond utilitarian
and political purposes. They captured the globe in a European con-
ception that crossed Dutch, English, French and Spanish experience.
Imperial ocials, merchants and explorers constructed and read maps
not only for practical purposes, but also to estimate the extent of
their national reach. Attempts to map the whole world indicated a
desire to grasp the totality of humanity and bring it under the signs
of European civilization. Unknown lands and continents were accepted
widely by the third quarter of the sixteenth century. They appeared
in outline on new maps from that time on. Maps carried more

The Casa dedicated a number of ocers and sta to the accumulation of geo-
graphical knowledge about the New World and the Atlantic. They passed their dis-
coveries on to pilots and other state ocials and manufactured new navigational
instruments and maps. See Antonio Barrera, Local Herbs, Global Medicines:
Commerce, Knowledge and Commodities in Spanish-America, in Smith and Findlen,
Merchants and Marvels, p. 165. On the development of the Academie and other such
institutions in France, see F. Quinn, The French Overseas Empire, pp. 7778 and Daniel
Rouche, Natural History in the Academies, in Jardine et al., Cultures of Natural
History. On the institutional memory contained in surviving cartography, see Biggs,
Putting the State on the Map.
Hale, The Civilization of Europe, pp. 1527; Suarez, Shedding the Veil, chaps. 67.
discovery in the west 131

particular detail of places colonized, or at least claimed, by European

powers. Often the imagined reach of the empires ran ahead of their
real control over actual territories. They painted a continent, indeed
a world, under state domination for Europeans to look at. Where
territory remained unexplored, mapmakers ventured speculation about
the size of the landmass and the characteristics of its possible inhab-
itants. Peoples depicted at the margins as uncanny, exotic or
Romanesque served to demonstrate the sources of conquest. Such
anthropographic annotations powerfully declared the extent of European
possession and knowledge.73
Maps reassured imperial elites in Europe of their control far from
the real coasts and frontiers of captured worlds. They connoted
mobility and told Europeans about their capacity to move through
space and time and conquer new worlds. Mapping and the signs
made on maps in a way made the places themselves transportable.74
They could be unxed and read in a form that was legible. They
suited the baroque culture of Counter-Reformation Europe as they
were designed to impress the visual senses. They were not only tools
of imperial penetration; they were the accessories of imperial identity.75
Cartography was an especial mode of representation that boasted
the achievements of European state formation and that deepened
civilizational self-understanding. Concurrent processes of exploration
and the cartographic charting of the non-European world were the
initiation of imperial imagery of the globe and Europes possessions
in it.
Modern ideas of civilization involved re-imagining the American
world. Place names involved a more literal institution of signs. It has
been argued that the textuality of European culture was part and
parcel of colonization of the Americas.76 If this is the case, and if it
can be seen as part of a cultural movement onto the American con-
tinent then New Spain was a frontline. The Aztec world was textually

Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance, pp. 26981.
Pagden, European Encounters, pp. 2728.
They were also essentials of civil gentlemanly Anglo-American identity. See
Margaret Beck Pritchard, Useful and Elegant Furniture for Screens, Balls, Large
Rooms, Stair Cases: Maps as Symbolic Objects, in Margaret Beck Pritchard and
Henry G. Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America (Williamsburg, VA:
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002).
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reections on the Origins and Spread of
Nationalism (London: Verso, 1989); Greenblatt, Marvelous Possession; Tzvetan Todorov,
The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other (New York: Harper & Row, 1992).
132 chapter five

captured over time, in a manner of speaking. In the rst instance

the romanization of Nahuatl ensured the displacement and slow
demise of pictography.77 Mexica idiom utilized the combination of
expressive forms for some time. Ultimately, the loss of indigenous
signage was an act of assimilation that was shored up by other forms
of redenition of the pre-Hispanic imaginaire. Topography too was
conceptually reordered. In the Mexican scenarioand more gener-
ally throughout the Americasthe environment was grasped in new
ways. The suppression of indigenous territorial signs re-classied the
unfamiliar world. Re-identication and re-naming of places left a
European stamp on the land.78 Explorers and conquerors initiated
the renaming of places as a means of homogenizing dierence.
Comparison of discovered American geographical features with the
familiar European landscape was an attempt to discursively tame the
land. Re-constituting places ocially with European-like names was
part of the process of classication. Some Amerindian words were
appropriated in the development of Creole terminology and American
names. Also Inca and Aztec maps maintained a coexistence with
cartography and were absorbed in some instances. However, there
are strong reasons for recognizing that the invention of geographic
nomenclature was a vital feature of Spanish colonial accommoda-
tion to the American world. The English and French went even fur-
ther in their seaboard colonies in North America and their island
possessions in the Caribbean, constructing complete topographies for
the areas they ruled. That linguistic dominance minimized later
indigenous challenges until the nineteenth century.79

Serge Gruzinski, The Conquest of Mexico: The Incorporation of Indian Societies into the
Western World, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993), pp.
5255. For studies of comparable processes of transformation in the Andean region
in the sixteenth century, see Kenneth J. Andrien and Rolena Adorno, eds., Transatlantic
Encounters: Europeans and Andeans in the Sixteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1991).
Whilst re-naming gured prominently in the era of discovery and conquest,
this process was even more pronounced in empire building in the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, important traces of these features of empires
can be found in the era of conquest, settlement and revolt. David Harvey discusses
the nineteenth century at length, The Condition of Postmodernity, pp. 24252, 26465.
On the Colombian moment of contact and conquest see James Axtell, Beyond 1492:
Encounters in Colonial North America (New York: Open University Press, 1992), in par-
ticular pp. 5863 on the naming of new places.
On the nineteenth century critics, see T. Patterson, Inventing Western Civilization,
chap. 5.
discovery in the west 133

The experiences of the Americas nourished European perceptions

of civilization. Peoples, environments and places so unique had to
be rendered in a digestible form. The apprehension of otherness
crystallized in dierent interpretations of what was noble and what
was savage. To the extent that we can talk about a single symbol
of lhomme sauvage, it was a transgured image that condensed the
indigenous past and projected it as a timeless and unchanging state
of being. It did not nd its way into the discourse of philosophical
critique, as is often supposed with regard to Rousseau.80 It was a
deeply contradictory ensemble of depictions of Amerindians that
could variously bear the trappings of civilizations or denigrate their
alleged savage practices or both. The lack of discursive substance in
the image generated by countless representations of Amerindians left
it open to a nostalgic yearning for noble races that were assumed
lost. But it could just as easily be turned to contempt for a base
state of existence that was being superseded by civilization. If it is
feasible to talk about a noble savage image in the eighteenth century,
it should be considered the accumulation of centuries of portrayals
that became quite open to a wide range of interpretations by that
time. It had not begun in Rousseaus romantic essays, or Lahontans
dialoguesas convention has had italthough they and other gures
did produce important portrayals of civilized natives. It arose in more
modest ways in meetings on the frontier, letters, diaries, paintings
and woodcuts. It also survived in artefacts, plants and people trans-
ported and exhibited in Europe.81
Attributes of savagery or dignity acquired momentum at an ear-
lier time in the particular versions of each of the colonial empires.

See Ellingtons The Myth of the Noble Savage. Ellingtons main argument is that
the myth of noble savagery is itself a myth of nineteenth century anthropology. The
romantic unity of lhomme sauvage nds little support in Rousseaus own writings, nor
is it prominent in other ethnographies. The absence of essentialized nobility and
the preference for variously assigning distinct traits of civil custom and savage habit
to dierent Amerindians is what really marks eighteenth century ethnographic think-
ing. The phrase noble savage itself occurs more times in Lescarbots accounts of
the sixteenth century and Lescarbot is credited with coining the phrase. While
Ellingtons reasoning and empirical prole is quite convincing, it is conned to the
discursive and textual artifacts of the day. The unied representations that culti-
vated impressions of the original New World are not treated, even though some
are, paradoxically, reproduced in The Myth. My argument here is that the noble
savage image did have currency in the eighteenth century, although not in the
genre of travel writing and philosophy as has been thought.
Katie Whitaker, The Culture of Curiosity, in Jardine et al., Cultures of Natural
134 chapter five

They were inuenced by myth and legend, to some extent, and most
certainly by pre-understanding of otherness. For the Spanish, pagan-
ism anthropologically dened the conditions of Amerindian peoples
as both barbaric and noble. How it did so varied from the early
years of Spanish colonialism to its nal period.82 Sixteenth century
theologians and jurists debated the status of aborigines as subjects
the well-known Valladolid Controversy was a landmark disputation
of this sort. Ethnographic categories of barbarism were deployed in
reference to new races, but this was exible enough to allow the
representation of American natives as singularly good. New data on
the Americas were interpreted through the prism of classical and
biblical analogies as contesting views sought to work out where
Amerindians tted into the anthropography of humanity. The names
used in theological and historiographic disputes to describe dierent
things in Caribbean, Andean, Mississippi-based and Mesoamerican
cultures invoked familiarity, just as the names of places did so more
generally back in the Americas. Moreover, the signiers allowed
recognition of the internal hierarchies of highland Andean and
Mesoamerican societies. They constituted a recognizable vocabulary
that could partly depict social complexity.
Eighteenth century works in the evolutionary philosophy of his-
tory disparaged such aids to recognition. The Spanish had earlier
conceptualized savagery in un-philosophical terms, according to this
view. Too much nobility was accorded to the pre-civil conditions of
indigenous-imperial cultures and their place in the ranking of civi-
lizations could not be accurately reected. Of course, the level of
dierentiation was no longer immediately evident to eighteenth cen-
tury observers, as the long process of integration of Amerindian com-
munities had simplied previous hierarchies. The writings of ascendant
evolutionary historiography reected indigenes as an amorphous mass
of commoners lacking the societal complexity of civilized peoples.
This censure of the Amerindian world had an impact, prompting
an assault on suggestions that virtue and civility could inhere in
indigenous cultures that had become less dierentiated due to the
process of colonization. Spanish responses were tempered by the
need to defend its history of colonialism against the Protestant oensive

Canizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World, pp. 3844, 207.
discovery in the west 135

and by the Bourbon project of modernization. On the whole, they

proved unsuccessful. Along the way, the ambivalence about indige-
nous civilizations waned.
Seventeenth century English perceptions rested on dierent values.
Creation myths were unintelligible to the seventeenth century English
minds and were consequently disparaged. Where spirituality was
foundational for Indian civilization, landed property was at the heart
of English values. Indian nations did not have the signs of industri-
ousness that were at the core of the Protestant temperament and
capitalist ideal. English colonists built an empire of fences in the
North Americas with this ideal in mind.83 Agrarian and village tra-
ditions melded with dierent inections of Protestantism to reorganize
the landscape according to the principles of enclosure. The legality
and legitimacy of possession came only with delineation of possession
and improvement of land. The Indians mode of production, quite
deliberate in its land use, could not be recognized at all as civilized
in the colonial mission of agriculture. Native American hierarchies
were identied, but were not respected because of the value accorded
private property.
This is not to say that colonial forces were indierent to what they
saw as the spiritual impoverishment of the Indians. Indeed, the Puritan
projection of the indigenous condition as a fallen state conrms this.84
In a paradoxical way, this projection stressed a common fate of English-
men and Indians: a fall into temptation by Satan that demanded redemp-
tion. Not only the land had to be improved in New World America,
so also did its inhabitants through so-called civilizing measures. By
the mid eighteenth century, the weight of opinion had swung against
this view. Savagery appeared intrinsic and irredeemable. A natural
law conception of the uncivilized accentuated the distance and
dierence of the colonials fellow beings from their ways of cultured
life. The demand for more land coincided with this outlook to move
Anglo-Americans to thrust westwards and to sweep aside perceived
obstacles to their cultivation of wilderness. Earlier connections of
Indian paganism that implied common human origins were severed
in favour of a goal of progress that allowed no part for Indians.

Patricia Seed, Houses, Gardens, and Fences: Signs of English Possession in
the New World, in Ceremonies of Possession.
Roy Harvey Pearce, Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American
Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
136 chapter five

This is, of course, a typology of Anglo-American thought over

time. Notwithstanding broadly shared values, views of relations between
the Indian nations and the colonizers could still vary. Harsher sev-
enteenth century views of the means of redemption in the northern
colonies contrasted with Pennsylvanian accounts written later.85 The
contrast is consistent, however, with threads of French and Spanish
visions. Natives appeared in uncultured frames in all three nations.
In French eyes, savagery came from a condition of proximity to
nature.86 The lack of polished manners, the competences of conver-
sation and the arts was a Native American trait that set them out-
side of the bounds of civility. There was an incongruity, however,
and much disputation over the intrinsic civility/barbarity of natives.
Unlike the Spanish, some French travelers thought the indigenes
capable of civilized development, but that they simply did not possess
its rudiments.87 The key writers can be taken as representative of
more particular currents that defended the human integrity of Canadas
indigenes.88 Latau submitted that they possessed native virtues and
were convertible. Thus they should be subject to missionary work.
Samuel de Champlain thought that the French should go around
them in the search for economic and strategic resources. Another
viewLahontan may be its progenitorsaw semi-nobility capable
of much more. The dispute reected a dissonance of the French ori-
entation to the New World environment. It certainly allowed for a
great exibility of views. Moreover, the dispute was more widely
exposed in an inclusive public sphere, rather than halting at the
connes of the theocratic intelligentsia, as in the case of Spanish
philosophical deliberations. Distinctions between Spanish and French
views may be due in part to the courtly context in which the latter
were presented.89

Marshall and Williams, The Great Map, pp. 18891.
Dickason, The Myth of Savagery, pp. 6370.
Cornelius J. Jaenen considers this civilizing process to be Frenchication. See
Friend and Foe: Aspects of French-Amerindian Cultural Contact in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976).
Harry Liebersohn, Aristocratic Encounters: Europeans Travellers and North American
Indians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), chap. 1.
Courtly society, we know from Elias, was predicated on the internalization
of status distinctions . . . In this light, European civilization was further distanced
from the ways of the savage American ( John Mandalios, Civilization and the Human
Subject (Oxford: Roman and Littleeld, 1999), p. 101).
discovery in the west 137

No tradition or set of traditions was isolated. Ideas about Americas

pre-Columbian peoples were widely communicated. Translation accel-
erated the circulation of views in the eighteenth century. A climate
of mounting criticism of Europes supposed civilizing duty did nur-
ture a reassessment of Americas indigenes, although this may not
have been as important as previously believed. Eighteenth century
reaction against the excesses of Spanish colonialism led the French
and the British to distance their own imperial projects from the ini-
tial conquest. Some distinctions are clearly discernible. Nonetheless,
alternate currents of thought about the conquest reected on it as
a collective enterprise in which all shared, even though the Spanish
penetration was the most complete.


Three of the most relevant premises of the intercultural sociology

set out in the second chapter are addressed with respect to the emer-
gent civilizational imaginary. They are the forms of engagement used
in transatlantic encounters, the growth of civilizational consciousness
and the materialization of particular European civilizational signs.
This chapter addresses several aspects of long-term intercultural
engagement in which the emergent side of creative transformation
is evident. Briey, they include the reconstruction of unknown new
phenomena in recurring forms; manifestations of wonder, marvels
and utopianism to ll the gaps left by the unexplained; the development
of more exact modes of science (cartography, botany and topography);
the rapid expansion and diversication of experiences of the New
World on the part of both settlers and travelers; and growing con-
tempt for all things American. These can now be reordered in sum-
mary form according to the main categories of civilizational sociology.
The forms of engagement of European powers were transformed
by the long exchange with the Americas. Both the settler-immigrant
societies and enduring Amerindian civilizations were subject to more
sharply dened European identities. It is indigenous cultures that are
mostly discussed. For mainstream eighteenth century metropolitan
culture, Americas aboriginal peoples represented another epoch and
were depicted as wholly dierent. The greater appreciation for the
anthropographic diusion of humanity that had characterized ear-
lier inquisitive attempts to relate to Amerindian cultures had mostly
138 chapter five

given way to constructions that mixed together characteristics believed

to be either vice or virtue. New evolutionist philosophies of history
reected a belief in European exceptionality that was consistent with
the denigration of American indigenous nations. The potential for a
deeper understanding of anthropological diversity was compromised
by the conation of distinct societal and cultural forms that resulted
not only through conquest, but also through processes of mis-recog-
nition. European colonization of place naming, language and history
established signs of civilization that simultaneously claimed the New
World and enhanced the colonial sense of distinctive American and
European identities. The exceptionalist consciousness put America at
a distance from Western Europe by situating it and its societies at
earlier stages of civilizational development. This was always con-
tested, as the debates around the proto-evolutionary sciences showed.
Creole and indigenous voices that were heard in Europe also bore
witness to competing interpretations of progress. However, it was
also evidence of increasingly forceful perspectives that boldly pro-
claimed the superiority of European civilization. The forms of engage-
ment therefore showed symptoms of distance between imperial and
colonial centres, and at times outright hostility.
A strong contention of the current work is that, before the nine-
teenth century, Europeans sense of alterity reached a peak in rela-
tion to the Americas. For Europeans, the Atlantic zone represented
the most completely unfamiliar and dierent of all worlds. When
challenged by the novelty of American societies in the sixteenth cen-
tury, they used images that corresponded to what was familiar to
them. Classical similes helped to portray the strange environment
and everything that inhabited it in comprehendible forms. Nonetheless,
there was a two-sided discovery that was unavoidable. They discov-
ered how limited the realm of their own knowledge was. Moreover,
with deeper exploration of the American environment, they found
that the frontier of geographical, botanical and ethnological knowl-
edge continuously retreated. On the other side, the pluralization of
paradigms in European philosophy and science generated new cog-
nitive frameworks for the assimilation of phenomena. The sciences
became objectivist and classifying arts of inquiry. The great discov-
ery was how little was known compared to what could be known.
Moreover, the dierence and novelty of the lands under the sover-
eignty of Europes expanding empires nourished general and national
cultural awareness.
discovery in the west 139

Finally, the signs of civilizational consciousness emerged in trans-

atlantic relations. Imperial authorities reconceptualized the globe in
uniform terms with the use of maps as technologies and universal-
ism as a set of values. Colonial authorities variously followed suit by
colonizing communication, history, topography and the representa-
tion of space through the institution of ocial nomenclature and
language. How this occurred and the degree to which it was com-
plete varied greatly between the three empires and indeed between
dierent colonies. A monopoly was achieved only rarely. Moreover,
colonies were beginning to create their own cultures distinct from
governing metropolitan traditions and customs. Nonetheless, it is clear
that the establishment of the signs of Euro-American cultures eroded
the imaginary of Amerindian civilizations and powerfully asserted
the domination of the empires. Subsequently, mixed and occasion-
ally self-negating images of Amerindian worlds were made for
Europeans by Europeans.
A deeper awareness amongst the empires rulers of Western Europes
relative position in the world was evident. Words to articulate this,
such as civilization, were only barely in use in the eighteenth cen-
tury. But the widespread consciousness that circumscribed its expres-
sion was forming. The self-understanding of Europeans was forged
not only in connection with the territorial consolidation of imperial
states, but also in the civilizational intersection with American worlds.
Another way of looking at this is to see that it developed not only
in the social settings of national societies on the European continent,
but also out of the transatlantic exchange of images, values and
impressions of America. The modication of European conceptions
was an internal journey of discovery that was undertaken as part of
the construction of the Euro-American empires. The New World
captured and colonized by European power and culture was also
integral to the expansion of capitalism. Europes leap across the
Atlantic extended not only its horizons and its dominions, but also
its economic sphere. More than this, it was a decisive point in the
early creation of capitalist social relations.



The analysis of the modern transatlantic world moves, in this chap-

ter, from a direct concern with the interactivity of civilizations to a
debate history of capitalism. Quite forceful arguments for dating the
development of Western capitalism from the early sixteenth century
have been convincingly put by historians working in quite dierent
traditions. Braudel, Wallerstein and the world systems theory cur-
rent pioneered a new periodization of capitalism based on a height-
ened tempo of trade and the intensication of economic networks
in Europe. Charles Tilly focusses on the accumulation of coercive
resources to re-date capitalism.1 Accepted time-scales of European
capitalisms birth were re-problematized in a Cambridge symposium
organized by Jean Baeuchler, John Hall and Michael Mann.2 Samir
Amin has launched a sustained eort to bring the mercantilist phase
into the picture.3 Robin Blackburn draws attention to the neglected
status of slavery as an element in the development of capitalism. His
results have a special place in this chapter. Dependency theory, as
developed by Andre Gunder Frank, Ferdinand Cardoso and Celso
Furtado, is a kindred school of thought of world systems analysis but
spreads theoretical revision further aeld.4 Webers classic thesis on
Protestantism as an anity of capitalism also pinpoints the sixteenth
century as a watershed in the trajectory of the West. His ghost haunts
this debate, as does that of Marx.

Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States 900 1990 (Oxford: Basil
Blackwell, 1990).
Jean Baechler, John Hall and Michael Mann, Europe and the Rise of Capitalism
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988).
Samir Amin, Unequal Development (New York: Harvester Press, 1974).
F. Cardoso and Enzo Faletto, Dependency and Development in Latin America (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1979) and Celso Furtado, The Concept of External
Dependence, in Charles K. Wilber, ed., The Political Economy of Development and Under-
development (New York: Random House, 1973).
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 141

Rather than attempting to add to this or adjudicate on it, I will

pluck out one thread. I am honing in on the involvement of impe-
rial states in the transatlantic process of so-called primitive accumu-
lation. Discussions about the stages of capitalist expansion open up
a line of enquiry about the early relationship of state and economy.
This chapter draws out some conclusions of some important, albeit
under-acknowledged, theorists of capitalism. Mercantilism is the lynch-
pin of the anities of states and capitalism in this formative phase.
Mercantilist institutions acted to integrate national economies. But
mercantilist strategies were simultaneously extended into the trans-
atlantic domain. Their development in the imperial sphere was homo-
logous to that of the national one in all three cases under discussion.
The outstanding dierence between the two spheres was Atlantic
slavery. Slavery also serves my argument as an illustration of the
partnership of states in economic expansion.
Mercantilism is a controversial concept amongst economic historians.
Before commenting on the long-standing debate about this concept,
I want to give a short working denition. The mercantilist institutions
that states were in the process of creating in Europe were enlarged
and geared to transatlantic trade. Furthermore, a type of conictual
relationship featured in the imperial realm as well, pitting the metro-
politan imperial state against a distant and distinct colonial order.
Mercantilism in Europe was spawned out of the routine confrontation
of national governments and provincial and city-based administration.
Mercantilism in the imperial domain grew out of a tension between
the colonies and a state that ruled from the other side of the world.
There is no view of mercantilism in the literature that quite resem-
bles this. Economic historians understand it largely as an unintended
economic philosophy of statehood or an early modern perspective
on the relationship of national economies to each other and to state
institutions.5 It can, however, also be reconceptualized as a two-sided
development. In the rst place, it was the crystallization of an impulse
to trade and the expansion of trade networks. Secondly, it can be

A genealogy of the notion of mercantilism can be traced to Gustav Schmoller,
Adam Smith and through to Thomas Mun. Mercantilism as doctrine, ideology or
discourse is emphasized. In this chapter, the notion of mercantilism draws on Eli
Heckschers detailed work. There is a literature of debate that emerged after
Heckscher published his tome. See Mercantilism (London: George Allen and Unwin,
1935). See also Mercantilism, in Donald C. Coleman, ed., Revisions in Mercantilism
(London: Metheun, 1969). In that volume a number of other pertinent essays can
142 chapter six

reconstructed a posteriori as a system of instrumental policies by

which states tried to engineer optimum conditions for advancement
in trade and commerce. This view may be contentious and is certainly
not in accord with a long-standing consensus that has only more
recently come into question.6
In the discussion of capitalism here, mercantilism stands for a
series of policies, institutions and eects enacted by states motivated
by involvement in the European world economy, with a number of
unforeseen outcomes. The emphasis rests on mercantilism as the cre-
ation of state institutions of economic life within the Atlantic empires, rather
than as a well-dened doctrine. On this question I want to sound
agreement with Johann Arnasonboth in spirit and in formulation
when he writes:
It would consequently seem advisable to replace the conventional peri-
odicization of capitalism in terms of a liberal and organized variant
with a three-phase model. The formative phase is characterized by
the symbiosis of pre-industrial capitalism and the absolutist state; the
latter inuences the economic sphere both via direct participation in
it and by supporting monopolistic strategies. The next phase, often
called competitive or liberal capitalism, can in retrospect be reduced
to the regional, partial and temporary separation of state and capital,
and it is followed by a phase of their renewed interpenetration.7
This formulation precisely expresses the premise that the relation-
ship between state formation and capitalism is indeed more variable

be found. See A. V. Judges, The Idea of a Mercantile State; D. C. Coleman,

Eli Heckscher and the Idea of Mercantilism; Jacob Van Klaveren, Fiscalism,
Mercantilism and Corruption; Ingmar Bog, Mercantilism in Germany. See also
Frank A. Haight, A History of French Commercial Policies (New York: MacMillan, 1941),
chap. 1; Peggy K. Liss, Atlantic Empires: The Network of Trade and Revolution 17131826
(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) and Lars Margusson,
Mercantilism: The Shaping of an Economic Language (London: Routledge, 1994).
Epsteins economic history stresses a sea-change in opinion that has emerged
with Robert Brenner, Wallerstein and historians of proto-industrialization. Indeed,
Epstein concludes that it was the incomplete nature of mercantilist regulation (rather
than its development) that restrained the growth of competitive capitalism. See
Stephan R. Epstein, Freedom and Growth: The Rise of States and Markets in Europe
1300 1750 (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), chaps. 12.
Johann P. Arnason Modernity as Project and as Field of Tension, in Axel
Honneth and Hans Joas, eds., Communicative Action: Essays on Jurgen Habermas The
Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Jeremy Gaines and Doris L. Jones (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1991), p. 191. Etzioni-Halervy similarly prescribes a three-stage history
of intervention and withdrawal. See Eva Etzioni-Halervy, Social Change: The Advent
and Maturation of Modern Society (London: Routledge, 1981), pp. 7073, 9295, 154.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 143

than may have been thought. Mercantilism was a vital characteris-

tic of the formative phase of the engagement of European states with
capitalism. The state was closely involved in capitalist economic life
as a set of institutions of unique importance. It shared the frame-
works of monopoly in which economic action takes place. Euro-
American states assumed a co-constitutive agency. Understood this
way, the inter-relationship of imperial states to capitalism can be re-
conceptualized (as Arnason suggests), not as a two stage evolution
of capitalism through its liberal and then monopoly regimes, but the
constitution of capitalism and market logics in three phases: during
the rst era of European colonialism absolutism, through the disen-
gagement of state and economy and via their renewed partnership.
Arnasons view is pre-empted by others that have been neglected
until recently. Karl Polanyis The Great Transformation is an account
that brings to the fore the role of the British state in creating the
monopoly conditions of free enterprise capitalism.8 Eric Hobsbawn
has a similar view. The nineteenth century was an era not of lassez
faire, but of government intervention of dierent weight and char-
acter. Like Polanyi, Hobsbawn argues that British Free Trade pre-
supposed a whole range of state-sponsored acts that created the
conditions in which industrialization could proceed apace.9 Indeed
if these otherwise disparate interventions are grouped together, then
it may be possible to talk of a minor current of historical sociological
thinking becoming evident.
If this important modication of mainstream historical scholarship
is embraced, then a dierent interpretation of the relationship between
state and economy can be easily and clearly elaborated. A radical
and unique symbiosis existed between the early modern imperial
state form and the early development of modern capitalism. A dialec-
tic of transformation underpinned the relationship. Specically, the
conditions of so-called primitive capitalist accumulation elaborated
by Marx nourished the states institutional creativity.10 In turn, the
state was the leading edge of the forceful process of primitive
accumulation. The mercantile creation of national and imperial

Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our
Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957).
Eric J. Hobsbawn, Industry and Empire (London: Penguin, 1990), esp. chap. 12.
Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Middlesex: Penguin, 1976),
vol. 1, pp. 91516.
144 chapter six

institutions and provision of infrastructural resources was part of this

other side of the process of accumulation set out in Capital. Western
European states matured capitalist economic forms through the pro-
vision of guarantees of property, trade and credit; through labor
laws, the licensing and regulation of slavery; through the British Acts
of Enclosure; and ultimately through their own output. They were
both encouraged and constrained by the autonomy of capital and
of the market economy itself. States, therefore, were not mere
appendages of capitalist economic life. They aided its joint-creation
and extension, with the British state being a leading exemplar (rather
than a leading liberalizer). They connected with it as regulators and
as political, military and economic agents sui generis.
Mercantilism set here as the augmentation of territory-wide con-
ditions of accumulation, trade and exchange was developed in three
spheres. It established nationalor rather supra-provincialstruc-
tures and instruments that quickened the impulse to national unication.
Bodies that governed the administration and trade of the American
colonies worked within a second sphere of intra-imperial govern-
ment. Competition and warfare between European states became
more intense both in the transatlantic theater and within Europe
itself, especially after the Westphalia Treaty. In this context mer-
cantilism was a strategy of inter-imperial competition. The remain-
der of this chapter is an analysis of these three spheres.

National structures and the struggle over economic sovereignty

Mercantilism was fashioned out of the conict between central and

provincial and municipal authorities within European states. The
methods and instruments of monopolies of provincial and city-based
bodies were appropriated and adapted by the Crown in France,
Spain and England. Ministers and their ocials were the chiefs of
many bodies that regulated trade, industry and labor. They were
found in a variety of authorities: in Royal Mints that acquired a
monopoly of currency production, in state-sponsored industries, in
nancial institutions and in judicial bodies.11 Bodies lled with such

See Fernand Braudel, The Identity of France (London: Fontana Press, 1991); Peter
Seaby, The Story of British Coinage (London: Seaby, 1985); Vilar, A History of Gold and
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 145

ocials forged the domestic institutional framework of capitalism.

There were three broad arenas open to their intervention. Firstly,
the passages of laws that created a level of commercial security nec-
essary to normatively anchor economic action. Secondly, only cen-
tralized states with eective territorial sovereignty could guarantee
the legitimacy of the form of currency, its weights, metals and its
divisibility. Finally, Western states legislated to regulate and control
labor, limiting some forms of labornotably coercive oneswhilst
encouraging others. On the continent, involvement in cottage indus-
tries and the verleger mode of production gave them further means
of labor regulation. Above all, they limited the mobility of labor.
A layer of legislation decreed the existence of national mechanisms
of coordination. It was laid over an assemblage of provincial regu-
lation. To varying degrees, it was supported by the provision of
administrative force to implement it. Many of the edicts, laws, labor
regulations, cottage industrial enterprises and regulatory bodies estab-
lished by the state were directed at the erosion of provincial and
urban barriers. At times, however, they also imitated aspects of urban
Portions of city government from the Middle Ages remained promi-
nent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Urban guilds and
city governments instituted tolls and taris and governed the deter-
mination of measurements and weights. They regulated production,
consumption and population and modied distributional patterns.
The fundamental characteristic of city-based corporatist structures
was particularism. Heckscher groups the facets of municipal mer-
cantilism or corporatism into ve dierent classes.12 Towns endeav-
ored to do the following: obtain an abundance of goods, particularly
produce; establish production monopolies; regulate migration; limit
merchant control of the internal movement of goods and labor and
regulate a more dierentiated community. The means through which
this was achieved is a signicant measure of the capacities of the
provincial and municipal order within their localized dominions. This
was a provincial or corporatist mercantilism. The logic of these
institutions set them in opposition to the mercantile regimes of the
state. Provincialism and corporatism continued to characterize city
economies in the early modern epoch.

Heckscher, Mercantilism, pp. 12830.
146 chapter six

Rallied against this was the logic of mercantilism. However, in

order to fashion mercantile techniques, states had to engage in a
process of short-term replication. To a considerable extent, their poli-
cies were drawn from pre-existing conditions and methods of regu-
lation that were the creation and monopoly of the cities and the
provinces. The provincial and municipal order originated in these
structures. Its spheres of relative independence from central institu-
tions emerged from the immunities enjoyed by its localities and dis-
tricts. The principle of territorial consistency in regulation was the
innovation brought to the municipal and regional techniques of pro-
tection. It began as little more than a tendency to universalize provin-
cial structures. In this way, it represented an assault on the exclusivity
of the city where the internal apparatus of incorporation was sub-
sumed as a pre-condition of the nationalization of economic life.
And so, whilst the policies of city corporate entities were a major
barrier to the state of uniformity, the strategies of mercantilism were
designed to institute large monopolies as the foremost step in the
establishment of national economies.
Map-making and the production of currency illustrates well how
this process of nationalization proceeded. Map-making at the beginning
of the seventeenth century was largely the monopoly of the provin-
cial and municipal order, especially in France. One of Colberts
many endeavors was to put together a national map of France.13
The lack of such knowledge constrained infrastructural development.
A tyranny of local knowledge hampered eorts to co-ordinate national
planning within the realm. Provincial maps contained what geographical
knowledge there was of the country, its organization and resources.
An instruction sent to all provincial ocers by Colbert in 1663
directed them to submit all amended maps to Paris for collation. It
was largely ignored, unsurprising perhaps, given the atmosphere of
France after the Fronde. Even if Colbert had cobbled together all
of Frances provincial maps, a practical representation of France
would have proved impossible. Cartography remained underdeveloped
at that time in two respects. A technique to render existing maps com-
mensurate did not exist. Furthermore, provincial administrators had

David Buisseret, Monarchs, Ministers, and Maps: The Emergence of Cartography as a
Tool of Government in Early Modern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992);
Josef W. Konvitz, Cartography in France 16601848: Science, Engineering and Statecraft
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987), introduction and chap. 1.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 147

to be convinced of the need to hand over what maps they had. In

response to these diculties, the Academie royale des sciences developed
a proposal to map France independently through a new method of
charting networks of triangles on a grid. The project was not nally
completed until 1789 and it produced the rst national map of France.
Under Frances ancien regime, these works continued producing lim-
ited but helpful results for the court state. Advances in the centralization
of strongly related topographic and mercantile forms of knowledge
were novel institutions in Europe. The French court state led the
way in topography, but it was not alone in the pursuit of accurate
territorial maps. Consciousness of cartography in England sharpened
as the sixteenth century progressed.14 Its relationship to mercantilism
followed a distinctively English logic of economic development. Prior
to 1550, the Tudor state was directly implicated in the production
of maps. Its need for cartographic knowledge increased continuously,
as did awareness of this need. Furthermore, a considerable number
of administrators were engaged in the production of maps. After
1550, a shift in the demand for maps occurred. As private capital
increasingly entered trade and commercial ventures, merchants and
the landed gentry formed a private market for maps. Production of
charts and maps was led by the search for markets in trade and
nance and by an invigorated aristocratic fervour to protect the prop-
erty rights of rural holdings. Involvement of the merchant and noble
classes in military matters rendered the production of maps a respon-
sibility shared by court ocials and patriotic Englishmen. In this cli-
mate there were a number of eorts made to construct a national map
of England. These produced some successful representations of parts
of the British Isles. Typically, they began with an assembly of already-
existing templates that had been drawn up by provincial and munic-
ipal administrations. No struggle seems to have occurred over control
of cartographic knowledge, as it had in France. In both cases it was
an aid to the mercantilization of economy.
The institution of the powers to mint coin and legitimize credit,
control circulation and regulate monetary values also occurred over
a long period. Competing oligopolies forced governments over time
to strengthen their own mints, or at least gain greater control over
the creation and use of money through granting franchises. In the

Buisseret, Monarchs, Ministers, and Maps, pp. 5798.
148 chapter six

Middle Ages, the right to mint currency always remained the pre-
rogative of the monarch or the emperor in common law. It was part
of the colonizing pattern of Christendom.15 The authority that silver
coins carried depended on particular warrior lords and whether the
ecclesiastic see could survive on the expanding peripheries of Latin
Europe. However, multiple coining establishments continued to persist
long after the impulses of feudal decentralization had subsided.
Throughout Europe many foreign and regional currencies and minting
manufactures competed with each other for legitimacy and for scarce
bullion. Rivalry between dierent foundries and mints declined in
the sixteenth century due to the inux of bullion from the New
World, a development that favored the monarchies that controlled
the trade in precious metals.
The gradual and very uneven ascendancy of royal mints, royal
money and royal franchises coupled with the mercantile institutional
regulation of colonial trade allowed the state to gain greater control
over the ow and valuation of money. In both France and England,
for example, the state invented new currencies. In 1613, James I
experienced some success in halting the illegal production of pewter
coins. He then advanced a royal franchise to Lord Harrington to
mint the Kings money in return for half the prots. Baronial mints
were suppressed during the sixteenth century in France in a move
that asserted the monarchical prerogative to mint coin.16 In the 1640s,
Richelieu began to re-weigh the currency with a value and denom-
ination similar to foreign competitors. In eect he created a completely
new currency in France. The English did the same thing between
the Restoration and the eighteenth century, again with considerable
success. Innovations such as these in the mercantile institutions of
economic activity further sapped the autonomies of provincial and
urban powers. Moreover, they created the conditions for the institution
of national capitalist structures such as the London Stock Exchange,
the Bourse and the Bank of England.
The pre-eminence of domestic institutions eclipsed local sources
in these and other areas. The purview of the apparatus engaged in
forming and shaping such institutions was not only national, however.
It was also oriented to the crystallization of imperial power. This is
the area of greatest interest.

Bartlett, The Making of Europe, pp. 28088.
Vilar, A History of Gold and Money, pp. 17071.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 149

Within empires: mercantile monopolies and Atlantic trade

A comparable tension developed within the imperial structures of

the transatlantic states, although many overt aspects of the intra-state
struggle were not present. In advance of the discussion in this section,
it can be plainly put that alternative economic networks of production,
trade and regulation coexisted with mercantilism in the imperial
sphere. In the American colonies, the fundamental measures of
exchange and the organization of property that mercantile-imperial
bodies generated were not as ercely contested. More specic opposition
to trade monopolies and laws regulating labor characterized the intra-
imperial sphere. The forms of colonial resistance were broad and
some were specic to particular empires. Corruption in local admin-
istrative oces, widespread smuggling of contraband, the outing of
shipping laws, imperial edicts modied through local legislation and
simple deance were all made possible by the distance from imperial
legislators. These were not the steadfast economic autonomies enjoyed
by the provincial and municipal order back in Europe. They derived
from the fact that imperial bureaucracies either left the colonies alone
or were ineective in enforcing mercantile rules.
This tension set mercantilist institutions against colonial networks
that shared the landscape of economic life in the Americas.
Mercantilism parented imperial bodies of economic coordination,
whilst commanding colonial economic relations. The mercantile gov-
ernance of economic activity in the British, French and Spanish
empires was almost entirely the province of imperial administrations.
These were based in the Board of Trade, the administration of the
pacte colonial and the Casa de Contratacion. Mercantilism developed in
the Atlantic trade and in Europes national economies simultaneously.
In the imperial context, the methods of mercantile regulation used
were certainly drawn from those techniques that European rulers
were becoming familiar with, and that were mostly available to them.
However, imperial bureaucracies also fashioned new guiding principles
that were specic to the ow of trade. Aspects of Americas economies
were mostly cast by metropolitan institutions and merchant interests
in the image of European mercantilism: mining in the Spanish Indies,
port trade in key staples and the trac in slavery are salient exam-
ples. Overall, Spanish, British and French states directed colonial
economic activity according to the mercantilist preconception of the
European capitalist world economy.
150 chapter six

American economies had a limited dynamic of their own on which

independent institutions of economic development could be formed.
Private capital and non-imperial networks of exchange spread beyond
the imperial economy of French and British North America and the
Spanish Indies. As the seventeenth century expired, and the colonies
developed economically, networks became increasingly important. But
the intensity of their activity revolved mostly around inter-colonial
trade, which was regulated by imperial bodies. Hence the nodes of
the American economies did not have the independence or dynamism
of the cities in northwest Europe until the mid-eighteenth century;
the only exception was the British North Americas.
In the Spanish Indies, mercantilism conferred a centralist form on
economic development. Hispano-Americas extraction economy chan-
nelled resources into industries governed by imperial dictates. Indeed,
in the eighteenth century the viceroyalties were expected to produce
scal surpluses, a requirement not put forth by the French or the
British. Spanish imperial economic structures encouraged the rapid
exploitation of resources. Industrial growth was limited and the best
outlook for expansion seems to have lain with Catalan region. Other
European reinos that were governed by imperial councils were limited
in their economic development. Potentially more independent
economies were supplanted by mercantile institutions through which
all produce of the colonies had to pass. In the Indies, the two main
bodies of control were the Casa de Contratacion and the ultimate exec-
utive authority, the Council of the Indies. The Casas control of ship-
ping, the tracking of bullion and merchant taxation was forceful
in the sixteenth century. The English victory over the Armada in
1588 signalled the de facto demise of the Casas monopoly.17 For the
Spanish, however, imperial trade remained a peninsular monopoly
restricted to New Spain and the La Plata region until Bourbon reform
took hold in the late eighteenth century.18 Until the colonies absorbed
the Bourbon commercio libre, Seville and Cadiz were the mandatory
gateway to European markets for Spanish merchants trading in the
Within Spain, the colonies were reckoned an exploitable resource.
Where the English regarded land labored on by them to be their

Lang, Conquest and Commerce, chap. 3.
Ibid., pp. 7683.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 151

right, for the Spanish it was the riches underground that they dis-
covered which were justly theirs. The Americas were perceived to
be a land of resources, a quarry economy, with which Spain could
negotiate its fortunes in the European world economy. However, the
monarchy was unable to alter its relative economic and political
position in Europe.19 It monopolized American trade for quite a long
period through its coordinating institutions of economy. But Spain
became nothing more than a commercial conduit in Europe. Much
of the trade that entered Europe in the seventeenth century through
Seville and Cadiz appears to have served a strategy of balancing
national debts. Its imports of bullion ran readily through to other
centres. The cross-Atlantic ows of produce and manufacture steadily
fell to non-Spanish merchants from the late sixteenth century onwards.
The Spanish court state was unable to cultivate a robust merchant
class that could prosper independently of the American trade. Nor
was such a class able to dierentiate itself from the centre of monar-
chical power. This is a result of its construction of an imperial-
mercantile economy so carefully channelled through a couple of tight
The long-term relationship between Spain and the Americas pro-
duced a constantly present axis of tension that ultimately prompted
the reform of Spanish mercantile institutions. It set in opposition the
ocial public mercantile economy and the much weaker quasi-private
forms that bore the stamp of local conditions. Spanish political
economy revolved around the general pursuit of mineral wealth. The
private enclosure of communal landsa preoccupation of the English
did not gure at all in Spanish calculations. The Crowns goals of
public exploitation of Americas riches were not easily reconciled
with the private enrichment sought by conqueror elites. The outcome
was a range of institutions intended to mobilize labor in mining.
They included the encomienda to the hacienda vessel of production and
the repartimiento de mercancias parallel economy of forced distribution
of goods. Each was a compromise in the tug-of-war between the
monarchy that asserted its imperial authority and colonists who con-
trolled resources. In this chapter, I concentrate on the repartimiento
in order to illustrate the manner in which this tension was played out.

See Antonio Garcia-Baquero Gonzalez, Cadiz y el Atlantico 17171778: El Comercio
Colonial Espnaol Baja el Monopolio (Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-americanos,
152 chapter six

For the most part, the diculties in production, supply and trade
that imperial regulation created were alleviated at the regional level
through the exible mechanisms of colonial administration.20 In its
sixteenth century origins, the repartimiento referred to the apportion-
ment of natives to each conqueror. The King Ferdinand himself
recognized this practice: (G)overnor or peace-maker, with whom
this authority may lie, shall divide the Indians amongst the settlers.21
In the eighteenth century it became the predominant form.22 Ocials
in municipal administration, especially the corregidores, used their posi-
tions to monopolize the supply of goods and then force Indian com-
munities and communities of isolated provinces to purchase them.
Smuggling of contraband goods and regional hoarding of currency
specie were the two most visible and yet pervasive examples of the
suppressed repartimiento.23 Its legalization in 1751 was an acknowl-
edgement of the frailty of viceregal control. The repartimiento fed o
the decit of local ocials in imperial administration. In fact, it meant
that they were entrenched in local interests and became a political
technique of the opposition24 or the colonial order, if you will.
Royal patronage could not strike roots in these conditions. In the
Indies, ocial trade was undercut by these illegal distributive networks
that revolved around colonial government positions. The repartimiento
market compensated ocials for paltry salaries or for the complete
lack of salaries in some cases. Relatively independent of imperial
administration, they drew most of their income from the distribu-
tion of goods in the unocial economy. Invariably, they identied
with the interests that were represented in the local economic edice.

Fernand Braudel, The Perspective of the World (London: Fontana Press, 1985),
pp. 401403.
Cited in Seed, American Pentimento, p. 226 (my translation).
McLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World. On the Spanish states attachment
to general economic development in South America, and the repartimiento in par-
ticular, see Johnson and Susan Migden Socolow, Colonial Centers, Colonial
Peripheries, and the Economic Agency of the Spanish State, in Daniels and
Kennedy, Negotiated Empires. Stanley J. Stein has written an excellent analysis of cor-
ruption and patterns of administration in the Indies. See Bureaucracy and Business
in the Spanish Empire, 17591804: Failure of a Bourbon Reform in Mexico and
Peru, Hispanic American Historical Review 61, no. 1 (1981), on the repartimiento in par-
ticular, see pp. 89, 15, and 27.
On smuggling in the Spanish Indies, see Braudel, The Perspective of the World,
pp. 41320.
Hamnett, The Mexican Bureaucracy, p. 11.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 153

Contradiction in mercantilist policy marked the intervention of

the Bourbon regime in the eighteenth century. Two dilemmas lay
at the foundation of so-called liberalization, which set the pattern
for institutional and economic development in the last century of the
Spanish Indies existence. The rst has to do with attempts to reconcile
the structure of imperial trade with provincial economic expansion.
Individuals enriched outside of local government protested the mono-
poly of the infrastructure of trade held by corregidores and sub-delegates.
The full extension of the principles of commercio libre championed by
prominent individuals in Madrid may well have loosened the ocials
networks of control. However, the merchant class in a number of
port cities allied their interests with the colonial order.
The second dilemma emerged from the failure to integrate a layer
of provincial ocials who related to peninsular interests. When the
repartimiento spread, Spain tried to suppress it through legislation and
policing. The ocial mercantilist order provided the primary model
of economic organization. However, it did not tackle the source of
the contradiction: the Crowns reluctance (or inability) to institute a
colonial bureaucracy furnished with sucient means to undermine
the participation of ocials from the colonial order in the repartimiento.
In other words, it was unwilling or unable to cultivate the links of
patronage that were its whole modus operandi on the Iberian Peninsula.
It was a paradox that this aspect of the Hispanic governmental com-
plex was not reproduced in the New World. Those charged with
unshackling economic constrictions were not furnished with the means
to do so and were predictably reluctant to comply with Madrids
decrees. Madrid ocially gave up trying to eradicate the repartimiento
in the early nineteenth century.
Liberalization brought some alteration to both layers of economy,
although its impact varied from Peru to New Spain to La Plata. In
1765 the colonies were permitted limited trade with each other. The
1778 reglamento sponsored new merchant guilds, which had a modern-
izing eect on agricultural production. Moreover, formerly smuggling
cities were economically renewed (Buenos Aires, Santiago, Vera Cruz,
Havana), dierentiating them from noted colonial-administrative
centres (Lima, Mexico City). Nonetheless, in 1797 when the monopoly
on shipping was dropped at the insistence of Madrid there was wide-
spread objection from local merchant classes:
The reason is not hard to discover; the merchant class, made up both
of Spanish born and creole traders, had prospered precisely by adapting
154 chapter six

successfully to the intricate pre-Caroline restrictive regulations; they

were not interested in changing them, facilitating thereby the way for
a competition that could prove ruinous to their interests.25
Thus, there were two dimensions of economy. Although the mer-
cantile economy dominated, the legal imperial trade coexisted in ten-
sion with the economic networks born in a colonial order that formed
with the encomienda and prospered in the colonial economy.
This tension exacerbated ethnic divisions. Cautious generalization
is possible here. Peninsular communities, in the main, controlled
ocial trade whilst Creoles, in the main, engaged in the repartimiento.
The shift into economic activity of Creole-dominated urban com-
munities during the seventeenth century altered the relationship
between Spain and the Indies. Coupled with the gradual exhaustion
of mineral wealth in the Americas, the diversication of production
strengthened Creole networks of distribution and forms of economic
interaction. During the era of Bourbon restructuring, the socio-cultural
distinction between Creoles and peninsulares paralleled the structural
separation of the two forms of economy. The repartimiento belonged
to the American-born; it was the economic orbit of positions of rel-
ative independence of the colonial hierarchy. Typically, the under-
paid administrator had to seek remuneration by means other than
the imperial salary. It was in the colonial institutional nexus of gov-
ernance that Creoles dominated. During the eighteenth century the
low level struggle between the imperial apparatus and the colonial
order took on an ethnic appearance. The conict between the Spanish-
born minority and the American-born majority was also a clash of
dierent levels of the colonial hierarchy with varying relationships
of dependence on and degrees of loyalty to the Spanish Empire.
Notwithstanding these comments, the issue of composition of oces
is a complicated one and will be taken up in more detail in chap-
ter eight. A provisional generalization can be made that ethnicity
was an axis of tension exacerbated by Spanish mercantilism. It indi-
cates a conict with the weak, but not unimportant, American colo-
nial order. The tensions that emerged from within directed the
methods of imperial economic regulation.
The incorporation of Englands American colonies into the impe-
rial economy was a more complex case of imperial monopoly. The

Veliz, The Centralist Tradition, p. 128.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 155

nature of seventeenth century corporate colonization set a pattern

of distant autonomy. Puritan colonies were densely settled and existed
in close proximity to each other. As the colonies were integrated
into the English Empire, the tempo of migration increased drama-
tically.26 The rapid and ongoing population of the Chesapeake and
Massachusetts Bay colonies, the Caribbean Islands and then the
Carolinas led to the quick development of robust colonial networks
of internal trade and production from the mid-seventeenth century
The British Empire was a transoceanic commercial empire and
some of its colonists were vibrant traders. As in the Spanish empire,
English mercantilism revolved around the needs of the centre. However,
the manner in which the centre dominated diered markedly. It
incarnated a Protestant regard for commerce and industriousness.
This ideological variant of the capitalist imaginary did not simply
privilege private enrichment. Trade and the accumulation of national
wealth were mercantilist activities that served the strategic interests
of the empire. Trade was the centrepiece of national thinking, that
is, the rhetoric of public interests. It sat privileged in the national
market, alongside of the debate around xed property, mobile prop-
erty, land, credit and corruption. In addition, population and migra-
tion were viewed dierently. Population of the North American
colonies was encouraged as a boost to trade.27 Colonization was inter-
preted quite literally in English political economy after the 1690s. It
was taken to mean peopling other lands for the benets of trade.
Englands orientation to commerce was dierent from Spains. It
structured mercantile regulation in a less centralized manner. English
mercantilism revolved around the legislative products of Parliament,
Cabinet Council, the Privy Council and the instructions of the Board
of Trade. It was the lattera quintessentially mercantilist body
that was foremost in controlling trade. It drew up instructions for
provincial government in the colonies. Its brief also covered nding
new sources of raw materials and produce and nding new colonial
markets for English manufactures. It was to superintend colonial
nances and legislation and advise the Privy Council accordingly. Its

On migratory movements and their momentous impact, see Alan MacFarlene,
The British in the Americas 14801815 (Essex: Longman, 1992), chaps. 23.
Armitage, The Ideological Origins, pp. 16667.
156 chapter six

overall task was a judicial one: the supervision of the imperial mono-
poly of the commercial prots of colonial trade. It was inaugurated
at the beginning of a period of economic prosperity for the British
Empire,28 which immunized it from far-reaching challenges either in
parliament or in the edging colonial assemblies.
Despite being charged with important responsibilities, the Board
of Trade itself did not have the full powers to execute its brief.29
The ministerial apparatus abrogated many of its ocial responsibil-
ities during the period of Whig government. Its sway therefore
depended on personal connections with Ministers. Parliament took
far greater interest in the business of the Board, but the government
focussed mostly on Britains overall commercial position in Europe
and neglected the Boards advice on the state of colonial trade. Even
at its height in the rst half of the eighteenth century, associations
representing Anglo-American merchant interests could more easily
capture its proceedings than those of other government departments.30
Presbyterian, Quaker and Congressional groups vied with French
lobbies for inuence over decision. Generally they were successful.
The preoccupation with trade paradoxically disadvantaged the Board
as a superintending body. Success in commercial ventures through-
out the Empire gave the Board little ground for more extensive pow-
ers of intervention or greater authority in commercial matters. The
Board, therefore, did not act with the sweeping prerogative of the
Council of the Indies, nor did it attempt to direct non-economic
aspects of colonial society. Likewise parliament found itself in a posi-
tion of considerable control over oceanic trade, sustaining the mono-
poly of trade and ensuring that exports to the Americas went via
British ports.31 But it was impotent in matters of internal colonial
life, or indeed inter-colonial trade.

Richard J. Johnson, Growth and Mastery: British North America 16901748,
in Peter J. Marshall, ed., The Eighteenth Century, vol. 2 of The Oxford History of the
British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Lang, Conquest and Commerce, pp. 18892.
Alison G. Olsen, The Board of Trade and London American Interest Groups
in the Eighteenth Century, in Peter J. Marshall and Glyn Williams, eds., The British
Atlantic Empire before the American Revolution (London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd., 1980).
John M. Murin, The Great Inversion, or Court versus Country: A Comparison
of the Revolution Settlements in England (16881721) and America (17761816),
in J. G. A. Pocock, ed., Three Great British Revolutions, 1641, 1688, 1776 (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1980).
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 157

Thus, the relationship between the colonial economies, the metro-

politan state and early British capitalism seems to be more intricate
involving more sources of authority in a devolved guration.32
Management of the framework of trade in the British imperial econ-
omy was made more complex by the wide-ranging array of private
capitalist interests. From the middle of the seventeenth century
onwards, ocially sanctioned competition in imperial trade between
commercial rms began to emerge. The Navigation Acts were reg-
ulated by the Board of Trade, which eectively permitted a more
ourishing inter-colonial trade. Ocially, the governor of each British
colony was entrusted with the enforcement of the Navigation Acts
that involved an array of supervisory duties.33 In the eighteenth cen-
tury, these duties were expanded to include the monitoring of colo-
nial legislation to ensure that no colonial acts interfered with English
merchant trade. This move emerged from incidents pitting merchant
interests in a nascent colonial order against Parliament and the Privy
Council. The Navigation Acts did not impoverish colonial trade,
although they did formally exclude Irish and American merchants
from the immediate benets of colonial commerce. Indeed, excep-
tions were made to the regulations when it seemed the economic
vibrancy of the empire was in jeopardy.34 Beyond this the only major
transgressions were the contraventions of the Navigation Actsand
this did not invite sanctionsor when the regulations of Spain,
Portugal or France were violated. Nevertheless, decisions crucial to
the fortunes of the colonies were made in London by an apparatus
whose attention was xed on Britains position and not the conse-
quences for the Americas.
What made British mercantilist institutions a complex web was
the triangle of interests linking the British merchant class, colonial
administrations and economic actors in settler markets. Well-organized
merchant inuence emerged out of the revolutionary settlement of

See Jack P. Greene, Metropolis and Colonies: Changing Patterns of Constitutional
Conict in the Early Modern British Empire 16071763, in Negotiated Authorities.
For a recent work that reiterates the vitality of the metropolitan center in the devel-
opment of the colonial empires and a gentlemanly capitalism, see Peter. J. Cain
and Anthony G. Hopkins, British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion 16881914
(London and New York: Longman, 1993).
On these tasks see L. W. Labaree, Royal Government in America: A Study of the
British Colonial System Before 1783 (New York: Ungar, 1958), pp. 12021.
Lang, Conquest and Commerce, pp. 15260.
158 chapter six

the long seventeenth century.35 The inuence of private English mer-

chants in the restriction of the economic outow of the colonies
proved considerable. The coincidence of private merchant interests
and municipal ocials closer to the English Crown suggests that
British hegemony in the capitalist economy in Europe in the eighteenth
century was contingent on the ocial British monopoly in shipping.
The entwinement of mercantile interests in the empire and capital-
ism in Europe produced the merchant-driven eorts of the Crown
to maintain the imperial monopoly in the eighteenth century.
Arching over this complex guration of economic actors was the
opposition of the constitutional state and the colonial order. The
instructions of the British government to the colonies, which were
inuenced by mercantile interests, addressed protectionist legislation
enacted by colonial assemblies. Close relations between Britains com-
mercial classes and the Board of Trade proved to be a source of
settler antagonism to the Board.36 It became an arena of the com-
peting claims of well-organised British commercial interests and con-
testatory counter-claims of colonists.37 In many ways, the instructions
of the Board provoked more opposition from some settler commu-
nities than did the Navigation Acts. Colonists could contravene the
latter by a form of subterfuge. However, legislation of the assem-
blies designed to circumvent direct instructions had to pass through
the governorship and the Board of Trade, it could not be smug-
gled as could a pipe of French wine.38
Mercantilism became an issue of autonomy and dominance for
the colonial order. It entered the public domain in which American
interests competed with the claims of British commerce. The impe-
rial system of trade rarely accounted explicitly for the interests of
settlers. However, the illicit trade proved extremely protable for all
involved, especially colonial merchants. Thus, in British North America,
the tensions engendered by the mercantile grip on economic inter-
action often became political issues and a source of antagonism

On the emergence of merchant capitalist interests in the seventeenth century
institutional structure of the imperial state, see Bliss, Revolution and Empire, pp. 19193
and Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conict, and
Londons Overseas Traders 15501653 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
Labaree, Royal Government in America, pp. 6061.
Ibid., pp. 6263.
Ibid., p. 247.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 159

between London and the colonial order. The complexion of English

imperial rule was thus coloured by the involvement of English mer-
chants, some American interests and the Crown, at one pole, and
colonial producers and other commercial interests, at the other. These
were the actors that stood in opposition to one another in an ongo-
ing legislative conict between colonial and imperial institutions.
This was certainly centralism. But the extent of its penetration
was not so great as in the Spanish Empire or in the French Caribbean.
Furthermore, no single body was empowered to oversee and enforce
the legislation and regulation of the British government. Thus, cen-
tralized rule was always more nuanced than in the Indies and French
America and the economic restrictions on settler communities were
less stringent.
As in the Spanish case, restructuring emerged from the tension
within the British Empire. By mid-century, the level of smuggling
had gone beyond its earlier proportions. Indeed, it seemed as though
the private merchant empires that existed were beginning to swal-
low up greater volumes of the overall trade; empires within the
empire, one might say.39 In the 1750s, the British government
responded to the general situation by revitalizing a stagnating Board
of Trade. It introduced a reform program that encapsulated two
strategies. First of all colonial government was re-designed around
greater monarchical prerogative. In particular, legislation passed by
colonial assemblies had to include a clause empowering the Board
with the right to suspend it.40 Secondly, the provision of mercantile
incentives to diversify production, particularly of goods in which
England did not have an advantage or simply did not produce
expanded the range of opportunities for American merchants. Naturally,
this also reasserted imperial imperatives, albeit indirectly. However,
it also permitted the colonies to conduct greater trade within the
continent. Moderating the mercantile system catered for colonial real-
ities and compensated for economic underdevelopment.
Alongside of this, the restructuring was a product of more deci-
sive and practical shifts in British political economy towards the ideals
of free trade. When Parliament enacted the Free Ports Act in 1766,
it opened up channels of inter-imperial trade for colonial merchants.

T. H. Bowen, British Conceptions of Global Empire 175683, The Journal
of Imperial and Commonwealth History 26, no. 3 (September 1998).
Lang, Conquest and Commerce, pp. 208209.
160 chapter six

This produced an attempt at resurgence in imperial authority via a

liberalization of British North American trade. The desired results
were an increase in imperial prestige in the colonies, greater economic
purchase in the home economy and boosted inter-imperial competition
in Europe. The reforms did not dissolve the tensions of the British
mercantile system, nor did they placate opposing colonial interests.
They put in place a regime of economic policies that were more
adaptable to changing circumstances. Yet, the tension of imperial
state formation reconstituted itself, and found explicit voice in the
growing dissent of settler communities after the Seven Years War.
French historians have judged mercantilism as a force of domination
in the Americas. This perception has its roots in nineteenth century
Canadian historiography and yet it has come under scrutiny more
recently.41 The complexity of intra-imperial relations is evident in the
origins of French intrusion into the American world. Reconnaissance
came early enough, although settlement came comparatively late. The
French had begun trading in fur and farming sh stocks in the North
Americas in the 1550s and 1560s, whilst in the south French slavers
were active in Brazil and the Spanish Indies and pirates patrolled the
Caribbean. They faced sti competition and not only from the Spanish:
the English presence on the seas became increasingly weighty in the
second half of the seventeenth century.42 French Huguenot colonies
were contemplated for Florida, but early experimental settlements had
failed.43 It was only when the rst settlement at Quebec was estab-
lished that early French trade was supplemented by colonialism.
It was really Colberts tenure that heralded a systematic French
approach to colonialism and with it a mercantilist regime. Many of
the institutional innovations of this period were national applications
for France specically: regulation of the guild structure, eorts to
draw up a national map, the introduction of accounting procedures
in state budgets, a systematic reorganization of the monarchys body
of taxes, monetary reform and the development of state industries.
Much of this set in train a substantial transformation of the machin-
ery of state, rendering it more eective as a national structure in
early capitalist Europe.

Leslie Choquette, Center and Periphery in French North America, in Daniels
and Kennedy, Negotiated Empires.
F. Quinn, The French Overseas Empire, pp. 1318.
Ibid., pp. 2429.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 161

But Colbertism was also an empire-building project. Navigation

and trading associations were established. More generally, the French
monarchy aimed at a favourable balance of trade in accordance with
mercantilist principles. Growing French trade in the seventeenth cen-
tury was, to some degree, due to the state-led expansion of its
empire.44 The direct economic benets to the French state were indis-
putable. Its diverse range of colonial holdings carried great expense,
but also brought visible gains. Canadian trade in leather, sh and
fur tted neatly into the logic of Colbertism and provisioned the
homelands with a variety of essential goods that would be procured
at greater expense otherwise.45 In return, the American colonies were
an outlet for French manufactures. The economic fortunes of France
were paralleled in the colonies.
More generally, for the duration of imperial rule, colonial pro-
duction served three purposes. It fed French markets, a benet
directed towards defraying the costs of an expensive empire. The
French market for fur became saturated in the 1680s. Canadas value
as a colony did not lessen though. Quite the opposite: the ascen-
dancy of the Bourbon regime heralded an improvement in Canadas
strategic standing.46 Secondly, it supported the wider growth of French
colonial trade. A prole of Franco-American trade after the treaty
is quite instructive and indicates that the American colonies were
anything but marginal.47 The Caribbean sugar trade proved extremely
protable. The French Empire entered a long North Atlantic cycle
of rapid growth.48 While overall French foreign trade between 1716
and 1720 and the revolution only increased seven-fold, the value of
trade with the colonies jumped eighteen-fold. Trade with all colonies
(excluding Africa) in the 1770s constituted a third of all French
exports and imports. Much of this passed through the transatlantic

See Vilar, A History of Gold and Money, p. 246:
Above all, it accounts for the fervour with which some of Louis XIVs advisers
pressed on him the idea of accepting the Spanish succession for his grandson. Many
of them imagined that this would result in joint Franco-Spanish rule of America.
Raymond Birn, Crisis, Absolutism, Revolution: Europe 16481789/91 (Hinsdale, IL:
Dryden Press, 1977), pp. 102103.
William, J. Eccles, The Social, Economic and Political Signicance of the
Military Establishment in New France, Canadian Historical Review 52, no. 1 (1971);
Allain, French Colonial Policy, chaps. 56.
Marzagalli, The French Atlantic, pp. 7579.
Marc Egnal, New World Economies: The Growth of the Thirteen Colonies and Early
Canada (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), chap. 7.
162 chapter six

routes between Bordeaux, Nantes and the Caribbean slave islands.

It was predominantly a commerce in agricultural goods and slaves
that was dedicated to the development of Antillean society, on one
hand, and the benets to the hinterland economies of French Atlantic
ports, on the other. However, this suited the Atlantic zone well.
French Canada in particular was a beneciary as prices for its main
export commodities increased steadily.49
Thirdly, colonial production was seen as a support to the strate-
gic designs of the monarchy, in which long-term economic interests
gured fairly prominently. This inter-continental nexus became a
more conscious part of the economic structure of the French state
in the eighteenth century. In the rivalry of states, it can be condently
concluded that French foreign trade became Americanised through
mercantilism whilst that of Britain was globalised.50 Thus, mer-
cantilism did not give France the nal leading edge that the monar-
chy sought. However, as a set of guiding motives it did drive the
imperial reconstruction of the French American world.
During the eighteenth century, North America remained a seem-
ingly insurmountable problem for the Crown. Remote and daunt-
ing tracts of wilderness made Canada an impenetrable place that
forced compromise on the part of the colonisers. This left its stamp
on the structures of mercantilism. The Crown was exceptionally
assertive in the area of maritime trade, while in non-economic areas
it was less forceful. When corporate holdings were ceded to the
Crown, lexclusif was invoked through Colberts West Indies Company.
After it collapsed, the principles of regulation were generalized, begin-
ning a history of strict French monopoly. Monopolies over trade
were rapidly developed at the turn of the century. Some monopo-
listic methods failed. After the Seven Years War, the mercantile econ-
omy was liberalized for French Americans under a regime of lexclusif
mitige.51 Free ports were established and new restrictions on imports
paid for with American products were introduced. In other respects,
the advantages for France were augmented. New monopolies on

Ibid., chap. 9.
Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 2, p. 270. See also H. V. Bowen,
British Conceptions of Global Empire.
Aldrich, Greater France, pp. 1617.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 163

valued colonial exports and French imports were promulgated.

Ongoing employment of French mariners was guaranteed.
Conict between imperial authorities and the colonial order did
not suddenly wane as a result of liberalization. It had been born in
the structure of the British, French and Spanish empires and con-
tinued to reproduce itself from that structure. Mercantilism itself was
constituted out of a conict generated by the presence of an oppos-
ing colonial order. In Europe, the conict between monarchies and
provincial and municipal administration inuenced the early stages
of the long historical formation of capitalism.
At the same time, another side of this process was unfolding in
the Americas. Mercantilism in the intra-imperial sphere informed the
transatlantic development of European capitalism. It was a realm of
state intrusion into the aairs of the colonial order. It was intended
to augment the benets that accrued to states from accumulation and
trade. Nowhere is this more evident than in the trade in enslaved
humans. Why is slavery so important in explaining the role of mercantile
states in early capitalist development? In many respects, slavery was
truly transatlantic. It created a nexus of trade and production in a
zone of inter-dependence that connected West Africa to the Caribbean,
Brazil and Chesapeake Bay and then to London, Cadiz and Nantes.
Ocial government initiatives were crucial in sponsoring the trade
and then sustaining it. Above all, it furnished America with much of
the labor that was so essential to the production of colonial commodities
and to the early consumer markets of capitalist Europe. Furthermore,
its importance has not been lost on historians and social scientists,
although much of the interest is conspicuously recent and coincides
with the development of postcolonial sensibilities in the social sciences.

Slavery and the breakthrough to Atlantic capitalism

Modern slavery was vital to transatlantic commerce in the seventeenth

and eighteenth centuries. The observations of Marx and Adam Smith
showed due regard for the contribution of American production and
trade to the takeo of capitalism. Contrary to some readings of Marx
and the mainstream understanding of Smith, their views do acknowl-
edge the contribution of the slave trade to early capitalism. There
is a growing body of opinion that the place of slavery in the for-
mation of capitalism needs to be re-assessed. Either Smith or Marx
164 chapter six

has been taken as a starting point.52 Marx scattered remarks on

America draw attention to the modernity of colonial slavery:
(T)he Negro labor in the southern states of the American Union pre-
served a moderately patriarchal character as long as production was
chiey directed to the satisfaction of immediate local requirements. But
in proportion as the export of cotton became of vital interest to those
states, the over-working of the Negro, and sometimes the consumption
of his life in seven years of labor, became a factor in a calculated and
calculating system. It was no longer a question of obtaining from him
a certain quantity of useful products, but rather of the production of
surplus-value itself.53
Where the capitalist outlook prevailsas on the American planta-
tionsthis entire surplus value is regarded as prot; where neither the
capitalist mode of production itself exists, nor the corresponding outlook
has been transferred from capitalist countries, it appears as rent.54
The fact that we now not only call the plantation owners in America
capitalists, but that they are capitalists, is based on their existence as
anomalies within a world market based on free labor.55
These comments reect on a later period than the one under scrutiny
in the current work. However, the essential point is that it is the
world system in the whole of the modern epoch that Marx has his
eye on here, rather than the internal features of the mode of production
as such (aside from the mention of slaverys calculative rationality).
Moreover, cultural aspects of slavery are accorded a place alongside
of the process of extraction of value. Marx belief remained rm that
a free labor force was an indispensable feature of capitalism. However,
his anatomy of industrial capitalisms pre-history shows signs of a trans-
atlantic scope. It is clear now that Marx views on American slavery
do contain ambiguities and, furthermore, he had little evidence with
which he could more sharply distinguish dierent Anglo-American
colonies.56 Nonetheless, he is unequivocal in identifying the necessity

Marx certainly was for Eric Williams in his classic on capitalism and slavery
and for C. L. R. James in his study of French slavery in the Lesser Antilles. Both
of these are intermediaries between Marx and recent writers, such as Robin Blackburn,
Barbara Solow, Jacob M. Price and David Galenson. See C. L. R. James, The Black
Jacobins; Toussaint LOuverture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York: Vintage Books,
1963); Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 1994).
Karl Marx, Capital (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), p. 345.
Marx, Capital: A Critique, p. 804.
Marx, Grundrisse, p. 513.
Both of these points are elaborated on by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene
Genovese in The Janus Face of Merchant Capital, in Fruits of Merchant Capital:
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 165

of both waged European labor and systematic slavery in the Americas

to the development of capitalist social relations during this era.57
Adam Smiths treatise on capitalism makes little mention of slav-
ery. When it is remarked upon, the kind of contempt that Marx
expresses for it is conspicuously absent.58 In both models of capital-
ism waged labor is pivotal and the independent producer and planter
of the New World appear as the embodiment of a modern entre-
preneurial ethic of self-reliance. For Marx, such self-suciency rested
on a patriarchal foundation of slavery (locked into the world wide
capitalist mode of production); while for Smith it seems to be a
choice made by settler communities condent of the especial value
of their consumer commodities:
The plantation of sugar and tobacco can aord the expense of slave-
cultivation . . . In our sugar colonies, on the contrary, the whole work
is done by slaves, and in our tobacco colonies a very great part of it.
The prots of a sugar plantation in any of our West Indian colonies
are generally much greater than those of any other cultivation that is
known either in Europe or America; and the prots of a tobacco plan-
tation, though inferior to those of sugar, are superior to those of corn
. . . Both can aord the expense of slave-cultivation, but sugar can
aord it still better than tobacco. The number of Negroes accordingly
is much greater, in proportion to that of whites, in our sugar than in
our tobacco colonies.59
In this passage slavery appears as a function of the imperial division
of labor, the central motif of Smiths political economy. Indeed, it
was slavery and mercantile monopolies of trade that mediated colo-
nial Americas relationship to the world. Both elements are neces-
sary in an explanation of the prosperity of British Americas colonies.

Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1983).
One survey of the sixteenth century questions whether the bonded American
workforces (estimated to be close to one million at the end of the sixteenth cen-
tury) might not have equalled Europes waged labour force. See Blaut On the
Signicance of 1492, pp. 37879. Prior to the American Civil War, the combined
slave populations of the South and Brazil came to more than 6 million, account-
ing for more than 30%. Prior to the Haitian revolt in the 1790s the total slave
populations of the Caribbean came to 1.1 million (around 70%). See Barry Higman,
Demography, in Seymour Drescher and Stanley L. Engerman, A Historical Guide
to World Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 168174.
Robin Blackburn points out, however, that the analytic gap between Marx
and Smith was . . . less substantial than it appears (Blackburn, The Making of Colonial
Slavery, p. 516).
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (London: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 489.
166 chapter six

The latter does not get its due in Smiths classic. But the wider
importance to the transatlantic trade is not lost on him either.
If this was a lively and industrious sphere of the world economy
that he suggests it was, then imperial mercantilism and slavery were
necessary and dynamic components of it. If this was the epoch of
so-called primitive accumulation, then slavery was a weighty com-
ponent. Recent research suggests that protability in economic activ-
ity in the Caribbean and the North Americas only came with slavery.60
If mercantilism was the establishment of the pre-conditions of accu-
mulation, then the philosophy of state and active involvement of
state ocialdom warrants careful attention. The orientation of all
those involved in slavery also shows up something of the character
of transatlantic commerce. Its patriarchal veneer implied that it was
embedded in rm traditions, and yet its practices and productive
organization were, in many respects, integral to Europes early cap-
italism and even to its modernity.
Colonial slavery could not be local in orientation; the self-sucient
oikos was not a model that could be reproduced easily in North
America and had no feasible application in the Caribbean. Its orbit
was necessarily transatlantic.61 Its lifeblood was a trade in goods and
human beings. This trading nexus was rmed up by lines of credit
that linked merchants, planters, shipowners, nanciers and parlia-
mentarians. The chains of interdependence reached from Bordeaux
and London to Barbados and Charlestown. This nexus was a means
of extending English and French capital westwards in investment and
loans for plantation production. It also provided for the planter class
the imperative to trade with other economies. At the same time,
production for distant markets logically compelled slavers and planters
to participate in a mercantilist regime of accumulation. The exchange
of produce for manufacturesan import/export trade over long dis-
tanceswas prot driven and quite competitive. The availability of
credit encouraged the expansion of estates and the takeover of others.

Barbara L. Solow, introduction to Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1991). David Eltis puts the case that economic
factors were marginal, although he concedes that the enslavement of Africans was
highly protable. See Europeans and the Rise and Fall of African Slavery: An
Interpretation, American Historical Review 98, no. 5 (1993).
Research into the history of slavery has taken the transatlantic sphere as its
proper scope of analysis. Cross-national studies have received less attention since
the 1970s. See Locksley Edmundson, Trans-Atlantic Slavery and the Interna-
tionalization of Race, Caribbean Quarterly 22, no. 1 (1976).
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 167

Across the seventeenth century, small Caribbean-based producers

found themselves bankrupted by the marginal and uncertain returns
on their output. Through foreclosure, their lands fell to larger pro-
ducers as ownership became more concentrated.
Competition and the dierent lines of connection with Western
Europe, African and other colonial networks compelled all within
the orbit of the slave trade to re-organize. More systematic forms of
cost accounting were developed. More complicated and extensive
credit arrangements were devised. New types of insurance that catered
for risk taking in long distance trade were drawn up. Calculation
and a calculative rationality were inherent to these aspects of economic
organization. Moreover, there was an impulse to expand operations
indenitely up until the point of zero return. Through investment in
a larger workforce, fertilizers, new crops, storage facilities and housing,
sugar, tobacco and other goods could be produced at cheaper rates
through higher levels of productivity. A more rapid rate of purchase
of inputs and technology coupled with the growth of luxury markets
in Europe accelerated the circulation of commodities. The intense devel-
opment of capitalist social relations in Western Europe therefore depended
on the inclusion of colonial producers and traders from America and
Africa for the rapid growth of markets. It also rested on the behaviour-
shaping character of slave-centred economic organization to provide
further impetus to the renement of mercantilist and nancial insti-
tutions. Slavery was critical in all these respects to the actual devel-
opment of capitalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
By the early eighteenth century, the Atlantic world governed by
Europes colonial empires resembled a new social formation. Slavery
formed the sinews of transatlantic trade. Portuguese exchange with
slave traders in Africa pre-dated slaverys emergence in America. But
slaverys breakout from Africa was precipitated by the growth in eco-
nomic activity in the West Atlantic and the quickening pulse of Euro-
pean trade along the West African coast. The extension of the range
of capital investment and the connection of metropolitan and colonial
markets perpetuated slavery and indeed may have been a root cause
of its expansion. From the perspectives of the American colonies,
slavery appears to be no less essential to the economic life of the
French and British empires. Not only did it entail the trac in humans
across the so-called Middle Passage; the fruits of Africans labor in
America were transported to Europe to satisfy luxury markets that
delighted the tastes of the new bourgeois-aristocratic public sphere.
168 chapter six

At the apex of this trade was a class of businessmen who provided

coordination of a number of commercial, nancial and distributive
activities.62 Slavery was the basis of these, although many seemed
detached from the processes associated with slave-based production.
This pattern has been dubbed the three point triangular trade.
This is an oversimplication and can be misleading. More penetrating
analyses suggest that trade linkages were more complex. The large
joint-stock companies normally associated with the triangular net-
works were only part of the trade. Small-scale private traders had a
considerable stake in long-distance trade and contributed consider-
ably to the development of modern forms of credit and transaction.63
They depended on networks of correspondents, commissionaires or
employees to transact their business through Atlantic and Caribbean
channels. Small time businessmen relied heavily on trust built up
with contacts over time. Their reputation could be further secured
if they belonged to the same religious denomination. Moral credit
guaranteed their nancial creditworthiness.64 Credit was indispens-
able in all these exchanges and the trade linkages that they pro-
duced were a patchwork of connections. As for the large monopolies
and joint-stock companies, they too depended on the balances of
relations between London-based factors, nanciers, merchants and
planters.65 From the middle of the eighteenth century, West Indian
planter dominance enabled triangular trade, where previously return
journeys from Britain were unprotable. Of course, a good portion
of the trade was bilateral involving merchants that sailed from North
America to the Caribbean or to Europe.66

Hancocks Citizens of the World is a fascinating study of the entrepreneurial out-
siders to Londons merchant circles. This group was an emblem of colonial slav-
ery and an exemplar of transatlantic unity, and yet was two degrees removed from
slave-based production. They established a transatlantic commercial network that
furnished a cosmopolitan array of goods for Britons abroad (and at home). Their
scope was global. They were imperial improvers in commerce, consumption, style
and manners. These agents of empire coordinated the factors of production across
markets, regions and indeed continents.
Jacob C. Price, Transaction Costs: A Note on Merchant Credit and the Orga-
nization of Private Trade, in James C. Tracy, ed., The Political Economy of Merchant
Empires (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 27697.
Peter Mathias Risk, Credit and Kinship in Early Modern Enterprise, in
McCusker and Morgan, The Early Modern Atlantic Economy.
R. B. Sheridan, The Commercial and Financial Organization of the British
Slave Trade 17501807, Economic History Review 11, no. 2 (1958): 24963.
Stanley Engerman argues that the image of the triangular trade should be
modied as it subsumes complex patterns of commerce to the neglect of bilateral trade.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 169

In addition, some general caution is warranted when examining

the most basic patterns of trade in the Atlantic zone. The so-called
hub-and-spoke model of imperial commerce that has enjoyed favour
amongst economic historians stresses the ow of agricultural goods
to Europe in exchange for manufactured products, tight imperial
monopolies and the decisive weight of decision-making of metro-
politan merchants. Close scrutiny of particular industries suggests that
this model does not capture the complexity and variation of the
operation of actual markets. The hub-and-spoke image applies best
to the sugar and tobacco trades.67 However, for present purposes,
the important conclusion to draw is that, whatever its underlying
patterns, the triangular trade was qualitatively new and cohered a
new economic zone. In a way it was the raison detre of a whole
species of French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and English merchants.
Slavery was the basis of economic relations in this zone. It integrated
activities of distant locations. London, Liverpool, Cadiz, Bordeaux,
Rotterdam and North America, the Caribbean, the Brazilian coast-
line and then West Africa were linked in a transatlantic nexus.
Slavery was, therefore, the centrepiece of the extension and expan-
sion of capitalist forms. Its eect on nascent capitalism was also cul-
tural. It promoted a supervision and discipline of labor that would
later suit industrialism.68 It also boosted the calculative activities of
merchants, shippers, insurers and planters alike. For those involved
in plantation there was a marked desire for greater predictability in
production and trade; for example, planters went to great lengths to
secure their interests through local legislative and judicial bodies.
Calculation was a signicant feature of most stages of production
and trade connected to slavery. This resembles the rationalization of
economic action described by Max Weber, although he did not rec-
ognize this source of rationality.69

See Mercantilism and Overseas Trade 17001800, in Roderick Flood and Donald
McCloskey, The Economic History of Britain Since 1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1994).
See David Hancocks discussion of Madeira wine as an instructive counter-
example in The British Atlantic World: Coordination, Complexity and the Emergence
of an Atlantic Market Economy 16511815, Itinerario 23, no. 2 (1999): 10726.
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, p. 588.
Max Webers relevant comments on colonial slavery can be found in General
Economic History (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1981), pp. 300301, and Economy
and Society, p. 155.
170 chapter six

In this regard, David Galensons description of market behav-

iour to typify the trader-planter outlook is apt.70 I argue, however,
that this type of behaviour is a specic cultural form constituted in
variable ways in the Atlantic zone. The picture of cultural inuences
on slavery and reactions to it is more varied than a survey of ratio-
nalization might suggest. The tensions between traditional and mod-
ern sides of slavery diered between Caribbean, Brazilian and North
American plantation colonies. In the British North American tobacco
and cotton plantations, the incongruence was of a particular kind.71
A localized culture of villa life fashioned itself, to a degree, on Roman
republicanism. Its values were hospitality, leisure, quiet reection,
active exercise and a discursive inter-subjectivity (albeit a private
one). It should be remembered that underpinning the Souths leisurely
recreation was slavery; the adjuncts of the villa were the plantation
and the slave quarters. But more than this, the aim of all activity
was directed towards a private enrichment. In contrast to ancient
slavery, (p)roductionand not consumption in the sense of pub-
lic buildings, festivals and so onwas the telos of economic behav-
iour.72 As well, however, it must be added that the imperative to
trade and exchange was a constant intruder into the cultural domain
of the southern gentry. The local style of life could not evade Atlantic
trade; indeed it often depended on these external links. A disjunc-
ture between the modern plantation economy and the selective revival
of Ancient and Renaissance traits of virtue placed some limits on
the expansion of so-called rationality. In the new US, it generated
dilemmas in political philosophy for Southerners grappling to rec-
oncile republican virtues with the practices of slavery. Tradition was
no stable thing. The Souths villa society conformed only partially
to ancient models and these were open to wider interpretation. On
the other hand, the impress of modernity varied between the port

See David W. Galenson, Traders, Planters and Slaves: Market Behavior in Early
English America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 14850, on West
Indian maneuvers to stymie the eects of Royal African Companys de jure mono-
poly as an instance of market behaviour. Nuala Zakelich provides a snapshot of
English merchants from port books in 1686 that supports the idea that the new men
of the Atlantic trade promoted calculative forms of action. See Making Mercantilism
Work: London Merchants and Atlantic Trade in the Seventeenth Century, Transactions
of the Royal Historical Society, 6th ser., 9 (1999): 14358.
See Peter Murphy, Peregrini, Thesis Eleven 46 (1996): 1416.
Ibid., p. 15.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 171

cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia and the colonial towns
of Savannah and Charlestown. While the modern principles of cap-
italist organization may have prevailed in production, inter-colonial
trade may have seemed more distant and focussed on northern coastal
The Caribbean experience was dierent. Tradition in many of
the island colonies was over-determined by the imperative of trade
and the nature of the colonies origins. There seemed less room on
the islands for detached villa life. Demographic patterns make this
clear. They were far more densely populated (especially in the eight-
eenth century) than the mainland colonies and the number of slaves
relative to the white population was far greater. However, it was the
authoritarian model of agricultural production that most decisively
formed island traditions. In the early years of founding plantations
everything had to be brought over from the old continent: the mas-
terswhite settlers; the labor forceblack Africans . . . the plants
themselves.73 English colonists in the West Indies were quick to form
a coherent master class capable of coordinating wealthy plantations
a whole generation before the Southern gentry and years before the
French.74 Production methods were also imported. Implantation did
not end with people and production techniques. In a way, societies
were being articially created out of total strangers who were
mostly brought to this world forcibly.75 Bewildered Africans arrived
to nd themselves amongst an estranged majority; indentured Scottish,
Irish, Welsh and English servants had preceded them. Their motives
for transportation were immaterial (if indeed they were apparent in
any way). In contrast, the motives of free settlers were crucial and
drove the trajectory of development in many of the islands. Unlike
early mainland English colonists who had gone through a religious
exodus, island planters and their overseers were spurred on by temporal

Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce, p. 273.
Richard S. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West
Indies 16241713 (Williamsburg, VA: University of North Carolina Press, 1972),
chap. 2.
Orlando Patterson, preface to The Sociology of Slavery: An Analysis of the Origins,
Development and Structure of Negro Slave Society in Jamaica (London: Associated University
Presses, 1969). There is a substantial debate about the randomizing eect of trans-
atlantic migration on Africas cultural groups. It revolves around whether there was
cultural continuity and, if there was, how much and how did enslaved Africans
maintain it. It is beyond the scope of the current work to develop a judgment on
the ner ethnographic and demographic research on this. Broadly speaking, I accept
172 chapter six

interests in commerce.76 They brought what they were familiar with.

Above all, English settlers insisted on their northern European style
of life. Their very diet, daily social schedules, clothing, housing and
urban architecture resembled English custom.77 Beyond these fea-
tures of life, however, gentility was extremely thin.
But they were also quick to develop a total system of production
that was unique to this part of the world in the seventeenth cen-
tury.78 Unlike forms of cottage industry in Europe, slave-based plan-
tation production involved intense and direct supervision. An owner
or overseer was immediately responsible for the management of all
facets of production, plantation maintenance and care of the work-
force. The extent of supervision reached a point of close surveillance
of many aspects of the lives of slaves. Agriculture provided a disci-
plinary regime (in the manner described by Michel Foucault) that
went beyond the labor process. Not surprisingly, its defenders were
heavily armed and well organized. The disciplined and instrumen-
tally rationalized organization of slave production was also a cultural
form of slave economy.
Gang labor routinized the experiences of production. The rela-
tions of oppression between master and slave that dictated in the
sphere of production spilled over into many aspects of social life,
especially towards the end of the seventeenth century when the
growth of slave numbers became more conspicuous. Master-slave

Pattersons sociology of the historical experiences of slavery in the Caribbean. The

lively and changing debate over disenclavement and recomposition of African soci-
eties should be acknowledged. Two seminal contributions are Melville J. Herskovits,
The Myth of the Negro Past (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958) and Sidney W. Mintz and
Richard Price, An Anthropological Approach to the Afro-American Past: A Caribbean Perspective
(Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1977). Blackburn, The Making
of New World Slavery, pp. 34450. See also Philip Morgan who argues for a para-
digm that appreciates the heterogeneous and porous nature of slave interaction.
Noting empirical evidence that many slaves were channeled from their points of
origin, he remarks that the record of the fate of many is thin after disembarkation.
However, the cultural forms that have survived show extraordinary ethnic creativ-
ity and hybridity. See The Cultural Implications of the Atlantic Slave Trade:
African Regional Origins, American Destinations and New World Developments,
in David Eltis and David Richardson, eds., Routes to Slavery: Direction, Ethnicity and
Mortality in the Transatlantic Slave Trade (London: Frank Cass and Company), 1997.
For a summation of the issues and an analysis that seeks a middle ground between
the so-called maximum diversity hypothesis and the view that there was consider-
able cultural continuity and sharing, see Thornton, Africa and Africans, chaps. 78.
O. Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery, pp. 3334.
R. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, chap. 8.
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 33235.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 173

relations encompassed manumitted slaves who, although nominally

free, were always treated with suspicion. Nonetheless, holding a major-
ity, and living in close proximity to one another, slave communities
in the British Caribbean were able to develop community ties that
aorded them a modicum of immunity from the tyranny of over-
seers.79 To the white minority, this was a source of long-term fear
of violence or rebellion. Revolts and sporadic violence did occur and
fuelled white prejudice. But these were more infrequent and vivid
manifestations of slave deance.80 Muted resistance was far more
common and took many forms from malingering to marronnage.
Acts of resistance added to an accumulated subculture of slave com-
memoration of such events. They were not the only way to claim
some autonomy. Sunday worship, subsistence plots and accompany-
ing markets for their produce and stories, music and dance all con-
tributed to a social space for slaves partly generated by the white
elite, partly forged by black communities themselves. This contributed
to Creole traditions in the region through cultural osmosis. In the
dominant white communities, habits of constant vigilance spread.
They complemented the extraordinary attention paid to prices, the
course of trade and wider imperial aairs. The state seemed more
prominent to the colonial order based in the British Caribbean or
French Antilles than it did to mainland communities in North America.
And, in the matter of slavery, the British and French apparatus were
quite involved.
Slaving as an industry that encompassed the capture, transport,
purchase and laboring of Africans exemplies the character of mer-
cantilism. To understand how this is the case, mercantilism must be
conceived as a series of strategies of colonial pioneering, rather than
simply the operation of monopolies. Only then can the involvement
of governments be more clearly understood.
Mercantilism and slavery came together in the early development
of cross-Atlantic and cis-Atlantic trade. States invested heavily in
slavery, and not just in a nancial sense. In the seventeenth century,
the British, French and Spanish furnished their empires with the
essential infrastructure of the slavery business, founding a mercantile

T. H. Breen, Creative Adaptations: Peoples and Cultures, in Jack P. Greene
and J. R. Pole, eds., Colonial British America: Essays in the New History of the Early
Modern Era (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp. 21012.
Thornton, Africa and Africans, chap. 10.
174 chapter six

unity in the Atlantic world. Fortied African ports protected ship-

ping. Supplies of slaves were guaranteed by chartered companies
that matured with state support. Governments also drew up legisla-
tive frameworks for the regulation of bonded labor. While they sought
to govern slavery in this way, governments also reaped the scal
benets of slave production. The commodities most directly associ-
ated with slave production were the most protable and were sub-
ject to the heaviest taxes and customs duties.81 In this way, slavery
enriched the public purse in Britain as it did the private fortunes of
the large merchant traders. The British public sphere also incorpo-
rated planters from the Caribbean and the east coast. Parliamentary
government in England opened up a signicant space for colonial
planters to exercise political inuence over imperial aairs. The pub-
lic dimension and some private interests were mutually bolstered by
the outgrowth of slavery in imperial Britain. Infrastructure, regula-
tion, the acceleration of revenue-raising and involvement in a sub-
stantial portion of the trade gave the French and British states especial
purpose in the process of accumulation generated by slavery.
Europes empires were connected with slavery in other respects
also. Beyond the structural and economic complex of nascent capi-
talism, slavery was factored into inter-state relations. States pursued
the development of slaving in a larger diplomatic framework. A cli-
mate of multilateral negotiation over free access to sea-lanes emerged
in the treaties drawn up between the major contending powers after
Westphalia.82 Diplomacy was used more often to restrain piracy and
other sorts of private violence and settle disputes over land and mar-
itime boundaries. The Westphalian framework of inter-state relations,
along with the recession of Spains claim to sovereignty over the
Atlantic, brought a relative security and condence to slaving enterprises
after early decades of free piracy during the seventeenth century.
The involvement of states in slavery should be put in the context
of wider patterns of colonial population. One dimension of mer-
cantilism was the concept of plantation. One of its connotations
was people-ing. The initial foundation of American colonies reects
this outlook.83 Emigration was exile for early colonists, most certainly.

Christopher L. Brown, The Politics of Slavery, in Armtiage and Braddick,
The British Atlantic World, p. 217.
Mancke, Empire and State, in Armitage and Braddick, The British Atlantic
World, pp. 18486.
E. Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, pp. 1517.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 175

However, it was supported by the mercantilist conception of a trade

in people to the outer reaches of a stillborn empire. Thus early
English experiments with the transportation of indentured servants
indicated an enthusiasm for populating. The subordinated status of
these subalterns made tracking easy. But it produced little success.
By the late seventeenth century, the preference for slaves as a source
of population had gained momentum. For the English state, the
height of governmental involvement came just prior to the 1688
Revolution.84 Populating was a matter of great concern to imperial
authorities and the main institutional vehicle for slaving was the
Royal African Company.
Ocial support for the plantation of people in the American
colonies underscored French eorts in this period.85 The scale of
emigration was less impressive than that of England. Prior to the
1660 Restoration, the French navy and the Company of the Isles
of America supported the movement of more than 20,000 French
colonists. Like English initiatives, there were few slaves and many
servants. However, the character of the French advance diered in
important ways. Huguenots were potential exiles and colonizers, but
were prohibited from joining the colonies. The dearth of numbers
in Canada encouraged routine co-operation with the Indians. Jesuit
missions also sat alongside forts on the frontier, which was the peri-
meter west of the St Lawrence River. Population of the settlements
may have been ocial policy, but its eectiveness was slight. In the
French Caribbean, settling people on Martinique, Guadaloupe and
St Christopher was formative work and proceeded more swiftly. But
formative work it was and, like the English colonies, slavery was not
so signicant until the 1680s. Then the demographic transformation
would alter tropical perceptions of population, as race became the
basis for oppression and resistance.
Royal government supervised the establishment of many other
aspects of slavery. In Anglo-America, slavery was driven by the inde-
pendent initiative of planters more than in the French or Hispanic
American colonies. Nonetheless, even in the British Caribbean and

Imports of slaves into the English colonies grew substantially around the 1680s.
Between 1651 and 75, 368,000 slaves were imported into the North Americas and
69,200 into the West Indies. This increased considerably between 1676 and the
turn of the century. By then 602,500 slaves transported to the North Americas and
173,800 taken to the West Indies. See Galenson, Traders, Planters and Slaves, p. 15.
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 27986.
176 chapter six

the Chesapeake colonies, the role of metropolitan authorities was

considerable. Indeed, in the formative phase of plantation, it was an
essential prop for small producers.86 British authorities were more
than a collective superintendent. The state was altogether a beneciary
of slavery. Customs duties and the heavy taxes levied on tobacco
and sugar contributed signicantly to the greater fund of public
wealth.87 Its scal capacity to sustain a large military and naval force
to police its colonial possessions and its trade routes were greatly
enhanced by the revenue that slave-based production brought. In
turn, it assigned itself a role in providing the infrastructure of the
slave trade. The Royal African Company fashioned the architecture
of the English slave trade. Its factories held contacts in Africa; its
forts guarded English interests and its ships accounted for much of
the trade in the 1670s and 1680s. Furthermore, its charter of mono-
poly constituted a legal framework in which government in London
could attempt to minimize competition from private traders. Financially,
it was a vehicle through which capital could be aggregated. Slavery
required a high level of capitalization and joint stock incorporation.88
Above all, royal surety was essential for success at this time.
The Company represented direct imperial support for the trade
that lasted until the mid-eighteenth century, even though its fortunes
declined signicantly after the 1688 Revolution. Its monopoly was
enshrined in the charter. The Navigation Acts provided a mercan-
tile framework that favoured its operations. However, there was com-
petition; from the Madagascar trade, from other European traders,
from private sales made by the Companys own captains and from
interlopers.89 The Company was unable to control prices and quan-
tities because of the local domination of colonial institutions. In the
Caribbean, colonial legislatures and courts heavily favoured the
planters and often acted against the claims of the Companys agents.90
Furthermore, the English plantocracy was able to constantly place
pressure on parliament and the Crown to revise the terms of the
charter of monopoly. The Company was therefore not an eective
monopolist. Instead, it might be better understood as a vehicle of

Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 2, pp. 16769.
John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State 16881783
(New York: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 98.
R. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, pp. 23132.
Galenson, Traders, Planters and Slaves, pp. 1417.
Ibid., pp. 1820.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 177

state involvement and a guarantor of the ow of slaves from West

Similar eorts by Richelieu and Colbert to establish chartered
companies with a French monopoly failed.91 The Crown succeeded
in establishing state control of this slave trade through lexclusif. Sugar
cultivation as a dynamic industry emerged within this system of reg-
ulation. The tight monopoly was strictly enforced, much to the chagrin
of planters in St Domingue, Martinique and Guadaloupe.92 Still, as
in Anglo-America, there were other sources available. Dutch and
English traders were happy to breach lexclusif. Furthermore, settler
complaints accumulated and exploded into revolt against metropolitan
authority on a frequent basis.
But the most striking dierences between French and English reg-
ulation of slavery lie in two factors. Firstly, the French were unable
to secure their trade routes around the West African coast at this
time. The lone fort of the Senegal Company could not service a
large number of ships. The Company could not come close to match-
ing the Royal African Companys volume of shipping. Secondly,
Louis XIV promulgated the Code Noir in 1685, the most compre-
hensive attempt by a European power to regulate the judicial, moral
and material conditions of slavery in its colonies.93 The Code was
couched in a language of paternalistic guardianship of all aspects of
the slaves lives. It was a royal decree that regulated the moral con-
duct of masters, in contrast to its Barbados equivalent of 1660 which
was a Common Law derivative based on local experiences aimed at
exerting greater control of its slave force.94 The Codes specications
were far-reaching, including the prescription of the terms of religious
observance for all colonists. It was a systematic attempt to recreate
the moral order of absolutist France in all spheres of routine. Naturally,
institutional autonomy accompanied the program of regulation. The
legislation of islander counseils was a mark of unwonted respect for
the amassing colonial order.95 Planter loyalty was vital at this time

Between the 1620s and 1670s twelve companies were chartered, re-chartered
or recongured with a new charter, according to Allain, French Colonial Policy, pp.
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 28385.
Dale Tomich and Carolyn Fick, French Caribbean, in Drescher and Engerman,
A Historical Guide to World Slavery, p. 134.
Meinig, The Shaping of America, p. 171.
Blackburn, The Making of Colonial Slavery, p. 292.
178 chapter six

as Colberts plans for an expanded marine eet that could match

the English were not complete. In all, although French mercantil-
ism was quite comprehensive in its body of regulations, its reach
into (and inuence over) the Africa-America trade was limited in the
seventeenth century.
British and the French intervention seemed less active in the eight-
eenth century. However, this withdrawal was not straightforward;
the forms of mercantilist intervention changed signicantly, rather
than simply receding. The Royal African Company steadily lost
ground to private traders in the trade to Americas English colonies.
After gaining legal status in 1698, they delivered far more slaves on
far more ships than the monopoly rm.96 Later attempts by the
Company to lawfully regain its hegemony failed. As the Company
began to fail in the early eighteenth century, slaving was opened up
to a greater number of agents.97 Moreover, the concentration of plan-
tation production in the West Indies turned many successful planters
into large producers. A stark division between small and large planters
had prevailed in Barbados, Jamaica and Bermuda from the Restoration
to the turn of the century. Moreover, the application of English law
was more forceful in the smaller islands that had not been formally
conquered.98 Both factorsinternal division and legislative autonomy
in Jamaicastrengthened the independent liberties claimed by planters
as their heritage. As land ownership became more concentrated and
production more dependent on slaves in the early eighteenth century,
the large plantocracy pushed its autonomy even more vigorously. A
web of patronage and connection gave them considerable, sometimes
decisive, political weight in parliamentary government.99 Their contacts
in Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London were inuential lobbies.
Some, who were more fortunate, relocated to London, as they were
rich enough to aord a local supervisor to manage their plantations.
In London, they became a strong constituency, which could ply its
inuence in metropolitan politics.100

Jacob M. Price, Credit in the Slave Plantation Economies, in Solow, Slavery
and the Rise of the Atlantic System, p. 305.
Galenson, Traders, Planters and Slaves, pp. 2021.
Michael Craton, Property and Propriety: Land Tenure and Slave Property
in the Creation of a West Indies Plantocracy 16121740, in John Brewer and
Susan Staves, Early Modern Conceptions of Property (New York: Routledge, 1995).
Christopher A. Bayly, Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 17801830
(London: Pearson Education, 1989), pp. 9091.
On the inuence of the planters as a common interest, see Christopher Brown,
The Politics of Slavery, in Armtiage and Braddick, The British Atlantic World.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 179

However, this produced a paradox. It made the British govern-

ment an unrivalled center of debate about the slave trade and about
colonial aairs more generally. This did little to alleviate the plight
of slaves, as local planters strengthened the slave code dening chat-
tel property and the conditions of life. For a time, parliamentary law
found little application.101 Other avenues of regulation emerged for
the English. Credit-based purchase of slaves was becoming more
important as the trade expanded.102 A war between colonial and
British legislatures began in the 1720s.103 Local laws designed to aid
indebted planters were annulled by London, which, in turn, passed
laws supporting creditors. Merchants and planters lobbied parliament
and then the Board of Trade during the course of several episodes
of conict over colonial bills. In 1732 the government settled the
issue with the Colonial Debts Act and thereby stamped its author-
ity on the credit system. The British state had withdrawn from direct
participation in the trade, but its prerogative in management of the
trade remained and was, in some ways, even augmented by its con-
solidation of the terms of credit.
The French state had been so assertive in the development of the
Code Noir and lexclusif. Yet, it did not establish a uniform legal basis
for credit.104 Laws varied throughout the French Antilles. Consequently,
debtors encountered diculty in identifying bankers who could feel
condent acting as guarantors. Instead, lines of credit were estab-
lished in the islands themselves, according to local agreements. Often
slaving captains remained after a voyage to broker such agreements
and to directly sell their cargo. It was in other ways that the French
state eased its grip on slavery. As was the case with Britain, it was
a matter of changing the form of intervention, not withdrawing from
it. The old regime could maintain mercantile guidance through the
manipulation of taxes and some control over the movement of trade
through French ports.
After the Treaty of Utrecht, lexclusif was loosened slightly due to
French failure to gain the asiento. The Guinea and Senegal companies

Craton, Property and Propriety, in Brewer and Staves, Early Modern Conceptions
of Property.
Jacob M. Price, Capital and Credit in British Overseas Trade: The View from the
Chesapeake 1700 1776 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980). H. V.
Bowen, Elites, pp. 9298.
Price, Credit in the Slave Plantation Economies, in Solow, Slavery, pp.
Ibid., pp. 33135.
180 chapter six

were disbanded and trade opened to all French mariners. Trading

was limited to French vessels, of course, and to French ports only.
Nantes, Rouchelle and Bordeaux enjoyed the prosperity that the
slave-based sugar industry and the general growth of international
commerce brought.105 After 1741 the trade was permitted in all
French ports. This brought little benet to planters. Arguably, the
main beneciaries of trades between the Antilles and France were
merchant interests in the port cities on Frances Atlantic coast.106
Moreover, increased taxes designed to capture for the state the fruits
of expanding and prosperous trades provoked revolts in Guadaloupe
and Martinique in 1715.107 Colonial governors quelled the unrest.
But, it would emerge again, later. They felt the pressure of a grow-
ing colonial order in the Caribbean and were willing to make tem-
porary concessions. But, at the height of the imperial apparatus,
there was little immediate compromise. Exception was made for
French merchants who during the eighteenth century increasingly
enjoyed free tradebut within a framework of national monopoly.
The situation mostly favoured merchants over planters and the bal-
ance did not change substantially after the Seven Years War. Rivalry
with the British swelled, placing the Caribbean planter in a stronger
position.108 Freedom to trade with the enemy during the war itself
made the planters accustomed to some choice, which had to con-
tinue. Also, the value of the Caribbean possessions grew as a result
of the loss of Canada. During the postwar period, further re-growth
of the trade soothed antagonistic traders. At that point, the regime
in Paris was able to relax lexclusif.
Perhaps the most signicant role remaining for the state was out-
right protection of trade routes. Indeed, even when direct state
involvement seemed diminished, the potential deployment of a naval
presence to defend colonial interests often still remained. The condence
of producers, colonial administrators, merchants and investors in the

Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade 14401870
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), pp. 25155.
Fernand Braudel argues that raw and processed materials could be passed
further through European markets by these same merchants. The multiplier eect
would augment their prots. Meanwhile, merchants could ship goods back to the
islands at far higher prices and thereby prot from the return trade. See The Wheels
of Commerce, pp. 27578.
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 29597.
Robert L. Stein, The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century: An Old Regime
Business (Madison, WI: University of Winsconsin Press, 1979), pp. 2934.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 181

diplomatic and naval capacities of their state was a mark of its

strength, even where more direct forms of involvement were not in
evidence.109 This was not the case in the early years when Spain
dominated the Atlantic. Spanish treaties drawn up with the French
in 1559 and the British in 1604 had placed America beyond the
line. Only Spanish claims to territory had any legal status.110 Norms
that applied to international conduct in Europe were suspended in
the American zone. British and French adventurers were free to
act as they willed. But they could expect no defence from their gov-
ernments and the Spanish reserved the right to expel them. The
treaties slowly lost their worth after the Anglo-Spanish War, when
Spain could no longer enforce them. Naval protection increased in
step with the growth in armed conict between the French and the
British. Slave-based capitalist growth required the combined spon-
sorship of the state and of economic agents, guaranteeing both good
security and good commercial conditions.111 The former rose in
prominence as the century wore on. It did not involve merely the
provision of naval protection. Legal security of titles (and labor) and
of the authority of commercial and political institutions in the colonies
rested ultimately on the state acting as guarantor. But enforcement
of those things required the mobilization of naval power in the con-
text of erce economic and political competition. This was costly
and none bar slavers and sugar planters could aord to pay for it.
Moreover, skirmishes between French and British naval expeditions
during the three Anglo-French wars of the seventeenth century did
great damage to both planter property and marine forces.112 This
doubled the expense of military protection for those involved in slav-
ery. Clearly, only imperial navies had sucient means to provide
this. After the Peace of Utrecht, it looked like only the British and
the French governments could aord the costs. The Dutch, and
nally the Spanish, found the price too high and they were unable
to maintain their share of the slave trade. After the Treaty of Utrecht,
the eld was mainly left to the French and the British.
Slavery in these two transatlantic empires was a catalyst of capi-
talisms development. It was highly protable. It provided the fuel

Mancke, Empire and State, in Armitage and Braddick, The British Atlantic
World, pp. 18283.
R. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, pp. 1112.
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, p. 507.
R. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves, pp. 2223.
182 chapter six

for signicant consumer markets for Europe.113 Its impact, in terms

of quickening capitalist development, was not limited to its acceler-
ation of urban growth.114 It was highly productive and contributed
substantially to many domains of capitalist accumulation, if Robin
Blackburns case is to be believed.115 The Caribbean was perceived
as an economic prize; the Brazilian gold mines and the northern
continents plantations not far behind. For the French, maintaining
them meant sustaining a heavy involvement, even if mercantilist reg-
ulation was lightened over the course of the early eighteenth cen-
tury. English merchants had a much freer hand. Yet, during this
phase of Anglo-French rivalry, dependence on marine forces was
universal. While the French-British contest was global, the American
theatre was the most important. But, it was also a test of two national
models of capitalist development. In each, the state had a sizeable
interest. Each empire had similar shares in slaving and in the
transatlantic industries dependent on slaves such as sugar, coee and
cotton.116 Where capitalism grew, the visible hand of the state was
never far away.
Mercantilism and slavery prompted debates about trade, especially
at the summit of the British state. Open debates became impassioned
after the 1688 Revolution, perhaps because England was in the ascen-
dancy in the world economy. Planters put the case for less restricted
trade to the Board of Trade in 1711. Government interest had been
augmented by the Boards formation and the passage of a further
Navigation Act in 1696. However, the England Company, the
Merchant Adventurers of London and the Muscovy Company had
already been divested of their respective monopolies. The impetus
for more liberal conditions of trade existed and produced results.
What makes this an era in which mercantilism constituted the whole
eld of economic philosophy was the terms of debate. Contention
revolved around the institutional and regulatory structuring of trade.
Without doubt, the lines of dispute ran from monopolists to free traders.

See Carole Shammas, The Revolutionary Impact of European Demand for
Tropical Goods, in McCusker and Morgan, The Early Modern Atlantic Economy.
See, for the British case, Paul E. Clemens The Rise of Liverpool 16651750,
Economic History Review 29, no. 2 (1976).
See also an early essay in transatlantic economic history by D. A. Farnie,
The Commercial Empire of the Atlantic 16071783, The Economic History Review
15, no. 2 (1962).
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, pp. 47
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 183

However, mercantilism dened the eld of disputation as one about

the regulation of trade and the nuances of opinion were geared to
this question. Institutional support from the state was not in dispute,
simply the form that it should take. The ideological eld was steadily
reorganized as the Abolitionist position grew in prominence. Slaving
was then fought over as a moral as well as economic problem. But,
by this time, Britains supremacy in the world economy was clear
and its creed of political economy was unhindered free trade.
For France there were two reasons for introducing slave labor.117
Firstly, the colony in Louisiana was failing in the early part of the
eighteenth century. It was established as an oceanic outlet for Canada
and not a colony with a separate raison detre.118 It also fronted on
to St Domingue with which it had social and cultural links. Yet its
place in French America was not secured. It was far removed from
any signicant French military outpost. The Middle Mississippi was
Louisianas frontier society. Only when it was incorporated as a regal
colony did it gain a governing centre. Its population was quite
Francophonic in its cultural and even agricultural practices.119 All
the while, however, it resorted to shifting alliances with local Indian
nations and with other European powers. It had its own internal
coalitions of villages and communities that oscillated.120 Up to 1717
its population was not sustainable. The initiative to place the colonies
under the tutelage of Says Compagnie des Indies led to an experiment
in the importation of engages. It was obvious by the early 1720s that
indentured labor also had failed. The Code Noir was made law in
1724 with the intention of resolving the demographic hiatus through
the introduction of slavery. This distinguished it from Frances other
continental colonies. Imperial authorities remained absolutely deci-
sive in all major decisions (including the decision to persist in colo-
nization) prior to and after the Compagnie took control. The presence
of all Europeans settled around the Mississippi Delta was an artefact
of French aspirations to a continental empire that were embodied
in the Louisiana colony. As a regal enterprise, it must have seemed

Eccles, France in America, chap. 6.
Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 192202.
See Carl J. Ekberg, French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in
Colonial Times, Urbana and Chicago (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998).
F. Quinn, The French Overseas Empire, pp. 7276.
184 chapter six

always a failure and the introduction of slavery was designed to bol-

ster its agging fortunes.
The second reason relates to the Caribbean and it was commer-
cial. The development of sugar planting necessitated the use of large-
scale slave labor. Sugar was expensive, but extraordinarily protable.
The greatest singular threat to this trade was war. During the eight-
eenth century wars with Spain and Britain, French commerce in the
Atlantic sea-lanes suered terribly. Conversely, its prosperity during
years of peace was remarkable. The Ministry of Marine and the
French navy were essential vehicles of protection; they guaranteed
the course of trade in both directions. In addition, the provision of
militia and scientic corps to pursue the development of improved
crop varieties registered as other forms of imperial involvement.121
This vital support came at a price for the planters, the continuation
of lexclusif, which delivered conditions that were visibly less favourable
than those oered by Dutch or North American merchants.122 It
angered planters in Martinique and Guadaloupe. But it helped nance
the monarchys ventures.
The application of the French mercantilist system was selective
and quite deliberate. Exemptions, privileges and bounties beneted
merchants from Nantes and Bordeaux who traded both in shares
and the goods produced by their labor. This policy was strategic. It
was also open to alteration. As Laws system receded, the metropolis
withdrew from its constant assault on colonial interests. This was
an admission of planter autonomy and it emboldened the colonial
order. Colonial economies were essential for the French state and
could not be gambled with. The value of the islands was staggering
and put the slaver-based colonial order in a strong position. The
sugar trade constituted more than half of Frances overall exports.
St Domingue by itself provided the world with two-fths of the
worlds sugar and more than half its coee.123 This was well in excess
of production in the British West Indies. While production and trade
in the British West Indies was well integrated into the empires
structure of urban manufacturing and commercialized agriculture,

James A. McLellan, Colonialism and Science: St Domingue in the Old Regime (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University, 1993).
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, p. 431.
These calculations are made from gures presented by Frederick Quinn in
The French Overseas Empire, p. 83.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 185

the same process in the French Antilles depended on an economy

of ostentatious consumption in Frances public sphere which in turn
depended on Caribbean production for its continued existence:
The splendour of the French Court helped to advertise and promote
such luxury products, setting a standard for the aristocracy and haute
bourgeoisie throughout the continent. At Versailles Louis XIV, without
intending it, had built a showcase for the exotic produce of the plan-
tations: chocolate served from gleaming silver pots, snu taken from
elegant little boxes, banqueting tables spread with elaborate sugar con-
fections. The plantations were to add mercantile zest to an Ancien
Regime that might otherwise have sunk into lethargy.124
The life of the French court state was directly dependent on main-
taining its hold on imperial aairs. When France lost all else in
North America, it clung to its Caribbean possessions. The state was
heavy-handed in the transatlantic business. But, like its British rival,
it was able to bring about a retreat from policies implemented in
its slave-based economy, when self-interest dictated.

Between empires: capital and the rivalry of states after Westphalia

Slavery helped to breed struggle amongst states. Piracy was con-

centrated on this area early on. It gave way to a general contra-
band trade in slaves. Although illegal, it was widespread and it
generally beneted planters looking for a cheaper source of labor.
The slave trade was a signicant cause of war in the Caribbean. It
was a patch in the mosaic of Western Europes rivalries. The com-
petition of states aicted the whole Atlantic world. Europe at this
time was embroiled in alliance building and armed conict on land
and at sea.
How states strategically engaged imperial competition depended
also on domestic conditions. Relationships with the capitalist classes
were vital.125 Mercantile regimes brought the court state and private
capital closer together in a partnership of sorts. Yet, it too was fraught
with tension. Western European states encountered two strategic
dilemmas in their anities with capital that haunted them until the

Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery, p. 301.
This passage takes Immanuel Wallersteins work as a source. See Historical
Capitalism (London: Verso, 1983).
186 chapter six

nineteenth century. Firstly, they had their own interests generalized

over and abstracted from those of particular capitalists. Secondly,
they had to adjudicate between dierent and sometimes competing
fractions of private capital, which petitioned in favor of either pro-
tectionist or free trade policies, or a combination of the two. In the
relationship between capital and the state, the latter had its own
concerns. Its own military and imperial projects and the sustenance
of the body etat gave it a form of universalist social organization all
of its own.
Mercantilism was a strategic stance that addressed contradictory
and complex situations confronting governments. At times, it kindled
internal tensions between the state apparatus and conglomerations
of capital, especially amongst those capitalist interests that were par-
ticularly keen on reducing the costs of production and increasing
productivity. At the commanding heights of mercantile institutions,
the struggle over markets and geography seldom fell from sight.
Hence, its strategies were generally informed by mercantile and inter-
national nancial and military movements, rather than by the espe-
cial interests of specic industries. From here, the struggle between
states in economy, diplomacy, war and politics was of paramount
importance and shaped the responses of states to intra-state, intra-
imperial and international events.
However, at the same time, the reactions of Western states were
also modied by their relationships with competing aggregates of
capital. Interests and perceptions of interests conicted and alter-
nated. Leading merchant interests tended to favor the liberalization
of trade, which would give them access to more markets. Against
them were arrayed less productive producers who cherished mono-
polies of trade and labor. The strategies of mercantilism were also
informed by this conict between merchant classes to the extent that
the benets of national and, more importantly, imperial monopolies
had to be balanced against the particular concerns of leading, active
economic potentates. The resolution of this second dilemma was not
set hard and fast at any particular point, but was variable and open
to re-negotiation, depending on changing circumstances or a re-
guration of the interests of private capital, or both.
The eectiveness of regulatory instruments was also jeopardized
by circumstances in the Americas. The propensity of colonial ocials
to circumvent imperial ordinances and the ability of competing states
to break them were signicant inuences. Thus, the imperial state
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 187

was caught in a double bind: it had to ensure mercantile economic

cohesion, maintain the growth of internal markets, seal the increase
in wages (especially during periods of recession of trade) and compete
with major rivals. In order to do this, it had to, on one hand, weigh
broad imperial and colonial needs against specic private inuences
and, on the other, balance conicting private interests themselves.
How dierent states responded to these sometimes-contradictory
impulses framed their strategies within the international system of states.
The economic infrastructure of empires therefore developed in a
context of rivalry between the main powers inuenced internally by
relations with capital. The competition of states in the early modern
period over trade, colonial expansion and supply had economic and
military dimensions that are dicult to separate. While the Dutch
and Spanish gured in the core activities of sixteenth century trade,
the prime economic and military contest in Europe after that was
between Britain and France. Considerations of international and
intra-imperial trade inuenced the mercantile regimes that each state
respectively adopted. Furthermore, military concerns abetted the aims
and designs of mercantile policies, at least in the inter-imperial arena.
Through fashioning and renovating mercantile institutions and through
imperial expansion, France and Britain located themselves in positions
of strategic confrontation in trade, military contests and conquest of
This was the time when the stakes of economic and strategic pre-
eminence were raised in the Atlantic world. Englands competitive
resources developed earlier. A number of internal peculiarities placed
England in a fortuitous strategic position. By the beginning of the
eighteenth century, certain features of English economic life were
well developed. Transport systems had been transformed. Exotic
luxury goods held widespread appeal. Mass economic demand under-
wrote the market economy. English banking aggregated capital in
ways that Dutch nancial institutions never did in the previous cen-
tury. The universal spread of commodities throughout the British
Isles had brought a more consummate uniformity to the English
national economy. The compact and dense character of British eco-
nomic life permitted the constitutional state to play a greater role
in regulating trade between England and its early colonial posses-
sions, and within the world economy as a whole. Domestically, a
relatively high state integration of economic life supported a strat-
egy of developing capitalist institutions.
188 chapter six

This situation was slower to emerge in eighteenth century France

for three reasons. The lethargic pace of the development of capi-
talism and land enclosure can be attributed to the relative lack of
structural integration of the provincial and municipal order, elements
of Frances geographic tyranny and the higher level of resistance
amongst French rural communities for whom the land of the laboureur
was crucial. It was through Colbertism that the French monarchy
had hoped to compete. Colbertism as a type of mercantilism was
characterized by its ability to reorganize the French state around the
imperatives of war. Colberts internal restructuring of its scal machin-
ery had furnished the state as a whole with far greater resources.
However, it did more than this. The reconstruction of the appara-
tus also transformed the techniques that it employed to raise funds.
Reform involved a redistribution of income and resources from the
tax-farming oces of the fermiers and the traitantsa signicant sec-
tion of the scal machine which sat in a provincial relationship to
the monarchyto more productive enterprises that fullled mer-
cantile objectives, even if only indirectly. Industrial, agricultural and
trade enterprises beneted enormously from monarchical patronage
during Louis XIVs reign. In return, they provided a base for the
French monarchys military ventures. Royal industries in France
helped the state generate its own sources of revenue and capital
whilst expanding and dening the structures of mercantile economy.
In the late 1680s, an additional program of reform was instituted in
response to the growing threat of war and religious strife that fol-
lowed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.126 The monarchys ambi-
tions and projects were only possible due to the reservoir of resources.
Frances mercantile achievements were limited in one further respect
during this era: they did not complete the unication of Frances
economic interior. Dierent regulations, or at least dierent eects
of existing legislation on diverse regions, lessened the impulses towards
a national economy. However, by the mid-eighteenth century an
appreciation of Frances economy as a national market did exist:
It seems to be at this point, in the 1760s, the French elitesthe intel-
lectuals, the bureaucrats, the agronomists, the industrialists, and the
politiciansbegan to express the feeling that they were somehow behind
Great Britain and began to thrash about for ways to catch up.

John C. Rule, Royal Revisions of the French Central Government in the
1690s, in Adcock et al., Revolution.
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 189

In light of our current knowledge, such an impression was probably

exaggerated, but that does not eace its impact on the social and
political behaviour of the time.127
With the support of private capital, the ruling classes of the Wests
imperial states were able to carve out territorial cores bound by insti-
tutional restrictions and regulations of production, trade and exchange.
In these historical circumstances, the competition between states
became increasingly more intensive in the theatres of war and the
markets of trade. Mercantilism acted as a philosophy in this inter-
imperial sphere. In this game, there were certain accepted wisdoms
about how to gain ascendancy over a rival. To be a leading power,
the productivity and availability of economic resources had to be
such that few other competing powers could match it. The next
imperative for the foremost powermainly Britain from the early
eighteenth centurywas the relative freedom of markets for the
movement of resources, goods and services. This could be ensured
through counter-balancing internal barriers to commerce and labor
with programs of liberalization in imperial trade. Hence, mercan-
tilist uniformity within borders became the mandatory, even if dicult,
program of the major states. Externally, these strategies were adopted
to tackle market movements, growth and contraction. For the French
court state, gaining uniformity remained the central economic labor.
British mercantilism was also driven on by the intensied inter-
connectedness of European states. Its advantage lay in its own inter-
nal order. By the late seventeenth century, when Colbert was beginning
to grapple with the problem of coherence in regulations, England
was starting to look like a major economic entity composed of the
nexus of London nanciers and merchants, rural industrialists and
agriculturalists and a solid, but slender, apparatus. By establishing
mercantile conditions of production and exchange, the British were
securing the general relationship between London and the rest of
the world and delineating its central location within the Empire. It
was orienting the mercantile alliance of capital and the state to the
overall processes of creating capitalism in a country with expanding
colonial concerns. Hence, it converted its mercantile policies to new
areas: joint stock companies, credit provisions, a system of insurance,
protection of agriculture and cultivation of its stock markets. All of

Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, p. 73.
190 chapter six

these were institutions of imperial economic expansion fashioned by

the British state that brought it directly into a certain mutually
benecial partnership with private capital.
This relationship was never fully achieved in France. For the
English it meant that the costs and general responsibility for colo-
nial possessions did not lie with the state alone. Londons nancial
interests shared that responsibility. Unhindered by the imperatives
of infrastructural unication the British could devote their energies
to pursuing their inter-continental trading interests. Its outward per-
spective and its management of mercantilism distinguished Britain
from France, where mercantilism had subsequently consolidated the
court states authority, but could not go immediately further.
Ocials drew up imperial directives mindful of this rivalry. Not
only did they have to respond to the manoeuvres of other powers;
they had to balance the perspectives of their own wealthy and pow-
erful elites. Not only did they have to consider the weighty inuence
of military commanders, leading industrialists and parliamentary and
judicial factions; they had to incorporate the views of colonial author-
ities, especially leading slavers. There is little doubt that the highest
representatives of the empire in the colonies, especially at the guber-
natorial level, had a transatlantic orientation that rose above local
concerns. However, for British ocials stationed in America, the
communities of colonists were potent constituencies, just as they were
for ocials back in London. Not all the interests of these sometimes-
intricate societies were represented in the institutionalized colonial
order. Where the elites of colonial institutions objected to the empires
cadre or simply deed them, or even where they merely passed
gubernatorial or viceregal ordinances, they distinguished themselves
as leaders of structures that were separate from the metropolitan
apparatus. They were caught between the ministers responsible for
the colonies and their inhabitants.


Capitalism as a dimension of Atlantic modernity is treated in this

long chapter. Three arguments specied in the opening chapter are
elucidated in detail. First of all, there is a contribution to debates in
the social sciences about where to place capitalism in world history.
A fuller understanding of its development obliges a longer view of
transatlantic empires in the formation of capitalism 191

history, a conclusion reached some time ago by macrosociologists.

But the move to extend its chronology is insucient. The analysis
of the spatial scope of its formation also must be amplied. It never
originated as an entirely European world system. It was instead an
Atlantic one, before it went global. This thesis is stated in the intro-
duction and is implicit at every stage of this chapter. The evidence
to support this thesis lies in several developments that are summa-
rized in the pages above: the extraordinary growth of Atlantic trade
and capital, the close strategic attention paid by imperial adminis-
trators to the colonies during key periods, the intensity and reach of
networks and linkages created in transatlantic economic activity and
the invention of colonial slavery, a vast form of highly productive
labor connected directly with the Americas.
Next, the notion of mercantilism is revived to help re-think the
historical relationship of Western European states to the institution
of capitalist social relations. Mercantilism is taken to refer to domes-
tic and imperial infrastructures that promoted economic expansion.
Governments and the permanent apparatus of states constituted them-
selves as co-founders of capitalism by guaranteeing the essential com-
ponents of intercontinental economic expansion: the provision of
legal, military and nancial security of trade; the establishment of
pioneering enterprises; the centralization of banking and nance; the
regulation of waged, indentured and coerced modes of labor and
programs of standardized laws and regulations that governed trade.
The infrastructure provided and watched over by imperial states had
a unifying eect on the Atlantic. It connected northern and central
to western Africa, and then to South and North American ports and
the Caribbean, and nally to Atlantic cities in north-western Europe.
This unifying tendency was always qualied by the tension of impe-
rial state formation. The struggle for autonomy was simultaneously
an economic as well as strategic and political one for the colonial
order in Anglo-America, the Spanish Indies and the French Empire.
Many mercantilist strategies drafted by royal and governmental admin-
istrators had to respond to colonial demands, as well as to private
capitalist interests and the imperatives of inter-imperial rivalry.
Finally, a minor problematic in this chapter is the cultural side of
early Atlantic capitalism. It fostered calculative rationality in eco-
nomic actionrationality in the sense intended by Weber. Exact
accounting practices, more sophisticated long-range credit and insurance
arrangements, precise estimation of inputs and outputs of production,
192 chapter six

close and disciplining supervision of labor and an imperative to pre-

dict sometimes far-o future economic movements are the compo-
nents of this calculative culture. Slavery had a special place in this
consolidation of the premises of rationalized economy action. The
merchant-bourgeois orientation that emerged in the slaving economy
resembled supposed market behaviour celebrated in neo-liberal eco-
nomics and rational choice theory. It is more soberly viewed as a
cultural type that coexists with other conceptions of economic agency.
Culture, therefore, is relative to place and circumstance. The ratio-
nalities evident in slave-related industries were embedded in modes
of living that varied from one colonial region to another. The villa
ethos found in the Carolinas plantations did not exist in the severe
and authoritarian culture of the colonial order in the French and
British Caribbean. A climate of racial fear plagued the settler-planter
colonial order there. Slave-owners reacted with regular repression.
Despite this, a space existed for hybrid and Creolized sub-cultures
that arose from slave and freed Africans communities. This had a
cultural impact on capitalist development as surely as the expres-
sions of rational conduct by merchants, producers and nanciers did.
In this sense, cultures contextualized the development of capitalism
as well as being forms of engagement with it.
All this goes to suggest that colonial societies turned out full-bodied
communities. Their engagement with the early international capitalist
economy was a sphere of life strongly interrelated with their integration
into Empire. In this way, colonial communities were more intricate
than they might appear to be. Indeed, the colonial order was caught
up in a knot of competing interests, crammed between European
authorities (and the civilization they represented) and the character
of their American domains. The next chapter delves into this complexity
in the French, British and Spanish empires and returns the line of
argument in this book to the problematic of imperial state formation.


The American possessions extended the administrative and economic

resources of the masters of the British, French and Spanish empires.
Distance between the chief European authorities and the lands that
lay under their auspices undermined the capacity of their local rep-
resentatives to eectively implement imperial law. The problem of
government from afar was created for the imperial bodies responsi-
ble for trade, intendancy and regal representation. Furthermore, con-
solidation of distinct loci of command that addressed problems that
appeared in dissimilar social and ecological environments furthered
the strain on government. Legislative and executive initiatives were
often ineective. However, distance also drove colonists into a rela-
tionship of relative dependence on existing structures. This made it
possible for imperial authorities to enact laws, ordinances and decrees
of royal government. The result was tension-laden government whose
sovereign rule was limited by a permanent gap between the de jure
authority and de facto power. At the same time, it provided oppor-
tunities for colonists to variously seek to create or capture institu-
tional autonomies at the lower and local end of the structures of
empires. This tension marked each of the Atlantic empires and was
present from their inception through to their overthrow.


A comparative notion of the colonial order can convey how this ten-
sion set conditions for colonists in Hispanic French and British
America. The colonial order can be dened negatively and posi-
tively. In negative and residual terms it can be conceptualized as
local or conned communities that are subject to distant government
by bodies headquartered in Europe. Positively, it can be discerned
in the capacity of communities to actively forge their own institu-
tions, outlooks and connections with each other. The manner in
which this occurred varied widely. It diered considerably from
French Canada to the British North Americas and between the
194 chapter seven

Caribbean and the southern viceroyalties. However, the relationships

of dierent colonial communities to imperial apparatus were suciently
similar to warrant comparison. In this section, the chief similarity
that I focus on is the structures of colonial power.
The general character of the colonial order can now be spelt out
and the distinctiveness of its existence re-iterated. In the North Ame-
rican colonies and the Indies, the colonial order formed in circum-
stances quite unlike those of Europe. It fashioned its own institutions
outside of the sphere of mercantilism and gubernatorial superinten-
dence. The colonial societies it was embedded in variously diverged
from the dominant national characteristics of Spain, England and
France, either as an initial rejection of the home culture or in an
attempt to preserve the culture as it was remembered. Puritan New
England is an instance of the rst trend, while Peru exemplies the
second. Whether marked by degrees of cultural rejection or preser-
vation, the colonial order in its dierent guises tended towards the
formation of its own identities. This brought communities up against
the structures and ethos of empire. This contestatory stance was
closed o for the provincial and municipal order back in Europe,
due to its regional and corporatist character. In contrast, the colo-
nial order could develop through generating new institutions which
were less easily subsumed by the monarchical apparatus or sub-
merged within the latters own institutions. Thus colonial commu-
nities were able to confront the imperial state in ways the provincial
and municipal order of European absolutism was not.
In the Indies, the colonial order was formed in the most tension-
ridden location of the Spanish empire. It spread Hispanic civiliza-
tion in the Americas, even as it was quite ambivalent in its relationship
to Spain. Its ambivalence appeared at the inception of the colonies
and lasted through to independence. In adapting to the American
world, settlers developed a Creole association with the land and with
a style of life. They fashioned a localized outlook and a sense of their
own history that echoed through the administrative colonial order.1
There were three institutional areas in which contestatory colonial
orders formed in the Spanish Empire and gave political expression

On sixteenth century Creole consciousness, see Beatriz Pastor Bodmer, The Armature
of Conquest: Spanish Accounts of the Discovery of America 14921589, trans. Lydia Longstreth
Hunt (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992).
communities of the colonial order 195

to this ambivalence: the encomienda, Spanish-Americas cities and local

administrative institutions that were the sources of conict between
viceregal representatives and colonists.
The colonial order was initially constituted by the early develop-
ment of the encomienda system of labor and production which was
intended to limit the independence of Spains conqueror-warriors:
Left to themselves, (the conquistadores) would have probably settled in
loose communities, employing the feudal terms which already were
anachronisms in Spain, exploiting the Indians as the needs of the
moment dictated, and according verbal homage but little else to the
Crown. The rulers of Spain never for a moment thought of allowing
such a state of aairs to persist. In the late fteenth and early six-
teenth centuries the Crown, with considerable bloodshed and expense,
had cut the claws of the great feudal houses, of the knightly orders
and of the privileged local corporations. A growing royal absolutism
could not tolerate the emergence of a new feudal aristocracy overseas.2
The re-dispersal of authority through grants of labor (encomienda) made
by the conquerors to their followers entrenched colonial autonomy.
The encomienda was a post-feudal arrangement of power and labor
that echoed Spains medieval past.3 Hispanic legal tradition of the
day ordered territorial jurisdiction by the fact of occupation.4 Where
communities established a pattern of occupation, they could exercise
authority. In the Colonial Americas, this meant that settled areas
were not fully recognized as the jurisdiction of local bodies by dint

Parry, The Age of Reconnaisance, pp. 22223.
On the encomienda see Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires, pp. 2224; James Lockhart,
Spanish Peru 15321560: A Colonial Society (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press,
1968; McAlister, Spain and Portugal, chap. 8; Seed, American Pentimetnto, chap. 4. On
its social origins in the Americas and the ongoing conict with the Crown, see
Claudio Esteva Fabregat, La Corona Espanola y el Indio Americano (Valencia: Association
Francisco Lopez de Gomara, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 23132, and vol. 2, pp. 1025.
Fabregat casts this as an extractive, but strictly post-feudal relational form:
Territorial property, the encomienda, and on it the Indian settlements, were
shaping the seigniorial ideal and he (the encomienderoJS) was converted into
a privileged vassal of the King. Although less than the coalescence of a feu-
dal ideal, and although its productive organization was based on the personal
service of the Indians, the encomienda could not escape the uctuations of a soci-
ety that was moving in the direction of gold, of precious metals, of pearls and
of money and material gain and that, therefore, with its demands and its mate-
rial attractions continuously extracts from the Indians their obligations to the
encomienderos (p. 232).
See Tamar Herzog, The Meaning of Territory: Colonial Standards and Modern
Questions in Ecuador, in Roniger and Waisman, Globality and Multiple Modernities.
196 chapter seven

of those bodies presence. Sovereignty by legal right did not exist in

law. Consequently, the grant of labor associated the Indians with a
community that was headed by the patriarchal gure of the encomiendero.
This implied authority, but also left the issue ambiguous as other bod-
ies such as audiencias and cabildos could also claim jurisdiction. Thus,
this reection of feudalism brought the encomiendero little satisfaction.
The encomienda entailed a grant of indigenous laborers to the con-
quering class who were entrusted with their general welfare. Later,
the right to tribute was added.5 It also charged the church with a
responsibility for their spiritual and material wellbeing of the Indians.
However, the Church had no direct economic interest in their exploita-
tion and could focus on their spiritual conversion. Thus, one set of
identiable interests was established for secular settlers and another
for the missions. In the early sixteenth century, the protestations of
theologians about the mistreatment of indigenous communities brought
action from the court in Madrid. The encomienda drew a sharp reac-
tion from Dominican missionaries in particular, prompting the Crown
to enact the Laws of Burgos in 1512. They failed to halt the assign-
ment of trusteeships in New Spain, New Granada and Peru. The
Crown renewed its eorts to ban the institution with the 1542 New
Laws. This too failed to meet its intentions and resulted only in the
codication of social relationships that already existed in order to
bring regulation to the use of indigenous labor. Over time, the Indians
would acquire the status of vassals of the Crown. Even though a
revolt in Peru against the New Laws failed, they remained ineective
vis--vis their stated intention.
For the rulers of the empire, there was a grave dilemma.6 Sub-
jugation of the interior required the support of encomienderos on the
frontier. Yet, the encomiendero domination of the aboriginal inhabitants
countered the Catholic doctrine of benevolence and the proselytiz-
ing inclinations of the clergy, though all of them shared in the same
Catholic faith. But their ideological understanding of the rights and

Robert Himmerich y Valencia argues that this was its main purpose in New Spain,
The Encomienderos of New Spain 15211555 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991).
In the discussion of the encomienda that follows, a debt must be acknowledged
to the treatment of these problems in three works. Claudio Velizs argument about
the legislative contradiction in the constitution and development of the Spanish
Indies and about its decline can be found in The Centralist Tradition, pp. 5169.
Shorter, but valuable, contributions are Parry, The Establishment of the European Hegemony,
pp. 5764; and Kiernan, State and Society in Europe 15501650, pp. 4546.
communities of the colonial order 197

duties of the Hispanic social order was at variance with clerical opin-
ion. Their representations to the Crown indicate a belief that Indian
tribute was their natural right. The laws did not succeed as intended
at this time. An institutional compromise of sorts emerged between
an imperial apparatus trying to contain a new colonial elite within
the bounds of its objective of expansion and an unrestrained con-
queror elite. Spains court state tolerated forced labor in a limited
form because it satised the conquerors and opened up the interior
of Mexico and the Andes.
The legal traits reected the tension of imperial state formation.
Jurism was a central principle of Spains philosophy of empire and
so the dispute over the encomienda was bound to nd legal expres-
sion. The Crown could endure it to a certain point only, and then
attempted to abolish it. Part of its motivation was to curtail colonist
tendencies to relative independence. But more was involved. The
encomienda presented the legal apparatus with a paradox. Indians were
declared a free people in law. Nevertheless, they were assigned in a
kind of bondage to encomiendero functionaries who had no jurisdic-
tional authority over them, but who represented the empire that did.
Furthermore, in law, the encomienderos were subjects without seigneur-
ial authority, but with responsibility for the tasks of education, employ-
ment and protection of indentured Indians. They were thereby
furnished with the autonomy to improvise, which they had to and
which they did. The encomienda generated a tension between the legal
constitution of the empire and the pressing reality of frontier social
formation.7 It was a means through which Indian liberty could be
recognized de jure, whilst centralized control over the grant of
encomienda could be pursued. Hostilities between the encomienderos and
their opponents were the target of imperial legislation. The former
interpreted the laws as a guarantee of the continuity of labor. For
the latter, they seemed to promise regulation. By the early seven-
teenth century, a voluminous body of legislation had been compiled
and catalogued by Spanish jurists. It was published in 1681 as the
Recopilacion de leyes de los reinos de las indias. In the compilation appeared

The application of the encomienda itself varied signicantly in dierent social and
ecological conditions. For a long-standing study of the distinctive case of Paraguay,
see Elman R. Service, The Encomienda in Paraguay, in David J. Weber and
Jane M. Rausch, eds., Where Cultures Meet: Frontiers in Latin America (Wilmington:
Scholarly Resources, 1994).
198 chapter seven

a new law nalising the relationship with South Americas indigenes

by prohibiting all war against them.8
Culturally, the conquerors developed independently of Spanish
jurism. The frontier mind, cultivated by the experiences of conquest
and colonization, turned itself to issues of property and seigniorage.
There was a cultural dimension to the conquistador class that was pro-
jected through the outlook of the Creole colonial order.9 Creole life
survived the demise of the encomienda system. It lived o myths of
an American antiquity that developed in the wake of the defeat of
Mesoamerican cultures. One of the crucial elements of the consti-
tution of the Spanish Empire was the suppression of indigenous cul-
tures. In this, the church, which had variously contested the encomienderos
treatment of Indian labor, played a crucial part. A bi-product was
the generation of a Creole Catholicism. The church furnished the
rationale for the suppression of indigenous oral traditions (and thereby
ethnic memory), the criminalization of their script and the abolition
of their calendars. Its mission was to monopolize the sacred, or at
least to try to. As a result, heritage and memory of the Indian past
was eroded, while in the conquered present indigenous cultures were
transformed by enactment of these measures. They were not exter-
minated, nor were they suppressed in an even pattern. They proved
resilient.10 Their survival was quite unmistakable in the Andean region.
In post-Mesoamerican New Spain cultural exchange occurred between
peninsular and Creole power and abiding conquered Indian cultures.11
The latter survived there by absorbing features of the former thereby
redening itself. To be sure, this form of acculturation was two-fold.
It was based on an interaction of two changing cultural worlds,
although this was far from symmetrical. Indeed, the loss of the Aztec
Empire had been catastrophic for Indian society in the sixteenth cen-
tury. The conquerors eectively froze the symbols of the Mesoamerican
world in the distant past. Set at a distance, Aztec icons and rituals

Zavala, New Viewpoints, p. 46. On the history of the Recopilacion, see McAlister,
Spain and Portugal, pp. 43538.
See Jose G. Merquior, El Otro Occidente: Un Poco de Filosoa de la Historia
desde Latinoamerica, Cuadernos Americanos 13 (1989).
Stuart B. Schwartz, Victors and Vanquished: Spanish and Nahua Views on the Conquest
of Mexico (Boston MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000).
See Gruzinski, The Conquest of Mexico; and Antonio Annino, The Long Seventeenth
Century in Latin America, Itinerario 21, no. 2 (1997).
communities of the colonial order 199

integrated easily into the nativized culture of Mexican-Americans.12

Creole mythologization of Christianity blended Indian folklore with
a Mexican version of Catholicism that had to coexist with indige-
nous practices. The creation of a redemptive culture yielded a provin-
cial religion that grafted myths about the pre-Conquest state onto
ancient Latin ceremonies.
The sacred fatherland proved to be a powerful component of the
created Catholicism, which would ensure its long-term growth. It
lent Creole communities a dimension of identity that was self-edifying;
namely, a cultural horizon that could clearly separate them from
both the native and Peninsular communities. Genealogy fullled this
need. After the early waves of Conquest, the encomienderos and their
heirs sought legitimacy in their ancestral heritage.13 Long tenure on
the land gave them a blood tie that they believed others could not
emulate. Their inheritance ought to include title and nobility. Once
disappointed by the Crown, they eectively invented a Creole pedi-
gree. It was based on their self-declaration of service to the new ter-
ritories that they lorded over and on an appropriation of the heroic
myth of the Aztec and Incan pasts. Amerindian warrior cultures
were readily spliced with the conquistador imagining of Creole ances-
try. In both the realms of religious and political meaning, Creoles
would adorn the symbols of Inca and the Texcocans whom their
true ancestors had vanquished. By pressing this version of the past
into the service of the present, they could ll their horizon with the
elements of an ancient heritage of virtue and a New World his-
toricity that displaced their Spanish background.14
The encomienda was the institution that had given the Spanish a
basis to monopolize the land and South Americas riches. Creole myth
was based on this collective act of conquest, although it did not
directly acknowledge this act. It was based on the premise that the

J. C. Phelan, Neo-Aztecism in the Eighteenth Century and the Genesis of
Mexican Nationalism, in Stanley Diamond, ed., Culture in History: Essays in Honor
of Paul Radin (New York: Octagon Books, 1981); Gruzinski, The Conquest of Mexico,
chap. 4.
Rene Jara and Nicholas Spadaccini, Amerindian Images and the Legacy of Columbus
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), pp. 7783.
David Brading, Patriotism and the Nation in Colonial Spanish America, in
Roniger and Sznajder, Constructing Collective Identities; Pagden, Spanish Imperialism, pp.
200 chapter seven

new nobility were no longer conquerors, but servants of the patria.

Through this cultural dimension, the colonial order could coalesce,
even with the decline of a structural underpinning such as the
encomienda system. Colonial life acquired a universalism that arose
especially in New Spain. Thus the colonial order had a history of
itself and a religious, philosophical and political basis for a separate
identity. Much later, in the nineteenth century, republican govern-
ment would feed o it and o Creole traditions of redemption. Jose
Merquior sheds light on the geometry of the post-imperial Mexican
(T)he ideological phenomenon of mestizo patriotism had a broad con-
tinental diameter . . . a catholic republicanism formed and developed,
which lent a radical face to traditional political culture, gaining at times the author-
ity of a truly Christian Jacobinism.15
The forms of labor relation that accompanied the coalescence of the
Creole position still echoed the ongoing tension between Crown and
colonists. The encomienda was in decline anyway due to the depopu-
lation of indigenous peoples that its regime of toil brought about.
Where the Crown had failed to abolish it, depopulation succeeded.
Its legal existence was expunged over time, except in Chile where
it survived until 1789. Then it was replaced by labor systems that
had coexisted with the encomienda and shared a legal link.16 These
were the repartimiento and hacienda and represented ongoing attempts
to systematically subsume Indian labor. The repartimiento was based
on a quota system of community labor. Viceregal eorts to rid the
colonies of it ran up against local resistance. Waged labor under the
hacienda appropriation of lands proved more ecient and did not
have the same deleterious eects as the other two systems. It pro-
ceeded without Crown opposition. While the colonial order did not
command the institutional powers that the encomienderos had consid-
ered their right, they did acquire the basis for personal enrichment.
Ocials of the Crown confronted an elite enriched by its agricul-
tural and mining enterprises. With this capital, privileged Creoles

Merquior, El Otro Occidente, p. 17, my translation and emphasis.
James Lockhart, Encomienda and Hacienda: The Evolution of the Great Estate
in the Spanish Indies, and Robert S. Keith, Encomienda, Hacienda and Corregimiento
in Spanish-America: A Structural Analysis, in Joyce Lorimer, ed., Settlement Patterns
in Early Modern Colonization, 16th18th centuries (Aldershot: Variorum, 1998).
communities of the colonial order 201

could procure inuence and position in the lower end of the colo-
nial structures.
The specicity of the Spanish guration is evident also in the sec-
ond institutional area listed above. American cities were initially
founded to house indigenous labor. They were a means of conquest
and were established wherever the Spanish presence went. In the
continental hinterland they imposed structured symbols of the Spanish
advance.17 When it came to the legal no-mans land, they were a
de facto authority. They were the visible, material signs of Hispanic
presence and of the permanence of European civilization. Creoles
had labored in culture for a separate self-image.
In architecture, however, they were loyal Spaniards and declared
Europeans. Settlers built with familiar Castilian designs in mind and
so cities resembled the layout and the replicated jurisdictional reach
of their Iberian equivalents. From 1573, urban planning accorded
with fresh and specic imperial directives.18 Either way the results
were similar. Cities had vital set features: a main square, jail, church,
courts, arcades and a municipal hall. The founding of a bishopric
gave the city some importance. Arches and arcades accentuated
Hispanic style in contrast to pre-Colombian shapes and outlines.
Such baroque design mirrored the relationship between the European
court state (with its representatives stationed in the colonies) and the
settler-based colonial order. The preconceived design of the city
expressed the political and ecclesiastic might of the crown, and could
set the peninsular and Creole communities apart from the Indians
and, in some ways, apart from each other:
The conquerors were advised that the shape and size of houses must
be such that would be regarded with awe and admiration by the
Indians and would convince them that the Spaniards intended to remain
forever in these places and would move them to fear and respect
[them], to seek their friendship and avoid giving them oence.19
Cities came to be much more, however. They were administrative
centres with territorial responsibilities that became politicized. It was

Carla Rahn Phillips, The Iberian Atlantic, Itinerario 23, no. 2 (1999): 9192
I am closely following Marianne Picon-Salas argument in chap. 4 of A Cultural
History of Spanish America: From Conquest to Independence, trans. Irving A. Leonard
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963). See also Fernandez-Armesto, The
Americas, pp. 4647.
Veliz, The Centralist Tradition, p. 231.
202 chapter seven

not only large cities, such as Mexico City and Lima, which constituted
themselves as centres. Others were nodes of trade and production.20
With the decline of the encomienda, Hispano-American cities increas-
ingly became a political battleground for peninsular, indio and Creole
communities. These functioned as housing for the administrative
autonomy of the settler communities, even though they were preor-
dained the incarnation of Spanish power. Through the mechanisms
of urban government, settler interests could gain a foothold in the
edice of sanctioned imperial authority in institutions beyond the
immediate control of the court state.
The audiencias (viceregal courts), the gures of the corregidor (district
mayor) and the alcalde mayor (town magistrate) and the cabildo
(urban/municipal administration) made up the legal and adminis-
trative infrastructure of cities. The colonial order coalesced in these
ocial nodes of administrative power. Positions below these prolif-
erated with the spread of the sale of oces. Control of municipali-
ties was of considerable consequence as their geographic jurisdiction
was extraordinarily large. The stakes were often quite high.
Spanish-American cities were geographically larger than their con-
tinental counterparts. As well as institutional make-up they epitomized
Castilian ideals of life. Ceremonial occasions were perennial in many
cities but their signicance for participants varied according to the
degree of friction within the viceregal territory. On one hand, they
regularly reminded witnesses of their Hispanic origins and allegiance.
However, in circumstances of disaection from the monarchs rep-
resentatives their purpose altered. They remained indispensable acts
of loyalty, but they also signalled that the colonists considered resis-
tance to laws and decrees compatible with delity to Spain. Ceremonies
performed in full panoply publicly communicated the Hispanic-ness
of Creole Americans. The splendour set against early baroque archi-
tecture also conjured up the ambiance of a near-Castilian style of
life. In this way, they were often complex and multifaceted occurrences.
City structures duplicated some aspects of the social constitution
and corporatism of their Spanish equivalents. Royal ocials intended
the charter of cities to be an especial foundational act that would

Ida Altman, Reconsidering the Center: Puebla and Mexico City 15501660,
in Daniels and Kennedy, Negotiated Empires.
communities of the colonial order 203

lead to a Hispanic civilizing of the American terrain.21 In the orig-

inal consent granted to found cities there was a marked investment
of autonomy. This was realized in proto-democratic forms with the
election of municipal representatives. While the Crown always rec-
ognized the political role of the cabildosand had to as they were
the vanguard of its civilizing missionit labored to reclaim admin-
istrative duties for higher functionaries. Mexico City, Puebla and
Lima all held the valued responsibility for the execution of justice
for a time, although only Lima could retain it permanently.22 The
decline of municipal control over time did not diminish the belief
amongst city-dwellers that they held a separate set of interests. Up
until the late eighteenth century, the reception of viceregal gures
was always accompanied by their pledge to honour the liberties
enshrined in the original consent. Pageants and public displays there-
fore armed the reciprocity of relations between non-indigenous
Americans and peninsulares. There was general recognition of monar-
chical sovereignty. But the place of the council in the structure of
state was also symbolically ratied.
The cabildos system of elected council government operated through-
out the sixteenth and most of the seventeenth centuries. At the height
of cabildo authority in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries,
the cities were crucibles of political conict. Indeed, the institutional
autonomies of the colonial order appear to be concentrated in the
urban structures. As the most assertive cabildos subsided and imper-
ial authority gained ground, the lively intrigue of Spanish-American
cities faded, with the exception of crucial mining centres.23 Afterwards,
it was supplanted by viceregal patronage. The expansion of the towns
and the peninsular assertion of monarchical authority led to the sale
of positions in local government, which then became hereditary dur-
ing the seventeenth century.24 Eventually, all oces were sold or

G. Baudot, La Coruna y la fundacion de los reinos americanus (Valencia: Association
Francisco Lopez de Gomara, 1992); and J. G. Doering and G. L. Villena, Lima
(Madrid: Editorial MAPFRE, 1992).
McLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World, pp. 22425.
See Oscar Cornblit, Power and Violence in the Colonial City: Oruro from the Mining
Renaissance to the Rebellion of Tupac Amaru 17401782, trans. Elizabeth Ladd Glick
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
For an example of the changing composition of cabildo government, see Peter
Marzahl, Creoles and Government: The Cabildo of Popayan, Hispanic American
Historical Review 54 (1974). In Mexico, the sale of oces seems to have favoured
204 chapter seven

lled by appointment. They still remained in the domain of the colo-

nial order. Also their holders identied with the numerous local inter-
ests: landed aristocrats, merchants, small traders and landholders and
some professional groups. Calls for enfranchisement at the level of
regional government were responses to the muted war of attrition
between court state and the colonial order. The municipalities remained
the major repositories of settler politics and constituted a position of
relative independence from the states representatives. Thus, the
encomienda system and urban development in the Americas were both
arenas of contending interests in which colonial autonomies appeared
suppressed, albeit incompletely.
This leads us to a third area of institutional tension: the contest
for positions in the institutions of administrative order. The rela-
tionship of the peninsular court state and a largely Creole colonial
order was one of antagonism, even though Creoles shared a com-
mon cultural background and were not excluded from positions of
administrative power to the extent assumed by nineteenth century
nationalist historians. Within Latin American historiography, this has
been a matter of contention between liberal and revisionist inter-
pretations of nineteenth century independence.25 Specically, the
debate revolves around the ratio of Creoles/peninsulars in the impe-
rial apparatus. There is little dispute over the fact that peninsulares
dominated the high administration of the empire, while Creoles were
found in greater numbers in colonial posts. There is less agreement
over overall levels of enfranchisement and the mechanisms through

Creole advancement according to Brading. Although peninsulars maintained their

domination of judicial institutions such as the oidores and the alcaldias mayores, the
infusion of Creole judges represented a marked shift in the composition of legal
personnel. See David A. Brading, Bourbon Spain and its American Empire, in
Leslie Bethell, ed., Cambridge History of Latin America, vols. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1985), pp. 401402, 40911. Peru was also a case of enhanced
autonomies accompanying the advancement of Creole administrators. See Kenneth
J. Andrien, The Sale of Fiscal Oces and the Decline of Royal Authority in the
Viceroyalty of Peru, 16331700, Hispanic American Historical Review 62, no. 1 (1982).
The publications that perhaps best exemplify the opposing poles of the debate
about exclusion are Sergio R. Villalobos, Tradicion y Reforma en 1810 (Santiago de
Chile: Universidad de Chile, 1961); and Jaime Eyzaguirre, Ideario y Ruta de la
Emancipacion Chilena (Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1971). Villalobos
argues that Creoles were systematically excluded and the subsequent collective griev-
ance powered the revolutions. In contrast, Eyzaguirre presents the case that they
grew in number at most levels of administration. Following Habsburg tradition, they
presumed that their prevalence should translate into a political monopoly. Thus,
they revolted to claim their rightful position.
communities of the colonial order 205

which Creoles were excluded. Benedict Anderson points to the monop-

olization of high oces by peninsular bureaucracies;26 however, his
evidence is selective. Other sources suggest that this may have been
the limit of exclusion.27 The extensive inuence of Creole ocials in
the church, the army and the legal structure appears to have been
considerable, prior to the Caroline reforms.28 With the decline of the
electoral cabildo system of urban government, town burghers, who
were mostly Creole, began to purchase oces in local courts giving
them positions of substantial authority.29 The complexity of less for-
mal powers, which lay in the hands of middle to lower level Creole

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 58.
Such is the argument of Leon Campbell in A Colonial Establishment: Creole
Domination of the Audiencia of Lima during the Late Eighteenth Century, Hispanic-
American Historical Review 52 (1972). Campbells case for Lima and Mexico is com-
prehensive, yet caution is warranted in generalizing his evidence beyond those
municipalities. Mark A. Burkholder and D. S. Chandlers study is more extensive.
Indeed it could be tentatively described as the denitive study into Creole inclu-
sion/exclusion from administrative oce. The depth of their historical research per-
mits them to reconstruct a more complete and substantiated picture of the ethnic
patterns of colonial ocialdom. Mark A. Burkholder and D. S. Chandler Creole
Appointments and the Sale of Audiencia Positions, Journal of Latin American Studies 4,
no. 2 (1972).
The Peruvian example is covered by Leon Campbell, A Colonial Establishment,
pp. 2, 3, 10, 14, 15 and 20. On Chile, which manifested a similar institutional
demography, see Jacques A. Barbiers Elites and Cadre in Bourbon Chile, Hispanic-
American Historical Review 52 (1972). John Lynchs evidence supports this view. Between
1687 and 1750, 44% of audiencia appointments went to Creoles. A majority of audi-
encia judges were Creole even in the 1760s, at least in the key cities. After that
time the ranks of administration were recomposed. Between 1751 and 1808, the
lions share of senior posts of the audiencias went to Spaniards. See John Lynch
The Origins of Spanish American Independence, in Bethell, The Cambridge History
of Latin America, pp. 2627.
The widespread jurisdiction of judges is a reection of the residues of power
which lay in this municipal structure:
Judges served as auditor of war, assessor of the tribunal of accounts . . . and as
administrators of the properties of the expelled Company of Jesus, of hospi-
tals, colosseums, water districts, pension funds, royal monopolies, and public
works of all kinds. In addition, they were delegated to inspect troops or Indian
communities, conduct censuses, residencias, or investigations, to study subjects
such as the mails, taxation, the slave trade, and to execute a variety of prop-
erty divisions. Through these commissions, the creole magistracy constituted a
virtual interlocking directorate which inuenced and controlled the operation
of the city of Lima, and indeed of the entire viceroyalty. Virtually no aspect
of colonial economic life escaped their authority. (Leon Campbell, A Colonial
Establishment, pp. 1415)
Some caution is necessary here. Lima was one of the foremost cities of Creole
inuence. However, the outline of the pattern and reach of the colonial order in Peru
serves as a powerful corrective to the impression of complete peninsular domination.
206 chapter seven

nobility, corresponded to the maze of Creole routes to oce. The

links of patronage, marriage, god parentage, property ownership
and friendship bound the creole bureaucrats to the creole nobil-
ity . . . of which they were indeed members from birth.30 If clien-
telism was eective anywhere, then its ecacy lay in the colonial
order and not the royal hierarchy. Settlers did have a kind of counter
hegemony in this respect.
The complex intertwinement of the contending communities pro-
duced ethnically heterogeneous settlements. Informal links created
through corruption brought peninsulars and locals into greater prox-
imity as much as the penetration of Creole nobles into the colonial
state outt.31 Whilst historians suggest that this was the case in Chile,
Mexico and Peru, regional variations in the implementation of the
Bourbon reforms in the eighteenth century meant that Creole advance-
ment also varied.32 The Bourbon reform era brought the ownership
of state posts to a head as one of the major contentious issues.
Following Burkholder and Chandler, this can be explained by ref-
erence to the pre-reform period. Creole penetration of the institutions
of the colonial order in the rst half of the eighteenth century was
made possible by the cycles of sale of oce that were forced on
Madrid. In particular, municipal tribunals were institutional sites in
which Creoles gained some control over the administration of power.
The Bourbon program of imperial restructuring in its later phase
revived the institutions of the audiencia and the cabildo that had been
dormant during the course of the eighteenth century.33 However, the
presence of Creole elites in colonial administration complicated the
process of rejuvenation. The Caroline reformsnotably the institu-
tion of the intendancy system replicated from the France court state
heightened the tension between a resurgent peninsular court state and
a Creole colonial order that grew in condence as the century drew
to a close. This tension surfaced as a conict over the revitalized
institutions of the colonial order. Contrary claims over who would

Ibid., p. 19. See also Hamnett, The Mexican Bureaucracy, pp. 2125.
Barbier, Elites and Cadre in Bourbon Chile, p. 416.
Lang discusses the contrary impact of Bourbon centralization on dierent urban
centers, Conquest and Commerce, p. 83. See also Herr, Spain, chaps. 3 and 4.
See John Fisher, The Intendant System and the Cabildos of Peru, 17841810,
Hispanic American Historical Review 40 (1960); and John Lynch, Intendants and Cabildos
in the Viceroyalty of La Plata, 17821810, Hispanic American Historical Review 35
communities of the colonial order 207

control them fuelled early nineteenth century sentiments for either

greater autonomy or even for independence.
Spanish colonialism, at this point of its fullest growth did incor-
porate leading settler administrators into the lower-to-middle eche-
lons of the viceregal states. At the same time it strengthened the
higher posts of the apparatus. It was strong in its orientation to its
own methods of government and in its grip over its own court state
personnel. But, on the whole, the empire was fragile insomuch as
its resources were diluted and spread across vast areas and sparse
populations. Furthermore, it was weakened by the resuscitation of
the institutions of the colonial order. The intention of the Bourbon
reforms was a resurgent centralization. But the unintended outcome
was initial division in the early years and then a grant of greater
authority to more senior posts.
The Franco-American colonial order was embedded in two con-
trasting types of society. The thinly spread settlements of Canada
and Louisiana were frontier defences, dependent in Canadas case
on the fur trade. Military organization held a privileged place due
to threats from other imperial powers and indigenous nations allied
against the French. Montreal and Quebec were substantial and thriv-
ing towns connected to the Atlantic economy. They manifested the
visible signs of Euro-American civilizationthe trappings of aristoc-
racy, maritime enterprise, seignorial grants, colonial government and
the heavy military presence. They were closer to France and linked
to Europe. At a distance from the St Lawrence River, the material
presence of New French society was constituted by the network of
forts around the Lakes and by the commercial relationships and val-
ues established in the interior. The presence was light and repre-
sented a compromise with the wilderness and the Indian nations
which sustained their social and political force.
The vieilles colonies of the Caribbean zone were quite dierent. The
visible signs of Frenchied society were unmistakeable and heavy on
the ground. The indigenes were gone; they had been all but exter-
minated by the Spanish in early colonial years. In the eyes of colonists,
the threat of slave revolt was unmistakable. Consequently, the military
presence loomed large in social life. War in the Caribbean zone was
frequent. Combined with the harsh system of slavery, the condition
of war bred a colonial order that was exacting in its demands of
imperial authorities and largely merciless when it came to the perceived
menace within. A long history of planter resistance to imperial edicts
208 chapter seven

begins with Colberts attempts to enforce shipping monopolies and

ordinances that specied that sugar could be rened in France only.34
It continued after the Treaty of Utrecht when conditions improved
for those in sugar related industries and reached a peak in the late
eighteenth century when threats to French possessions were at their
greatest. This set the general conditions of the Antillian colonial
order and cultivated a high degree of internal solidarity. White set-
tlers had divisions of their own, but were capable of stout defence
from threats, whether local or from outside.
The social composition of French-American communities speaks
volumes about the level of social closure in the colonial order. There
was a marked social ranking set by colour and class.35 Plantation
owners were at the top. They were large landowners in many cases.
They married their daughters into aristocracy, maintained close con-
nections with France and produced manors that displayed their
wealth. Bekes were a Creole class below them, whites born in the
Caribbean. Their cultural bearings were local and distinguished them
from the plantation owners. Petit blancs were at the bottom of the
white hierarchy. They had few resources and farmed or worked as
tradesmen. Ex-slaves and free blacks were challengers for this layer.
Consequently, the petit blancs proved the most fervent opponents of
moves to end slavery.
Although the island societies were sharply stratied, the colonial
order proved durable. It survived Frances global losses in the Seven
Years War, perhaps due to the economic value of the islands. It sur-
vived the French Revolution and the revolts of those who took up
its call with the spectacular exception of the Haitian Revolution. It
recoiled from the pressure of metropolitan abolitionists and from the
rebellious anger of slave and mulattoes issuing from below it. It
remained the chief French presence in the Americas, long after the
strategic global defeat of the Empire in the Seven Years War.
Society in the Canadian expanse was quite dierent. Everyday life
there was diverse and divided.36 Yet, paradoxically, aspects of its rul-
ing structure underwent a process of de-dierentiation. Royal inter-

F. Quinn, The French Overseas Empire, p. 57.
Aldrich and Connell, Frances Overseas Frontier, pp. 2223.
For a social history of New France that slights the common focus on poli-
tics and power, see Allan Greer, The People of New France (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1997).
communities of the colonial order 209

vention secured the future of the beachhead settlements down the

St Lawrence River and the fort defences to their south and west.
Fortication demanded the continuous dispatch of companies of
French troops to North America. By the mid-1660s soldiers made
up thirty-ve percent of the population.37 The militarization of the
New France colony turned out to be a formative pattern. The rel-
atively high income paid to French troops meant that they carried
considerable economic weight. The military corps was an attractive
career for enriched colonists. In the absence of the full range of aris-
tocratic titles available in France, military commissions were sought
for the sons of prosperous traders.38 Early generations of French
Canadians did service in the army. The authority that accompanied
ocer positions aorded them some inuence and imparted to them
a set of conservative values. Those with a family background in the
fur trade during its peak years (up to the 1690s) could bring together
the interests of merchants and militia.
In the eighteenth century those interests were directly fused.39 In
the early 1700s the Compagnie de la Colonie went bust and the govern-
ment assumed the monopoly of trade directly. In 1729 the Governor
began to lease posts to army ocers in the hope that they would
put imperial interests before private enrichment. Contemporary reports
suggest that some of them didnt. Their possession of trading leases
made them agents of war and trade simultaneously and enhanced
their pre-eminence within the colonial order. It also lent Canadas
leading ocers a vested interest in inter-continental trade and a link
to mercantile authorities. This was not the only connection with metro-
politan authorities. Acquisition of ocer commissions required the
recommendations of the governor and the intendant to the Ministry
of the Marine.40 Regal approval was also needed. Leading families
looked to French authorities and identied with the court state in
their pursuit of these most prestigious titles. Consequently, there was
relative cohesion in the upper echelons of colonial society. Local
imperial agents had inuential milieux to draw upon for support.
Directly below the military and administrative elite was a mass of
provincial habitants. There was a more tangible divide between a

Eccles, Social, Economic and Political.
Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV 16631701, chap. 4.
Eccles, Social, Economic and Political, pp. 1215.
Ibid., pp. 1718.
210 chapter seven

partially de-dierentiated gubernatorial apparatus and a diverse colo-

nial order marked by a wider societal dierentiation. For the colo-
nial order there were two axes of dierentiation. Firstly, life in urban
New France stood in manifest contrast with the world of the fron-
tier. The frontier world forced coexistence on its inhabitants. During
the life of the French Empire, this world could not be remade in
the manner than the Laurentine settlements were.41 Many colonial
frontiersmen accommodated themselves wholly to their immediate
environment. Some adapted aspects of the indigenous style of life,
a cause of considerable moral anxiety amongst ecclesiastics in
Montreal.42 Canada was the inverse of New Englands colonies as
there was no sustained attempt to take possession of the land and
fence it o. Instead, Canadian frontiersmen simply passed through
the wilderness in pursuit of the trade, adapting themselves to their
environs as they went.43 Their course was directed by the ow of rivers
and the system of lakes in the interior. Life in the eastern settle-
ments was marked by an attempt to adopt the trappings of French
civilization to Quebecois life. It was a world away from the wilder-
ness. Yet, in the eyes of its inhabitants, it was frightfully close to the
Indian nations that issued from it.
This world was socially complex and constitutes a second axis of
dierentiation. The distribution of wealth ensured that it was so.
Cutting across that pattern of social inequality were forms of status
ranking that intensied the social hierarchy.44 Marriage alliances,
family background, the possession of governmental posts and con-
spicuous consumption intersected with class relations to stratify the
colonial order. Under the judicial, administrative and military elite,
an artisan class splintered into numerous occupations: architects, hat-
makers, metalworkers, stonemasons, tailors and many others. Professions
such as medicine and land surveying sat to one side of them. Religion

Richard White treats the Great Lakes region as a middle ground in which
dierent peoples sought accommodation in the context of conict and imperial war-
fare. This was a region of interchange of Iroquois, Huron and their respective
oshoots with English and French Americans. See The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires
and Republics in the Great Lakes Region 16501815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1991).
Allain, French Colonial Policy, pp. 17295.
William J. Eccles, The Canadian Frontier 15341760 (Montreal: Holt, Reinhart
and Winston, 1969), chap. 1.
Peter N. Moogk, Rank in New France: Reconstructing a Society from Notarial
Documents, Histoire Sociale/Social History 8, no. 15 (1975).
communities of the colonial order 211

divided the bulk of merchants o from a small Huguenot group that

emerged in the eighteenth century.45 The clergy and the army had
their own hierarchies. Servants and a small number of enslaved
Indians occupied the lowest stations.
The hardy institutions of relatively autonomous administration were
not as developed as that they were in Anglo or Hispanic America.
The colonial order may have been fragmented, but this was not due
so much to structural factors in the imperial polity as it was to the
degree of cultural integration of military elites in the Laurentine
region with the Parisian nobility and the level of incorporation of
the fur and shing trades into imperial commerce. Furthermore, it
would be erroneous to perceive a complete absence of governmental
conict. Royal intervention in Canada did stimulate an institutional
apparatus that was not fully controlled by imperial administrators
and was more open to capture by provincial factions. Seventeen
assemblies were convened in the last three decades of the seven-
teenth century; one was notablethe etats generaux called by Frontenac
in 1672.46 They were formally convened in Quebec and a number
were called in country parishes. A degree of popular participation
was permitted. However, they were in no way lively bodies and had
no legislative powers. They were a response to a perceived strain in
relations between imperial administrators and merchant groups and
between the governor and the intendant.
Nonetheless, the ill feeling that existed reached a height in the
last few decades of the seventeenth century. The conict between
Colbert and Frontenac exemplies this.47 Colbert endeavoured to
boost the intendancy and the counseil soverain to check Frontenacs
capricious governorship. The intendant presided over the counseil s
deliberations and dominated in early years. Over time, it became
preoccupied with litigation and steadily withdrew from its legislative
role. Indeed, it came to hold de facto supreme judicial authority in
the late 1670s and had jurisdiction over minor courts below it. Later,
more councillors were appointed and its powers were augmented. In
response to Frontenacs unruly governorship, the Council and its
members were given greater sanctions by Colbert. Accordingly, it

J. F. Bosher, The Canada Merchants 17131763 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).
Allana G. Reid, Representative Assemblies in New France, Canadian Historical
Review 27 (1946).
Eccles, Canada under Louis XIV, chap. 6.
212 chapter seven

began to exercise more independence and enjoyed powers formally

separate from the governor and the intendant. For some years, it
became a crucible of conict between Colbert, Frontenac, the inten-
dant and the councillors. It could fail to register royal edicts and
regulations, if they were deemed inappropriate. In the island colonies,
the counseils did just that. In New France, it was less audacious due
to divisions within its membership. Colberts vision of accelerated
development of villages in the main colony was actively impressed
on the governor. In 1673 Frontenac deed the Minister by estab-
lishing new forts around Lake Ontario to promote the fur trade and
capture it for himself and his allies. This measure encouraged some
colonists to drift westward. More importantly, it brought Frontenacs
party into conict not just with Colbert, but also with Montreals
traders. Factional battle-lines were drawn in the Counseil between the
two sets of Canadian traders. In this way, it became a body of ongo-
ing intrigue for the remainder of the century. Eventually, it was tamed
and the factionalism defeated. Its name was changed to Supreme
Council in 1703 to conform with its new loyalty to the court state.
One nal institution of this fragile cluster of colonial bodies deserves
mention. The capitaine de malice was a parish and town-based ocial
who acted as a moderator. The oce was avenue for townspeople
to air grievances. Whilst in no way a democratic institution, it allowed
the Kings administration to act responsively in its rulings. Ocials
at this layer were intermediaries who had to face neighbourhoods
of numerous constituencies. Their exposure to local communities
made them bearers of popular measures. This was an important role,
even though it bore no formal judicial or decision-making powers.
New France did not nurture a concentrated colonial order with
ongoing institutional autonomy. Episodes of non-cooperation did lit-
tle to decisively augment its powers. Up until and even beyond the
Seven Years War the sentiment for autonomy appears quite absent.
In retrospect, it can be condently claimed that the movement for
independence in the New French region coalesced in opposition to
the British at a later time. There was no such movement against the
French court state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The
heightened tension of imperial state formation that was striking in
relations between the Antillais colonies and metropolitan France was
less conspicuous in the Canadian trajectory.
The situation was quite dierent in Anglo-America. British colo-
nialism had separate origins and generated more nuanced social rela-
communities of the colonial order 213

tions. It was distinct in ve respects.48 Economic life and attitudes

to the land and its inhabitants were singularly English and reected
models of colonization discussed in previous chapters. Whereas the
Spanish and the French proselytized, Protestant colonists were largely
indierent to the question of the indigenes salvation. Spains legal-
istic zeal and the French preoccupation with the body of mercan-
tile ordinances were not emulated in the English colonies. The ow
of immigrants to the northern continent was far more intense and
rapid. Finally, in later years, slavery and the plantation economy
were pivotal for British interests.
This contrast is greatest in the founding conditions of American
settlements. The British had three types of colony: corporate or char-
ter, proprietary and Crown colonies. Colonial autonomy originated
in the rst American charters and the joint stock companies that
supervised initial settlement. Royal grants of corporate charters pre-
supposed collective rights for the colonial grantees. Whilst this form
of colonial corporation did not last beyond the second half of the
seventeenth century, the logic of chartered government was embod-
ied in the legislative institutions and claims to jurisdiction of colo-
nial administrations. The decline of the charter did not bring a loss
of autonomy to the colonies. On the contrary, the imperial state
structure that was consolidated after 1688 enshrined greater inde-
pendence for colonial government. Administrative jurisdiction was
drawn from a separation of legislative and executive responsibilities.
Competing legislative sovereignties shaped colonial development and
recast the relationship between the metropolitan state and colonial
government as one that could be contested and transformed.
Comparison of the English and Spanish trajectories can serve to
throw into relief the distinctive features of English colonial society.
A rst distinction lay in the entrenched image of a colony. The
Spanish conquerors founded a ciudad on an accepted blueprint, which,
by force of its presence on the American landscape, shaped the
nearby countryside. Their priority was the organization and display
of religious, administrative and military supremacy. English colonization
drew on coalescing agrarian and commercial capitalist values. Pro-
testantism informed ideas about the British Empire, although it is

This comparison draws notes from Samuel E. Finer, The History of Government
from the Earliest Times (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), vol. 3, chap. 7.
214 chapter seven

questionable as to whether it furnished the English with a grand ide-

ology of empire in the manner that Catholicism did for the Spanish.49
It did carry images of colonial organization. Early sketches of colo-
nial life by Raleigh, Hakluyt, Purchas and others had previously
stressed a regimented and disciplined organization of the colonies.
Actual colonies should replicate country life. Survival in the hostile
environment required a high level of social regulation. There is a
recurring analogy in writings of the time of the beehive that expressed
the intention of English investors.50 As charter colonies were super-
seded the beehive analogy faded. Towns and cities spread down the
eastern coasts and through riverine settlements. They were the vis-
ible, material signs of English expansion though they did not resem-
ble sixteenth century dreams of regimented urban life.
What English colonials did bring with them were the essential ele-
ments of modern Protestant agrarianism.51 Notions of possession and
property found a material expression in the enclosure of land in new
village communities scattered along the eastern seaboard. The idea
of enclosed and improved land ordered the immediate physical
landscape and also the relations of colonists to the American envi-
ronment. The New World was seen as a waste land because of the
lack of clear markers of its productive use.52 It was thought grossly
under-populated. Improvement signied clearance of ora and fauna
(and indigenes) and containment of the wild. Property in this period
did not have to be codied in written law as it was proclaimed by
the act of fencing and improving land. Thus, it comes as no sur-
prise that speculation on land was present in colonial towns from
the moment of their foundation.53 There is evidence that the Spanish
had a similar notion of industrious improvement, but expressions of
such a notion were marginal.54 Anyway, their mindset was xed on

Armitage, The Ideological Origins, chap. 3.
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, The Beehive as a Model for Colonial Design,
in Kupperman, America in European Consciousness.
See Seed, Ceremonies of Possession, chap 1. Compare with Mark Peterson who
argues that Anglo-America in its Puritan origins was primarily commercial in its
orientation. See The Price of Redemption: The Spiritual Economy of Puritan New England
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).
Seed, American Pentimento, chap. 2.
John Frederick Martin, Prots in the Wilderness: Entrepreneurship and the Founding of
New England Towns in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill, NC and London: University
of North Carolina Press, 1991).
J. H. Elliot, The Seizure of Overseas Territories by the European Powers,
in Armitage, Theories of Empire, pp. 14850.
communities of the colonial order 215

extractive production, which compelled them to explore South

Americas hinterlands and coerce communities of labor. Advancement
into the interior did not seem as urgent for the English as it was
for the Spanish. Within the British North American colonies the
social metaphor of the fenced-o garden better describes the village
life of the English colonial order.
Spanish colonialism placed American land and peoples under a
unied regal sovereignty. It was driven by a singular enthusiasm for
subjugation and conversion. English colonization did not have the
same uniformity. Each colony had its own charters that established
a separation of powers. The innovations of the English state in the
late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries did not succeed in
capturing all aspects of governmental responsibility for imperial author-
ities. Metropolitan bodies were based on jurisdictions that conicted
with those of colonial legislatures. It was not clear in either law or in
the constitutional theories of sovereignty where authority lay. Multiple
institutions combined in a patchwork of authority. Some were con-
temporary; others were legacies of colonial origins. In theory, Parliament
had the ultimate authority. In practice, its legislative activity did not
touch the colonies terribly often, apart from the Navigation Acts. It
was more likely that the colonies would deal with the regal apparatus.
Each colony structured a dierent relationship of autonomy to the
Crown.55 In New Englands corporate colonies, however, the Kings
representative was elected by the executive council; the Crown had
little power here. All colonies had a legislature of a representative
assembly and an upper house. The Crown nominated the latter,
although in some instances it was elected. It also acted as an exec-
utive council. The legislative power of the assemblies was only really
restricted in cases where it conicted with imperial ordinances. By
1730 Crown colonies had become the norm. Nevertheless, settler
communities ercely guarded the basis of their relative independence.
Issues of revenue raising and expenditure on civil administration were
particularly contentious and often turned into political ashpoints. A
ercely loyal senior gubernatorial apparatus was not so easily nur-
tured, as governors found themselves unable to enforce Londons
instructions and permanently in a position where they sensed polit-
ical pressure from local elites.

Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires, pp. 6162; Lang, Conquest and Commerce, chap. 8.
216 chapter seven

English law in eect supported the colonial orders assimilation of

crown powers throughout the eighteenth century. It guarded the legal
rights of colonists. Trial by jury and habeas corpus were legally con-
stituted norms. Justices of the Peace oversaw their administration.56
Furthermore, the Vice-Admiralty Court for All America was also
under colonial control, often by nature of the fact that local judges
staed them.57 In many ways, the imperial state imported the insti-
tutions that British subjects in England enjoyed. In the context of
the North Americas, however, these were transformed into semi-
autonomous and self-legislating bodies. Colonial liberties were grounded
in legislative control over the executive arm of the Crown. This
understanding of the relationship of representative assemblies and
the monarchy had its origins in the opposition to Stuart rule.58 In
a way, Parliament was a model institution as far as the colonies were
concerned. It provided what they thought was an example of a bal-
anced constitution of government and a civilized form of political
behaviour. It always remained a standard in America, one that
imparted to colonists a heightened appreciation of the liberties they
believed to be their heritage. The initial impression held by ocials
of the constitutional state was dierent. Ideally, the colonial assem-
blies were to be limited to those powers that the parliament had
under the Stuarts: the power to legislate, vote taxes and petition the
Crown. The real exercise of power in colonial British America went
well beyond this. The power to tax was enlarged in the colonial
context into a type of control over colonial nance. The salaries of
the governor and his sta were paid by London, but this brought
them little respect when conicts arose. An ongoing skirmish between
many legislatures and governors marked the history of the British
Americas from 1689 on.
As a result, the institutions and apparatus of the imperial state
had limited and imprecise constitutional powers in the Thirteen

D. Sayer, A Notable Administration: English State Formation and the Rise
of Capitalism, American Journal of Sociology 97, no. 5 (1992), pp. 1405407.
Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, The Fall of the First British Empire:
Origins of the War of American Independence (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1982), pp. 13031. On the tensions of the vice-admiralty and colonists in cases
involving smugglers, see Robert M. Calhoon, The Loyalists in Revolutionary America
(New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1973), pp. 3031.
See Jack P. Greene, Political Mimesis: A Consideration of the Historical and
Cultural Roots of Legislative Behaviour in the British Colonies in the Eighteenth
Century, in Negotiated Authorities.
communities of the colonial order 217

Colonies. The uncertainty surrounding legislative and executive aairs

in the colonies issued from the fragmentation of responsibility within
various imperial bodies. Unlike in the Spanish Empire, there was no
single institution of superintendence to manage imperial aairs. The
Board of Trade and the Privy Council had supervisory roles but few
actual powers. Privy councillors tended to rely on the Board of Trade
for administrative advice, a body that had few executive powers.
Other ministries carried out their work in the colonies by adhering
to their respective functions. Customs, the Post Oce, the Admiralty,
the War Oce and the Treasury did not correspond with each other
often, nor did each consult regularly with the Board of Trade.
Imperial interests within the constitutional state were nobodys busi-
ness and everybodys business, inasmuch as no institution within
the apparatus was responsible for colonial aairs, but all dabbled in
it.59 Considerable nominal powers were invested in colonial gover-
nors. But the assemblies uncovered their limitations. Governor Belcher
of New Jersey faced the dilemma that plagued most governors:
I have to steer between Scylla and Charybdis . . . to please a Kings
ministers at home and touchy people here; to lu with one and bear
away with another.60
Britains colonies in the Americas were, in eect, not supervised
clearly and completely by any part of the imperial apparatus. This
intricate institutional arrangement permitted the space in which the
empire could be brought into question, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Colliding notions of sovereignty set the imperial-constitutional state
and the colonial order apart. Two conceptions of sovereignty were
permissible.61 One located authority rmly in the hands of the monar-
chy or the Privy Council. The other asserted the prerogatives of par-
liament in governing the colonies. Imperial rule itself was rarely in
question within Britain. However, there were nuanced versions of it,
an indication of some level of debate and discussion about the char-
acter of the British Empire.
In the colonies, competing theories of political power amounted
to alternative perspectives. The empire was variously considered as

Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires, p. 64.
Cited in Finer, The History of Government, p. 1403.
See Max Savelle, Empires to Nations: Expansion in America 17131824 (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1974), pp. 4344; and Tucker and Hendrickson, The
Fall of the First British Empire, pp. 14849.
218 chapter seven

a federation of sovereign or quasi-sovereign entities. Colonial insti-

tutions should have authority within each set of jurisdictional bound-
aries and this was seen as legally correct. At the peak of the federated
structure, the British Parliament carried responsibility for overall wel-
fare, the export economy, intra-imperial matters and foreign policy.
In the colonial theory of a quasi-federated state, Americans were not
articulating fundamental opposition to the imperial-colonial rela-
tionship as much as interpreting it within the context of their accu-
mulated experiences of partial self-government. Their understanding
of empire led to the perception that their own colonial government
was in partnership with Britain. The resurgence in imperial institu-
tions in the latter half of the eighteenth century, after the Seven
Years War, upset this conception and, when married to other cru-
cial contingencies, problematized British rule.
In the eighteenth century, a colonial order emerged that was capa-
ble of social self-legislation and governance. This was clearly the case
in the British North Americas, less so in the Spanish Indies and the
French Caribbean. Imperial rule from the outset had engendered a
colonial opposition. In all three empires, however, there was a colo-
nial order capable of exercising autonomy and embedded in the life
of settler-immigrant culture. Each had an ambivalent stance in rela-
tion to bodies of imperial rule. Varying degrees of independence of
action were possible, but were nonetheless circumscribed by loyalty
to imperial arrangements. Those loyalties were made uncertain by
the demands of colonial society and its principal elites. During the
course of two hundred years of state and social formation, the build
up of colonial communities had aggregated historical experience of
mutual dependence, but also a degree of self-reliance. Colonial com-
munities had social ballast of their own and the cultures they generated
acted as another pole of loyalty for the most pre-eminent political
and economic classes. Dierent allegiances tugged at the political
sentiments of colonial leaders and the communities that they led.
The character of those allegiances and the local inections that they
exhibited is the next topic.


In the colonies, unique populations were composed of surviving indi-

genes, slaves and ex-slaves, immigrants and settlers, clergy and local
and imperial merchants. A social and class hierarchy of a new kind
communities of the colonial order 219

underpinned colonial communities. Ownership of property (or lack

of it) and control of the apparatus of government (or exclusion from
it) were pivotal factors shaping the hierarchies of rule. Within those
communities coexistence between dierent sections of the populace
was punctuated by episodes of massacre or revolt. Identities that
were ethnic and aboriginal informed the tension between the empires
and the colonial order. These amplied the dramas of eighteenth
century America and would later come to fruition in the revolutionary
acts of 1775 and the Napoleonic era.
Miscegenation was a sort of policy in the Spanish Indies. During
the sixteenth century, just less than one quarter of a million Spaniards
emigrated to South America and the Caribbean following the con-
quistadors.62 The rate scarcely increased in the years up to indepen-
dence, so the immigrant peninsular population was never too weighty.
Until the 1590s Spains imports of slaves ran well below the rate of
peninsular migration. But between 1595 and 1640 there was a spec-
tacular reversal of this trend as Spain experimented with the slave
trade.63 The ethnic variations that this process produced led to a
proliferation of organizational interests. The ospring of inter-mixing
were classed as mulatto, metis, albino, morisco, lobo or by other regional
designations. The aim was a so-called pigmentocracy.64 Spaniards
could rule through a fragmentation of the Indian and African slave
populace. It was ineective inasmuch as other social categories of
inequality overtook the fundamental conict between Indians and
conquerors. Class divisions assumed greater importance rendering
deliberate miscegenation a superuous strategy of divide-and-rule.65
Also, the barriers to joining colonial communities faced by foreign-
ers were substantial.66 They reected a tendency towards ius soli prin-
ciple of integration and exclusion, which privileged the criterion of
birthplace in determining membership of a community. As a result
of these two types of division, the strategy of miscegenation produced

Nicolas Sanchez-Albornoz The First Transatlantic Transfer: Spanish Migration
to the New World 14931810, in Canny, Europeans on the Move.
Robin Blackburn, The Making of Colonial Slavery, pp. 14044.
Magnus Morner, Race Mixing in the History of Latin America (Boston: Little, Brown
and Company, 1967).
Ferro, Colonization, pp. 10514.
See Tamar Herzog, A Stranger in a Strange Land: The Conversion of
Foreigners into Members in Colonial Latin America, in Roniger and Sznajder,
Constructing Collective Identities.
220 chapter seven

the unforeseen consequence of diversity in the range of ethnic group-

ings where the boundaries between them were relatively fuzzy.
Canadas sparse settlements isolated white pioneer communities
from daily encounters with the Huron. Despite purposeful emigration
guided by the court state, the overall intake was low. New France
still had only 3,000 settlers in 1660, most from north-western France.67
They did not emigrate as families and there was no nancial incen-
tive or religious compulsion for them to do so. When the British
took Canada, the total population had only grown to around 70,000
or about 5% of that of the English colonies.
The thin distribution of colonists contrasted with the situation in
the Caribbean where immigration was directed. In all, around 200,000
whites emigrated to the French Antilles during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Migration may have been more concentrated
after the losses in North America incurred in the post war settlement
of 1763. But this represents a small part of the regions population.
Imports of indentured servants primed demographic growth.68 After
the supply slowed, slaves lled the gaps and then exceeded them.
Between 1687 and 1737, the slave population grew tenfold.69 Slavery
was a solution in the French Caribbean to the low level of settle-
ment. The consequence was a group of island societies in which a
highly stratied white minority had to govern itself and then had to
govern an enslaved African majority. Confrontation was inevitable
and features prominently in the history of the islands. But daily inter-
racial interaction did not always involve conict or acts of repres-
sionfar from it. Racial mixing was unavoidable. Also, French
colonial strategy deliberately focussed on fostering a freed African
community.70 The lower level of white settlement prompted this devel-
opment as a safeguard against social unrest. The overwhelming pres-
ence of free and enslaved blacks heightened awareness amongst
colonists of their cultural separateness which was accentuated by their
social proximity. Additionally, it opened a separate possibility. Original

MacFarlene, The British in the Americas, p. 153; Ted Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn:
The Settling of the North American Continent (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997),
pp. 19596.
Christian Huetz de Lemps, Indentured Servants Bound for the French Antilles
in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, in Altman and Horn, To Make America.
Eccles, France in America, p. 160.
Aldrich and Connell, Frances Overseas Frontier, pp. 9798; Robin Blackburn, The
Making of Colonial Slavery, pp. 43941.
communities of the colonial order 221

cultural features were forged out of Creole hybrids of French and

African arts. The intense fusion of imported cultures produced local
customs, language, dance and music that survived decolonization.
In British Americas demographic history, the outstanding features
are the relatively high level of migration, urbanization on the coast
and around eastern estuaries and the ethnic mixture of the migrants.71
Two periods can be distinguished.72 Between 1580 and the middle
of the seventeenth century, migrants came principally from England,
Wales and lower Scotland. A high rate of population growth in the
British Isles produced the numbers for emigration and political insta-
bility produced the motives. Between 1610 and 1660 English migra-
tion to the Caribbean and the north-eastern seaboard far outstripped
that of the French and Spanish, more than doubling the Spanish at
one point.73 Prosperity in English agriculture combined with the
impoverishment of a class of laborers to create the push and pull
factors of a higher rate of migration. In the second periodfrom
the mid-seventeenth to the 1776 RevolutionIrish, Africans and
continental Europeans composed the majority. After the Treaty of
Utrecht in particular, the pace of migration increased rapidly.74 The
genocidal depopulation of indigenous societies was completed in the
Caribbean and set a fast pace on the east coast of North America
after 1660. Those that survived were marginalized and pushed west-
wards or moved around. The import of slaves to the islands was
higher than for the northern colonies until the late eighteenth cen-
tury. Still, growth in the black population on the continent nearly
doubled that of the whites in the seventeenth century.75
Settler communities gelled around port towns and then on the
frontier, rarely more than one hundred miles from river estuaries or
from populated bays. The towns, cities and regional jurisdictions they

For a survey of the literature and a discussion of some of the historiographic
issues in the demographic history, see Nicholas Canny, English Migration into and
Across the Atlantic during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, in Europeans
on the Move.
Games, Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World.
Blackburn, The Making of Colonial Slavery, pp. 22829.
Lester Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution 17501850 (New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 1819.
Between 1630 and 1680 the growth in slave numbers was signicantly greater.
By the end of the century Africans made up 11% of the colonial population. See
Jim Potter, Demographic Development and Family Structure, in Greene and Pole,
Colonial British America.
222 chapter seven

chartered were based on familiar English standards.76 The terms to

describe these could be connected them to equivalents in England:
manor, hundred, parish, borough, precinct. What they signied in the home-
land was highly variable. Their application to the landscape of the
North American east coast similarly varied. Some had no discernible
precedent in England that could be readily drawn upon. So the
municipalities that American settlers forged were original, in a way,
even though they had models to try and emulate. The formation of
colonial communities was more haphazard in English North America
and no two colonies and their townships were replicas. The pre-
eminence of town and city resulted, not through a strategy of baroque
design, as in the Spanish Indies, but through demographic concen-
tration and a pragmatic application of known settlement methods.
These housed signicant numbers of new arrivals. Between 1700
and 1770 the northern colonies grew eight-fold, while the popula-
tion of the West Indies trebled.77 By this time, the ethnic composi-
tion of the Chesapeake and New English population had been
transformed. New migrants hailed from European sources connected
with Atlantic routes.78 Eastern Europe, the Baltic region and the
Mediterranean furnished few emigrants due to their relative isola-
tion from ports of embarkation. Africans and their enslaved heirs
constituted almost one-fth of the populace by 1770.79 As their num-
bers rose, so did segregation; racial boundaries became thicker.80 The
subordinated Indians and bonded Africans were grouped by com-
pulsion. Settlers, Indian nations and slavery all remained more dis-
tinctly dissociated than in Spanish and French America.
Against this forming and inconstant demographic background, it
is possible to view the formation of identities in the colonial order
as a dynamic process in itself. A number of facets of civility symbolized
for Europeans the distance between immigrants and indigenes and
dierent segments of settler communities: language, style; dress and
a monopoly of communications, manners and position.

Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 23644.
MacFarlene, The British in the Americas, p. 229. Bernard Bailyn details a quan-
titative analysis of the extraordinarily diverse sources of emigration in Voyagers to the
West, pt. 2.
Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 21314.
MacFarlene, The British in the Americas, p. 231. A percentage calculation based
on Robin Blackburns gures suggests that 17.6% of the total North American pop-
ulation were slaves. See the table in The Making of Colonial Slavery, p. 460.
Greene and Pole, Colonial British America, pp. 21011.
communities of the colonial order 223

In Europe, the cultures of nations in their formative stages were

dened by the use of a dominant language by political or cultural
elites.81 Likewise in the colonized world, language could act as a basis
for senior imperial elites. Being able to speak the dominant language
of imperial business incorporated many settlers into the mercantile
economy of the empire, whether they had transoceanic connections
or not. Later, it opened up the possibility of reception to various
currents of Enlightenment thinking via their access to philosophical,
historical, political and, importantly, literary works. For those outside
of European or Creole communities, the inability to speak imperial
languages meant disenfranchisement. Degrees of incorporation or the
extent of exclusion on the basis of language decided the thickness
of the boundaries of the colonial communities. This sharply dened
linguistic boundary did not exist within Anglo-American communi-
ties. Indeed, the process of formation of New World societies eected
a homogenisation of language that acted to solidify communities,
while broadening the number of settlers who could have access to
transatlantic ows of information and commerce.82 English, of course,
remained a solid symbolic boundary that distinguished Anglo-European
civilization from the Native American nations.
Style also distinguished communities of European origin from pre-
Conquest inhabitants and from slaves. This distinction went beyond
ethnicity. The outward appearance of European civilization insinu-
ated deeper cultural dierence, even greater spiritual worth. For the
Spanish, conversion of indigenous populations to Catholicism was
deemed to be a major imperial mission. This appeared to be the
limit of what was possible or necessary at the time. On the other
hand, greater incorporation of Creole Americans was an imperative
and it was made possible by common written language and traditions.
Those of American birth could quite freely take up features of sub-
ordinated cultures. Diet, a consumptive lifestyle and relaxed eating
routine were habits of a short present that distinguished Hispanic
Creoles from Spanish born administrators and their families who
served in high oce.83 Preserving etiquette and daily customs made
them Spanish. The civil habits of life could not be readily or com-
pletely abandoned without social consequences.

Eric J. Hobsbawn, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality
(Cambridge: Canto, 1991), pp. 6061.
H. V. Bowen, Elites, pp. 11318.
Ferro, Colonization, pp. 11415.
224 chapter seven

British and French colonists had a similar relationship to their

metropolitan principals governing in the colonies. Indeed style
conrmed the exclusion of even Creole/settler communities from
European-dominated high administration. However, style and manner
varied more across Englands North American colonies than anywhere
else in European America.84 Social distinction was built on standards
that were current in Scotland and England. But it sat in tension
with American localism. Inevitably, this resulted in a provincialization
of gentility, a local form of Englishness.85 Economically, they were
agrarian and commercial colonies and not dominated by extraction
or ranching. Close inspection shows up diversity in style, in the social
hierarchy and in the immediate relationship with the gubernatorial
apparatus.86 Puritan New England steadily expanded its boundaries
beyond Massachusetts. Life amongst the settlers was relatively egal-
itarian in the North compared to the sharply dened hierarchies of
East Anglia that migrants might have remembered. The experience
of migration was itself a process of acculturation.87 Those destined
to become Anglo-Americansand they came from miscellaneous
backgroundsentered this process from the point of embarkation.
Weeks-long voyages across the Atlantic threw migrants together and
forced cultural exchanges. Subsequent entry into the northern English
colonies immersed new migrants with such experiences in a society
where common tasks of domestication of the land confronted all.
In contrast to this northern pattern, it was villa life that was cul-
tivated in the Carolinas and Virginia over a long period of time. In
these colonies, social rank tended to mirror England more closely.
Large plantation owners were at one pole with tenant farmers and
indentured servants at the other in great numbers. In Virginia, the
southern gentry pursued aristocratic habits and were loyal to the
Church of England, consistently rejecting radical Protestant experiments
in theology. Further south, in the Carolinas, the merchant and planter
class were modestly gentried and detached, although they did not
parody English-ness to the degree that colonists in the Caribbean

Braddick, Civility and Authority, in Armitage and Braddick, The British Atlantic
Ibid., p. 107.
MacFarlene, The British in the Americas, chap. 6; Ian Steele, The Anointed, the
Appointed, and the Elected: Governance of the British Empire 16891784, in
Marshall, The Eighteenth Century, p. 113; H. V. Bowen, Elites, pp. 1860.
Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 13144, 21819.
communities of the colonial order 225

did.88 Slaves were appendages in this world; few could ever be sov-
ereign participants in it. The Middle Atlantic colonies developed a
polyglot population drawn from a greater number of sources. Dutch
origins and Quaker inuence shaped a more insular and egalitarian
community orientation. Frontier America produced pioneers. Fresh
settlers made up the numbers of those pushing the boundary westwards.
Forceful, strong-willed individuals, better suited to the environment,
did not entertain strong notions of community. Nor did they auto-
matically defer to the rule of imperial law.
This contrast left its imprint on the social boundaries between
imperial ocials (and those around them) and the large settler com-
munities. Northern and middle-eastern settlements were communi-
tarian and juxtaposed their social worlds with those of their remote
governors. Where social inequality was greater and found expression
in style, manners and custom (as in the South), imperial rule might
seem more natural. But the South and the frontier could also be
most antagonistic to imperial authorities. Central authority might
have seemed the bane of slave-owning southerners and law resistant
frontiersmen. This does not signify that there was no porosity between
imperial administration and the colonial order in British North
America. Both had independent access to the means of production
and they shared elemental features of a common culture, especially
language. The compulsion to incorporate settlers into the commu-
nity of empire was also generally felt by colonial administrations.
The French Empire was split between Canadian and Caribbean
colonies. In New France, a homestead style of life developed along
the river system, in spite of Colberts best eorts to establish villages
modelled on agrarian France.89 In contrast, elites housed in Quebec
and Montreal aspired to the ethos of the French nobility.90 This was a
second Canada, wedded to the original colonial implantation. Montreal
and Quebec were the most densely populated ports and represented
the highest level of urbanization in any North American colony.91
They were inhabited by a would-be noblesse whose military commis-
sions, connections in trade and membership of Parisian milieux led

See Richard Waterhouse, A New World Gentry: the Making of a Merchant and Planter
Class in South Carolina 16701770 (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1989).
Eccles, France in America, p. 37.
Ibid., pp. 11921.
Meinig, The Shaping of America, p. 113.
226 chapter seven

them to simulate an aristocratic lifestyle. The personal wealth required

for such a life was not available in the North American colonies. As
compensation, many obstacles to ennoblement were removed. The
stigma attached to commerce in the old world was also absent. Con-
sequently, nobility was quite an alluring goal. For a small and distinct
minority, it was a means of becoming conspicuous in an urban world
set apart from the frontier of the coureurs de bois and habitants.
In Canada, the two worlds did not collide too often. In the West
Indies, however, social extremes coexisted in close proximity. This
sharpened the distinction between grand blancs, other whites, freed
blacks and slaves.92 They inter-married and monopolized positions
in local administration and justice/law. Positions in the colonial order
brought little ocial remuneration and ocials became quite susceptible
to inuence. Gubernatorial salaries were low from the formative era
in the seventeenth century through to later years.93 Such positions
held attraction for the already enriched, furthering the distance
between governors and those below them. They became enthusiasts
for science and their sons and daughters assimilated the works of the
philosophes.94 Paris was their centre and they became political actors
in the French court. The structure of oppression that they resided
over left little by way of status symbols to other colonists. A pale
skin and the social and economic advantages that went with it was
the exception. In the late eighteenth century, the petit blancs of St
Domingue agitated successfully for the exclusion of blacks from pub-
lic employment and campaigned against inter-racial marriage. They
were able to re-capture some privileges to maintain a higher status.
That this was a bitterly fought issue serves as a reminder of how
important distinctions of status were. An advantageous economic
position was vital for the small and large planters as it was for the
military-merchant elite of Canada. But the markings of what was
seen as French civilization were an obligatory expression of privilege.
In all three empires, a sense of belonging to the American land
vied with imperial loyalty. In the case of the Spanish Indies and the
French West Indies, ethnic and indigenous distinctions were more
acutely felt and those who held Hispanic or French identity held it

Eccles, France in America, pp. 16466.
Philip P. Boucher, The Frontier Era of the French Caribbean 1620s1690s,
in Daniels and Kennedy, Negotiated Empires, p. 221.
McLellan, Colonialism and Science.
communities of the colonial order 227

strongly. Canadians developed a strong sense of connected-ness, at

least outside of the aristocratic hobereaux. Creole identity came easily
for them. However, in British North America the level of identication
with Britain was also strong and, in some respects, could have been
strengthened by geographic isolation from Europe. For colonial set-
tlers in British North America the imperial and colonial experience:
. . . vivied inheritance. Transatlantic and intercolonial communica-
tioncomplex networks of commerce, migration and remigration,
ocial and private correspondencesustained common understanding
in multifarious ways . . . Economic and social developments in most
colonies maintained, perhaps even strengthened individuals sense of
Englishness; anglicization is not a uniquely eighteenth century phe-
nomenon. Some historical episodes were particularly important both
to shaping the empire and to maintaining its Englishness; here Englands
revolutions enjoyed pride of place alongside the Restoration of 1660.
Such seismic shifts forced colonists to react and made English politics
acutely relevant to the colonial situation. However, such events had
another signicance, and this lay not so much in the drama of their
immediate impact as in how they changed (and marked changes in)
the ways in which Englishmen thought about government and sought
to organize or benet from the relationship between state and society.95
English North American settlers forged common identities through
shared experiences of colonial life. Detachment from the European
base of empire nurtured this sense of distinct collectivity. But until
the consequences of the Seven Years War rolled out, it was always
ambivalent. Colonists considered themselves English and viewed events
in Britain as critical to the development of the colonies. Trac in
news across the Atlantic bound the English together fostering a
transatlantic anity. The 1688 revolution exemplied this relation-
ship and indeed cemented it for nearly one hundred years.96 Divisions
between the Whig opposition and Stuart rule found some symmetry
in the colonies in the confrontation of the proponents of English
liberties and the governors. Local inections also drove the dispute.
In turn, the reaction in colonial America rebounded onto the par-
liamentary opposition in England. The establishment of the founda-
tions of Westminster administration boosted the sense of English
community. English-ness was buttressed by the seventeenth century

Bliss, Revolution and Empire, pp. 45.
Lang, Conquest and Commerce, pp. 16571.
228 chapter seven

inter-state rivalries of Spain and England, which found expression

in English entry into the Americas.97 Inter-imperial war and eco-
nomic competition modied the long-term designs of the British
Empire. At the same time, imperial fortunes in the international
competition of states were seen as a great concern of the colonies.
In the Spanish Indies, imperial identity was fed by ethnic and cul-
tural encounters which were, arguably, more intensive and came ear-
lier. The sense of distinctiveness that peninsular communities cultivated
was fuelled by their experiences of a foreign America. Journeying
through ethnically-stratied cities furnished imperial ocials with the
experience of encounters with geographic and cultural contrasts.
Familiarity with all sectors of government gave peninsular elites priv-
ileged familiarity with Spains dominions. The passage of ocials
through diverse social, cultural and administrative settings fuelled the
self-identication of the personnel of the imperial state with each
other. Benedict Andersons idea that the community of absolutist
functionaries was grounded in the interchangeability and experiences
of journey has some relevance here. The salient point is that:
(T)he most important ( journeys) were the diering passages created by
the rise of absolutizing monarchies, and, eventually, Europe-centred
world-imperial apparatus of power, controlled directly by, and loyal
to, the ruler over against a decentralized, particularistic feudal nobility.
Unication meant internal interchangeability of men and documents.
Human interchangeability was fostered by the recruitmentnaturally
to varying extentsof homines novi, who just for that reason, had no
independent power of their own, and thus could serve as emanations
of their masters wills . . . (the functionary) encounters as eager fellow-
pilgrims his functionary colleagues, from places and families he has
scarcely heard of and surely hopes never to have to see. But in expe-
riencing them as travelling-companions, a consciousness of connected-
ness (Why are we. . . . here . . . together?) emerges, above all when all share
a single language-of-state. Then, if ocial A from province B admin-
isters province C, while ocial D from province C administers pro-
vince Ba situation that absolutism begins to make likelythat
experience of interchangeability requires its own explanation: the ideo-
logy of absolutism, which the new men themselves, as much as the
sovereign, elaborate.98
This insight can be applied with equal salience to the colonial settings
of the Americas. The interchanges of bureaucratic functionaries had

Bliss, Revolution and Empire, pp. 810.
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, pp. 5657.
communities of the colonial order 229

greater resonance as they were less densely concentrated. The paucity

of imperial administration relative to the size of the Americas quick-
ened the communication of skills and interchangeability of peninsu-
lar functionaries. The experience of journeying in the Americas, albeit
in limited regions and encounters with associates encouraged an
anity with the community of peninsular bureaucrats. Engagement
within the bureaucratic state furnished the imperial oligarchy with
its own self-understanding of Hispanic cultures.
Likewise, journeys for Creoles cultivated identity. Travel through
the continent inculcated a sense of American-ness. Touring imper-
ial Spain enhanced American loyalties. Seventeenth and eighteenth
century Spain appeared poor and foreign to Americans. Its cities
lacked the grandeur of the baroque New World, reecting instead
more of the medieval Islamic past than the contemporary aesthetics
of court society. The colonies may have even seemed like the region
of the empire in which Spanish culture and social structure were
directly preserved.99
Journeying can be contrasted with the metaphoric homecoming.
In the long term, Spanish elites in the Indies thrived not only on
the military or economic functions of imperial pride or trade, but
also on the needs of imperial institutions. This included the devel-
opment of the administrative American city, planned in the baroque
tradition with open plazas and carefully located government centres.
The public spaces of the baroque city were reminiscent of the alter-
native home that the agora represented in Ancient Greece.100 Indeed
this trace of Antiquity had been carefully crafted into the baroque
style. Beyond this, the American city could be a place of home-
coming. The growing familiarity of the American environment and
the trade of functions within imperial bureaucracies that multiplied
those experiences required a cultural and symbolic foundation to sus-
tain itself. Authority invested by the monarchy in the imperial appa-
ratus supplied that foundation. The involvement of court state ocials
trained in Europe in provincial governments encouraged an elite sol-
idarity which manifested itself in beliefs, values, fashions and habits
and was conrmed in the correct use of Castilian Spanish. Such
shared features of identity were housed in the colonial city. Although

This is J. H. Parrys suggestion in The Spanish Seaborne Empire (London: Hutchinson,
1966), pp. 34041.
Murphy, Peregrini, p. 21.
230 chapter seven

the rule of the peninsular court elite was often ercely contested in
the cities, the administrative setting was more conducive than the
frontier to their magisterial mores and lifestyles.


One of the methodological starting points for this books overall argu-
ment is that there are compelling similarities between the Atlantic
empires to justify comparison of dierent colonial experiences. In
this chapter, I have tried to chart roughly corresponding features of
dierent Euro-American colonies through a notion of the colonial
order. The colonial order is a concept with heuristic advantages. It
helps to reiterate the constantly present imperial dimension of the
historical experiences of colonies. This chapter revolves around it
and is drafted with one of the main aims of the book in mind: to
examine transcontinental empires within Atlantic modernity. A pre-
liminary conclusion is that Spanish, French and British colonies are
comparable across the northern and southern American continents.
However, further comparison is required to illustrate the tension
of imperial state formation. American colonies can also be evaluated
against the provincial and municipal order of Western Europe dis-
cussed in chapter one. A quick assessment would highlight the unique
position of the colonial order in its congured opposition to the vice-
regal apparatus. Distance between centres on the two continents con-
strained the governmental capacities of the empires peak bodies.
Due to this condition, the colonial order can be described in nega-
tive and positive terms; negatively due to the lack of eective impe-
rial government, positively due to the institutional autonomies that
it created or captured on its own. The institutions that it coalesced
in were in part the objectied and material expression of their
autonomous condition. Colonial cities might echo English, French
or Hispanic origins, but they also bore the mark of Americanized
colonial communities with Creole traditions. The institutions of local
self-government could be the bane of imperial ocials. Unlike the
provincial and municipal order, they were not prey to the cohesion
of dense networks of patronage. Their circumstances often made
autonomous action a necessity. The form of economic relations also
endowed settler communities with societal separation. Exploitation
of the land and its resourcesbe it in plots, ranches, mines or plan-
tationsenriched some settlers enormously. New World wealth made
communities of the colonial order 231

some of them formidable gures in metropolitan Europe. The unique

and specic position of the colonial order in American colonial soci-
eties enabled Creoles/settlers to develop an ambiguous relationship
with the imperial edice. In summary, the colonial order was analo-
gous to the provincial and municipal order in Europe, but enjoyed
a distinguishing capacity for self-reliance. A great awareness of belong-
ing to the American world variously buttressed the feeling of inde-
pendence; but such sentiments competed with entrenched imperial
The life of colonies is not taken here in isolation from the empires
that formed and possessed them. Comparison is therefore possible
and, in fact, is highly rewarding. The comparative analysis of this
chapter has turned up the above similarities in colonial history. The
variation is equally illuminating. The cultural horizons of American
communities contrasted Hispanic forms of Creole identity such as
the neo-Aztecism of New Spain with the strong loyalism of New
French settlers in Canadas main city centres. Low levels of immi-
gration over decades made for small and separate white communi-
ties in some places. French Canada and the Caribbean stand out in
this respect and consequently exhibit high commitments to empire.
Concentrated mixed migration to the British east coast enabled diverse
provincialisms. Imperial allegiance was always moderated by local
conditions there. Voluntary immigration did not have nearly the
same impact in the Spanish Indies due to the long-term blending of
communities. The spectrum of ethnicity formed around the inter-
changes of Spanish Americans and indio communities and through
the spread of slavery. Creole/settler cultures were also informed by
the intensity of social inequalities. Again, this uctuated from one
set of colonies to the next; it was often most severe in places where
it was compounded by organized slavery. The nal variation lies
with the dierent civilizational signs of foundation of colonies. Enclosure
and possession of land symbolized settlement for the English. The
ritual foundation of cities authorized the landmarks of Hispanic civ-
ilization. The establishment of forts and spread of trade signied the
advance of French civilization in North America, while in its Caribbean
possessions the oppressive apparatus of plantations incarnated its pres-
ence. These were, in a way, the possessions of the colonial order as
much as they were the institutions of the empires.
Local conditions were important as they inuenced the degree of
compact and conict between imperial and colonial leaders. The
232 chapter seven

institutional struggle over authority combined with intensied rivalry

between Europes empires to open up a new conjuncture. In the
Atlantic world, new states could be created by a colonial order that
set itself against the British Spanish and French empires. The next
step in my overall argument is a reconstruction of the British and
Spanish American revolutions that took place in the late eighteenth
to early nineteenth centuries. This reconstruction throws into relief
the imperial guration of tension that produced those processes and
mark how divergent histories shaped distinctive paths of modernity
for Americas emergent republics.



By the mid-eighteenth century vibrant settler-colonial societies had

grown in the Spanish, French and British Atlantic empires. In places
where the tension of state formation engendered conicts in the
American environment, those conicts exposed the limited capacity
of imperial rule and the tenuous links of colonial patronage. On one
hand, the conicts stoked the hesitancy of existing loyalties and
magnied American subjectivities. On the other hand, it shored up
the sense of rightful authority on the part of the personnel of state
who understood themselves to be the embodiment of empire. For
settler elites, the experiences of the remote character of the institutions
of the imperial state sat uncomfortably with their steadfast loyalties
to old world traditions. Their familiarity with colonial life and par-
tial self-administration re-conrmed their location at the perceived
margins of the Spanish, French and British empires. Yet, many colo-
nists also saw their own worlds as centers of sorts or at least saw
themselves as compatriots of a common cultural heritage in which
they had entitlements as Hispanic subjects, Frenchmen or Britons.
In the changed international climate of the late eighteenth century,
when states militarized the world-wide competition of empires, this
polarization of perceptions boosted conditions of potential rebellion.
The Atlantic empires, to varying degrees, had generated self-reg-
ulating institutions which colonists used as vehicles of partial gov-
ernment. Through these, Americans developed distinctive colonial
visions of empire. More than this, they experienced colonization as
peripheral subjects, even though they felt that they were members
of an empire who should stand on a truly equal footing with their
European counterparts. The sense of marginality was heightened by
the colonial autonomies that they held and jealously guarded. American
republican sentiments emerged as responses to experiences shared in
the colonial order of government. They aggregated Creole perspec-
tives on questions of sovereignty, legal jurisdiction, economic inter-
est and the constitutional character of empire as a whole. In the
234 chapter eight

British and Spanish empires, which are the main focus of this chap-
ter, the possibility of republican political horizons owed out of the
institutional autonomy created by the colonial order.

Conict within empirescompetition between states

I will assume license to re-date the eighteenth century such that

analysis can commence with the 1689 constitutional reformation of
the English state and nish with the American War. With this time
frame the eighteenth century can be classed as a short century of
war.1 The transformation of governmental institutions and the devel-
opment of the philosophies of political economy were responses to
the martial climate of inter-state rivalry. Reform of the administra-
tive and mercantile structures of British, French and Spanish empires
heightened the level of conict in the mid-late eighteenth century.
The economic relationship between the mercantile organization of
imperial economic life and the endogenous formation of colonial
economies bred opposition. Administratively, the societal distinctive-
ness of the New World was also evident in the structures of colo-
nial government. Moreover, the stakes were raised across the board
after the Treaty of Utrecht as the competition of states intensied.
Manoeuvre, intrigue and war in the interstate system had a pro-
found impact on the course of trade. Programs of liberalization
were responsive to crises that led to war. In a short eighteenth cen-
tury, wars and their resolution prompted the internal restructuring
of the protagonist states. The terms of settlement of the War of
Spanish Succession began this short century and the Seven Years
War established new conditions for trade at its end. Indeed, during
this time commercial advantages became part of the spoils of war.
Spain suered a great deal in both conicts. The Treaty of Utrecht
was a watershed that was Atlantic in its scope.2 In law, it established
the sovereignty of realms, nally terminating Spains claim to universal
monarchy after the 1493 Papal Bull. It limited Frances territorial
claims. The results were directed by British interests, which were

See The Economics of War and the Politics of Peace, in Nancy F. Koehn,
The Power of Commerce: Economy and Governance in the First British Empire (Ithaca, NY
and London: Cornell University Press, 1994).
Liss, Atlantic Empires, chap. 1.
war and imperial re-division 235

clearly perceived to be commercial and not territorial. France and

Spains most visible losses, however, were territorial. The resources
of the Habsburg dynasty and its energies had been extended across
six dierent territories. The European territories were lost to the
Austrian Habsburgs. Moreover, the strategic locations of Gibraltar
and Minorca fell to Britain. On top of this the benets of Spanish
mercantile monopolies were curtailed by the further inroads into
Spanish trade made by the British and the loss of the asientothe
slave monopoly in the Caribbean. The asiento was a coveted prize
that states fought ercely for, although its monopoly properties could
not be strictly enforced. For the British, it opened up Spanish trade
in the Americas. Three decades of peace with France enabled the
British to exploit the new opportunity. In turn, France surrendered
Newfoundland, Port Royal, Hudson Bay and Nova Scotia to Britain;
more gains for the country coming out of its century of revolution.
The Bourbons claimed the Spanish throne in an important dynas-
tic coup that re-shaped the institutional arrangement of the Spanish
empire, yet they saw t not to annex Spain outright. Although ter-
ritorial boundaries had shrunk in the aftermath of the War of Spanish
Succession, the problems of governing a vast empire remained with
its Bourbon heirs. The legacy of Habsburg rulean exhausted trea-
sury and a battered court statecontinued to limit what Madrid
could do. The parlous state of Spains reduced empire presented the
Bourbon regime with a challenge.
The century-long response was a strategy of modernization that
gained momentum in the 1750s. Elements of physiocratism, liberal-
ism in trade arrangements and mercantilist aggression in the exploita-
tion of resources were combined in the renewal of the state apparatus.
The Spanish Enlightenment (ilustracion) was the creed of the new cen-
tralism. Within this ideology, reform itself was legitimized. The author-
ity of the state could no longer rest on appeals to virtue. It had to
justify itself on the grounds of interests served rather than honour.
This introduced a new tension between the legitimation of dynastic
continuity and the encouragement of individual subjects to pursue
material gain. In policy, the regime shared its sincere commitment
to the goal of private prosperity, while at the same time overseeing
debates about the national interest between the ilustrados and the
functionaries of state.3 Modernity came after a fashion with Spains

Perez-Diaz, State and Public Sphere, pp. 25355.
236 chapter eight

new dynasty. But it was restricted to a rationality of outlook amongst

new ocials and the rationalizing measures that they introduced.
Spains cities were not greatly eected, even less so the rural worlds
of the majority of Spaniards. Spains state was its most modern sector.
Thus the main result between 1715 and the Seven Years War was
economic and administrative stabilization.
For Britain, aside from strategic gains, the terms of Utrecht brought
the conditions of further institutional innovation. The potential was
realized. A new institutional hegemony emerged under Walpole.
Where colonial interests did not conict openly with British ones,
the colonies were left to govern unrestrained. However, in the 1740s
the existing instruments of imperial supervision were applied more
and more.4 Governors in a number of colonies were under siege
from local assemblies.5 At the conclusion of King Georges War in
1748, the Board of Trade adopted a renewed zeal for reforming
supervision arrangements. Ocials on the Board and in related bod-
ies were increasingly inuenced by the growth of political economy
in the 1750s.6 It was an applied social science, done by specialized
practitioners, rather than as an adjunct to business or public service.
Careful attention to the interests of Britains empire and its colonies
was a central tenet of the new kind of thinking. British political econ-
omy was becoming the paradigm of imperial policy and its grip on
British statesmen would grow during the war with France.
The Seven Years War was a watershed in re-shaping the balance
of Western European states. It was the rst modern intercontinen-
tal war.7 Moreover, it had a cold war phase during which the French
and the British regarded each other with mutual suspicion.8 The
results were telling. The Spanish gained and lost; mostly, they lost.

Greene, Peripheries and Centers, pp. 4951.
Greene, Negotiated Authorities, pp. 7175.
Koehn, The Power of Commerce, pp. 1922.
The nest skills in mapmaking at this time were deployed in the manoeuvres
leading up to the war and in the subsequent conagration. See Margaret Beck
Pritchard, Claiming the Land, in Pritchard and Taliaferro, Degrees of Latitude.
Each government felt that the other harbored territorial ambitions in both
North America and north-western Europe. In Europe, the settlement of the War
of Austrian Succession satised neither party to the Treaty of the Aix-La-Chapelle.
In America, past conicts and skirmishes in which alliances with Indian nations
were mobilized to defend strategic posts had left issues of colonial possession unre-
solved. New Frances borders in 1755 were still in dispute. Frank W. Brecher, Losing
a Continent: Frances North American Policy 17531763 (London: Greenwood Press, 1998).
war and imperial re-division 237

They gained Louisiana and Havana thereby enlarging their sphere

of slave-based production. However, with the loss of Florida, Spain
was in a weaker position on both continents on either side of the
Atlantic. Britain was unambiguously the victor in the war and in the
peace. Immediately, the Grenville Government was able to withdraw
from the European theatre and concentrate its energies on the trans-
continental empire. Its administration turned to four problems of
governing that crystallized in the post-war settlement:9
a) Ensuring that the alliances made with the Indian nations could be
managed without provoking conict with the ambitions of colonists;
b) Restructuring the imperial apparatus to bring greater uniformity
in government. Coordination of dierent jurisdictions in the empire
could replace overlapping spheres of responsibility, or so it was
c) Maintenance and even extension of defence forces capable of resist-
ing France and Spains counterparts;
d) Transfer of the costs of empire onto the colonies.
This reected a shift in the disposition towards the English colonists.
Imperial administration in France and Spain adopted fresh postures
too. But, the unease between imperial administrators and colonial
society went deeper in British North America than it did in the
Spanish Indies or in the French Caribbean. It was most evident in
three areas: the application of the Navigation Acts, the collision of
expectations held by imperial and colonial authorities and in con-
stitutional theory. Each is dealt with below.
It was at the administrative summits of the Thirteen Colonies that
the unease was most conspicuous. Ownership and wealth had become
more concentrated in North American colonial society at this time.10
The enrichment of a settler-colonial capitalist class brought greater
competition between American and British merchants. However,
rivalry was conned to American markets.11 The only avenues for
export were through the imperial system of mercantilist regulations,
narrowing the options available to many American merchants. The

Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 245307.
Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, p. 196. On the enrichment of the
British North Americas after the Seven Years War, see also Blackburn, The Making
of Colonial Slavery, pp. 37679 and Braudel, The Perspective of the World, p. 406.
Braudel, The Perspective of the World, pp. 40911.
238 chapter eight

Navigation Acts regulated colonial shipping. They were made and

maintained by Parliament, a body whose authority was controversial
in the eyes of colonists right from the beginning of the eighteenth
century.12 The monopoly on credit was maintained by London. Trade
was centralized through the Board of Trade which since the settle-
ment at Utrecht had sought even closer supervision of colonial aairs.13
Such measures found their counterparts in Spain and Frances
American empires. But the British confronted more robust and densely
populated communities. British Americas prosperity owed out of
the ongoing conquest of territory.
The Board of Trade, with government support, sought to apply
the Navigation Acts with even greater vigour after 1763. The eects
of mercantile regulation varied from one American city to another
and within cities too. The many competing merchant interests can
be distinguished by their relationship to the mercantile regime. For
some, the link with Britain oered prosperity and stability, or at least
seemed to, even after the War of Independence.14 Londons Navigation
Acts eected various sectors of the colonial economy in dierent
ways. The southern colonies in North America, in particular, seem
to have suered lost export opportunities under the mercantilist
regime, which may partly explain southern support for the revolu-
tion.15 Consequently, the application of the Navigation Acts provoked
mixed reactions from northern merchant classes and the plantation-
based south. During the eighteenth century, many market districts
had been linked into the network of the imperial economy. New
Yorks merchant class is a major example. However, the growth of
colonial capital magnied the degree of British regulation of the
American economy. Prior to the second half of the eighteenth cen-
tury, economic competition between wealthy colonial and British
merchants could only occur within certain limits, due to the inuence
of the latter in the legislation of mercantilism. More energetic com-
petition precipitated an even greater number of legal regulations in
the instructions sent from London. Britains response in this period

Marshall, The Eighteenth Century.
See Greene, Peripheries and Centers, p. 46.
Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, pp. 19799.
Curiously, it was in the state with most slavesVirginiathat the aristocracy
was most favourable to the Whigs, that is to the revolution, whose success it prob-
ably ensured. (Braudel, The Perspective of the World, pp. 408409)
war and imperial re-division 239

of crisis was intended to sustain its benecial commerce with the

colonies. However, it was not just the increased volume of regulations
that made the Board of Trades regulatory regime an issue. A qual-
itative shift in the awareness of regulation accompanied the upsurge
in the amount of trade itself. Greater competition made the imperial
export economy more visible for British and colonial merchants alike.
The historical conditions of colonial economic activity illustrate
the tension in the imperial constitution of the American economy
and its growing colonial markets. It was also the case that mercan-
tile regulation helped in the formation of the colonies internal mar-
ket economies. There were market communities clustered around the
bottlenecks of American exports that were part of the ocial export
sector and which looked favourably upon imperial connections.
Merchants in Plymouth and Boston may have contested mercantile
controls silently by evading them, but their New York counter-parts,
and others besides, championed them. Overall, the mercantile reaction
after 1763 was, in part, a measure of increased competition and of
the greater leverage that colonists had within the imperial economy.
Yet, its impact varied signicantly. The changing systems of taxation
and regulation fuelled the separation within the colonies between
those who proted, or at least thought that they did, from the con-
nection with London, and those who felt otherwise.16 Moreover, it
deepened the stando between colonial assemblies and governors
who supported mercantilism.
Britains mid-century wars set the expectations of colonists at a
distance from metropolitan goals.17 Perceptions and expectations
diverged even more emphatically in the British colonies in the wake
of the Treaty of Paris and the Stamp Act. The British gained Canada
as its spoils. This brought relief to English settlers keen to gain
more land and it raised their expectations of enrichment. Already
imbued with the culture of frontier economy, they thought that they
could reasonably expect a further aperture of the colonies western

Partiality towards the sugar and tobacco-producing islands of the Caribbean
had been evident since Walpoles ascendancy. According to Greene, where there
was a clash between corporate interests in Britain and colonial interests, the for-
mer would invariably hold sway over Parliament. This intensied after the Seven
Years War. See Negotiated Authorities, pp. 6267.
John Shy, The American Colonies in War and Revolution 17481783, in
Marshall, The Eighteenth Century.
240 chapter eight

boundaries.18 The end of the Seven Years War might bring new
wealth and a concomitant relaxation of the economic constraints
inherent in mercantilism, or at least a return to the 1756 status quo
ante. Behind this was a colonial impression of what the Empire was,
or should be.19 The societies and institutions that colonists had devel-
oped were the political right, almost the property, of the colonial
order. Taxation was the privilege of their assemblies only. In the
eyes of British Americans, defence of the colonies was their respon-
sibility up until that stage and there were few compelling reasons
for that arrangement to change.
In London, the view of the 1763 Treaty reected a very dierent
impression. The chief considerations were strategic and extended
over all of Britains imperial concerns.20 The Treaty presented an
opportunity to prune the nancially stressed empire and its military
forces. Metropolitan intervention in colonial aairs could be reasserted.
There was, moreover, a growing perception that dierent parts of
the empire should be rmly connected.21 An overarching imperial
body could forge links between eastern and western possessions. A
new and broad imperial agenda was set to serve the overall needs
of Britains far-ung territories, or at least that was the way that the
new situation was understood in London.
Developments after 1763 favoured Londons ambitions. Expectations
had diered substantially in the Thirteen Colonies on three burning
issues. Going unfullled, they remained a source of antagonism for
frontier settlers. Firstly, the potential of the territories in the northwest
was denied to the colonists in the re-division of Ohio. The Royal
Proclamation saved the Ohio Valley for its original inhabitants, an
area envied by fur trappers, land speculators and other settlers.22
The decision to set the region aside was guided by a view that this
was a kind of no-mans land due to the absence of a legal claim
to it. In this instance, imperial administrators thought it their duty

H. V. Bowen, Elites, pp. 18593.
Eliza H. Gould, The Persistence of Empire: British Political Culture in the Age of the
American Revolution (Chapel Hill, NC and London: University of North Carolina
Press, 2000), chap. 4.
Mancke, Negotiating an Empire, in Daniels and Kennedy, Negotiated Empires.
H. V. Bowen, Elites, pp. 17478.
Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in
British North America, 17541766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), chaps. 54 and
59. Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution, pp. 1416.
war and imperial re-division 241

to act with benevolence towards the indigenous nations rather than

in protection of the colonists interests.23 Secondly, the benets of
Canadian markets were largely reserved for British merchants. The
reconstructed empire had closed o the areas to the north and north-
east desired by ambitious settlers. Finally, and most famously, London
instituted the imperial prerogative to tax the colonies for their share
of imperial administration and introduced a series of new taxes and
further regulatory laws.
Divergence of opinion was not conned to the Treaty. Constitutional
arguments grew.24 The parliamentary majority interpreted the rela-
tionship with the colonies through the prism of the domestic con-
stitution. However, the lack of constitutional direction on the place
of the colonies left great latitude for interpretation on the part of
the imperial and parliamentary elite. The central dispute in parlia-
mentary debates concerned whether the colonies were acquired by
conquest or settled outright. Since the turn of the eighteenth century,
the metropolitan view had declared that the colonies were dependent
on the Empire and should remain that way.25 The question was still
unresolved for the British government in the 1760s and confusion
reigned amongst competing imperial authorities. Parliament, the
Kings ministers and the Privy Council each entertained dierent
interpretations.26 In addition, it was clear to some that Britain sus-
tained separate set of interests for its American territories and another
set for its enterprises in Africa and Asia. Others added their voices
to the debate by arguing for an out-and-out integration of the
Empire.27 When it came to North America, Grenville as government
leader was himself unambiguous about the prerogative of the monar-
chy, as he was also about his directions to the governors. As far as
he and the Cabinet were concerned, there was no middle ground
when it came to the constitutional sovereignty of the empire: impe-
rial sovereignty reigned over that claimed by the colonial assemblies.
This meant that the status of the colonies could be constitutionally
remodelled to keep the powers of the assemblies in check.

Gould, The Persistence of Empire, pp. 5961.
Liss, Atlantic Empires, pp. 2324.
Greene, Negotiated Authorities, pp. 5660.
Greene, Peripheries and Center, chap. 2.
T. H. Bowen, British Conceptions, pp. 1619.
242 chapter eight

Debate was not conned to parliament and the ministerial oces

of the government. A groundswell of public concern informed fac-
tional alignments within the government. Ambivalence about victory
in the war and generalized anxiety about imperial rule underpinned
public divisions that were, in turn, reected in government circles.28
On the whole, Britons had expected enhanced prosperity and terri-
torial gains from the war. Disappointment with the Peace of Paris
fuelled pressure for the cost of the war to be shared with the American
colonies. The war gave Britain a sense of global supremacy and, to
be sure, its imperial reach was unprecedented. The extension of its
rule was new and did not stack up against prevailing conceptions of
a limited and moral dominion. Many worried that the empire was
over-stretched and good deal of public insecurity was channelled into
disputes about the national budget. Constitutional and institutional
reform set a new direction, although it did not quell the debate
either in government or amongst the public. On balance, the weight
of active public constituencies fell behind those who wanted a heavy
handed and interventionist approach to the empire, even though this
may not have amounted to full endorsement.
In contrast, American views on constitutional arrangements were
based on what was perceived as the enduring rights of Britons under
the ancient constitution. Any perceived encroachment on them was
ranked metropolitan despotism. Such complaints were reminiscent of
seventeenth-century expressions of disquiet, which had also concerned
scal matters and liberties. Around the time of the 1660 Restoration
and the 1688 Revolution, Anglo-Americans had deliberated on their
status as provincials. They considered themselves English and viewed
events in Britain as critical to the development of the colonies. Anglo-
Americans accustomed to the constitutional notions of natural right
and Common Law precedent saw in their own institutions, customs
and historical practices a part of an undeclared imperial constitution
in which the relationship was cast dierently. Throughout the eigh-
teenth century, colonists had sought a regular constitution from
London.29 They were steadfast in the point of departure with metro-

Koehn, The Power of Commerce, chap. 5. Comparisons with the fate of Rome
were symptomatic of imperial ambivalence. Gibbon was prompted to start his famous
magnum opus on the rise and decline of the Roman Empire only a year after the
Peace of Paris.
Greene, Peripheries and Center, chap. 3.
war and imperial re-division 243

politan authorities: they were English and therefore governed their

own aairs by right. Their perceptions sharpened after the Seven Years
War. The growth of the colonies conferred a sense that their status
was also growing. This seemed to them to be historically conrmed
in their internal tax regime, which had never been challenged by
parliament or the Crown. In the wake of the expensive war with
France, it was under threat from taxes imposed from without that
might over-run the scal capacities of colonial society. This appeared
to Americans as fundamental and constitutional as the question of
whether they could be taxed without parliamentary representation
seemed to go to the foundation of their societies.30
The conict of interests in the British Empire became more appar-
ent in what Immanuel Wallerstein calls a decade of acceleration of
conict, or raising of the decibels.31 This did not merely raise the
stakes in political debate within the colonies; it also led to more
intense actions on the part of colonists against the empire. The agents
of the British Empire, and indeed the colonists themselves, were dri-
ven to opposing poles. Politics developed a gru, high-pitched rhetoric
that set republicans and loyalists at an even greater distance from
one another. Millennialism added to the shrill pitch of debate.32
The 1763 Treaty exemplied the tensions that were intrinsic to
the imperial state. The Treaty moved British statesmen to pursue in
full an oceanic empire.33 However, colonists imagined that they would
acquire more land. Their vision was one of a territorial empire, their
own lands that were separate from the British imperium, which was

Ibid., chap. 5.
Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, p. 203.
Ruth H. Bloch, Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought 17561800
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Nathan O. Hatch, The Sacred Cause
of Liberty, Republican Thought and the Millennium in Revolutionary New England (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1977); Liss, Atlantic Empires, pp. 4345. But see also Melvin
B. Endy, Just War, Holy War, William and Mary Quarterly 42 (1 January 1985):
325. Endy argues that clerical support for the Revolution was couched in the
worldly terms of a just war rather than a strictly millennial language of a holy
crusade. On the place of the so-called enthusiasts as a current in the revolutionary
movement that was separate from Whig inuence, see David S. Lovejoy, Religious
Enthusiasm in the New World: Heresy to Revolution (Cambridge MA: Harvard University
Press, 1985), chap. 11.
Mancke, Negotiating an Empire, in Daniels Kennedy, Negotiated Empires. But
compare with T. H. Bowen, British Conceptions, who argues that the logic of
imperial expansion led to a territorial empire spanning diverse regions of the world.
In his view, the orientation of British statesmen from Pitt onwards was to a global
territorial empire.
244 chapter eight

oceanic and stopped at the shores of North America. This collision

of plans and hopes had longer-term roots in the structure and direc-
tion of the British imperial state. Indeed there were portents of impe-
rial restructuring in pre-1756 initiatives.34 The 1750 Iron Act, 1752
Currency Act and the ordinance that royal governors in the colonies
were responsible to the Board of Trade were intended to check the
inuence of colonial legislatures. However, with the Treaty of Paris
those tensions became tangible in Londons re-conception of the
Empire. Of course, Britains American empire was still at the peak
of its prosperity. Growth in British American trade, in British manu-
facturing and in British exports of capital was a sign of its eco-
nomic ascendancy.35 But this success did little to diminish colonial
divisions; in fact it may have exacerbated them. It was becoming
more apparent to the government in London that colonial privileges
and indemnities did not serve its interests. International competition
of a military and economic nature, and opposition in the Thirteen
Colonies acted on the process by which decisions were made. The
1760s decade of accelerated conict found its crucible in the North
Bourbon determination to restore Spain to its former position crys-
tallized at this time, in this context. Early proposals only addressed
matters of reorganizing the top administrative apparatus, the navy
and imperial commerce.36 They aimed to reduce the breadth of
Spanish imperial responsibility, relieving it of nancial and military
burdens.37 It was an attempt to increase metropolitan control over
the spheres of regulation of colonial administration, communications,
transportation, production and distribution. In the Americas, the
imperial project of re-centralization was applied to already-consoli-
dated viceregal jurisdictions in which municipal and judicial autonomies
had some lingering vitality and constituted a sphere of Creole admin-

Liss, Atlantic Empires, pp. 1516.
Engerman, Mercantilism and Overseas Trade 17001800, in Flood and
McCloskey, The Economic History of Britain.
Liss, Atlantic Empires, p. 48.
Jacques Barbier poses administrative expansion and commercial liberalization
at the end of the eighteenth century as a continuation of patterns of state forma-
tion in the Indies. They represented continuity insomuch as they maintained American
dependence on Spanish if not European markets. In this sense they were not rad-
ical innovations. See The Culmination of the Bourbon Reforms Hispanic American
Historical Review 57, no. 1 (1977). On the content of the reforms, see Veliz, The
Centralist Tradition, pp. 7983.
war and imperial re-division 245

istration. The formation of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1739

and then the Viceroyalty of La Plata in 1776 streamlined those juris-
dictions and were recognition of new economic and political realities.
It was also a move to diminish the inuence of the Creole-dominated
audiencia in Lima. Inadvertently, this stoked merchant and adminis-
trative elites in Buenos Aires. Thus, the assertive regulationist prin-
ciples of the absolutist Spanish empire were slightly oset by informal
colonial rule, the mercantile economy and colonial black markets.
Madrids institutional overhaul addressed colonial autonomy in the
Americas. The centrepiece of reform in Spain was a system of inten-
dancy.38 Salaried bureaucrats answered to Secretariats of State, Treasury
Justice, the military and Navy and the Indies. The reforms took hold
in Spain, but were delayed in the Americas. Division within gov-
ernment in Madrid stymied the introduction of intendants into the
American viceroyalties until the 1780s. In the 1760s a crucial step was
taken. Bourbon minister and ideologue Jose de Campillo had con-
ceived a program of reform that included the visita general (inspection)
and the appointment of regional intendants with sweeping powers.
A number of visitations occurred in the 1760s. The vistadores seized
the authority to implement immediate changes, swinging the balance
of decision-making towards the Crowns agents. But the problem of
controlling the viceregal apparatus and exerting authority over the
institutions of the colonial order remained. Until the 1760s, there
were too many senior peninsular ocials who lived o the repar-
timiento de comercio. Unable to scrap the corruption, Spains govern-
ment demanded that traded goods be priced and that taris on those
goods be collected by paid ocials, of course, even though this met
with only limited success.

These comments draw on Bradings Bourbon Spain and its American Empire,
in Bethell, The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 1, pp. 394409; Liss, Atlantic
Empires, pp. 5558; John Lynch, The Origins of Spanish American Independence,
in Bethell, The Cambridge History of Latin America; and McLachlan, Spains Empire in
the New World, pp. 9091. In the case of colonial Mexico, eighteenth century Bourbon
reform brought a reversal of the bureaucratization of colonial oces. The empire
abandoned the principle of salaried payment of district magistratesthe alcaldes may-
ores and the corregidoresand converted their oce into an unpaid one. Previously,
the pay had been poor. Now, the magistrates were dependent on trade in the repar-
timiento economy or on the meagre fruits of justice. As a result oce holders
began to perceive their oces as personal prebends. See David A. Brading,
Government and Elite in Late Colonial Mexico, Hispanic American Historical Review
53 (1973).
246 chapter eight

One fruitful outcome of the Bourbon strategy was the salaried

appointment of ocials to lower levels of administration. The pay-
ment of a salary to the alcabalas (who administered treasury collec-
tion and transportation) spread between the 1750s and 1770s
throughout Mexico and Peru. Squads of armed guards were a sign
of their growing prestige; gures who were also on the viceregal pay-
roll. The reorganization produced a marked improvement in impe-
rial nances. Reform therefore demarcated peninsular elites who
identied themselves more directly with the court state and whose
fortunes were less dependent on the networks of exchange in the large
cities and their surrounding catchment areas. Increasingly, military
men accustomed to a chain of command were appointed.39 Where
the repartimiento had encouraged ocials to entrench themselves in a
local economy, salaried income combined with scal measures tied
to exports linked them with trade activity.
Ideology also separated the Bourbon-cultivated elites from the colo-
nial order. A perception of rationality derived from the Spanish ilus-
tracion guided innovation. Meanwhile, those same innovations were
viewed more and more by Creole leaders as incursions on local
autonomy. The judicial language of the empires constitution spoken
by Bourbon ministers betrayed a dierent attitude to the Americas.
Creole-Americans had grown accustomed to thinking of themselves
as part of a transatlantic empire, the Universal Monarchy. Spanish
ocials spoke increasingly and incessantly of an empire now divested
of its European territories, as divided between the metropolis and
the colonies. The ideological and linguistic shift was important, espe-
cially given the purposeful and programmatic character of the Bourbon
interlude in Spains imperial state building.
The program of reforms was a response to two coextensive devel-
opments. Firstly, the increase in the seemingly ubiquitous contra-
band trade in the Americas and the more vociferous presence of
Creole interests in colonial institutions formed the context in which
the reforms appeared necessary. The nal return on intra-imperial
trade was consistently and severely cut by the repartimiento and smug-
gling. Forging a layer of supra-provincial ocials attacked the repar-
timiento head on. It also introduced an additional stratum of overseers
into colonial society.

McLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World, pp. 9697.
war and imperial re-division 247

Secondly, increased inter-imperial competition weakened Spain,

opening the Atlantic seaboard to British and French monopolies.
Bourbon Spain could have responded by shoring up its mercantilist
trade. But, the growth of contraband trading had undermined its
mercantile regulations for much of the century. Caught between the
strain placed on the mercantile economy by smuggling and pressure
from the British to unshackle inter-imperial trade, Madrid elected to
loosen its relationship to its possessions. Colonial commerce was
opened up in 1765 as part of a program to remove the incentives
of the black market.40 The liberalization of trade and the opening
of ports to intra-colonial commerce were generally opposed by mer-
chants in the Americas who had beneted from the pre-Caroline
monopoly on trade and proted from smuggling. Cadiz and Seville
lost their monopoly status in 1765 and Spanish ports were permit-
ted open communication with each other and the American colonies.
Subsequently the pace of trade accelerated for the colonies; between
1778 and 1788 one estimate suggests that the sum of Spanish American
exports increased by seven hundred percent.41 So why did the break-
down in monopolized trade lead to opposition? Monopoly had united
the dierent provinces of the empire with Madrid and it provided
economic security and even a spur to development. The renewal of
commercial restrictions reected a new perception amongst court
state ocials. The colonies were now vibrant economic entities in
and of themselves. Nonetheless, their purpose had not changed. In
1778 Gaspar de Jovellanos expressed this view well: Colonies are
useful in so far as they oer a secure market for the surplus pro-
duction of the metropolis.42
A further innovationthe creation of joint-stock companieswas
a source of greater antagonism between peninsular and Creole com-
munities in the Americas.43 Joint-stock companies replaced the mer-
cantile rms that had dominated monopoly trade in Seville and
Cadiz. They were not new monopolies, but privileged rms. Tax
concessions gave them an exercisable advantage in the rst half of
the eighteenth century. Some monopoly companies continued to exist,

Veliz, The Centralist Tradition, pp. 12935; and Herr, Spain, p. 61.
McLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World, p. 93.
Cited in Lynch, The Origins of Spanish American Independence, in Bethell,
The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 1, p. 15.
Parry, The Spanish Seaborne Empire, pp. 33840.
248 chapter eight

but their operations faltered. Joint stock companies adapted to chang-

ing regulations more readily. Of course, both the regulations and the
companies were intended to be vehicles of supervision for the court
state. They played a far greater role in colonial life than the Habsburg
monopolies and their personnel gradually gained a substantial place
in colonial administration, even in institutions that were relatively
independent. Their weight in the economic hinterlands was a mark
of peninsular inuence and a source of growing Creole resentment,
even while trade with other colonies was bringing material benets.
The chosen strategy of the Bourbons for the reconsolidation of
the Atlantic empire was a particular form of centralism designed
around the expansion of monarchical bureaucracy. Apart from the
restructuring of the imperial court apparatus, Madrid attempted to
signicantly alter the composition of colonial government personnel.
The appointment of Creole and even indigenous servants to magis-
terial oce was fairly common. This trend continued during the
early Bourbon years, until Charles III instituted the program of recen-
tralization in the 1760s. Filling colonial oces with peninsular per-
sonnel displaced some Creole and native civil servants and barred
other aspirants to higher oce. Their traditional paths to govern-
ment were increasingly blocked; the purchase of oces became a
less common practice and their appointment to the positions of inten-
dencia and oidor rare.44
Redirection of the empire in the second half of the eighteenth
century brought to light the partial exclusion of Creoles. Increased
centralization of administrative decisions and the displacement of
Creole administrators were designed to tighten a agging imperial
economy. Within a given set of parameters, these measures could
be regarded as successful. Re-centralization, the lynchpin of liberal
reform, provoked the opposition of Creole ocials whose political
position was weakened by the formation of an intendant apparatus
staed chiey by Europeans. Re-centralization provoked greater eth-
nic rivalry between Creoles and peninsulares that impacted on all: mer-
chants, traders, ecclesiastics, lawyers, judges, rulers.
Comparison of imperial re-division in the British and Spanish
Americas at this point can throw light on critical dierences. The
imperial resurgence in the British Empire was, in important ways,

Leon Campbell, A Colonial Establishment, pp. 1819.
war and imperial re-division 249

characterized by dierent results. In British North America, the post-

1763 reforms galvanized pre-existing tensions, but in a new context.
The strategic and economic importance of the Thirteen Colonies
increased after the Seven Years War. This was recognized, after the
fall of Pitt, in the Grenville reforms.45 The opposition in the Thirteen
Colonies to more active imperial intervention was unmistakably more
dierentiated than in the Indies. Consequently, colonial institutions
of legislative authority struggled to maintain their purchase on their
powerful and autonomous institutions, while London attempted to
shape a program of recentralization.
By contrast, the corresponding process in the Spanish Indies mar-
ginalized Creole-dominated colonial inuence and opposition and
strengthened the peninsular-dominated court state apparatus in the
viceroyalties themselves. It advanced the court states authority through
direct institutional reform and innovation. What prompted Madrid
to pursue this path of recentralization was its inability to control
colonial production and trade and its declining position in the inter-
state system. Reform was therefore a product of relative demise,
rather than ascendancy.
Britains position in the global competition of European empires
after the Seven Years War was one of unprecedented strength. With
Britain soaring and Spain in decline, the respective economic for-
tunes of the two empires followed suit.46 Britain continued to benet
greatly from its mercantile institutions. Conversely, Spanish America
was beginning to prove costly for Madrid. The American possessions
drove an expansion of an expensive administration at a time when
the prots of mercantile privileges were falling, even though the level
of trade clearly wasnt.47 The fate of transatlantic empires in the mid-
late eighteenth century period rested with the success each had in
trying to forge new institutions that could maintain the pattern of
power in changing circumstances.

Tucker and Hendrickson, The Fall of the First British Empire, pp. 10914.
John Lynch, British Policy and Spanish America 17831808, Journal of Latin
American Studies 1, no. 1 (1969).
Jacques Barbier outlines the eects of the decline of Spanish mercantilism in
Peninsular Finance and Colonial Trade: The Dilemma of Charles IVs Spain,
Journal of Latin American Studies 12, no. 1 (1980).
250 chapter eight


An emphasis falls in this short chapter on international pressures on

the Euro-American empires and how the rivalry of states impacted
upon the tension of imperial state formation. The principal purpose
in these pages is to set out how the tensions of empire were made
tangible through the clash of post-war aspirations in British and
Spanish America. In the re-aligned international context, the lack of
harmony between metropolitan intentions and colonial demands and
actions echoed in opposing perspectives on how Empire should be
congured. Republican decampment did not appear inevitable to
anyone embroiled in the political turmoil of the late eighteenth cen-
tury.48 But the shape of a colonial order that the imperial apparatus
confronted was more dened. It held vital instruments of adminis-
tration in Anglo-American and was resurgent in the Spanish-American
viceroyalties. Meanwhile, the institutional contours of London and
Madrids overarching structures were re-structured as part of re-
visioned programs of state-building. The growth of the colonial order
drew responses from reform minded imperial statesmen and the pro-
grams of reform were intended to tackle its institutional powers head
on. But the latter were more alert than ever to the interests of com-
petitors. This became a recipe for collision. The next chapter steps
aside from the international focus. I proceed on to examine the
American Revolution and the rise of Latin American republics The
next stage in this comparative analysis has a separate purpose: to
explore their contexts and historical signicance.

In contrast, Marc Egnal argues that in the British North American colonies a
faction of the upper class committed to expansionist development crystallized well
before 1763. Its patriotic determination was a critical force in the logic of revolu-
tionary transformation in the North. See A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American
Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).



How republican states emerged and how they varied with one another
is the topic of this chapter. From the War of Spanish Succession
through to the end of the Napoleonic adventure, Western states were
engaged in erce world-wide rivalry. International relations in the
Atlantic zone between extended polities conditioned the extent to
which colonial communities could govern themselves. The discussion
now focuses on the contexts of politics in the British and Spanish
Americas and the transformation of the social and economic struc-
tures that sustained modern republican traditions. This breaks down
into two problematics. Firstly, subjectivities cultivated in the New
World underscored competing imperial and republican loyalties. All
political coalitions depended on shared experiences of life in the
Americas. But ultimately, dierent commitments were made volun-
tarily and it is dicult to explain the development of a rich spec-
trum of opinion solely by reference to colonial subjectivity. The
pattern of pro-empire and pro-republican allegiance is dealt with
under the headings of proto-nationalism and the colonial condition.
Secondly, I consider the relationship of social and economic condi-
tions to civic and political traditions that were in the process of form-
ing in the late eighteenth century. Two sub-themes organize this part
of the chapter. Colonial public spheres emerged and were the sites
of republican traditions. None were a tabula rasa and existing polit-
ical alignments weighed on Anglo and Spanish American minds.
However, in the Spanish case, ethnic stratication of colonial com-
munities intersected with other social, economic and political divi-
sions to limit the horizon of political possibility. A nal discussion
of the character and content of the revolutions of the Anglo and
Hispanic American colonial order arises from this.
Little is said about French America. Nor is the Caribbean area a
large part of the picture. This book stops at the 1820s. Canadas
independence still had some time to wait, although the regroupment
252 chapter nine

of the British American Empire around possessions in the Caribbean

and the acquisition of Canada deserves a pause for reection. Also,
colonies of the British and the French Antilles were held long after
the rest of America left the imperial fold. Any far-reaching expla-
nations of republican departures from the Atlantic empires must
acknowledge the fact that Canada was reformed as a British colony
and that the Caribbean colonies were not overthrown. The spec-
tacular exception is Haiti and there is a section on that revolt. Its
roots in local conditions and in Jacobin republicanism are discussed
against a backdrop of the shifting philosophy of empire before and
after the French Revolution. Otherwise, the French case is not as
prominent in these passages.

Proto-nationalism and the tension of state formation

The crystallization of opposing loyalties in the colonies has been

interpreted as the portents of nationalist causes waiting to emerge.
Conventional historiographic wisdom on the wars of Latin American
independence and the 1776 Revolution has been inuenced by nine-
teenth century national histories.1 They explain imperial disintegra-
tion by reference primarily to the rise of nationalism as a driving-force
of independence. The presumption that the movements for inde-
pendence were nationalist has rested at the core of long-standing
historiographic explanation. This section examines the implications
of nationalist historiography and proposes a more theoretically nuanced
view. Following Eric Hobsbawns notion of proto-nationalism, the
current argument aims to set colonial political divisions in historical
perspective in order to highlight the limited eect nationalist senti-
ments had. This prepares the ground for a later analysis of the char-
acter of the revolutions of independence can begin.
On the face of it, there seems to be good reasons why explana-
tion of the eighteenth and nineteenth century revolutions should

Joyce Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 2223, 27780. On Latin American his-
toriography, see Joseph A. Barager, The Historiography of the Rio de La Plata
area since 1830, Hispanic American Historical Review 39, no. 1 (1959). See also vol.
40 of the same journal for a series of surveys of regional historiography. For a bib-
liographical review of literature on the early nineteenth century revolutions, see
Robert Humphreys, The Historiography of the Spanish American Revolution,
Hispanic American Historical Review 36, no. 1 (1956).
republican revolutions of the colonial order 253

hinge on nationalism. The articulation of nationalist ideas expressed

the consolidation of notions of independence in the revolutionary
period. However, the assumption that independence in the Americas
was red by nationalism is too imprecise and one-sided.2 The social,
economic and cultural conditions that characterized the spread of
nationalist sentiment in the old world in the second half of the nine-
teenth century did not have exact American equivalents at this time.
Governed as they were by distant metropolitan elites, Americans pro-
jected distinct and indeed competing loyalties not easily subsumed
under the heading of nationalism. Many historians have re-evalu-
ated old world nationalism. It is now described as a mass phenom-
enon of the last two centuries to distinguish it from the identication
of the elites of state with the central monarchy.3 Nationalism is seen
as the form of mass identity of national communities in order to
delineate it with any theoretical clarity from antecedent complexes
of understanding and identity.

American historians began to utilize a new language to describe the events and
politics of the eighteenth century in the 1970s. In her historiography, Linda Kerber
charts this shift by linking it with the context of contemporary events that indi-
rectly inform the language of recent historical scholarship in the US:
A new label has been devised in the last decade; the modest phrase early
republic is not much more descriptive, but it is richer in nuance. Aggressive
nationalism has come to seem somewhat less important to an understanding
of the early American political system than does then widely shared sense that
Americans were engaged in a republican experiment. Substitution of republi-
can for national in the historians lexicon may have had some relationship
to a growing distaste, among people writing in the midst of the Vietnam conict,
for nationalism as a non-perjorative explanatory device. But it also owes much
to an enlarged sensitivity to and respect for words as carriers of culture, and
to a respect for ideology as an authentic expression of political situation and
cultural condition. (The Republican Ideology of the Revolutionary Generation,
American Quarterly 37, no. 4 [1985]: 474)
Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities; Karl W. Deutsch, Nationalism and Social
Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
1966); Hobsbawn, Nations and Nationalism. Francois-Xaviar Guerra charts a course
between Anthony Smiths thesis of the primordial impulse of nationalism and
Andersons hyper-modernity of nationalism with a notion of the nation as imagi-
nary. See Modernidad e Independencias. This argument has some anity with Shmuel
Eisenstadts sociological assessment of the debate on nationalism. Eisenstadt marks
out a third perspective between primordialist and modernist positions and empha-
sizes factors of trust, solidarity and the social construction of boundaries between
groups. In the era of nation state, these anities are articulated into nationalist ver-
sions of collectivitism. See The Construction of Collective Identities in Latin America:
Beyond the European Nation-State Model, in Roniger and Sznajder, Constructing
Collective Identities.
254 chapter nine

In the American context, the politics of independence addressed

a terrain of imperial and colonial loyalties and identities. Contestatory
national identities were, in a sense, present. Indeed, they can be
characterized as the proto-national bonds of consociation, the basis
of popular proto-nationalism. This is the working notion of Eric
Hobsbawns theory of nationalism. His departure from the conven-
tional historiography of nationalism rests on the proposition that eth-
nicity does not form the sole basis of nationalist sentiment. Nationalist
movements mobilize and transform pre-existing ethnic loyalties as
well as other traditions (such as language and religion).4 Ethnicity
was one of certain variants of feelings of collective belonging which
already existed and which could operate . . . on the macro-political
scale.5 However, conating proto-national bonds with macro-polit-
ical mass nationalisms of nineteenth century Europe is conceptually
misleading. In Hispanic America, nationalism was not clearly formed
and articulated in the early nineteenth century. It was only well after
the revolutions of independence had occurred that mass nationalism
found fertile ground in the new Latin American republics.6 In the
British north, national identity was more signicant. Yet, in the post-
revolutionary period, the important questions issue from the conict
between a range of republican and federalist visions of government.
Strictly speaking, it was debates over the constitution and dierent
plans for a federal polity that dened politics after the revolution.
While a national form did take shape, the ubiquitous nationalism of
socio-culturally coherent national communities did not take root in
the Americas until well into the nineteenth century.
Another reason to be cautious about past claims that ourishing
nationalism caused the republican revolts is the stubborn fact that
the British and French empires survived and re-divided. A pause for
reection on why the colonies in Canada and the Caribbean remained

Hobsbawn, Nations and Nationalism, chap. 2. See also Craig Calhoun, Nationalism
(Buckingham: Open University Press, 1997), pp. 4850 for a clarifying discussion
of the literature.
Hobsbawn, Nations and Nationalism, p. 46.
For a critique of Andersons theory of nationalism that draws on the Latin
American experience, see Claudio Lomnitz, Nationalism as a Practical System:
Benedict Andersons Theory of Nationalism from the Vantage Point of Spanish
America, in Miguel Angel Centano and Fernando Lopez-Alves, eds., The Other
Mirror: Grand Theory Through the Lens of Latin America (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 2001).
republican revolutions of the colonial order 255

which serves to qualify the analysis of the Empire prior to 1763 and
shed further light of the specicity of the North American revolu-
tion.7 Elizabeth Mancke summarizes recent critical research on
Canadian and United States history and introduces some vital cor-
rectives to received views on the nationalist break-up of the British
Empire. I will briey review her argument here.8 She contrasts the
responses of American settlers and Canadian colonists to circum-
stances after the Seven Years War. While republican-minded Americans
chafed under assertive Crown intervention, Canadians largely acqui-
esced to their new rulers. After loyalist resettlement following the
War of Independence, political debate in Canada did not revolve
around independence or autonomy, but on the distribution of power
within a strong apparatus that remained unchallenged.9 There are
two sides to Manckes explanation as to why this was the case. The
rst is the character of imperial governance before and after the
American Revolution. Canada during the revolutionary era fell to a
British imperial regime that was able to hold it together and was
more attuned to close superintendence of its colonies. English involve-
ment in the seventeenth century had taken the form of settlement
and medium range expansion of existing colonies. The eighteenth
century necessitated imperial strategies of commercial occupation of
apparently empty lands and diplomatic agreements with other pow-
ers to govern over larger and more sparsely populated territories.
This state of aairs seemed to call for greater stability in the exist-
ing colonies. Newly acquired possessions that followed the Treaty of
Utrecht (Acadia, Nova Scotia) were familiar with imperial government,
but could not be closely supervised. They were thinly populated, as

Andrew OShaughnessy mounts a systematically-developed case that settlers in
the British Caribbean were, at root, loyal to the Empire, despite the appearance
of low-level agitation in their legislatures. See An Empire Divided: The American Revolution
and the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).
Elizabeth Mancke, Early Modern Imperial Governance and the Origins of
Canadian Political Culture, Canadian Journal of Political Science 32, no. 1 (March
1999): 320; Another British America: A Canadian Model for the Early Modern
British Empire, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 25, no. 1 ( January
1997): 136. On the more specic involvement of British Canadian colonies in the
War of Independence, see Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 31115. Meinig stresses
the sincerity of motives of Canadians at this time, a factor that he believes has
been taken too lightly.
On this point, see also David Milobar, Conservative Ideology, Metropolitan
Government, and the Reform of Quebec, 17821791, International Historical Review
12, no. 1 (February 1990).
256 chapter nine

were all Canadian regions and the Floridas acquired after the Seven
Years War. Therefore, sustaining political power was the priority
and cultural and religious dierences were tolerated to a greater
extent.10 This amounted to a dierent imperial strategy for British
Canada before and after the American Revolution.
The other side of the explanation has to do with the varying tra-
ditions of colonial government, the structure of the colonial order in
a manner of speaking. This is discussed in detail in this and previous
chapters. Some brief comments from Mancke will add to my analysis.
The colonies in Canada were accustomed to centralist French rule,
even where a de facto autonomy had existed west of the Laurentine
settlements of Quebec and Montreal. By contrast, the English colonies
of the north-eastern coastline held in common autonomous self-gov-
ernment on which they had been founded. To put this more sim-
ply, there was less privatism in the establishment of the Canadian
settlements. Consequently, there was less inclination to launch a more
sustained and far-reaching challenge to the imperial order in the
manner that the Americans of the eastern seaboard had. Indeed,
there was a ready acceptance of imperial rule, aside from some agi-
tation amongst newly settled Anglo-Americans in Nova Scotia, New
Brunswick and Quebec for a share of assembly representation.
This combination of post-1763 imperial arrangements with the
colonial heritage produced a dierent political landscape in Canada.
The proposition in the traditional historiography of the American
Revolutionwhich was unquestioned until recentlythat the deci-
sive factor was forceful British administration can now be set aside
for a more nuanced explanation that captures the variability of insti-
tutional and economic arrangements and pre-existing political cul-
ture. Manckes work summarizes the critical research amassed around
this view. It calls for a comparative methodology and the conclusion
that is most salient to the current argument is that the specic condi-
tions of the Thirteen Colonies were vital. If the revolutionary episodes
of North and Hispanic America are compared, this becomes even
clearer. Any thorough assessment of the conjuncture of Americas
revolutions should single out the republican political culture of the
British North Americas and its institutional context as a highly dis-
tinctive factor. Dierent political postures struck by settlers in the

See also Bayly, Imperial Meridian, pp. 9395.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 257

Thirteen Colonies had a unique bearing on the development of an

independent state in North America. Hence, in Anglo-America, repub-
licanism gured prominently in the process of revolution itself.
Republican ideas featured in the revolts in the Spanish Indies, but
the political culture generated in the crucible of conict was not itself
republicanized. The degree of social consociation of the tight knit
communities of the Thirteen Colonies and the public sphere that they
constructed had only fragile equivalents in the Spanish Indies. The
ground for bourgeois democratic republicanism was not as fertile.
This discussion of republicanism and the end of the British and
Spanish empires can now be broken down into three themes that
structure much of the rest of this chapter preceding the analysis of
Americas revolutions. One was common to both empires. The other
two were points of comparative departure. First of all, settler com-
munities lived in the Creole condition of being caught between
European and indigenous civilizations. In the Spanish Indies this cul-
tivated a fear of indigenous revolt amongst Spanish-Americans. In
British North America it forced a cleavage between loyalist and
republican camps. The economic and social institutional settings of
political debate and discussion that constituted the public sphere in
the north are a second crucial theme, one where there is a clear
divergence between Hispanic and Anglo-America. Finally, ethnic divi-
sions amongst non-indigenous Spanish Americans acted as an impulse
to the formation of republican states in the Spanish Indies.

The troubled Creole condition: caught between dierent worlds

Spanish Americans held the perception that both the Scylla of indige-
nous revolt and the Charybdis of overbearing metropolitan rule
threatened them. In the Spanish Indies, the tumults of the late eigh-
teenth century provoked fear in the three million strong Creole pop-
ulation. Slave and Indian rebellions spoke a language of loyalty to
Madrid that issued from past imperial interventions that had partly
attempted to improve their conditions of life. Creole fears of indige-
nous revolt strengthened sentiments for independence. Reaction against
Madrids liberal legislation on slaves and Indians fanned this fear.
Exasperation at imperial reforms that provided some protection for
the indigenous classes motivated many to consider greater indepen-
dence. On the other side of the Atlantic, Madrid had its own motives
258 chapter nine

for administrative and legislative reform, which included maintaining

stability in the colonies. However, its rationale for maintaining con-
trol over the vast apparatus of the imperial state brought it into
conict with self-assertive colonial institutions.
The ambivalence of Creole communities in relation to the empire
was heightened by the policies of the Spanish ilustracion on non-
Creole communities. The political conicts played out in imperial
administration and legislation in the eighteenth century had reinforced
metropolitan control and aggravated Creole grievances. Settler resent-
ment towards the Caroline resurgence was tempered by the fear of
indigenous insurgency, especially after the rebellion of Tupac Amaru
and the fall of Haiti.11 Both sets of sentimentsfear of insurgency
and colonial disaectionbecame motives for independence in the
context of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain that precipitated the
decline of the empire. Apprehension and agitation then transformed
Creole constituencies into a movement for separation.
Such fears certainly did exist on the English-American frontier,
but they had little eect on the disposition of colonial settlements
towards London. Most urbanized British Americans saw themselves
as distant from any indigenous threat. Attempts to systematically
evangelize in native communities were abandoned from the mid-sev-
enteenth century onwards, around the time that Protestant Reformer
settlers in Ireland gave up their zeal for conversion.12 They had suc-
cessfully decimated many native tribes to the east of the Appalachians.
Others fell prey to forced resettlement. Moreover, the conquest of
northern indigenes was a longer, later and more drawn out process
predominantly carried by the republican state. The impact of fear
of indigenous nations was less during the colonial era.
Colonial North America exhibited another level of ambivalence.
An overarching belief held by Americans that, as Britons, they pos-
sessed full liberties guaranteed by the ancient Saxon constitution did
nothing to problematize imperial rule prior to 1763. However, this
sort of identity could accommodate considerable ambivalence in

Lynch, The Origins of Spanish American Independence, pp. 3140. Rene
Jara and Nicholas Spadaccini explain the profound impact of Tupac Amarus move-
ment by reference to the power of the myth of Inkarra in Peruvian society. See
The Construction of a Colonial Imaginary: Columbus Signature, Amerindian Images
and the Legacy of Columbus, pp. 7076.
Canny, Kingdom and Colony, p. 113.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 259

changed circumstances. Anglo-American understanding of colonial

self-government splintered into dierent camps of loyalty, conser-
vatism and radicalism after imperial reform began. In the colonial
order, settlers maintained divergent opinions on the relationship with
London while at the same time protecting their perceived loss of
common liberties. Prior to the Seven Years War, colonists were often
unconcerned about imperial economic regulation, or were alternatively
more interested in appropriating trading monopolies. Further to this,
even in the political machinations of colonial and imperial govern-
ment, they were often dependent on imperial administration for sanc-
tion to act, or even to call representative institutions to session.13 At
times, some settler communities quite resoundingly echoed the impe-
rial interpretation of the colonial constitution, even after London
reforms. After 1764, the mercantilist resurgence created divisions that
revolved around the axis of the politics of independence. Grievances
accumulated in the wake of the Seven Years War exacerbated by
greater regulation, extra-colonial taxes and British disdain for the
provincials.14 They served to exacerbate growing rifts of opinion in
the Thirteen Colonies.
Perceived hardship fertilized the ground on which feeling for and
against independence could grow. Independence was a question that
divided colonial society. This divide itself splintered into a series of
discernible perspectives. Some were conservative, others were more
nuanced. There were moderate views and there were those with more
radical objectives. Two general types of conservative response were
provoked: outright loyalty to the empire and loyalty to a moderate
agenda of independence. The main feature of the moderate program
was the tempering of non-aristocratic popular ambitions. Loyalty to
the empire for many wealthy colonists was steered by fear of pop-
ular mobilization of the independence movement and its possible
long-term consequences. On the other hand, there were also those
who thought that cutting the umbilical cord with Britain would not
benet them and might place them on a spiral of downward mobility.

The unstable history of the Virginia assembly is illustrative of this more gen-
eral problem. See Bliss, Revolution and Empire, pp. 2931; and Jack P. Greene, The
Attempt to Separate the Oces of Speaker and Treasurer in Virginia 175866,
in Greene, Negotiated Authorities.
On the contempt of British ocers for Anglo-American provincials as a fac-
tor in rising discontent, see F. Anderson, The Crucible of War, chap. 15.
260 chapter nine

This Toryism of the Left was the other type of allegiance which
the independence movement gave rise to.15
In the late 1760s, some leaders entertained a confederalist solu-
tion. Jeerson was among them, although he described it as the exist-
ing constitutional arrangement that Parliament was in deance of.16
Republican currents were surfacing by this time, although they uti-
lized a language of British identity. The movement to independence
was buttressed by a heritage that was Gothicist and Saxonite.17
Interpreted in American conditions this gave one strain of colonial
political culture an image of primordial English nationhood that was
lost in the Empire. In this line of thinking, Anglo-Saxon liberty could
only be preserved in America and only through independence. In
these ways, the intricate political conict over American identity, sov-
ereignty, autonomy and independence was prompted by debates
amongst colonists engaged in colonial government. The conict
between shades of loyalism and republicanism took place in a public
sphere that was itself republicanized by the overall process of revolution.

The northern public spherethe Atlantic economy of commerce

A robust public sphere formed in Anglo-America in the eighteenth

century.18 Its settings were urban. The vitality of economic life in
colonial America buttressed this development. Behind Americas
vibrant economy was a privileged relationship with British com-
merce.19 London, Bristol and Liverpool constituted a hub of trade
by the late seventeenth century. The coalescence of capitalist social
relations in English agriculture and commerce compelled revolu-
tionary merchant interests to embroil themselves in American mar-
kets. The settler centres of the Atlantic seaboard and Caribbean
colonies were, to varying degrees, integrated early into the dynamics

Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, p. 238.
Gould, The Persistence of Empire, pp. 13436.
Colin Kidd, British Identities before Nationalism: Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic
World 1600 1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 26176.
See Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry
into a Category of Bourgois Society (London: Polity Press, 1989); and Craig Calhoun,
ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).
See James F. Shepard, British American and the Atlantic Economy, in Ronald
Homan, ed., The Economy of Early America: The Revolutionary Period 17631790
(Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1988).
republican revolutions of the colonial order 261

of expanding Atlantic capitalism.20 Within the British North American

colonies, demographic density and the proximity of city-based mar-
kets to each other enabled a more far-reaching integration of eco-
nomic networks than elsewhere on the continent. Boston, New York,
Salem and Philadelphia and their economic catchments produced a
substantial nexus of market economic life,21 in spite of their dierent
relationships to Londons export mercantilism. Commercial milieux
connected to imperial trade existed in the four cities.22 The weight
of merchant interests was heavy in all of them, although this in no
way would govern where the loyalties of each city would fall in the
crisis of the 1770s.
Their incorporation into major trading routes in the Atlantic net-
work guaranteed vibrant economic and social expansion. Growth in
exports and imports extended the links with European states, although
the impact of expanding trade was uneven.23 British North America
generated rival communities that competed not just for intra-colo-
nial markets, but also within dierent levels of economy. New York
was home to the colonial export market, while Boston and Philadelphia
mainly accommodated local markets. Market formation also cultivated
the bonds of colonial identity through the creation of dierentiated
communities. These could distinguish themselves from each other
and their interests from others. Above all, it was easy to perceive
that their particular city contained a distinct set of markets. Commerce
gave them something in common with each other, and set them up
in social relationships of inter-dependence and reciprocity. This could
only but succour colonial consciousness.
In the Thirteen Colonies, political contention, discussion and conict
were carried out in the colonial public sphere. The emergence of

Jacob Price, The Transatlantic Economy, in Greene and Pole, Colonial British
Donald Meinig portrays a Greater New England that was culturally Puritan
and economically centered on Boston. The latter competed with ports at Salem,
New Haven, New London, Providence and Portsmouth. Boston remained the main
gateway servicing Massachusetts. See The Shaping of America, pp. 100109. See also
Phyllis Whitman Hunter, Purchasing Identity: Massachusetts Merchants 16701780 (Ithaca,
NY and London: Cornell University Press, 2001); Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt:
Urban Life in America 17431776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1955). Richard
Sheridan drew early attention to the vitality of North American colonial economies
with The Domestic Economy, in Greene and Pole, Colonial British History.
Meinig, The Shaping of America, pp. 31719.
Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution, pp. 1618.
262 chapter nine

the printed word and its constitution of dierent public spheres were
distinctive.24 The close relationship between communications networks
and printing houses produced a privileged position for the news-
paper and for the printer-journalists. Journalists could command many
aspects of the production process and were in a crucial location in
the ow of public information. Furthermore, their importance was
augmented in the years prior to the Revolution as pamphleteering
and broadside production provided more forums for public formation.25
Newspapers and smaller productions carried political commentaries,
histories, testimonials, legal tracts, local controversies, letters and
polemics. Anglo-Americans, who were well schooled in a classical
education,26 eagerly read those publications and conversed in a wider
political discourse about morals. A vibrant middle-class discussion
took place in a rich transatlantic circuit of periodicals. Some titles
had emerged in England and France as early as the mid-seventeenth
century and were found in the libraries of many Anglo-Americans
of diverse opinion.27 These fora of the public sphere were not monop-
olized by any one perspective or political interest. The prevalence
of loyalist and republican articles and publications, in all their respec-
tive shades of opinion, is testament to the relatively open character
of the eighteenth century public.

Benedict Anderson cites gures from Lucien Febvre which demonstrate phe-
nomenal growth in American print: Between 1691 and 1820, no less than 2,120
newspapers were published, of which 461 lasted more than ten years. This gure
would appear to include pamphlets and broadsides also. By the mid-eighteenth
century the media seems to have begun consolidating itself. Between 1763 and 1775
the number of colonial newspapers in constant circulation more than doubled from
23 to 58. The number of places that they were published nearly doubled from 15
to 26. Between 1764 and 1783, Bailyn notes that 335 printers operated in 77
dierent places in the colonies. On the unique character of American print capi-
talism, see Imagined Communities, pp. 6162 and Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin,
The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 14501800 (London: New Left Books,
1976). On pamphlets and the media, see Janice Potter, The Liberty We Seek: Loyalist
Ideology in Colonial New York and Massachusetts (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1983), pp. 710. For statistics on the growth of publishing, publishers and
print see G. Thomas Tanselle, Some Statistics on American Printing, in Bernard
Bailyn and John B. Hench, The Press and the American Revolution (Worcester, MA:
American Antiquarian Society, 1980), pp. 315365.
For statistics and analysis on the spread of pamphleteering see Bailyn and
Hench, The Press and the American Revolution, pp. 34957.
Meyer Reinhold, Classica Americana: The Greek and Roman Heritage in the United
States (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1984), chap. 2.
Norman S. Fiering, The Transatlantic Republic of Letters: A Note on the
Circulation of Learned Periodicals to Early Eighteenth Century America, William
Mary Quarterly 33, no. 4 (October 1976): 64260.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 263

The growth of public discourse had two important eects. Firstly,

it inculcated a sense of colonial selfhood that had a levelling eect,
though the public sphere was hardly classless in any sense. The pro-
vision of news of international, inter-colonial and British aairs helped
in this.28 American colonial interests could be articulated. Then these
would be the objects of controversy in relation to national and inter-
national developments. Dierent and competing points of view emerged
from a heightened sense of what was going on in the world and the
place of the colonies in it. Highly informed colonists considered colo-
nial and international events from within the structure of a news-
paper-based public sphere and in the framework of publicized debate,
learned critique and opinion. For colonial merchants, print media
relayed economic information about movements in prices, new ven-
tures and exports and imports. Furthermore, these were public fora
in which philosophical discussion could be carried out in serial
exchanges that always had a bearing on politics. In this way, the
plethora of newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides and other publications
combined to form a support of colonial identity formation.
Secondly, the public sphere also integrated relatively autonomous
colonial assemblies that had accumulated increased powers during
the eighteenth century.29 Representative assemblies as institutional
foci of public debate formed centres of colonial attention that deep-
ened the republican convictions of those in the colonial order. They
fostered a civic space in which republican notions of representation,
legislative prerogative and self-limited spheres of government could
gestate. Above all, the language and bonds that colonists created
within these structures animated both imperial and colonial loyal-
ties. Print media and representative government assemblies acted as
structural props of a pre-national public sphere. They acted as spheres
in which the competing perspectives of the Empires own internal
make-up tussled with one another for wider popular endorsement. After
1763 they developed a self-governing dynamic of their own, giving
life to the politics of independence in circumstances where it might
otherwise have struggled to nd institutional nourishment from else-
where. Publicity and the public sphere opened up the realm of pol-
itics and the possibility of forging a new state and a new state form.

On the growth of Atlantic communications, see Steele, English Atlantic, pp. 192.
See The Role of the Lower Houses of Assembly in Eighteenth Century
Politics, in Jack P. Greene, The Re-Interpretation of the American Revolution 17631789
(New York: Harper and Row, 1968).
264 chapter nine

Compared to the British north, the development of print and inter-

related public spheres in the Spanish Indies was not as complete.
Cities were less closely connected with each other relying, on one
hand, on the surrounding region and, on the other, links to imper-
ial trade. Although the cities were densely populated, the kind of
proto-industrial development normally associated with print capitalism
was absent. However, economic developments alone do not explain
the limitations on the public sphere in the Spanish Indies. Indeed,
during the period under discussion colonial economic development
sped up and the pace and extent of economic exchanges in the
catchment areas of the viceregal capitals increased substantially.30
The reasons are more strictly political, or at least relate to the struc-
tures of state power. The tight grip of the Catholic Church and the
state over governmental institutions and sources of information lim-
ited the possible growth of a pluralist public sphere in almost all the
viceroyalties. This is not to say that there wasnt a ow of commu-
nication or intellectual critique. The private circulation of corre-
spondence fostered a community of public ideas, one that was
underestimated by historians in the past.31 Furthermore, there was
a substantial readership for books and essays, indeed throughout the
Habsburg and Bourbon eras.32 Ideas circulated through bourgeois
merchant circles in trading cities in the sixteenth century. They
spread with the growth of universities, private libraries and mis-
sionary orders. Universities and academies were features of port and
administrative cities; indeed, they had a privileged place in urban-
izing the Spanish American landscape. However, the existence of a
reading audience for European philosophy, art and criticism does
little to counter the suggestion that politics, philosophy and criticism
were constrained. The purpose of places of learning was cultural

Brading, Bourbon Spain and its American Empire, in Bethell, The Cambridge
History of Latin America, vol. 1, pp. 42633.
James Lockhart and Enrique Otte, eds. and trans, Letters and People of the Spanish
Indies, Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).
Jacques Lafaye, Literature and Intellectual Life in Colonial Spanish America,
in Bethell, The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 2, pp. 663704. For Teodoro
Harpe-Martinez, Colonial Peru had a vibrant public sphere based on the exchange
of letters and books that were imported fragments of the Enlightenment. Of course,
this was limited to the wealthier Creoles and Peninsulars. Harpe-Martinez notes
that Peru was quite exceptional in this regard. See The Diusion of Books and
Ideas in Colonial Peru: a Study of Private Libraries in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries, Hispanic American Historical Review 73, no. 2 (1956).
republican revolutions of the colonial order 265

transmission of Spanish mores and habits of life. The content of the

curricula was not the monopoly of the Inquisition, but it did follow
Hispanic scholastic trends.33 Medieval debates typical of the Habsburg
era gave way to curricula reform that propagated ideas of the Bourbon
ilustracion. In the second half of the eighteenth century, new institu-
tions were built and new chairs founded in Rio de La Plata, Mexico
and Guatemala. The Inquisition retreated and the circulation of texts
increased. Newspapers came late: the Diario Erudito was founded in
Lima in 1790 and Diario de Mexico in 1805. But their publication
was concurrent with more political pamphlets and gazettes and
together papers and other forms of publication proliferated during
the early years of the nineteenth century.34
However, until that time, the social structures of the public sphere
were conned to city centres and a signicant proportion of Spanish
and Spanish-Americans lived beyond the reach of urban culture.
Above all else, they were publics dedicated to reading and receiv-
ing mainly European ideas, rather than spaces in which a full Creole
republican politics could freely gestate. Only Lima and Mexico spon-
sored publishing houses. These were busy in the second half of the
eighteenth century, but the price and distribution of their products
suggests that they did not serve popular markets.35 As a result, Spanish
American readers were comparatively few in number. The revolu-
tionary works of the French and then the North Americans were
read by Creole revolutionaries, but not by many others (at least prior
to independence).36 Thus, there were publics. However, the structures

Gongora, Studies in the Colonial History of Spanish America, pp. 18793.
Anibal Gonzalez nds in Spanish American journalism and literature an equiv-
alent to the French and American public sphere. Journalism was imbued with the
critical spirit of modernity, though it could not help but reect the strident and
uneven nature of Spanish Americas particular approach to modernity as a whole
(p. 16). Interestingly, Gonzalez is critical of Benedict Andersons overemphasis on
print capitalism in the rise of Latin American nationalism. However, Gonzalez does
not solve this problem, as publication is privileged as an element of Spanish
Americas particular approach to modernity. Then its comparative importance is
inated to put it on a par with the pre-revolutionary situation in the British North.
This thesis might be more convincing if other aspects of the public sphere were
brought in to ll out the picture. However, Gonzalez does not pursue this. See
Anibal Gonzalez, Journalism and the Development of Spanish American Narrative (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1993), chap. 1.
Lafaye, Literature and Intellectual Life, in Bethell, Cambridge History of Latin
America, vol. 2, p. 698.
John Lynch, The Spanish Americans Revolutions 18081826 (New York: W. W.
Norton and Company, 1973), pp. 2730; Liss, Atlantic Empires.
266 chapter nine

themselves were not demotic in character. The dynamic of town

meetings and regional assemblies that provided an impetus for the
republicanization of North American politics was largely absent.
American identity and community consociation encouraged by the
Anglo-American press proved powerful. In contrast, the peculiarly
local character of Spanish-American journals and newspapers pre-
vented the generalization of Creole experiences in the empire as a
whole. Spanish-American sensibilities were not generalized to all sec-
tors of the populace across the vast southern continent. In all, the
weakness and sparsity of the Hispanic Creole public spheres curbed
the formation of a wider variety of republican responses.

Ethnicity and the conicts within empires

In British North America ethnicity did not divide the republican and
loyalist camps, as it did to a signicant extent in the Spanish Indies.
The patterns of ethnic identity varied signicantly between the two
empires. The clear borders of racial composition facilitated com-
munity cohesion for Anglo-American settlers. Divisions between blacks,
whites and natives were comparatively clear, enhancing the historical
myth of colonization as the subjugation of a lesser race. Ethnic dier-
ences within settler communities were minor, and reinforced a pre-
national and colonial sense of identity. In this situation, political
conicts within the enfranchised white population revolved less around
ethnicity and more around social class and empire. The War of
Independence was not caused by a perceived ethnic inequality between
loyalist Europeans and colonial order Creoles, but by issues of repub-
lican politics, the instituted organs of government and the gap between
rich and poor. Ethnic divisions were discrete, permitting a degree of
cohesion amongst settler communities. The ethnic unity of the set-
tler-colonists removed the ambiguity of who was American, or per-
haps who should be a citizen. As slaves and natives were automatically
shut out, new republican horizons only incorporated European set-
tler communities. The question then became one of who would gov-
ern what type of state and how.
The situation in Spanish-American colonies was typically dierent.
Towards the end of the colonial period, the categories of ethnicity
proliferated. In the Caribbean and South America Indian and Creole
populations splintered into caste-like status groups with a variety of
republican revolutions of the colonial order 267

designations.37 A spectrum of demographic divisions had grown out

of the social structures of colonialism. More complex social relations
emerged during the Bourbon years, clouding the boundaries between
dierent subaltern groups. Enlightenment reforms instituted an eco-
nomic strategy to control the Indians surrendering the overt coer-
cive measures associated with the Habsburg era.38 Divisions remained
sharper among the dominant classes. Creoles, for the most part,
remained distinct from the peninsulares. They were dierent in their
status, clothes, style and habits. The turbulent mix of status positions
in the Spanish Indies fuelled the resentment felt by Creole commu-
nities during the period of the Caroline reforms, when the compo-
sition of the court state and the colonial order was being transformed.
However, ethnicity itself did not consistently demarcate the bound-
aries of the colonial order. Anti-imperial sentiments were often artic-
ulated in the language of ethnicity. But the conicts involved other
issues of position within the structure of the state. Furthermore, expe-
riences of ethnicity had a local inection for members of Creole and
peninsular communities. Yet, the fact that the politics of indepen-
dence in the south formed as a juxtaposition of Creole and penin-
sular interests suggests that American identities were robust enough
to reect some level of proto-national consociation. The antagonism
was evident to contemporaries: too specic to deny and too wide-
spread to ignore.39 The bonds that tied Creoles together were ethnic.
But they also involved status distinctions, collective experiences of
episodes of insurrection and regionalized versions of Catholicism.
The position of Creole elites in the rebellions of the eighteenth cen-
tury was symptomatic of the entire historical situation. They were
caught between indigenous mobilizations and the forces of the monar-
chy seeking stability through repression. Simon Bolivars retrospec-
tive remarks express the ambivalence of this intermediary condition:
We are not Europeans nor are we Indians, but a species halfway
between aborigines and Spaniards. Americans by birth and Europeans
by law, we nd ourselves engaged in conict, on one hand, disputing
the natives over titles of ownership, and at the same time struggling

Gongora, Studies in the Colonial History, pp. 16064.
David Weber, Bourbons and Barbaros: Centre and Periphery in the Reshaping
of Spanish-Indian Policy, in Daniels and Kennedy, Negotiated Empires.
Lynch, The Origins of Spanish American Independence, in Bethell, The
Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 1, p. 28.
268 chapter nine

to maintain ourselves in the country in which we have been born

against the opposition of the [Spanish] invaders. Thus our circum-
stances are most extraordinary and complicated.40
These comments, which arise long after the event, say something
about the position of Creoles in the revolts of the eighteenth cen-
tury. Earlier rebellions (the Paraguayan comuneros 172135 and the
rebellion in Venezuela 174452) were regional and did not fore-
shadow future developments. In contrast, the 1765 Quito rebellion
centred on taxation, which was an imperial issue. Later rebellions
involved competing interests and agendas. However, revolts in Peru
and New Granada suggest that Creole communities acted in cohe-
sion.41 In both uprisings, mestizo and Creole elements maintained sep-
arate agenda to that of indigenous participants. The claims of the
latter implied a logic of social revolution, even though it spoke a
language of loyalty. In Peru, they allied soon enough with the
Spaniards. In New Granada, Creoles participated in the formation
and then fracture of an alliance with the Indians. They participated
in that rebellion for longer, though it was obvious that there were
two disconnected insurrections taking place. The mestizo and Creole
revolts were a response to higher and new taxes, whilst Indian par-
ticipation was manifestly prompted by government corruption, fur-
ther seizures of communal lands and despair at the region-wide
economic downturn. Compromises between peninsulares in the court
state apparatus, which unambiguously represented Madrids interests,
and the mestizo insurgents left the Indian armies out in the cold in
both cases. In fact, it allowed the Spanish to crush them.
These episodes suggest that the respective loyalties of the Creole
and peninsular layers of the state and agricultural landowning class
were sucient to prevent the haemorrhage of communal cohesion.
Moreover, these links were comprehensible to Creoles. Spanish
Americans, in these instances, allied their interests with those of the
state at the point when matters threatened to get out of hand. In
the very least they perceived their interests as distinct from the Indian
revolutionaries. Their position of relative independence rendered them
distrustful of peninsular leaderships, but also fearful of indigenous
insurgency. The experience of insurrection reinforced a self-under-

Simon Bolivar, Discurso pronunciado, in Damas, Escritos Fundamentales, p. 116
(my translation).
Wallerstein, The Modern World System, 3, pp. 219223.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 269

standing of both the social structure of Spanish America and their

place within it, which owed from the coalescence of pre-national
colonial links.
These experiences united many mestizo colonists in the early nine-
teenth century. In the context of the Napoleonic Wars, events in
Europe were elevated in their importance to the South Americas.
These circumstances would galvanize Creole movements and pre-
sent the opportunities for independence. In this enterprise, they were
following Anglo-Americans who earlier broke with the British Empire.
While the norteamericanos provided one source of inspiration, the repub-
licanism and the republics of Simon Bolivar, Jose San Martin and
Santiago Marino diverged fundamentally from the polity of the United
States. The posture assumed by new republican movements con-
fronting their imperial legacies was a condition in the developing
trajectories of new Atlantic states.

The revolutionary institution of Americas republics

The revolution that led to the constitution of the United States

brought about a radically new formation and instituted a republican
political culture that was singularly innovative. In this nal section
of the chapter, I want to bring into relief important features of two
general types of republicanism that realized a new world of poli-
tics.42 The intention underlying this approach is to suggest that the
two processes of revolutionary transformation were not of equal
signicance. The Anglo-American revolution generated a paradigmatic
state form. The long revolution in the Spanish Indies dismantled
Spains Atlantic empire. However, revolutionary processes there insti-
tuted states that retained more of the institutional patterns of the
previous state form than the United States did. In this sense, the
two processes had signicantly dierent consequences.
In the remainder of this chapter I examine the institutional and
political-cultural divergence in the forms of republicanism developed
by Americans constructing modern relationships to their imperial
legacies. My comparison contrasts the British North American tra-
jectory and the centralist recomposition of power and politics in the

Fernandez-Armesto, The Americas, chap. 4.
270 chapter nine

republics that emerged out of Spanish colonies. A sketch of the argu-

ment below is followed by single discussions of British, French and
Spanish America. The passage on French America invokes the
Caribbean as a yardstick of comparison and an inuential realm in
its own right. It also includes a brief discussion of the inuence of
French republican universalism.
Fundamental dierences separated the pre-histories of the United
States and the republics of the former Spanish Indies. The struggles
for independence that instituted a constitutional state in the north
marked an institutional departure from the imperial past. In the
Hispanic American republics, centralism endured in the form of the
foundation of praetorian states.43 They were based on the colo-
nization of already-existing institutions of power by the professional
apparatus (especially the military) in alliance with private oligarchic
interests. Often the oligarchy and the military were indistinguishable
in this relatively undierentiated guration of power. The singular
outstanding feature that separates the constitutional and praetorian
states of the early to mid nineteenth century was the relative auton-
omy of the institutions of rule. A distinctive version of republican
political culture prevailed in the Thirteen Colonies, but gained lit-
tle ground in Hispanic America due to the character of those states
and the legacy of centralism that they inherited.44
The novel and radical nature of the American Revolution against
the British cannot be over-emphasized. It marked a sharp break with
the imperial past, generating a process of state formation that was
inherently self-innovating. Even the word independence acquired a

On the notion of praetorian statehood, see also Enrique Peruzzotti, The
Weimarization of Argentine Politics and State Autonomy, Thesis Eleven 34 (1993).
Fernando Lopez-Alves critiques this traditional view of the Spanish legacy
and persisting centralism as culturalist. Aligning Claudio Veliz and Mark Burkholder
with Seymour Lipset, Richard Morse and Alexis de Tocqueville, he writes that the
claims of this group about Spanish centralism have been seriously challenged by
recent literature that highlights the weakness of republican states (he looks to Peru
in particular). The question begged is how long legacies can last, how to measure
their inuence, and how to dene them (p. 154). It might well also be asked,
should centralism be mechanically conated with strong statehood. The history of
centralist Spanish rule in the Americas is replete with examples of regions in which
state power was weak. Also, it might well be asked whether Velizs analysis can
be regarded as properly speaking culturalist. For a critique of the categories of
strong and weak states, see Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism. Lopez-Alves essay is
The Transatlantic Bridge: Mirrors, Charles Tilly, and State Formation in the River
Plate, in Centano and Lopez-Alves, The Other Mirror.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 271

dierent political connotation as a result of the war with the British.45

The New World generated its own version of political modernity in
the national-democratic republic. In British North America, the repub-
lican horizon was institutionalized in a civic public sphere structured
on the principles of limited plurality. The situation was dierent in
the Spanish Empire. Peninsular traditions of governance had smoth-
ered much of the public dynamics of the cabildos and audiencias, espe-
cially in their Bourbon iterations. The possibility of a republican
political culture emerging was thereby always compromised by the
centralism of imperial institutions and the subsequent praetorianiza-
tion of new revolutionary states.
There were, therefore, two inter-related dimensions of the mod-
ern logics of New World republicanism: state forms and a broad
political horizon. To this point, the latter has not received full atten-
tion. In what follows only secondary consideration is given to repub-
lican political ideas per se. I am deliberately limiting the analysis to
the extensive framework of revolutionary developments in which
Americans could constitute new states in the context of republican-
ised politics. In making this choice, specic republican traditions are
not dealt with comprehensively. What I am drawing into relief are
two dierent types of state that have emerged from dierent impe-
rial legacies. Each has a dierent relationship to those legacies that
include administrative, civic and political traditions as well as insti-
tutional arrangements and varying sets of social relations. Yet, it
should be noted that the praetorian form retained more from the
past than did the radically innovative northern American republicanism.

Anglo-American Republicanism

The philosophical contents of republicanism set in a colonial public

sphere where social structures did not deliver a monopoly of infor-
mation to the imperial masters. The British had not established the
full, visible and daunting architecture of power in North America.
The strict hierarchies of social relations did not bear down on English-
Americans in quite the manner that they did in the British Isles.
Exilic New England set colonists apart from the strongholds of state

See Germn Arciniegas interesting genealogy of the word independence in
America in Europe, pp. 11518.
272 chapter nine

power. At the same time, Americans believed liberty was their inher-
itance as Englishmen. The wealthy communities that they built sup-
ported that belief. Just as the contingencies of state formation in
Latin and North America diered, so too did their respective his-
toricities, that is their relationship to their traditions:
The multiple settlements in the English colonies led to an inadvertent
pluralism, which made it easy to imagine alternatives to any particu-
lar institutional arrangement. In America . . . neither the coercion of
economic dependence nor the persuasion of majestically ritualised power
was ready at hand to reinforce the dictates of societys arbiters. Nor
were there in the colonies the cathedrals, royal palaces or country
estates to remind the many of the superior position of the few . . . In
colonial society far more than in England words were called upon
to do the work of artefacts. The proper civil order was described in
sermons, parental lectures and judicial pronouncements at quarter
sessions. But words were not so easily monopolised as churches and
mansions. Despite the evident intentions of most colonists to replicate
the institutions left behind, the means of securing them from attack
was rarely strong.46
The power of words in the absence of the architecture of long-estab-
lished authority introduced a capacity to question the permanency
of traditional institutions. Anglo-Americans were heavily dependent
on the classical and modern works of the Western world. All these
works gured in the debates in political philosophy in this revolu-
tionary juncture, but they were read in contexts far removed from
their original settings.47 Common Law theory, romantic and ratio-
nalist works of the Enlightenment and the orations of Cato and
Cicero were meaningfully reinterpreted. They animated dramas that
Americans believed could be compared to their own. In the exer-
cise of philosophical discourse, tradition was invoked in arguments
against traditional social structures.
This is further highlighted by a comparison with Hispanic America
where the institutions of Hispanic power had a very visible presence.
The power of words could be as easily summoned to support the

Margaret and James Jacobs, The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism London: Allen
and Unwin, 1984), p. 11. On the power of sermons in shaping religion and politics
in pre-revolutionary North America, see Patricia Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven:
Religion, Society and Politics in Colonial America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
Reinhold, Classica Americana, chaps. 3 and 4; Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the
American Revolution, pp. 2331.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 273

status quo as it could be to question it. Political philosophy was read

and discussed in the Spanish Indies, but amongst a much more
conned and smaller reading public. Moreover, Spanish Americas
cities gave pride of place to the church and its countryside haciendas
helped to remind the many of the superior position of the few.
In this regard, rigid social rank existed as much in Spanish Indian
societies as it did in Spain. In British North America, by contrast,
the given form of imperial state was under scrutiny in this public
sphere, which was enlivened by debate in political philosophy.
Deliberation over what constituted a modern polity was a daily occur-
rence. However, it assumed grand proportions in meetings that por-
tended the separation of the colonies: the Stamp Act Congress of
1765 and the rst and second Continental Congresses. This con-
juncture was ground breaking and not only because it threw up new
social relations and new ideas. This was a revolution in which pol-
itics as a sphere of social action was itself republicanized.
The signicance of republicanism is a topic of diverse debates in
North American historiography.48 What was revolutionary about this
political culture? Was the radical edge taken o it by the federalist
solution? Was the predominant inuence Lockean or did republicanism
reach back to other Renaissance traditions for inspiration, as main-
tained by Pocock and those who adhere to the civic republican the-
sis? I do not wish to re-visit these lengthy and much-debated issues.
They are extremely important, but there is a convincing argument

Some of the principal contributions to this literature include Joyce Appleby,
Republicanism in Old and New Contexts, William and Mary Quarterly 43, no. 1
(1986), and Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s (New
York: New York University Press, 1984); Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of
the American Revolution; Robert East and Jacob Judd, eds., The Loyalist Americans: A
Focus on Greater New York (New York: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1975), Jack P.
Greene, The Re-Interpretation of the American Revolution 17631789; Linda Kerber, The
Republican Ideology of the Revolutionary Generation, American Quarterly 37, no. 4
(1985): 47496; Isaac Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in
the Age of Walpole (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968); and Republicanism
and Bourgeois Radicalism: Political Ideology in Late Eighteenth Century England and America
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990); Cathy Matson and Peter Onuf,
Towards a Republican Empire: Interest and Ideology in Revolutionary America,
American Quarterly 37, no. 4 (1985); J. G. A Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History:
Essays in Political Thought and History, Chiey in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1985), The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought
and History Chiey in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1985); Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 17761787 (Williamsburg,
VA: University of North Carolina Press, 1969).
274 chapter nine

that various positions developed have been at times one-sided and

exaggerated.49 Moreover, the acute juxtaposition of internally con-
tained liberal and relatively eclectic republican traditions acts to con-
ceal the interchange between them.50 Instead, the main point to make
is that the outstanding feature is the unparalleled pluralism of the
eighteenth century public sphere. If the republic was a political cre-
ation of the Revolution, then it was due to the public sphere as much
as it was to the spirit of civic commitment championed by Pocock.
What is important is the sense of historical originality that the
process of revolution aroused: uncertainty about what would or could
follow resounded throughout the British Empire, not just in the newly
declared republic.51 Republican perspectives remained uid on this
question, at least prior to the consolidation of the federal state. In
my view, this indeterminacy reveals that this modern citizenry was
grappling with innovative models of state, economy and society. The
mood of Atlantic republicanism may have subsided after the later
debates over Federalism. However, the horizon of political inven-
tivenessthat is, the sense that social and political institutions were
contingent and could be made and re-maderemained. This was
the lasting impact of revolutionary republicanism; however it may

See Lance Banning, Jeersonian Ideology Revisited: Liberal and Classical
Ideas in the New American Republic, William and Mary Quarterly 43, no. 1 ( January
1986): 320, for an analysis of this trend to imbalance in the historiographic debates
around Jeersonianism. As things now stand, the literature appears to force a
choice between mutually-exclusive interpretations of Jeersonian ideologya choice
that we really do not have to make, and one that would impede a better under-
standing (p. 4).
See Steve Pincus, Neither Machivellian Moment nor Possessive Individualism:
Commercial Society and the Defenders of the English Republic, American Historical
Review 103, no. 3 ( June 1998).
The republican revolt dislodged existing conceptions of empire as libertarian
and consensual in its foundations. This is widely understood with regards to the
Americas. Some recent studies reect on the profound impact in Britain. Deep and
impassioned divisions emerged where a loose consensus over imperial rule had held
together. English sympathy for British Americans ranged from general opposition
to the war to outright support for the republican cause. Parliamentary loyalists felt
provoked and retaliated with accusations of treason, especially when petitioners
protested or rioted in the streets. The high pitch that marked American debates in
the 1770s appeared in this public discourse in Britain in the 1780s. See Kathleen
Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England 17151785
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), chap. 5 and, for a survey of
Georgian age radicalism, John Brewer, English Radicalism in the Age of George
III, in J. G. A. Pocock, Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776 (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1980).
republican revolutions of the colonial order 275

have been inuenced by Locke, Aristotle, Harrington or Luther and

Calvin. The presence of republican horizons meant that dierent
solutions to contemporary problems competed in the battle to pre-
vail in the determination of the direction of state formation. Behind
this historical process lay a revolutionary turn in the self-under-
standing of the human construction of social forms.52 Those who
executed the revolution understood themselves to be taking conscious
direction in settling social questions. The institution of a new state
was carried out with the issue of what kind of society combined pub-
lic and private virtue in mind. The concepts of power and law were
transformed by the process of revolution in a new world where social
relations more closely approximated the image of a tabula rasa
assumed to be the American condition by Europeans, than social
relations, in fact, did in Europe. In other words, the process of rev-
olution really was more possible in the New World, as Anglo-
Americans understood it to be. That recognition of limited social
change guided by a belief in the future itself was conceivable in a
society where the spoken word of a sermon and the appeal of the
book (be it the Bible or the philosophy of Locke, Harrington or
Montesquieu) held political sway alongside of the physical manifes-
tations of institutional power. How to reconcile received wisdoms of
public and personal virtue with the society of lively capitalist com-
merce and growing industrial property was the question that liter-
ate Americans deliberated on. It split Jeersonians and their Federalist
opponents in the 1790s as surely as the issue of the precise consti-
tution of the polity did.53
Many historians concur with the view that republican sentiments
(as summarized by Pocock) were disappointed, or perhaps displaced,
by the Federalist advance in the 1790s. They have good reason to
hold this view. Nonetheless, a republican public sphere, in which the
competition of ideas was essential, had emerged and a dierent form
of state accompanied it. In the 1770s and 1780s this New World
terrain was new and its signicance derived from its radically reexive
character. Its coexistence with slavery was ultimately unsustainable.
Its coexistence with a dynamic logic of capitalist development

Dick Howard, The Birth of American Political Thought 176387, trans. David Ames
Curtis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).
Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order.
276 chapter nine

was relatively harmonious in the nineteenth century, but not with-

out its tensions. This trajectory stands as a contrast when compared
with French and Spanish American gurations of culture, economy
and state.

Republicanism and the French empire

French support in the War of Independence was indispensable to

the survival of the revolution. Strategic interests overshadowed any
concern about Americas anti-monarchical trajectory. After the Anglo-
American war, the French American Empire was reduced in the
Caribbean. Moreover, it was destabilized by frequent and growing
outbursts of violence, rebellion and warfare. Two kinds of conicts
in the Greater Caribbean plagued French rule.54 Firstly, global rivalry
with Britain and France was fought out in intensive microcosm in
the region. Battles with the British navy became commonplace in
the Antilles. Frances military and naval forces were asked for greater
vigilance than ever. Secondly, sharp social divisions were magnied
by the upsurge in violence and by the example of the French
Revolution. In this context, the position of the colonial order in the
face of intrusion into colonial aairs and threats of slave revolts (both
real and imagined) was surprisingly good, in spite of the turmoil in
the region. After the war with America, the British presence was
multiplied and the energies of its imperial personnel increased. Britains
naval and military power had built up during the war with the
Thirteen Colonies. The British West Indies were heavily guarded
during that period.55 The remaining British possessions in this hotly
contested zone were more isolated from the English-speaking Empire,
which its colonists had previously experienced as a much larger
entity.56 The feeling must have been uncanny, as there can be little
doubt that the islands continued to enjoy good economic fortunes
both before the American War and afterwards.57 The value of the

David Geggus, Slavery, War and Revolution in the Greater Caribbean, in
David Barry Gasper and David Patrick Geggus, eds., A Turbulent Time: The French
Revolution and the Greater Caribbean (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).
OShaughnessey, An Empire Divided.
See Edward Braithwaites study of the changing relationship between Britain
and Jamaica after the American War and how it Creolized the islands internal
social relations and culture, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 17701820
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).
See John J. McCusker, Growth, Stagnation or Decline? The Economy of the
British West Indies 17631790, in Homan, The Economy of Early America.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 277

British West Indies trade was not lost on the government in London
either. Britains islands were more fully fortied in the increasingly
hostile climate that emerged after American War.
French colonists, wary of their minority position in the new con-
text, grew restless. Agitation within the Chambers of Commerce and
through envoys in Paris attracted the attention of the French court.
There were other reasons for the renewed focus on the Caribbean.
The importance of the Antilles became magnied in the eyes of all
European statesmen in the latter part of the eighteenth century, as
slave-based trade and production grew. The British cast jealous eyes
over French possessions and imperial vigilance increased as a result.
The last decade featured ongoing open warfare between the British
and the French in a ght over possession in the region and over the
labor regime of slavery. The conict of the two states remained
highly visible. The 1789 Revolution opened opportunities to the British
to grab the lot.58 However, it closed o these opportunities just as
quickly with one devastating measure: the temporary emancipation
and arming of French slaves.
Colonial elites were able to play a pivotal role during this period.
It played this role in the context of ambiguous, but growing, colo-
nial inclinations to self-government. The chief issue in contention
was slavery and it remained unresolved, both within the declared
libertarian ideals of the French Revolution (which were rapidly lost)
and within the legal and political edice of the Empire. The French
court had ignored slavery. The Revolution did not resolve this conict
and instead introduced further complications. In France, abolitionism
had found a voice in the Amis de Noirs and in widely read tracts by
Montesquieu, Rousseau and Raynal.59 Despite the patronage of promi-
nent gures, the movement was ineective and faced formidable
opposition.60 The Revolution reversed this situation indirectly by legit-
imizing emancipation, even while public anti-slavery societies were
in decline. The island colonists held varying perceptions of the rev-
olutionary government. The split between colonists with stronger ties
to France (absentee planters, military and civilian administrators) and
the Creole populace deepened and multiplied. Also, the emancipa-
tory message of the French and American Revolutions, underscored

Michael Duy, The French Revolution and British Attitudes to the West
Indian Colonies, in Gasper and Geggus, A Turbulent Time.
Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, chap. 5.
F. Quinn, The French Overseas Empire, pp. 9395.
278 chapter nine

by a commitment to universalism, brought into doubt the legitimacy

of the Empire. Initially, the radical revolutionary clubs favoured a
strong version of political liberty for all French, a position of some
attraction for wealthy planters and the petit blanc whites in the
Caribbean alike. Rearmation of slavery by the Paris Assembly
brought relief to colonial deputies. But the gap between the Jacobin
clubs in Paris and the colonies grew, as did settler anxieties.
The rebellion in St Domingue was seen as a radical realization
of the republican agenda, an outcome feared by whites.61 What it
challenged, and what seemed in question, was an imperial nexus
that had suered an enormous blow in the Seven Years War. Now
the Caribbean possessions were insecure as the metropolitan polity
debated the virtues and vices of slavery, an issue long resolved for
the colonial elite. The French colonial order by the time of the
Haitian rebellion had become a dense formation lled with insta-
bility. Robin Blackburns appraisal of its guration illustrates well its
pivotal position:
(C)lamped on top of the slave economy, there was a complex of inter-
ests, formed by the intersecting elds of force of a colonial and mer-
cantile system, an aristocratic political order, a racial caste hierarchy,
and a highly unequal distribution of private property within both the
white and free coloured population. In the French Antilles . . . exploita-
tion and oppression (was) overlaid by conicts stemming from this
interlocking structure of control. The revolution weakened the grip of
the metropolis and stimulated erce factional strife, but this was a pro-
tracted and complex process.62
Strong and independent elites had become apparent in this later part
of the century, as they had in the Thirteen Colonies, the River Plate,
Peru, and New Granada. The Haitian revolt in 1791 issued a seri-
ous challenge to this compact hierarchy. Ministerial authority and
public opinion in France saw it initially as an invitation to the British
to invade. Indeed, a constituency of Creole opinion in St Domingue
favoured such a change of direction. Elsewhere in the Antilles, royalist
support was expunged with news of the Conventions consolidation

Frank Moya Pons, Haiti and Santo Domingo 17901870, in Bethell, Cambridge
History of Latin America III.
Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, p. 169. James McLellan proles the
demographic and sociological characteristics of St. Domingue in Colonialism and
Science, chap. 3.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 279

in late 1792. But newfound support for the government in Paris was
short-lived. As the conict between settlers, mulattoes and slaves con-
tinued to simmer in Haiti, St Vincent, Guadaloupe and Martinique,
it had become obvious that the range of possible future directions
was wider.63
Outside of St Domingue, the colonial order seemed able to stave
o the threat of slave revolt against its rule. It also played o the
Spanish, the British and the Royalists against the Republicans and
small slave-owning mulattoes against slave battalions. In early 1793,
slavery itself was not questioned fundamentally by any of the contending
parties. But British blockades and a circling Spanish presence ensured
that the situation remained precarious for the French. Threats from
outside and divisions within ensured that rebel armies held the key
to continuity of Republican rule in St Domingue and perhaps the
rest of the French Antilles. The growth of the revolutionary forces
coupled with the decree scrapping slavery in 1794 tipped the bal-
ance in favour of republican universality in St Domingue and then
the British Caribbean.
The remainder of the decade featured ongoing warfare. St Domingue
fell to Toussaint; indeed the British withdrew deciding that there was
little gain from occupation. The costs were counted in both troop
numbers and pounds. The government in Britain was scandalized
by the losses. Napoleon then moved, with the connivance of Britain,
in 1802 to crush the black republic. Slavery was re-established in
Guadaloupe. But the birth of the Republic of Haiti terminated any
hope of return for the grand and petit blancs and they had to settle
into a condition of exile for which they were well-prepared.64 Slavery
intensied in Cuba and Brazil as a result. Indeed, the prots of slave-
based industries enjoyed a real surge with the spread of chaos in St
Domingue. The Spanish clearly saw developments as fortuitous. The

Michael Crafton, The Black Caribs of St Vincent: A Reevaluation, Anne-
Perotin-Durnon, Free Coloureds and Slaves in Revolutionary Guadaloupe: Politics
and Political Consciousness, and David Geggus, The Slaves and Free Coloureds
of Martinique during the Age of the French and Haitian Revolution: Three Moments
of Resistance, in Robert Paquette and Stanley L. Engerman, The Lesser Antilles in
the Age of European Expansion (Gainsville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 1996).
See R. Meadows, Engineering Exile: Social Networks and the French Atlantic
Community 17891809, French Historical Studies 23, no. 1 (2000). Perspectives on
the legacy of the Haitian Revolution can be found in David Patrick Geggus, ed.,
The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (Columbia: University of South
Carolina Press, 2001).
280 chapter nine

British, however, were deterred from a larger scale re-development

of slave numbers in the Caribbean by their losses. In the rest of the
region the French colonial order waxed and waned in ongoing skir-
mishes with the British. But it did survive Napoleons defeat.
Fluctuating strategic fortunes were one side of the French con-
stellation. Another side to the polity that reected this pattern of
state formation was the philosophy of empire. The Americas loomed
large in the minds of French statesmen after the Seven Years War.
Imperial rivalry was magnied in the agenda of concerns of the
states elites. Furthermore, this occurred in a new socio-structural
framework. The rise of the bourgeois public sphere in the last third
of the eighteenth century broadened the space in which the empire
could be considered as a topic for discussion.65 Many literary, criti-
cal, and political gures inhabited the salons of French nobility prior
to 1789. To the philosophes, the physiocrats and republicans embroiled
in this discussion, America appeared as a beacon of hope more than
a horizon of depravity.66 Benjamin Franklin and his closest friends
were widely celebrated on their visits to France in the late 1760s.
Correspondence, exchanges and American letters to the French press
were the components of a lively trac across the Atlantic from 1767
onwards. America was rmly implanted in the political imagination
of pre-revolutionary France and its horizon informed the debates
around the philosophy of the French empire.
Physiocratic administrators who straddled the worlds of the state
and the nascent public were also fascinated by the American image.
Physiocratic doctrine enjoyed its heyday at this specic juncture of
developments. The loss of Canada, the rise of the public sphere and
the growing concern over imperial fortunes all coincided with the
life of Physiocratism. A long-term dilemma came to the fore at this
point: whether to open-up France and its empire economically or
whether to strengthen the state in Europe. Britain and Spain liber-
alized trade after 1763. France, under Calonne, opened American
ports in 1784, mostly in response to growing trade. The Eden Treaty

See Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (London: Duke
University Press, 1991), pp. 13669 and Habermas, The Structural Transformation of
the Public Sphere, pp. 6770.
On the mutual engagement of Anglo-Americans and the French after the Seven
Years War see Durand Echeverria, Mirage in the West: A History of the French Image
of America to 1815 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), chap. 1.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 281

(1786) furthered this process.67 In part, this was prompted by Frances

strategic weakness. However, the laissez-faire outlook of the phys-
iocrats also guided this tack. It represented a shift of sorts in the
philosophy of empire from the dominance of a residual Colbertism
to a more liberal economics. It was truly a transitional philosophy
that lauded the ideals of free trade, whilst calling on the sovereign
power to ensure the operations of the market system.68 As Marx
rightly pointed out a century later, the physiocrats were unwitting
free traders.69 In this period, liberalization was a strategy to strengthen
the state as a whole. This was clearly true of the British; it can also
be said of Spain and France. Indeed, liberalization represented a
response of the agronomist elite of the French state to a changing
context. Their deliberations expressed a shift in the philosophy of a
deliberate imperialism.
Physiocratisms brief life gave way to republican universalism. The
governance of the empire developed new tensions between univer-
sal ideals and local realities. Assimilationism, based on the principle
of an indivisible polity, underscored a new philosophy of colonial-
ism. This became a peculiar feature of French empire building in
the nineteenth century: the rationality and uniformity of imperial
governance over a colonial empire that was, in all respects, extremely
diverse.70 But the promise that all French were to be integrated into
the republique had been well received earlier. The reception turned
cold in 1794 when the end of slavery was decreed. The Directory
found itself having to meet white settlers conditions in 1798 when
their protests grew too loud. Of course, the republican philosophy
of empire achieved few of its aims. In a way, its boasts were mostly
a ction belied by the retention of many features of the old empire.
The civic egalitarianism of the Revolution sat in an awkward rela-
tionship with actually existing colonialism. What emerged was a
hybrid of dierent administrative practices and dierent patterns of
institutional formation. Assimilationism would prove impractical for

Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, pp. 8697.
Albert O. Hirschmann, The Passions and the Interests: Political Argument for Capitalism
before its Triumph (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 93100.
Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1963),
vol. 1, chap. 2 For a more detailed exploration of specic policies see A. I. Bloomeld,
The Foreign Trade Doctrines of the Physiocrats, in Mark Blaug, ed., Francois
Quesney 16941774 (Brookeld, VT: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1991), pp. 2247.
Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires, pp. 4748.
282 chapter nine

Frances rulers after the Restoration and the colonies were returned
to a position of subordination. But that is a new stage of French
imperial history that is not a concern of the current work.

The long revolution in Hispanic America

In the framework of European crisis at the beginning of the nine-

teenth century and the deepening tensions of empire, the nuclei of
movements of independence in the Spanish Indies began to coalesce.
Three events precipitated Spanish-American secession: the American
and French Revolutions, Napoleons invasion of Spain and the break-
up of the Napoleonic Empire at the 1815 Congress of Vienna. These
did not foretell independence. They did, however, frame the inter-
national context in which the move to separate statehood occurred
across the Spanish Empire.
The Anglo-American and French revolutions altered the interna-
tional context substantially. The new United States sought more
extensive trade with the Spanish colonies in South America, espe-
cially after 1793. The revolutions also provided models of republi-
can state building, although they were not equally well received.71
Those Spanish-Americans who did read French political philosophy
were well versed in it. Mostly, they were concentrated in the key
nodes of information networks: the ports, capital cities and coastal
towns.72 Moreover, it was mainly members of the cultural elites who
were exposed to French thought: professors, pseudo-aristocrats and
high public administrators. The inquisition in Mexico rigorously
sought to root out French-inspired radicalism and any prospect of
conspiracy just prior to and immediately after the Revolution. In
New Granada, it echoed in an urgent criollismo. To escape the reach
of the Holy Oce, many dissidents made London a base for exiles.
Some British ocials courted potential revolutionaries with a view
to supporting any move to independence. After Spain and Britain
assumed hostilities in 1796, some received pensions. Britains con-
stitutional monarchy had appeal for the insurgents, perhaps due to
their long-standing connections with the minority liberal constitu-
tionalist currents in Spain. But the US provided a living example
and indeed was another refuge for eeing Creole revolutionaries.

On French and North American inuences on Spanish America, see Liss,
Atlantic Empires, chap. 7.
Guerra, Modernidad e Independencias, pp. 4243.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 283

Its revolution and the French Revolution established two vital

republican principles: political involvement is a civic duty and that
the state is secondary to the nation and can therefore be rightly
overthrown in the conditions of injustice. The revolt of the Thirteen
Colonies achieved a continuous republicso it seemed to Creole
leaders in the 1790swhile the promises of the French Revolution
faltered during the Terror and then were lost in Napoleons ascen-
dancy. Miranda spoke for others when he said:
Two great examples lie before our eyes: the American and the French
revolutions. Let us discreetly imitate the rst: let us carefully avoid the
disastrous eect of the second.73
The constitutions of Venezuela and Mexico echoed that of the United
States, at least in form. Up until the 1820s, Miranda, Bolivar, Moreno
and others reserved their public admiration for America rst and
foremost, at least until the US publicised its initial refusal to recog-
nize the new republics.74 The Jacobin turn in France and its reper-
cussions in the Caribbean had driven anxious Creoles away from its
example. They continued to read the works of the philosophes and
warmly welcomed their inuence. Indeed, Latin American intellec-
tuals frequently sojourned in Paris and took France as their cultural
parent.75 But for the new republican state-makers, it was the US
Federal leaders that embodied the vital example.
The second event, the Napoleonic conquest of Spain, although brief,
threw the imperial court apparatus into confusion. Fear of Madrids
incapacity to lend support to the empire in a moment of crisis per-
vaded the court state and the colonial order. Self-rule became a real-
ity for the colonial order during this period and the experience of
government was incorporated into the political outlook of Creole
leaders. After this brief interlude in which the viceroyalties had time
to contemplate non-dependence on the centre, Ferdinand VII was
restored. Although the monarchys policy was directed at a re-estab-
lishment of the imperial order, Spains relationship with Britain and
the United States was now altered. War with Britain ravaged Spains
resources and cuts its trade routes. The US and Britain could both

Cited in Liss, Atlantic Empires, p. 166.
Lynch, The Origins of Spanish American Independence, in Bethell, The
Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 1 pp. 4546.
Luis Roniger, Global Immersion: Latin America and its Multiple Modernities,
in Roniger and Waisman, Globality and Multiple Modernities, pp. 9499.
284 chapter nine

covertly support independence movements without fear of them, or

of Spanish retribution.76 The related event was the resolution of the
1812 war between the United States and Great Britain. The United
States was now a competitor in the Atlantic economy. It had arrived
as a power in the international state system and in the American
hemisphere. This further permitted clandestine involvement in South
American politics.
Finally, in the wake of the Congress of Vienna, the victorious
European states were in a position to persuade Spain to extend lib-
eral reform in Latin America. Imperial reforms had continued from
the 1780s under Charles II. Actually, this had been a period of
exible responses to changing circumstances in the Americas. Moreover,
Spanish liberals had actively agitated for more far-reaching reform
for some decades. Therefore, further remodelling of the imperial
polity did not meet entrenched opposition at this time. British com-
merce gained a rmer hold in the Spanish-American economy as a
result. Further, inter-imperial trade undermined an ocial Spanish
mercantile policy regime, which had become largely an empty shell
of regulations by this stage.
These three international shifts created the optimal conditions for
independence movements to succeed. Yet, there was no guarantee
that they would, a fact demonstrated by two features of the strug-
gle for independence. Firstly, Spanish Americans rarely accepted
independence unequivocally. In each separate case of independence
the level of mestizo support seemed to vary according to the perceived
threat to the established institutions of the colonial order. Bolivars
commitment to the end of slavery in 1815 and his decision to mobi-
lize the lower orders of colonial society added decisive weight to his
northern campaigns. This harmonized with the vision of a republic
of good citizens that he derived from dierent sources: Rousseau,
the European liberals, the examples of revolutionary France and the
US and Ancient models of Sparta, Athens and Rome.77 His rendi-
tion of republicanism was a modern one, to be sure, that encapsu-
lated emancipation of slaves. But this would be another experiment
in liberty.

Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, pp. 25152.
Luis Roniger, Global Immersion, in Roniger and Waisman, Globality and
Multiple Modernities, pp. 8485.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 285

It would run up against the next problem that confronted Latin-

American republicans (and the second feature), which was the diculty
of creating viable states to replace the Spanish empire while bal-
ancing the powerful and entrenched interests of newly empowered
Creole elites. Two models were available.78 On one hand, the exam-
ple of a civilian legislature existed in the Cortes of Cadiz. Its oper-
ation was constitutionally-guided and it could have even formed a
centre for a re-launched quasi-federal imperial polity. The other was
an American-based republican tradition that emphasized executive
power. It better reected long-standing Hispanic centralism.
The question of which might prevail was still open after 1812.
The fragility of the newly amalgamated movements for independence
meant that there was a range of possible outcomes. A major event
that revealed the weakness of the insurgent Creole order was Bolivars
attempt to forge an American Union at the Congress of Panama
in 1826. This failed. However, its very occurrence suggests the exis-
tence of a form of solidarity that was at this time regional rather
than national in scale. Bolivar attempted to base a state power on
a centralized military force.79 Its failure was a product of the vast
area that the union would have encapsulated and the weakness of
military institutions in the early nineteenth century.80 However, this
was not only an issue of organized military might. Bolivar confronted
similar diculties in uniting provincial forces that San Martin did
in Rio de la Plata. San Martins campaign struggled to gain inuence
in the Argentine interior, due to the authority of rural leaders who
perceived their interests dierently.81 Of course, the strength of provin-
cial government in that region was the legacy of the colonial order.
Yet fear of the shape that the new Argentina might take went beyond
the interior. Paraguay and Uruguay were both forged in deance of
a new centralism emanating from Buenos Aires.82 The legacy of

Jaime E. Rodriguez, The Independence of Spanish America (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1998).
David Bushnell, The Independence of Spanish South America, pp. 14050.
Wallersteins comment rings true here:
Bolivars dream of replicating the formula of unity achieved by the Thirteen
Colonies failed. The area involved was, of course, far more dispersed, and
hence there was no possibility of unifying the military struggle, an important
factor in the creation of the United States. Bolivars Congress of Panama in
June 1826 failed completely. (The Modern World System, vol. 3, p. 254)
Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution, pp. 200203.
Fernandez-Armesto, The Americas, p. 101.
286 chapter nine

Hispanic centralism proved persistent in both the short-lived Argentine

Confederation (181016) and Gran Colombia (181930).
The national borders of the new republics remained undetermined
for some time. Competing republican and municipal models of sov-
ereignty meant that the establishment of a nation-wide centralized
source of legitimate authority was dicult in the absence of an
empire. The principles of nation state formation were often enunci-
ated in the constitutions of the new republics. A blueprint of rep-
resentation could be easily pieced together, but there was no prior
conception of the people. Thus, the inuence of customary corpo-
ratist organizations endured due to a deep patrician logic common
to all the republics giving o the appearance of family resemblance
amongst the dierent societies in from the cone of South America
up to its northern coastal states.83 In establishing the jurisdiction of
rule, this produced two contrary trends. On one hand, authority lay
with territorial jurisdiction (although this was still being fought over);
on the other hand, Hispanic Americans were accustomed to the gov-
ernment of communities and not territory by provincial (audiencia)
and urban (cabildo) authorities.84 By 1830, some stability emerged with
the dissolution of Gran Colombia that brought an end to Bolivars
classical republican vision. At that point, it was the audiencias and
cabildos which took over. In time, their unsettled borders would come
to broadly resemble the patterns of viceroyalty, intendancy, province
and municipality that were consolidated in Bourbon America.
The inuence of republicanism on the process of imperial disin-
tegration has also been a traditional concern of Spanish-American
historiography.85 The rst period of revolt (18081812), was brought
about by the Napoleonic invasion. Republicanism, in the sense of a
republican political culture, was absent. Bonapartes usurpation of
the French throne resulted in a loyalist backlash against France in
the Americas.86 The assertion of imperial allegiance to the Spanish
empire lent legitimacy to the juntas, cabildos and audiencias, which
assumed authority in the name of the monarchy. Although this was,

See Francois-Xaviar Guerra, The Spanish American Tradition of Representation
and its European Roots, Journal of Latin American Studies 26, no. 1 (1994).
Herzog, The Meaning of Territory, in Roniger and Waisman, Globality and
Multiple Modernities, pp. 16770.
Liss, Atlantic Empires, chap. 9; and Veliz, The Centralist Tradition, p. 164.
Wallerstein, The Modern World System, vol. 3, pp. 24950.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 287

in a way, a period of self-government or even the formation of quasi-

republics, republican horizons did not underscore its legitimation.
The political imagination of a nationthe requisite component
identied by Benedict Anderson and otherswas distinctly absent.
Instead, acquired methods and habits of provincial and municipal
rule provided political continuity, even in the absence of the func-
tioning structure that had cultivated those same methods and habits.
During this period, the cabildos and even the audiencias were the struc-
tural-institutional foci of power.87 They attempted to establish inde-
pendent governments, even though, in some cases, professing loyalty
to Ferdinand VII. Some of the rebellious cabildos, re-formed as jun-
tas. They re-drew the boundaries of their administration, constituting
a disunited Argentina, Paraguay, Mexico and Venezuela out of the
viceroyalties of New Spain, New Granada and the Rio de la Plata.
The centrality of the institutions of the colonial order emerged from
the historical occupation of these institutional locations by those who
gured prominently among the insurgents. Creole leaders were habit-
uated to administration in the governing bodies of the colonial order.
In establishing new states, or even in governing temporarily in the
name of the Emperor, they reached for whatever means of gover-
nance that were available to them and that they were accustomed
to. Mainly, these issued from prior patterns of governance and the
colonial institutions that generated them. This is attested to by the
fact that in almost all cases of early rebellion against court ocials
in the Spanish Indies government could only gain hegemony over
a limited area around the major cities.88 The boundaries of what
might have been new gurations of power could only be drawn up
on the foundations of the jurisdiction of either urban-based audiencias

A historical narration of the rst period of revolt can be found in Parry, The
Spanish Seaborne Empire, pp. 35055. For a historical essay specically on the revolt
in New Granada, the relationship between the viceroy and his Creole constituents,
and the crisis of the empire, see Robert L. Gilmore, The Imperial Crisis, Rebellion,
and the Viceroy: Nueva Granada in 1809, Hispanic American Historical Review 40,
no. 1 (1960).
The cabildo of Buenos Aires was a partial exception to this rule. After defeat-
ing the British expeditionary force in 1807, it sought the title of Defender of South
America and Protector of the Cabildos of the Viceroyalty of La Plata. Its actions
had won it friends among other municipal cabildos, which in turn pursued stronger
links with Buenos Aires. In many ways this was an attempt prior to independence
to extend the sphere of the cabildos inuence beyond Buenos Aires and to encom-
pass much of La Plata itself. See John Lynch, Intendants and Cabildos in the
Viceroyalty of La Plata.
288 chapter nine

or cabildos. To extend eective authority of the new governments

beyond this area would involve a radical innovationthe establish-
ment of a quasi-national state.
The two elements of the nineteenth century move to indepen-
dence in the Spanish American statesthe uncertainty of mestizo
opinion and the lack of denition of feasible national and territor-
ial sovereignty reected in stable boundariesare indications that
Creole nationalism was relatively fragile at this juncture. However,
they also point to the undeniable weight of accumulated Creole iden-
tity, which would form the basis of later Latin American nation-
alisms. Furthermore, it would also form the cultural basis for territorially
conned national populations.
After independence, political and state centralism endured in the
form of praetorian national states. The movements for independence
. . . lacked a preconceived and unied program of action and (were)
therefore forced to rely on the existing administrative concepts and
practices even though thereafter these were directed to dierent ends.89
Perhaps this is not surprising as the proclamation of independence
often came when the threat of the revolutionary process going fur-
ther seemed the greatest. For Creole communities poised between
the Spanish and the subaltern classes, independence may have been
the more conservative option, better in their eyes than the prospect
of a Haitian-style revolt.90
Still, continuity in practice sat easily with a ery rhetoric of change.
The language of European liberalism and republicanism adopted by
independent governments masked the persistence of centralism in the
techniques and habits of governance that had ancestral roots in the
Caroline reforms. Because of this, the states produced by the rebel-
lions against the Spanish-American Empire can be characterized as
centralist. A glance at the reception of the dierent strands of the
Enlightenment amongst Spanish-American intellectuals accounts for
one aspect of this legacy. The uncritical, yet only partial, appropri-
ation of dierent versions of the Enlightenment furnished Hispanic
Americas revolutionaries with political horizons that were republican
in limited ways only. Reason appeared to contemporaries to have

Veliz, The Centralist Tradition, p. 117.
Abernethy, Global Dominance, pp. 7375.
republican revolutions of the colonial order 289

migrated to the post-revolutionary Latin American states and jour-

neyed through all the cultural and political works of the early nine-
teenth century. Yet, the new enlightened approach to polity and
society clearly echoed the rationalist reform program of the late eigh-
teenth century court state.91 The continuity seems remarkable today,
although it was lost on nineteenth century nationalist historiography.
Indeed, it was quite possible for the Crown to reassemble the Empire
after Napoleons withdrawal.92 As late as 1821, a plan for autonomy
was put to the liberal Cortes in Madrid based on the division of the
empire into three regions, each with the right to trade with the oth-
ers freely. Its rejection left the American revolutionaries with little
choice. Compromise was widely contemplated; in fact, it was the
rst and most feasible option. A universe of common interests and
ideas had held Spains American empire together. The populace only
absconded to seek independence at the very end.
Whilst the reverberations of the American and French Revolutions
sounded strongly in the ears of those who led revolutionary gov-
ernments, the tones of nationalism began to rise only after 1820.
This can be explained easily by reference to European trends which
Hispanic elites were mesmerized with. Independence in the Americas
only barely preceded the development of nationalism in Europe as
a widespread phenomenon. In Spanish America, nationalism followed
in the wake of the success of independence movements in establishing
new states. This is not to suggest that a mechanical, causal rela-
tionship existed between events in Europe and developments in Latin
America. Nationalism in the southern continent was not an auto-
matic product of its European counterparts. However, the growth of
nationalism on the European continent did provide a series of exam-
ples of nation-formation for ruling elites to later borrow from as they
saw t.


The era in which immigrant-settler colonialism dominated Western

European expansion eectively ended with the revolts in the Americas.
Forthcoming colonies in Australasia and South Africa could be

Arciniegas, America in Europe, chap. 8.
McLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World, pp. 13335.
290 chapter nine

compared and it might be supposed that they t a type. However,

most of Europes future colonies were occupied by minorities that
partitioned the states, which they had subjugated. They were fun-
damentally dierent from the Euro-American empires of the Western
Hemisphere. That is the conclusion that can be readily drawn from
this chapter. The revolts of the colonial order terminated settler-colo-
nialism, not so much because they cleared much of the American
landmass of imperial sovereignty, more because they broke up the
potential for long-term endurance of this kind of polity.
This doesnt merely nish the narrative. It bears on the second
and third premises of state formation considered in the opening chap-
ter. Ill go over this briey. Premise two is that Western European
state formation was a process of internal conict of elites. Domestically,
a provincial and municipal order confronted a monarchical core in
routine struggle that was sometimes overt. In the imperial domain,
the colonial order was a more distant other of the governing regime.
The tension of state formation that underlay the creation of govern-
mental institutions in the European heartlands also marked the rst
phase and subsequent ageing of imperial bodies. But the New World
changed everything. The colonial order developed dierent relations
with the agencies of the state. Royal patronage did not strike so
deep there. Distance forced self-suciency on administration in the
colonies. Laws were interpreted according to colonial interests.
Traditions were read in fresh ways, including political philosophy
and culture. The revolutions that occurred were anti-imperial in
character and direction. The analysis in the second half of this chap-
ter demonstrates that there is dissimilarity between the analogous-
though-not-identical colonial order and the provincial and municipal
guration. The distinction can ultimately be measured by the hori-
zon of possible social and state forms.
This connects with the third premise. State formation is a process
of institutional creation. It is not only a consolidation of existing
arrangements and it is not an exhaustively pre-determined pattern.
Its variability is borne out in the diverse results of the rebellions
against the empires. They were terminated in the Americas by the
inability of the Spanish court and British constitutional states to sus-
tain legitimate governmental rule and a mercantile economy in much
of the New World. But the upheaval in the Thirteen Colonies was
groundbreaking. A republicanized public sphere containing multiple
political traditions was a prime social structure. Colonial bodies were
republican revolutions of the colonial order 291

the institutional loci that gave rise to a new terrain of conicting

identities. The axis of tension of transatlantic state formation was
manifest in the subsequent debates and struggles around autonomy,
sovereignty and, in the end, the very form of the state itself. Settler
colonialism in the Thirteen Colonies gave way to a path of recon-
stitution, while the British Empire in America re-grouped around
Canada and the Caribbean. This new form of state power was an
innovative creation that escaped more of its past and more of its
history. In Hispanic South America, the centralism of the Spanish
Empire continued in the praetorian-style republics that formed, despite
the rhetorical radicalism of the Creole revolutionaries.
The Atlantic nexus that was discussed in chapter one was broken
in the sense that the empires and their hegemonies unravelled. The
geography of the three large trans-continental states was fragmented
for a time. With the entry of smaller American republics onto the
world scene, the era of nation-states was dimly foreshadowed. Those
states began to trade largely on their own terms. They developed
diplomatic capacities and vigilance in guarding their own strategic
interests. The United States became a prominent trader and minor
economic power. But relationships between the Western European
and American continents also remained. They were changed as impe-
rial nexus receded. Capitalism proliferated in the Atlantic zone and
new, smaller states still had a visible hand in economic matters.
Cultural and political links in the case of Hispanic America were
very strong. These factors are outside of the parameters of this work,
but they are important continuities to note nonetheless.
The central point is that the area between the three continents
was still a set of arenas of inter-civilizational interaction. It was the
world of Atlantic modernity that Western Europe still looked out
over and it was, of course, an intercultural zone. These points allude,
however, to unanswered questions that are either implicitly fore-
grounded by the sketch in the introduction or by the subsequent
argument in the main body of the book or that are lingering in the
background. In the Conclusion, a summary of results of the argu-
ment is presented and some further points of clarication will address
those questions.


The main body of this book leaves us better placed to address ques-
tions raised in the rst two chapters as well as highlight in summary
form the characteristics of Atlantic modernity. To summarize: those
questions have to do with the articulation of three dimensions of
Atlantic modernity and with its deeply inter-civilizational character.
Questions of civilization are posed in two groups:
The dierent aspects of civilizational conceptionthe modes of
contact and relation across dierent social formations, the stan-
dards of civility and the concentration and mobilization of the signs
of European civilizational interpretation. This is one working answer
to the recurring question: what is civilization?
How the Western civilizational imaginary actually was particular-
ized by specic European states. Identifying and comparing Euro-
American empires is straightforward enough. Exploring the shared
features of traditions brought to America and transformed by
transatlantic experiences is more challenging. It requires looking
above and beyond the institutional entities of any one of the three
states to the circuits of information and knowledge in both Europe
and the Americas. Through these media, the cultural products of
the Western civilizational imaginary could be put into motion.
This prcis of the book brings answers to these questions, answers
that do not claim to be exhaustive. It reviews each chapter, but also
summarizes across chapters. It is short, sums up the results of the
current work and points to prospective agenda for further research.

Civilization and Atlantic modernity

This work presumes the paradigm breakthrough made by the multi-

ple modernities school of thought in departing from the exhausted
metanarrative of modernization. In place of a singular linear pattern
of modernizing, multiple patterns and cultural programmes are
the atlantics distinct modernity 293

posited.1 The patterns overlap and interweave. This is only partly

because of the large-scale expansion of Western powers since the
sixteenth century. It is due also to trans-national dynamics of conict
between states and the widespread tensions between cultures and the
forces of expanding capitalism. Divergence is the hallmark of moder-
nity not preordained tendencies of homogenisation.2 Thus, there are
many articulations of the principal features of modernity informed
by cultural legacy and institutional and political conditions, so much
so that it is sociologically more meaningful to talk about multiple
modernities, rather than an overarching logic of modernization.
Atlantic modernity thus has competitors and alternatives. At the risk
of over-stating its importance, I argue that Atlantic modernity over-
laps with European modernities but should not be conated with
them. It is distinct and contains its own diversity of institutional, eco-
nomic and cultural forms. To see this clearly, some rethinking of
the classical image of European modernity is needed and has been
presented in this book. The breakdown of the closure of traditional
societies presumed to be the corollary of Westernization is discarded
in favour of exploration of the multiplicity and diversity of societies
created in the ferment of actual colonialism. This involves dynamic
historical processes of creation and reconstitution of social and polit-
ical institutions, broad cultural understandings and modes of eco-
nomic life. They were at work from the beginning of Europeans
presence in the Americas and entailed indeterminacy and uncertainty
in the direction of social formations. This kind of dynamism goes
unnoticed in modernization studies that presuppose a singular and
inexorable erosion of traditional structures, ideologies and economies
by modern forces.
In its place, I emphasize the historical weight of the Atlantic world
and the societies of the Americas and this weight has mattered not
only since the independence of the United States and the Latin
American republics, but throughout the early modern era. In other
words, the diverse articulations of principles of modernity in new

S. N. Eisenstadt, Modernity in Socio-Historical Perspective, in Ben-Rafael
and Sternberg, Comparing Modernities; and Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, Jens Riedel, and
Dominic Sachsenmaier, The Context of the Multiple Modernities Paradigm, in
Sachsenmaier et al., Reections on Multiple Modernities. See also Patterns of Modernity,
vol. 1.
Eisenstadt and Schlucter, Introduction: Paths to Early Modernities.
294 chapter ten

Euro-American cultures were present from the beginning of colo-

nialism. Re-orienting the focus of comparative analysis onto the
Atlantic thus casts light on other neglected patterns. Accepted accounts
of Western modernity have variously privileged dierent endogenous
factors: rationalization, the Reformation, democracy and revolution,
industrialization and societal dierentiation more generally, war or
the cataclysmic transformation of social relations. There is much that
is rich and illuminating in these explanations, but they are also lim-
ited in their range of analysis. In my ledger of Atlantic modernity,
there are other dynamics that are advanced and given visibility: impe-
rial transoceanic state formation, the shock of New World inter-civ-
ilizational interaction and the wider creation of networks of capitalism
connecting three continents. This re-casts the image of modernity as
manifold by pointing to at least one other original source of devel-
opment of its core institutional, political and economic features.
These three are the general dimensions of Atlantic modernity.
There are at least eight specic areas in which the colonized Americas
are set apart from European modernity. Firstly, the overall pattern
of confrontation and exchange between civilizational forms is vastly
dierent. Early modern Europe was a continent of three dierent
civilizational inuences. All were articulated in imperial states and
were identied with particular societies and political-ecological zones.
Their modes of interaction were shaped by their grounded-ness and
the relatively even balance between them, whether it was in warfare,
trade or cultural, educational or artistic exchange. By contrast, the
historical relationships between Euro-America and the hemispheres
indigenous civilizations began with the fact of overwhelming con-
quest of territory and societies and the immense, almost unimaginable,
destruction of human life that was the result of colonialism in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This set in train a logic of exter-
mination. Despite its violence, this logic still had a vital cultural
dimension. The civilizational imaginary that made the encounter with
the Americas meaningful for Europeans included images of the indige-
nous worlds that enabled comprehension, and often misjudgement,
of the New World. This is the second distinct feature of Atlantic
modernity and it was only possible through the long historical engage-
ment with the Americas. The imaginary animated knowledge of this
world, its peoples and its environs, such as that knowledge was. It
framed the entire challenge of otherness, whether in its natural (i.e.
botanical and topological) or societal and demotic guises. The conquest
the atlantics distinct modernity 295

had not resulted in nalized and decisive devastation. Its result was
more than mere survival, even in the cases of those relatively untouched
by the Euro-American presence until the nineteenth century. It was
the beginning of regeneration and reconstitution, albeit along greatly
dierent and generally less autonomous lines. The persistent and re-
creative presence of indigenous cultures and communities vivied the
imaginary in important ways, as argued throughout chapters four
and ve.
This relates to the third areathe striking freshness of the Americas
in its terrain, its topos, its global location, its utopian appeal. There
was no place like the New World; one that had an appearance of
seemingly recent discovery and that lacked the mark of civilizations
known to Europeans. In reality, the landscape and all on it were
subject to colonial processes of transformation. Plots, villages, cities,
ranches, forts, ports, mines and farms sprang up at a faster pace
than in Europe, at least prior to the nineteenth century. Rapid growth
was a mark of all colonies. The speed and scale varied signicantly,
of course. The sweep of colonization was breathtaking in Spanish
America, concentrated in the British colonies and marginal but, again,
concentrated in New France. In retrospect, the impression that colo-
nial societies were European fragments implanted in new soil is for-
givable, even if deceptive. The swift development of Creole communities
and settlements can lead to the conclusion that there was a wide-
spread process of Europeanization going on. In fact, a far-reaching
initiation of an Atlantic modernity had begun. The immigrant-settler
character of the societies that emerged is the fourth area of this
modernity and it self-evidently relates to the culture of novelty. A
large proportion of non-indigenous populations shared primary and
secondary experiences of migration, much larger than in Western
and Central Europe. It was not only that many had undertaken
cross-ocean voyages and then possibly relocated again later, but also
that it was widely recognized as a dening and founding feature of
American societies. These were, in other words, immigrant cultures,
especially the Anglo-American colonies. Travel and migration (includ-
ing internal migration) was the centrepiece of modern experiences
in a way that it was not in Europe.
Not all were willing travelers. The impact of slavery is the fth
area. Contemporary historians have established that there were indus-
tries of slavery in medieval and early modern Europe. However, their
impact bears no comparison with the Atlantic in terms of scale or
296 chapter ten

long-lasting legacy. There is no need to labor the detail further on

this, except to note two points. Colonial slavery was modern, as so
capably shown by Robin Blackburn and others. Moreover, it was
the scourge of the Caribbean, British America and the hinterland
colonies possessed by the Spanish; elsewhere it was sparse, even non-
existent. Densely multiracial populations in Brazil, the Caribbean
and the United States bear witness to this modern legacy and point
to countries where it was most prominent. Notwithstanding the facts
that abolitionism was a British movement and that Enlightenment
philosophies were deeply preoccupied with slavery in contradistinc-
tion to freedom, it is indisputable that the problem of slavery was
ingrained in Atlantic modernity while it only really gured as a philo-
sophical and political question in Europe.
Migration and slavery provided the membership of extended
colonial settlements. The nature of the colonial communities they
accommodated is the sixth area of distinction. Dierent ontological
constructions rooted in competing religious aliations informed the
degree of accessibility and egalitarianism of particular communities
in more profound ways than in the Old World.3 Other sorts of clo-
sure and hierarchy can be delineated. Corporatism and guild-like
enclaves marked urban Hispano-American communities. Membership
of those communities was tightly constrained and cultural barriers
deterred strangers.4 Moreover, the segmentation of communities was
conspicuous reecting deep divisions within the wider hierarchical
social order and the split between indigenous, Creole and peninsu-
lar groups. Elsewhere in the Americas, other communities were more
formally receptive. They generated cultural fusion, splicing and
hybridity. In that process, they often produced their own traditions
and identities that had dierent orientations vying for adherents
the seventh area of interest. This was strongest in mainland Spanish
America where operative myths of origin drew links with pre-
Colombian heritage to accentuate the supposedly primordial traces
of Creole cultures. It established a steadfast identication with the
land and with place that enlivened the Creolism of the revolution-
ary era. In other non-Hispanic colonial zones, greater ambivalence

See Eisenstadts argument about the unique multiple civilizations of the Atlantic,
The Civilizations of the Americas.
See Herzog, A Stranger in a Strange Land, in Roniger and Sznajder, Constructing
Collective Identities.
the atlantics distinct modernity 297

reigned. Association with place competed with an allegiance to empire

and to its styles of civility. This raised continent-wide doubt about
the sense of belonging. Was it possible to be English and American,
Creole and Hispanic? Which place, what culture to belong to? Atlantic
modernity entailed a struggle with identication. In the eighteenth
century, communities started to look divided along lines of identity,
which were related to politics, religion and location. The divisions
were starkest in British North America, but were visible also in the
Hispanic south. They feed existing public spheres that emerged with
a horizon of other possibilities. A vibrant public sphere in the Thirteen
Colonies created more than access to political discourse; it posited
a principle of representation, some years before the French Revolution.
This was a distinct innovation and it informed the republican state
that emerged. The nal feature is therefore the self-conscious revo-
lutionary foundation of new orders. It was expressed in two ways.
A strong millennial sense of mission informed the American Revolution.
Patriotic rhetoric summoned Creolist sentiments in the Spanish vice-
royalties. The results were dierent, but the shared sense of forging
something new was strong and it brought a focus on constitution
draftingthat is, on encoding the process of social changeif not
always constitutional statehood. It was in the Americas that this polit-
ical modernity rst made a full appearance and it set models for
subsequent developments in Europe.
The eight areas distinguish Atlantic and European modernities.
The conquest of the American hemisphere opened up a context of
inter-civilizational interaction that was itself a part of modernity and
impelled cultural transformation. The civilizational self-consciousness
of Europeans condensed over time in general reorientation to the
Europes western horizons and to strikingly dissimilar formations. But
if this was an outthrust of European powers, how was it a forward
movement of a civilization and an early token of a pattern of moder-
nity more particularly Atlantic than European? The intercultural
experiences that occurred in the Western hemisphere (including the
social and cultural pulverization that colonialism brought) were not
possible on the European continent, in the eastern interface with the
Ottoman Empire, or in northern Africa. Incursion into the Atlantic
and the Americas not only broke the dependence of Christian Europe
on the Mediterranean and North-West African connes, it produced
newborn colonial societies that were recognized as part of the Western
empires. Their heritage was, at the same time, both original and
298 chapter ten

shared. An outward freshness of the American hemisphere underscored

the societies founded in the Americas under the mued yet swelling
de facto leadership of the colonial order. The apparent novelty of
the world that Iberian and then north-western European powers
claimed as theirs contributed to the self-reected impression amongst
many Europeans of upheaval. This echoed not only in the rising
sense of civilizational otherness present in the Euro-American empires,
but also in the experience of a heightening of the sphere of eco-
nomic power, the range of Europes polities and the sense of dis-
tinctive cultural identities. Thus, the intrusive presence of Europeans
in American environments ushered in the creation of modern colo-
nizing state institutions, trans-imperial instruments of government,
the large-scale aggregation of capital, a colonial slave mode of pro-
duction, markets that bartered human beings and colonies at the
edge of cultures and social formations that they struggled to con-
struct rstly as similar and then as vividly dierent and barbarous.
Multiple centres on both sides of the ocean dominated these rela-
tionships. It is therefore misleading to speak in strict terms of a cen-
tre with a periphery or peripheries. Colonialism produced its own
centres on the North and South American continents. Granted, they
did not enjoy symmetrical relationships with the headquartered bod-
ies of imperial government, whether those headquarters were in
London, Paris or Versailles or in Madrid. But they were not simply
dependent on the capitals of the imperial states either. Thus these
are not outposts of Western modernity, as some social scientists have
understood it. All these historical features have panoramas that are
British, Spanish or French Atlantic and not exclusively European or
continental, even though they have been constituted culturally by
Europeans through what has been called in modern times the Western
Tradition. And it is Atlantic and American vectorswhether imag-
ined or really absorbedas much as European ones that count in
thinking about the early modern processes of state formation, capi-
talism and civilizational consciousness. Considering the vitality of
developments in the Western hemisphere and how they inuenced
Western Europe at its roots has pressed the following thesis which
underpins the argument of this book: that these histories are all bet-
ter written as ones of Atlantic rather than Western modernity.
The terms of this multidimensional pattern of modernity are intro-
duced in chapter one. A special place is given to civilizational cog-
nition as that is the area in greatest need of more complete development
the atlantics distinct modernity 299

and some further thinking. It draws on a longer tradition of sociol-

ogy and revives research programs that were concerns of early soci-
ologists but were subsequently overlooked. The context in which
civilization has come into public debates today is vastly dierent
from the n de siecle ambivalence of the early twentieth century. Three
features of the new context stand out. The end of colonialism brought
an unnished search for robust post-colonial independence and cul-
tural renovation for many states new to the United Nations. Indigenous
peoples who were formally subsumed under national categories of
citizenship now nd voice in all sorts of public fora. They exercise
a politics of mobilization based on claims for recognition and justice.
The end of the Cold War has sparked new worldwide hostilities that
do not resemble traditional inter-state conicts. They appear to some
as clashes of civilizations, although that impression is too casual and
short-sighted. This world is so starkly dierent from that in which
civilizations analysis initially ourished. It demands new sensibilities
to be exercised and a review of the underlying longer-term assump-
tions of Western history.5
The sociology of civilizations is well suited to this task as it is around
the idea of civilization that some of those assumptions have revolved.
A quick glance at the contours of the Colombian context in which
the substantial connection of all the worlds continents occurred shows
up the hazards that present themselves and some of the sensibilities
needed. A comprehensive examination of the American picture must
assume revision of the terms under which macrosociologists classify
historical formations and the typologies employed. Mesoamerican
and Andoamerican empires were a dierent type with distinct char-
acteristics (hinterland concentrations, pictographic communication
and monumental cities, alliance-making). Alongside those, the state-
less societies can be also reassessed within the frame of civilizational
theory. Pre-invasion cultures and political federations established
themselves in an interior world that contrasted with the Colombian
era interface of dierent groups of societies. The specic complex-
ity of their technological, economic and symbolic apparatus presents
a strong case for considering them to be bona de civilizations.
Ethnographers and archaeologists in the twentieth century have

See, once again, Wittrock, Cultural Crystallizations and Civilizational Change:
Axiality and Modernity, in Ben-Rafael and Sternberg, Comparing Modernities.
300 chapter ten

reconstructed their productive techniques, which were unappreciated

by intrusive colonizers. Many developed quasi-federal chiefdoms that
attained large-scale organizations, even though these were actually
state-less. Similarly, many of the sophisticated codes of myth and
history are decipherable today and often defended by descendants
in situations where languages have been recovered.6 Anthropology
and archaeology have also turned up evidence in state-less as well
as stratied agrarian societies of methods of cultural preservation that
involve capacities to absorb other inuences but also to self-immu-
nize and thereby resist them.7 Moreover, it is evident today that the
best remembered civilizations were preceded by other cultures that
contributed substantially to them. Amerindian societies clearly had
ample connections with each other and possibly with trans-Pacic
and Atlantic nexus of integration and migration.8
How civilizational sociology evaluates the proto-federative, indigenous,
stateless societies and the pre-Colombian empires has consequences.
The relative lack of geographically discrete American formations
based on a kind of state power that is readily graded as traditional
increases the odds of overlooking these. Therefore, it is the very
invisibility of their civilizational character that should be investigated.
A historical genealogy of the social sciences would be one approach
and one with great merit. Another is to develop a reexive sociol-
ogy of civilizations suited to the study of Atlantic modernity that
renders this invisibility visible. The contribution of the present work
to such sociological thinking is twofold. Firstly, it records very pos-
itive gains made in comparative social science. Secondly, it explores
in some depth the coalescence of the European civilizational imag-
inary in Atlantic contexts. The rst point needs only brief reitera-
tion. Two notions of civilization are present and invoke considerations
of civilizational complexes as both regional and ontological contexts.
The objectivistic tag of civilization for geo-cultural entities contin-
ues. This is a clear link to older traditions of civilizational thinking.

For example, see Samuel M. Wilson, ed., The Indigenous People of the Caribbean
(Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1997).
Michael E. Smith and Marilyn A. Masson, The Ancient Civilizations of Mesoamerica:
A Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000).
Muriel Porter Weaver, The Aztecs, Maya and their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica
(New York and London: Seminar Press, 1972), chap. 9; Michael N. Nassaney and
Kenneth E. Sassaman, Native American Interactions: Multiscalar Analyses and Interpretations
in the Eastern Woodlands (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995).
the atlantics distinct modernity 301

However, the emphasis has changed totally. The nexus of dierent

social formations have gained more attention from historians and
this, in turn, has translated into an image of inter-connection. This
is by no means a nished trend in the literature. It establishes the
commonplace that past impressions that historical empires and civ-
ilizations were self-contained and protectionist are extremely mis-
leading. The thesis driving globalization studies that the unication
of communication, ideas and trade is a recent development serves
to replicate this impression. It draws attention away from rich schol-
arship that casts grave doubt over the presumption that large-scale,
multifaceted connections had few historical precedents before the
nineteenth century. The sociology of civilizations can be credited
with integrating the fruits of historical research, which demonstrate
that large-scale contact is a widespread feature of human endeavour
at least since the Axial Age (to use Eisenstadts celebrated label for
the rst millennium BCE). This puts the Western trajectory into far
clearer perspective and returns a measure of proportion to impres-
sions governing contemporary World History. So much so, in fact,
that the case for a multiple modernities paradigm now seems unde-
niable and the claim that modernity is a singularly Western phe-
nomenon looks like it has been largely abandoned.
The second notion xes on its symbolism. Durkheim and Mauss
original insights are taken by Arnason and others as the material of
a research program that is ongoing. Arnasons own innovation is the
relativization of culture and power in civilizational complexes. This
helps in relating civilizations as units of analysis to civilizations as
ontological visions. The boundaries of possibility for a hermeneutics
of civilization have not been reached, however. Deep probing of the
multifaceted inter-civilizational encounters of the Atlantic zone throws
into relief the profound cultural impact on Europe. These were
encounters like few others that Europeans had in the Mediterranean,
across Eurasia and in northern Africa. They drew on a civilizational
imaginary with the following characteristics:
1) The means to make sense of intercultural experiences combined
traditions of ethnological understanding with novel conceptions
of Others;
2) Signs of civilization that were both vehicles of understanding (for
example maps) and instances of recognition and re-closure (expressed
in early attempts to grasp Mesoamerican societies compared with
the inability to discern economies of land use in stateless formations).
302 chapter ten

Chapter four and ve set out the complexity of the civilizational

imaginary. Over the course of three centuries a collective mood of
civilizational individuality swelled amongst Europeans. The racial and
cultural supremacy boasted about in the eighteenth century was
strongly contested, but mostly on the grounds of particularity. The
path to that point was uneven and disrupted. It was uneven as there
were variations in traditions of civility and conquest amongst Europeans.
It was disrupted in the sense that not all knowledge about the New
World was in circulation in urban intellectual milieux. Accurate
reports of the New World were raised; but more telling were the
kinds of interpretation being made. The parameters of understand-
ing that Europeans brought into the Americas set standards for
encounters there.
Traditions of empire were animated by actual strategies of empire
building and by the greater general example of Rome. Humanism
encouraged such a neo-classical sensibility that informed state for-
mation with a universalist imagination. This existed in tension with
the particularism of each national convergence of colonizing. Imperial
models were not only eected upon entry into the new continent.
The powers were increasingly mindful of each other, especially after
the settlement at Westphalia. Even before the end of the Thirty
Years War, there was vigorous rivalry. Nonetheless, compacts of con-
duct of foreign exploits also developed. Spain brought its own ver-
sion of universalism to the new sphere of oceanic rivalry that opened
up in the early fteenth century. It sat at the cusp of medieval and
early modern romantic conceptions of the legal conduct of maritime
movement. Besides this, conquistadorial conquest and mercantilist
inclinations encouraged Spanish advances. Both drew upon the expe-
riences of previous and, at that stage, still current exploits. They
were led to large land seizures. The English employed a dierent
strategy that was simultaneously colonial and mercantilist: it planted
people in small, civilizing settlements. During the same period, they
were establishing beachhead community in Ireland with Atlantic ori-
entations. The French drew from a common history in crusading
over some centuries. Empire still meant Rome to them, however.
They took jurisprudence from its legacy. Along with the Spanish,
they shared notions of the universality of legitimate rule, which
deferred to the heritage of that paradigmatic empire.
The forces of colonialism therefore did not enter the Americas as
though it were a tabula rasa. Their invasion brought more than
the atlantics distinct modernity 303

guns, ships, towns and diseases. It also brought preconceptions that

were subject to change also over time. This was an era of discov-
ery and not in the supremacist sense of other peoples and places
nally discovered by civilized man, as has been assumed. It is the
discoveries internally set in motion by the transformation of knowl-
edge that came from debates about the New World. Foremost amongst
these, for the purposes of the current argument, was a widening of
the categories of thinking about humanity. The ethnologization of
European perception transformed established schemas and practices
of subjugation as discussed in chapter ve. The ethnological horizon
expanded from the fteenth century onwards as Europeans encoun-
tered a host of cultures, which they previously knew nothing about
and which knew nothing of them. It forced a confrontation with the
foundation of knowledge of geology, environment, botany and soci-
eties. Some of the latter were recognized as civilizations due to
detectable religious and political hierarchies of power, impressive
cities, systematic agriculture, architecture, the arts, monuments and
ordered markets. Other geo-cultural formations were less conspicu-
ous or were observed as cultures without the public infrastructure
and political superstructures associated with historical societies. These
had a sort of cultural unity, which took in a geographical area and
exhibited sophisticated though unacknowledged civilizational features.
On the side of Europeans, we can see that civilization is an intri-
cate matter. The upheaval instigated by the invading European pow-
ers brought to the surface civilizational features that were both
particular to each imperial state and shared by all of them. America
was treated over time as more distant and dierent. We nd this in
the elds of botany, travel writing, topography, historiography, map-
ping, iconography, art and literature. How colonial societies related
to conquered indigenous civilizations speaks more loudly than any
other component of the invading complex. The modes of recogni-
tion of pre-Colombian civilizations (and the destructiveness that this
entailed) serve as an excellent illustration of the variability of the
conceptual ground of colonialism. To re-cap: the British held con-
ceptions of possession, the Spanish pre-established notions of pagan-
ism and the French a exible spectrum of understanding of savagery
and civility that primed the forms of inter-civilizational engagement.
The English had a civilizational approach to the signs of productive
and enclosed land. Lands labored entitled the laborer to ownership
under an unwritten law of property. North-eastern Indian cultures
304 chapter ten

most certainly had economies of land use and long-standing lines of

trade, but these were imperceptible to English eyes. Collective myths,
land settlement and political organization were features of the Indian
nations sense of being that similarly did not nd easy equivalents
in the Protestant universe of concepts. Without doubt, this was pecu-
liar to English civilizational sensibilities and its culture of capitalism.
Ambiguous conceptions of paganism cast a long shadow over
Spanish views. Impassioned debate about the ethnological character
of aboriginal Americans turned on this ambiguity. Slavery was up
for discussion as well and the conclusions reached put moral limits
on the economic exploitation of the New World, which became quite
severe anyhow. The direct enslavement of Amerindians in the min-
eral and agricultural economy of the colonies was contested. They
were pressed into economic communities by the encomienda and repar-
timiento, but did not appear to have the visible physio-cultural features
required for slavery that Africans seemed to. Respected Mesoamerican
and Andean civilizations were invaded, then misinterpreted and doc-
umented by theologians whose own world views left them bewildered
in the face of unfamiliar cultural constellations. Interpreting
Mesoamerican histories led to constructions that emphasized com-
monality. Meanwhile non-agrarian and non-hierarchical societies of
the Caribbean and the central and southern continental hinterlands
were remembered in romanticized classical forms.
French premises were formed in the crusades of the late medieval
era and were communicated at that time to other temporal and
ecclesiastic powers in Christendom. They fragmented easily in the
Canadian environment where engagement with Huron, Algonquin
and Micmac forces was shaped by trade, diplomacy, missionary work
and alliance making as much as out-and-out confrontation. Where
battles broke out around colonial forts, a harsh image of the natives
ensued. Jesuit attempts at developing missions promoted a dierent
understanding. For the French, perceptions of civility or its absence
also primed relationships with Indian networks. However, fragmen-
tation enabled trade, rather than hindering it. Both kinds of per-
ceptionthe savage and the semi-civilroughly matched the two
sides of the French imperial state, namely its militarism and its heavy-
handed mercantilism, while also accommodating Jesuit visions of the
Indians humanity.
Each mode of recognition and interaction with Americas original
civilizations is particular to its imperial source and, in that sense, is
the atlantics distinct modernity 305

part of British, French and Spanish. However, this question is com-

plex and a conclusive view needs to be balanced with some succinct
remarks on what was generalized amongst the European empires.
The cultural preconceptions that informed the continuing interface
with Americas civilizations were communicated through Europes
knowledge circuits. Maps, paintings and sketches had a common
geometry and semiotics, while books, diaries and journals were drafted
in widely intelligible idioms. The institutions of libraries, gardens,
scientic academies, and private museums and collections preserved
elements of the New World in a frozen and decontextualized state,
re-contextualizing them in settings of civilizational interpretation.
These were signs of civilization and they were exchanged through-
out Europe, giving o the impression of civilizational dierence from
the American world and reinforcing propositions that there is a com-
mon Western destiny. Europe had entered the fteenth century bear-
ing the traces of Ottoman, Western and Byzantine traditions. With
the transformation of Western Europe induced by the advance into
the Atlantic, a new commonality emerged in countries that extended
their states into the Americas. In a sense, the premier civilizational
identity of Atlantic modernity was Westernmore properly Euro-
Americanmore so than British, French or Hispanic.
It is in the Americas that we nd ambiguity and diversity and
some identities in a state of ux from the mid-eighteenth century
onward. They reected o an instituting civilizational imaginaire. Its
unxed nature was the source of new feelings of belonging. For
example, middling Creoles felt an inbetween-ness that did not res-
onate with their counterparts in French or British colonies. Their
demeanour was peninsular, but their close proximity to Indian com-
munities gave them a disposition to defensiveness about the places
and style of life they felt they belonged to. French Canadians were
split between fort, river and town. Many identied with cities and
some in the elite looked to Francophone culture for their bearings.
Others were more attuned to the rhythms of life in the wilderness.
Continental Anglo-Americans retained strong loyalties to the Anglo-
sphere and the tenor of its culture. Even when politics and philosophy
started to separate them, there were many customs and practices
that still transcended divisions. Conversation and hospitalitythe arts
of the public sphere, if you willwere sustained, even in the cli-
mate of upheaval. In the Caribbean, European settlers became a
minority able only to generate ardent Anglophonic and Francophonic
306 chapter ten

identities. African inuences produced hybrid cultures that proved

more lasting.
In the Americas the civilizational imaginary created new people
with interpretive resources to understand and articulate their own
conditions in fresh and synthetic worldviews. They also operated in
a governmental environment in which the political capital that they
could mobilise was starting to matter more and more in the second
half of the eighteenth century. They arrived at that point in an insti-
tutional context that echoed the tension of imperial state formation
analysed in chapters three, seven, eight and nine. Three factors pro-
duced dierent conditions for colonial governments. A colonial order
embracing local instruments of administration, Creole elites that were
coherent to dierent degrees and public spheres of philosophy, artis-
tic and political discourse in some places amounted to an eective
pole of attraction for opponents of imperial government. Secondly,
the reach of royal patronage was comparatively tenuous in the
colonies. There certainly were webs of clientage, but they were spun
in local and regional networks as well as imperial hierarchies and
they tended to hold people more rmly to American ties of obligation.
Finally, distance dictated the imperatives of colonial autonomy to a
degree. The means of eective royal government in non-contiguous
and trans-continental empires were not rened in the era of colo-
nialism. In fact, there was no major precedent for imperial endeav-
ours on this large-scale in the history of European empire building.
Even Rome, which towered as the great classical exemplar, was a
land-based empire that mainly occupied and dominated colonies.
The challenge of the Americas was to build oceanic empires, con-
stituting immigrant settler colonies on the remains of struggling indige-
nous civilizations. This produced the modern problem of large colonial
populations embedded in centres on other continents that were devel-
oping new societies against a backdrop of old environments mostly
depopulated by their intrusion. The resulting tension of state for-
mation therefore played out in analogous-though-dierent ways in
colonial and national spheres. It established the potential for inde-
pendent societies in the Americas.
Four conclusions about state formation can be drawn from chap-
ter three. Firstly, there were two comparable tensions. One is national,
the other imperial. A reconstruction of the notion of absolutism
gives eect to this point by illuminating the inner conicts of early
modern polities and by expanding the range of analysis to encompass
the atlantics distinct modernity 307

all territories that were theatres of royal government. In this sense,

absolutism is only a meaningful term when it denotes a guration
of constant conict. This shed light also on the third conclusion. If
the complexity of intra-imperial arrangements is taken into account,
then multiple centres can be identied. This is a better and more
illuminating approach which can supplement hypotheses that map
institutional ensembles a priori according to a xed centre and pre-
sumed peripheries. Furthermore, the instances of mutual dependence
between centres become clearer, where such instances can be dis-
cerned. Finally, the foundations of colonies set the tone for the emer-
gence and consolidation of autonomies within the Atlantic empires.
Naturally this was a process of institutional creation; indeed, state
formation in general should be theorized at a meta-sociological level
as an act of creation.
A pivotal concept is worked out through the course of chapter
seven. The colonial order is a feature of the transoceanic empires
of Atlantic modernity. Colonial elites are legion in complex empires
of dierent civilizational origins.9 However, the colonial orders posi-
tion and role in the Euro-American empires was distinct and a token
of the early modernity of transatlantic colonialism. The contrast with
the provincial and municipal order, made up of more conventional
elites, conrms this. The colonial order was in possession of the insti-
tutions of administration and could establish a conception of this
kind of political ownership. The varied formulations of republican
politics within colonial societies spell out this modernity for us. They
vied with durable doctrines that reected loyalty to existing arrange-
ments and to the monarchical order in place. This political compe-
tition generated modern republican horizons in the Anglosphere. It
was taken as a model by others and often incompletely at that. It
emerged from the new-ness of the New World that pressed itself
most forcefully on colonial subjects.
But there were colonists who were thinking about their past, their
traditions and their political-philosophical and cultural inheritance.
In the case of Anglo-Americans, this produced the deepest collective
reection, although that collective was rife with division. For Hispanic
Americans who surrounded themselves with the monuments and
architecture of tradition, modernity came harder and it came from

S. N. Eisenstadt, The Political Systems of Empires (New York: Free Press, 1969).
308 chapter ten

others to some extent: the French and, after 1776, the North Ameri-
cans. This deliberative culture was heavily context-bound. Chapter
eight looks at how it took place in an environment of intense rivalry
between imperial powers, that were headquartered back in Europe,
but advancing their interests in intercontinental diplomacy, warfare
and intrigue. Modern empires were looking like large agglomerations
of non-contiguous territories a full century before the world empires
would move to carve up Africa. They were modern as their lead-
ers were global in their assessment of where they had a stake. The
division in the British colonies and the resurgent Creole colonial
order of the South American continent led to restructuring after the
Seven Years War. This magnied the tension of state formation and
encouraged confrontation between colonial and imperial authorities.
In the international arena, the rivalry of states was not ended by
the Treaty of Paris, although French interests were greatly reduced
at that settlement. Instead, the ongoing antagonism intensied in the
Caribbean theatre, where the colonial order was entrenched and
where slave-based industries were thriving. The last quarter of the
eighteenth century nished European coverage of the main conti-
nents with the reconnaissance of Australasia and the movement in
to the Pacic. At this time in which French and British empires were
assertive on an international scale, their American colonies were
either unstable or seemed in jeopardy.
Only in the Americas could republican polities emerge at this
stage. Within imperial states, colonial interests were a distant other
with which royal clientage had to compete to gain the sway of urban-
based American administrators. Self-rule was hard to grasp in the
end for new republicans. Autonomy as a sovereign rule came easily
to those accustomed to various levels of self-administration. Autonomy
of determinationthat is, a break of the limitations on self-deter-
mination of the futurewas harder. It evaded Latin American
republics where the legacy of executive power continued. How oppor-
tunities to industrialise and engage capitalism were negotiated rested
in a large measure on the resources of reexivity that new elites
could draw upon (as well as the natural endowment, level of tech-
nological and economic development etc.). Praetorian states struggled
to develop these, while the US sustained a horizon of self-critical
democracy. There were real constraints on this, however, and indeed
on the new republics in general. Not the least of these was the
survival and reformation of the British and French empires. The
the atlantics distinct modernity 309

republican diversity of Atlantic modernity had to coexist with the

enduring American colonies that were positioned within changing
British and French empires as well as the newly congured Anglophonic
formation in Canada. That these were imperial forms made them
no less modern, as Ive consistently argued throughout. The Atlantic
had the appearance of a singular zone, although its diversity is its
singularity. For example, the volume of trade and levels of invest-
ment in the Western hemisphere grew phenomenally in the nine-
teenth century, in spite of the fact that colonial and republican
governments had been sworn enemies. The civilizational programs
of the past instituted intercultural dynamics that permitted such a
It had also by the time of republican decampment established
another constraint on the new republican states: inter-continental
capitalism, which simultaneously limited and enabled development
of the new polities. Capitalism was the child of Atlantic modernity,
notwithstanding its antecedents in European (such as urban mer-
cantilism, the growth of money as the imaginary of exchange). Chapter
six seeks to extend arguments developed by macrosociologists since
the 1970s at the cusp of dependency theorys demise and world sys-
tems theorys ascendency. It is the area of political economy that
the most work and the most comprehensive work has been done on
the Atlantic zone to date.
Mercantilism as a concept of heuristic value has suered some
blows to its standing. On one hand, its credibility has been widely
questioned. On the other hand, the trends it designates have been
neglected in economic history. This is a shame as there is some
social scientic value in reviving and expressing this as a form of
state strategising. I have tried to do this here by pointing to four
features of the mercantilist state and what it actually did. Firstly, it
set up the domestic and imperial infrastructures that promoted eco-
nomic expansion. In doing so, it was giving eect to the second fea-
ture Im interested in: its role in co-founding capitalism. States and
their particular divisions were also arbiters. They unied the trans-
atlantic infrastructure that they also monitored, guarded and connected
to dierent points in the geographic transect. Still, they were over-
seers of a sort when it came to deep-rooted and inuential interest
groups. The fourth feature is those mercantilist strategies drawn up
by royal and governmental administrators who often juggled colo-
nial demands, the expressed interests of fractions of national capital
310 chapter ten

and the constraints imposed by inter-imperial rivalry. Beyond these

there was another feature of capitalisms early development that
deserves attention: a partial and always contested rationality of eco-
nomic practice that emerged in the Caribbean. It could be consid-
ered an early type of rationality if one wanted to think within the
metanarrative of rationalization. Its componentssuch as cost account-
ing, high-risk insurance and sophisticated credit provisionssuggest
a full bloodedness or maturity that dees an evolutionary or devel-
opmentalist scheme. I consider this to be a cultural type, however,
and my analysis bears out the view that it was not alone and uncon-
tested. Capitalisms development was therefore not smooth, nor unied,
although in some respects it was unifying.

Atlantic modernity after colonialism

Early Atlantic modernity is one path in the complex tapestry of the

contemporary world. It produced independent American states that
seem occidental in a number of respects, but really have developed
their own interpretations of modernity, models of capitalist economy
and distinct identities. Political and economic ties with Western Europe
regrew and expanded after the republican revolts. The states that
emerged from those wars stimulated the further cultural and eco-
nomic outgrowth of the Atlantic world throughout the nineteenth
century. Their own interpretations of modernity engaged the colo-
nial foundations of their original historical experiences. Yet their con-
dition and outlook was truly post-imperial. It is no surprise therefore
that none of these states acquired and kept a colonial empire
notwithstanding the oft-repeated and correct caveats about the United
States.10 In this regard, economic, cultural, political and diplomatic
links with the lasting empires of Western Europe was a source of
transatlantic tension. Not that this was a confrontation with an alien
culture,11 as the encounter with the West would be for other civi-
lizations. Rather, it was a condition of reection on many discrete
cultures that existed on two shores on either side of the Atlantic.
Their respective worldviews on the inter-state system divided into

On the anti-colonial posture of the United States, see Raymond Aron, The
Imperial Republic (London: Weidenfeld, 1974).
Eisenstadt, The Civilizational Dimension of Modernity, in Arjomand and
Tiryakian, Rethinking Civilizational Analysis p. 58.
the atlantics distinct modernity 311

imperial and national. Moreover, French American, Hispanic American

and Anglo-American perspectives on modernity were not merely pro-
duced domestically; they were disseminated over the Atlantic and,
towards the end of the nineteenth century, globally.
Outside perceptions of the Americas came to be dominated by
the United States. It radiated modernity for Europeans, where
once it had illuminated a primeval past. Unlike during the colonial
era in which it had been romanticized as utopia or deplored as
depravity, the consolidated federal state was seen as a vision of
progressa pure modernityregenerating itself continuously in
the present.12 It had achieved the aim of an unbound past, or so it
was believed. Nonetheless, ambivalence prevailed because it always
had a record of Western achievements from which it could selec-
tively borrow, even though it started its history in the present. Thus,
what past it did establish for itself was inscribed in revolution and
self-conscious constitutional re-foundation. But its revolution com-
bined traditions with an untarnished modernity, as the discussion of
the historiography of republicanism indicates. Its history focuses on
a heroic act of purging the vices of the old world and creating some-
thing new.
Of course, there was always another civilizational form in the
Americas, another Atlantic zone that lay south of the border in the
Western hemisphere. Hispano-Americas traditions might be seen as
more traditional and steadfast. Creolism and Hispanicism in Latin
America create an ambience of tradition, not modernity. On this
basis it is easy to dismiss the idea of a Latin American version of
modernity.13 But those traditions are to a great extent the products
of exposure to European modernity and to internal Creole versions
of it. They are the artefacts of a modern history of intercultural
transactions. There were two particular moments of global immer-
sion. One arose when the empire crumbled during the Napoleonic
interlude and another in the post war era, when Latin American
republics were forced to confront externally-derived modernizing
strategies.14 Latin American modernities involved collective delibera-
tion and conict over how to reconcile competing external models

Peter Wagner, A Sociology of Modernity (London: Routledge, 1994).
As Constantin von Barloewen does in Cultural History and Modernity in Latin
America: Technology and Culture in the Andes Region (Providence: Berghahn Books, 1995).
Roniger, Global Immersion, in Roniger and Waisman, Globality and Multiple
312 chapter ten

of societal development with an internal and utopian project of a

good republican society. In other words, how would imported European
and Asian ideas stack up against internal understandings of the
social which were incomplete and which did not have a clearly
dened citizenry to focus on. This modernity of Latin America opens
up moments of critical reexivity that deserve more attention than
they have received in the past. There is no space to develop this
here. However, intercultural ows should be part of any considera-
tion of this issue and some conjectural comments on this in relation
to the current project are possible. Culturally, Hispanic inuences
remain, even though nineteenth century liberal doctrine may have
denied this. The Iberian peninsular was still an important civiliza-
tional connection. However, there are other sources of intercultural
exchange. If Latin American civilization is modern in any way
that is, if it is dynamic, reexive and shiftingthen it is due to the
ow of economic, political and cultural trac. The passage of peo-
ple in the nineteenth century maintained the bonds with Europe.
British capital, migrants and liberal philosophy blended into the La
Plata region. Paris furnished philosophy for others. Its reception of
Enlightenment thinking had started with the Bourbons, but many
European sources were contributing to it by the nineteenth century.
Relativized notions of totality and modernity accept a exible
understanding of both. One general observation is possible here.
Understanding how tradition and modernity are gured dierently
in modern Latin America can dissolve the appearance of traditional
societies rooted in the past. While the process of state formation
evinces continuityas I argue in the nal chaptersthe appearance
of a great burden of tradition can lead us away from cultural mod-
ernisms that are part of the Latin American fabric. Some balance
is therefore