Sovereignty and Revolution in the Iberian Atlantic
With the growing interest in the forthcoming bicentennials of the Latin American independence epoch, Jeremy Adelman selected an excellent topic to study: the disintegration of the Iberian empires. Based upon secondary sources and primary archival research, this book examines the period of the later eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century reforms and the international wars for Atlantic domination. Adelman develops themes in Atlantic history that analyze the experiences of the two Iberian metropolises and their trans-Atlantic [End Page 429] possessions. However, for reasons that are not evident, the author narrowed the scope of the subject implied by the title and in some respects reduced what could have been an overarching study. In the introduction, Adelman announced: "Most of the action described in this book takes place in cities from Cartagena to Caracas and around the Brazilian bulge down to Buenos Aires—and their connections to metropolitan cities like Lisbon, Madrid, and Cádiz" (p. 10). Probably he wished to center his study on his well-developed research strengths, but the complex themes of sovereignty and revolution in the Iberian Atlantic cannot adequately be explained in a regional study. While the Spanish viceroyalties of Nueva Granada and Río de la Plata, as well as Portuguese Brazil, embraced an enormous territory, these provinces were thinly populated, economically quite undeveloped, and politically inexperienced. By excluding New Spain, Central America, Cuba and the other Spanish Caribbean possessions bordering on the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, and also neglecting the Viceroyalty of Peru, which also looked to the Atlantic world, Adelman detached Spain's most valuable overseas kingdoms and provinces from the study. Well over half of the population of Ibero-America and the regions where the issues of sovereignty and revolution were of greatest importance received no attention. Adelman at least should have explained why he limited his study and abandoned the reinterpretation suggested by the book's dustcover, which proclaims "a bold new look at both Spain's and Portugal's New World empires in the trans-Atlantic context."
The early chapters examine the roles of merchants, miners, commerce in staple commodities, and the impact of Britain and France's wars to dominate the Atlantic Ocean during the 1790s. Beginning in 1808, the French military occupations of both Spain and Portugal (1808-1814) served as catalysts that advanced the disintegration of their trans-Atlantic empires. The outbreak of the Spanish American wars of independence in 1810 and the less bloody experience of Brazil under the exiled Portuguese monarchs opened the way to the emergence of the new independent states. In general, Adelman's chapters are carefully researched and well written. However, neither the author nor his readers for Princeton University Press picked up a number of errors that will surprise scholars in the field. In the 1780s, merchants in the African slave trade shipped German flintlock muskets and not "rifles" to exchange for slaves. The famous Spanish four-decked, 136-gun, Havana-built, first-rate ship of the line Santísima Trinidad, the largest warship afloat, was not lost at the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent in 1797 as Adelman claims, but at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Many scholarly and popular books and articles published during the recent 2005 bicentennial of Trafalgar stressed the importance of Havana, Cuba, where naval shipbuilders constructed outstanding warships, including the Santísima Trinidad. More importantly, throughout the book, Adelman refers to the Spanish and Portuguese territories as "colonies" and to the inhabitants as "colonists." In fact, the Spanish referred to New Spain, Peru, and other American provinces as overseas kingdoms or provinces. This view was especially important from 1808 forward in the debates over sovereignty and American representation to the Spanish Cortes under the Constitution of 1812. Finally, while Adelman's discussion of slavery and the African slave trade is relevant for the portion of the Iberian Atlantic that is the focus of the book and for Cuba, there were fewer slaves in the powerful and heavily populated province of New Spain, an area so important for issues of sovereignty and revolution. [End Page 430] Despite its reduced scope, Adelman's study adds new insights to the ongoing discussion on questions related to sovereignty and revolution. Though the inclusion of Brazil in the present study is laudable, less experienced students may encounter difficulties if they accept the title of this book and then attempt to apply Adelman's conclusions to all of the Iberian Atlantic.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada