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Edge of Crisis

War and Trade in the Spanish Atlantic, 1789–1808

Barbara H. Stein and Stanley J. Stein

Publication Year: 2009

This authoritative study of colonialism in the Spanish empire at the end of the eighteenth century examines how the Spanish metropole attempted to preserve the links to its richest colony in the western Atlantic, New Spain (Mexico), in the face of international developments. Continuing the approach in Silver, Trade, and War and Apogee of Empire, Barbara and Stanley Stein detail Spain’s ad hoc efforts to adjust metropolitan and colonial institutions, structures, and ideology to the pressures of increased competition in the Old and New worlds. In reviewing the attempts at reform, the authors explore networks of individuals and groups, some accepting and others rejecting the Spanish transatlantic trade system. They provide accounts from both sides of the Atlantic to show how economic policy, imperial goals, and consequent social divisions and factionalism in New Spain and Spain undermined the government’s efforts at economic and political adjustments. The Steins draw on a wide range of archival material in Mexico, Spain, and France to place the waning of the Spanish empire in an Atlantic perspective. They also show how Spain came to the verge of collapse in a time of revolution and at the beginning of the transition from commercial to industrial capitalism. Comprehensive and carefully researched, Edge of Crisis explains the broad array of factors that led up to the French invasion of Spain in early 1808.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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pp. ix-xii

A microstudy is best introduced with a macrovision, however sketchy, before the reader gets lost in details. The last quarter of the eighteenth century in the Spanish Atlantic—those maritime highways tying Cadiz in Spain to Spain’s colonies in and around the Caribbean as well as the South Atlantic— was a period of marked demographic and economic expansion and a...

Part One: Autumn of Proyectismo

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1. Continuity and Crisis, 1789–1797

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pp. 3-30

For three decades the administration of Charles III had benefited from the ongoing tension between French and English mercantile and manufacturing interests competing for hegemony in the Atlantic. Spain’s entry into the Seven Years’ War was delayed until 1761. The loss of two major overseas ports, Manila and Havana, to English forces was a profound shock, but...

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2. War and the Colonies: Aranda and Godoy

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pp. 31-53

Repercussions of the revolution in France upon Spain’s empire in America had much to do with Spanish authorities accepting Rafael Antúnez y Acevedo’s implicit argument. We must remember that returns on colonial trade from 1789 to 1792 had inspired optimism in the metropole. Trade reform seemed to correlate positively with expanding silver exports from New...

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3. The Late Proyectistas

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pp. 54-88

Regardless of outcomes, it is instructive to look behind economic-policy initiatives in the transitional years between the administration of Flori dablanca and that of Godoy, roughly 1789–96, to a group of political economists— they might be termed latter-day proyectistas—in the key Estado, Hacienda, and Indias ministries who continued the theorizing of those...

Part Two: Fissioning of New Spain

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4. Reorganizing New Spain’s External Trade: The Effects of Comercio Libre,1789–1796

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pp. 91-129

Over a three-year period the colonial administration of New Spain, under the direction of the recently arrived viceroy, II conde de Revillagigedo, undertook an examination of the performance of the colony’s economy on a scale and precision rarely, if ever, before seen there. Revillagigedo executed the survey successfully; its inspiration had come earlier, in the...

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5. A Hegemony Threatened: Mexico City and Veracruz

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pp. 130-161

The establishment of a merchants’ corporation, or consulado, at Veracruz in 1794 was far more than a generous and unsolicited stimulus by the Spanish imperial government to a neglected port on New Spain’s Gulf coast. It was formal if belated recognition of Veracruz’s emergence as an aggressive competitor of Mexico City’s for New Spain’s internal commercial circuits and...

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6. Mining and Its Fissures

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pp. 162-187

New Spain’s economy in 1800—its population close to that of England and Wales, its wealth measurable in high per capita silver output and consequently its demand for imports and remittances of silver—made that colony across the Atlantic the major pole of the Spanish empire’s economic growth at the end of the eighteenth century, as the late...

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7. Export Agriculture: Growth and Conflict

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pp. 188-205

Emphasis on growth and change in New Spain’s mining industry after 1789 in terms of silver’s spectacular predominance in the value of aggregate exports and its dynamic effects on New Spain’s interregional economy should not minimize the colony’s commodity production for internal and external markets. To judge by data assembled for...

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8. Comercio Neutro / Comercio Directo

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pp. 206-257

The formation of the Consulado de Veracruz was a product of New Spain’s overall expansion at the end of the eighteenth century matched by that of the island of Cuba and Havana’s ultimate emergence as the major port in the Caribbean. Yet the growth of the two colonial economies and their principal ports, far from reinforcing Spain’s transatlantic...

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9. “Informal” Comercio Neutro,1804–1808

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pp. 258-274

The marked upsurge of smuggling in the Caribbean sector of Spain’s transatlantic system after 1797, on an even greater scale after the renewal of Anglo-Spanish conflict at the end of 1804, reflected the inability of the metropolitan economy to supply the American colonies with European and national goods despite Madrid’s short-lived decision to rely upon...

Part Three: Financing Empire

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10. Consolidaci

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pp. 277-307

Iturrigaray’s meticulous remission of ecclesiastical funds (fondos de obras pías) to the metropole simply conformed to a decree of December 1804 issued immediately after the renewal of hostilities between Spain and England. The decree extended to the colony of New Spain and other Spanish colonies a financial device, the consolidación, initiated in the metropole after...

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11. Consolidaci

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pp. 308-318

In the spring of 1805 the economic elites of the colony of New Spain were upset by receipt of the royal decree of 26 December 1804 countersigned by Hacienda Minister Miguel Caetano Soler. Affirming that the alienation of real estate and capital resources of certain charitable foundations (obras p

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12. Strange Saga: The Transfer of New Spain's Silver,1804–1808

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pp. 319-372

Viceroy Iturrigaray’s dilemma after the outbreak of hostilities in late 1804 reflected the tactics of Madrid’s harried crisis managers. They confronted the strands of the old regime in metropole and colonies, which, interwoven by war, would ultimately strangle Charles IV, Godoy, Soler, Sixto Espinosa, and others, including the viceroy of the colony of New...

Part Four: Toward the Second War of Succession

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13. “Treasures in the New World”

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pp. 375-390

Behind the intervention of French forces in Spain in early 1808 was a legacy of structures and attitudes persisting during the Revolution, the Directoire, the Consulat, and the Empire: pressure for access to Spanish and Spanish colonial staples and consumers and to inflows of American (now mainly Mexican) silver, along with the hope of tying, even...

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14. “La tempestad que nos amenazaba”

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pp. 391-436

In the last phase of commercial capitalism in the late eighteenth century, unequal economic growth and development in western Europe produced a hierarchy of national economies: England and France in the more developed category, Holland next, and far behind, among the less developed, Spain and Portugal, despite (or because of) their long-held overseas...

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15. The National Drama, Act I: Conspiracy at the Escorial

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pp. 437-474

Doubtless the movement of French and French-commanded troops into Spain in late 1807 and early 1808 was dictated by military strategy and the arrogance of power as the ideals of the Revolution became imperialist. One must keep in mind, moreover, the Frenchmen who banked on the collaboration of Spain’s high civil servants, men of business, army officers, and...

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By Way of Conclusion

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pp. 475-477

The last decade of the “first” Spanish empire in America was its most critical. It was also a time when the English economy pioneered the transition from high commercial to industrial capitalism and when an irrepressible conflict between France and England for hegemony in the Atlantic rendered irrelevant what Madrid had cultivated since 1700, a tenuous...


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pp. 479-577


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pp. 579-596


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pp. 597-623

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895890
E-ISBN-10: 0801895898
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801890468
Print-ISBN-10: 0801890462

Page Count: 640
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Spain -- History -- Charles IV, 1788-1808.
  • Spain -- Commercial policy -- History.
  • Spain -- Commerce -- New Spain.
  • New Spain -- Commerce -- Spain.
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