In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Latin American Research Review 39.2 (2004) 196-210

[Access article in PDF]

Silver, Slaves, and Sugar:

The Persistence of Spanish Colonialism from Absolutism to Liberalism

Fordham University
Silver, Trade, and War: Spain and America in the Making of Early Modern Europe. By Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein. (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. Pp. 351. $49.95 cloth.)
Black Society in Spanish Florida. By Jane Landers. Foreword by Peter H. Wood. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Pp. 390. $50.00 cloth, $19.95 paper.)
Los Marqueses De Comillas, 1817-1925: Antonio Y Claudio Lopez. By Martín Rodrigo y Alharilla. Prologue by Josep María Delgado Ribas. (Madrid: LID Editorial Empresarial, 2000. Pp. 405. N.p.)
Gobernar Colonias. By Josep M. Fradera. (Barcelona: Ediciones Península, 1999. Pp. 152. N.p.)
España En La Crisis De 1898: De La Gran Depresión a La Modernización Económica Del Siglo XX. By Jordi Maluquer de Motes. (Barcelona: Ediciones Península, 1999. Pp. 233. N.p.)

Change in the nature of Spanish colonial exploitation in the Americas came slowly. When it did, the Spanish court and bureaucracy generally found themselves in a reactive position. Such was especially true in the early modern period. Foreign merchants, pirates, bankers, and armies chipped away at Spanish sovereignty, not only in the Caribbean and other parts of the Americas, but perhaps most effectively in the metropolis itself. Over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Seville-Cádiz trading complex found itself riddled with foreign interests that systematically drained American resources away from Spain and to its rivals, particularly England and France. While those countries developed dynamic economies and strong centralized states, Spain and its dominant classes suffered from a rentier mentality and a weak "absolutist" monarchy unable to exercise its putative authority to reform the obviously corrupt colonial system. Not even the [End Page 196] change of dynasties, from Hapsburg to Bourbon, brought effective relief in the short-term. At least through the mid-eighteenth century, Spain was still little more than an entrepôt for the Northern European economies and a puppet in the Anglo-French military and commercial rivalry that dominated the Atlantic world. In contrast to England and France whose monarchies made pacts with commercial bourgeoisies, Spain remained resolutely backward-looking. The Bourbons inherited a country characterized by "a patrimonial polity, a Castilian agricultural and ranching economy of large landed estates and impoverished peasantry, [and] a system of cultural beliefs attuned to an already defunct concept of Catholic universality."1

This depiction of Spain as a weak and semi-developed metropolis will be familiar to students of Latin American and Spanish history. Its most trenchant formulation is Stanley Stein and Barbara Stein's The Colonial Heritage of Latin America.2 The Steins' new study, Silver, Trade, and War: Spain and America in the Making of Early Modern Europe, is a densely argued elaboration of some of that book's theses. This first installation of a multi-volume work concentrates on metropolitan political and economic structures and Spain's clashes with foreign rivals. The authors survey and comment on the complex historiography of Spain's rise and fall in the Atlantic world and Western Europe. This work is also deeply grounded in archival research (primarily in Spanish and French archives but also Mexican and U.S.) that allows ample insight into the functioning of the Spanish court and colonial bureaucracy.

The weakness of the Spanish monarchy was evident from the founding days of the American empire. The monarchy ceded the responsibility of economic expansion in Europe and the Americas in the form of monopolies granted to regionally located merchant groups. In the case of the Castilian wool trade with Bruges, Burgos came to dominate to the exclusion of rival cities such as Bilbao, while Seville merchants controlled the American silver trade and the quasi-public institutions, like the Casa de Contratación and Consejo de Indias, that regulated it. These sixteenth-century precedents would have...