- Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution by Tyson Reeder
This is an important book on an understudied topic. In Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots, Tyson Reeder successfully integrates economic, political, and diplomatic history, arguing that the various emergent debates of the revolutionary era concerning mercantilism, free trade, republicanism, and race were all intertwined. The research is very impressive—especially the use of Portuguese sources—and is woven into a narrative that persuasively examines the shifting commercial landscape of the Atlantic during the Age of Revolution (1760s–1820s). The book’s greatest contribution is its focus on the Luso-American relationship and integration of the histories of the North and South Atlantic. To be sure, the British remained the dominant imperial power during the entirety of this transitional period. But American trade, especially with Brazil, increased dramatically over these decades, demonstrating the rapid rise of the United States as a formidable commercial and slave power after the American Revolution. Reeder argues that in this context, American merchant interests toggled between a commitment to republican ideals and the pursuit of commercial profits. Even though U.S. merchants and officials were initially convinced that Brazil would join them in their vision of the Americas as a haven for republics, they were forced to reframe the relationship when Brazil remained a monarchy following its independence from Portugal in 1822.
Reeder’s book is divided into four sections, with an introduction followed by nine chapters and an epilogue, and it proceeds more or less chronologically from the late eighteenth century through the Napoleonic Wars to the period following Brazilian independence. Each section has a brief introduction to guide the reader through the ever-shifting dynamics of diplomacy and trade during this tumultuous period. The first two chapters cover the foundations of Luso-Atlantic trade networks—especially the central role of Madeira wine and Pennsylvania wheat—and include a detailed discussion of the role of Sebastião José Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal, in restructuring Portuguese trade during the Seven Years’ War. Chapter 2 provides an overview of smugglers—the “plague of states”—as well as a discussion of the practice of smuggling as a part of an “Enlightenment paradigm” (37) that equated prosperity with open commerce, including contraband trade. Here, and elsewhere, the author makes good use of detailed case studies, such as one focusing on the Philadelphia merchant, Thomas Riche, whose illicit ventures reveal both how imperial [End Page 337] states exerted power over trade and that the limits of this power created the potential for subverting the will of the state.
Part 2 covers the road to the American Revolution, with an overview of British taxation and the range of American responses. These included boycotts and smuggling schemes, as well as wartime profiteering by North Americans such as Joseph Wharton and the Lisbon merchant Arnold Henry Dohrman, who ran a successful firm selling war supplies to the United States and assisted American sailors stranded in Portugal following their capture by the British during the war. After independence, the United States began to shift commercial attention away from Portugal, which Reeder argues was now tarred as a vice-ridden European monarchy, and toward Brazil, viewed as a potential independent sister republic. Despite the numerous quotes from officials and merchants provided by the author, one might question if this transition was driven by high-minded ideals or by the more base fundamentals of market economics, as Reeder also demonstrates that demand for Madeira plummeted following the revolution and that previously proscribed wine markets, such as Spain and France, were newly opened to North Americans merchants and consumers.
The question of the comparative motivational force of ideals versus economics extends throughout the third section, as American merchants navigated the paradoxes of a Luso-American trade transformed by the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars and the moving of the Portuguese court’s imperial base from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro.1 As Reeder elaborates, North American traders made...