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  • Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution by Tyson Reeder
  • Edward P. Pompeian (bio)
Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution. By Tyson Reeder. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. Pp. 368. Cloth, $45.00.)

This carefully researched, multi-local study analyzes the politics, ideology, and diplomacy of free trade during the Age of Revolutions by highlighting the fundamentally commercial nature of U.S. relations with the Luso–Atlantic world. With a comparative approach that entangles the [End Page 557] history of the United States with the Portuguese Empire, Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots offers another window into the political and economic development of the United States. Its citizens saw free trade and republicanism as a lever to pry open Iberian American markets and to oppose monarchy and empire. Notwithstanding a minority of unruly republican insurgents in Pernambuco, the peoples of the Luso–Atlantic overwhelmingly did not share the North Americans' beliefs. Reeder's thesis is that U.S. free traders were repeatedly disappointed as liberal economic and commercial reforms in the Luso–Atlantic world bolstered the imperial status quo under a crown and scepter. Their hopes for a Brazilian republican bonanza were dashed when neither republicanism nor free trade arose and British merchants retained dominance over the region's commerce after independence in 1822. In the process, Brazilians undermined U.S. Americans' vision for a hemisphere of independent free-trade republics, and slavery became their only commonality. In the United States, the ideology of free trade and republicanism was the victim of the nation's political leaders who chose to safeguard the country's international reputation rather than to help secure South Americans' freedom.

Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots illustrates why the long-eighteenth-century perspective is crucial to understanding the early United States republic. The American Revolution and the creation of the United States gave birth to what Reeder calls a "new paradigm" or "syllogism that equated independence from Europe with republicanism, republicanism with free trade, and free trade with prosperity" (5). This paradigm was born from the Atlantic empires' reliance on trade networks that required inter-imperial trade and triggered contraband in defiance of strict mercantilist policy. He suggests that the paradigm took hold in British North America in the 1760s and 1770s largely because the British Empire refused to implement liberal reforms, unlike the Portuguese who linked "trade liberalization with imperial cohesion rather than fragmentation" (58). Reeder argues that the commercial disputes of the British imperial crisis were intimately tied to Anglo Americans' participation in Luso–Atlantic trade. And yet the American Revolution had the unforeseen consequence of severing the once extensive legal and illicit commercial relations British North Americans had enjoyed particularly with the Wine Islands under Anglo–Portuguese treaties. From the 1780s through the early 1820s, U.S. officials were stymied repeatedly in their efforts to [End Page 558] negotiate a trade deal with Portugal. In the meantime, Portuguese imperial regulations vacillated between bans and permissions for U.S. shipping which "reinforced the developing notion that European monarchies made poor trade partners" (86). As the free-trade ideology became the foundation of the new republican paradigm, U.S. commerce shifted to Brazil.

Reeder broadens analysis of early United States international relations by considering the divergent perspectives of disobedient merchants, unruly privateers, and rogue consuls alongside diplomats and government officials. He posits that a deeply conflictive relationship existed between free traders and the state. Whether they were Anglo Americans or Brazilians, republican citizens or monarchical subjects, the free traders appearing in this book did not share an ideology, but they all desired access to foreign markets free of government regulation and prohibitive policies. The final chapters make the strongest case for this argument by focusing on familiar privateers, studied most recently by David Head and Caitlin Fitz, and obscure self-serving zealots who were temporarily appointed U.S. consuls before being removed for abusing their office and undermining U.S. foreign policy.

Reeder seems to favor these and other free-trade "dissidents who challenged state authority" (2) because of their anti-state variant of liberty and commerce. There are dogged inconsistencies in this conflict-based interpretation that...


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