Liberty and Commerce: US Merchant Networks in Brazil, 1808–24

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:50 AM
Room 501 (Colorado Convention Center)
Tyson Reeder, The Joseph Smith Papers
“Liberty and Commerce” examines the political subjectivity of U.S. merchants trading in Brazil between 1808 and 1824.  Historians generally cast early modern merchants as cautious and calculating, preferring peaceful trade environments free from the unpredictability of war and tumultuous politics.  During the Age of Revolution, however, many U.S. traders found that the economic contingency which accompanied civil strife could create promising opportunities.  With the move of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808, Brazil became an independent kingdom within the empire. Inclined to equate independence from Europe with republicanism, many U.S. merchants felt ambivalent toward the presence of a European monarchy in the Americas.  In 1816, convinced that the Portuguese government would retain high duties and privilege British trade over American, many U.S. traders welcomed republican revolutions in the south and northeast of Brazil. They hoped to profit by supplying revolutionaries with munitions, breadstuffs, and privateers while enhancing their commercial networks in revolutionary regions and supporting republicanism in Brazil.  Between 1816 and 1824, Brazil became the undisputed center of U.S. trade in the Portuguese Empire, compelling the U.S. government to recognize Brazilian independence.  This paper highlights, therefore, the intersection of trade, political ideology, and diplomacy during the Age of Revolution.