Revolutionary Trade: US Commercial Networks in South America during the Age of Revolution

AHA Session 201
Conference on Latin American History 48
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Room 501 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Fabricio Prado, College of William and Mary
Jeremy A. Baskes, Ohio Wesleyan University

Session Abstract

During the early nineteenth century, revolutions engulfed Spanish America and the south and northeast of Brazil, fracturing imperial commercial channels and opening South American markets to U.S. traders.  This panel analyzes the interplay between trade and revolution, exploring the ways U.S. merchants participated in Latin American independence.  Until recently, historians of transatlantic commerce focused on broad patterns such as the flow of goods and remittances, stopping short of assessing the human relationships that made such trade possible.  In recent years, scholars have reimagined the possibilities of commercial history, examining how transnational trade networks integrated the Atlantic community.  This panel adds to that trend, exploring the convergence of commercial networks, politics, and diplomacy.  The existing literature has not fully examined how early U.S. merchants developed commercial networks after Latin American revolutions opened new markets to foreign trade.  Further, it has not assessed how such networks influenced politics and diplomacy during the Age of Revolution.  Without that understanding, we fail to grasp adequately merchants’ political subjectivity or connections between commerce and political ideology in the Americas.  Current scholarship casts early American merchants as cautious and calculating, wary of turbulent markets and unstable political conditions.  This panel challenges such conclusions, highlighting the ways U.S. merchants sought to influence U.S. and Latin American politics and profit from the contingency of the revolutionary period.

Contributing to the 2017 annual meeting theme, “Historical Scale: Linking Levels of Experience,” the papers on this panel combine the broad contours of political economy and Atlantic trade with atomized analysis of the choices individual merchants made.  Edward P. Pompeian demonstrates that U.S. merchants in Venezuela used their influence as cultural go-betweens to shape diplomacy and profit from revolution.  Tyson Reeder examines links between U.S. merchants’ trade and their political ideology, highlighting their support of republican movements in Brazil to secure freer trade.  Through the prism of a New York trader, Olga Gonzalez-Silen explores one individual’s strategies to become a U.S. consul (a diplomatic post that encouraged private gain) in the Caribbean while also reflecting on the perils Spanish American independence posed to U.S. merchants.

The panel should interest early Americanists and Latin Americanists working in Atlantic, economic, political, or diplomatic history.  It suggests avenues for integrating the histories of the North and South Atlantics.  Comparative histories of North and South America have enriched the historiography of the colonial and early national Americas, but the Atlantic field still lacks a robust literature that incorporates the two regions as a cohesive unit of analysis.  By revealing the influence of private networks on international relations, these papers carry diplomatic history beyond the realm of the state.  That approach allows historians to analyze early U.S.-Latin American relations outside of traditional imperial/national frameworks.

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