Shackles of Royalty: Monarchies, Republics, and Free Trade in the Age of Revolution

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 2:10 PM
Columbia 11 (Washington Hilton)
Tyson Reeder, University of Virginia
“Contraband Goods and Licentious Liberty” reveals the concerns of the Portuguese monarchy about the interconnections among early North American smuggling, free trade ideology, and republicanism. The American Revolution compelled North American advocates of free trade to crystallize a philosophy that justified smuggling as a legitimate means of resisting trade restrictions. Early U.S. free traders drew a tidy syllogism that equated independence from Europe with republicanism, republicanism with free trade, and free trade with prosperity. As a result of restrictive commercial laws in the Portuguese Empire, U.S. merchants resorted to smuggling in Brazil in the 1780s and 1790s. At the same time, the Portuguese government confronted revolutionary conspiracies in Brazil ripe with allusions to U.S. independence and free trade. By the turn of the century, Portuguese officials worried that smuggling provided the material means by which North Americans would extend the supposedly twin doctrines of republicanism and free trade into the Atlantic.

The study reveals the tension between early U.S. efforts to command respect on the world stage and North Americans’ commitment to supposedly a priori commercial laws. In 1808, the Portuguese court opened Brazilian ports to foreign commerce, gratifying U.S. free traders. The change occurred, however, at the same time the U.S. government imposed a general embargo on U.S. foreign exports, closing legal U.S. trade to Brazil. Viewed in conjunction with Brazilian trade, the embargo highlights the disconnect between discourse which equated republicanism with free trade and the reality that U.S. leaders prohibited foreign exports while paradoxically pressuring the Portuguese monarchy to liberalize its trade policies.

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