After emerging victorious from their revolution against the British Empire, many North Americans associated commercial freedom with independence and republicanism. Optimistic about the liberation movements sweeping Latin America, they were particularly eager to disrupt the Portuguese Empire. Anticipating the establishment of a Brazilian republic that they assumed would give them commercial preference, they aimed to aid Brazilian independence through contraband, plunder, and revolution. In contrast to the British Empire's reaction to the American Revolution, Lisbon officials liberalized imperial trade when revolutionary fervor threatened the Portuguese Empire in the 1780s and 1790s. In 1808, to save the empire from Napoleon's army, the Portuguese court relocated to Rio de Janeiro and opened Brazilian ports to foreign commerce. By 1822, the year Brazil declared independence, it had become the undisputed center of U.S. trade with the Portuguese Empire. However, by that point, Brazilians tended to associate freer trade with the consolidation of monarchical power and imperial strength, and, by the end of the 1820s, it was clear that Brazilians would retain a monarchy despite their independence.
Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution
(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), delineates the differences between the British and Portuguese empires as they struggled with revolutionary tumult. It reveals how those differences led to turbulent transnational exchanges between the United States and Brazil as merchants, smugglers, rogue officials, slave traders, and pirates sought to trade outside legal confines. Tyson Reeder
, an editor with the Papers of James Madison and Affiliated Assistant Professor of History at the University of Virginia, argues that although U.S. traders had forged their commerce with Brazil convinced that they could secure republican trade partners there, they were instead forced to reconcile their vision of the Americas as a haven for republics with the reality of a monarchy residing in the hemisphere. He shows that as twilight fell on the Age of Revolution, Brazil and the United States became fellow slave powers rather than fellow republics.
Ryan Tripp is part-time and full-time adjunct history faculty for Los Medanos Community College as well as the College of Online and Continuing Education at Southern New Hampshire University.