The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850 / Edition 1

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This magisterial work is a comparative history of three important revolutions in the Americas: the American Revolution in 1776, the 1791 slave revolt in the French colony that became Haiti, and the prolonged Spanish-American struggle for independence that ended a half century later. Lester Langley describes the movements and events that led to these wars of independence, explaining why revolution took one form in one place and a different form in another. Langley examines the political and social tensions reverberating throughout British, French, and Spanish America, pointing out the characteristics that distinguished each unpheaval from the others: the impact of place or location on the course of revolution; the dynamics of race and color as well as class; the relation between leaders and followers; the strength of counterrevolutionary movements; and, especially, the way that militarization of society during war affected the new governments in the postrevolutionary era. Langley argues that an understanding of the legacy of the revolutionary age sheds tremendous light on the political condition of the Americas today: virtually every modern political issue - the relationship of the state to the individual, the effectiveness of government, the liberal promise for progress, and the persistence of color as a critical dynamic in social policy - was central to the earlier period.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300077261
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,347,064
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Maps
A Note on Usage
Introduction 1
1 The Tense Society 13
2 A People at War 35
3 The Dilemmas of Victory 60
4 The Caribbean on the Eve of the Haitian Revolution 87
5 The Slave Rebellion 102
6 The Haitian Revolution 122
7 Iberoamerica on the Eve of Revolution 147
8 The Feared Revolution 166
9 The Price of Victory 191
10 Tocqueville's America 217
11 Bolivar's America 239
12 The Americas at 1850 261
Epilogue 285
Notes 289
Index 367
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First Chapter

The Americas in the Age of Revolution 1750-1850

By Lester D. Langley

Yale University Press

Copyright © 1996 Lester D. Langley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-06613-9

Chapter One

The Tense Society

In 1762 the last major battle of a war for trade in the Caribbean occurred, a massive British assault on the fortified Spanish city of Havana, the third largest in the Americas after Lima and Mexico City. Cuba was the second major conquest of the Spanish in the New World. From its shores, expeditions had sailed for Panama, Mexico, and Florida. Havana had suffered periodic raiding by buccaneers in the past (children still heard fearful stories of "Draques, el terrible," Sir Francis Drake, and the raids of his Elizabethan privateers), but not since a band of French pirates had seized the city in the sixteenth century had it fallen victim to foreign occupation. Forty years earlier, as British contraband traders-important suppliers for many of the isolated towns of the Spanish Main-sailed the Caribbean, the Spanish threw their efforts into making Havana an impregnable fortress in their New World dominion. Now it fell to a conquering army of soldiers, slave traffickers, and aggressive English traders. Alert to the growing carping among English colonials about these imperial conflicts, the young King George III emphasized the importance of including men from North America in the invading army so that they might recognize the larger purpose of the mission. Before the occupation ended, one-quarter of the British force of 22,000 were men from Britain's North American colonies.

The seizure of one of Spain's most heavily fortified cities was a moment of high triumph for the British. From the beginning of the seventy-five-year conflict with France and its reluctant ally, Spain, two generations of English merchants had sought to channel the nation's imperial energies toward opening the lucrative market in the Indies. In 1713, in the Peace of Utrecht, England had won the asiento, the coveted Spanish slave trade; in the 1730s, English smugglers had plied the Caribbean, and English goods found their way into Spanish America via Portugal (after 1702 a British ally), Brazil, and the North American colonies. The Dutch and the French, longtime rivals of the English in the pursuit of the coveted Spanish market, rapidly fell behind as these eighteenth century wars for trade progressed. British North American commerce with the Spanish colonies and even Iberia accelerated dramatically.

Heightened sentiments about Britain's mission and grandeur were severely tempered by distressing tales, disseminated through private letters or in newspapers, about the suffering of ordinary British Americans in these conflicts. In the Caribbean phase of the third Anglo-French imperial war in the 1740s, British Americans served in the calamitous campaign against Cartagena and fought in the strike against Guantanamo. Ninety percent perished in these tropical ventures. The survivors returned home with bitter memories of ill treatment: British officers had compelled them to work alongside slaves or to labor as ordinary deckhands on ships-or, if wounded, had denied them equal treatment with soldiers from the home islands.

The fourth war, the French and Indian War (called the Seven Years' War in Europe), involved even larger numbers of mainland British Americans. In this presumably decisive struggle for a continent, some British Americans were fired with grand designs. The experience subtly altered British Americans' feelings about their place within the empire. John Adams imagined an imperial future in the first year of the war that would have deeply troubled George III: "If we remove the turbulent Gallicks, our people, according to the exactest computations, will in another century become more numerous than England itself. Should this be the case, since we have ... all the naval stores of the nation in our hands, it will be easy to obtain the mastery of the seas; and the united force of all Europe will not be able to subdue us."

Empire and Economy

Though in the peace settlement of 1763 it had emerged victorious in the great war for trade, the British empire began to experience the strains that often follow war. The first was the strategic economic role that British North America assumed in imperial calculations in the postwar years, which had to do with the political economy of British North America and its place in the transatlantic economic order. Completion of the economic goals of empire, the more radical imperial reformers argued, required not only new endeavors but a different way of looking at the role of colonies within the world economy.

Regrettably, this view was politically untimely for a generation of British leaders who confronted a different kind of problem in the colonies. To encourage the colonies to take greater responsibility for their defense, as the imperial rationalists were arguing, would promote intercolonial cooperation, to be sure, but it would also require greater dependence on colonial volunteers in time of crisis. The British experience with volunteers in King George's War (1744-1748) had been disappointing, as evidenced by a near-fiasco in Virginia, where the governor had tried to mobilize the colony to undertake wartime measures and then had had to appeal for regular troops from Britain. Despite British-American protestations, regulars, not colonial auxiliaries, had determined the victory in the French and Indian War. A considerable portion of the regular army remained in British America at the end of the war. What was unsettling to British officials was the experience of these peacetime forces, especially at those times when governors had employed troops to maintain control. For policing, British Americans looked to their militias, not to regular British troops.

The debilitating legacy was indecisiveness and irresponsibility in the critical formative years of postwar imperial policy. Two diverse examples illustrate the degree of damage. The first has to do with ambitious postwar British plans for the Indians of North America. In their expansive notions about the territorial rewards of victory, most colonials believed the conquered "inner domain" of New France must be opened for settlement and exploitation. The war in the colonies had in fact begun two years before it had erupted in Europe because of the precipitous actions of Virginians who coveted the Ohio country. In the colonials' estimation, Indians of the western country were allies of the French and, just as damnable, stood in their way.

A different view of the Indian problem prevailed in Britain. During the war, British strategy was to wean the Indians from their French alliance with promises of assistance and, especially, pledges that the acquisitive whites from east of the Appalachians would be contained. Colonial governments had never handled Indian affairs in a responsible manner, it was generally agreed in London, and the Proclamation of 1763 (discussed below), which decreed a halt to such overland migration, appeared to be a justifiable measure. Given the need to avoid a costly Indian war, fulfilling the wartime promises made sense. Circumstances in British America, however, created a different scenario: the migrations into Indian domain continued, and an Indian war erupted.

It occurred almost simultaneously with the apparent collapse of the wartime coalition that had orchestrated the British victory over France. An invigorated sense of British-American identity prompted some colonial leaders to express a very different, and threatening, imperial vision-not as sharply defined as that of British imperial planners but with strong roots in provincial culture, reflecting the aspirations of a generation of colonials (Franklin was the most articulate of this group) who sensed that the colonies had become self-reliant and deserved a rank of equality within the empire. This view of "empire with autonomy" had adherents in England, men who believed that the old empire that had depended on military force-what Stephen Saunders Webb has characterized as the "garrison state"-must yield to modernizing forces. By 1750 "it was apparent that the anti-imperial forces of acquisitive capitalism, individual liberty, provincial autonomy, and Anglo-American oligarchy had won lasting social and political influence for the local elites who were the eventual authors of the American Revolution."

These beliefs about the transatlantic relation were contradictory but did not precipitate an open break until the imperial crisis of midcentury. Both views derived from the colonial experience. One was integrative, gaining its strength from a gradual but perceptible incorporation of the Atlantic colonies within the empire and calling upon them in the expansion and defense of that empire. The second definition of empire was inherently divisive. Even as British Americans professed their anglophilia, adopted British cultural fashions, and boasted of their prosperity within the colonial family, they sensed that the old rhythms of empire were giving way to a modern notion of empire, one less expressive of the sentiments of Greater England than of the calculations of economic policy and market opportunity. Montesquieu's lois fundamentales de l'Europe had extolled European mercantilism and British colonial policy, but during the last of the imperial wars British leaders, who grumbled about colonial profiteering and preoccupation with provincial interests, had begun to worry about the problems of defending and administering an empire without relying on the colonies. Such a policy required greater control and more efficient imperial administration.

Just as important for our understanding of British America on the eve of revolution is the uneven economic development within the Atlantic colonies. These years saw the emergence of Homo oeconomicus in a colonial society of individualistic, entrepreneurial farmers determined to promote their own interests by taking advantage of the expanding transatlantic market. The pace of economic change accelerated, and with it the realization that economic benefit carried an unexpected price. A demand-driven market required the staple colonies to export more wheat and flour to southern European markets and caused New Englanders to depend on the West Indian commerce to pay for British manufactures. The consequence was "Americanization through Anglicization," but its political legacy was a more acute sense of dependence and revolutionary nationalism. As British North Americans indulged their consumer appetites for English goods, they not only went deeper into debt but also expressed nostalgia for an imagined era of self-sufficiency. There was no realistic hope of turning back the clock, of course, but colonials now viewed imported goods as a symbol of their growing dependence and the reach of metropolitan power. "An expanding market," observes T. H. Breen in commenting on these changes, "linked frontiersmen to city dwellers, colonists living on the periphery of empire to the great merchants of the metropolis."

The parallel legacy of this expanding marketplace was the consumer revolution of the age, a revolution whose social impact was uneven and uncertain because its pervasiveness both united and divided backcountry yeomen, pretentious country gentry, urban merchants, artisans, and propertyless migrants. Tied to the same economic marketplace of material rewards and labor demands, rich and poor participated inequitably in its benefits, yet the prospect and opportunity offered by the consumer revolution permeated the collective psyche. In the economic arena, consumers, especially women, discovered they had individual choice and economic clout. The marketplace not only dictated economic priorities and social choice but also subtly altered the political culture as small landholders with voting privileges recognized they shared with social elites a passion for the pursuit of gain. They became less deferential for their "participation in a developing economy permitted [them] to extend their powers and turn their practical accomplishments into claims for greater esteem."

The consumer revolution presumably mitigated the fragmentation of British North American society, because the remotest settlers and even the Indians were drawn into the market economy, but it did not produce the integrated society that modernization theorists occasionally stipulate must happen. On its effects, historians sharply differ. If one argues that the market was an eighteenth-century creation that was the basis for the modern liberal, capitalist society of individualist producers, laborers, and consumers, then the presumption is that colonial British North America must have been traditional, self-sufficient, and communal. On the other hand, if it is presumed that colonial society exhibited both an entrepreneurial market orientation and a self-sufficient communal ethos, then the historiographical either-or dispute turns on which was the more determining factor in explaining social change on the eve of revolution. Put another way, which values-those of Homo oeconomicus or Homo republicanus-would shape the character of a revolutionary culture?

The Peopling of Empire

The presumably unshakable British-American sense of identity and community was strained as well. Disparate but related forces now intruded; a wave of postwar immigrants with heightened expectations of a better life; uncertainty about the social and political complications identified with slavery and, especially, miscegenation; changes in religious identity associated with evangelicalism; the intrusion of religion into the transatlantic political debate, specifically the rise of civic millenialism; restlessness and violence; and a gnawing sense among colonial elites that those beneath them in the social order no longer accepted the patriarchal community and its unwritten rules of deference to their betters.

From the earliest settlements until about 1760, more than 50 percent of colonists entering British North America south of New England were in bondage, usually as servants. African slaves augmented this involuntary labor force considerably, particularly in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, where the plantation economy had already taken hold. Economic historians persist in their debates over the preferences for indentured, free, or slave laborers and why slave labor appeared more suitable for plantation agriculture. The social and political implications of this shift to a predominantly white free labor and predominantly colored slave labor population, particularly in Virginia, were profound and, to southern patriarchs, unsettling. In the late seventeenth century, the mingling of white and colored bonded laborers was not uncommon. Its racial product was successive generations of mulattoes, "new people." Its disturbing social and political legacy was the understandable anomaly of a revolutionary generation who believed that freedom for whites depended on the enslavement of people of color.


Excerpted from The Americas in the Age of Revolution 1750-1850 by Lester D. Langley Copyright © 1996 by Lester D. Langley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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