In the space of ten years, between 1773 and 1783, a series of convulsions transformed the political landscape of the Americas. In British America the Boston Tea Party of December 1773 opened a new and dangerous phase in the deteriorating relationship between Britain and its mainland colonies, that would descend in the next two years into rebellion and war. The colonists convened their first Continental Congress in September 1774. In April 1775 British troops and colonial forces clashed at Lexington and Concord. The first shedding of blood was followed by the summoning of the second Continental Congress, the proclamation by the British crown that the colonies were in rebellion, the colonists' Declaration of Independence of 1776, and a war in which thirteen mainland colonies, assisted by France and Spain, would emerge victorious when Britain recognized their independence as a sovereign republic in 1783. The crisis that overtook Britain's empire in America over these years proved nearly terminal.
Political convulsions, however, were not confined to North America. In South America, rebellion came to both Peru and New Granada in the early 1780s. Unlike the revolt of Britain's mainland colonies, neither Tupac Amaru's Andean rebellion of 1780-2, nor the `Comunero' revolt, which first erupted in the New Granada town of Socorro in March 1781, were to result in independence from the imperial power. Both revolts were suppressed, and another generation would pass before Spain's possessions in central and southern America would follow in the footsteps of the British American colonies. In Spanish America, unlike British America, the crisis was contained.
Both these crises of empire were played out against a background of shifting ideas and ideologies. Comparable forces were operating in favour of change in the two colonial worlds, although at the same time there were profound differences - logistical, structural, human - between them, creating very different patterns of action and response. In neither instance was a break between colonies and metropolis a foregone, or even initially a desired, conclusion. But once it occurred in British North America, unexpected possibilities would begin to present themselves to Spanish Americans too.
Ideas in ferment
The revolution that impelled the thirteen mainland colonies of North America to break their bonds of loyalty to the British crown in 1776 was a revolution of disappointed expectations. In the aftermath of the Seven Years War, the Britain which they had supported on its road to victory failed to behave in the way that their image of it had led them to expect. Where were the gratitude and generosity to which their wartime sacrifices entitled them? Could such men as Grenville and Townshend really be representative of the nation they had been taught to revere as the cradle of liberty? What had become of that perfectly balanced British constitution, with all its checks and balances, when a legislature that had gloriously overthrown tyrants itself became tyrannical? Why did the king, the natural protector of his peoples, not assist them in their hour of need?
These agonizing questions burned their way into the minds of innumerable British Americans in that critical decade 1765-75. They were questions that brought them face to face with unpleasant realities, and impelled them towards personal decisions of a kind which, a few years earlier, they could never have dreamt that they would be called upon to face. Living at a time of far-reaching intellectual, cultural and social change, some of them responded to the pressure of unfolding political events by clinging to old certainties, while others were driven by temperament, conviction or circumstance to look for salvation to the new
Among the creoles of Spanish America, too, the policies of the king's ministers provoked a sense of outrage and deep disillusionment. The expulsion of the Jesuits had come as a devastating shock, and the determination of the ministers to press ahead with unpopular reforms threatened to turn the creoles' world upside down. The sense of loyalty to the monarch was deeply ingrained in the overseas subjects of Charles III, but in the 1760s and 1770s, in the Spanish as in the British Empire, it is possible to detect a process of psychological distancing between the American territories and the mother country.
There is a difference, however, between distancing, and reaching the decision to snap the bonds of empire. Traditionally, separatism was always more feared by royal ministers in Madrid and London than discussed, or even contemplated, by the overseas settlers and their descendants. When the fiscal attorney of the Council of the Indies observed of Spain's American territories in 1767 that `it is never wise to assume that they are entirely safe from the danger of rebellion',' he was merely the latest in a long line of ministers and officials consumed with similar anxieties since the days of the Pizarro rebellion in Peru, or indeed since Cortes conquered Mexico.
Similar preoccupations were to be found in Whitehall. When the Earl of Sandwich prophesied in 1671 that within twenty years New Englanders would be `mighty rich and powerful and not at all careful of their dependence upon old England',2 he was voicing fears already expressed at the time of the Puritan migration in the reign of Charles I. Such fears were reinforced by analogies with Greek and Roman colonization made by seventeenth-century politicians and officials in the light of their reading of the histories of classical antiquity and the works of contemporary political theorists.
In his Oceana (1656), James Harrington compared colonies to children passing through different stages of development: `For the colonies in the Indies', he wrote, ,they are yet babes that cannot live without sucking the breasts of their mothercities'; but he would be surprised if `when they come of age they do not wean themselves'. The reference to `mother-cities' was no doubt inspired by Athens and Rome. The American colonies were more properly the offspring of a `mother country'. The expression helped to popularize the image of colonies as children, wayward or disciplined, but still under tutelage as they made their way to adulthood.' What would happen when they reached it? In one of the radical Whig papers of 1720 to 1723 assembled under the title of Cato's Letters, and widely read in colonial North America, John Trenchard argued that the colonies would in due course grow up, and could not then be expected `to continue their subjection to another only because their grandfathers were acquainted'. Partnership, not parental discipline, would be needed to preserve the family relationship.'
By the 1750s there was a growing belief in Whitehall that, unless discipline were soon applied, colonies that had grown so rich and populous would choose the path of separation. Ministers were strengthened in this belief by what they regarded as colonial recalcitrance during the Seven Years' War. In addition, they feared that the effect of the conquest of Canada would be to weaken the ties of dependency, perhaps fatally, since the colonies would no longer see any need for British military protection against the French. According to the Board of Trade in 1772, one of the intentions behind the 1763 Proclamation Line and its policing by British garrisons was `the preservation of the colonies in due subordination to, and dependence upon, the mother country'.'
As questions about the strength and permanence of the imperial relationship came to be openly discussed in Whitehall and aired in British pamphlets and the press, it was hardly surprising if suspicions grew among the colonists themselves that a conspiracy was afoot to deprive them of their liberties. How else to explain the new coercive policies? Once they began to sense that the imperial government was motivated by the fear that Britain stood in danger of losing its American empire, the notion of independence, which had been the last thing on their minds at the start of the Seven Years War, began to emerge on the horizon as a cloud, still no bigger than a man's hand, but a portent of the future. When this happened, the fears of Whitehall were on their way to becoming self-fulfilling prophecy.
The absence of open discussion in Madrid on the crown's American policies reduced the chances of a comparable reaction in the Hispanic world, if only because there was less information in the public domain on the attitudes and intentions of ministers. Yet the creole population was affected by something of the same sense of alienation felt by the British colonists, and for much the same reasons. Not only were Madrid's policies alarming in themselves, since they seemed to betray a total misunderstanding of what the creoles believed to be the true nature of their relationship with the crown, but they were accompanied by a general disparagement of all things American that was far from new,6 but was all the more disconcerting because it now came dressed in the fashionable garb of the European Enlightenment.
In a volume of his Histoire naturelle, published in 1761, the great French naturalist, the Comte de Buffon, had represented America as a degenerate, or alternatively as an immature, world, whose animals and peoples were smaller and weaker than their European counterparts. The same year saw the partial publication in French of the Travels through the North American colonies of a Swedish naturalist, Peter Kalm, in which he followed tradition by depicting the settlers as a population that had degenerated in the American climate. Cornelius de Pauw, in his Recherches philosophiques sur les Americains, published in 1768, was even more disparaging, and two years later the Abbe Raynal produced a virulently anti-American `philosophical history' of European settlements and trade in the Indies.7
Faced with this bombardment, it is not surprising that British and Spanish Americans should have considered themselves under siege from a Europe that claimed to be enlightened. The slanders and misconceptions abounding in works written by authors most of whom had never even set foot in America provoked the ire of Benjamin Franklin, and drew responses from Spanish American creoles that ranged from the bombastic to the erudite. The polemic continued for the best part of a generation, to the accompaniment of reverberations that echoed around the Atlantic, and provided a noisy, but significant, background to the political battles of the age.
American Jesuits in their European exile hurried to the defence of their lost American patria, most notably Francisco Javier Clavijero, who was scathing in his denunciation of `the monstrous portrait of America painted by Pauw', and sought in his Historia antigua de Mexico (1780-1) to prove that neither the birds, nor the animals, nor the inhabitants of America were in any way inferior to their European equivalents.' In North America Thomas Jefferson, composing his Notes on the State of Virginia just as Clavijero was publishing his History of Mexico, scrutinized and refuted the facts and figures with which Buffon sought to prove the inferiority of American flora and fauna, and mounted a spirited defence of `the race of whites, transplanted from Europe', who had been condemned by Raynal as failing to produce `one good poet, one able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science'. Given the relative youthfulness of these transatlantic societies, Jefferson argued, and the size of their populations, how fair was the comparison with France or England? And what of Franklin, `than whom no one of the present age has made more important discoveries'?9
If such responses suggest an understandable sensitivity to denigration by illinformed or prejudiced European commentators, they also point to the turning away of the New World societies from the Europe that had engendered them. In the end, attack proved to be the best form of defence. The New World's youthfulness, which European critics liked to adduce as a source of weakness, could be depicted instead as its greatest source of strength. Where the Old World stood for the past, the New World stood for the future. American innocence offered a standing rebuke to European corruption, American virtue to European vice. These contrasting images imprinted themselves on collective creole consciousness. Under their influence, the leaders of revolution, first in British, and later in Spanish America, would find it easier to distance themselves from their mother countries and break the emotional and psychological bonds of empire.
24 The Mass of St Gregory (1539). Feathers on wood. This piece of Mexican featherwork, commissioned for presentation to Pope Paul III by Montezuma's nephew and son-in-law, the Spanish-appointed governor of San Juan, Tenochtitlan, illustrates the survival of pre-conquest techniques of craftsmanship, and their rapid adaptation to the requirements of the post-conquest world. `Every day', wrote Las Casas, they make images and altarpieces and many other things for us out of feathers ... And with no prodding on our part, they make borders for chasubles and capes . . .' According to the legend a doubting St Gregory saw Christ present himself bodily on the altar at the moment of the host's consecration. Indigenous feather-workers would have based their design on a European print.
25 A culture of display. Exterior view of the church of Our Lady of Ocotlan, Tlaxcala, Mexico (c. 1760).
26 A culture of restraint. Interior of Christ Church, Philadelphia (1727-44).
27 Cristobal de Villalpando, Joseph Claims Benjamin as his Slave (1700-14). One of a set of six canvases depicting scenes from the biblical story of the life of Joseph, and painted by the creole artist Cristobal de Villalpando (c. 1649-1714). Villalpando's work betrays the influence of the great Venetian masters and of Rubens, whose dynamic compositions would have been known to him primarily through engravings.
28 Potosi silver used for ornamental purposes. Silver gilt tray (1700-50), probably from Upper Peru, and characteristic of the rich and intricate work of Andean craftsmen.
29 Miguel Cabrera, Portrait of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1750). The best of the many posthumous portraits of the unique American poetess, the tenth muse'. Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-95), born out of wedlock to a creole mother, grew up as an exceptionally precocious child, interested in all branches of learning, including mathematics. At the age of sixteen she was given a place in the viceregal court in Mexico City, where for five years she served as lady-inwaiting to the wife of the viceroy, the marquis of Mancera, before taking her vows in 1669 as a nun in the convent of San Jeronimo, where Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora and other leading Mexican writers and scholars would pay her visits. Her many poems and theatrical pieces made her the most famous poet of her age in the Hispanic world. Eventually silenced by clerical pressure, she sold off for charity the books that surround her in this portrait, and engaged in acts of penance and mortification which may have hastened her death in the Mexico City epidemic of 1695.
30 Peter Pelham, mezzotint Portrait of Cotton Mather (c. 1715). Cotton Mather (1663-1728), the son of Increase Mather, a Boston minister, and himself a minister in his turn, was the most important figure in the intellectual life of the New England of his age. A prolific author, he was faced with the challenge of reconciling the new science to the old theology, and the struggle took its toll.
31 Portrait of Don Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora, from his Mercurio volante (1693). A poet, mathematician, historian and geographer, Siguenza y Gongora (1645-1700), appointed professor of Mathematics and Astrology in the University of Mexico in 1672, was a gifted scientist and astronomer, and a man of encyclopaedic learning who, like his New England contemporary, Cotton Mather, sought to find a way between the new experimental philosophy and the teachings of the church.
32 Westover House, Charles County, Virginia, (1732). The seat of the Byrd family of Virginia, Westover, was built by William Byrd II to replace his father's house overlooking the James River. A red-brick mansion, built in the classical style of the houses Byrd had seen in England where his father sent him for his education, it was one of the first of the new manor houses built by the eighteenth-century Virginia gentry - houses that, however handsome, could not compete in scale and grandeur with those of the English aristocracy on which the Virginian elite sought to model itself.
33 William Williams, Husband and Wife in a Landscape (1775). William Williams (1727-91) was an English painter who sought to make a living in America, where he painted somewhat naif conversation pieces for colonial families in imitation of those being made in England for the nobility and gentry. In Philadelphia he befriended the young Benjamin West, who in turn would move to England to become the first native-born British North American to acquire fame as an artist.
34 Jose Mariana Lara, Don Matheo Vicente de Musitu y Zavilde and his Wife (late eighteenth century). Rural tranquillity for the creole elite in late colonial New Spain. Don Vicente and his wife were the owners of a sugar mill near Cuautla.
35 Jan Verelst, Portrait of Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row. The Five Nations enter the world of international diplomacy as they manoeuvre between Britain and France. In 1710, when the English colonists were anxious to secure help from the mother country to conquer French Canada, they persuaded this Mohawk chief and three fellow Mohawks to go on an embassy to London to advance their cause. The four `Indian kings' made a great impression and were enthusiastically received at court. It was also hoped that the ambassadors would be sufficiently impressed by what they saw in England to persuade the rest of the Iroquois Confederacy to join the attack. In the event, many Iroquois volunteers joined the English expedition mounted against New France in 1711, but it ended in disaster at the mouth of the St Lawrence even before the attack was launched.
36 Bishop Roberts, Charles Town Harbour, watercolour (c. 1740). By the time the harbour of Charles Town (the future Charleston) was depicted in this watercolour by a resident artist, the city had become a flourishing Atlantic port. The rice grown on the plantations of South Carolina was shipped from here to Europe and the West Indies. The colony's rice exports paid for the imported luxury goods eagerly sought by the planter elite for the adornment of their mansions and persons.
37 Anon., The Old Plantation, watercolour (c. 1800). The survival of African culture in a New World environment. Plantation slaves, probably from a South Carolina plantation, appear to be celebrating a wedding with music and dancing.
38 Henry Dawkins, A North-West Prospect of Nassau Hall with a Front View of the President's House. An engraving of 1764, which shows the College of New Jersey (the future Princeton University) eighteen years after its foundation in 1746.
39 Paul Revere, The Boston Massacre. This engraving, with its dramatic depiction of the moment on 5 March 1770 when a party of eight British soldiers turned their guns on a hostile crowd, circulated widely through the colonies and helped inflame the passions that would lead to revolt.
40 Anon., Union of the Descendants of the Imperial Incas with the Houses of Loyola and Borja (Cuzco, 1718). The painting commemorates a double union between the Inca and Spanish elites. On the left, St Ignatius Loyola's nephew, Don Martin Garcia de Loyola, governor of Chile, who was ambushed and killed in the Araucanian wars in 1598, and his wife, Dona Beatriz, the daughter of Sairi Tupac, who succeeded to the imperial rights of the Incas. Beside them is St. Ignatius holding the constitutions of the Jesuit Order. Above them to the left are shown the bride's parents, along with Tupac Amaru I, in the centre, who was executed by the Spaniards for rebellion in 1572. In the foreground on the right, the daughter born of this marriage, Dona Lorenza, is depicted with her husband, Don Juan de Borja. The bridegroom was the son of St Francis Borja, who stands behind him holding his emblem, a skull. The painting, depicting marriages that had occurred more than a century before, testifies to the pride of the eighteenthcentury nobility of Cuzco in their ancestral past.
41 William Russell Birch, High Street from the County Market Place, Philadelphia, engraving (1798). One of twenty-nine views of post-revolutionary Philadelphia, engraved by a British artist who arrived in America in 1794. The engravings were intended to serve as an advertisement 'by which an idea of the improvements of the country could be conveyed to Europe'. They give a lively impression of the handsome and prosperous city in which the First and Second Continental Congresses were convoked, and the Declaration of Independence signed.
42 Patriots and Liberators 1. George Washington (1732-99) painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796.
43 Patriots and Liberators 2. Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), miniature on ivory of 1828, after a painting by Roulin.
While British and Spanish American colonists in the later decades of the eighteenth century shared a growing disillusionment with their mother countries and with the Old World itself, the British proved to have a more impressive armoury of ideological weapons at their disposal for resisting the political assault that now confronted them. The population of the British colonies had long enjoyed access, through books, pamphlets and other forms of ephemeral publication imported from England, to a wide spectrum of political opinions. These ran from the high Tory opposition views of a Bolingbroke, through the orthodox doctrines of a Whig establishment comfortably settled on the constitutional foundations established by the Glorious Revolution, to the radical and libertarian doctrines of the seventeenth-century Commonwealthmen and their reformulation by eighteenthcentury publicists like John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.1° These divergent approaches to the ordering of politics and society were readily available because the fault-lines created by the upheavals of the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution still ran through the British Atlantic community. Each time the tectonic plates shifted there would be a new eruption of political and religious debate.
There was little scope for such public debate in the more controlled environment of the Spanish Atlantic world. An unpopular royal minister, like Esquilache, might be overthrown by the action of the Madrid mob, but there was no opportunity in the Spain of the 1760s for a John Wilkes to emerge and mount a sustained challenge to authority through the spoken and written word. Lacking the ammunition provided by a metropolitan literature of opposition, creoles who were critical of royal policies therefore remained dependent on the theories of contractualism and the common good propounded in medieval Castilian juridical literature and the works of the sixteenth-century Spanish scholastics. During the first half of the eighteenth century the Jesuits updated this scholastic tradition by assimilating to it the natural law theories of Grotius and Pufendorf,ii but the political culture of the Hispanic world lacked the benefit of rejuvenating injections provided, as in Britain, by parliamentary and party conflict.
The opportunities for informed political discussion in the American viceroyalties were also narrowed by local constraints. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, a royal decree forbade the teaching of doctrines of popular sovereignty as expounded by Francisco Suarez and other sixteenth-century Jesuit the- ologians.12 The censorship of books was a further obstacle. It was normal practice in the Spanish Indies that no book could be printed without the granting of a licence by viceroys or presidents of the Audiencias. Such a licence would only be issued after its contents had been approved by the local tribunal of the Inquisition." Even if the process of inquisitorial vetting was often perfunctory, and the system of licensing by the civil authorities was open to corruption, bureaucratic controls inevitably impeded the circulation of ideas in a continent where vast distances and problems of transportation made inter-regional communication laborious and slow.
The British colonies, too, were subjected to constraints on publishing, although these were weakened by the lapse in 1695 of the Licensing Act in England. The instructions issued to royal governors authorized them to exercise supervision over the public press, while colonial assemblies, although frequently in conflict with the governors, had an inclination to support them when it came to controlling publications which might be similarly subversive of their own powers and privileges. Printers, too, tended to tread warily, since they were in competition for the lucrative post of government printer in their respective colonies.
When legislation or more informal kinds of pressure failed, the authorities could still make use of the law on seditious and blasphemous libel. Resort to the courts, however, brought with it no guarantee of success. Massachusetts juries were notoriously reluctant to prosecute in cases of seditious libel, and in New York skilful advocacy and a populist jury produced a `Not guilty' verdict in 1735 in the trial of John Peter Zenger for material printed in his Weekly Journal. Although the authorities showed no inclination to abandon recourse to censorship in the wake of the Zenger verdict, the outcome of the case illustrated the effectiveness of a defence strategy that linked freedom for printers, publishers and authors with the wider cause of liberty. While a free press might not yet be a natural right, at least it had become a natural right in waiting, and one that was explicitly recognized some thirty years later when the Massachusetts House of Representatives declared in 1768 that `the Liberty of the Press is a great Bulwark of the Liberty of the People.' As the events of the 1760s and 1770s were to show, the existence of a jury system furnished the British colonists with a potential weapon for resistance to royal power that their Spanish American counterparts lacked.14
Not surprisingly, the more favourable conditions in the British colonies for the reception and dissemination of information gave them a substantial advantage over Spain's colonies when it came to the founding of newspapers and periodi- cals.ls In New Spain a semi-official monthly gazette, the Gaceta de Mexico, first briefly established in 1722, was relaunched in 1728 and survived until 1742. Lima too had its own gazette from 1745, but periodical publications in Spanish America continued to be irregular and ephemeral throughout the century.16 By contrast, the British colonies, where the first newspaper, the weekly Boston News-letter, was founded in 1704, were already supporting twelve newspapers by 1750, although the first daily papers would only appear after the end of the War of Independence.'7
In spite of their heavy London content, these newspapers, while reinforcing a sense of local and regional identity, helped simultaneously to encourage intercolonial mutual awareness by reprinting scraps of information from other colonial papers.18 Improvements in the internal postal services worked to the same effect. Benjamin Franklin, as postmaster in Philadelphia from 1737and colonial deputy postmaster general from 1753, increased the frequency of services, and managed to reduce the time for delivery and reply between Philadelphia and Boston from three weeks to six days.19
As the political atmosphere grew tense during the 1750s and 1760s, the flow of news through the colonies made it easier to fashion a common response to acts of perceived British injustice. The activities of printers, publishers and postmasters - and Franklin was all three at once - widened the opportunities for envisaging a British colonial America as a single body politic with a shared concern for liberty. Newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets provided material for lively discussion in taverns and coffee-houses, and in the dining clubs and societies that sprang up in the cities of the eastern seaboard in the pre-revolutionary years. It was by incessantly talking politics in the taverns and coffee-houses of Boston that Samuel Adams cut his teeth as a revolutionary.20
As the Stamp Act crisis developed, newspapers, voluntary associations and the boycott of British goods all involved widening sections of the colonial population in the process of political debate. In Spain's American possessions, on the other hand, distance and size made it much harder to fashion, or even envisage, anything approaching the degree of co-ordinated response found in the British colonies. The surface area of the empire of the Indies was more than 5 million square miles. Spanish South America alone covered nearly 3.5 million square miles, as against the roughly 322,000 of the thirteen mainland colonies of British North America.21 It took two months to travel overland from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile, and nine months by horse, mule and river transport from Buenos Aires to the port of Cartagena in New Granada.22 While the printing press made the Atlantic crossing soon afer the beginnings of colonization, even so important a city as Santa Fe de Bogota, the capital of New Granada, did not acquire a press of its own until the late 1770s.23 With local newspapers rudimentary or non-existent, and inter-colonial trade still to receive the impetus that would follow the introduction of `free trade' in the years after 1774, there was no frequent or rapid network of communication between the various viceregal and provincial capitals.
The problems involved in mobilizing and co-ordinating resistance over large areas of territory were therefore of an entirely different order to those likely to be experienced in the mainland territories of North America. Here, for all the diversity of the colonies, their bickering and rivalries, there existed the potential, and to some extent the means, for rallying the white population across colonial boundaries to defend a common cause. Whether this would in fact happen would depend both on the actions of the British government following the repeal of the Stamp Act, and on the capacity of the colonists themselves to sink their differences and find a common will to resist.
If they did so - and it would not be easy - it would be around a set of common assumptions and beliefs. These assumptions and beliefs were deeply rooted in the experiences of the early colonists, but gathered shape and cogency over the decades before the crisis of the 1770s. The process, however, was inevitably complicated by the diversity of background and religion of the colonial population in a society where immigration was not officially confined, as it was in Spanish America, to persons of a single nationality or religious faith. If the open nature of British American society as compared with that of Spanish America made for the easier circulation of news and ideas and a greater freedom of debate, it also had the disadvantage of raising the general level of disputatiousness.
Yet while its diversity made the white population of British America contentious, its members were at least united in their fundamental conviction that the transatlantic lands in which they or their forebears had settled offered them the prospect of better lives than those they had lived, or might have lived, in Europe. They were the inhabitants of a genuinely New World - a world whose very newness promised them the freedom to worship as they wished, or, alternatively, not to worship at all; the freedom to settle and work a plot of land and keep the profits of their labour for themselves; the freedom to live their lives as they liked, without the need to defer to those whose claims to social superiority rested solely on the accident of birth; and the freedom to choose, reject, and hold accountable those in positions of authority.
These were precious freedoms, and the nature of eighteenth-century British Atlantic culture was such as to reinforce rather than undermine them. Politically, it was a culture firmly grounded in the principles of the Revolution Settlement of 1688-9, which had enshrined as central to the British constitution the virtues of representation, freedom from the exercise of arbitrary power, and (limited) religious toleration. Intellectually, it was a culture increasingly infused with preEnlightenment and Enlightenment notions of the supreme importance of reason and scientific observation for unlocking the secrets of the universe.
The heroes of the story were Newton and Locke. Once Newton's conceptualization of the laws of the universe, and Locke's political, educational and philosophical theories had been absorbed in their homeland, they automatically came to form part of British Atlantic culture, even if their reception and acceptance on the American side of the Atlantic involved something of a time-lag. Before the 1720s few in America had apparently read, or even seen, Locke's two Treatises of Government, and it seems to have been primarily his reputation as a philosopher that brought his political theories to such public attention as they received in the following two or three decades.24 By the 1720s and 1730s, however, his moral philosophy and the new science were winning increasing numbers of adherents both among the professional and business classes in the Northern and Middle Colonies, and the slave-owners of the South. The Virginian planter, Landon Carter, inherited from his father the 1700 folio edition of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and his annotations show him quite prepared to engage in debate with `this great man'.25
The new notions naturally provoked opposition from the redoubts of orthodox religion. Tensions had already surfaced in later seventeenth-century New England, where the founding of Yale College in 1701 was intended to counter the dangerously latitudinarian tendencies of Harvard. As the new ideas and approaches became more diffused, so the religious opposition became more vocal. Conservative Calvinists on the one hand and evangelical revivalists on the other inveighed against deists and sceptics who subverted the truths of religion. Splits in the Presbyterian church led to the founding in 1746 by New Light Scottish Presbyterians of an interdenominational institution, the College of New Jersey, the future Princeton University (fig. 38). Anglicans responded in 1754 by founding King's College, which would later become Columbia University"
In spite of the resistance to innovation, by 1750 the moderate Enlightenment, pragmatic and inquiring, had largely triumphed over Protestant scholasticism in the colleges of America. The leaders of revolution in the 1770s were formed in its mould.27 Their mental world was characterized by a new, and generally more secular, rationalism based on scepticism and doubt; a belief in the capacity of the individual and society to achieve progress through an understanding of the laws of a mechanistic universe designed by a benevolent Creator; a confidence that human industriousness and the application of scientific knowledge could harness the forces of nature for human benefit; and, as a corollary, the conviction that it was incumbent on governments, drawing their legitimacy from the consent of the governed, to protect life, liberty and property, and enhance the happiness and prosperity of their peoples.
More slowly, and in the face of more entrenched resistance, Enlightenment ideals were also finding adherents in the Hispanic world. While the advent of the Bourbons gave an impetus to the renovation of Spanish intellectual life, which had already shown glimmerings of revival in the later years of Carlos 11,2' new ideas, especially if they were foreign, were all too likely to fall foul of the church, the Inquisition and the universities. This antagonism set the scene in the peninsula for a prolonged struggle between traditionalists and innovators, with the innovators gaining ground in the middle years of the century, especially after Charles III's accession in 1759.29 This metropolitan struggle was replicated on the other side of the Atlantic, where, however, the inherited traditions of baroque scholarship still showed themselves capable of creative innovation.30 Scholasticism was powerfully entrenched in the more than twenty universities of Spanish America, but as early as 1736 the Jesuits of Quito were teaching Descartes, Leibnitz and Spinoza.31 Jesuit dominance over the education of the sons of the creole elite meant that by the middle decades of the century modest pockets of Enlightenment were to be found in all the major cities of the Indies, and in the long run even the universities would prove more accommodating to innovation than their peninsular counterparts.
In spite of these advances, the Spanish American Enlightenment lagged behind its British American equivalent, and its impact would only begin to be widely felt during the last two decades of the century, partly as a result of the additional spur applied by royal officials impatient with the slow pace of change. It was an Enlightenment, too, that lacked the dimension of political dissent. In British America the conjunction of moderate Enlightenment principles with those inculcated by a British political culture imbued with notions of liberty and rights was to prove a heady mixture.
During the early years of the reign of George III that political culture was in process of transformation. Britain's victories in the Seven Years War and its commercial and maritime dominance had generated a more aggressive nationalism, British as well as English, that pointed towards more authoritarian styles of imperial management.32 The rhetoric of this British nationalism might be the rhetoric of liberty, but at the same time it seemed to the Americans (as the British were now increasingly inclined to call the colonists),33 that this was a rhetoric from which they were deliberately being excluded. Simultaneously, recent political developments in Britain itself were raising questions, in British as well as American minds, about the degree to which freedom was indeed entrenched in a country that gloried in its self-image as the homeland of liberty.34
In the young George III Britain had acquired a `patriot king' who aspired to transcend and extirpate the traditional party divisions that had bedevilled political life during the reigns of his two Hanoverian predecessors. With the downfall of the Old Whigs after forty years of ascendancy, British politics - and with it political debate - acquired a new vigour and fluidity. The alleged attempt of the crown to reassert powers that it had lost in the Glorious Revolution and reinstate a Stuart tyranny provided a rallying-cry for Whig politicians who had lost out in the struggle for power, and allowed them to claim that the English liberties won in the seventeenth-century struggles were once again imperilled. At the same time, there was growing resentment, both in London and the provinces, at the corruption of public life resulting from aristocratic dominance and the system of patronage and influence that had developed during the Whig ascendancy. This resentment stimulated a movement for parliamentary and governmental reform, associated on the one hand with the popular politics of John Wilkes and his followers, and on the other with the dissenters, and the adherents of the radical version of the Whig tradition which traced its ancestry to the seventeenth-century `Commonwealthmen' - notably Milton, Harrington and Algernon Sidney - and their eighteenth-century successors.
To American colonists following intently the British domestic debate, this seemed to have an immediate relevance to their own situation. They too saw themselves as the victims of the arbitrary exercise of power by an arrogant and unrepresentative parliament, and their reading of British history and British political tracts like Cato's Letters encouraged them to find the explanation of that arbitrary power in the deformation of the constitution by the corruption that had taken hold of the British body politic. In the writings of the radical Whigs in defence of the Old Cause they sought and found a source of inspiration for the fighting of their own battles.
The doctrines of the Commonwealthmen were an amalgam of intellectual and religious traditions: the classical republicanism of ancient Greece and Rome, the rational moral philosophy of Plato, Aristotle and their heirs; the English common law and natural law traditions; and the religious traditions of the Protestant Reformation and Christian humanism.35 Out of these traditions, to which the new century would add Enlightenment rationalism, the Commonwealthmen fashioned their vision of a republic grounded in the virtue of citizens who placed the common good above the pursuit of mere self-interest. For the eighteenthcentury successors of the Commonwealthmen, self-interested politics were sapping the foundations of the finely balanced constitutional arrangements achieved through the heroic struggles of the seventeenth century, and had brought about the corruption and degeneracy of the present age. Only a virtuous citizenry could ward off the evils of corruption and thus wage the eternal war in defence of liberty.
The exercise of public virtue therefore came to be seen as the only effective answer to the evils of the age. Some were now beginning to fear that Britain might already be sunk too deep in the mire of corruption to recover its virtue,36 but on the American shores of the Atlantic the battle could still be fought and won. The patronage machines of royal governors, the nefarious activities of royal officials and the parasitic spread of their network of dependants,37 and the pursuit of factional and personal interest in electoral contests in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere,38 indicated that the corruption that had taken hold of British public life was beginning to infect the colonies. In the face of this alarming threat to liberty, it was incumbent on the property-owning elite to exercise the self-restraint required if the common good were to be elevated above the politics of interest. All, however, had their part to play in the unfolding struggle. In his tracts published as Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson adopted not only the language of the Whig opposition in his assaults on British policy, but also the persona of the independent yeoman farmer who represented, in the Harringtonian world-view, the epitome of patriotic virtue.
The opportunity for a colonial-wide expression of patriotic virtue was amply provided by the sequence of events that followed the repeal of the Stamp Act. In May 1767 Charles Townshend, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced in the House of Commons a bill imposing new duties on a variety of goods on their entry into colonial ports. The object was to raise revenue to defray the expenses of colonial administration and provide an emergency fund to improve the salaries of governors and judges so that they would be less dependent on the colonial assemblies. It was a project that Townshend had cherished since serving many years earlier in the Board of Trade under Halifax. As a device for securing a more effective deployment of imperial power it made good sense, especially as it was to be accompanied by a reorganization of the totally inadequate American customs administration.39 In its assumption that the colonists objected only to internal rather than external duties, however, it was hardly attuned to colonial sensibilities at this delicate moment in the transatlantic relationship.
There was some initial hesitation in the colonies over how to respond to the Townshend duties, but Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer, published over the winter of 1767-8, did much to rally opinion in favour of constitutional and legal methods of resistance, rather than open confrontation. Following unsuccessful petitioning for relief from the Townshend Act, the colonists reverted to the strategy that had served them so well in securing the repeal of the Stamp Act, and turned again to the use of non-importation agreements.40 Between 1768 and 1770 innumerable groups sprang up to monitor the activities of merchants, many of whom showed themselves less keen to boycott British goods than in 1765-6, when goods were overstocked. The New England town meeting, which provided an ideal forum for decision-making and collective action, was imitated in other colonies, and large public meetings were held in New York, Philadelphia and Charles Town.41
The non-importation movement involved both open and covert coercion. As during the Stamp Act embargo, it acquired some of its momentum from those who stood to gain personally from rallying to a patriotic cause - smaller merchants resentful of the wealth and power of their more successful colleagues, artisans who saw the possibility of turning their hands to the manufacture of goods that had hitherto been imported, and debt-ridden southern gentry who saw in the boycott a convenient device for cutting down on conspicuous consumption while gaining the plaudits of the public.
Yet if the non-importation movement was inspired by mixed motives, and tended to be unevenly observed and inconsistently enforced, it evoked, in both its scale and its rhetoric, an impressive display of that civic virtue which lay at the heart of the republican tradition. It helped to politicize American women,42 and to involve the lower orders of colonial society in anti-British protests. The denial of luxuries had always played a part in programmes for the reformation of morals and manners, but the ideals of classical republicanism, when added to the traditional moralizing appeal for self-restraint, ensured that, in clothing themselves in homespun, the colonists also donned the virtuous garb of Greek and Roman patriots. `These are efforts of patriotism', claimed one publicist in 1769, `that Greece and Rome never yet surpassed, nay not so much as equaled.'43
In capturing the public imagination and encouraging co-operation among the colonists, the movement reinforced the sense of a united struggle in the cause of liberty. The unexpected strength of colonial resistance, coupled with the failure of the Townshend duties to generate the anticipated revenue, persuaded the new government of Lord North to sound the retreat. On 5 March 1770 he announced his intentions to the House of Commons, and in April all the duties were repealed except for that on tea, which was retained as a symbolic assertion of parliamentary supremacy.
Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic now hoped for a return to calm. For a time at least, calm did indeed return. Yet mutual distrust ran deep. The ministry of Lord North, having retreated, had also determined on the point at which it must stand firm. There must be no yielding of the sovereignty of parliament. For their part, the conflicts of the 1760s had given the colonists a sense of common purpose against a common oppressor. Equally important, those conflicts had also given them them a chance to assemble the arguments and burnish the language on which they would need to draw in any final confrontation to save their cherished rights.
A community divided
On 5 March 1770, the day on which Lord North announced in parliament that the Townshend duties would be withdrawn, eight soldiers of the 29th Regiment guarding the Boston custom house responded to taunts and a volley of missiles from a hostile crowd by opening fire and killing or mortally wounding five civilians. At the subsequent trial, where the accused soldiers were ably defended by John Adams, Samuel's younger second cousin, a fair-minded Boston jury acquitted six of the eight soldiers, and found the remaining two guilty only of manslaughter. The radicals, however, seized on the incident as proof that the British would stop at nothing in their determination to destroy colonial liberties. Blood was running in American streets, and the `Boston Massacre' was duly inscribed in the glorious annals of revolutionary history (fig. 39).44
The Massacre was only the latest in a long line of street riots and acts of violence against customs officials and recalcitrant merchants that marred what was supposed to be a peaceful boycott of British goods. Colonial governors and British ministers saw the hand of the radicals in these disorders. They suspected street leaders, like William Molineux in Boston '41 of acting as intermediaries between the rioters and members of the colonial elite. Yet there were bound to be tensions between popular agitators and elites imbued with deep-seated fears about the dangers of unleashing mob violence,46 and the extent of collusion is difficult to gauge. Samuel Adams, who is said to have been persuaded as early as 1768, when British troops arrived in Boston, that there was no alternative to independence, seems to have been connected with most of the major street actions in Boston in the years after 1765. But he covered his tracks well, and it is far from clear whether this passionate defender of the people's liberties was taking the initiative in order to advance his chosen policy, or riding a tiger that he found impossible to control.47
In New York, as in Boston, the presence of British soldiers gave rise to street fights and brawls 4' but that same presence also acted as a reminder of the weakness of British imperial authority. If little or no blood was shed by American mobs in the pre-revolutionary years, this may largely have been because they met with no resistance.49 Like other colonial governors, Francis Bernard, the governor of Massachusetts, simply did not have at his command an administrative apparatus for maintaining public order, and the institutions of imperial authority had no natural constituency of support in American society. For his part, General Gage lacked both the will, and the military resources, to restore authority by force of arms in Massachusetts. His weakness allowed Samuel Adams to negotiate the removal of the troops from the city to an island in Boston harbour. Adams's plan, however, to maintain the pressure on London by keeping the non-importation movement in being was to end in failure. With the British in an apparently conciliatory mood, the merchants along the eastern seaboard proved increasingly reluctant to participate, and by the autumn of 1770 the movement was everywhere unravelling.so
The moment of the radicals seemed to have passed, but this was to reckon without the pretensions of parliament, the intransigence of British public opinion, and the miscalculations of Lord North and his cabinet colleagues. The Tea Act remained in force, and colonial grievances unredressed. During the Stamp Act crisis and the agitation over the Townshend duties, `correspondence committees' had sprung up in the different colonies to share information and co-ordinate resistance. In May 1773 the Massachusetts House established a revived and strengthened committee to maintain correspondence `with our sister Colonies'. With Samuel Adams at its head, the Boston committee assumed leadership of a campaign against the Tea Act."
In December of that year a bunch of colonists disguised as Mohawks threw £10,000 worth of East India Company tea overboard into Boston harbour. Lord North's government responded between March and May 1774 by enacting a series of punitive measures. The Coercive, or Intolerable, Acts closed Boston harbour to commercial shipping, gave the governor the right to appoint and remove inferior judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace, and partially abrogated the colony's 1691 charter by placing appointments to the council in the hands of the London government. The commander-in-chief in North America, General Gage, who replaced Bernard's discredited successor, Thomas Hutchinson, as governor of Massachusetts, was authorized to use his four regiments to impose submission by force if necessary.12
The events which followed over the following two years - the convening of the first and second Continental Congresses (1774 and 1775-6), the Declaration of Independence, and the resort to arms - saw the metamorphosis of increasingly generalized resistance into revolution, a revolution that within nine years would transform the thirteen rebellious mainland colonies into an independent republic. In September 1774, when the first Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, this outcome would have been difficult to predict, and none of the stages by which it was reached was a foregone conclusion. It was not inevitable that Massachusetts should win the support of the other colonies, nor that the leaders of those colonies should unite to renounce their allegiance to the crown. Nor was it inevitable that they would succeed in mobilizing their populations for war, and still less that the war would end in victory. For Spanish Americans, who would follow their example a generation later, it would take up to twenty years of savage warfare to achieve a comparable result.
When Massachusetts, under pressure from the Coercive Acts, appealed to the other colonies for help, its appeal was far from being assured of success. While war and politics during the past two decades had brought the mainland colonies closer together and had forged personal friendships and a better mutual understanding, Massachusetts had a reputation for abrasive and precipitate behaviour, and the destruction of £10,000 worth of private property in the waters of Boston harbour could well be construed as another rash act by New Englanders that could only inflame passions and play into the hands of the imperial authorities.
The Coercive Acts, however, profoundly changed the political atmosphere in the colonies. Although the Acts were designed to punish Massachusetts, the coercion of one colony implied a potential threat to all. For George Washington, writing from his home at Mount Vernon on 4 July 1774, there was clearly a `regular, systematic plan' to destroy American freedom.53 Lord North's government contrived to strengthen this suspicion by a fortuitous piece of bad timing, when it secured the passage of the Quebec Act at the end of June. This replaced the current military administration in Canada with a civil administration. Quebec was to retain French civil law, and, for the time being, was not to be given a representative assembly. The Act managed simultaneously to offend the religious sensibilities of Protestants by conceding special privileges to the Roman Catholic church, and the territorial sensibilities of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia by extending Quebec's provincial boundaries into the Mississippi Valley as far as the Ohio River. Coinciding as it did with the Coercive Acts, and coming at a time of renewed apprehension about alleged plans to establish an Anglican bishop in America,` it inevitably evoked in the overheated imaginations of colonists the twin spectre of political and ecclesiastical tyranny which, they fondly thought, the Glorious Revolution had banished. This was a society, and an age, in which conspiracy theory seemed to provide the most rational explanation of otherwise incomprehensible conjunctions of events.55
Yet the colonial elites had good reasons for proceeding with caution. Outright confrontation with the imperial power would not only be damaging to trade but could well produce upheavals in societies where the rapid growth of population, the influx of new immigrants, and the restrictions imposed by the Proclamation Line on westwards expansion, provided standing opportunities for outbreaks of social and political unrest. In 1764 Scots-Irish immigrants, the `Paxton Boys' of Pennsylvania, attacked the Christian Indians in the settled areas and then marched on Philadelphia, accusing the assembly of not protecting them from Indian border raids. In New York's Hudson County the pent-up discontents of tenants against their landlords erupted in 1766. In the two Carolinas in the 1760s and early 1770s, the backcountry settlers - the `Regulators' - exasperated by the failure of the colonial legislatures to provide law and order in the borderlands, took the law into their own hands and turned on their legislatures and the local agents of authority. In the northern seaport cities, where the presence of soldiers and the lack of employment in the post-war years added new elements of volatility, street brawls could easily turn into mob riots and disrupt an always fragile civic order.16
While colonial elites had been eagerly adopting the characteristics of eighteenth-century English aristocratic life-styles, they had long been aware, even in the more stable colonies of New England and the south, that they could not count on English-style deference from their social inferiors. Back in 1728 William Byrd, on a tour of South Carolina, noted how the residents, many of them small property-holders, `were rarely guilty of Flattering or making any Court to their governors, but treat them with all the Excesses of Freedom and Familiarity's' If colonists arrived from the British Isles or the continent with their deferential instincts still intact - and those most resentful of enforced deference may well have been among the most eager to up stakes and emigrate - the opportunities and conditions of life awaiting them on crossing the Atlantic militated against the survival of such Old World attitudes. Access to the ownership of freehold land was a great social leveller. In a society where two-thirds of the white population owned land, it would be hard to sustain indefinitely the notion of deference to rank, even if rank itself was being vigorously asserted by the upper echelons of colonial society.58
The value placed by the evangelical revival on the individual may also have helped to subvert the notion of a deferential society.59 Although rank, precedence and deference still ran through the fabric of colonial societies '60 appearances could be deceptive. The elites who found themselves staring into the abyss in 1774 as they contemplated the alarming prospect of conflict with Britain, were uneasily aware that any precipitate move on their part might be the signal for their inferiors to throw over the remnants of deference and plunge the community into anarchy.
The awareness was especially acute among the elites of the Middle and Southern Colonies. All of them had assimilated the ideas and the rhetoric of Whig constitutionalism, and New York and Pennsylvania had been pioneers in appropriating the language and the methods of the opposition groups in England to provincial politics.61 In so doing, they paved the way to a future based on coalition-building and party-political organization. At this moment, however, the two colonies held back. The Quaker ethos in Pennsylvania, and a strong Anglophile tradition in New York, militated in the minds of the dominant groups against a final break with Britain. But above all, having constructed with difficulty a form of coalition politics that would hold together their religiously and ethnically fragmented societies, they feared the chaos that was likely to ensue as imperial issues intruded into provincial politics and dissolved the coalitions on which public order, and their own power, rested.62
The Southern Colonies, no less imbued with notions of liberty than the Middle Colonies, also had reasons to fear the future. While the presence of large slave populations helped bring greater cohesion to white society than was to be found in the Middle Colonies, even if that society was structured on hierarchical foundations, it also raised the spectre of mass slave uprisings in the event of political upheaval. As perhaps the most Anglophile of all the colonies, South Carolina, in particular, had cause to emphasize its loyalty. From the middle years of the century the sons of the planter and merchant elite were making their way in growing numbers to England to complete their education, and the closeness of trading ties with England encouraged the Charles Town elite to ape the ways of London.63
Of all the southern colonies, it was Virginia that was most likely to risk the present for the sake of an uncertain future. Not only was its elite steeped in the Whig tradition, but it had achieved a level of social stability still lacking in colonies of more recent foundation.64 in the event, the role of the planters of Virginia would be crucial in deciding whether Massachusetts would receive the support for which it urgently appealed in the summer of 1774. The decision of a group of Virginian colonial leaders, subsequently endorsed by a convention of planters, was to stand shoulder to shoulder with Massachusetts. If the king should attempt to `reduce his faithful Subjects in America to a State of Desperation', they would forcefully respond.61
Their expression of support, which was accompanied by a decision to revive the defunct association of 1769 for the non-importation of British goods, may at some level have been influenced by financial strain. Tobacco had been afflicted by severe marketing problems since the middle of the century, and plantationowners had run up huge debts to British middlemen and merchants. Although indebtedness was a fact of life in this colonial world, George Washington for one had been sufficiently preoccupied by his accumulating debts to look for more profitable alternatives to tobacco planting, and to convert to wheat instead.66 Yet if personal and financial frustration were conducive to a spirit of rebelliousness, the resolve shown by the Virginia planters in confronting the imperial crisis was deeply rooted in the culture of the agrarian society in which they had been raised.
As the beneficiaries, and to some extent the victims, of a particularly demanding form of export culture liable to sudden fluctuations, Washington and his fellow planters were naturally well accustomed to calculating risks. To avoid the shipwreck of their fortunes they had always had to keep a close eye on the management of their plantations, conscious that their reputations rested on their ability to meet their obligations to their inferiors and the community at large. Their vast estates identified them in their own eyes with the great British landowners, overlooking the inconvenient fact that the estates of British landlords were not worked by slaves. In the same vein, they saw themselves as a benevolent natural aristocracy, whose right to rule derived not only from their wealth but also from their intelligence and learning.67 While proud of the horses in their stables, many of them were no less proud of the books in their libraries. Yet if their reading in history and the classics encouraged them to envisage themselves in the stern and virtuous mould of republican Romans, it was primarily as the historic guardians of English liberties on the model of the Whig aristocrats that they now faced the world. In their eyes the America of 1774 was on the brink of 1688.
The Virginian elite, whose leadership was to be critical to the successful defiance of the British crown in the 1770s, seems to have had no contemporary equivalent elsewhere in the Americas in the way it combined the practical experience of local self-government and the personal management of great estates with a selfconscious awareness of its inherent duty to defend a set of values that it saw as fundamental for the survival of the community at large. Long before a republic had come to be envisaged, the royal governor, Robert Dinwiddie, described members of Virginia's House of Burgesses as `very much in a Republican way of thinking'.68 Theirs was a republicanism avant la lettre, inspired by civic consciousness - what Landon Carter called `Social Virtue'69 - and a sense of participation in a grand tradition.
Far away to the south, in Venezuela, another slave-holding class of plantationowners had reacted to its own moment of crisis twenty years earlier in a very different way. Cacao haciendas were more easily managed than tobacco plantations. Leaving them to be run by overseers, the owners of the large plantations lived not on their estates, like the Virginia gentry, but in handsome town houses in Caracas, with large household establishments and an army of slaves. Here they served as members of the cabildo, engaging in municipal politics and participating in the usual rituals of Spanish American urban life. Their income, and with it their social status, depended on the profits earned from the sale of their cacao, large quantities of which were exported to Mexico, the Antilles and metropolitan Spain.70
In the 1730s and early 1740s, however, cacao prices collapsed, in part at least because of the new controls and regulations instituted after the creation in 1728 of the first of Spain's new monopoly companies, the Royal Company of Guipuzcoa. The company was run by Basque merchants who used their monopoly to acquire a stranglehold over the Venezuelan economy, forcing down the price of cacao, while forcing up the price of the European imports carried in their ships. Some at least of the larger planters fell heavily into debt, but it was the smaller planters, many of them recent immigrants from the Canary Islands, who were the principal sufferers. In 1749 bands of cacao farmers and rural labourers marched on Caracas in protest against the Company's economic domination. Led by a local official, Juan Francisco de Leon, they enjoyed at least the covert support of many of the large planters. An open meeting of the Caracas cabildo voted overwhelmingly against the government-supported monopoly. But as the royal governor of Venezuela fled Caracas, and resistance threatened to turn into rebellion, the leading families of Caracas pulled back.71
Although they sympathized with the protest, the great plantation-owners were primarily swayed by fears of a slave revolt. As a result of their long experience in the cabildo of negotiating with royal officials, moreover, they may also have sensed that their disagreements with the Basques could be resolved in the traditional manner by mediation and legal manoeuvring.'2 A royal judge, accompanied by troops, was sent from Santo Domingo to undertake an inquiry, and was followed by a new governor, who arrived from Cadiz with reinforcements of 1,200 men. The extent of the opposition persuaded him to offer a general amnesty, and with the Basque monopoly temporarily suspended, peace was restored. His successor, however, arrived in 1751 with instructions to restore the company's monopoly and ensure the submission of Caracas. Leon and other leaders of the revolt were hunted down by the troops, many were executed, and Leon himself was sent to Spain to stand trial. The authorities subsequently demolished the Leon family house in Caracas, and had salt scattered on the ruins as a mark of infamy. Repression, it seemed, had won the day, but the royal authorities, in one of those juggling acts at which they were so practised, proceeded to impose restraints on the company's monopoly and create a junta to regulate cacao prices on an annual basis. In this more acceptable form the company maintained its nominal monopoly status until the crown rescinded its contract in 1781 as part of its new policy of free trade.
The Virginia planters, firmly committed to what they saw as fundamental principles where liberty was threatened, were a more intransigent body than their Venezuelan counterparts. Their natural instincts were not to negotiate but to stand up for their rights, and their defiant stance in the summer of 1774 helped to stiffen opposition throughout the colonies. Between them, Massachusetts and Virginia made a formidable alliance, but it was by no means assured of success when the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in September 1774. Many of the 55 delegates, like Joseph Galloway, the most powerful figure in Pennsylvania politics, were deeply worried by the threat of a general breakdown of order. A lawyer with a deep respect for the British constitution, he submitted to the Congress what in retrospect appears as a last-ditch attempt at an accommodation between the colonies and Britain, in the form of a proposal for an organic union: `the colonies ... most ardently desire the establishment of a Political Union, not only among themselves but with the Mother State ...'73 It was the same plea for treatment on an equal footing that the creoles of Spanish America were making, and involved the establishment of a common colonial legislature which would act in concert with the British parliament for all legislation affecting colonial life.
Galloway and his Pennsylvania delegates were widely distrusted in the Congress, but the narrowness of the vote by which his `Plan of Union' was defeated suggests how strong the desire remained to avoid a total rupture with the mother country.74 The Congress, however, had assembled in Philadelphia to petition for redress of grievances, and the delegates were determined to push ahead with a clear statement of colonial rights.75 While the Grand Committee appointed by the Congress was still at work drafting a Bill of Rights and List of Grievances, the delegates agreed on 20 October 1774, after difficult discussions, to set up a Continental Association that would impose a more wide-ranging embargo on trade with Britain than any yet attempted. Non-importation of British goods was to go into effect on 1 December 1774. Non-consumption would follow on 1 March 1775, and non-exportation to Britain on 1 September of that year. Local `associations' would enforce a policy common to all.
The rich associational life of the cities of British America - richer, it is to be suspected, than that of contemporary Spanish American cities, for all their religious confraternities - now proved its value. Across the colonies a network of voluntary groups sprang into action to organize the new stoppage of trade.76 These local associations formed part of a wider movement that was already well under way, whereby colony after colony experienced a dramatic shift in the location and balance of power. Royal governors, together with the proprietary governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, watched helplessly as their authority dissolved before their eyes. As elections were held across the colonies for Association committees, members of the old elites observed with consternation the eruption of popular elements into political life. The new committees, acting in the name of Congress, set about tracking down dissidents to the non-importation agreement, and offenders found themselves exposed to summary justice by an angry populace. The old dominant groups, like Joseph Galloway and his cautious colleagues in the Pennsylvania Assembly, saw themselves under growing pressure from insurgency in the streets. Imperial and local politics had become hopelessly intertwined, and each colony was embarking on revolution in its own way."
Any chance of reconciliation was rapidly slipping away. What Franklin, writing from London, had earlier described as `the idle Notion of the Dignity and Sovereignty of Parliament, which they are so fond of',78 made it almost impossible for Lord North to grant concessions under pressure. Similarly, the more radically minded in the Congress, like John Adams of Massachusetts and Patrick Henry of Virginia, had no confidence in a British parliament which they regarded as irredeemably corrupt. As he prepared for his return to his native country in the early spring of 1775, even Franklin, who had struggled for so long to keep alive his vision of an empire of liberty, had lost all real faith in the possibilities of union and reconciliation between Britain and the colonies: `when I consider the extream Corruption prevalent among all Orders of Men in this old rotten State, and the glorious publick Virtue so predominant in our rising country, I cannot but apprehend more Mischief than Benefit from a closer Union ... To unite us intimately, will only be to corrupt and poison us also.'79
As the colonies trained their militias and built up stocks of arms and ammunition in preparation for a war they did not want, there was still a lingering hope that, in standing firm for their British rights, they would save those rights not only for themselves but also for a mother country too deeply mired in corruption to see how far its liberties had been eroded by the tyrannical exercise of power. Even now it was not too late for the British to awake from their sleep. But the opposition groups at Westminster failed to rise to the occasion, and no British revolution came.80 The second Continental Congress, convened in May 1775 after Lexington and Concord, would have to address the consequences of the unpalatable truth that, with no help to be expected from Britain, the colonies would be forced to fend for themselves. For its part, the British government, for too long misled by over-optimistic colonial officials into underestimating the gravity of the situation in the colonies, was now belatedly awaking to the fact that they were in a state of rebellion. By the middle of June it had accepted the reality of war.81 That same month, Congress appointed George Washington to take command of the Massachusetts citizen army that had been fighting General Gage and his men, and entrusted him with the task of converting it into a genuinely continental, and professional, force.
The appointment of a Virginian as commander-in-chief was not only a practical but also a symbolic move, uniting under a single military leadership the fighting men of colonies very different in composition and outlook, and keenly aware of those differences. The Middle and Southern Colonies were congenitally suspicious of New Englanders. `We are well aware', a merchant once remarked, ,of the intentions of the New England Men, they are of the old King Killing breed. 12 In commenting on the structure of the new army, John Adams, on the other hand, noted the difference of character from the standpoint of a New Englander. Unlike the New England yeomen, he considered that the common people of the South were `very ignorant and very poor', while southern gentlemen were `accustomed, habituated to higher Notions of themselves and the distinction between them and the common People, than We are'.83 The continuing challenge would be to hold this disparate coalition together, and the most effective of all the forces making for unity would be the experience of war.
The decision of Lord North's government to wage war on the Americans as if they were a foreign enemy, deploying against them the full panoply of British naval and military power, forced the Congress inexorably towards a radical reassessment of the relationship between the colonies and the king. Their dispute had traditionally been a dispute with a British parliament that made unacceptable claims to intervene in their affairs. Their loyalty, however, was not to a corrupt and self-aggrandizing parliament but to the monarch, whom they regarded as the sole source of legitimate authority. `He it is', wrote Alexander Hamilton, `that has defended us from our enemies, and to him alone we are obliged to render allegiance and submission."' But disillusionment was spreading, and the convenient image of a benevolently disposed monarch could not indefinitely withstand the uncomfortable realities of 1774-5. George III, by all accounts, was adamant for war. He showed no inclination to accept petitions from his American subjects, and in the aftermath of the battle at Bunker Hill was reported to be busily negotiating with his European fellow monarchs for the recruitment of mercenaries to fight in America.85 By proclaiming in August 1775 that the Americans were rebels, and ordering war against them, he had effectively destroyed the compact that bound them to their king.
Yet residual loyalty remained strong, just as, some forty years later, it would remain strong in Spanish America when the creoles were similarly faced by evidence of the complicity of Ferdinand VII in ordering their oppression.86 Washington acknowledged this continuing loyalty as late as April 1776: `My countrymen I know, from their form of government, and steady attachment heretofore to royalty, will come reluctantly into the idea of independence. 117 The radicals had their sights fixed - some of them since 1774 or even earlier" - on independence as the only way out of the impasse. There were many, however, like John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, who still hankered after a return to an imagined golden age before 1763. The first Continental Congress expressed this hope in its `Address to the Peoples of Great Britain': `Place us in the same condition that we were at the close of the last war, and our former harmony will be restored.'89 But to increasing numbers the escalation of conflict in the spring of 1775 was now making independence look like the only alternative to surrender. `The middle way', wrote John Adams, `is no way at all. If we finally fail in this great and glorious contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping for the middle way.'90
Congress in effect was already operating as a sovereign authority, but as Washington wrote in May 1776: `To form a new Government, requires infinite care and unbounded attention; for if the foundation is badly laid the superstructure must be bad ...'91 This foundation was to be laid in the following weeks, although it had first to be preceded by the work of demolition. Tom Paine's Common Sense, anonymously published as the work of `an Englishman' in January 1776, achieved the required explosive result. In its first three months, according to Paine, it sold 120,000 copies.92
The clarity of Paine's argument and the forcefulness of his rhetoric swept everything before them. Drawing equally on John Locke's minimalist ideas about the purpose of government - to provide `freedom and security' in Paine's words, including security not only for property but also for the free practice of religion93 - and on the radical tradition of the Commonwealthmen, he began with a blistering attack on monarchy and hereditary succession, and was dismissive of `the so much boasted constitution of England'.94 In the opinion of John Adams, the author had `a better hand at pulling down than building'.95 Yet after tearing down the edifice with a ferocious enthusiasm well calculated to play on popular emotions and incite to violent action, Paine went on to mount a powerful case for independence and union that was equally well calculated to appeal to the large body of moderate opinion which still hesitated to take the plunge. His argument was all the more effective for being set in a world-historical context:
The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. 'Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent - of at least one eighth part of the habitable globe. 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now Now is the seed time of continental union, faith and honor. 16
The logic of these stirring words pointed inexorably to the establishment of an independent republic - `... the most powerful of all arguments, is, that nothing but independence, i.e. a continental form of government, can keep the peace of the continent and preserve it inviolate from civil wars.'97 To establish a republic on a `continental' scale, however - a republic in which `the law is king'98 - would mean a massive leap into the unknown.99 Those European republics still surviving in a monarchical age - Venice, the Swiss Confederation, the Dutch Republic and a clutch of city states - were relatively small polities. They were also thought to be constitutionally prone to descending into venal oligarchy or succumbing to the power of the mob. In spite of the successes of the Dutch Republic, the precedents hardly appeared encouraging. loo Paine, however, was a man who had no use for precedents. At a time when the British constitution, which had once dazzled by its glory, was losing its halo among growing numbers of colonists,10' Paine described it as fatally vitiated by the corrupting presence of monarchy and hereditary rule. His sights were set on the future, not on the past. `We have it in our power to begin the world over again."02
A vision cast in terms of the future could be expected to resonate powerfully in colonial American society. For the best part of two centuries preachers had encouraged New Englanders to see their country as occupying a special place in God's providential design.103 The evangelical preachers of the Great Awakening gave millenarian wings to this message as they carried it through the colonies. Was not the millennium likely to begin in America, as Jonathan Edwards pro- claimed?'04 Millennial prophecy, with its vision of a state of bliss to come, rode well in consort with a republican ideology designed to begin the world again. Underlying both images was the perception of the New World of America as a genuinely new world. The ill-informed criticisms of European commentators were an inducement to Americans to open their eyes to see and appreciate the unique nature of their land. That uniqueness would in due course find expression in a novel and constitutionally unique form of political community.
It was the dangerous, and potentially disastrous, developments of the spring and summer of 1776 that produced the convergence of revolutionary energy and revolutionary ideas needed to break the ties of empire and bring a self-governing American republic into being. The military campaign launched by Congress in 1775 to bring Canada into the union was collapsing, leaving the northern frontiers of New York and New England exposed to British and Indian attack; British land and naval forces were massing against New York; and George III, insisting on the reassertion of royal authority before there could be any talk of peace, was reported to have contracted for Hessian mercenaries to reinforce his army in America.105
Faced with the collapse of civil authority, individual colonies, led by New Hampshire and North Carolina, were already starting to write their constitutions, and on 15 May 1776 Congress recommended `the respective Assemblies and Conventions of the United Colonies ... to adopt such a government as shall ... best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general'.106 On the same day, the Virginia Convention instructed its delegates in Philadelphia to propose that Congress `declare the United Colonies free and independent States'.107 With varying degrees of enthusiasm and reluctance, and driven forward by a combination of popular pressure, political manipulation and the sheer momentum of events, one after another of the United Colonies fell into line.
The conservative-dominated Assembly of Pennsylvania, whose foot-dragging over the move to independence had so enraged John Adams and his fellow radicals in the Congress, was an early casualty. Philadelphia, with its vibrant artisan culture, was already a strongly politicized city when Thomas Paine arrived there from England in the autumn of 1774 (fig. 4). Ten years earlier Franklin had mobilized the city's mechanics, craftsmen and shopkeepers in his campaign to replace proprietary with royal government, and the non-importation movement in the early 1770s stirred a fresh round of agitation among artisans who resented the dominance of the merchant oligarchs and wanted protection against competition from British manufactures. These were people who had a strong sense of the importance of self-improvement and self-help, and Paine's Common Sense, with its plain man's arguments for independence presented in a plain man's prose, had an enormous impact on them as they snapped up their freshly printed copies and rehearsed its arguments in taverns and coffee-houses. Service in the militia companies and participation in the various civic committees that sprang up in 1775-6 were giving them a growing sense of empowerment. When a group of radicals, including Paine, seized the initiative and launched their challenge to the dominance of the Pennsylvania Assembly and the merchant elite, the artisans and lower orders made their power felt at public meetings and on Philadelphia's streets. 108
With a well-spring of popular support in Philadelphia, and in a Pennsylvania west country which had long resented its political marginalization, the radicals exploited the congressional resolution of 15 May to press forward with their plans for a Convention. This met on 18 June. By the time the Pennsylvania Assembly met again in mid-August after an adjournment, a new constitution had been drawn up by the Convention, which had effectively seized control of government. The most radical and democratic of all the new American constitutions, it followed Paine in rejecting the British principle of balanced government, created a unicameral legislature, and gave the suffrage to all tax-paying freemen over the age of 21.109 In New York, by contrast, the congressional resolution, combined with the landing of British troops at Staten Island, gave conservatives the opportunity to outmanoeuvre the radicals to their left and the Tory loyalists to their right, and to seize the initiative in moving towards independence on their own terms.110
The Convention called by Virginia, the fourth colony to avail itself of the congressional authorization to devise a new form of government, adopted its new constitution on 29 June 1776, after approving earlier in the month a Declaration of Rights. This, like the Bill of Rights adopted by the first Continental Congress in 1774, was inspired by the English Declaration of Rights of 1689, which had formally ended the reign of James II and inaugurated that of William and Mary.111 In searching for a legitimate device for terminating one form of government and installing another, colonial elites looked instinctively to the Whig constitutional tradition in which they had been raised.
As colony after colony in the spring and summer of 1776 moved to declare its independence and embark on the task of establishing a new form of government, an irresistible momentum built up for a formal Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. Individual colonies had taken the law into their own hands, but the United Colonies lacked any internationally acceptable legal standing, and they desperately needed the military assistance that only France could supply to keep their rebellion going. The stark truth was spelled out on 2 June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: `It is not choice then but necessity that calls for independence as the only means by which foreign alliances can be obtained."" Five days later, on the instructions of the Virginia Convention, he put forward a resolution in the Congress, seconded by John Adams, that `these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.'
Following the passage of the resolution the Congress set up a drafting committee to prepare a Declaration of Independence, with Thomas Jefferson, the newly arrived Virginia delegate, as one of its five members. He had recently prepared a draft constitution for Virginia, and it was to him, with his `peculiar felicity of expression', as John Adams put it, that the final wording of the proposed Declaration was entrusted, although the political advantage of involving a southerner in an enterprise which might otherwise have smacked too much of New England radicalism is likely to have weighed at least as heavily as considerations of literary skill.113
After much editing by the Committee of Five, Jefferson's text, which did indeed display his `peculiar felicity of expression', was delivered to Congress on 28 June. On 2 July, after unanimously affirming that `these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States', Congress turned itself into a Committee of the Whole, for further discussion and amendment of the text - a process that caused its author growing distress. The most substantive change, introduced on the urging of South Carolina and Georgia, was the removal of a lengthy paragraph on the `execrable commerce' in slaves. 114 The wording of the text was finally accepted by Congress on 4 July, a date that would prevail over 2 July as the official anniversary of independence."' Four days later in Philadelphia the United Colonies ceremonially announced to the world that henceforth they were to be regarded as free and United States. Copies of the Declaration were circulated and reprinted, and the symbols of royalty were torn down across the colonies.
The document declaring the colonies to be independent of British rule represented an eloquent amalgam of the traditions, assumptions and ideas that had animated the resistance to imperial measures over the preceding two decades.116 In providing a long list of `injuries and usurpations' allegedly committed by the king, the Declaration, like the earlier Declaration prepared by Jefferson for the Virginia Convention, drew on the precedents provided by the English Declaration of Rights of 1689. Now it was George III instead of James II who was bent on ,the establishment of an absolute tyranny', and who had ignored all petitions for redress. The consequence in this instance, however, was the termination of allegiance, not simply, as in 1688-9, to the monarch of the moment, but to the British crown itself. `All political connection' was to be dissolved between the United Colonies - now to become the `United States of America' - and the `State of Great Britain'. In thus dissolving the connection between two polities the Declaration resembled less the Bill of Rights of 1689 than the Act of Abjuration of 1584 by which the States General of the Netherlands renounced their allegiance to Philip II of Spain. 117
The American colonists, like the Dutch and the English before them, were resorting in their Declaration of Independence to that standard recourse for rebels in the western world, the idea of a contract between a ruler and his subjects. Hispanic Americans, when opposing some measure of which they disapproved, traditionally resorted to the same device. While contractualism itself was common to the peoples of both colonial societies, and was firmly rooted in their shared natural law tradition, distinctive national histories and religious traditions inevitably shaped the context in which it was deployed. The Comuneros of New Granada in 1781 were the spiritual heirs of the Comuneros of Castile in 1521, who themselves looked back to the Castilian constitutionalist tradition embodied in the medieval law code of the Siete Partidas. In 1776, Jefferson and the representatives assembled in the Congress consciously took their place in a distinguished historical line of resistance to tyrants that was embodied in Magna Carta, and then ran forward through the Protestant Reformation and the revolt of the Netherlands to seventeenth-century Britain, and eventually to themselves. Buttressed by the English legal tradition with its heroic record of defending English liberties, resistance doctrines drew their theoretical support from the writings of a succession of political philosophers, among them Locke and the radical Whig upholders of the Old Cause.
In the Declaration of Independence, however, the historical and legal case for a separation between the colonies and the British state was subsumed, as it was in Paine's Common Sense, within a larger moral case of universal import: when a government behaves tyrannically, the people have a duty to sever their connection with it.11' Lurking in the background of this argument was the classical republican tradition, as transmitted through the Commonwealthmen, with its emphasis on morality in the shape of civic virtue, as the sole defence against the loss of liberty. More immediately important, however, was the determination of Jefferson and his colleagues to relate the cause of independence to the `self-evident truths' revealed by the Enlightenment.
Although Jefferson, in enunciating the self-evidence of these truths, may have been inspired by the writings of eighteenth-century Scottish philosophers,119 they were deeply grounded in Lockean morality. While there was a tension between the organic view of society inherent in classical republicanism, and the individualism inherent in Locke's political philosophy, the unanimity with which the Declaration of Independence was received and approved suggests that the two forms of discourse remained at this stage mutually compatible. The strain of radical individualism in Locke's thinking had yet to be asserted at the expense of its other components, and the men of 1776 drew on a common culture that found space for classical republicanism while being imbued with Lockean principles. 120
At the heart of those principles was the belief in a benevolent Deity who created men and women as rational beings, capable of coming together to form civil societies based on consent. The eighteenth-century colonists had become Lockeans almost without realizing it, accepting in principle the notion of a fundamental equality, at least for themselves, although not for Indians and Africans; tolerating a wide variety of opinions as necessary to the successful functioning of a society that must be based on mutual trust; and applying themselves to industrious pursuits with the purpose and expectation of improving their own condition and that of the society in which they lived.
In doing so, they looked to government to protect what the Declaration called `certain unalienable rights', among them `life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'. While the more normal formulation was `life, liberty, and property', Locke himself, in book 2 of the Essay Concerning Understanding, had written several times of `the pursuit of happiness'. For Locke, happiness was what God desired for all His creation, and was the earthly foretaste of His goodness. The Swiss jurist and philosopher Burlamaqui and the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, with whose writings Jefferson was well acquainted, had similarly emphasized the right of human beings to be happy.'21 So fashionable, indeed, had the notion become that eighteenth-century rulers conventionally pronounced the promotion of happiness to be one of their aims. The governor of Massachusetts, Jonathan Belcher, picking up on the language of the age, spoke in an address to the General Assembly in 1731 of laying the foundation for laws that `would greatly promote the Happiness of this People'.'22 As used in the Declaration of Independence, however, the notion of happiness acquired its full resonance, as the inalienable right of God's creatures to enjoy to the maximum their liberty and the fruits of their labours, unmolested by government as they went about their business and their pleasures.
The Declaration of Independence, by setting the particular within the context of the universal, and transmuting British into natural rights, resonated far beyond the English-speaking world. It appeared in French in a Dutch journal within a month of publication. German translations were to follow, and there would be at least nine more French translations before 1783.123 Spain, however, was more circumspect. Readers of the Gaceta de Madrid on 27 August might have noticed, buried among various items of news, a report that `The Congress has declared independent of Great Britain the twelve [sic] united colonies, with each one forming its own government while a common regency system is planned for all of them.' The Spanish government was not anxious to see its subjects, and least of all its subjects in the Americas, more than minimally informed.124
It was the French reaction, however, not the Spanish, that mattered to the men in Philadelphia. It was to France above all that the new republic looked for the immediate moral and practical support essential to victory in their fight for liberty. It was a fight which, in the bleak winter of 1776, looked as if it could only end in defeat for the Patriot forces. They had as yet no allies, and they had pitted themselves against an imperial power that only a decade earlier had defeated the combined forces of France and Spain. Moreover, in renouncing their allegiance to George III, they had torn the British Atlantic community apart, and in the process had left themselves dangerously exposed. Away to the south, East and West Florida were firmly in British hands. To the west of the rebel colonies, the Indian nations sought to maintain an increasingly precarious neutrality in this white, fratricidal conflict, anxious to be on the winning side when it finally ended, but more likely to come out in support of the British as offering the better hope of recovering lost community lands.12' To the north, Canada and Nova Scotia, following the defeat of the invading American army in 1775, stayed loyal to the crown, and became an important base of operations against the rebels.
The British West Indies, too, although sharing many similarities with the southern colonies, showed no inclination to join the revolt. In a society where whites were massively outnumbered by blacks, fears of a slave rebellion acted as a strong deterrent, although similar fears in the American South, where the balance of races was more even, had proved insufficient to discourage the planters from defying the British crown. Unlike their Virginian counterparts, however, many of the Caribbean plantation-owners were absentee landlords, and therefore more tenuously connected to their estates. In the face of competition from the French sugar islands, the West Indies, too, were totally dependent on a protected British market. Already in the disputes over imperial legislation in the 1760s the West India lobby had found it convenient to play the card of loyalty in the hope of reinforcing the islands' preferential status. Submission was a price worth paying, both to keep the sugar exports flowing and to be asssured of British military assistance if the slaves revolted.126
If the thirteen colonies failed to carry with them significant portions of Britain's Atlantic empire, they also failed to carry a substantial section of their own populations. While the Declaration of independence did much to mobilize enthusiasm for the revolutionary cause, for a large minority it proved a step too far. Some who had famously championed the cause of American liberty, like John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, pulled back from the brink.127 Others, intimidated into silence, waited for the arrival of British troops before showing their hand. As always in revolutions, there were many who were neutral or uncommitted, hoping simply to ride out the storm. But perhaps as many as 500,000 in a white population of around 2,200,000 remained loyal to the British crown. Of these loyalists 19,000 joined up as volunteers in the `provincial' corps of the British army in America, while perhaps 60,000 emigrated to Canada or England.121
This, then, was a civil war as much as a revolution, although one in which the loyalist `Tory' opposition proved notably unsuccessful in winning the initiative or providing that continuity of leadership which was to be such an important element in the eventual victory of the Patriot cause. If that cause for a time looked hopeless, British military errors, and the grim determination of Washington and his men to hold on, slowly turned the tide. Congress, for its part, never withdrew its support from Washington, even when the military situation was at its bleakest. Always careful to defer to the civilians, Washington himself developed into a genuinely national leader, whose wisdom and steadfastness in the face of adversity came to symbolize, for contemporaries as for posterity, the tenacity and high ideals of the American Revolution.129
It was the British surrender at Saratoga in 1777 that transformed the prospects for the fledgling United States. The American victory persuaded France to enter the war in 1778. In June 1779 Spain, still smarting from the loss of Florida, and anxious, as always, to recover Gibraltar, followed suit.130 What had begun as a rebellion of disaffected colonists was now transformed into a global conflict, in which the rebels were no longer fighting on their own.
When General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781 an exhausted Britain lost the will to win a war in which it had never quite been able to believe. By the terms of the treaty of Versailles of September 1783 it retained Canada, but returned the Floridas to Spain, and formally recognized the independence of the thirteen rebel colonies. Only nine years had passed since Samuel Adams had written to the London agent of Massachusetts that he wished for a permanent union with the mother country, `but only on the principles of liberty and truth. No advantage that can accrue to America from such an union can compensate for the loss of liberty ...'131 In the end, the American Patriots placed 'liberty' above the union they had initially hoped to re-establish on more equitable foundations. The effect of their victory was to break the British Atlantic community in two. It remained to be seen whether a Spanish Atlantic community experiencing many of the same tensions would fare any better.
A crisis contained
While Britain was struggling in the 1770s to retain hold of its American empire, Spanish imperial policy during the same decade displayed an assertiveness that owed much to the reforming drive of Jose de Galvez, in his capacity, first as visitor general of New Spain, and then, from 1775, as secretary of the Indies.132 Determined to protect the northern frontier of New Spain and the Pacific coast from British incursions, and from the growing threat posed by Russian expansion down the coast from Alaska, he embarked on an ambitious expansionist programme. This was intended not only to strengthen Spain's hold on the provinces of New Vizcaya, Sonora and the Baja California peninsula, but also to establish a firm Spanish presence up the Californian coastline. In 1770 Spain planted garrisons at San Diego and Monterey, and in 1776 San Francisco was founded as the third Californian presidio. Just as the British were losing their North American colonies, the Spanish were acquiring, in `New California', a brand new American colony of their own .113
The assertive imperialism of the Spain of Charles III was accompanied by an effort, comparable to that of Philip II but inspired by the scientific spirit of the Enlightenment, to survey and document the physical features and natural resources of the crown's overseas territories. During the last three decades of the century, the crown sponsored a series of exploratory and scientific expeditions to different regions of Spain's American territories and the Spanish Pacific, culminating in Alejandro Malaspina's great expedition of 1789-94, which sailed all the way up America's Pacific coast from Cape Horn to Alaska, before proceeding to the Philippines, China and Australia and returning to Cadiz by way of Cape Horn. 134
While these expeditions were evidence of the crown's determination to dispel the image of Spanish backwardness, they were also integral to the Bourbon programme for a more effective exploitation of American resources. It would only be possible to sustain the mounting costs of imperial defence and expansion if more wealth could be extracted from the American territories. In 1770 revenues from the Indies constituted around 23 per cent of the total revenues of the Spanish treasury.131 With the crown imposing new pressures and providing new incentives, silver production in the mines of New Spain and Peru grew in the years before 1780 at an annual rate of some 1.2 per cent136 - an increase that not only brought relief to the Spanish treasury but also helped to stimulate trading contacts around the Atlantic basin. In November 1776 the Congress of the newly independent United States effectively recognized the dominance of Spanish American silver by adopting the Spanish peso, under the name of `dollar' (from the German Thaler), as the unit of currency.137 Whatever the political transformations under way, the British and Spanish Atlantic economies were becoming increasingly interdependent.
Map 7. Spain's American Empire, End of the Eighteenth Century.
Based on Guillermo Cespedes del Castillo, America hispanica, 1492-1898 (1983), vol. 6, map xv; The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 3 (1987), p. 6.
The overseas revenues that allowed Spain to sustain, if somewhat precariously, its great power status, resulted not only from rising silver production, but also from the efforts of royal officials to rationalize the American fiscal system and raise more revenue by way of taxes and monopolies. These efforts, however, imposed massive strains on American populations and on the social fabric of American communities. At the beginning of the 1780s Galvez and his colleagues were brought face to face with the uncovenanted costs of their programme of reform. While the thirteen mainland colonies of North America were slipping from Britain's grasp, Spain found itself in danger of losing a vast area of South America, some 500,000 square kilometres in extent, in the southern Andes.138
The coincidence did not escape the notice of Alexander von Humboldt as he introduced his readers to Tupac Amaru's rebellion, which he believed was `little known in Europe': `The great revolt of 1781 was on the point of snatching from the King of Spain all the mountainous region of Peru at the same time as Great Britain was losing almost all its colonies in the continent of America. 13' The Andean rebellion of 1780 to 1783, easily the largest and most dangerous to have occurred in well over two hundred years of Spanish rule in America, originated at Tinta, in the Vilcanota valley to the south of Cuzco, and at one time or another extended over large parts of Peru and modern Bolivia to reach New Granada and Venezuela to the north, and Chile and the north-western regions of today's Argentina to the south.140 Faced simultaneously with an independent, but not entirely unconnected, insurrection in New Granada, which at one point saw 20,000 rebels moving on the capital of Santa Fe de Bogota'141 Madrid as much as London appeared to be on the point of losing its American empire. Of all its major territorial possessions on the American mainland, only the viceroyalty of New Spain remained relatively tranquil (fig. 34).
The precipitating cause of both these regional rebellions was Madrid's programme of administrative and fiscal reform, now made all the more pressing by the new expenses arising from Spain's entry into the war against England in 1779. In Peru, the sales tax of the alcabala was raised from 2 to 4 per cent in 1772, and to 6 per cent in 1776, and three years later was extended to coca, a product that the Indians consumed in large quantities. These tax increases were rigorously implemented by the authoritarian and inflexible visitor-general Antonio de Areche, who arrived in the viceroyalty in 1777 with instructions from Galvez to implement the reforms. Like the offices of the customs collectors in the British colonies, the customs houses he built through the southern Andes became the visible symbols of imperial oppression.142 Similar reform processes were also at work in the viceroyalty of New Granada, where another visitor-general, Juan Francisco Gutierrez de Piiieres, arrived in 1778, and immediately set about reorganizing the tax apparatus in an attempt to extend the fiscal net. 141
The colonial societies of Spanish South America, like those of British North America, were now confronted with the unenticing prospect of being brought within the confines of the new-style European fiscal-military state. For all the differences in their political cultures, large areas in both colonial worlds responded with protest, riot and rebellion. Their rebellions, however, took different forms, and followed different trajectories, reflecting the deep differences that divided British American from Spanish American colonial society, and British imperial power and practice from their Spanish counterparts.
In reality, there was no more a single colonial society in Spanish America than there was in British America. Each colonial world contained a multiplicity of societies, leading in turn to a multiplicity of reactions. The British West Indies and the mainland colonies reacted to the policies of the mother country in very different ways. Similarly, although there were innumerable local riots in eighteenth-century New Spain, the viceroyalty, for reasons still to be fully explored, did not experience the great upheavals that shook Spanish power to its foundations in New Granada and Peru.144 In the areas of revolt there were significant divergences, too, between the Andean insurrection of Tupac Amaru II and the rebellion of the Comuneros of New Granada. The story of both, however, highlights aspects of Spain's empire of the Indies which bring into sharper relief the character of Britain's American empire and of the revolt of the thirteen colonies.
The Andean revolt led by Juan Gabriel Condorcanqui, the self-proclaimed Inca Tupac Amaru II, was primarily, but by no means exclusively, the revolt of a large and exploited indigenous population which had been given a glimpse of a better future in the context of an idealized past. In 1763, when British troops and colonists were challenged by the massive uprising known as Pontiac's `rebellion', they had faced a movement of Indian peoples living on the frontier of empire, whose lands had been encroached on by British settlers, and whose political bargaining power had been destroyed by the elimination of France's American empire.145 Tupac Amaru's revolt, on the other hand, was that of a subject population which had been living under oppressive Spanish rule for over two centuries. Changing circumstances over the last few decades had alleviated some of its burdens, like the mita service in the mines '14' but had added, or aggravated, others. There was particular resentment at the expansion of the reparto, or the system of forced sale of goods at inflated prices to the indigenous population by local officials, the corregidores, who would act in collusion with estate-owners and influential merchants. As a result, the debts of the Andean peasantry piled up and could only be paid off by service in the mines and the textile workshops, or by work on the haciendas.
Following the legalization of the reparto in 1756, local revolts against the corregidores and the native chiefs or curacas operating on behalf of the state became endemic, but usually ended, as they began, as minor and strictly local movements of protest.147 The indigenous population of the Cuzco region was far from homogeneous, and Spanish rule had led to a progressive fragmentation of Andean rural society into numerous small peasant communities living their own lives and nursing their own communal grievances. 14' But the reparto system touched them all, as also did the fiscal changes introduced by Areche. The tax demands were all the harder to bear because they came at a time when the new and sustained growth of the Andean population had left Indian communities with a scarcity of resources and had generated bitter disputes over property rights with hacienda owners and members of the native nobility who had taken advantage of the long period of population decline to encroach on communal lands. The Andes had always been a cruel world, and from the 1740s onwards they were the scene of constant rural disturbances. 149
In 1776 a major administrative change provoked further disruption. Following the decision to create the viceroyalty of La Plata, Upper Peru (modern Bolivia) was detached from the Peruvian viceroyalty, and incorporated into the new viceroyalty, which was governed from Buenos Aires. Since the Potosi mines formed part of the transfer, this sharply reduced the viceregal revenues in Lima. It also had the effect of weakening the economy of the Cuzco region, now artificially divided from its traditional regional market of Upper Peru, which gravitated into the orbit of Buenos Aires. When the viceroyalty of La Plata was permitted to trade directly with Spain in 1778 as part of the crown's new `free trade' policy, Potosi's silver remittances to Cadiz were re-routed through Buenos Aires. Cuzco was thus deprived of its traditional source of silver supply, and its producers were left exposed to competition from cheap European goods introduced into the region by Buenos Aires merchants.''°
It was against this background of fiscal oppression and economic dislocation that Candorcanqui launched his challenge to the established order. The Jesuiteducated son of a cacique of Inca royal lineage, he had been fighting a long and frustrating battle in the Lima courts in the 1770s to establish his claims to recognition as the legitimate descendant of the last Inca, Tupac Amaru, executed after the capture of the Inca redoubt of Vilcabamba by Spanish troops in 1572. As a member of an Indian elite sufficiently well established and wealthy to interact on equal terms with people of Spanish origin, he made useful connections in Lima with creoles and mestizos who were critical of Areche and Spain's imperial policy. The Lima Gazette would have allowed him to follow the course of events in British North America, and he had a mestizo friend in Lima who had travelled in France, Spain and England. But his essential point of reference was the world of the Andes, and he seems to have been deeply influenced by his reading of the Inca Garcilaso's Royal Commentaries. The prologue to the second edition, published in 1723, included an Indian prophecy related by Sir Walter Raleigh that Inca rule would one day be re-established with help from the English."'
Smarting from his own personal experiences of Spanish injustice in Lima and his native Tinta, and fired by his reading of Garcilaso's evocation of the lost golden world of the Incas, Candorcanqui became a man with a mission. In November 1780, under the name of Tupac Amaru II, he called out the Andean peasantry in rebellion, and found a suitable symbolic victim in the oppressive corregidor of Tinta, Antonio de Arriaga, whom he seized and executed.
In proclaiming revolt, Tupac Amaru tapped into a rich vein of cultural pride and collective Andean consciousness, which looked for the creation, or re-creation, of a utopian social order under Inca rule. Prophecies clustered around the mystical numerals of the year 1777, creating expectations of the return of the Inca to restore order and harmony to a world purged of Spaniards.''' The outbreak of Pontiac's rebellion in North America had occurred in a similar climate of prediction and expectation, as the Delaware prophet Neolin urged his fellow Indians to turn their backs on the world of the whites. At the same time, Neolin's antiEuropean message, like the message now spreading through the Andes, bore the strong imprint of European religion. Its resort to Christian notions of sin, heaven and hell betrayed the growing religious syncretism of the Delaware Indians, a people whose exposure to Christianity did not begin to equal in length and intensity that of the population of the Andes, where the Catholic priest occupied a dominant position in village life, and extensive campaigns had been undertaken for the extirpation of idolatry..153
Parish priests in the Andes, resentful of Bourbon reforms which reduced their perquisites, patronage and prestige, had good reason to sympathize with the sense of injustice felt by their local communities. They lived among their Indian parishioners, they often spoke their language, and they had become integral to the new ritual and ceremonial system that had developed in the communities after the arrival of Christianity. At the same time, however, their extortion of money from their parishioners had made many of them hated. 114 This made them deeply ambiguous figures. Both the depth of their unpopularity and their essential role, in the eyes of their parishioners, as participants in a cosmic system that combined a continuing belief in the ancient supernatural forces of the Andean world with the rituals and belief systems of Spanish Catholicism, were tellingly revealed in an exchange that occurred in the village square of Livitaca between Tupac Amaru and the town's inhabitants, shortly after the outbreak of revolt. On arriving in the square he was greeted with the words: `You are our God and Lord and we beseech you that there should be no priests to importune us.' He replied that this was not possible because then there would be `nobody to attend to them at the moment of death'. X55
Tupac Amaru, like Pontiac, found himself juggling with a variety of discordant elements in his efforts to extend the appeal of his movement. Unlike Pontiac, however, he was having to appeal not only to different Indian groupings, but also to a non-indigenous population of creoles and mestizos. The resulting eclecticism, which no doubt also reflected his efforts to combine the disparate elements of his own cultural background, makes his ultimate objectives far from clear. If he claimed for himself the royal status of Inca, he appears to have envisaged a Peru cleared of peninsular Spaniards, but still owing allegiance to the Spanish crown. Whether this was merely tactical, however, or was an integral part of his policy remains uncertain, since different manifestos sent out different mes- sages.156 If his movement was anti-European and anti-Spanish, he was also anxious to include not only the mestizos but also the creoles, for they too, like the Indians, suffered from what he called `the perverse impositions and threats made by the kingdom of Europe' - a formulation that hardly reflects a very clear notion of political geography. 117 Although his rebellion was suffused with Andean concepts of Inca revivalism, these had acquired such a strongly Christian colouring that he proposed to govern Peru with the help of the Bishop of Cuzco.'5'
As a cacique in the Vilcanota valley who owned a string of mule trains, Tupac Amaru had a wide range of local contacts, and was well placed to mobilize the support of fellow caciques in order to raise the indigenous population in revolt across the Cuzco region.159 His rebellion could also draw on the support, often tentative and opportunistic, of creoles and mestizos whose lives had felt the impact of the Bourbon reform programme. Yet it was a disparate coalition to hold together, and it never coalesced into a genuinely multi-ethnic movement against the viceregal government. In particular, Tupac Amaru signally failed to carry with him the old Inca nobility of Cuzco, to which the rebels laid siege at the end of December 1780. Charles V had issued Spanish patents of hereditary nobility to the Inca nobles in the 1540s, and through skilful exploitation of the Spanish system of government in the Andes by means of indirect rule, together with persistent recourse to the courts of law, the Indian nobility of Cuzco and its environs had established themselves in the top flight of Cuzco's social hierarchy. While periodically intermarrying with the creole elite (fig. 40), these nobles retained a powerful sense of their historic position as descendants of the natural lords of the Peru of the Incas. They looked down on Tupac Amaru as a mere rural curaca whose claims to Inca kingship they totally rejected, and while they shared his general aspirations for the Andean community as a whole, their historical experience led them to place a strong faith in the legal and bargaining processes inherent in the Spanish imperial system, and in the King of Spain as a just ruler who would right their wrongs.160
Timely reinforcements from Lima enabled Cuzco to withstand the attack of the insurgent forces, and as Tupac Amaru broke off the siege to campaign to the north and east of Cuzco, the cracks in his coalition began to appear. Humiliated by the failure of the siege of Cuzco, and enraged by what he regarded as the treachery of creoles and mestizos who had been unwilling to support him, Tupac Amaru seems to have abandoned his policy of protecting his non-Indian supporters, and gave orders for the summary execution of peninsular Spaniards, creoles and mestizos, as well as of corrupt native lords. Only priests were to be spared, to play their part in the new, purified society that was to rise from the ashes of the old. Not surprisingly, any remaining creole supporters were alienated by the savagery of peasants who looted and destroyed haciendas and textile workshops and took ferocious revenge on corregidores and curacas. This had ceased to be a generalized uprising against an oppressive imperial government, and was fast turning into a bloody racial conflict.161
Following the raising of the siege of Cuzco, royalist forces, consisting of regular soldiers, militias and loyalist Indians, went in pursuit of Tupac Amaru, and captured him in early April 1781, along with his wife and a number of his closest companions. While the revolt continued to spread, he was tried on charges of rebellion and other crimes. He was then sentenced by an implacable Areche to witness the execution of his wife and son and the other rebels taken prisoner, before being drawn and quartered in the great plaza of Cuzco. The horrific public spectacle was carefully calculated to symbolize the death of Inca kingship.
The effect of Tupac Amaru's gruesome death was to strengthen his surviving commanders in their desire for revenge, and intensify the savagery of a war which raged over a vast mountainous region for a further two years. The centre of gravity of the rebellion moved to the Lake Titicaca region and Upper Peru, where the Aymaras, who had recently seen their messianic leader, Tomas Katari, assassinated, joined forces with the Quechua-speaking rebels from the Cuzco region to lay siege to La Paz in the summer of 1781. But the traditional antagonisms between Quechuas and Aymaras made this an uneasy alliance, and royalist troops succeeded in raising the siege of La Paz, as they had raised that of Cuzco a few months earlier. By the time the war ended in 1783 with the victory of the royalist forces, as many as 100,000 Indians and 10,000 Spaniards are alleged to have lost their lives, out of a total population in the rebel territories of some 1,200,000.162
The attempt to restore a lost order had failed, leaving behind a traumatized people with memories, dreams and expectations which would permeate all the subsequent history of colonial, and post-colonial, Peru. The failure had as much to do with internal divisions - between Indian and creole, and Indian and Indian - as with the military force which the viceregal regime was eventually able to put into the field. Those divisions in turn reflected contradictions over the nature of the order that was to be restored. Was this once again to be a world without Spaniards, as many of the insurgents demanded, or was it to be one - as Tupac Amaru himself may initially have intended - in which the restored Incas headed a united nation of Indians, mestizos and creoles, and ushered in a new era of justice and harmony, in which Andean and Hispanic religion and culture were somehow fused? This was the kind of vision, at once uplifting and diffuse, that the intoxicating brew of Garcilaso's Royal Commentaries could so easily inspire.
Significantly, one of Areche's first actions after the trial and execution of Tupac Amaru was to ban the Royal Commentaries. He also prohibited the wearing of Inca royal dress, abolished the hereditary position of cacique, placed restrictions on the use of the Quechua language, and forbade the depiction of Inca rulers, whether in paintings or on the stage. 163 This amounted to a systematic attempt to eradicate the Inca revivalism always latent in the collective consciousness of the Andean world - a revivalism that had given at least a momentary cohesion to a vast movement of protest against the iniquities of the viceregal regime. But the contrast between Areche's savage punishment of Indian rebels and the relative leniency accorded to rebellious creoles suggests a policy designed to minimize the degree of creole complicity, and place the burden of responsibility for the rebellion squarely on the backs of the indigenous population and a number of mestizos, in an effort to play on ethnic divisions and win back the loyalty of creoles alienated from the crown by the recent reforms.164
In any comparison with the revolt of the white population of the British colonies, the multi-ethnic character of the Tupac Amaru rebellion in its opening stages would appear to have been a fatal obstacle to success because of the inherent tendency to racial tension. But that it need not necessarily have been so is suggested by the simultaneous development of regional rebellion in the neighbouring viceroyalty of New Granada. 161 The visitor-general Gutierrez de Pifieres, like his opposite number Antonio de Areche in Peru, had introduced a number of deeply unpopular administrative and fiscal changes. These were intended to curb the massive contraband trade along New Granada's northern coastline and thus to increase viceregal revenues. The reforms included the elimination of creole judges from the Audiencia of Santa Fe de Bogota, the reorganization of the monopolies on brandy and tobacco, and a revised system for the more effective collection of sales taxes. In addition, in 1780 a `voluntary' donation was demanded of every adult male to pay for the war with England. 116
The first major disturbances provoked by these reforms broke out in March 1781 in Socorro, a town 200 kilometres north of Santa Fe, which had only secured municipal status a decade earlier, and was located in a tobacco- and cottongrowing region particularly affected by the new fiscal measures. Following a succession of riots, a group of prominent citizens were persuaded to take over the leadership of a movement of popular protest with which they more or less actively sympathized. One of their number, Juan Francisco Berbeo, a middling landowner of good family and connections, emerged as the leader of what was rapidly to become a large-scale regional rebellion.
Berbeo and his colleagues succeeded in forging a coalition between patricians and plebeians in their native town, and subsequently in keeping control of an insurrection that soon spread beyond Socorro and its immediate hinterland, a countryside settled by small-scale peasant farmers. New Granada was a land of numerous small communities living in geographical isolation, but other towns adhered to the uprising in Socorro, and new recruits, including Indian villagers distressed by recent resettlement policies, flocked to join the rebellion after the rebels roundly defeated a small government force belatedly sent to crush them. Encouraged by its victory and by the news of the great revolt in Peru'167 the Comunero army led by Berbeo, who, like George Washington, had learnt the art of soldiering in Indian frontier warfare, prepared to march on Bogota. Its rallying call was the traditional Hispanic cry of `Long live the king and down with bad government', while the central demand of what had now become a combined uprising of creoles, mestizos and Indians was for a return to the old ways in the name of el coma n, `the common good'.168
In Peru the authorities had been able to produce an effective military response after a hesitant start, but the viceregal administration in Bogota was ill-prepared to move against the rebels. When the revolt broke out there were only 75 professional soldiers in the capital, and the viceroy himself was in Cartagena, six weeks' travelling time from Bogota '161 preparing the port's defences against a possible English attack.170 With a rebel army 20,000 strong assembled at Zipaquira, the administration had no choice but to negotiate.
The peace commissioners headed by the Archbishop of Santa Fe de Bogota, Antonio de Caballero y Gongora, found themselves presented by the rebels with a set of 35 demands designed to deal with a range of abuses.171 These included the abolition of the new taxes and monopolies and the expulsion of the visitorgeneral, Gutierrez de Pifleres. The articles addressed, too, the complaints of the Indians about the tribute tax, clerical exactions and the resettlement policy. The rebels, however, were interested in more than the remedy of current fiscal grievances, of whatever ethnic group. In demanding what would effectively be a creole monopoly of offices, the elimination of the office of visitor-general, and the almost complete removal of peninsular Spaniards from the viceroyalty, they were insisting on a general reordering of government which would have made New Granada virtually autonomous under the rule of a distant crown.
However unpalatable these demands to the viceregal administration, in the circumstances it was in no position to reject them. On 8 June 1781 the peace commissioners accepted the Pact of Zipaquira, although the authorities in Bogota had secretly decided in advance that they were not bound to abide by the conditions of an agreement reached under duress. The terms still had to be approved by the crown, but most of the Comunero rebels dispersed after the commissioners swore an oath to accept the Pact. Sporadic resistance persisted, however, and one of Berbeo's commanders who refused to lay down his arms was later tried and sentenced, like Tupac Amaru, to death by dismemberment. The viceroy, however, issued a general pardon on Caballero y Gongora's advice, and confirmed the principal fiscal concessions made by the commissioners.
When the archbishop himself succeeded to the post of viceroy in the summer of 1782, he embarked on a policy of reconciliation with the creoles, in which he encouraged them to turn their attention to the promotion of economic improvement under the benevolent leadership of the crown. Yet this was a crown as insistent as ever on the unconditional acceptance of its authority by its loyal subjects, and great care was taken by Caballero and his successors to ensure that, in the military reorganization that followed in the wake of the revolt, the principal positions of command should all be held by peninsular Spaniards.172
The rebellion of the Comuneros, like that of Tupac Amaru, was a revolt aimed at restoring a political order overturned by ill-advised and intrusive Bourbon reforms. In this sense, the aims of the rebels were similar to those of the rebels in the British colonies who wished to return to the world of 1763. The Comuneros at least, and probably also the Tupamaristas, for all the opacity of their leader's intentions, had no desire for a rupture with the crown, any more than the North American Patriots at the start of their rebellion. Exasperated by the activities and exactions of officials sent out to govern them from the metropolis, they did, however, want to secure a degree of control over their own affairs that would effectively ensure equality of status with peninsular Spain. For the British colonies, shaped by parliamentary tradition, equality of status with the mother country was conceived in terms of legislative autonomy in all matters of internal government. For the creoles of the bureaucratized world of Spanish America it was essentially administrative, and would be ensured by the appointment of locals, rather than peninsular Spaniards, to administrative and judicial posts.173
In both instances, however, what seemed to colonial elites like the realignment of a disturbed balance in the name of justice and equity appeared to the metropolitan centre to be a demand at pistol point for unacceptable change. To accede to such a demand would be to surrender imperial authority, and turn colonial subjects into the masters of their lands. At all costs, authority had to be upheld, and by force if need be. But where the British crown failed to reimpose its authority, in spite of the deployment of an army that at one moment was 50,000 strong,174 the Spanish crown succeeded in containing the crisis, even in New Granada where it lacked the military capability to take on the rebels.
Part of the explanation for the different outcomes is to be found in contingent circumstances. Of these the most important was the success of the North American rebels in securing the military and naval participation of France and Spain in their struggle. Although prophecies might circulate in the Andes about the restoration of Inca rule with the help of the English, there was not the remotest possibility at this juncture of English, or any other external support. Even if foreign powers had been willing and ready to help, logistics would have constituted an insuperable deterrent. The Spanish American rebellions occurred in regions remote from the seaboard, and isolated from each other by an implacable geography. North America itself was a world away and the English colonists were otherwise engaged. Even if the Comuneros drew inspiration from Tupac Amaru's uprising, that too was of no practical consequence for their own struggle. The viceroyalty of New Granada by itself was so fractured by geography that it took all Berbeo's political skills to prevent the resulting inter-regional and municipal rivalries from wrecking his coalition as he faced the decision as to whether to march on Bogota .171
Disunity, however, also haunted the leaders of rebellion in British America. They were confronted, like the Comunero leadership, with inter-regional rivalries, which were bridged but far from eradicated when the oligarchs of Virginian society decided to throw in their lot with the Massachusetts Patriots. They were faced, too, with the consequences of social divisions that may have been temporarily set aside in the wave of popular enthusiasm generated by the initial resistance to British demands, but which, like the regional divisions, inevitably resurfaced as the war went on. From 1777 onwards, it was the poor - landless labourers, the down-and-outs and blacks - who manned the Continental Army, and did so for the money rather than out of enthusiasm for the cause. Given the divisions both between and within the colonies, and the size of the Loyalist minority, a successful outcome to the Revolution was far from assured, and the part played by British political and strategic misjudgments may in the end have tipped the balance. 176
Ethnic divisions proved fatal to Tupac Amaru's rebellion. In this respect the North American rebel leaders had an easier task, since they did not have to hold together coalitions of whites, mestizos and Indians, each of these groups with an agenda of its own. By taking matters into their own hands, and attacking whites and their properties indiscriminately, the Andean Indians soon alienated creoles who had initially shown themselves sympathetic to Tupac Amaru's revolt. But in New Granada the Indians were less radical in their demands, and the savagery that accompanied the Peruvian rebellion was absent.177 To some extent this may have been the consequence of more capable leadership, although the rapidity with which the Comuneros achieved their aims saved New Granada from the kind of protracted civil war which inevitably leads to the escalation of hatreds and the perpetration of atrocities - something that occurred in North America as well as the Andes.171
Quality of leadership in any revolution is difficult to assess by any criterion other than the eventual outcome. From this perspective, the leaders of the North American rebellion appear to posterity to have been cast in a heroic mould. This makes it difficult to recapture the ambiguities, the hypocrisy and the personal tensions that lay behind the achievements of the North American Founding Fathers. 179 These, however, were men of experience in local life and politics, and the willingness of the colonial population to place its trust in men of experience to guide them through the turmoil of war and revolution gave them the space in which to develop their talents and justify that trust. In this sense, the degree of political participation to be found in pre-revolutionary North America was a vital element, both in forming a generation of leaders, and in providing them with the popular support which they needed to see their task through to the end.
The character of Spanish American society did not allow for this kind of popular participation in government, or create the accountability to an electorate which compelled the holders of public office to hone their political skills. A cacique like Tupac Amaru acquired his post through a combination of inheritance and appointment. Berbeo, although he possessed military experience and proved himself an outstanding leader, was not in fact a holder of municipal office - the usual and most obvious training ground for members of the creole elite.1S0
Yet if, as seems plausible, the majority of the North American Patriots initially hoped to preserve their liberties within the British Empire rather than press forward to independence, they failed to achieve their ends. From this point of view the Comunero Revolution came closer to the mark. The rebels secured major tax concessions from the royal authorities, and compelled them to act within the spirit of the unwritten constitution that in pre-Bourbon times had regulated the crown's relations with its American subjects. The visitor-general, Gutierrez de Pineres, was recalled to Madrid, and the plan to extend to New Granada the system of local intendancies was dropped.18' Even in Peru, where a pall of fear hung over the Andes after the savage repression of Tupac Amaru's rebellion, a crown now more than ever insistent on the divine nature of monarchy 112 was still prepared to manoeuvre and make concessions, partly in order to ward off the danger of more uprisings, but also as part of a genuine attempt to redress grievances. Unpopular officials, starting with the visitor-general Areche himself, were removed from their posts. The system of forced purchase of goods by Indians was abolished, labour services were modified, and, as Tupac Amaru had demanded, an Audiencia was established in Cuzco. In the end, many of the Indian caciques due to be deprived of their positions managed to retain them by having recourse to the courts.'"'
The ability of the Spanish crown to contain the crisis indicates the continuing strength and resilience of the imperial structure, in spite of all the strains imposed upon it by the Bourbon reforms. The institutions of imperial government had become deeply embedded in the Hispanic American world, as they had not in British America. Although colonial elites in the Spanish Indies might often ignore and sometimes actively defy royal commands, they themselves formed part of a complex system of institutional structures and patronage networks stretching downwards from the king.
Traditionally, this system also possessed a self-correcting mechanism in the form of checks and balances. Petition and protest by the aggrieved, followed by intense bargaining and mutual concessions within an accepted legal and constitutional framework, was the accepted way of proceeding. When this failed, armed revolt could be represented as a legitimate last resort. This in turn, however, was expected to trigger a fresh round of bargaining. Both the rebellion of the Comuneros and the authorities' response conformed perfectly to this traditional pattern. This was a rebellion imbued with traditional notions of contract and the common good, and the authorities reverted to traditional Habsburg methods when they took steps to reaffirm the common good once the rebellion was at an end.
How little the Comunero uprising was touched by Enlightenment ideology is suggested by a pasquinade posted in Bogota in April 1781: `... these days, books destructive of the whole spirit of ecclesiastical immunity are permitted ... In former times Spaniards coming to the Indies used to teach good, civil customs, but those who arrive today simply teach new sins, heretical maxims and had habits ... The pasquinade then went on to denounce the schemes put forward by royal officials for the reform of higher education and the foundation of a university offering a modern curriculum.184 It was the authorities who wished to promote the cause of the Enlightenment in the face of resistance from society. Once the Comunero rebellion was over, it was again authority, in the person of Archbishop Caballero y Gongora as viceroy, which pressed ahead with educational reform. Later the administration was to reap the reward of its educational efforts when it found itself confronted by a new generation all too willing to embrace foreign and revolutionary ideas.'85
These inflammatory foreign doctrines found their realization in the American and French revolutions, which aspired to put into practice political ideas that had long formed the subject of passionate European debate. Their exposure to that debate gave the leaders of the North American rebellion access to a wider set of political and cultural traditions than those enjoyed by their Spanish American counterparts in the 1770s. This in turn is likely to have enhanced their capacity to adjust their positions in the light of evolving events and to come up with new solutions when obstacles blocked their path. The eventual outcome was a genuinely new political creation - an independent federal republic on a potentially continental scale.
The intellectual resourcefulness displayed by the American Patriots once they had taken the decision to break with the British crown made them a difficult enemy to defeat. Even in the worst moments of the war they could sustain morale by holding before the people the vision of independence, and with it the hope of ushering in `a New Order of the Ages'. In reply to this Britain had little to offer but the commercial and practical benefits that would flow from a return to loyalty and the ending of the war.
Although the British entered that war determined to uphold imperial authority, even at the price of fighting their own kith and kin, the suppression of the rebellion moved to second place in their list of priorities following France's entry into the conflict in 1778. The immediate priority was now the protection of the West Indies from French attack. In the changed circumstances even George III began to weaken in his obstinate determination to bring the Americans to heel. It was, he felt, `so desirable to end the war with that country, to be enabled with redoubled ardour to avenge the faithless and insolent conduct of France ...'186
Although it now became possible to contemplate the eventual granting of independence to the Americans, Lord North's ministry, in spite of internal opposition and the rise of domestic discontents, successfully kept the country at war with the nascent republic right up to the time of his fall from power in February 1782.187 The surrender at Yorktown, however, in October 1781 destroyed any realistic prospect of recovering the colonies, and when the Rockingham administration came to office it was determined to wind up the American war. The loss of the thirteen colonies was a bitter pill to swallow, but its effects were tempered by the retention of Canada and the West Indies, and still more by the emerging prospects of a new and greater empire in India and the East.
For Spain, on the other hand, there was no alternative empire in prospect if its American possessions should be lost. Deprived of the silver of Mexico and Peru, what kind of future awaited it? The crown therefore remained totally committed to the retention of its American empire and to the continuing development of American resources for the benefit of the mother country. At the same time, the revolts in New Granada and Peru administered a drastic shock to the system. Manuel Godoy, the future first minister of Charles IV of Spain, was later to write in his memoirs: `Nobody is unaware how close we were to losing in the years 1781-2 the whole viceroyalty of Peru and part of La Plata, when the famous Condorcanqui raised the standard of rebellion ... The swell from this storm was felt with more or less strength in New Granada, and even reached New Spain.""
The shock of the storm was made all the worse by the coincidence of the rebellions in Spain's empire with the winning of independence by Britain's American colonies. The implications of the American Revolution for the Spanish viceroyalties frightened the Spanish ministers. It also frightened the Count of Aranda, who, after losing ministerial office, had watched the development of events from a ringside seat as ambassador to France. In a secret memorandum of 1783, following the signing of the Peace of Versailles, he warned Charles III that `it has never been possible to retain for long such large possessions at such enormous distances from the metropolis.' Presciently he argued that the new United States, although for the present a pygmy, would grow into a giant which would first want to absorb Florida and then would cast covetous eyes on New Spain. In order to save what could be saved of Spain's Atlantic empire he therefore proposed that mainland America should be divided into three independent kingdoms - Mexico, Peru and the remaining mainland territories - each to be ruled by a prince of the Spanish royal house, while the King of Spain himself assumed the title of Emperor. Each kingdom would make an annual contribution to the Spanish crown in the form of precious metals or colonial produce, and the Spanish and American royal houses would intermarry in perpetuity.189
Nothing came of Aranda's proposal, which had as little chance of implementation as Lord Shelburne's despairing attempt in the preceding year to save Britain's North American empire by reconstituting it as a consortium of independent states, each with its own assembly but still subject to the crown - a proposal that earned from Franklin the scathing retort that `surely there was never a more preposterous chimera conceived in the brain of a minister."" Madrid was in no mood to retreat from empire. A strong military establishment and a continued but judiciously applied programme of reforms seemed to be the best way of avoiding the fate that had overtaken Britain's American possessions. This remained Charles III's chosen policy up to the time of his death in 1788 on the eve of the French Revolution.
Yet it remained an open question how long the ministers in Madrid could hope to hold the line in a world swept by revolutionary winds. By now, as Madrid feared, a handful of Spanish American creoles were beginning to think the previously unthinkable. Among them was Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan who had joined the Spanish army as an infantry captain. Appointed aide to the Spanish commander in Cuba, he fought against the British in Pensacola and helped the French fleet to reach the Chesapeake Bay and provide the support which would enable Washington to secure the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Miranda later described his reactions to the settlement negotiated between the Comuneros and the royal authorities: `When I realized on receiving the Pact of Zipaquira how simple and inexperienced the Americans were, and on the other hand how astute and perfidious the Spanish agents had proved, I thought it best to suffer for a time in patience until the Anglo-American colonies achieved their independence, which was bound to be ... the infallible preliminary to our own."" If Miranda's was the voice of the future, the curtain was finally descending on a repetitive and long-running drama - the drama of confrontation followed by accommodation that had enabled Spain to retain its empire of the Indies for nearly 300 years.