Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tyson Reeder's "Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots"

Tyson Reeder is an editor with The Papers of James Madison at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution, and reported the following:
On page 99, Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots reveals the plummet in Portuguese wine sales occasioned by U.S. independence. It focuses on the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira—the most important source of wine in British America before the American Revolution. The page describes the decline with statistics but also with anecdotal evidence of U.S. merchant firms that declined to do business with Madeirans. In the depressed markets of the 1780s, Madeira could no longer turn a profit in America.

On page 99, the audience would read very little about smugglers, pirates, or patriots. They would see, however, a snapshot of an important trend. Prior to independence, British Americans purchased and consumed vast amounts of Portuguese wine, especially from Madeira. Due to their commercial freedom following the American Revolution, Americans explored new wine markets in Spain and France, so they severed most of their commercial ties with Portugal. As a result, Brazil surpassed Portugal as the most enticing destination for American goods in the Portuguese Empire. Because Portugal prohibited trade with their South American colony, U.S. traders targeted Brazil by smuggling.

Convinced that independence and republicanism would free trade from imperial controls, many Americans conspired and cooperated with Brazilian revolutionaries to throw off monarchy in Brazil. Some even accepted dubious commissions from revolutionaries to prey on Portuguese commerce, inhabiting a shadowy legal space between a pirate and a privateer. During the Age of Revolution, empires fractured as they contended with smugglers, pirates, and revolutionaries who sought to trade on their own terms. After independence in 1822, Brazilians adopted a monarchy—a turn unanticipated by most Americans. Free traders in the United States came to accept that Brazil would not become a fellow republic in the Western Hemisphere. Instead, the two nations became fellow slave powers.
Learn more about Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue