Gabriel B. Paquette. Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-Brazilian World, c. 1770-1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 450 S. $99.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-02897-5.
Reviewed by Rainer Buschmann (California State University Channel Islands)
Published on H-Empire (November, 2014)
Commissioned by Charles V. Reed (Elizabeth City State University)
A History of the Southern Atlantic World
Gabriel Paquette’s Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions represents a continuation of his well-received Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and Its Empire (2008). The two books are characterized by exhaustive research in archives located on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In his earlier work, Paquette provided sharp insights into Spanish Bourbon reforms leading up to the revolutions in Latin America. With his new book, he illuminates similar trends affecting the Portuguese Empire. The main difference between the two volumes lies in Paquette’s willingness to move his analytical timeframe well beyond Brazilian independence in his newer work. He argues that such a shift investigates important continuities between Portugal and Brazil. This represents an analytical step, which he foreshadowed in two collected volumes (Enlightenment Reform in Southern Europe and Its Colonies, c. 1750-1830  and coedited with Matthew Brown, Connections after Colonialism: Europe and Latin America in the 1820s ). Investigating such Luso-Brazilian links beyond independence in 1822 bridges national historiographic traditions that frequently regard Portugal and Brazil in isolation. More important, Paquette maintains, investigating the web of connections among these nations also sheds light on the larger history of the southern Atlantic. Recent rethinking on the “Age of Revolutions” affecting the Atlantic world has questioned the smooth transition from colonial to postcolonial entities developed chiefly by Robert Roswell Palmer, a modernization theorist. Current scholarship investigates the entangled nature of Atlantic revolutions and envisions these social upheavals less as a logical historical outcome than as complex processes with remaining ties between the metropolitan country and its former colonial territory. Similarly, such historians do not hasten to condemn the supposedly backward colonial entities controlled by the Iberian empires.
As mentioned before, Paquette gathered primary source material from both sides of the Atlantic. In addition, he weaves his complex narrative with both primary and secondary material. Here he demonstrates command not only of most major European languages, but also of historical approaches spanning cultural, diplomatic, economic, and more traditional political realms. If one peels through the many secondary layers that abound in his imperial Portugal, one could summarize his main argument as follows: Brazil and Portugal have had an intertwined history that continues well beyond the independence of the new world country. From these entangled histories emerges an alternative narrative for the southern Atlantic world. Traditionally, the ironclad historiographies of Brazil and Portugal tended to investigate each country in isolation and tended to emphasis differences over similarities. Paquette proposes to transcend this divide and also read the colonial and postcolonial relationship between Portugal and Brazil against events affecting the wider Atlantic world.
Eschewing simplistic answers, Paquette marshals a large array of evidence, much of which covers neglected aspects of the Luso-Brazilian relationship. As with his Spanish work, he succinctly synthesizes the existing literature on the topic, while also going well beyond existing material to weave in sources from Portuguese and Brazilian archives as well as from individuals who lived in exile during politically unstable periods. There is a dramatic array of sources hailing from the constitutional to the cultural, which highlight another one of Paquette’s arguments: that the breakup between Brazil and Portugal was a highly contingent process that did not necessarily follow from the colonial period preceding Brazilian independence in 1822. Most important, the relationship between Brazil and Portugal did not end with independence. Crises and civil war on both sides of the Atlantic continued to inform the relationship between the countries.
Bookended by excellent introductory and concluding sections, Paquette’s work is divided into five weighty chapters roughly arranged in chronological order. The first two chapters explore the colonial reforms pursued by Portuguese officials following the 1777 expulsion of famed Marquis of Pombal and end with the complex emergence of an independent Brazil. Building on his earlier work on Spain, Paquette finds that Portuguese authorities engaged in critical emulation of foreign, mostly British, ideas. This meant that they adopted “useful” concepts and rejected ideas deemed less helpful for the reform of their empire. Paquette pays close attention to the effect of these reforms on the Atlantic world, primarily in Brazil, although he does afford important glances toward the Portuguese colony of Angola. The unintended outcome of the colonial reforms was the development of a southern Atlantic economy, which tied the colonial peripheries of Angola and Brazil closer together. Ironically, this link marginalized the Portuguese metropole despite the continuous attempts by the Lusophone Peninsulares. The slave trade became the bedrock of the southern Atlantic economy with Brazil supplying the industries and Angola supplying the labor. This in turn brought Portugal in repeated conflict with their British allies, who increasingly pushed for the abolition of slavery. The Napoleonic invasion following the years 1807 tied the Portuguese crown closer to its British allies and ultimately led to the transfer of the court to Brazil (better known as a tropical Versailles). This monarchic move also triggered major reforms in Brazil. When the South American colony became a kingdom in 1815, this event further exasperated the emerging conflicts with Portugal.
The third and fourth chapters focus on the immediate postcolonial context of Brazil and Portugal. Although most Lusophone historians investigate these respective countries in isolation, Paquette argues that the link among them was never severed. This is well illustrated by the constitutional and dynastic struggles that characterized Brazil and Portugal throughout the 1820s and 1830s. Chapter 4, for instance, is aptly entitled “The Last Atlantic Revolution” and continues Paquette’s argument that Portuguese politics need to be placed in larger European, Brazilian, and Atlantic contexts. Especially what has been regarded as the Portuguese civil wars between 1830 and 1834 illustrated how Brazil provided impetus for both conservative and liberal parties of the conflict. Paquette also demonstrates how a short-lived government counter to Dom Miguel’s rule over Portugal emerged on the Azorian island of Terceira. Many of the reforms enacted on this island foreshadowed later steps taken by consequent government. The civil war that ultimately ousted the regime of Miguel left Portugal in shambles and in search for new alternatives.
The last chapter in Paquette’s book shifts the focus to the post-civil war period and Portuguese efforts to create a third empire in the African colonies. Torn between Great Britain’s demand for abolition and Brazil’s continuing demand for slaves from Angola, Portuguese notables walked a tight rope. There were critical voices decrying the continuous need for empire, but their notions were greatly outnumbered by those who believed that a Portuguese nation, stripped of colonies, would soon be absorbed by a reasserting Spanish nation reeling in turn from colonial loss in the Americas. Africa, so it seemed, was to be at the center of this new empire, but attempts to stir Angola’s economy into new directions was hamstrung by the Brazilian need for slaves in their nation-building process. Paquette clearly shows how the dependency of Angola on Brazil effectively derailed Portuguese efforts at abolition and explains why positive steps toward emancipation occurred only in the second half of the nineteenth century. This retardation also provided Portugal with the image of a declining colonial power at the start of the new imperialism centering on Africa.
In sum, Paquette has provided us with an excellent narrative on the Luso-Brazilian Atlantic relationship that greatly transcends the narrow confine of the 1822 revolution. By weaving together Angolan, Brazilian, and Portuguese developments, he has written a complex narrative of the southern Atlantic, which will speak to specialists of the Lusophone world. In addition, this outstanding work should also inform the reading of Atlantic Ocean experts and world historians.
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Rainer Buschmann. Review of Paquette, Gabriel B., Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-Brazilian World, c. 1770-1850.
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