In reviewing the attempts at reform, the authors explore networks of individuals and groups, some accepting and others rejecting the Spanish transatlantic trade system. They provide accounts from both sides of the Atlantic to show how economic policy, imperial goals, and consequent social divisions and factionalism in New Spain and Spain undermined the government’s efforts at economic and political adjustments. The Steins draw on a wide range of archival material in Mexico, Spain, and France to place the waning of the Spanish empire in an Atlantic perspective. They also show how Spain came to the verge of collapse in a time of revolution and at the beginning of the transition from commercial to industrial capitalism.
Comprehensive and carefully researched, Edge of Crisis explains the broad array of factors that led up to the French invasion of Spain in early 1808.-- Carlos Marichal
Barbara H. Stein (1916-2005) was an independent historian and former bibliographer for Latin America, Spain, and Portugal at Princeton University's Firestone Library. Stanley J. Stein is the Walter S. Carpenter Professor in Spanish Civilization and Culture, Emeritus, at Princeton University. The Steins coauthored Silver, Trade, and War and Apogee of Empire, both also published by Johns Hopkins.
When Charles III ascended the Spanish throne in 1759, then, after a quarter-century as ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Spain and its colonial empire were seriously imperiled. Two hundred years of Hapsburg rule, followed by a half-century of ineffectual Bourbon "reforms," had done little to modernize Spain's increasingly antiquated political, social, economic, and intellectual institutions. Charles III, recognizing the pressing need to renovate these institutions, set his Italian staff—notably the Marqués de Esquilache, who became Secretary of the Consejo de Hacienda (the Exchequer)—to this formidable task.
In Apogee of Empire, Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein trace the attempt, initially under Esquilache's direction, to reform the Spanish establishment and, later, to modify and modernize the relationship between the metropole and its colonies. Within Spain, Charles and his architects of reform had to be mindful of determining what adjustments could be made that would help Spain confront its enemies without also radically altering the Hapsburg inheritance. As described in impressive detail by the authors, the bitter, seven-year conflict that ensued between reformers and traditionalists ended in a coup in 1766 that forced Charles to send Esquilache back to Italy. After this setback at home, Charles still hoped to effect constructive change in Spain's imperial system, primarily through the incremental implementation of a policy of comercio libre (free-trade). These reforms, made half-heartedly at best, failed as well, and by 1789 Spain would find itself ill prepared for the coming decades of upheaval in Europe and America.
An in-depth study of incremental response by an old imperial order to challenges at home and abroad, Apogee of Empire is also a sweeping account of the personalities, places, and policies that helped to shape the modern Atlantic world.-- Kendall W. Brown
The study examines an accumulation of countervailing elements in a spasm of imperial crisis, as Spain and its major colony New Spain struggled to preserve traditional structures of exchange—Spain's transatlantic trade system—with Caribbean ports at Veracruz and Havana in wartime after 1804. Rooted in the struggle between businessmen seeking to expand their economic reach and the ruling class seeking to maintain its hegemonic control, the crisis sheds light on the contest between free trade and monopoly trade and the politics of preservation among an enduring and influential interest group: merchants.
Reflecting the authors’ masterful use of archival sources and their magisterial knowledge of the era’s complex metropolitan and colonial institutions, this volume is the capstone of a research endeavor spanning nearly sixty years.
Edge of Crisis: War and Trade in the Spanish Atlantic, 1789–1808Hardcover edition published in 2009, 978-0-8018-9046-8 Apogee of Empire: Spain and New Spain in the Age of Charles III, 1759–1789 Hardcover edition published in 2003, 978-0-8018-7339-3 Silver, Trade, and War: Spain and America in the Making of Early Modern EuropeHardcover edition published in 2000, 978-0-8018-6135-2Paperback edition published in 2003, 978-0-8018-7755-1-- Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Prince of Asturias Chair in Spanish Culture and Civilization, Tufts University