Crisis and Collapse in Spain between 1793 and 1808
Crisis and Collapse
Charles III died in late 1788, leaving Spain and the empire peaceful and reasonably prosperous. The Crown’s normal income was almost adequate for routine expenditures, and the royal debt was modest.
By January 1, 1808, however, the imperial panorama looked very different. Except for occasional interludes of peace, Spain had been at war since 1793. Its costly naval fleet had been destroyed in the battles of Cape St. Vincent and Trafalgar.
Napoleon was exacting financial tribute and largely determining Spain’s foreign policy. Colonial trade increasingly benefited neutral shippers rather than Spanish merchants and producers, and a rapidly growing debt burdened the royal treasuries in Spain and the colonies
In addition, the prominence of the powerful royal favorite Manuel Godov, grandiloquently entitled duke of Alcudia, prince of the Peace, and admiral-general of Spain and the Indies, had discredited the royal family.
Yet despite the numerous difficulties of these years, almost no one in Spain or the colonies expected that in less than two decades the entire mainland empire in America would be independent of Spanish rule.
The Cost of War
The execution of the French King Louis XVI on January 21, 1793, led Spain into the coalition of countries fighting against the spread of revolution. The nation was united against regicide, and initially the war enjoyed popular support. Military defeats, however, cost Spain its remaining portion of the island of Hispaniola in 1795.
Angered over Spain’s ending hostilities with France unilaterally, England attacked Spanish shipping. These provocations, a belief that a land war with France was more dangerous than a conflict with England, and varied dynastic ambitions led Spain to sign an alliance with the French republic.
War with Britain began in October 1796. The defeat of the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent in 1797 opened the way for a British blockade of Cadiz until 1800.
The peace of Amiens in 1802 restored peace to Europe once more, and Spain, which already had ceded Louisiana to France, lost Trinidad. Spain by now little more than a French satellite, found itself in renewed conflict with England beginning in the late 1804.
Victory over combined Spanish and French fleets at Trafalgar in 1805 gave Britain uncontested dominance over the seas.
Spain’s repeated involvement in the war between 1793 and 1808 proved extremely costly in terms of both direct financial expenditures and the loss of trade and regular remittance of bullion from the colonies. An important consequence was that earlier policies to integrate Spain and the colonies economically gave way to short-term fiscal considerations. Reciprocity within the “colonial compact” succumbed to the Crown’s desperate attempts to extract as much revenue as possible from the Indies, regardless of the consequences for the colonial economies.
An Overwhelming Debt
Spain’s tax system proved unable to provide the funds necessary to meet the extraordinary expenses of war. Initially the crown borrowed from foreign lenders, government trust funds, and special treasury funds
Faced with rising interest rates as the price for further loans, however, the Crown turned to Spain’s own money market.
In 1794-95 it issued treasury bills (vales reales) worth over 64 million pesos de vellon, a sum equal to nearly 75% of the total regular peninsular revenues in these years
Buoyed by the sale of treasury bills and bonds, the treasury’s income in 1795 was the largest of the era. The deficit, however, was almost equal to total income in 1792, the last year of peace. The initiation of conflict with Britain in 1796 forced the crown to issue bonds and treasury bills whose total value exceeded all normal treasury income from the American colonies between 1792 and 1807
Napoleon’s demand for financial subsidies beginning in 1803 and the renewal of hostilities with England late in 1804 quickly pushed the Crown to the brink of bankruptcy.
The rapid deterioration of Spain’s finances after 1793 and the subsequent disruption of normal trading patterns profoundly affected Spain’s commercial and political relations with its colonies. The strength of the Spanish fleet and the alliance with Britain during the French war enabled American treasure to continue to reach Spain.
Protected convoys carrying bullion (gold or silver considered with respect to quantity rather than value) managed to maintain a reasonable level of trade with the colonies, although the number of sailings dropped. Conditions changed rapidly, however, following the initiation of hostilities with Britain in late 1796
The British blockade of Cadiz paralyzed Spain’s transatlantic trade. Whereas 171 ships sailed from America to Cadiz in 1796, only 9 ships arrived in 1797. Spain’s inability to maintain its trade with the colonies spurred colonial officials in Cuba and Venezuela to open their ports to neutral traders.
In Madrid, policymakers recognized that the colonies needed some trade outlets and that state services such as mail delivery and the provision of mercury and administrative supplies had to be continued. In addition, they wanted to maintain some portion of the traditional market share to prevent the colonies from establishing new industries and trade links that would ultimately undermine the entire colonial system.
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These goals underlay the Crown’s decree of November 18, 1797, sanctioning neutral trade. Although intended as a temporary wartime expedient to keep the imperial system afloat, the new policy facilitated the elaboration of non-Spanish commercial ties for colonial merchants and producers that could not be eliminated when peace returned.
The merchants of Cadiz fought tenaciously against neutral trade and secured a brief suspension in April 1799. Widespread noncompliance in the colonies and the continued need for revenue, however, led the Crown again to allow neutral trade in January 1801. After a brief peace and an attempt to reestablish the prewar system, renewed conflict with England in 1804 forced the reauthorization of neutral trade.
The commercial pressures experienced by the colonies were varied. Those regions that relied on the exportation of agricultural and pastoral products for their economic well-being—notably Cuba, Venezuela, and the Rio de la Plata—had to sell them in a timely manner or watch them deteriorate.
In contrast, New Spain, and to a lesser degree, Peru, could store bullion until the return of peace and withstand two or three years of disrupted commerce by reducing the consumption and promoting local manufactures and agriculture. The most immediate and persistent pressure for neutral trade thus came from the empire’s emerging peripheral regions.
The United States’ trade with Spanish America expanded immediately with the advent of neutral trade. Exports of American flour and some re-exported British textiles flowed to a number of Spanish Americans ports; Havana and other West Indian ports were especially profitable markets. The United States’ exports to the Spanish West Indies grew six fold from 1795-96 to 1800-01, reaching nearly $11 million in the later period, and expanded fourfold for Spanish America as a whole. The average number of US ships entering Chilean ports grew from three or four a year in the early 1790’s to an average of eighteen a year from 1798 to 1807.
Consolidation of Vales Reales
The cumulative deficits resulting from war and the French alliance led Spain to desperate measures to solve its financial problems. The massive issues of vales reales- essentially unbacked paper money- posed a particular difficulty because they had depreciated so much in value.
In 1798 the Crown ordered the sale of property held by a variety of public and religious institutions in Spain. The proceeds from these sales were to be delivered to the Crown in exchange for a royal promise to pay annually 3 percent of the value of these expropriated funds to the Church.
Although the crown planned to retire the vales reales with these funds, they were diverted to meet current expenses. The second war with Britain forced the Crown to search for additional resources, and on December 26, 1804, it extended to the colonies the royal decree of 1798 for the consolidation of vales reales.
In Spain, religious institutions affected by the consolidation held real property whose sale led to some land distribution, increased commercialization of agriculture, and economic growth. In the new world, however, most of the funds of the religious institutions, and pious works were invested in loans extended to hacendados, merchants, miners, and others. Consolidation, therefore, threated a powerful debtor class, principally in New Spain, with the loss of property or bankruptcy.
Anger over the implementation of consolidation was widespread. Although the crown collected more than 15 million pesos, over two-thirds of it from New Spain, it paid with a heavy poitical price. Both creoles and peninsulars grew dissatisfied with a government that so cavalierly disrupted local economies and undermined personal finances.
Among the many individuals affected by the law of consolidation was Gabriel de Yermo, a Vizcayan-born landowner and merchant whose wife had inherited rich sugarcane haciendas in mexico. Yermo owed the Church a total of several hundred thousand pesos, the largest single debt being 131,200 pesos. As did other debtors, he sought to avoid payment whenever possible and protested the seizure of his hacienda by the state in 1806. His case concluded in October 1808, just fifteen days after he led the coup that overthrew Mexico’s viceroy. Yerno eventually regained his estate without payment.
Royal Family and Favorite
The prestige of the Spanish Crown diminished substantially during the reign of Charles IV (88-08). A well-meaning but lazy monarch. Charles took his wife’s advice and devoted many hours daily to hunting rather than affairs of state.
By 1808 the Spanish people viewed him with both pity and scorn. Hatred they reserved for Queen Luisa and Manuel Godoy, reputedly one of the queen’s lovers.
Rising from a modest position in the palace guard, Godoy came to dominate the royal family. Some even claimed Godoy had fathered two children born to the queen in the 1790’s. Whatever the truth, in 1792 the young favorite replaced the count of Aranda as the prime minister.
Save for a brief hiatus at the end of the decade, Godoy was the most powerful man in Spain until 1808. Thus as the country endured the effects of war, fiscal crisis, and commercial decline, disgruntled opponents blamed Godoy for Spain’s misfortunes.
Despised by the aristocracy, distrusted by intellectuals and professionals, and hated by most people, his sole supporters were the king and queen. There was little sympathy when he fell from power in March 1808.
The hatred toward Godoy—or the prince of the Peace as he was titled in 1795—vented itself in a corresponding enthusiasm for Prince Ferdinand. As the heir apparent, he embodied the hopes of all persons dismayed by Charles IV’s virtual abdication of authority to a royal favorite.
In March 1808, Ferdinand’s supporters rioted in Aranjuez, where the royal family was then resident, and forced Charles IV to dismiss Godoy.
On the following day, Charles abdicated in favor of Ferdinand. The Spanish populace greeted joyously the news of Godoy’s fall and Charles’s abdication, but the arrival of a French army of forty thousand men in Madrid dampened the festivities.
Napoleon and Iberia, 1807-1808
The French emperor Napoleon I made two decisions in 1807 and 1808 that had profound consequences for the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Having inaugurated in November 1806 the “continental system” prohibiting the European importation of British merchandise, in mid-1807 he tried to force Portugal to declare war on England and close its ports to British traders, a demand that Prince Regent John rejected.
Angered, Napoleon then captured Lisbon on November 30, 1807. Less than a week earlier, Prince John and the royal family; administrative, ecclesiastic, and military hierarchies; and numerous nobles—some ten thousand to fifteen thousand people in all sailed to Brazil under British escort with the royal treasury, official records, and a printing press. As a result of this unprecedented move, from 1808 to 1821 John ruled his empire from Rio de Janeiro rather than Lisbon.
Napoleon’s second decision was to withhold recognition of Ferdinand as monarch, to rid Spain of the Bourbons, and to place a ruler of his own choosing on the Spanish throne. At Bayonne, Napoleon demanded and obtained on May 6 an abdication from Ferdinand in favor of Charles. He had already persuaded Charles to abdicate in favor of himself. For six years Ferdinand remained in exile in France. Napoleon then placed his brother Joseph, on the Spanish throne. The French emperor’s decision to remove the Bourbons from Spain provoked an unprecedented constitutional crisis that soon spread to the colonies.
Spanish Government of Resistance, 1808-1814
The majority of Spaniards refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of orders issued by Napoleon’s representatives in Spain or the Spanish officials who worked with them.
In the absence of a monarch, sovereignty had returned to the people to be exercised by their representatives.
Provincial juntas were formed by the end of May to oversee resistance to the French and rule in the name of Ferdinand until his return to Spain. Hesitant members of the traditional elite found themselves forced to take control and provide leadership or face violent removal and possibly death.
The defeat of the French at Bailen in Adalusia in July 1808 led Joseph Bonaparte to withdraw temporarily from Madrid. By late August the provincial juntas had agreed to create a single body—the Central Junta – for retaining the colonies.
The Central Junta convened (came together) in Aranjuez in September 1808, but military defeats drove it to Seville in December. With about 350,000 French troops in Spain, the Junta evacuated Seville and turned over its authority to five-member regency in January 1810.
Lurking behind the Junta’s transfer of power to the regency were the issues of sovereignty and legitimacy. In general, Spaniards had accepted the reversion of sovereignty from Ferdinand to the people as represented in the popular provincial juntas and the Central Junta.
The creation of non-elected regency however raised the question of legitimacy. Aware of the problem, the Central Junta had called for a cortes (parliament) to convene for the purpose of writing a constitution.
This was a clear break with Spanish constitutional experience and was tied to the same ideological assumptions that had underpinned the American and French constitutions.
On September 21, 1810, the General and Extraordinary cortes opened in a besieged Cadiz
On the day it opened, the cortes passed a decree asserting that it had been legitimately established and rested on national sovereignty, that Ferdinand VII was Spain’s legislative monarch, and that the government should be divided into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. A decree of November 10, 1810 gave unprecedented freedom to the press. Authors could publish political, although not religious, ideas without prior censorship.
In march 1812, the cortes promulgated (to make known by open declaration) a constitution. Commonly known as the constitution of 1812, this liberal document declared that sovereignty resided in the nation which alone had the right to establish fundamental laws.
Although the const. retained a hereditary monarch, it vested many powers formerly held by monarch, in the hands of an elected cortes that the king must allow to meet annually. The cortes, for example created laws, determined public expenses, established taxes, and approved treaties. The old mingling of legislative, administrative, and judicial powers that characterized old-regime institutions gave way to a separation of these powers into distinct institutions. Viceroys in the colonies, for example, were replaced by jefes politicos who excercised limited authority and had to work with an intendant and elected members of a provincial deputation. In short, the constitution provided for a new Unitarian state that eliminated many features of the old regime.
Politicization of the Colonial Elites
Starting with a creation of the first juntas in 1808, the successive governments of resistance sought to retain the empire and to receive financial assistance from it. In their efforts to do so, the Central Junta the regency, and the cortes of Cadis contributed to the politicization of the colonial population.
An unprecendented equality between Americans and Spaniards was forthcoming. As early as oct 1808, the central junta decided that it should have American representatives. Accordingly it used a decree that the four viceroyalties and six captaincies-general should each elect one representative to serve on the Central Junta. Received warmly by creoles, this decree signaled the beginning of what promise to be a new era in the relationship between the colonies and spain. Never had americans been summoned to spain to participate in governance
The regency also encouraged the belief that a new equality was at hand, in a decree of feb 14 1810, that called for the election of deputies to the cortes. The decrees explicit admission that americans had been oppressed in the past but now were free men and thus equal to Spaniards both raised colonial expectations and reinforced the sense of grievance that was so common among creoles
The assertion that the past oppression had ended could be interpreted by americans only as a promise that political and economic changes were near. Elections were held and there was public discussion of the grievances as colonial city councils prepared instructions for the deputies.
By the time the cortes opened in Cadiz on sept 24, 1810, a newly formed junta in caracas had already refused to acquiesce to the regency’s authority. The first open challenge to continued Spanish rule in the new ward ddemonstrated that retaining the empire would not be easy.
The most imp issue that the cortes had to resolve was the extent of American representation. Most of the 30 american deputies sought equal representation with the peninsulars, initially seventy-five in number. With American expectations of justice in this matter raised by earlier declarations of equality, a successful resolution was imperative
Spanish americans also pressured their peninsular counterparts on free trade and end to restrictions on agriculture and manufacturing in the colonies. Other reforms they sought to include an end to monopolies, a guaranteed percentage of bureaucratic appointments going to native sons, and the restoration of the Society of Jesus.
By 1814 perceptive americans recognized that the touted equality between the new and old world provinces of “the Spains” was just rhetoric. The Peruvian bureaucrat and intellectual jose baquijano y carillo,for example, noted that the cortes had failed to fulfill the promises made in 1810. By refusing to establish equal representation and free trade, its “antipolitical conduct has been the true origin of the desperation of the American people; the cortes never wanted to hear their complaints, nor listen to their propositions”. Broken declarations of quality had revealed that regardless of the terminology employed, the American colonies remained colonies.
Parts of the constitution and some specific laws passed by the cortes galled numerous Americans. Colonial officials, especially the viceroys of New Spain and Peru, exacerbated these political problems by refusing to accept the results of the elections mandated by the constitution and to allow freedom of the press as decreed in 1810. Their selective enforcement of legislation undercut the legitimacy of the Spanish government. Nonetheless, there remained in 1814 a willingness on the part of the elites in Mexico and Peru to remain loyal to Spain, despite their dashed hopes.
Ferdinand and the Failure of Absolutism
Ferdinand’s return to power in 1814 quickly dispelled illusions of equality and a political solution to the conflicts besieging much of the empire. With his popularity demonstrated by the public enthusiasm that welcomed him on his journey from france to Madrid, Ferdinand decided to abrogate(abolish) the Constituion of 1812. By a decree signed on may 4, the king declared all acts of the cortes null and void. Absolutism had returned, amid wild popular acclaim and the imprisonment of a number of liberal leaders, including several americans. Instead of reform, Ferdinand would rely on military force.
The return of Ferdinand underscored the expanded range of political possibilities that had appeared since 1808. Before the French intervention , the elites of spain and the colonies like the rest of society, were loyal to the absolute monarchy
During the intervening years, representatives of a liberal minority had turned Spain and the empire into a constitutional monarchy, albeit without a resident monarch, thus dividing supporters of monarchy into constitutionalist and absolutists
This division extended to the indies where many creoles responded enthusiastically to the elctions and open political discussions allowed by the constitution, while rejecting the more radical republican ideas
In the indies, the question of the kind of relationship that should exist between Spain and the colonies separated supporters of increased colonial autonomy from those who approved of the pre-1808 colonial relationship.
A third group, most evident in Venezuela, actively sought political independence. Ferdinand’s return reduced the options to two: a pre-1808 absolutism with minimal modification or independence. The middle position of increased colonial autonomy and reform that many American loyalists advocated was unacceptable to the king and his ministers.
Having rejected compromise, Ferdinand embarked on the dangerous course of using military force to reimpose order in the colonies. Unhindered by war on the peninsula, he was able to dispatch military forces to the indies on a scale far greater than that possible for the regency or cortes. With the sailing of the Pablo Morillo expedition of 10,500 troops to Venezuela in 1815, the king committed himself to the military pacification of his colonial empire.
Ferdinand’s resort to force pushed the elites in the affected regions a step closer to independence. The physical destruction of assets and loss of property affected numerous elite families in Venezuela and New Granada. As was the case in Chile when a military force sent from peru exacted harsh reprisals on the civilian population, punitive measures undermined the allegiance of members of the elite who had earlier supported continued Spanish rule.
The failure of Ferdinand’s policy was clear by the end of 1819. The cost of sending and maintaining troops in the New world had been greater than normal crown revenues could support. Already in debt in 1808, royal treasuries throughout indies were awash in accumulated deficits by 1819. The destruction of war and the breakdown of regular shipping had taken their toll on the empire. Chile Argentina and Paraquay were effectively independent, and northern south America was on the eve of independence.
The Riego Revolt and Liberal Rule
A military revolt that began in Spain on jan1, 1820, initiated the final stage in the disintegration of Spain’s mainland empire. On that date Major Rafael Riego called on troops gathered in Cadiz in anticipation of another large military expedition to the New world to rise against absolutist government and restore the Constitution of 1812. Anxious to avoid service in the New world, and dissatisfied with Ferdinands treatment of the army, a sizeable number of troops joined the uprising. In early March, Ferdinand reluctantly and insincerely proclaimed his allegiance to constitutional government. At a stroke the possibility of sending an army to the Americas had vanished. Again, events in spain had directly affected the fate of the colonies.
The reestablishment of a constitutional monarchy brought the liberals—many of whom Ferdinand had imprisoned or exiled in 1814—back to power. Progressively moving beyond the positions taken in 1812, the new gov not only abolished once more the administrative institutions of the old regime, but also launched an attack on the privileges of the church and the military. In mexico, in particular, these reforms led many representatives of the elite to reassess their opposition to independence. Everywhere in the colonies where Spanish armies and loyalist governments persevered, these actions divided and weakened the forces opposing independence.
The events of 1808-14 had first raised and then dashed the expectations of equality and substantive changes in the colonial relationship. Although in 1814 most members of the colonial elites in regions still under Spanish control were prepared to give Ferdinand a chance to end the conflicts in rebellious regions and to accept absolutist rule rather than the unknown risks of independence, nothing occurred btwn 1814 and 1820 to strengthen the bond btwn monarch and subjects. On the contrary, the gov’s resort to force alienated its former supporters, as taxes and the direct expropriation of property were clearly not in the loyalists’ interests.
The same desire for self-preservation that initially led elites to continue their loyalty to the crown as the best protection against social upheaval now led them to abandon a crown unable to maintain its authority in Spain itself.
There was little immediate resistance to the French invasion of Portugal. With the court safety in Brazil, most of the elite that had remained began to accommodate to the new order. When news of the popular uprisings in spain reached Portugal in 1808, however, a popular revolt began. British naval forces that had already established a blockade moved to support this anti-french rising. Soon a military force composed of british regulars and Portuguese volunteers cleared the French from most of the kingdom. French invasions in 1808,09,11 however caused extensive property damage and perhaps nearly 250,000 portuguese deaths. The nation’s already-weak transportation system was particularly hard hit, and as a result, commerce suffered. By the time the French were finally expelled, the Portuguese treasury was encumbered with debt, and the economy was in crisis.