This book’s ten authors present a wealth of information based on impressive archival documentation; the book’s principal weakness is that the search for common themes and arguments depends mainly upon the reader.
The articles on New Granada present a consistent picture of imperial weakness and ineptitude. Several essays focus on the efforts of the Bourbon monarchy to rationalize colonial government, to strengthen colonial defenses, and to bolster imperial finances. Yet Allan Kuethe finds that the impact of Charles Ill’s early reforms on New Granada was remarkably modest. And Sandra Montgomery Keelan records that the impact of mining reforms introduced in New Granada some years later was negligible.
Jacques Barbier discovers that commercial reforms under Charles IV failed to expand New Granada’s legal trade because contraband continued to flourish. Lance Grahn gives a detailed and regionally differentiated account of New Granada’s commerce under the Bourbons prior to Charles III. The intimate involvement in contraband of those whose duties should have involved them in its suppression helps to explain the inefficacy of Bourbon commercial reforms; contraband “was too profitable and too necessary” (p. 145) for coastal New Granada.
Maurice Brungardt also gives a detailed, regionally differentiated account of the resilience of New Granada’s agriculture and industry, thanks in part to administrative inefficacy and to the viceroyalty’s relative isolation. Consistent with these previous studies, Anthony McFarlane finds that the revolt in Quito in 1765 was precipitated by the efforts of New Granada’s viceroy to improve tax collections: people fought off attempts to change their remarkably enduring customs.
Two essays compare Peru and New Granada. John Fisher finds that contraband had mattered little in Peru, though (agreeing with others) much more in New Granada. Spain’s liberalization of imperial trade, therefore, greatly expanded Peruvian trade with Spain, but had little impact on New Granada; after the Bourbon reforms, Peru remained a significant market for Spanish trade and a dynamic producer as well. Juan Marchena Fernández shows that, by the late colonial years, American officers predominated in both viceroyalties’ militaries; but Peru featured centralized military command while New Granada’s military establishment was much more decentralized. This decentralization, in turn, helps to explain Brian Hamnett’s description of a remarkably fragmented New Granadan experience during the wars of independence. Hamnett also shows that creole separatists were no more effective than the viceregal government at governing New Granada’s regions and peoples. (David Cahill’s chapter is on disturbances in Arequipa in 1780).
The authors attest to the inefficacy of imperial rule over New Granada but to its much greater efficacy over Peru. Thus they suggest some reasons for Lima’s continued loyalty to empire after 1810, but they make it harder to understand why much of New Granada revolted when there did not seem to be very much against which to revolt. Perhaps McFarlane’s intellectually rich approach, focusing on multiclass coalitions and legitimating ideologies and keenly sensitive to issues of sequence and timing, could in the future shed further light on this complex picture.