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Pennisular Finance and Colonial Trade: the Dilemma of Charles IV's Spain

  • Jacques A. Barbier


Charles IV's rule over the Spanish empire has often been decried as neglectful and reactionary. In a recent article, however, I argued that such descriptions were not accurate, maintaining that the early years of the reign pushed forward many institutional innovations and showed a marked concern for colonial affairs. This is not to say, of course, that the death of Charles III produced no change; but the critical facts were that economic policy-making continued to be based on the colonial compact and that the crown remained as committed to providing economic benefits to Spanish agriculture and manufacturing as to securing relief for the Peninsular treasury.1 Although 1788–9 may properly be characterized as a moment of truth for Spain, one which brought to the surface conflicting interests and ideologies, the Peninsula's transformation by the Bourbon Reforms was not so deep nor the government's circumstances so dire as to upset the political balance.



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1 Barbier, Jacques A., ‘The Culmination of the Bourbon Reforms, 1787–1792’, Hispanic American Historical Review (later, HAHR) Vol. 57, No. 1 (02 1977), pp. 568. The author wishes to acknowledge the support given to his research by the Canada Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the University of Ottawa.

2 See Barbara, H. and Stein, Stanley J., ‘Concepts and Realities of Spanish Economic Growth, 1759–1789’, Historia Ibérica, No. 1, 103–29, and particularly p. 109. Also Ringrose, David R., ‘Perspectives on the Economy of Eighteenth Century Spain,’ Historia Ibérica, No. 1, 5981.

3 See Hamnett, Brian R, ‘The Appropriation of Mexican Church Wealth by the Spanish Bourbon Government - The ‘Consolidación de Vales Reales’, 1805–1809,’ Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 ( 11 1969), pp. 85113; and Lavrín, Asunción, ‘The Execution of the Law of Consolidación in New Spain: Economic Aims and Results,’ HAHR, Vol. 5, No. 1 (02 1973), pp. 2749.

4 On this bureau, see Herr, Richard, ‘Hacia el derrumbe del antiguo régimen: crisis fiscal y desamortización bajo Carlos IV,’ Moneda y Crédito, No. 118 (09 1971), pp. 37100.

5 See Table I. The annual average is only slightly higher for the French war than for the two British ones: 1793–5; 1,192,955,000 reales de vellón 1796–1802, 1,075,934,000; and 1804–7, 1,044,477,000. The rate of increase and the peak levels reached are more significant indicators, however. Research on the Spanish Treasury in the late eighteenth century is being carried out in co-operation with Professor Herbert S. Klein of Columbia University, whose aid the author wishes to acknowledge.

6 AHN, Estado, libro 1.

7 See Table I. There is reason to believe that the deficits for 1801–2 arc not fully reported as such and that the figure should be higher - perhaps in the neighborhood of 31 per cent.

8 The division between Peninsular and Indies revenues was not entirely geographic. Thus, by the ministerial reorganization of 1790, the Almadén mercury mine responded to the colonial department of the Ministry of Finance, while the Cuban tobacco monopoly reported to its Spanish department. See Decreto del Rey uniendo a las cinco secretarías de estado y del despacho de Espana los negocios respectivos a cada departamento en las Indias (Madrid, 1790).

9 See Table I. The revenues of the Tesorería de Real Hacienda of Cadiz can be used as an indicator of joint repatriation and trade taxation revenues from the colonies. For the results, see the Appendix to this article.

10 See Table II.

11 AGI, Mexico, legs. 1561, 1566, 1570, 1571, 1576.

12 AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1705.

13 AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1623.

14 AGI, Ultramar, leg. 725; AGI, Mexico, legs. 1552, 1558, 1562, and 1569; and AGI, Indiferente, legs. 664 and 665. The permissions granted in this period for the free importation of foreign iron tools for sugar cultivation, and for certain types of trade between Spanish and alien colonies, might seem to undermine imperial interdependence. Policy-makers, however, reasoned that these measures helped colonial producers without creating competition for Peninsular interests.

15 AGI, Indiferente, leg. 2466.

16 Informe of de Saavedra, Francisco to Varela, Pedro, 9 April, 1797, in AGI, Indiferente, leg. 2466.

17 For evidence of the multiplicity of such use, see AGI, Mexico, leg. 2507; and AGI, Indiferente, legs. 1705, 1826, and 1827. The failure of this type of venture is perhaps best exemplified by the British seizure of ten merchantmen and their two escorting frigates off Cadiz on 7 May, 1800.

18 AGI, Santo Domingo, leg. 2193; AGI, Mexico, leg. 1586; AGI, Indiferente, legs. 2318 and 2467.

19 Petition of Lizaur dated 4 November, 1796. See AGI, Indiferente, leg. 535 and 2466. It was quickly made clear that with peace colonial trade would again be reserved to national ships, although some might leave from foreign ports. See R.O. of 24 March 1798 in AGI, Ultramar, leg. 730. Comercio neutral did not legally open the Spanish colonial trade to foreign merchants, nor (save in Venezuela and Mexico) increase further the admissibility of alien goods. Given its mechanics, however, it became far harder to keep out the foreigner and his products, something which the Ministry recognized from the outset.

20 AGI, Indiferente, leg. 2467.

21 AGI, Indiferente, legs. 2466 and 2467. The consulado of Cadiz achieved its success by gaining the ear of Minister of State Urquijo, who read one of their petitions to the king. One presumes that their various gifts and loans to the crown during the two conflicts served them in good stead. See AGI, Consulados, libro 97, letter to Urquijo of 26 April, 1799.

22 AGI, Mexico, leg. 1585; AGI Indiferente, legs. 665, 1704, and 1705; and AGS, Dirección General del Tesoro, Inventario 31, leg. 40.

23 AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1595.

24 AGI, Indiferente, legs. 1346, 1347, 2468, and 2469.

25 AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1346.

26 AGI, Mexico, leg. 1512 and 2510; AGI, Indiferente, legs. 2467, 2468 and 2469; AGI, Ultramar, leg. 732.

27 R.O. of 14 January, 1801, in AGI, Ultramar, leg. 733; Viana to Vega, 3 October, 1801, AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1347.

28 AGI, Indiferente, legs. 1347 and 2469. The fee schedule seems to have been approved on 16 September, 1801, and is identical to that cited by García Baquero. I have seen no evidence which indicates that it could have been in effect from 18 July 1800 as that author maintains. See González, Antonio García-Baquero, Comercio colonial y guerras revolucionarias (Seville, 1972), pp. 109–10.

29 AGI, Indiferente, leg. 2468; AGI, Mexico, legs. 1622 and 2511; AGI, Ultramar, legs. 314, 735, 736, and 737.

30 R.O. circular of 16 October, 1802, in AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1348.

31 AGI, Mexico, leg. 2511.

32 R.O. of 5 September, 1804, in AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1348.

33 R.O. of 27 December, 1804, in AGI, Ultramar, leg. 738.

34 Soler to Espinosa, 22 October, 1804, in AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1702.

35 Escobedo to Viana, 29 November, 1804, in AGI, Indiferente, leg. 1702. The measures were applied by R.D.'s of 28 November, 1804, in AGI, Ultramar, leg. 738.

36 Ozta to Noriega, 15 January, 1805, in AGS, DGT, Inv. 23, leg. 3; and expediente on petition of Tastet and Co. of 21 December, 1804, in AGI, Ultramar, leg. 833.

37 R.O. of 24 December, 1804, in AGI, Indiferente, leg. 2471. An additional order of the same date to the Spanish Minister in the U.S.A. limits the general privileges conceded by requiring a license for each voyage. Potentially, this enabled the Ministry of Finances to control the trade or impose further conditions. See AGI, Indif., leg. 1702.

38 Iturrigaray to Soler, 23 April, 1805, in AGI, Mexico, leg. 1625. The Viceroy was subsequently accused in Mexico of allowing the entry of contraband via neutral trade, but as he pointed out to the ministry its orders clearly allowed goods ‘de ilícito comercio’. Iturrigaray to Soler, 27 March, 1806, in AGI, Indiferente, leg. 2470.

39 The complex of interrelated questions dealt with in this part of the paper have been most recently dealt with, albeit in passing, by Lynch, John, ‘British Policy in Spanish America, 1783–1808’, Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (05 1969), pp. 130; and Hamnett, Brian R., ‘The Appropriation of Mexican Church Wealth’, loc. cit.

40 Documentation on these affairs is dispersed. See B.M. Add. 38738, if. 103–110; and AGI, Indiferente, legs. 1349, 1604, 2470, and 2494. One should also consult the accounts of Rydjord, John, ‘Napoleon and Mexican Silver,’ Southwestern Social Sciences Quarterly, Vol. 19 (1938), pp. 171–82; and Philip, G. and Walters, Raymond, ‘The American Career of David Parish,Journal of Economic History, (1944) pp. 149–66.

41 These consortia are here described as separate but they may have been interrelated. H.M.S. Melpomene, which was turned back from Veracruz in July 1808, was to have picked up the proceeds of two libranzas, the payment agent of which was to have been one Villanueva, a Frenchman who was a Hope agent. See Iturrigaray to Azanza, 4 July, 1808, in AGI, Mexico, leg. 3170. Documentation on this aspect of the problem is also scattered. See in particular AGI, Indiferente, leg. 2472.

42 Information on comercio neutral was compiled from a variety of sources, including: AGI, Indiferente, legs. 2470, 2471, 2472; AGI, Ultramar, leg. 742; and AGI, Mexico, legs. 1626, 1627, 1628, 1629, 1630, 1632, 2297, 2513, 2514. For libranzas see Table IV.

43 See duplicado No. 1521, 24 May, 1808, in AGI, Mexico, leg. 1632; and AGS, Consejo Supremo de Hacienda, leg. 295, no. 2.

Pennisular Finance and Colonial Trade: the Dilemma of Charles IV's Spain

  • Jacques A. Barbier


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