Revoluciones imperiales

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An Age of Imperial Revolutions

led an expeditionary force to the shores of his native land to liberate it from Spanish rule in the summer of 1806, he brought with him a new weapon for making revolutions: a printing press. He hoped that his band of white, black, and mulatto patriots would start a revolt to free a continent with an alliance of swords and ideas. After dawdling forten days, Miranda learned that royal troops (also white, black, and mulatto) were marching from Caracas. He withdrew before the two multiracial forces could clash. Consider Miranda's reasons for retreat: The nation he sought to free from its chains was not, in his opinion, a nation at all. While Venezuelans yearned for "Civil Liberty," they did not know how to grasp and protect it. They needed aliberation that would tutor them in the ways of liberty and fraternity, to create a nation of virtuous citizens out of a colony of subjects. This was why Miranda treated the printing press, a portable factory of words about liberty and sovereignty, as part of the arsenal of change: he wanted to create public opinion where there was none. But faced with the prospect of a violent clash and a scourgeof "opposition and internal divisions," of a war waged mainly with swords, he preferred to pull out and bide his time.i Miranda's dilemma—whether or not to move forward knowing how revolutions worked in imperial settings when their protagonists did not presume that their cause was self-evidently bound to triumph—evokes questions about the embedded politics of what we might now call, with a wince,"regime change." As empires gave way to successor systems in their colonies, those regimes began to call themselves nations not in order to cause imperial crises, but as the result of such crises. The study of imperial crises and the study of the origins of nationalism in colonial societies should inform each other more than they do. Bringing these two separate fields of scholarship together, andquestioning the tacit and not-so-tacit beliefs upon which they rest, can help us reframe the complex passages from empires to successor states, free
WHEN THE VENEZUELAN CREÓLE FRANCISCO DE MIRANDA I want to extend my thanks to Howard Adelman, Steve Aron, Tom Bender, Graham Burnett, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Josep Fradera, Roy Hora, Dina Khapaeva, and Rafe Blaufarb for their suggestions on thisarticle, and to tiieAHR 's thoughtful reviewers and editors. Versions of this essay were presented as papers at the Universidad San Andrés in Buenos Aires, Smolny College in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the University of Texas at Austin. ' Archivo General de Indias (Seville) [hereafter AGI], Gobierno, Caracas, Legajo 458, September 13,1806, Manuel de Guevara Vasconcelos to Principe de la Paz;September 5,1806, Francisco Cavallero Sarmiento to Principe de la Plaz; Estado/Caracas, 71/9, November 8,1808, "Informe de Secretaría á S.M. sobre el asunto de Miranda"; Francisco de Miranda, "Todo pende de nuestra voluntad," in Miranda, América espera (Caracas, 1982), 356; Karen Racine, Francisco de Miranda: A Transatlantic Life in the Age of Revolution (Wilmington, Del., 2003).


320Jeremy Adelman

from some of the teleologies of decline and triumph.^ First, presumptions about the inevitability of imperial decline in the "age of revolutions" have cast the tensions and upheavals of the period as a sign of the sclerosis and demise of transatlantic systems, when they might better be thought of as responses to imperial adaptations. There was little that was inevitable about imperialdemise. Second, revolutions were imperial in nature; that is to say, they were part of empire-wide transformations in that they yielded new social practices in defining the internal life of sovereign politics, as efforts to put empires, and their parts, on a different footing in order to confront external pressures. Revolutions did not begin as secessionist episodes; "nations" emerged as...