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The Politics of Giving in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata: Donors, Lenders, Subjects, and Citizens.

The Politics of Giving in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata: Donors, Lenders, Subjects, and Citizens. By Viviana L. Grieco. (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2014. Pp. ix, 298. $55.00.)

By examining the historical, political, social, and economic significance of the donativos, or donations offered by individuals and corporations to the Spanish crown in the late years of colonial rule, this book makes a significant contribution to the understanding of some of the mechanisms that sustained Spanish imperial rule. Viviana L. Grieco analyzes four donativos collected in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata between 1793 and 1810. Every sector of Rioplatense society gave donativos: males and females, individuals and corporations, ecclesiastics and lay people, Indians and Spaniards, and even slaves. The first two donations were collected to help with the expenses of the war against the French Convention [1793-1795] and the naval wars against England [1799-1802]. The third and fourth donativos were called for after the British invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807 and after the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. Although the first two contributions were made mostly by wealthy individuals and corporations with vested interests in the imperial system, a significant proportion of the rosters of the last two donativos included not only members of the racially diverse militias but widows receiving pensions and freedmen as well.

The author interweaves economic, social, political, and cultural history in a rather effective way to argue that, despite conventional representations, the Spanish Catholic monarchy developed a sharp commercial and financial edge. In relation to this, Grieco makes several revisionist (and convincing) arguments regarding the operations of the Spanish Empire. She demonstrates that imperial power was neither as absolute nor as rapacious as traditional historiography would have it. She shows that, contrary to the common assumption, these donativos were not seen by the inhabitants of the empire as predatory fiscal devices but as opportunities for profit for a range of investors. Through a novel analysis of the quantity and quality of donativos, along with the individuals who made those contributions, she challenges many of these conventional notions. Still more important is her analysis of the political and cultural assumptions that sustained these donations, something that significantly enhances our comprehension of the Spanish Empire's mechanisms of rule.

The bargaining that went on between different individuals and corporations, on the one hand, and the crown, on the other, which led to the concession of a donativo, is situated by the author in a long political tradition of negotiation that went back to the origins of the Spanish Empire in the New World. In so doing, her study contributes to blurring the distinction that traditionally has represented the Spanish Empire as the opposite of the British colonies, the former being ruled despotically and the latter being characterized by political representation and a large degree of self-rule. The other significant aspect of this work is the use of the insights of cultural history to reach a fuller understanding of certain economic aspects of the Spanish Empire. One of Grieco's most thought-provoking arguments is that though the fiscal mechanism of the donativo was very successful in capitalizing the existing mercantile and financial networks, it was not as effective at draining specie from the Spanish American region, since only a fraction of the funds collected left the viceroyalty.

Grieco's study also contributes to the historiography of the independence of colonial Spanish America, as it helps readers better to comprehend the underpinnings of the revolutionary movement in the Rio de la Plata region. By showing that the revolutionaries drew heavily from the assumptions and principles of the political culture of the Spanish Empire in order to sever their ties with the mother country, her study contributes to the historiographical current that maintains that the independence of Spanish America owed more to Spanish imperial political culture than to outside influences such as the Enlightenment or the French Revolution.

Alejandro Canequs

University of Maryland
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Author:Canequs, Alejandro
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2016
Words:663
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