"SMALL GOVERNMENT OR BIG GOVERNMENT?" Assessing state expansion in the war for colonial Brazil

Miguel Dantas da Cruz

This chapter explores the relation between war efforts in seventeenth-century colonial Brazil and the eventual expansion of the Portuguese state in the Americas, in terms of its fiscal and bureaucratic components. The chapter proposes a different interpretation or a parallel development path for one of the better-established theorizations that has arisen from the military revolution debate: the theory that associates the growth of professional armies with the growth of the modern state.

Originally hinted by Max Weber and Otto Hintze and further developed by Michael Roberts (1956), the theory that connects the dots between the revolution in military affairs and the broader transformation of the state is rather convincing: to pay for cumbersome new model armies, states were forced to obtain more resources and collect more taxes, becoming in the process more intrusive and more present in people’s everyday lives. The theory is so convincing that has captivated the interest of a scholarship that goes beyond the historiographical agenda of those who are essentially concerned with the Military Revolution or with military history in general. In fact, as a topic of research, the theory is probably even more pervasive in other fields or subfields, such as economic history proper, and is probably revisited more by scholars who are interested mainly in reconstituting the “sinews of power,” to use the famous expression ofjohn Brewer (1989), or in exploring the Financial Revolution, to use the words of Dickson (1967).2

The transformative role of war in the birth of the fiscal state, as with any other deterministic view, is not bulletproof, though - particularly in the debate about the Military Revolution. There seems to be a problem with the timetable of the major developments, as Jeremy Black argued several years ago. There is a mismatch in the initial formulation between the growth of armies, which started in the sixteenth century, and the consolidation of monarchical power, which occurred mainly during the eighteenth century.' The emergence of modern states is not as straightforward as one might be led to believe and should not be understood by looking only to a country’s military effectiveness, which is a usual historiographical tendency, as was recently noted.4

We know that the fiscal state replaced the patrimonial state in Western Europe, which meant that the majority of a country’s resources were afterwards derived from taxes - normally, indirect taxes — and not from the patrimony of the royal house or from royal monopolies. However, we fail to fully appreciate the development of institutional solutions and arrangements that lie behind that transformation, as was foreseen by Charles Tilly several years ago.3 We tend overlook how those “intermediate institutions” carried what can be described as ambiguous, if not conflicting, implications as far as the rise of the all-pervading modern state is concerned.

The growth of armies did not always lead to larger state bureaucracies and more- obedient royal agents, despite rising taxes. That was certainly the case in England but not everywhere else. In other places, the footprint of the state remained small. In fact, it was so small that we can justifiably ask whether we should use the concept of the state, since that may be misleading.6 Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the state continued to play an indirect role. As emphasized elsewhere,7 but not often enough, the central state continued to depend on private agents and entrenched local powers and mostly relied on tax farming. Of all the institutions of the French Ancien Regime, tax farming was one of the most disparaged by the revolution8 and its “modernizing” agenda.

This chapter builds on Tilly’s preposition, and it argues that the increase in fiscal resources earmarked for war in colonial Brazil was not accompanied by royal intrusion. The war the Portuguese had with the Dutch did not produce an upsurge of royal authority. In fact, one can claim that in the initial moment, the increase in fiscal resources was achieved, or agreed on, only because a fragile imperial state withdrew itself, as I try to show. War would eventually play the role that the aforementioned theory purported it to have played in the consolidation of a more recognizable modern state, with its ample bureaucracy replacing local elites, but only in a second moment in the beginning of the eighteenth century.

This chapter first sets the stage in the first two sections by surveying the political and military history of colonial Brazil and then undertakes an exploration of the fiscal arrangements that allowed the Portuguese to wage war in their foremost colony.

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