During the 1760s, after decades of strong economic and population growth in Britain’s American colonies, the notion that the capital of the imperial state would move from London to some American city became increasingly common. A similar notion circulated in the Spanish world after Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808. Some foresaw that the seat of government, along with the royal family, would flee the French army in order to find an asylum in Spain’s American colonies as the Portuguese Braganzas had done in November 1807. Long after King Ferdinand VII was taken captive by Napoleon, a number of Spanish Americans invited the imprisoned monarch to come to their lands to reign his empire in safety. Both the English and the Spanish plans, of course, came to naught, which is likely why scholars have not paid them serious attention. Yet these discussions about the possible removal of the seat of government to America tell us much about popular understandings of the nature of imperial states during this period. They complicate traditional understandings about the primacy of imperial centers, understandings that have been nursed by teleological historical narratives that trace the emergence of the independent nation-state and have limited our abilities to acknowledge the existence of evidence that does not fit within those narratives. And although recent scholarship has argued that both the British and Spanish early modern imperial states were both highly decentralized, this scholarship has yet to account for the seemingly contradictory simultaneous persistence of imperial centers. This essay considers these issues by analyzing the discourse about moving the capital of the empire in the British and Spanish worlds during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Bartosik-Vélez, Elise, "Recovered Possibilities: Moving the Seats of Empire from England and Spain to America" (2018). Dickinson College Faculty Publications. Paper 1041.