This chapter is about the ways in which the Spanish and Portuguese empires in the Atlantic world made the passage through an age of global confrontation between rival political systems, culminating in the dissolution of the empires and the redefinition of sovereignty in the 1820s. It makes several entwined arguments. First, the Iberian empires were part of an interlocking system of imperial competitions from which there was little to immunize themselves. Instead, faced with the compound pressures of a global system, they adapted. They did so with hitherto under-acknowledged effectiveness, and with unintended effects for the internal make-up of each empire. Still, modifications could not withstand the escalation of global competition to a crisis when it ravaged the core of the system, which leads to this chapter’s second claim: the Napoleonic wars — when seen from a more global perspective — hammered the occupied or stricken empires, from the Ottomans to the Iberians. For the Iberian Atlantic, the internal structures of sovereignty collapsed in the metropoles and forced colonies to amalgamate older practices with newer ones to shore up legitimacy as politics grew increasingly polarized and social systems imploded.
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