Independence to Republic in Brazil

Independence to Republic in Brazil
Independence to Republic in Brazil

Unlike many Spanish-American countries that fought for independence and founded republics thereafter, the Portuguese colony of Brazil gained its independence virtually without bloodshed and remained under the same royal family that had once ruled the territory from afar. Hence Brazilian independence entailed a large degree of continuity.

The abolition of the monarchy later in the 19th century represented Brazil’s break with its European past, though the economic and cultural evolutions of the first few decades of independence prepared the way for political change by profoundly altering Brazilian attitudes and society.

Napoleon I’s armies disrupted both Iberian monarchies; the Portuguese prince, unlike his Spanish counterpart, decided to take advantage of his country’s overseas holdings and moved the royal family to Brazil in 1807.

At Rio de Janeiro, the new capital of the Portuguese empire from 1808, João became king in his own right in 1814, following the death of the mentally unstable queen for whom he had served as regent. When he became king, João proclaimed Brazil a kingdom, equal in status to Portugal.

This new standing permitted freer trade and led to the creation of various institutions in Rio de Janeiro, including a naval academy, a medical school, and Brazil’s first newspaper. Further, the new king established a full royal court in Rio, complete with 15,000 courtiers, bureaucrats, and aristocratic families who had also accepted exile from Portugal.

The Portuguese elites came to Brazil with strong senses of entitlement and an appreciation for French culture, neither of which had been damaged by the Napoleonic conquest of their country. Brazil enjoyed a comparatively smooth transformation from exploited colony to sovereign country with its own monarch in residence.

Not all Brazilians appreciated the Portuguese monarchy’s presence in Rio. Even though João himself became quite popular, his courtiers did not. In the years prior to João’s 1821 return to Portugal, Brazilians began to manifest a growing nationalism that triggered revolts, including that of 1817 in Recife.

French practices and aesthetics permeated Brazilian elite culture, but otherwise growing numbers of Brazilians became convinced that they could do without the ongoing presence of Europeans in their country.

After returning to Europe to defend his throne from Portuguese republicans, João left his son Pedro in Brazil to act as prince regent. Pedro followed his father’s advice and soon came to identify more with Brazil than with Portugal.

He refused the demand of the Portuguese Cortes that he return and acquiesce to Brazil’s demotion back to the status of colony. Pedro’s wife, Leopoldina, along with a group of Brazilian Creoles including José Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva, encouraged their prince to lead an independence movement.

Pedro pronounced his famous Grito de Ipiranga on September 7, 1822, as he rode along the Ipiranga River. He removed the Portuguese colors from his uniform and avowed, “The hour is now! Independence or death!” Despite some opposition from army garrisons and a weak attack from a Portuguese fleet, Brazil achieved its independence by 1824 with almost no blood being shed.

The first constitutional assembly of 1823 attempted to create a constitutional monarchy, with Pedro as merely a figurehead. However, Pedro dissolved that assembly and summoned a smaller group that wrote a far more conservative constitution that satisfied his tastes.

Republicans in Pernambuco expressed their opposition to the arrangement; resentment of Pedro’s Portuguese advisers and his arrogance displeased many Brazilians who otherwise accepted having an emperor.

The monarchy survived the early years of uncertainty. Brazil experienced a period of relative stability, if not unity, following independence. The country established close commercial and financial relations with Britain, though the advantage was entirely on the side of the European power. Brazil accrued an enormous trade deficit with Britain that translated into monetary problems at home.

The polarization between conservatives and liberals typical of South America also became characteristic of Brazilian politics, though alignments differed somewhat: Conservatives represented the urban-based civil service and merchants, whereas liberals associated themselves with wealthy landowners of the north and south. The liberal landowners gained control of the general assembly but encountered resistance to their modernizing agenda from the rather autocratic Pedro.

Inflation and Collapse

The emperor’s power declined after the failed war against Argentina for control over Banda Oriental, which had been annexed to Brazil in 1820 as Cisplatine Province but would soon become known as Uruguay.

The Brazilian government responded to the financial crisis brought about by the external trade deficit and the war by printing paper currency unsupported by gold reserves. The ensuing inflation and collapse in the value of Brazilian money angered urban salary earners and merchants, who joined forces with the liberals to oppose the policies of Pedro I’s government.

The emperor mobilized military forces to suppress protestors, but he concluded that it was best to depart the scene. He abdicated in favor of his five-year-old son, the future Pedro II.

During the regency, liberals passed an assortment of constitutional reforms that reigned in the executive and weakened the central government relative to the states. Federalism released energies previously kept in check by the central government, however, and revolts spread through the north/Amazonia region and the southern cattle ranching areas after 1835.

In response, the assembly reversed decentralization; liberals cooperated with conservatives, at least temporarily, to defend Brazilian unity against such centripetal forces.

Pedro II came to the throne early, at age 15, and provided a focus of loyalty for the Brazilian people. The monarchy continued to provide Brazil with political, social, and cultural stability in its independence. He would be the last emperor of Brazil and did not oppress his people or adhere to retrograde ideas.

Instead, he encouraged Brazilians to pursue education and science. He also allowed for the formation of the organized and articulate opposition movement that sought to eliminate the monarchy entirely.

By the later 1860s and especially by the 1870s, however, the combined pressures of economic modernization, the effects of the decision to abolish slavery, social change, and the Paraguayan War encouraged Brazilians to support liberal reformers and intensified demands for sweeping change.

Liberals began to demand the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of a republic, in addition to other constitutional changes. When a coup led to the abolition of the monarchy and the institution of a republic, most Brazilians celebrated.

Nevertheless, decades would pass before ordinary citizens gained the means to participate actively in the political system and before Brazilians began to acknowledge the various, non-European influences that made their culture unique.

The long struggle of the Paraguayan War undermined the military’s support for the monarchy while alienating liberals. Army officers, especially the relatively young, developed a sense of common identity and purpose during the war.

Since these officers typically came from families not part of the ruling elite or from urban centers of political influence, they had no reason to support the government run by a small portion of Brazilian society.

Further, they embraced the positivistic ideals of efficiency and professionalism in government and civil service; they did not believe that the Brazilian government of Pedro II possessed these attributes.

Within a decade, general military backing for a republic became marked, especially after officers united to defend a colleague who had published a critique of the minister of war and ran the risk of imprisonment.

Liberal Campaign

Meanwhile, liberals intensified their campaign against the emperor’s policies. During the Paraguayan War, the emperor had given control of the government to the conservatives.

The army commander, the duke of Caxias, had found the previous liberal cabinet unwilling to accept his demands; he convinced the king to replace it with men who would prove more cooperative. Now out of government, the liberals added a republic to their list of demands, along with increased federalism and a parliament.

The last major base of support for the monarchy began to crumble in the 1870s as the Catholic battle against Freemasonry continued. Bishops pronounced Catholicism to be antithetical to Freemasonry after priests attended Masonic ceremonies in 1871. Since several imperial ministers were Freemasons, the government castigated the bishops for overreaching and imprisoned those who would not apologize.

The clergy banded together in support of the Brazilian prelates and represented themselves as resisting the forces of secularism. Pedro II and his government lost face when they felt compelled to acknowledge the power of the church and released the imprisoned bishops without further punishment in 1875.

Banking collapses after the 1873 financial crisis in Europe, to which Brazil had become closely tied as it accrued external debt during the Paraguayan War, further eroded confidence in the emperor’s government.

The final phase in the disintegration of the Brazilian monarchy occurred in the late 1880s. Economic change, which favored coffee over the traditional cash crops of cotton and sugar, meant that wealth increasingly moved into the region around Rio de Janeiro (central-southern Brazil) and dwindled in the northeast.

Rubber plantations began to spread through the Amazon and turned towns such as Manaus into rich cities seemingly overnight. The rubber boom lasted from the 1870s until World War I, changing the distribution of Brazil’s population and wealth in the process. Newly wealthy groups began to demand political influence commensurate with their economic status.

Abolition of Slavery

Meanwhile, the growing urban elite won ever greater support for the abolition of slavery. The Brazilian emperor and his daughter, Isabel, had both supported the various incarnations of lawyer Joaquim Mabuco’s abolition campaign ever since he established the Humanitarian Society for Abolition in 1869. The government enacted a series of laws that limited the extent of slavery, before abolishing it completely.

In 1871 the Law of the Free Womb emancipated children born to slaves; however, the Rio Branco Law required those freeborn children to work unpaid for their mothers’s masters until they turned 21. In 1879 Mabuco resumed his campaign to end slavery as a member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies.

A Chamber dominated by representatives from cottonand sugar-growing areas rejected both his 1879 and his 1880 bill, either of which would have abolished slavery within 10 years. In 1880 Mabuco formed the Brazilian Antislavery Society.

Throughout the early 1880s Mabuco, along with black journalist José do Patrocinio and other allies, continued to publicize the antislavery agenda. Meanwhile, Jose Duarte Ramalho Ortigão, leader of the Bahian Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, led opposition to abolition on behalf of large plantation owners.

In 1885 legislation emancipated slaves with at least 65 years of age. Despite important steps toward abolition and the formation of strong organizations working for the cause, Princess Isabel might not have signed the Golden Law (Lei Aurea) if not for broader economic and social change.

Immigrants from Iberia and southern Europe began to arrive in Brazil in large numbers; approximately 3.5 million such people added themselves to the existing population between 1888 and 1928. The number of immigrants who arrived in Brazil over these decades surpassed the number of slaves brought to Brazil over the course of several centuries.

The new availability of large amounts of inexpensive labor, paired with technological advances, made it economically feasible to operate plantations without slavery. Abolition encouraged further immigration and permanently altered both the economic and the social structure of Brazil.

While her father was abroad in Europe, Isabel assented to the Golden Law on May 13, 1888. The law provided for the complete and unconditional abolition of slavery in Brazil.

Slavery came to an end with virtually no bloodshed, though its abolition alienated large landowners who had previously supported the monarchy. They resented the absence of any provision for indemnities to slave owners.

Thus by 1888 the imperial government had lost the support of the military, liberals, the church, and conservative landowners. Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca led the military coup that brought an end to the Brazilian Empire in November 1889.

He met almost no resistance, though relatively few ordinary Brazilians participated in the coup or in the subsequent creation of a republic. Meanwhile, Pedro and the royal family went into exile; Pedro died in Paris in 1891.

Deodoro, who became the first president, resigned. A period of intense political contestation preceded the election of Prudente de Morais, the first of many presidents from the state of São Paulo.

The first Brazilian republic enjoyed booms in coffee and rubber exports, effected boundary settlements with its neighbors, and started to recognize the particular racial and cultural mixture that characterized Brazilian society.