The Portuguese in Brazil Part 5 (1822-1889)

Lynne Booker


The Portuguese in Brazil: part 5 IMPERIAL BRAZIL AND THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF BRAGANÇA  (1822 - 1889) - My last article on The Portuguese in Brazil, ended in 1822 with the Portuguese royal family involved in storylines that could not be bettered by any Brazilian telenovela.


D João VI had been forced back to Portugal with his queen Dona Carlota; she was plotting against him in favour of their younger son, D Miguel; and D Pedro, heir to the Portuguese and Brazilian thrones, had been left in Brazil to face a revolt among Portuguese troops in Rio who wanted to reduce him to a figurehead of government. D Pedro made some epic journeys on horseback in the provinces around Rio de Janeiro to gain support for his administration and near São Paulo he was met by a messenger with the news that 7,000 of Wellington´s Portuguese veterans were reputed en route from Portugal, sent by a Lisbon government determined to return Brazil to colonial status, to become again the milch cow which kept the Portuguese economy afloat. On 7 September 1822, D Pedro tore the Portuguese insignia from his uniform and threw it to the ground. He drew his sword and in ´the cry of Ipiranga´shouted: `Independence or death!. We have separated from Portugal´. How could D Pedro keep control of Brazil and also prosecute his claim to the Portuguese throne over 3,000 miles away, especially since his mother was determined that her younger son D Miguel should succeed to the Crown of Portugal? A major subsidiary problem was that after the Napoleonic Wars, new liberal and republican ideas were catching on. People had had enough of absolute monarchs and in South America as well as in Europe, monarchs had to either share power or fight. 


A monarchy among republics

Brazil was different from the former colonies of Spanish America, in that it alone maintained its territorial unity whereas Spanish America broke up into a dozen different nations. The main reason for Brazil’s continued territorial unity was the unifying presence of the royal family since 1808. D João VI had opened up Brazil’s ports to international trade and the king’s very presence created incentives for economic expansion and wealth. 


Matters were different in the less wealthy North East, an area that traditionally had better links with Lisbon than it had with the richer and more developed South, and wanted to keep it that way. Secondly, unique in Latin America, Brazil became a monarchy among republics, and called itself The Empire of Brazil. Brazil as a monarchy received its first constitution from Emperor D Pedro I in 1824. D Pedro was not an absolutist and his constitution could be defined as a constitutional monarchy. 


Perfidious Albion (again!) 

Brazil’s independence was quickly recognised. Britain was eager to maintain control of its third largest market and through economic force, encouraged its trading partners in Europe and the USA to acknowledge Brazil´s new status. In August 1825 Brazil agreed to compensate Portugal to the tune of £2,000,000 for the loss of its old colony, and immediately borrowed this money in London. The treaty with Portugal in which Brazil’s independence was recognised stipulated that Brazil would not unite with any of the other Portuguese colonies, particularly those in West Africa which were the suppliers of slaves to Brazil’s enormous estates. At this time the Empire of Brazil depended on England for credits and loans and its foreign debt, mainly with English bankers, was growing because the value of its exports were not sufficient to pay for imports and the servicing of the debt. Between 1840-1880 Britain’s successful heavy industries produced such wealth for the owners that they could invest in developing industrial infrastructures overseas. Brazil was ripe for development and, for example, many railways were built by British contractors with British financial resources, material and equipment. 


Battles over the River Plate

Spaniards and Portuguese had clashed since the final decades of the 17th century over the Banda Oriental (the area now called Uruguay north of the River Plate). D João´s forces defeated Artigas (the main figure in the struggle for Uruguayan independence) in 1816 and in 1821 the new kingdom of Brazil occupied the area, called it the Cisplatine Province and incorporated it into Brazil. Brazil quickly lost it again when war broke out between Brazil and Argentina in December 1825 and the Brazilians were defeated in 1827 at Ituzaingó . The war was an economic catastrophe for both nations and caused great unrest within Brazil partly because conscription was very unpopular and partly because Brazil´s German and Irish mercenaries began to riot around Rio de Janeiro. An important territory had been lost, bank reserves had been spent, and the new Empire began to suffer from inchação (literally ´swelling´but really meaning ´inflation´). The Brazilians resented the fact that D João had taken the new country’s gold reserves back to Portugal, and in the ensuing conflict between Portuguese and Brazilians, even the army began to distance itself from Emperor D Pedro I, who was perceived as Portuguese. 


The Regency

The fall of Charles X of France in 1830 and the beginning of the ´liberal´July Monarchy had repercussions throughout Europe and the world, even Brazil, and on 7 April 1831 D Pedro I was forced to abdicate as Emperor in favour of his son. The Brazilians could look forward to crowning an Emperor who was born in their own country. D Pedro II was only 5 years old, and there was a period of regency government until 1840 when D Pedro II achieved the age of majority on his 14th birthday. During the Regency, the young Empire of Brazil experienced the greatest unrest in its political history, since its people did not have the political maturity to appreciate what was in the country´s best interests. 


D Pedro II

The new republics of former Spanish America were forming and reforming, and within the Empire of Brazil there was an intense period of provincial rebellion. In the circumstances, it was a major achievement for the Brazilian Empire to remain intact. Government policy was to centralise power and to strengthen the army and the National Guard was created from the old militias to provide some stability . The 1848 revolution in Pernambuco (called the Praieira) turned out to be the last of these provincial difficulties. The new ´parliamentary´ style of government within a constitutional monarchy helped to establish peace: Liberals and Conservatives did not have to resort to arms to resolve their differences because there was always the chance there would be new elections. This system of government lasted for 50 years, and must be regarded as successful. Boris Fausto in his book, ´A Concise History of Brazil´shows that the Empire´s unity depended upon only one thing - slavery. "The interest in maintaining slavery led the most important provinces to discard the possibility of leaving the Empire because that would have weakened them enormously in the face of international anti-slavery movements headed by Britain." Despite its leadership of the anti-slavery movement, Britain was in favour of keeping together its greatest Latin American market. 


Black gold

There was no viable alternative to slave labour to maintain Brazil´s economy. Without the slaves, Brazil just could not deliver the goods. Pressure was being brought to bear by the British who exacted a treaty whereby the slave trade would be made illegal as from March 1830. A law of 7 November 1831 was brought in to meet the obligations of the 1830 treaty - the law would bring severe penalties to slave traffickers and any slave entering Brazil after that date would be legally free. The law was brought in during an ebb in the trade and was introduced ´para inglês ver´(for the English to see) and from that time on the expression has been used (in Portugal as well as Brazil) to indicate something that is done only for the sake of appearance. In 1846 the British parliament passed a bill authorising the Royal Navy to deal with slave ships as if they were pirate ships. Even in Britain voices were raised against the role the country was taking as the ´world´s moral guardian´. 

The Royal Navy not only apprehended suspected slave ships on the high seas, but also entered Brazilian waters and even threatened to blockade Brazil´s main ports for the purpose of preventing the traffic in slaves. Brazil could not afford to offend its ´protector´ for fear of precipitating a threatened Argentine invasion. A second law passed in Brazil in September 1850 was more successful in stemming the inflow of slaves: it was recorded that 54,000 slaves entered Brazil in 1849, and only 3,300 in 1851. According to the records, no more slaves entered Brazil from Africa from that time. Not true of course, because illegal slave running continued until well into the twentieth century. 


An awful lot of coffee

In 300 years of European exploitation, entrepreneurs had created booms in sugar, gold and diamonds and other booms were to follow. The European fashion for drinking coffee in coffee houses created a demand which Brazil could soon readily supply. Coffee seeds were first sown in Pará in 1727 where the vast Paraíba River valley had all the conditions for coffee’s first great expansion to commercial proportions. Planters and commissioners were usually Brazilians; export, controlled by large American and British concerns, was to the USA, Germany and Scandinavia but Britain with its tea drinking habits was never a major customer. Between 1821 and 1830, coffee accounted for 18% of the total revenue from Brazil’s exports. Between 1881 and 1890, it was up to 61%. The sugar, gold and diamond booms could not have taken place without slave labour, and the same was true of the coffee boom. Around São Paulo, the production of coffee gave rise to a new class - the coffee bourgeoisie. These plantation owners had accumulated enough capital to join in the development of railways and the construction of small towns with diverse economies. 


Industry and Immigrants

The abolition of the slave trade led Brazil’s captains of industry and agriculture to look for other sources of labour, and their racism determined that such labour should be ´white´. Their aim was to make Brazil as European as possible. The majority of immigrants from Europe arrived after the fall of the Empire in 1889 but as early as 1847 attempts had been made to attract immigrants from Portugal, Italy and Germany. In 1886 the Sociedade Promotora de Imigração was formed with the objective of attracting immigrants to work on the coffee plantations. During the last years of the Empire, immigration to São Paulo rose from 6,500 in 1885 to 92,000 in 1888 and 90% of these immigrants were Italians. 


The joke war that turned out not to be funny

In the second decade of the 19th century inhabitants of the old province of Paraguay refused to submit to rule by the Buenos Aires bourgeoisie and they in turn stopped Paraguayan commerce with the rest of the world. In 1862 in order to re-establish trade with the outside world and to assert Paraguay´s position in the world, President Solano López attacked a Brazilian ship and asked for permission to send Paraguayan troops through Argentine territory to attack Brazilian troops in Rio Grande do Sul and Uruguay. The expected permission was not granted and in March 1865 Paraguay declared war on Argentina. On 1 May that year Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay signed a Triple Alliance and Argentine President Mitre took command of the allied forces. At first the Allies thought that because Paraguay was so puny, the war would be a bit of a lark. It was not. Paraguay´s fanatical President Solano López was well prepared. He had an army of 64,000 and a reserve of 28,000, and at the beginning of the war, the Triple Alliance disposed a combined force of 25,000 soldiers. In territory where armies relied on river transport, Brazil´s naval superiority was crucial, but despite a potentially crushing numerical superiority, the Allies were not able to finish this war for nearly 5 years. In its attempt to keep access to the sea via the River Plate and to prevent loss of territory, Paraguay failed catastrophically. The war against the Triple Alliance proved devastating for Paraguay; it lost half of its population of 450,000, and most of the survivors were old people, women and children; it lost territory to Brazil and Argentina; and modernisation of the political and industrial processes stopped dead. As for Brazil, at the end of the war in 1864, Brazil was even deeper in debt to Britain. Even more dangerous was the fact that the army had emerged as an institution with a set of objectives of its own: they had put their lives on the line whilst the elite civilians had gotten rich by dealing in supplies to the troops. They did not forget their grievances.


The fall of the monarchy 

These grievances held by the army together with a republican movement which was daily growing in strength spelled trouble for the Emperor. There was also friction between the state and the church and the initiatives aimed at abolishing slavery alienated, in particular, the coffee planters in the Paraíba Valley. (Slavery was finally abolished on 13 May 1888.) The Bragança monarchy was tottering, and required only a major crisis to bring it down. And, in an episode resembling the 1974 ´Carnation Revolution´, Deodoro da Fonseca, the provincial president of Rio Grande do Sul (who was urged to lead a movement against the monarchy) marched his troops to the Ministry of War where monarchist leaders were meeting. The Emperor was extremely popular, and the coup was both peaceful and secret from most Brazilians. Two days later, the monarchy had fallen and the royal family was on its way into exile in France. Brazil had progressed to the status of republic by expelling the Bragança dynasty, and 21 years later, Portugal would follow suit.