History of Brazil

The Empire, 1822-89

Emperor Pedro I, 1822-31

Dom Pedro meant to rule frugally and started by cutting his own salary, centralizing scattered government offices, and selling off most of the royal horses and mules. He issued decrees that eliminated the royal salt tax to spur output of hides and dried beef, forbade arbitrary seizure of private property, required a judge's warrant for arrests of freemen, and banned secret trials, torture, and other indignities. He also sent elected deputies to the Côrtes in Portugal. However, slaves continued to be bought and sold and disciplined with force, despite his assertion that their blood was the same color as his. In September 1821, the Côrtes, with only a portion of the Brazilian delegates present, voted to abolish the Kingdom of Brazil and the royal agencies in Rio de Janeiro and to make all the provinces subordinate directly to Lisbon. Portugal sent troops to Brazil and placed all Brazilian units under Portuguese command. In January 1822, tension between Portuguese troops and the Luso-Brazilians (Brazilians born in Portugal) turned violent when Pedro accepted petitions from Brazilian towns begging him to refuse the Côrtes's order to return to Lisbon. Responding to their pressure and to the argument that his departure and the dismantling of the central government would trigger separatist movements, he vowed to stay. The Portuguese "lead feet," as the Brazilians called the troops, rioted before concentrating their forces on Cerro Castello, which was soon surrounded by thousands of armed Brazilians. Dom Pedro "dismissed" the Portuguese commanding general and ordered him to remove his soldiers across the bay to Niteroi, where they awaited transport to Portugal. Pedro formed a new government headed by José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva of São Paulo. This former royal official and professor of science at Coimbra was crucial to the subsequent direction of events and is regarded as one of the formative figures of Brazilian nationalism, indeed, as the patriarch of independence.

The atmosphere was so charged that Dom Pedro sought assurances of asylum on a British ship in case he lost the looming confrontation; he also sent his family to safety out of the city. In the following days, the Portuguese commander delayed embarcation, hoping that expected reinforcements would arrive. However, the reinforcements that arrived off Rio de Janeiro on March 5, 1822, were not allowed to land. Instead, they were given supplies for the voyage back to Portugal. This round had been won without bloodshed.

Blood had been shed in Recife in the Province of Pernambuco, when the Portuguese garrison there had been forced to depart in November 1821. In mid-February 1822, Bahians revolted against the Portuguese forces there but were driven into the countryside, where they began guerrilla operations, signaling that the struggle in the north would not be without loss of life and property. To secure Minas Gerais and São Paulo, where there were no Portuguese troops but where there were doubts about independence, Dom Pedro engaged in some royal populism.

Towns in Minas Gerais had expressed their loyalty at the time of Pedro's vow to remain, save for the junta in Ouro Prêto, the provincial capital. Pedro realized that unless Minas Gerais were solidly with him, he would be unable to broaden his authority to other provinces. With only a few companions and no ceremony or pomp, Pedro plunged into Minas Gerais on horseback in late March 1822, receiving enthusiastic welcomes and allegiances everywhere. Back in Rio de Janeiro on May 13, he proclaimed himself the "perpetual defender of Brazil" and shortly thereafter called a Constituent Assembly (Assembléia Constituinte) for the next year. To deepen his base of support, he joined the freemasons, who, led by José Bonifácio Andrada e Silva, were pressing for parliamentary government and independence. More confident, in early August he called on the Brazilian deputies in Lisbon to return, decreed that Portuguese forces in Brazil should be treated as enemies, and issued a manifesto to "friendly nations." The manifeso read like a declaration of independence.

Seeking to duplicate his triumph in Minas Gerais, Pedro rode to São Paulo in August to assure himself of support there and began a disastrous affair with Domitila de Castro that would later weaken his government. Returning from an excursion to Santos, Pedro received messages from his wife and from Andrada e Silva that the Côrtes considered his government traitorous and was dispatching more troops. In a famous scene at Ipiranga on September 7, 1822, he had to choose between returning to Portugal in disgrace or opting for independence. He tore the Portuguese blue and white insignia from his uniform, drew his sword, and swore: "By my blood, by my honor, and by God: I will make Brazil free." Their motto, he said, would be "Independence or Death!"

Pedro's government employed Admiral Thomas Alexander Cochrane, one of Britain's most successful naval commanders in the Napoleonic Wars and recently commander of the Chilean naval forces against Spain. Pedro's government also hired a number of Admiral Cochrane's officers and French General Pierre Labatut, who had fought in Colombia. These men were to lead the fight to drive the Portuguese out of Bahia, Maranhão, and Pará, and to force those areas to replace Lisbon's rule with that of Rio de Janeiro. Money from customs at Rio de Janeiro's port and local donations outfitted the army and the nine-vessel fleet. The use of foreign mercenaries brought needed military skills. The much-feared Cochrane secured Maranhão with a single warship, despite the Portuguese military's attempt to disrupt the economy and society with a scorched-earth campaign and with promises of freedom for the slaves. By mid-1823 the contending forces numbered between 10,000 and 20,000 Portuguese, some of whom were veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, versus 12,000 to 14,000 Brazilians, mostly in militia units from the Northeast.

Some historians have erred in supporting historian Manuel de Oliveira Lima's contention that independence came without bloodshed. In fact, although both sides avoided massive set battles, they did engage in guerrilla tactics, demonstrations, and countermoves. There is little information on casualties, but the fighting provided a female martyr in Mother Joana Angélica, who was bayoneted to death by Portuguese troops invading her convent in Bahia; and an example of female grit in Maria Quitéria de Jesus, who, masquerading as a man, joined the imperial army and achieved distinction in several battles.

Britain and Portugal recognized Brazilian independence by signing a treaty on August 29, 1825. Until then, the Brazilians feared that Portugal would resume its attack. Portuguese retribution, however, came in a financial form. Secret codicils of the treaty with Portugal required that Brazil assume payment of 1.4 million pounds sterling owed to Britain and indemnify Dom João VI and other Portuguese for losses totaling 600,000 pounds sterling. Brazil also renounced future annexation of Portuguese African colonies, and in a side treaty with Britain promised to end the slave trade. Neither of these measures pleased the slave-holding planters.

Organizing the new government quickly brought the differences between the emperor and his leading subjects to the fore. In 1824 Pedro closed the Constituent Assembly that he had convened because he believed that body was endangering liberty. As assembly members, his advisers, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva and Dom Pedro's brothers, had written a draft constitution that would have limited the monarch by making him equal to the legislature and judiciary, similar to the president of the United States. They wanted the emperor to push the draft through without discussion, which Pedro refused to do. Troops surrounded the assembly as he ordered it dissolved. He then produced a constitution modeled on that of Portugal (1822) and France (1814). It specified indirect elections and created the usual three branches of government but also added a fourth, the moderating power, to be held by the emperor. The moderating power would give the emperor authority to name senators and judges and to break deadlocks by summoning and dismissing parliaments and cabinets. He also had treaty-making and treaty-ratifying power. Pedro's constitution was more liberal than the assembly's in its religious toleration and definition of individual and property rights, but less so in its concentration of power in the emperor.

The constitution was more acceptable in the flourishing, coffee-driven Southeastern provinces than in the Northeastern sugar and cotton areas, where low export prices and the high cost of imported slaves were blamed on the coffee-oriented government. In mid-1824, with Pernambuco and Ceará leading, five Northeastern provinces declared independence as the Confederation of the Equator, but by year's end the short-lived separation had been crushed by Admiral Cochrane. With the Northeast pacified, violence now imperiled the South.

In 1825 war flared again over the Cisplatine Province, this time with Buenos Aires determined to annex the East Bank. The empire could little afford the troops, some of whom were recruited in Ireland and Germany, or the sixty warships needed to blockade the Río de la Plata. A loan from London bankers was expended by 1826, and Pedro had to call the General Assembly to finance the war. The blockade raised objections from the United States and Britain, and reverses on land in 1827 made it necessary to negotiate an end to the US$30 million Cisplatine War. The war at least left Uruguay independent instead of an Argentine province. In June 1828, harsh discipline and xenophobia provoked a mutiny of mercenary troops in Rio de Janeiro; the Irish were shipped home and the Germans sent to the South. The army was reduced to 15,000 members, and the antislavery Pedro, now without military muscle, faced a Parliament controlled by slaveowners and their allies.

As coffee exports rose steadily, so did the numbers of imported slaves; in Rio de Janeiro alone they soared from 26,254 in 1825 to 43,555 in 1828. In 1822 about 30 percent, or 1 million, of Brazil's population were African-born or -descended slaves. Slavery was so pervasive that beggars had slaves, and naval volunteers took theirs aboard ship.

Pedro had written that slavery was a "cancer that is gnawing away at Brazil" and that no one had the right to enslave another. He wanted to abolish slavery, but his own liberal constitution gave the law-making authority to the slavocrat-controlled Parliament. In Brazil liberal principles and political formulas were given special meaning. The language of social contract, popular sovereignty, supremacy of law, universal rights, division of powers, and representative government was stripped of its revolutionary content and applied only to a select, privileged minority.

After 1826 the slavocrat agenda was to control the court system; to provide harsh punishments for slave rebellion but mild ones for white revolt; to reduce the armed forces, cleansing them of foreigners unsympathetic to slavery; to keep tariffs low and eliminate the Bank of Brazil in order to deny the central government the ability to stimulate a rival, finance-based industrial capitalism; and to shape immigration policy in such a way as to encourage servile labor instead of independent farmers or craftsmen. Led by Bernardo Pereira de Vasconcelos of Minas Gerais in the assembly, slavocrats argued that slavery was not demoralizing, that foreign capital and technology would not help Brazil, and that railroads would only rust. Others, such as Nicolau de Campos Vergueiro of São Paulo, argued in favor of replacing slavery with free European immigrants. In the end, the Parliament established a contract system that was little better than slavery. There would be no liberal empire. Laws and decrees unacceptable to the slavocrats simply would not take effect, such as the order in 1829 forbidding slave ships to sail for Africa. These items of the slavocrat agenda were the roots of the regional rebellions of the nineteenth century.

After Dom João's death in 1826, despite Pedro's renunciation of his right to the Portuguese throne in favor of his daughter, Brazilian nativist radicals falsely accused the emperor of plotting to overthrow the constitution and to proclaim himself the ruler of a reunited Brazil and Portugal. They raised tensions by provoking street violence against the Portuguese of Rio de Janeiro and agitated for a federalist monarchy that would give the provinces self-government and administrative autonomy. Brazil's fate was in the hands of a few people concentrated in the capital who spread false stories and undermined discipline in the army and police. It would not be the last time that events in Rio de Janeiro would shape the future. When Pedro dismissed his cabinet in April 1831, street and military demonstrators demanded its reinstatement in violation of his constitutional prerogatives. He refused, saying: "I will do anything for the people but nothing [forced] by the people." With military units assembled on the Campo Santana, an assembly ground in Rio de Janeiro, and people in the streets shouting "death to the tyrant," he backed down. Failing to form a new cabinet, he abdicated in favor of his five-year-old son Pedro II, boarded a British warship, and left Brazil as he had arrived, under the Union Jack.

The Regency Era, 1831-40

The three regents that ruled in the young emperor's name from 1831 to 1840 witnessed a period of turmoil as local factions struggled to gain control of their provinces and to keep the masses in line. Out of desperation to weaken the radical appeals for federalism, republicanism, and hostility toward the Portuguese, and to protect against contrary calls for Pedro I's restoration, the regency in Rio de Janeiro gave considerable power to the provinces in 1834. Brazil took on the appearance of a federation of local pátrias (autonomous centers of regional power) with loose allegiance to the Rio de Janeiro government, whose function was to defend them from external attack and to maintain order and balance among them. The government's ability to carry out that function was impaired, however, by the low budgets allowed the army and navy, and by the creation of a National Guard, whose officers were local notables determined to protect their private and regional interests. The rebellions, riots, and popular movements that marked the next years did not spring as much from economic misery as from attempts to share in the prosperity stemming from North Atlantic demand for Brazil's exports.

Many of the disturbances were so fleeting they were all but forgotten. For example, in Rio de Janeiro alone there were five uprisings in 1831 and 1832. Another eight of the more famous revolts in the 1834-49 period included the participation of lower-class people, Indians, free and runaway blacks, and slaves, which accounts for their often fierce suppression. Republican objectives were apparent in some of these revolts, such as the War of the Farrapos (ragamuffins), also known as the Farroupilha Rebellion (1835-45), in Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Others, such as the Cabanagem in Pará in 1835-37, the Sabinada in Salvador in 1837-38, the Balaiada Rebellion in Maranhao in 1838-41, and the ones in Minas Gerais and São Paulo in 1842, were propelled simultaneously by antiregency and promonarchial sentiments. Such unrest dispels the notion that the history of state formation in Brazil was peaceful. Instead, it shows the confrontation between the national government and the splintering pátrias , which would continue in varying degrees for the next century.

Pedro I's death from tuberculosis in 1834 had sapped the restorationist impulse and removed the glue that held uneasy political allies together. With the regency attempting to suppress simultaneous revolts in the South and North, it could not easily reassert its supremacy over the remaining provinces. Brazil could well have split apart in those years. It did not for three reasons. First, the military was reorganized as an instrument of national unity under the leadership of Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, who was ennobled as the Duke of Caxias (Duque de Caxias) and who would later be proclaimed Patron of the Brazilian Army. Second, the specter of slave revolt and social disintegration had become all too real. And third, the "vision of Brazil as a union of autonomous pátrias ," in Roderick J. Barman's phrase, was replaced by the vision of Brazil as a nation-state. Rather than risk their fortunes and lives, the elites, longing for a focus of loyalty, identity, and authority, rallied around the boy-emperor, who ascended the throne on July 18, 1841, at age fifteen instead of the constitutionally specified age of eighteen. Thus, the second empire was born in the hope that it would be an instrument of national unity, peace, and prosperity.

The Second Empire, 1840-89

In the 1840s, the Brazilian nation-state coalesced as authorities suppressed revolts and rewrote Brazilian law. These laws, however, did not bode well for democracy because they shaped an electoral system based on government-controlled fraud. In 1842, on the advice of conservative courtiers, Pedro II used his constitutional moderating power to dismiss the newly elected liberal Chamber of Deputies and called new elections, which the conservatives won by stuffing the ballot boxes. In so doing, he set a pattern of favoring conservatives over liberals.

The constitution of 1824 had created the usual three governmental powers--executive, legislative, and judicial--and a fourth, the moderating power. The emperor held this power, which gave him the right to name senators, to dismiss the legislature, and to shift control of the government from one party to the other. In theory, he was to act as the political balance wheel. It should be noted that the parties were more groupings of members of Parliament than ideologically based movements dependent on distinct electorates. Historian Richard Graham observed that "No particular political philosophy distinguished one group from another." Then, as now, the political system had an artificial aspect to it; it did not relate openly to the real power structure of the country--the "lords of the land" (senhores da terra ) who ran local affairs.

A good example of how the real power holders manipulated the system to protect their narrow interests to the detriment of the national interest was the Land Law of 1850, which set the pattern for modern landholding. The Land Law ended the colonial practice of obtaining land through squatting or royal grants and limited acquisition to purchase, thereby restricting the number of people who could become owners. By creating obstacles to landownership, the law's framers hoped to force free labor to work for existing landlords. However, proprietors sabotaged the law by not surveying their lands and not resolving their conflicting claims in order to keep titles cloudy and hence in their hands. One result of the uncertain titles was that slaves were used as collateral.

Also in 1850, British pressure finally forced the Brazilian government to outlaw the African slave trade. London, tiring of Brazilian subterfuge, authorized its navy to seize slave ships in Brazilian waters, even in ports. Rather than risk open war with Britain, paralyzation of commerce, widespread slave unrest, and destabilization of the empire, the government outlawed the African slave trade. It deported a number of Portuguese slavers and instructed the provincial presidents, police, judges, and military to crack down. Over the next five years, even clandestine landings stopped, and despite the tempting rise of slave prices in the coffee districts of Rio de Janeiro Province, the trans-Atlantic trade ended. Although the British claimed credit, it should be noted that for the first time a Brazilian government had the power to enforce a law along the length of the coast. Also, internal support for the trade had weakened. Most slave importers were Portuguese, who had been selling the ever more expensive Africans to landowners on credit at climbing interest rates, in some cases forcing the latter into insolvency and loss of property. Xenophobia and the debts of the landed classes combined to support the government action.

Ending the slave trade had a number of consequences. First, because labor needs increased in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo as the world demand for coffee rose, Northeastern planters sold their surplus slaves to Southern growers. In addition, Parliament passed laws encouraging European immigration, as well as the Land Law of 1850. Second, ending the slave trade freed capital that could then be used for investment in transport and industrial enterprises. Third, it ensured that Britain did not interfere in Brazil's military intervention to end the rule in Buenos Aires of Juan Manuel de Rosas (president of Argentina, 1829-33, 1835-52).

Coffee dominated exports in the last half of the nineteenth century, going from 50 percent of exports in 1841-50 to 59.5 percent in 1871-80. But sugar exports also increased, and cotton, tobacco, cocoa, rubber, and maté were important. The vast cattle herds that grazed the Northeastern sertão , the plains (cerrado ) of Minas Gerais, and the pampas of Rio Grande do Sul foreshadowed Brazil's status in 1990 as the world's second largest meat exporter. Meat-salting plants (saladeros ) in Rio Grande do Sul shipped sun-dried beef to the expanding coffee-growing region to feed its slaves and freed tenant farmers (colonos ). In addition to beef, Brazilians ate protein-rich beans, rice, and corn, much of which came from Minas Gerais or the immigrant colonies of Rio Grande do Sul. Interregional trade was budding, but for the most part local self-sufficiency was the norm. Indeed, more people produced food for the domestic market than labored on export crops.

Expanding coffee production in the 1850s and 1860s attracted British investment in railroads to speed transport of the beans to the coast. The Santos-São Paulo Railroad (1868) was the first major breach of the coastal escarpment, which had slowed development of the Southern plateau. Similarly, in the Northeast railroads began to cut into the interior from the coast. But generally the pattern was to connect a port with its export-oriented hinterland, creating a series of enclaves that were connected with each other by sea. Well into the twentieth century, Brazil lacked railroads and highways linking its major regions, urban areas, and economic zones. The country was laced together by intricate networks of mule trails that moved goods and people throughout the vast interior. Viewed as archaic by modern observers, the mule train trails nonetheless were important in Brazil's formation, tying the various regions together and spreading a common language and culture.

The empire had lost the East Bank of the Río de la Plata with the founding of Uruguay in 1828, but it continued to meddle in that republic's affairs. Brazil's most important businessman, Irineu Evangelista de Sousa, the Visconde de Mauá, had such heavy financial interests there that his company was effectively the Uruguayan government's bank. Other Brazilians owned about 400 large estates (estancias ) that took up nearly a third of the country's territory. They objected to the taxes the Uruguayans imposed when they drove their cattle back and forth to Rio Grande do Sul, and they took sides in the constant fighting between Uruguay's Colorado and Blanco political factions, which later became the Colorado Party and the National Party (Blancos). Some of Rio Grande do Sul's gauchos did not accept Uruguayan independence in 1828 and continually sought intervention.

In the mid-1860s, the imperial government conspired with Buenos Aires authorities to replace the Blanco regime in Montevideo with a Colorado one. The Blancos appealed to Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López (president, 1862-70), who harbored his own fears of the two larger countries and who regarded a threat to Uruguay as a menace to Paraguay. A small landlocked country, Paraguay had the largest army in the region: 64,000 soldiers compared with Brazil's standing army of 18,000. In 1864 Brazil and Argentina agreed to act together should Solano López attempt to save the Blancos. In September 1864, wrongly convinced that he would not be so foolish, the Brazilians sent troops into Uruguay to put the Colorados in power. Each side miscalculated the intentions, capabilities, and will of the other. Paraguay reacted by seizing Brazilian vessels on the Rio Paraguai and by attacking the province of Mato Grosso. Solano López, mistakenly expecting help from anti-Buenos Aires caudillos, sent his forces into Corrientes to get at Rio Grande do Sul and Uruguay and found himself at war with both Argentina and Brazil. In May 1865, those two countries and Colorado-led Uruguay signed an alliance that aimed to transfer contested Paraguayan territory to the larger countries, to open Paraguayan rivers to international trade, and to remove Solano López. By September 1865, the allies had driven the Paraguayans out of Rio Grande do Sul, and they took the war into Paraguay when that country spurned their peace overtures.

Fiercely defending their homeland, the Guaraní-speaking Paraguayans defeated the allies at Curupaití in September 1866. The Argentine president, General Bartolomé Mitre (1861-68), took the bulk of his troops home to quell opposition to his war policy, leaving the Brazilians to soldier on. The famed General Lima e Silva, Marquis and later Duke of Caxias, took command of the allied forces and led them until the fall of Asunción in early 1869. With stubborn determination, the Brazilians pursued Solano López until they cornered and killed him. They then occupied Paraguay until 1878.

The war dragged on for several reasons. First, the Paraguayans were better prepared at the outset and conducted an effective offensive into the territories of their adversaries, immediately handing them defeats. Even later, when pushed back onto their own land, they had the advantages of knowing the ground, of having prepared defenses, and of fielding stubbornly loyal troops. Second, it took the Brazilians considerable time to marshal their forces and considerable effort and cost to keep them supplied. Third, the Argentines, hoping to improve their postwar situation in relation to Brazil, delayed operations partly to force the empire to weaken itself by expending its resources. Fourth, this was the era of "unconditional surrender." It was militarily fashionable to pursue Solano López to the bitter end.

The war had important consequences for Brazil and the Río de la Plata region. It left Brazil and Argentina facing each other over a prostrate Paraguay and a dependent Uruguay, a situation that would soon turn into a tense rivalry that repeatedly assumed warlike postures. Historians debate the number of Paraguayan casualties, some asserting that 50 percent of Paraguayans were killed, others arguing that it was much less, possibly 8 to 9 percent of the prewar population total. Nonetheless, the losses from battle, disease, and starvation were severe and disrupted the development of the republic. In Brazil the war contributed to the growth of manufacturing, to the professionalization of the armed forces and their concentration in Rio Grande do Sul, to the building of roads and the settling of European immigrants in the southern provinces, and to the increased power of the central government. Most important for the future, the war brought the military firmly into the political arena. Military officers were keenly aware that the war had exposed the military's lack of equipment, training, and organization. Officers blamed these shortcomings on civilian officials. In the next decades, reformist officers seeking to modernize the army would criticize the Brazilian political structure and its peculiar culture as obstacles to modernization.

The end of the war coincided with the resurgence of republicanism as disenchanted liberals cast about for a new route to power. The 1867 collapse of the short-lived, French-sponsored Mexican monarchy of Maximilian left Brazil as the hemisphere's only monarchial regime. And because Argentina appeared to prosper in the 1870s and 1880s, it served as a powerful advertisement for republican government. The republican ideology spread in urban areas and in provinces, such as São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul, where the people did not believe they benefited from imperial economic policies. The republican manifesto of 1870 proclaimed that "We are in America and we want to be Americans." Monarchy was, the writers asserted, hostile to the interests of the American states and would be a continuous source of conflict with Brazil's neighbors. The republicans embraced the abolition of slavery to remove the stigma of Brazil's being the only remaining slaveholding country (save for Spanish Cuba) in the hemisphere. It was not so much that they believed that slavery was wrong as that it gave the country an image distasteful to Europeans. Abolition, which would come in 1888, did not imply that liberals wanted deep social reform or desired a democratic society. Indeed, their arguments against slavery were weighted toward efficiency rather than morality. Once in power, the republicans looked to discipline the legally free work force with various systems of social control.

The Brazilian social system functioned through intertwined networks of patronage, familial relationships, and friendships. The state, capitalist economy, and institutions such as the church and the army developed within what historian Emília Viotti da Costa has called, "the web of patronage." Contacts and favor rather than ability determined success in virtually all occupations. Brazilian society was, and still is, one in which a person could not advance without friends and family; hence, the continued importance of kinship networks (parentelas ), godfathers (compadres ) and godmothers (comadres ), and military school classes (turmas ). Such a social system did not lend itself to reform.

The 1870s and 1880s saw a crisis in each of the three pillars of the imperial regime--the church, the military, and the slaveholding system. Together, these crises represented the failure of the regime to adapt without alienating its base. In the 1870s, Rome pressured Brazil's Roman Catholic Church to conform to the conservative reforms of Vatican Council I, which strengthened the power of the pontiff by declaring him infallible in matters of faith and morals. This effort by Rome to unify doctrine and practice worldwide conflicted with royal control of the church in Brazil. The crown had inherited the padroado , or right of ecclesiastical patronage, from its Portuguese predecessor. This right gave the crown control over the church, which imperial authorities treated as an arm of the state. Although some clerics had displayed republican sentiments earlier in the century, a church-state crisis exploded in the mid-1870s over efforts to Europeanize the church.

The importance of the military crisis is clearer because it removed the armed prop of the regime. After the Paraguayan War (1864-70), the monarchy was indifferent to the army, which the civilian elite did not perceive as a threat. The fiscal problems of the 1870s slowed promotions to a crawl, salaries were frozen, and officers complained about having to contribute to a widows' fund from their meager salaries. Moreover, the soldiers in the ranks were considered the dregs of society, discipline was based on the lash, and training seemed pointless. The gulf between the military and the civilian oligarchies broadened. The political parties were as indifferent as the government to demands for military reform, for obligatory military service, for better armament, and for higher pay and status. During the 1870s, the discontent was checked by the National Guard's reduced role; by an unsuccessful but welcomed attempt to improve the recruitment system; and, especially, by the cabinet service of war heroes, including the Duke of Caxias as prime minister (1875-78) and Marshal Manuel Luís Osório, the Marquis of Herval, as minister of war (1878). But the latter died in 1879 and Caxias the year after, leaving leadership to officers less committed to the throne. The junior officer ranks were filled with men from the middle sectors who had entered the army to obtain an education rather than to follow a military career. They were more concerned than their predecessors with social changes that would open opportunities to the lower middle class.

The officer corps was split into three generations. The oldest group had helped suppress the regional revolts of the 1830s and 1840s, had fought in Argentina in 1852, and had survived the Paraguayan War. The numerous mid-level officers were better schooled than their seniors and had been tested in combat in Paraguay. The junior officers had missed the war but had the most education of the three groups and had experienced the empire only when its defects had become clearly apparent. They were the least attached to the old regime and the most frustrated by the lack of advancement in a peacetime army cluttered with veterans of the great war.

Brazilian political tradition permitted officers to hold political office and to serve as cabinet ministers, thereby blurring the civil-military roles. As parliamentary deputies and senators, officers could criticize the government, including their military superiors, with impunity. In the 1880s, officers participated in provincial politics, debated in the press, and spoke in public forums. In 1884 a civilian minister of war attempted to impose order by forbidding officers to write or speak publicly about governmental matters. The subsequent punishments of offending officers led Field Marshal Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca and General José Antônio Correia de Câmara (Visconde de Pelotas) to head protests that eventually forced the minister to resign in February 1887 and the cabinet to fall in March 1888.

Even as the church and military crises were unfolding, the slavery issue shook the support of the landed elite. Members of the Liberal and Conservative Parties came from the same social groups: plantation owners (fazendeiros ) made up half of both, and the rest were bureaucrats and professionals. The ideological differences between the parties were trivial, but factional and personal rivalries within them made it difficult for the parties to adjust to changing social and economic circumstances. As a result, the last decade of the empire was marked by considerable political instability. Between 1880 and 1889, there were ten cabinets (seven in the first five years) and three parliamentary elections, with no Parliament able to complete its term. The repeated use of the moderating power provoked alienation, even among traditional monarchists.

Attitudes toward slavery had shifted gradually. Pedro II favored abolition, and during the Paraguayan War slaves serving in the military were emancipated. In 1871 the Rio Branco cabinet approved a law freeing newborns and requiring masters to care for them until age eight, at which time they would either be turned over to the government for compensation or the owner would have use of their labor until age twenty-one. In 1884 a law freed slaves over sixty years of age. By the 1880s, the geography of slavery had also changed, and the economy was less dependent on it. Because of manumissions (many on condition of remaining on the plantations) and the massive flight of slaves, the overall numbers declined from 1,240,806 in 1884 to 723,419 in 1887, with most slaves having shifted from the sugar plantations in the Northeast to the south-central coffee groves. But even planters in São Paulo, where the slave percentage of the total population had fallen from 28.2 percent in 1854 to 8.7 percent in 1886, understood that to continue expansion they needed a different labor system. The provincial government therefore actively began subsidizing and recruiting immigrants. Between 1875 and 1887, about 156,000 arrived in São Paulo. Meanwhile, the demand for cheap sugarcane workers in the Northeast was satisfied by sertanejos (inhabitants of the sertão ) fleeing the devastating droughts of the 1870s in the sertão .

The economic picture was also changing. Slavery immobilized capital invested in the purchase and maintenance of slaves. By turning to free labor, planter capital was freed for investment in railroads, streetcar lines, and shipping and manufacturing enterprises. To some extent, these investments offered a degree of protection from the caprices of agriculture.

Meanwhile, slaves left the plantations in great numbers, and an active underground supported runaways. Army officers petitioned the Regent Princess Isabel to relieve them of the duty of pursuing runaway slaves. Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, commander in Rio Grande do Sul, declared in early 1887 that the military "had the obligation to be abolitionist." The São Paulo assembly petitioned the Parliament for immediate abolition. The agitation reached such a pitch that to foreign travelers, Brazil appeared on the verge of social revolution. The system was coming apart, and even planters realized that abolition was the way to prevent chaos.

The so-called Golden Law of May 13, 1888, which ended slavery, was not an act of great bravery but a recognition that slavery was no longer viable. The economy revived rapidly after a few lost harvests, and only a small number of planters went bankrupt. Slavery ended, but the plantation survived and so did the basic attitudes of a class society. The abolitionists quickly abandoned those they had struggled to free. Many former slaves stayed on the plantations in the same quarters, receiving paltry wages. They were joined by waves of immigrants, who often found conditions so unbearable that they soon moved to the cities or returned to Europe. No freedmen's bureaus or schools were established to improve the lives of the former slaves; they were left at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, where their descendants remain in the 1990s. New prisons built after 1888 were soon filled with former slaves as society imposed other forms of social control, in part by redefining crime.

In the end, the empire fell because the elites did not need it to protect their interests. Indeed, imperial centralization ran counter to their desires for local autonomy. The republicans embraced federalism, which some saw as a way to counter the oligarchies, which used patronage and clientage to stay in power. In the early republic, however, they would find that the oligarchies adapted easily and used their accumulated power and skills to control the new governmental system. Taking advantage of cabinet crises in 1888 and 1889 and of rising frustration among military officers, republicans favoring change by revolution rather than by evolution drew military officers, led by Field Marshal Fonseca, into a conspiracy to replace the cabinet in November 1889. What started as an armed demonstration demanding replacement of a cabinet turned within hours into a coup d'état deposing Emperor Pedro II.

Brazil History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of  the US Library of Congress