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The Empire, 1822-89

The general movement in favor of independence that transformed the Spanish colonies north, south, and west of Brazil into republics, produced conspiracies and plots in Bahfa and Pernambuco. Troops were brought out from Portugal to restrain every violent manifestation of the republican spirit; meanwhile, however, in Portugal itself the revolution of 1820 had led to a modification of the old autocratic system, and the forces from that country, openly sympathizing with the aspirations of the Brazilian people, compelled King John to yield. The latter withdrew from America soon afterward (26 April 1821), leaving his son, Dom Pedro, to work out the problem in Brazil as best he might.

The attitude of the Cortes of Portugal in this crisis was exceedingly unwise: instead of offering concessions, it directed the dissolution of the central government, and ordered Dom Pedro to return to Portugal. Assured of the support of the people of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, who requested him to disobey this command, Dom Pedro proclaimed the independence of Brazil, 7 Sept. 1822. He became constitutional emperor the following month. In the hostilities which ensued the Brazilians were so successful that independence was assured before the end of 1822).

The constitution of the empire was adopted on 25 March 1824. But a peculiar situation in the ruling family remained to be disposed of. Since October 1822, Dom Pedro had been emperor of Brazil, while his father was king of Portugal. The dramatic climax occurred 2o Aug. 1825, when a treaty was signed in London by virtue of which King John first assumed the title of emperor of Brazil and then immediately abdicated in favor of his son. As the popularity of Dom Pedro I was due to the disposition he showed at first to accede to the wishes of the liberals, so it is necessary to ascribe his loss of popularity in the years 1826-31 to his unwillingness to trust the people more and more, as their demand for participation in the government steadily increased.

The statement found in some histories, to the effect that Pedro I was a brutal tyrant, whose reign ended in public disgrace, is positively incorrect, and inculcates false views of this entire period. It was his tact that saved the monarchy in 1821; but the growth of republicanism in the next decade was much more rapid among the people than at his court, and finally the breach became so wide that no course waa left to him but to surrender his crown before the successiou of his son, the second Pedro, should be disputed, and to take ship for Lisbon, where it had become a duty to defend the claim of his daughter, Maria II, to the throne of Portugal. At any time after 1810 outrageous tyranny on the part of Portuguese rulers would have thrown Brazil into the advancing column of revolutionary states. The significant facts are, that Pedro I was able to postpone the inevitable change for 10 years, and that Pedro II (whose majority was proclaimed 23 July 1840) succeeded in maintaining the monarchical form in America until 15 Nov. 1889.

The new Empire of Brazil, heir to the Portuguese policy in South America, expected to reach the river Plata and to dominate Montevideo, the capital of the Republic of Uruguay. Buenos Aires, which had inherited at the same time the Spanish secular views, notwithstanding that it was itself menaced by anarchy, aided the Republic of Uruguay to obtain its independence from Brazil in a war which lasted three years, and whose chief purpose was to drive out the Brazilians from the Plata (1828).

The regency by which the affairs of Brazil were administered (1831-40) was much like a republican government, especially after 1834. Probably it would have been impossible to revert to a monarchy if the weakness and misconduct of the regents had not brought discredit upon everything savoring of democracy.

The suppression of the revolution of 1848; discontinuance of the importation of slaves, in 1853; and the creditable part taken by Brazil in thwarting the ambitious designs of the Argentine dictator, Rosas — these are the chief events before 1855. In that year a Brazilian squadron was sent to settle a dispute with Paraguay as to the right of way for Brazilian vessels on the Parana River, which, rising in Brazil, flowing beside Paraguay, and finally through the territory of Argentina, should be open to the commerce of all three nations equally. The warships failed to accomplish the desired result, and for a decade vexatious restrictions were placed upon the vessels of Brazil, Argentina, and the United States.

In 1865 an outrage by Senor Lopez, the dictator of Paraguay, brought on a war in which Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay were allied against the offending country. This bitter struggle, protracted until 1870, cost Brazil the lives of many thousands of her citizens, and in money about $300,000,000. In the year following the restoration of peace a law was enacted for the abolition of the institution of slavery, the growth of which had been checked in 1853. It was provided that thenceforth every child born of slave parents should be free.

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.

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.

A revolution terminated the reign of Dom Pedro II, and the Federal republic was proclaimed, 15 Nov. 1889. A provisional government, instituted for this purpose, published (24 Feb. 1891) the constitution of " The United States of Brazil," resembling that of the United States of America in nearly every respect, though Brazilian senators serve for nine years, like those of Argentina, while the president's term of office is but four years. Marshal Deodora da Fonseca, head of the provisional government, was confirmed in the presidency by the constitutional congress, and Gen. Floriano Peixotto was elected vice-president.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:54:56 ZULU