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The Regency Era, 1831-40

Dom Pedro IIAfter 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 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 anti-regency and pro-monarchial 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.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2013 12:09:38 ZULU