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The Rise of Republicanism

Dom Pedro IIThe 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.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2013 12:09:39 ZULU