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History

Brazil: A Royal Revolution?

The path to independence in Brazil was similar to that of Spanish America but with important differences. Rather than fall under the control of Napoleon, the Braganza royal family fled Portugal in late 1807 and took up residence in Rio de Janeiro. For 13 years, the monarchy ruled its vast empire from Brazil. King João VI elevated Brazil to the status of a kingdom, equal to Portugal, diffusing most desires for separation and independence. When João returned to Portugal in 1821, Brazil began to experience a process similar to that seen in Spanish America in 1808. The crown prince, Pedro, remained in Brazil, assumed the leadership of the movement to separate from Portugal, and declared Brazil’s independence in 1822. With the help of the British mercenary Lord Cochrane, Pedro quickly consolidated control of the new country, avoiding significant bloodshed.

The path to independence in Brazil was similar to that of Spanish America but with important differences.

A. Rather than fall under the control of Napoleon, the Braganza royal family fled Portugal in late 1807 and took up residence in Rio de Janeiro.

    1. Crown Prince João elevated Brazil to the status of a kingdom, equal to Portugal, defusing the desires of most for separation and independence.
    2. When João returned to Portugal in 1821, Brazil began to experience a process similar to that seen in Spanish America in 1808.
    3. The crown prince, Pedro, remained in Brazil, assumed the leadership of the movement to separate from Portugal, and declared Brazil’s independence in 1822.
    4. Brazil became an empire with a monarchy and an aristocracy, a unique position in the history of the Americas.

B. The departure of the court and royal family from Lisbon in November 1807 was a memorable and chaotic scene.

    1. Some 10,000 people crowded the docks as the French army approached the city.
    2. They were escorted out of the harbor and to Brazil by British warships.
    3. In January 1808, the fleet arrived in Salvador, in the captaincy of Bahia, the old capital of the colony.

C. From 1808 to 1821, João ruled the Portuguese empire from Rio de Janeiro.

    1. Ignoring the pleas of the people of Salvador to remain there, the entourage sailed to Rio in late February to take up residence.
    2. João liked Rio and worked to transform the city into a sort of “tropical Versailles,” complete with palaces, museums, and elaborate royal rituals.
    3. On December 17, 1815, the 81st birthday of the demented Queen Maria, João issued a decree making Brazil a kingdom, equal to Portugal in its status.
    4. The Brazilian elites were in a position unlike that of any of the colonial elites in North or South America.
    5. In contrast to what we have seen in Spanish America, the division between Peninsular Portuguese and those born in Brazil was not very wide or profound.
    6. Not everyone, however, was satisfied with the royal presence in the new kingdom or with the monarchy.
    7. In 1798, mulatto artisans in the northeastern province of Bahia also plotted to create an independent republic.

The “war” for independence in Brazil was brief and relatively bloodless.

A. With the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1814 and 1815, pressure mounted for João to return to Lisbon.

    1. Many of the Portuguese elite did return with the end of French occupation, but João preferred to remain in Brazil.
    2. As in Spain, a liberal revolt shook Portugal in 1820, and a new cortes took power and began to draw up plans for a constitutional monarchy.

B. Pedro I is one of the more fascinating figures in the age of revolution.

    1. Born in 1798, he was just nine when the family fled to Brazil.
    2. Never very interested in books or formal education, he loved the bohemian life and women.
    3. He married the German princess Leopoldina.

C. When João returned to Portugal in 1821, Brazil began to experience a process similar to that seen in Spanish America in 1808.

    1. In 1821 and 1822, the new cortes asserted its power and attempted to put in place a liberal constitutional regime.
    2. Pedro was wise enough to join the move toward independence rather than fight it.
    3. Pedro was assisted in his decisions in this period by the Andrada brothers—Martim Francisco, Antonio Carlos, and José Bonifácio.
    4. In early 1822, the cortes demanded that the crown prince return to Portugal.
    5. In early September 1822, Pedro declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal.

D. The challenge in Brazil was not to defeat the Portuguese so much as it was a struggle to hold the regions of Brazil together through the process of independence and beyond.

    1. In one sense, the Brazilian experience was similar to the confederation of states on the coast of British North America.
    2. Brazil was a string of settlements, almost all of them stretched across 1,500 miles of Atlantic coastline, from the Amazon to the Rio de la Plata.

E. The small Portuguese force in Rio de Janeiro quickly retired from the scene, removing the immediate military threat.

    1. The small Portuguese fleet in the northeast was the only other serious challenge that Portugal could mount to confront Pedro’s call for independence.
    2. This fleet would be defeated by the astute and daring tactics of Thomas Cochrane.

Perhaps more successfully than any other Latin American colony, Brazil negotiated the path to independence with little bloodshed and minimal social upheaval.

A. The Brazilians had the great advantage of having a member of the royal family leading the move to independence.

    1. In December 1822, Pedro was crowned constitutional emperor and perpetual defender of Brazil.
    2. He would rule the empire of Brazil until 1831, when he abdicated in favor of his young son, Pedro II, who would rule Brazil until 1889.
    3. Under the two Pedros, Brazil experienced a political stability that was rare in the Americas in the 19th century.

B. Pedro I left Brazil in 1831 to reenter the civil war that broke out in Portugal between liberals and absolutists in the 1820s.

    1. His mother, Carlota Joaquina, and his brother, Miguel, led the forces of absolutism, and Pedro led those of the liberals.
    2. The liberals triumphed in 1834, and Pedro placed his daughter Maria on the throne. Within months, he died, probably of tuberculosis, at the age of 36.

C. Perhaps more impressive than political stability was the ability of the Brazilian elites to maintain social peace.

    1. The Brazilian elites managed to avoid the racial and social warfare that so ravaged such countries as Haiti and Mexico.
    2. As in so many countries of Latin America in the aftermath of independence, war brought political independence but little social change.
    3. Brazil’s “royal revolution” was perhaps the most expertly managed process of independence in all of the Americas during the age of revolution.

Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas

About elpidiovaldes

Human, All Too Human.

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