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Brazil--Independence

By Donald J. Mabry. © 2001.

Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (also know as Tiradentes because he was a dentist at times), a military officer, led a revolt (the Inconfidência Mineira) in 1789 which failed. He was representing discontented prominent people in Minas Gerais. They went to jail or left the country but he was executed in 1793. Nevertheless, he was eventually seen as a martyr to Brazilian independence. Insurrections broke out in Rio de Janeiro in 1794, in Bahia in 1798, and in Pernambuco in 1801,but all of these rebellions were repressed before they could seriously threaten the monarchy.
Besides revolts, there were other signs of dissatisfaction. Azeredo Continho published The Economy of Brazil in 1794; the English edition appeared in 1807. In it he described the colony's resources but expressed discontent with the existing system. He complained about the salt monopolies and about the price structure, which, of course, was related to the productive system. The town council of Bahía heard numerous complaints and believed it necessary to pass them upwards. There was dissatisfaction with economic policy. And, of course, there was tension between Portuguese and Brazilians, especially between Portuguese and Brazilians of Portuguese descent. This ethnic tension would be exacerbated after the influx of Portuguese in 1808.
The turning point came when the prince regent and future king João VI and 15,000 Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1808, fleeing from Napoleon's armies. Their British allies escorted the Braganças, from Portugal to Brazil in November 1807. Now that the seat of the Portuguese government was in Brazil, many of the old restrictions on trade and commerce disappeared. Brazil's ports were opened to British trade and merchants. In 1808, only 90 foreign ships entered Brazilian harbors but 217did in 1815 and 324 in 1820. Moreover, manufacturing was encouraged, schools and institutions of higher education were constructed, and a new army was formed. In sum, the Crown created many of the kinds of institutions that existed in Portugal. Inevitably, most of the top posts went to native-born Portuguese. The British loaned millions to the Crown in 1809. In 1810 Dom João gave the British trade preferences and allowed them privileges of extraterritoriality. He also promised to abolish the slave trade, for the British were now trying to end the trade in Africans.
The Braganças and the Portuguese immigrants obviously liked Brazil and its major city Río de Janeiro, for, when the British liberated Portugal in 1811, they stayed in Brazil. One reason may have been the desire to stay far away from the European conflicts and easy British meddling. Another was that they had been making it their home, building expensive houses, investing money, and enjoying the easy life afforded by the colony. Even before 1815, when regent João raised Brazil to the status of an equal kingdom, it was, in effect, the Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil. Crazy Queen Maria I died in 1816 and her son became João VI.
Almost immediately, in 1817, he faced republican challenges, for Pernambuco in the northeast led a revolt which included Ceará, Paraíba do Norte, and Rio Grande do Norte. These northeastern territories deeply resented the shift of power from themselves to Río and the favoritism shown to the Portuguese. The Crown crushed the rebellion and brought loyal troops from Portugal as a countermeasure. João VI fought against José Artigas of Uruguay in 1816-20 and incorporated that territory into the empire as the Cisalpine Republic. João VI also faced trouble in Portugal. In 1820, the Portuguese army revolted against the British regent, Marshal William Carr Beresford, demanding a constitutional monarchy.
The Portuguese Côrtes was determined to rule the Empire from Lisbon and lower Brazil to the status of a colony again. In January 1821, Portuguese officers and Brazilian liberals overthrew the governments in Bahía and Belém followed by the support of Río troops in late February. João was forced the agree that he would accept any constitution the Côrtes might write. The Côrtes demanded that João return to Portugal, which he did in April, 1821. João and his court left for Lisbon where he would fight liberalism. He left his son Pedro as the prince regent and told him to break with Portugal if necessary to keep Brazil under the family's control.
In 1820-22, there were two camps in Brazil: (1) those who favored Portugal, including those hurt by the effects of the Crown moving to Río and the subsequent changes in the rules of the "game," and (2) those who wanted independence. The latter included those who wanted an absolute monarchy, an independent Bragança prince. These included the Brazilian titled nobility, displaced officeholders, ultraconservatives, some merchants, republicans, and some army officers. The majority of native Brazilians wanted a constitutional monarchy. These factions would fight each other until 1831.
Pedro effected independence. Told in January, 1822 to return to Lisbon, he replied "Fico!" (I am staying!). When it was clear that independence was the only alternative if Brazil was to retain its authority, he declared independence with the Grito de Ypiranga in September, 1822. He became, Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil.
A lot of Brazilian stability in the nineteenth century stemmed from having an emperor and its accouterments. Royalty enjoyed a special place in people's thinking, a mystique. The monarchy also had the support of the aristocracy, who tended the run things. There was almost no fighting in the Brazilian independence movement. However, for twenty-five years afterwards, there was terrible regionalistic fighting, especially in the south.