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Independence for Brazil

Portugal's royal family debarked on a fleet of ships in late November 1807, barely escaping from Napoleon's military, taking with them their royal carriages, the crown jewels and much other baggage. Portugal's queen, Maria, was incapacitated with fears. She heard voices and saw demons and had to be put aboard her ship against her will. Her thirty-nine year-old son, João, was prince regent, ruling in her name.

Sailing across the Atlantic, the royal party reached Brazil four months later. The people of Rio de Janeiro escorted João and his party across flower-strewn streets. Queen Maria arrived three days later to a welcome of respectful quiet.

Rio de Janeiro became the declared capital of Portugal's empire. In addition to the good cheer, the royals found black slaves working the docks and black slaves in fine dress but barefoot tending the carriages of Brazil's Crióllo elite. The Royals found white ladies wearing Paris fashions more than twenty years out of date, including the monstrous wigs.

Cheered by his reception, and allied with Britain against Napoleon, João decreed a number of reforms, including opening Brazil's trade with all friendly nations and abolishing the commercial monopoly that the mother country had held over its colony. Preferential tariffs were granted to Britain as reward for British help against Napoleon. And João opened Brazil to immigration and visitations by foreign scholars.

In 1815, João raised Brazil's status from colony to kingdom, united with Portugal. In March 1816, Queen Maria, age 79, died, and João became King João VI.

By 1817 discontent became more apparent. Some were hurting from the freer trade, and there was discontent among liberals over repressions such as censorship. Discontent in the Pernambuco area (1000 miles north of Rio de Janeiro) turned into rebellion, which João's military repressed.

Following the withdrawal of Napoleon's forces from Portugal years before, the British had set up a regency there, and the British had asked João to return, but he had declined. In 1820, liberals took power in Portugal – alongside the takeover by liberals in Spain. Like Spain, Portugal acquired a liberal constitution. The continent's holy alliance conservatives were annoyed, while in Brazil news of the revolution in Portugal created celebrations. In 1821 the British finally persuaded João to return, João accepting his role as a constitutional monarch and leaving his elder son, Pedro, on the throne in Brazil.

The regime in Portugal attempted to reinstate economic favoritism for Portugal and economic restrictions for Brazil, which sparked resistance among those who would have been hurt by such restrictions. Brazil's king, Pedro, disliked Portugal's attempt at impositions, and Portugal's liberal government was offended by his disobedience and labeled him a rebel. Pedro heard that Portugal was sending troops to arrest him. He had enough military support to prohibit the landing of the troops from Portugal, and Portugal's squadron of ships returned to Portugal without Pedro. Celebrating his triumph, Pedro, on September 7, 1822, on his balcony at his royal palace at Ipiranga, drew his sword and declared "Independence or death!" On October 12, at the age of 24, he was proclaimed Emperor of Brazil.

Britain's foreign minister, George Canning, followed what he thought was Britain's interests and announced that Britain would not tolerate any European intervention in the Western Hemisphere, a position echoed by the Monroe Doctrine, aimed at Portugal as well as Spain.

Brazil's declared Independence did not bring happiness to all in Brazil. Many remained at odds with Pedro's policies on human rights, his authoritarian rule, governmental control over ideas, education still dominated by the Church, and land dominated by a few. And there was agitation for an end to slavery. Pedro bent to the pressure and in 1824 a constitution was granted the Brazilians, derived in part from words used in France's Declaration of the Rights of Men. But it was in some measure a conservative document. Slavery was not mentioned. There was to be a parliament and Pedro was to be a constitutional monarch, but he was to retain considerable power, including an ability to bypass parliament and bypass the judiciary and local authorities. He was to have a veto over legislation. He was to be able to appoint senators for life. And parliament's Chamber of Deputies and local councils were to be elected by very limited suffrage.

In 1825, in exchange for Brazil's recognition, Emperor Pedro agreed to settle Brazil's debts with Britain, and he agreed to end the importation of slaves by 1830, which angered Brazil's planters who thought they were benefitting from slave labor. And more trouble came for Pedro following the death of his father, João, in Portugal 1826. The idea of Pedro becoming king of Portugal as well as Brazil, ending Brazil's independence, produced a storm of discontent in Brazil. To preserve his position in Brazil, Pedro abdicated the throne in Portugal in favor of his seven-year-old daughter, who became Maria II, and Pedro's brother, Dom Miguel, became Maria's regent.

Dom Miguel was ambitious and had the support of Portugal's upper-clergy, its judiciary, the nobles and other conservatives. In early 1828 he engineered a coup d'etat against the liberal regime and proclaimed himself king. Blood was flowing, and people associated with the child Queen Maria sailed with her to Britain. Dom Miguel's coronation as King of Portugal was in July that year, at the age of 26. Military men revolted trying to defend liberalism, but those supporting Dom Miguel got the upper hand in the violence.

In Brazil in 1831, Pedro abdicated his throne in favor of his five-year-old son, who was put under a regency, and Pedro went to Europe in hope of putting his daughter Maria II back on the throne in Spain. He won the support of France's new liberal monarch, Louis-Phillipe. A force under Pedro's command landed in Portugal in 1833. Dom Miguel was forced to abdicate and Maria II was restored to the Spanish in May 1834 at the age of 15. In September that year, at the age of 36, Pedro died from tuberculosis.

Unrest continued in Brazil. There were unconnected provincial rebellions, but Pedro's son, Pedro II, became a popular monarch. He was one of those royals who was highly intelligent. At the age of six he was reading and writing both Portuguese and English and studying French. He was tutored in science. In 1840, when he was fifteen, liberals of influence had him declared of age, and he began his rule without a regent and as a constitutional monarch until 1889. Under Pedro II, freedom of speech was zealously guarded, civil rights remained respected and economic growth was vibrant. But Brazil's growing coffee growing industry continued to buy and exploit slaves, with new slaves being shipped to Brazil until the 1850s .


Santa Anna: A Curse upon , by Robert L Scheina, 2002

Caudillos in Spanish America, by John Lynch, Oxford University Press, 1992

Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence, 1810-1830, by Robert Harvey, 2000

Latin America: the Development of its Civilization, Third Edition, by Helen Miller Bailey and Abraham P Nasatir, 1973

A Voyage to California, the Sandwich Islands and Around the World in the Years 1826-1829, by Auguste Duhaut-Cilly, translated and edited by August Frugé and Neal Harlow, 1999

Santa Fe Parish Census of 1821, NMGS Press Item #B5, 1994

Three Roads to the Alamo, by William C Davis, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999

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