The Transition to Kingdom Status

Brazil Table of Contents

With the onset of the Napoleonic Wars, some Portuguese officials again raised the idea of moving the crown to the safety of Brazil. Dom Luís da Cunha's prophetic suggestion in 1738 that Rio de Janeiro was "safer and more convenient" made great sense as the French army approached Lisbon in November 1807. The British in 1801 had recommended transfer to Brazil in the event of an invasion and had promised to provide protection for the voyage and assistance in extending and consolidating Portuguese territory in South America. In 1803 the Lisbon government, faced with the increasingly deadly struggle between France and Britain, had reconsidered the idea. The choice was between losing Portugal to the French and having the British seize Brazil, or moving the crown to Brazil, from which the struggle for Portugal could be resumed. In any case, the royal government did not move until Portugal was actually invaded in late 1807.

At the time, the monarch was Queen Maria I, but because of mental illness triggered by her horror at the regicide in Paris, her son Dom João ruled as regent. His wife was Dona Carlota Joaquina, a Spanish princess and mother to their nine children, among whom the most important for Brazilian history was Pedro de Alcântara de Bragança e Bourbon. Dom João opened Brazilian ports to world commerce, allowing British goods to stream in, and eliminating the Portuguese middlemen. Rio de Janeiro substituted for Lisbon in a centralized system that placed the various captaincies in subservient positions to the new center. For the Brazilian elites, the transfer of the court meant that they could have conservative political change without social disorder. And best of all, depending on their proximity to the court, they had the chance to obtain the titles and honors that they felt their wealth had earned them. However, the pleasure of the elites was mixed with some frustration because now the monarch was close enough to keep an attentive watch on how they conducted their affairs. And with the court in Rio de Janeiro, the demands of international politics were more keenly felt.

Portugal and the Bragança dynasty were obligated deeply to the British. The British not only saved the royal family and some 15,000 courtiers but also lent US$3 million in 1809 to keep the government functioning. The British also liberated Portugal from the French and reorganized the Portuguese army. In addition, one of their officers ruled as regent in Lisbon. The Portuguese therefore had little with which to bargain when negotiating treaties. In 1810 Dom João signed agreements not only giving the British trade preferences and allowing them privileges of extraterritoriality but also promising to abolish the African slave trade. The last cut directly at the interests of the propertied classes, on whom the crown depended.

The crown had to duplicate, mostly from scratch, the government institutions it had left behind in Lisbon. It set up a Supreme Military Council (Conselho Militar Superior); boards of treasury, trade, agriculture, and industry; a Court of Appeals; a royal printing press and official newspaper; and the Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil). It created medical schools in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, a school of fine arts, a museum of natural history, a public library, and the Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico) in Rio de Janeiro. It also set up specialized courses of study in the Minas Gerais towns of Ouro Prêto and Paracatu. Most of the fleet had been transferred, but a new army was organized, naval and military academies were established, and arsenals created. The crown built a powder factory and an ironworks. It dealt with public safety by forming the Royal Police Guard, which brutalized slaves, sailors, drunks, gamblers, and prostitutes into submission. The crown also opened Brazil to European travelers, naturalists, scientists, and artists, who left a detailed picture of its life and landscape.

Curiously, by staying in Brazil after the British liberated Portugal from the French in 1811, the crown was keeping British influence under some control, because here it was removed both from Britain and the British-commanded Portuguese army. In 1815 the crown, determined to set its own course, raised Brazil to a kingdom equal with Portugal and acclaimed João as king when his mother died in 1816. The crown gained further maneuverability by arranging marriages between the two princesses and the Spanish King Fernando VII and his brother, and more important, between Crown Prince Pedro and the daughter of Franz I of Austria, the Archduchess Leopoldina.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress