The Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil, 1815-21

Brazil Table of Contents

Portuguese businessmen who invested locally in Brazil, nobles and government officials who built expensive homes there, and those who married into provincial wealth shared a common interest in remaining. Indeed, what took shape was a new concept of a dual monarchy of Brazil and Portugal, which even under the best of circumstances would have been difficult to make work. It was an expedient idea that would founder because of resistance by those in Portugal who saw their status and that of the kingdom endangered; by the British, who wanted the king back in Lisbon, where he was more vulnerable; and by the unwillingness of Brazilians to suffer the indignity of being returned to colonial rank.

The centralization of power in Rio de Janeiro met with violent resistance in the Northeast. When Pernambuco raised the banner of republican rebellion in 1817, it was followed by Paraíba do Norte, Rio Grande do Norte, and the south of Ceará, each of which acted to defend local interests without thought of federating. They resented their loss of autonomy to Rio de Janeiro and the Portuguese who had settled in the Northeast since 1808. Significantly, although they sent envoys to secure recognition from Britain and the United States and to spread the revolt to Bahia, they did not send agents to central or southern Brazil. The revolt was crushed brutally. Although unsuccessful, the 1817 "Pernambuccan revolution" shook the monarchy's foundations because it had pushed aside authority and tarnished the crown's aura of invincibility. In desperation, the monarchy responded by banning all secret societies and by garrisoning Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Recife with fresh troops from Portugal.

Meanwhile, the monarchy was waging war in the Río de la Plata. King João regarded the East Bank of the Río de la Plata (present-day Uruguay) as the proper and true boundary of Brazil. Over British objections, he brought veteran troops from Portugal to seize Montevideo and to wage a wearing campaign (1816-20) against the forces of independence-minded José Gervasio Artigas, the father of Uruguay. The region was incorporated into the United Kingdom as the Cisplatine Province in 1821. Nonetheless, even as it was expanding, the United Kingdom, as the Rio de Janeiro royalists termed it, was suffering from pressures in Portugal itself.

The Pernambuccan revolution in 1817 encouraged army officers in Portugal to conspire against the regency of British Marshal William Carr Beresford. Twelve of the conspirators, including a general officer, were tried secretly and hanged. Anti-British sentiment deepened. In 1820, when a military revolt in Spain forced the revived absolutist regime of Fer-nando VII (1784-1833) to restore the liberal constitution of 1812, the Portuguese military followed suit by expelling the British officers and forming revolutionary juntas. The military petitioned the king's return and summoned a Côrtes (the Portuguese Parliament), the first since 1697 when the crown had dispensed with such bodies.

Unable to do more, João pardoned the juntas' usurpation of his prerogative to summon a Côrtes and acknowledged that a Côrtes could be useful in making proposals to him on how best to govern the United Kingdom. Then, in January 1821, Portuguese officers and troops, as well as Brazilian liberals, took over provincial governments in Bahia and Belém, and in late February, troops in Rio de Janeiro threw in with the movement and forced the king to take an oath to accept any constitution the Côrtes might write. In effect, Brazil was again being ruled from Portugal. A few days later, a royal decree announced that the king would return to Lisbon, leaving his twenty-four-year-old son Dom Pedro as regent in Brazil.

On April 25, 1821, twelve ships carrying the king and queen, 4,000 officials, diplomats, and families, as well as purloined funds and jewels from the Bank of Brazil, set course for Lisbon. The city and country that they left behind no longer constituted the closed colony of thirteen years before. Thanks to the surveys, expeditions, and studies that João had encouraged, Brazil's resources would be exploited at a steadily increasing pace, but in a fashion that tied the country more closely to the rapidly expanding industrial capitalism of the North Atlantic. Nonetheless, João VI and Queen Carlota exemplified the fading absolutist regime; their son Pedro would seek to be more modern by embracing the new ideas of liberal constitutionalism.

During the thirteen years that João resided in Rio de Janeiro, international trade expanded as reflected by the growing number of foreign ships anchoring in the bay: from ninety in 1808 to 354 in 1820. By 1820 Rio de Janeiro had more than 3,000 foreigners among its 113,000 inhabitants.

Rio de Janeiro also had coffee houses serving the product that would become the backbone of the economy. Expanding from seedlings nurtured in the Jardim Botânico, coffee cultivation spread from the Rio de Janeiro area over the Serra do Mar into the fertile upland valley, through which the Rio Paraíba flows from São Paulo easterly to the sea, dividing the provinces of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. On both sides of the river, the tropical forests were cut to make way for the coffee groves. Mule trains that once brought gold from Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro now carried coffee in quantities that swelled from 2,304 kilos in 1792 to 7,761,600 kilos in 1820, and would reach 82,178,395 kilos in 1850.

São Paulo's entry into the coffee age lay in the future, but in 1821 it was providing herds of mules and horses for the coffee pack trains. The Cisplatine and Rio Grande do Sul were shipping abroad hides, tallow, and dried meat. In contrast, the Northeast and North were in decline because an 1815 treaty between Brazil and Britain forbade the African slave trade north of the equator, thereby reducing the demand for Bahian molasses-soaked rolled tobacco, and because Cuban competition slashed deeply into the Northeast's sugar market in the United States and Europe. Even cotton, which a few years before seemed a secure export for Maranhão, was overwhelmed by the post-War of 1812 expansion in the southern United States. The world demand for Amazonian nuts, cocoa, skins, herbs, spices, and rubber was still weak in 1821. Finally, in the Brazilian west (Mato Grosso and Goiás) gold mining had all but ended, and subsistence farming and livestock raising were predominant. Throughout the country, but more so from Bahia through Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the labor force was made up of African or locally born black slaves. The native heritage lived on in the substantial number of Tupí-speaking races and mixtures that lived in the tropical forest region.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress