The Regency Era, 1831-40

Brazil Table of Contents

The three regents that ruled in the young emperor's name from 1831 to 1840 witnessed a period of turmoil as local factions struggled to gain control of their provinces and to keep the masses in line. Out of desperation to weaken the radical appeals for federalism, republicanism, and hostility toward the Portuguese, and to protect against contrary calls for Pedro I's restoration, the regency in Rio de Janeiro gave considerable power to the provinces in 1834. Brazil took on the appearance of a federation of local pátrias (autonomous centers of regional power) with loose allegiance to the Rio de Janeiro government, whose function was to defend them from external attack and to maintain order and balance among them. The government's ability to carry out that function was impaired, however, by the low budgets allowed the army and navy, and by the creation of a National Guard, whose officers were local notables determined to protect their private and regional interests. The rebellions, riots, and popular movements that marked the next years did not spring as much from economic misery as from attempts to share in the prosperity stemming from North Atlantic demand for Brazil's exports.

Many of the disturbances were so fleeting they were all but forgotten. For example, in Rio de Janeiro alone there were five uprisings in 1831 and 1832. Another eight of the more famous revolts in the 1834-49 period included the participation of lower-class people, Indians, free and runaway blacks, and slaves, which accounts for their often fierce suppression. Republican objectives were apparent in some of these revolts, such as the War of the Farrapos (ragamuffins), also known as the Farroupilha Rebellion (1835-45), in Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Others, such as the Cabanagem in Pará in 1835-37, the Sabinada in Salvador in 1837-38, the Balaiada Rebellion in Maranhao in 1838-41, and the ones in Minas Gerais and São Paulo in 1842, were propelled simultaneously by antiregency and promonarchial sentiments. Such unrest dispels the notion that the history of state formation in Brazil was peaceful. Instead, it shows the confrontation between the national government and the splintering pátrias , which would continue in varying degrees for the next century.

Pedro I's death from tuberculosis in 1834 had sapped the restorationist impulse and removed the glue that held uneasy political allies together. With the regency attempting to suppress simultaneous revolts in the South and North, it could not easily reassert its supremacy over the remaining provinces. Brazil could well have split apart in those years. It did not for three reasons. First, the military was reorganized as an instrument of national unity under the leadership of Luís Alves de Lima e Silva, who was ennobled as the Duke of Caxias (Duque de Caxias) and who would later be proclaimed Patron of the Brazilian Army. Second, the specter of slave revolt and social disintegration had become all too real. And third, the "vision of Brazil as a union of autonomous pátrias ," in Roderick J. Barman's phrase, was replaced by the vision of Brazil as a nation-state. Rather than risk their fortunes and lives, the elites, longing for a focus of loyalty, identity, and authority, rallied around the boy-emperor, who ascended the throne on July 18, 1841, at age fifteen instead of the constitutionally specified age of eighteen. Thus, the second empire was born in the hope that it would be an instrument of national unity, peace, and prosperity.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress