Political Struggle, Ideology, and State Building: Pernambuco and the Construction of Brazil, 1817-1850

Political Struggle, Ideology, and State Building: Pernambuco and the Construction of Brazil, 1817-1850

by Jeffrey Carl Mosher


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ISBN-13: 9780803232471
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 07/01/2008
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey C. Mosher is an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University.

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Political Struggle, Ideology, and State Building

Pernambuco and the Construction of Brazil, 1817â"1850

By Jeffrey C. Mosher


Copyright © 2008 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-9987-0


The Portuguese Empire in the Age of Revolution: Pernambuco, 1817

In 1807, with French troops marching on Portugal, João VI made the remarkable decision to transfer the Portuguese royal court to Rio de Janeiro. Soon the ports of Portuguese America were opened to international commerce, and Portuguese mercantilism was largely abandoned. The elite in Rio de Janeiro benefited greatly from these developments, and many of the thousands of Portuguese who accompanied João across the Atlantic set roots in Brazil. Across Portuguese America, people welcomed the changes.

Opening the ports to international commerce dramatically accelerated the penetration of new ideas from the North Atlantic world. Increased commercial contact and an influx of migrants to port cities were particularly important in spreading ideas of constitutional, even republican, government. Of course, notions of popular sovereignty and representative government could mean different things to different people. In the captaincies distant from Rio de Janeiro, the elite doubtless saw these notions as the basis of a social and political order that they could run largely free of excessive outside intervention, while people of more limited means and influence hoped for greater social mobility. Despite such crucial differences, large numbers of people were coming to share anti-absoluitist assumptions.

Masonic lodges served as important vehicles for the spread of enlightened political ideas such as constitutional government and republicanism. By 1817, in Pernambuco, authorities were becoming increasingly suspicious of these organizations. In March a crackdown on the lodges sparked the first large-scale challenge to Portuguese rule in America. Initially a military revolt, it quickly became a movement with broad support among planters, local merchants, petty officials, the clergy, free skilled individuals, and men of lesser means. A provisional government was selected, with five leaders drawn from key sectors of the elite. The provisional government declared itself to be a republic and made plans for a constitutional assembly to write a charter.

The movement found common ground in the notion of popular sovereignty as the basis of authority, in contrast to royal tyranny, and on rejection of excessive taxation from Rio de Janeiro, which was seen as an expression of tyranny. Yet the extent of popular participation would surely have been a contentious issue, one that was never worked out, as military defeat put an end to the movement. Certainly the potential abolition of slavery was a divisive issue. The provisional government hinted at broader popular mobilization on the basis of a gradual abolition, but it quickly backtracked in the face of elite objections. The depth of commitment to republican institutions is also open to question. The use of the term "patriot" for supporters of the movement and the rejection of certain traditional practices that reinforced hierarchy, as seen in the new linguistic convention in which the informal vós was to be used in all situations, were clearly suggestive of French republicanism. Indeed, if Pernambuco and nearby captaincies were to break away from the rest of Portuguese America, was there any alternative to a republic? What monarchy could have been formed?

The royal defeat of the 1817 revolt was accomplished without great difficulty. The armed forces stitched together by the rebels lacked sufficient weapons, ships, and experienced military leaders. In contrast, the Count of Arcos in Salvador, Bahia, acted decisively, seizing an emissary sent south to draw adherents to the revolt, blockading Recife's port, sending a force of eight hundred men north to Pernambuco by land, and engaging in a propaganda campaign. When more ships and men arrived from Rio de Janeiro, the rebels were handily defeated.

Yet while the movement was quickly defeated on the field of battle, it would have long-lasting repercussions. The exemplary punishments meted out — executions, mass imprisonments, and seizures of property — embittered many. More importantly, a new political education was under way. In a period of dramatic change, in which absolutism was on its last legs and a lengthy period of struggle over what would take its place was beginning, people of diverse social groups had seized arms and contested political authority. The experience of once having taken up arms would make future recourse to armed action that much easier to imagine. New possibilities were opening up.

The Setting: Pernambuco

Since early colonial days, the bulk of Pernambuco's population had lived in the coastal zona da mata, or forest area. This humid region, with its rich black massapê soils, rivers, and rainy and dry seasons, was early recognized as ideal for cultivating sugar cane. The coastal region south of Recife, the capital city and principal port, was particularly favored because of its greater rainfall and large rivers that were important for transportation. By the nineteenth century, the greatest estates were located around Cabo, between the Jaboatão and the Serinhaem rivers. In the drier mata north of Recife, landholdings were not as large. In drier areas, squatters or slaves planted beans, manioc, or fruit. In some places sugar cane shared the landscape with cotton, although the latter crop was more important in tbe transitional agreste, to which the zona da mata gives way within 90 kilometers of the coast north of Recife and 160 kilometers in places to the south.

The agreste lay between the coastal forest area and the harsh, dry scrublands of the sertão; or backlands. Drier than the zona da mata, the agreste supported a sparser population, although scattered elevated areas, with cooler temperatures and moist winds, allowed for pockets of denser settlement. The majority of Pernambuco's cotton was produced in the agreste, in operations ranging from large landholdings worked by numerous slaves to small plots worked by renters and sharecroppers. The small labor and capital requirements, the short growing cycle, and the practice of planting beans and maize alongside the cotton made small- scale farms feasible. Cattle raising was also important. Commercial centers such as Caruaru, a key point in the cattle route from the backlands to the coast, and Bom Jardim, important in the cotton trade, developed in the region as well.

The hot, dry sertão, an enormous area often struck by drought, was thinly populated. The region's settlers spread over the area, grazing cattle for the coastal sugar industry, which needed beasts of burden for mill work and transportation as well as meat. Extensive grazing and massive ranches, only vaguely demarcated, were the norm; ten hectares were needed for each head of cattle. Cowboys were central figures in the "leather civilization" that developed, as hides were put to multiple and ingenious uses. Great cattle drives were common sights as cattle were transported to commercial hubs in the agreste and on to the coast, or to more humid areas in the sertão during the driest times. Rivers provided relief from the region's dry spells, as did the elevated areas touched by moisture-laden winds.

Since the pioneering efforts of the 1530s, growing and processing cane and transporting and exporting sugar had overshadowed other activities in Pernambuco. Sugar supplied the foundation for the planter elite, which controlled the land and rural labor, and sugar was likewise the basis for fortunes made in Recife by merchants, often Portuguese born, who loaned capital to planters, exported their sugar, and imported goods and captive African laborers for their use.

By the nineteenth century the zona da mata was mostly occupied. The bulk of the best lands were controlled by a relatively small number of families, many of whom had acquired land through the generous land grants made by the crown in the colonial period. Smaller estates spread across the countryside as well. Boundaries between landholdings were often vague, and many people held land without formal title. De facto control of land was ensured by the threat or the use of force and through political influence.

Male heads of wealthy families controlled the great estates of Pernambuco's rich littoral and their dependent populations. Not surprisingly, wealthy landowners exercised considerable political influence. Consider the leading family, the Cavalcanti de Albuquerques. Captain-Major Francisco de Paula de Holanda Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, suspected as an organizer of a turn-of-the-century conspiracy against Portuguese rule and a significant figure in the failed struggle for an independent Pernambucan republic in 1817, claimed descent, in typical fashion for elites seeking to justify their power, from four powerful families — the Coelhos, Cavalcantis, Albuquerques, and Holandas — who settled early in Portuguese America, three of them in the sixteenth century. He in turn fathered four sons who were ennobled during the empire (1822–89), three of whom became significant political leaders in their own right — the liberal leader Antônio Francisco de Paula de Holanda Cavalcanti de Albuquerque (the Viscount of Albuquerque) and the conservatives Francisco de Paula Cavalcanti de Albuquerque (the Viscount of Suassuna) and Pedro Francisco de Paula Cavalcanti de Albuquerque (the Viscount of Camaragibe). Over the course of the empire, the Cavalcanti de Albuquerques and their cousins received fifteen titles, more than any other family in Brazil.

Planters typically owned around 50 slaves (or even 150 on the larger plantations) to carry out the arduous and labor-intensive work of cane growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting. The cane was processed much as it was in other sugar-growing regions of the world. It was crushed in rollers to extract juice; water was evaporated from the juice in boiling kettles; the remaining juice was strained and cooled and put into a form with a hole from which water was purged; and the crystallizing sugar was left in the form in the sun to dry, yielding the final product, dry loaves of sugar. The loaves were most cheaply transported along rivers or the coast on barcaçs, sailing vessels capable of carrying loads of twenty-five to fifty tons, or even on small and accident-prone jangadas. The English traveler Maria Graham described the latter craft as "six or eight logs made fast together by two transverse beams ... with a sort of rudder ... an upright pole ... and a large triangular sail ... the waves constantly washing over it." For those without access to water transport, oxcarts loaded with a ton to a ton and a half of sugar and drawn by six to twelve oxen made a plodding substitute.

Sugar loaves and cotton were brought to warehouses in the Bairro do Recife. This commercial district, the oldest of Recife's three sections, housed the customs house and sugar inspection buildings. Here ships were loaded and unloaded, protected from rough seas outside the harbor by the wall of reef (recife) that gave the city its name. A traveler commenting on the "marvelous natural break-water" wrote, "We heard the surf dashing without, and saw the spray, but we ourselves were sailing along smoothly and calmly, as if in a mill-pond. ... The reef is certainly one of the wonders of the world." Old brick and tile-roofed three- and four-story buildings lined narrow, twisting streets and housed larger commercial establishments and their warehouses, insurance companies, foreign consuls, small shops, bars, and the coffee houses in which merchants carried out transactions. People resided in smaller structures along these paved streets as well. A crowded hustle and bustle continued from morning until late afternoon. A French observer noted the "continuous movement of blacks coming and going, carrying bundles, picking up their spirits with simple, monotonous song," into which were mixed cries of Afro-Brazilian women selling cloth and other wares that they carried in baskets on their heads.

Three miles to the north of the Bairro do Recife sat Olinda, the first European settlement in the area, which was built on hills that allowed a spectacular view. One of the country's two law schools that trained many members of the political elite was located here until the 1850s, when it was reestablished in Recife. A thin sandy isthmus, upon which the Brum and Buraco forts were built, linked Olinda and Recife. Canoes were commonly used to traverse the distance. In the other direction, one could leave the commercial district by crossing a bridge over the Beberibe River into the Bairro de Santo Antônio. This island neighborhood between the Bairro do Recife and Boa Vista was the site of the principal government buildings, such as the presidential palace, the treasury building, and the prison. There was also much commercial activity in Santo Antônio, but it consisted of retail sales, not the large-scale merchant activities of the Bairro do Recife. Crossing a bridge over the Capibaribe River to Boa Vista, one stepped onto the landmass. While the oldest section, near the river, housed some retail commerce, by and large Boa Vista was a residential area. In the nineteenth century it quickly gave way to the countryside, with country homes surrounded by gardens.

Recife's population was rapidly growing in the period between 1817 and 1850. A systematic study published in 1852 estimated the population of the city at between 60,000 and 70,000, out of a provincial population of 644,000. Sixty-five percent of Pernambuco's population was of at least partly African descent, and the proportion was nearly 70 percent in Recife. In the province as a whole, some 23 percent of the inhabitants were slaves, while in Recife the proportion was 26 percent. The residents of the capital thus comprised only a fraction of the entire provincial population, but they exercised greater influence on politics than their numbers alone would suggest.

Brazil and the Portuguese Empire

In the sixteenth century, Duarte Coelho established the first successful sugar cane cultivation in Portuguese America in what became the captaincy of Pernambuco. Planters and merchants prospered, and Recife became a regular stop for ships in the Portuguese fleet system. With the discovery of gold in the 1690s and diamonds in the 1720s in the center-south of the colony, revenues from its American possessions took on central importance for the Portuguese government, particularly in light of its trade deficits with Great Britain. A variety of policies were implemented to increase metropolitan control, above all in the mining districts. The crown created new administrative and judicial units, sent more armed men to the mining region, diminished a degree of the autonomy of the câmaras municipals (municipal councils), and increased taxes.

In the mid-eighteenth century, enlightened reformer Sebastião José de Carvalho eMelo, the Marquis of Pombal, implemented a wide-ranging reform project to enable Portugal to better exploit its far-flung empire. The Marquis of Pombal was particularly concerned with the British penetration of the Portuguese economy, which enabled Portugal's long-time ally to capture many of the benefits of trade with the American colony. Through a series of monopoly companies, taxation policies, and subsidies, enlightened reformers encouraged agricultural production in Brazil. Likewise, large Portuguese merchant houses were favored in an effort to strengthen metropolitan merchants who would then be better able to compete with their British counterparts.

As in Spanish America, greater metropolitan control and extraction of revenue from the colonies provoked tensions. Portuguese efforts to coopt the American-born elite, through access to positions in the Portuguese bureaucracy, no doubt eased the tensions between the colonial elite and the metropolis, as did the significant growth of agricultural production late in the century and the advantages for social control that a stable monarchy offered those who sat atop a multiracial slave society.

Nonetheless, Portuguese authorities did uproot several conspiracies — most notably, the Inconfidência Mineira in 1788–89 and the 1798 Tailors' Conspiracy in Salvador, Bahia. The former was an elite affair in which heavy taxation played a large role. The subsequent investigation also revealed some resonance with the ideals of the American Revolution among the conspirators. The Tailors' Conspiracy in Salvador was more quickly repressed, although the prospect of slaves, freedmen, and mulatto artisans invoking slogans of the French Revolution and calling for independence and equality must have been particularly distressing to royal officials, especially in light of the slave rebellion and upheaval in the French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue. In 1801 the so-called Conspiracy of the Suassunas in Pernambuco suggested some elite interest in the French Revolution, although this was a minor event and perhaps not too much should be read into it. While the Age of Revolution around the North Atlantic did offer examples of challenges to imperial powers and established institutions, the Terror of the French Revolution and the slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint Domingue served clear notice to the elites of the dangerous possibilities of social upheaval if political institutions were threatened.

The Transfer of the Royal Court

What made the Brazilian path to independence truly distinctive was Portugal's transfer of the seat of its empire to its American colony in 1807. Napoleon sought to tighten his Continental System, more effectively excluding Great Britain from the European landmass, by seizing control of Iberia. In response to the invasion of Portugal in November, João VI, the royal family, leading government figures, and perhaps eight thousand to fifteen thousand others set sail for the Americas in forty-seven ships and reestablished the royal court in Rio de janeiro. The British navy ensured a safe crossing and British commercial interests were quickly rewarded.


Excerpted from Political Struggle, Ideology, and State Building by Jeffrey C. Mosher. Copyright © 2008 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps     viii
Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction     1
The Portuguese Empire in the Age of Revolution: Pernambuco, 1817     9
Independence, Regional Rebellion, and the Struggle over the State, 1820-31     41
Liberal Reforms and the Resort to Arms, 1831-35     91
Social Control and the Construction of a Centralized State, 1836-43     121
Political Organization by Pernambuco's Southern Elite and Its Rivals, 1836-43     138
The Centralized State and Political Polarization, 1844-47     160
Political Parties, Popular Mobilization, and the Portuguese     185
The Praieira Revolution, 1848-50     206
Conclusion     249
Notes     255
Bibliography     311
Index     331

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