On January 7, 1835 a group of landowners, artisans, soldiers, and peasants stormed Belém, the capital of the Amazon region. Now known as the Cabanagem, this rebellion occurred during a time of social upheaval in not just Pará but also Brazil. On that first day a prominent landowner, Felix Malcher, was released from prison and declared the new president by popular proclamation. The administration in Rio refused to recognize him, despite his statement of allegiance to the Empire of Brazil. Soon factions erupted, aligned with differences between the local elites and their poorer allies; Malcher and a subsequent president were killed. After battles with imperial forces the third rebel president, Eduardo Angelim, was adopted by a victorious crowd in August 1835. The capital reverted to imperial hands on May 13, 1836; however, the rebellion had not been quelled as the rest of the region became embroiled in conflict. As it developed, ethnic and class alliances changed, and the battles continued for four more years. While rebels gradually lost towns and fortified rural encampments, they were never defeated militarily. Organized attacks continued until a general amnesty was granted to all rebels by Emperor Pedro II in July 1840. The Cabanagem, which involved indigenous people, was a broad and fragile alliance composed of different interests with an international dimension. Radical liberal ideas brought together those living in rural and urban districts and appealed to long-standing animosities against distant control by outsiders, the inconsistent use of the law to protect all people, and compulsory labor regimes that took people away from their families and lands. Yet the regency administration feared the break-up of the newly independent Brazil. The violent pacification of the region was justified by portraying the movement as a race war, dominated by “people of color” incapable of ruling themselves.
The role that liberals and liberalism played from the beginning of the crisis hispánica of 1808 until the death of Simón Bolívar in 1830 can be separated for analytical purposes in two different strands: the Peninsular and the Spanish American. This is a distinction that should be adopted with care, because in the end it can be considered that we are dealing with a single liberalism, the liberalismo hispánico. However, different historical, political, and social realities on each side of the Atlantic gave this liberalism different connotations. At first, Peninsulars and Spanish Americans worked in the same direction and with the same objective (the rejection of the French king that Napoleon imposed in the throne of Spain), but soon they parted ways in a practical, though not necessarily in a theoretical sense, at least concerning liberalism. In any case, contrary to what Western historiography has repeated for a long time, liberalism was a major player in the mundo hispánico during the Age of Revolutions. In fact, the term “liberal” used to define a political group made its first appearance in the Cortes (parliament or congress) that gathered in the Spanish port of Cádiz from 1810 to 1814. Nevertheless, the revolutionary contents of liberalism had to confront sociopolitical histories and realities that forced it to adapt itself to the prevailing social circumstances and to make concessions to other currents of thought and practices that do not coincide with the “liberal model” that still has ascendancy in Western historiography. This model tends to ignore the historical liberalisms that have existed in Europe, America, and other parts of the world since the “liberals” made their appearance in Spain more than two hundred years ago and in the Hispanic case in particular fails to address its radical character when considered against the Spanish Ancien régime. The result in the case of the mundo hispánico was an original and revolutionary doctrine that during the second and third decades of the 19th century transformed Hispanic politics on both sides of the Atlantic. The fact that these transformations were not consolidated or in the Peninsular case did not last for long does not diminish their importance for political and intellectual history.