João Paulo Pimenta
Stemming from an accelerated and tumultuous process unleashed by European wars in the first decade of the 19th century, Brazil and Portugal split politically in 1822. In a sense, Brazil’s independence reflects a number of peculiar characteristics within the context of the time due, in part, to three centuries of Portuguese colonization and to changes within the colonial system beginning in the second half of the 1700s. In other ways, however, Brazilian independence is linked to external events like the French Revolution, the independence of Haiti, and, above all, the wars of independence in Spanish America. The most profound and lasting consequences of the break with Portugal were the emergence of a Brazilian state and nation that until that point did not exist and that was consolidated over the course of the nineteenth century, as well as the nationalization of certain colonial institutions that were partially maintained. Historiography and national memory would later imbue independence with supreme importance as the foundational moment of the nation such that it has become a recurring theme in historical studies of Brazil.
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.
Daniel Aarão Reis
Luís Carlos Prestes, from his birth in 1898 to his death in 1990, had a long, restless, and bustling life. His childhood and youth, as well as key events in his family life, are especially important in understanding the formation of his character. Trained as a soldier, Prestes would as an adult participate in the struggles of Brazilian army officers for the modernization and democratization of the nation (1920s), commanding, with Miguel Costa, a guerrilla column that traversed the country from 1924 to 1927. After that, Prestes became a communist and joined the Communist Party, leading a revolutionary putsch in November 1935, which was quickly put down. He then spent nine years in prison. By the time he was released, in 1945, he had become the undisputed leader of Brazil’s communists, and he was elected senator from the city of Rio de Janeiro in December. Between 1946 and 1964, through victories and defeats, he was one of the leading lights of the Brazilian Lefts. He was also an important player in the international communist movement, serving as an interlocutor in talks with the Communist parties of the USSR and China. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the defeat of the Brazilian Left in 1964, when a long military dictatorship was established in Brazil, Prestes’s prestige at home and abroad declined sharply. However, in the context of redemocratization, a process initiated in 1979, he remained a frequent reference point for leftists, albeit on a secondary level, who lauded his integrity and determination. For the Right, he stalked the political scene like a menacing ghost. Upon his death in 1990, no one could deny his impact on the history of Brazil, and on the Brazilian Left in particular.
João Roberto Martins Filho
The coup that took place in Brazil on March 31, 1964 can be understood as a typical Cold War event. Supported by civilians, the action was carried out by the armed forces. Its origins hark back to the failed military revolt, headed by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), in November of 1935, stirring up strong anticommunist sentiments. The Estado Novo coup, which occurred two years later, was supported by the army (war) and navy ministers. It marked the beginnings of the dictatorial phase of Getúlio Vargas, who had been in power since 1930.
At the end of the Second World War, officers who had taken part in the struggle against Nazism in Italy returned to Brazil and overthrew the dictatorial Vargas regime, who nonetheless returned to power through the 1950 presidential elections. In 1954, under pressure from right-wing military forces, he committed suicide, thereby frustrating existing plans for another coup d’état. The Superior War School (ESG), created in 1949, had become both the birthplace of the ideology of National Security and stage where the French doctrine of guerre révolutionnaire was welcomed. During the 1950s, the military came to be divided into pro-American and nationalist factions.
The alliance between the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) and the centrist Social Democratic Party (PSD), which had elected Vargas earlier, now enabled Juscelino Kubitschek’s victory in the 1955 elections, disappointing the conservatives of the National Democratic Union (UDN) and its military allies. The latter were briefly encouraged when the 1960 presidential election put Jânio Quadros at the head of the executive. In August 1961, when Quadros resigned, his military ministers tried to use force to keep Vice-President João Goulart, Vargas’s political heir at the head of the PTB, from taking office. The coup was frustrated by the resistance of the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Yet the Goulart administration was marked by instability, in the midst of intense social struggles and by a sharp economic crisis. The outcome of this drama began to take shape in March 1963, when the government took a leftwards turn. A massive demonstration in downtown Rio de Janeiro on March 13 served as an alert, and the March 25 sailors’ revolt as the match in the powder keg. On March 31, military forces carried out the infamous coup. The Goulart administration collapsed. Social movements were left waiting for orders to resist that never came.
Monica Duarte Dantas
Scholars have long studied the rebellious movements that rattled Brazil after its independence and during the so-called Regency period. The scholarship has mainly focused on understanding the political and economic elites who led the revolts by joining or fighting the rebels, or whose interests were at stake. Comparatively little attention has been paid to those who actually fought in the battles: namely, the impoverished free and freed people who comprised the majority of the country’s population. These women and men took up arms and, occasionally, led the rebellions, notably during the First Reign and the Regency. Historical accounts of such revolts are limited, however, and those that speak to upheavals that occurred from the 1850s on are even scarcer.
In the past decades, new interpretations of popular revolts during the Empire have enabled scholars to reappraise how free and freed poor (of Portuguese, African, or Native American descent) experienced the innovations brought by the country’s independence, and the long process of state-building.
Even if the country’s Charta was given by the first emperor, and not duly written and approved by a legislative body, it followed quite strictly the liberal creed that inspired so many other contemporary constitutions. According to the 1824 Charta, all of the country’s natural born were henceforth made citizens, regardless of whether they were free or freed, with constitutionally guaranteed rights. Although one should never mistake the letter of the law for its actual enforcement, its existence should also not be dismissed.
This is especially important when trying to understand the history of a country whose elites kept on fighting not only over the Constitution’s true meaning, but also over governmental control. Battling for independence and state power meant publicizing mottos about freedom, emancipation, the people’s rights, and the overcoming of oppression across the country—words that were spoken out loud and printed in newspapers and gazettes, reaching as far as the Brazilian backlands.
One must always factor into any historical equation the specifics of a country’s population. By the time Brazil became independent, slaves amounted to roughly 31 percent of the population, where most of the remaining 69 percent were composed of free poor, freed people, and “domesticated” Indians; all of whom became citizens when the 1824 Charta was enforced (with constitutional Rights, according to the law, and even, depending on one’s gender, age, income, and status—as a free or a freed man—to vote and be voted).
Considering all those specifics, this article analyzes the involvement of free and freed peoples in 19th century rebellions, riots, and seditions; movements that broke out all over the country, rattling regions as far as Maranhão and Rio Grande do Sul, from the 1820s to the 1880s. Regarding the role played by popular revolts in 19th century Brazil, one must go beyond the boundaries set by a traditional historiography to understand how the experience of protesting was directly related to the process of state building, and how the lower strata of society learned to fight for their demands as citizens of a representative constitutional monarchy.