Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An End of an Era - The Birth of the First Republic of Brazil

Proclamation of the First Republic of Brazil
The coup of 1889 aimed in abolishing the monarchy and paved the way for the establishment of the First Republic of Brazil. On November 15, 1889, the military under Field Marshall Manuel (Manoel) Deodoro da Fonseca took over the government from Brazilian Emperor Pedro II. It was a result of the declining support for the monarchy and growing calls for the establishment of a republic.

The history of the coup and the proclamation of the First Republic could be traced back from the War of Triple Alliance. The War of Triple Alliance or the Paraguayan War was an uneven war between the large countries of Brazil and Argentina, in addition with Uruguay, against the small nation of Paraguay. During the course of the war, Brazil was able to produce highly trained military officers. This officers were young and were not from the elite class of aristocrats and landowners. And some of them were able to study abroad under the sponsorship of the government.

Within this new ranks of military officers, new idea spread – positivism. Began in France during the middle of the 19th century, one its most famous thinkers Auguste de Comte promoted the use of logic and rationality. This idea transferred to an idea of a technocratic government where skills, merit, experience, and knowledge were the basis of promotion and also of governance. It ran against the politics of the Empire that was ruled by an elite and wealthy land owners, and most importantly, an emperor who ruled the people under birth and divine rights. One of the most famous preacher of the positivist ideas was a military officer named Benjamin Constants. Constants taught in the military academy and spread positivism to the next generation of officers and later would play key role to the ousting of Pedro II and the monarchial system in Brazil.

The support of this officers on the monarchy further drop after the war. When the war ended, they felt unpaid and unappreciated. Furthermore, the budget of the military was slashed and meant that would not be paid well for their sacrifices. Thus, they become disenchanted of the Imperial system.

After the war, the officers gain the support and respect from different sectors of Brazilian society. The middle class supported the military for their bravery and determination during the long and arduous War of Triple Alliance. Also, along with the lower classes of the society, they saw representation from these officers because they came from the same class. In addition, professionals also supported the officials. Mainly, due to the reason that they also believed in the idea of positivism.

Another aspect of the rise of republicanism in Brazil was in politics. Ever since the start of the reign of Emperor Pedro II, two faction rivaled in the Senate or the legislature of the Empire. These parties were the Liberal and the Conservatives. Both, however, did not represent all classes of Brazilian society. They were representing only the two views of the wealthy landowners. But, in 1866, split occurred within the Liberal faction. And after four years, those who seceded formed the Republican Club. Under their Republican Manifesto, they promoted the idea of provincial autonomy and the disadvantages of a centralized government, which existed under the monarchial system.

Already, professionals, military, and some politicians were already losing, if not, lose faith on the monarchial system, but there would be another one which would add to the list – the church, the Roman Catholic Church. In 1870’s, a clash between the clergy and Pedro II raged under the so-called “Religious Question” – Masonry. The Catholic Church wanted to punish religious groups that had members who were also freemasons. Many of those were hit were politicians. Among them was the Prime Minister. The issue was raised to Pedro II, who supported masonry. The clash between monarchy and the church resulted to the arrest of two prominent bishops. The act against the clergy resulted to the tremendous decline of support of the church to Pedro II.

And one of the greatest factor to the rise of Republicanism was slavery. Many were already against slavery, especially within the military ranks. In 1888, while the Emperor was on a vacation trip abroad, the person temporary in charge of the Empire, was persuaded to sign the Lei Aurea or the Golden Law, which abolished slavery throughout the Empire. For many, especially in the army, the abolition of slavery marked the end of an old institution which in their thoughts, should also include the monarchial system.

And so the die was cast for change in the form of government. The 1880’s saw the rapid decline on the health of Emperor Pedro II. Also, he did not have a male heir but had daughters, which in a patriarchal society were not acceptable as rulers. And thus, many saw it an opportunity for a change in government. Also, the popularity of the monarchy was in a sharp decline. During that period, the control of the government became even more autocratic, centralized, and non-representative. Many of the provinces were not able to enjoy the fruits of their economic growth because they were channeled back through the central government and not the local.

There were signs given to Pedro about the chance of the overthrowing of the monarchy. In 1887, the first president of the newly established military club, Field Marshal Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca wrote a letter addressed to Emperor Pedro II that any insult to the military and if reforms were not carried out, a “storm” would come. In 1889, the Viscount of Ouro Preto from the Liberal Party became the Prime Minister. He warned the Emperor of the numerous calls for a change of form of government, from monarchy to a republic. Nevertheless, the old Pedro II was too weak to begin change in a rapidly changing Brazil.

On November 9, 1889, the plot to overthrow the monarchy was forged. Pedro II was in his summer palace in Petropolis, just outside Rio de Janeiro. The Prime Minister remained confident that Field Marshal da Fonseca was loyal to the emperor even though with the warning letter from 1887. Hence, Viscount of Ouro Preto felt there was no imminent threat of a coup. But on November 9, in the Military Club in Rio, Benjamin Constant, the famous military officer promoting Positivism, officiated a meeting with high ranking Republicans like Rui Barbosa and Aristides Lobo. From the meeting, Marshal da Fonseca, who by time was old and in his twilight years, was hesitant in supporting and leading the coup. But with the persuasion of Constant and others, da Fonseca later agreed to lead the coup.

Six days later, on November 15, 1889, after a careful planning, the coup began. On the morning of that day, troops poured in to the capital and captured many government houses. Field Marshal Florian Peixoto, another high ranking official and thought by the Prime Minister as another loyal officer to the Emperor, did not move to stop the coup. The Prime Minister’s office was surrounded and the Viscount of Ouro Preto was forced to resign and was arrested. Upon the resignation of the Prime Minister and the capture of key government buildings, Marshal da Fonseca proclaim the abolition of the monarchy and the foundation.

On the following day, the faith of Pedro II was decided. Pedro returned to Rio from his palace in Petropolis. He was then informed of the establishing of a Republic. The military officials then sent Emperor Pedro II an ultimatum. He must leave the country within 24 hours. The officials needed Pedro II to leave the country immediately so as to prevent a civil war between the Republicans and the Monarchist. Pedro II who was old and knew he could no longer stay in power, decided to leave his homeland Brazil. And on November 17, 1889, Pedro II and his family sailed back to Portugal. He would eventually passed away on 1891 in Paris. To the surprise of many foreigners observing the events in Brazil. There was not even a single cry of support for the defense of the monarchy during the time of the coup. It was appeared as if the whole nation already made up their minds that it was time to move on.

Meanwhile, the Republicans began to set up the government of the new Brazil. Marshal da Fonseca assumed the presidency of the Republic. It was decided that Brazil would be known as the United States of Brazil with the slogan that remain today – Ordem e Progresso or Order and Progress. On February 24, 1891, the Republican constitution of Brazil was promulgated. Under the Republic, the decentralization was promoted by establishing a federal type of government. Provinces were then converted into states and were given autonomy. States were given power over their respective economies and to form their own state militias. Furthermore, secularization began with the separation of the church and state. The First Republic of Brazil would remain in power until 1930.

The birth and foundation of the First Republic of Brazil was a change a change of an era. The Empire of Brazil under Pedro II brought economic growth and institutional reform which would ironically bring it down. With a war, Empire saw the rise of new military officers enlighten with the idea of positivism and later republicanism. Its clash with different sectors of society drained its support. Finally, the abolition of slavery meant the end of an old and outdated era, which include the monarchy itself. With a weary Emperor, the Republicans, led by the military, made the move to change from a monarchy to a new republic. A republic that was meant to be more representing and gave more powers to the state level. Finally, with the foundation of the Republic, Brazil saw a new powerful and influential entity governing the nation – the Military.  The military became a powerful entity, intervening with coups twice throughout the existence of the Republic and lastly, it was the military that caused the fall of the First Republic.

Bethell, Leslie (ed.). Brazil: Empire and Republic, 1822 - 1930. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Levine, R. The History of Brazil. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Smith, J. A History of Brazil. New York: Routledge, 2014.

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