Days of National Festivity in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1823-1889

By Hendrik Kraay | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Radical Challenge, 1830–1837

On the night of 25–26 March 1830, Rio de Janeiro’s civic rituals changed dramatically when, for the first time, citizens celebrated the constitution separately from the official festivities. This demonstration against Pedro I’s government launched four years of intensely politicized rituals as Brazilians, deeply divided over the great political questions concerning the nature of the imperial regime, struggled for control over the ritual spaces established during the previous years. The press freedom gradually instituted in the late 1820s allowed partisan journals to flourish in the 1830s; they described the celebrations of days of national festivity in considerable detail and intently debated their meaning or, better, the nature of the institutions established in 1822–24 and celebrated on days of national festivity.1

The politics of 1830–37 remain difficult to elucidate. An explosion of often ephemeral partisan newspapers whose language is obscure to modern readers, rapid turns in political fortunes, and dramatically different political trajectories in the provinces combine to make this, as João Manoel Pereira da Silva wrote in 1888, “unquestionably the most interesting, dramatic, and instructive [period] of Brazilian history.”2 While Pereira da Silva sought to draw lessons about the dangers of extreme partisanship and popular mobilizations, modern historians are more likely to celebrate the participation of broad sectors of the population in politics (although they sometimes exaggerate the degree of autonomy that the popular classes enjoyed). Simple distinctions between liberals and conservatives, constitutionalists and absolutists, Brazilians and Portuguese, or blacks and whites do justice neither to the partisan political positions nor to the innovative political practices pioneered by all factions. Broadly speaking, the conflicts pitted first “Brazilians,”

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