Latin American Civilization: History and Society, 1492 to the Present

By Benjamin Keen | Go to book overview

16
BRAZIL: FROM EMPIRE TO REPUBLIC

INDEPENDENT BRAZIL made a relatively easy and rapid transition to a stable political order. To the troubled reign of Dom Pedro I ( 1822-1831) and the stormy years of the Regency ( 1831-1840) succeeded the long and serene reign of Dom Pedro II ( 1840-1889). Brazil's ruling class of great landowners deliberately sacrificed "liberty with anarchy for order and security," in the words of Professor Manchester, and vested the young emperor, called to rule at the age of fifteen, with virtually absolute power. The generally upward movement of Brazilian economic life and the tact, wisdom, and firmness of the emperor contributed to the success with which the system functioned for half a century.

Only one serious foreign crisis-the exhausting Paraguayan War ( 1865- 1870) -- marred Dom Pedro's reign. Economic and social change dominated the period. As the sugar-growing northeast and its patriarchal slave society declined because of competition from foreign sugars, coffee-raising São Paulo, which was gradually shifting to the use of free immigrant labor, gained in prosperity and importance. The rise (after 1850) of banks, corporations, stock exchanges, and other institutions of capitalism further weakened the position of the old-style plantation aristocracy.

The new business and landowning groups, employing free labor, grew increasingly impatient with the highly centralized imperial régime and the dominant influence of slave-owning fazendeiros within it. Rising antislavery agitation was accompanied by a slower growth of republican propaganda. Popular pressure for emancipation became irresistible. In 1888 the Brazilian Parliament, with the approval of the emperor's daughter, passed a law abolishing slavery. One year later, weakened by the defection of a large portion of the rural aristocracy, by quarrels with the church, and by discontent on the

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