South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

Colonial History of Brazil

What the Pacific Ocean, lying undisturbed, or moving in long waves that rise and fall in repose, is among waters, that Brazil seems to be among the Latin-American states. She has been the scene of few political tragedies. As a rule, her Indian races have been a quiet and contented people, living under the guidance of rulers that were just. When these races were about to rise against the growing immigration, the Portuguese, who had lived among them, persuaded them to await events. The discovery of the country was claimed by others, but they were persuaded to relinquish their claims in favor of the Portuguese. The many colonies did not often fall into disputes with one another. The captains of the provinces yielded to a governor-general, and the governor-general to a king. When Napoleon displaced thrones, the royal family of Portugal fled to Brazil. The Brazilians were unwilling to have them return. The matter was peacefully adjusted. The constitution was proclaimed by an emperor. He, as emperor, swore to support this constitution. The Brazilians made him emperor for life. This growth of republican sentiments came peacefully. When Dom Pedro I. saw that the people were dissatisfied with him, he abdicated in favor of his son. The people elected the regents for this son. When this son did not come of age at the time they wished, the Congress shortened the time of his minority.

Brazil has been called the "land of diamonds." It has a length of some 260o British miles, a breadth of 2500 miles, and some 4000 miles of sea-coast. The great river of the lowlands of Brazil, the Amazon, is the monarch of watercourses. With its tributaries it has a free navigation of some 30,000 miles.

All climates are found in this vast empire—the tropical heat in the valleys of the Amazon, the inter-tropical, and the temperate of the western elevations. The marshy banks of the lowlands are unhealthful, but the climate as a whole is salubrious. With its vigorous coffee-plantations, its india-rubber groves, its cotton, its forests, and its mines of gems, the empire is inexhaustibly rich.

Brazil was discovered in 1499 by Vicente Yailez Pinzon, an explorer in the service of Columbus. He sailed along the coast from the Amazon to the Orinoco, and carried brazil-wood back to Spain.

In 1500 a Portuguese captain, Pedro Alvares Cabral, was commissioned by his king to follow the course of Vasco da Gama. He was driven by winds upon the Brazilian coast. This commander celebrated Easter Sunday on shore, where he erected an altar and uplifted the cross. He took possession of the country in the name of the King of Portugal. He sent back a vessel to Lisbon to proclaim his discovery, while he went on his way to India. He left behind a stone cross to commemorate the event of his visit.

The news of the discovery thrilled Portugal. The king called the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci into his service, and sent him with three vessels to explore the country. From him is derived the name of the western world, America. Vespucci beheld the new land with wonder. He hastened back to Portugal to report what he had seen. He took with him a cargo of brazil-wood, monkeys and parrots. He established a settlement on the coast.

Although Vespucci brought back with him wonderful accounts of the country, he did not bring gold or diamonds. The diamond country had not at that time been discovered. The subjects of Portugal, however, began to go to Brazil for brazil-wood, and to colonize the country. A large Portuguese colony soon began to form there, and out of it grew an empire.

Martin Alfonso de Sousa came to a harbor on the coast on January 1, 1531, and from that circumstance named it Rio de Janeiro, the "River of January." It is one of the finest and most picturesque harbors in the world. He explored the country and made an alliance with the natives. Cotton and sugar-cane were introduced from Madeira. The Portuguese colonies multiplied, flourished and grew.

The city of Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1667 by the Portuguese. Portuguese explorers and noblemen received grants of territory called captaincies. Brazil seemed destined to become the greater Portugal, a great source of that country's revenue, and one of the dependencies of her glory and pride. This, however, was for a time delayed.

Orellana, a Spanish adventurer, had started from Peru, found the Amazon, and sailed down that river. The discovery of the river was claimed by him, and for Spain.

Portugal then found it necessary to appoint a captain-general to protect her territory. Thome de Sousa was given this office, and in him the viceregal government of Brazil began.

In 1730 the discovery of the diamond-fields was announced to the government, which declared the mines to be regalia  (royal rights). The white population increased largely and was generally peaceful. There was a contest between the Jesuit missionaries and some of the settlers, but Brazil for a long time had a peaceful history.

In 1807, during the invasion of Portugal by the French, the royal family fled to Brazil for safety. The colony thus became the seat of the throne of the parent country. The return of the royal family to Portugal displeased the Brazilians, as they thereby again became provincial.

Republican ideas, which were filling South America, found ready acceptance in Brazil. In 1822 the independence of Brazil was proclaimed. After many revolutionary changes a constitution was formulated and proclaimed. On March 25, 1824, the emperor swore to support the constitution. By so doing he saved Brazil to the Portuguese throne. The Emperor of Portugal assumed the title of Emperor of Brazil, but abdicated in favor of his son, Dom Pedro I., who, it was expected, would hold the throne for life. Thus Brazil became a republic, with a king of the house of Portugal as its executive officer. The new emperor, however, was favorable to the party of absolutism. He excited opposition, and finally abdicated the throne in favor of his son, Dom Pedro II., then a boy, for whom a regency was formed.

The election of a regent followed. This practically made the government republican. Dom Pedro II. was proclaimed emperor July 23, 1840. With this boy's reign began the prosperous period of the Brazilian monarchy. When the beneficent Dom Pedro II. found that the people desired a republic with an elective head, he abdicated.