Historical Tales: 3—Spanish American - Charles Morris

Colony, Empire, and Republic; Revolution in Brazil

While the Spanish colonies of South America were battling for their liberties, the great Portuguese colony of Brazil was going through a very different experience. Bolivar and his compatriots were seeking to drive Spain out of America. On the contrary, we have the curious spectacle of Brazil swallowing Portugal, or at least its king and its throne, so that, for a time, the colony became the state, and the state became the dependency. It was a marked instance of the tail wagging the clog. Brazil became the one empire in America, and was destined not to become a republic until many years later. Such are the themes with which we here propose to deal.

To begin this tale we must go back to those stirring times in Europe when Napoleon, the great conqueror, was in the height of his career, and was disposing of countries at his will, much as a chess-player moves the king, queen, and knights upon his board. In 1807 one of his armies, led by Marshal Junot, was marching on Lisbon, with the purpose of punishing Portugal for the crime of being a friend of the English realm.

John, then the prince regent of Portugal, was a weak-minded, feeble specimen of royalty, who did not keep of one mind two days together. Now he clung to England; now, scared by Napoleon, he claimed to be a friend of France; and thus he shifted back and forward until the French despot sent an army to his kingdom to help him make up his mind. The people were ready to fight for their country, but the prince still wobbled between two opinions, until Junot had crossed the borders and was fast making his way to Lisbon.

Prince John was now in a pitiable state. He shed tears over the fate of his country, but, as for himself, he wanted badly to save his precious person. Across the seas lay the great Portuguese colony of Brazil, in whose vast forest area he might find a safe refuge. The terrible French were close at hand. He must be a captive or a fugitive. In all haste he and his court had their treasures carried on a man-of-war in the Lisbon harbor and prepared for flight. Most of the nobility of the country followed him on shipboard, the total hegira embracing fifteen thousand persons, who took with them valuables worth fifty millions of dollars. On November 29, 1807, the fleet set sail. leaving the harbor just as the advance guard of the French came near enough to gaze on its swelling sails. It was a remarkable spectacle, one rarely seen in the history of the world, that of a monarch fleeing from his country with his nobility and treasures, to transfer his government to a distant colony of the realm.

Seven weeks later the fugitives landed in Brazil, where they were received with an enthusiastic show of loyalty and devotion. John well repaid the loyal colonists by lifting their country into the condition of a separate nation. Its ports, hitherto reserved for Portuguese ships, were opened to the world's commerce; its system of seclusion and monopoly was brought to a sudden end; manufactures were set free from their fetters; a national bank was established; Brazil was thrown open freely to foreigners; schools and a medical college were opened, and every colonial restriction was swept away at a blow. Brazil was raised from a dependency to a kingdom at a word. John, while bearing the title of prince, was practically king, for his mother, the queen of Portugal, was hopelessly insane, and he ruled in her stead.

He became actual king, as John VI., on the death of his mother in 1816, and as such he soon found trouble growing up around him. The Brazilians had been given so much that they wanted more. The opening of their country to commerce and travel had let in new ideas, and the people began to discover that they were the slaves of an absolute government. This feeling of unrest passed out of sight for a time, and first broke out in rebellion at Pernambuco in 1817. This was put down, but a wider revolt came on in 1820, and spread early in the next year to Rio de Janeiro, the capital, whose people demanded of their ruler a liberal constitution.

A great crowd assembled in the streets, the frightened monarch taking refuge in his palace in the suburbs, where he lay trembling with fear. Fortunately, his son, Prince Pedro, was a man of more resolute character, and he quieted the people by swearing that his father and himself would accept the constitution they offered. Full of joy, the throng marched with enthusiasm to the palace of the king, who on seeing them approach was not sure whether he was to be garroted or guillotined. Forced to get into his carriage, he quite mistook their meaning, and fell into a paroxysm of terror when the people took out the horses that they might draw him to the city with their own hands. He actually fainted from fright, and when his senses came back, he sat sobbing and snivelling, protesting that he would agree to anything,— anything his dear people wanted.

King John by this time had had quite enough of Brazil and the Brazilians. As soon as he could decide on anything, he determined to take his throne and his crown back to Portugal, whence he had brought them fourteen years before, leaving his son Pedro—young, ardent, and popular—to take care of Brazil in his stead.

But the people were not satisfied to let him go until he had given his royal warrant to the new constitution, and just before he was ready to depart a crowd gathered round the palace, demanding that he should give his assent to the charter of the people's rights. He had never read it, and likely knew very little what it was about, but he signed what they asked for, all the same, and then made haste on shipboard, leaving Prince Pedro as regent, and as glad to get away from his loyal  Brazilians as he had once before been to get away from Junot and his Frenchmen.

Brazil again became a colony of Portugal, but it was not long to remain so. The Cortes of Portugal grew anxious to milk the colonial cow, and passed laws to bring Brazil again under despotic control. One of these required the young prince to leave Brazil. They were laying plans to throw the great colony back into its former state.

When news of these acts reached Rio the city broke into a tumult. Pedro was begged not to abandon his loving people, and he agreed—thus defying the Cortes and its orders. This was on January 9, 1822. The Cortes next, to carry out its work for the subjugation of Brazil, sent a squadron to bring back the prince. This forced him to take a decided stand. On May 13 he took the title of "Perpetual Defender and Protector of Brazil;" and on the 7th of September, when word came that the Cortes had taken still more violent action, he drew his sword in the presence of a party of revolutionists, with the exclamation, "Independence or Death." On the 12th of the following month he was solemnly crowned as Pedro I., "Constitutional Emperor of Brazil," and the revolution was consummated. Within less than a year thereafter not a hostile Portuguese soldier remained in Brazil, and it had taken its place definitely among the nations of America.

This is but half the story of Brazil's struggle for freedom. It seems advisable to tell the other half, which took place in 1889, sixty-seven years after the first revolution. The first made Brazil an in-dependent empire. The second made it a republic, and brought it into line with the republican nations of America. And in connection therewith a peculiar fate attended the establishment of monarchy in Brazil. We have seen how John, the first emperor, "left his country for the country's good." The same was the ease with his two successors, Pedro I. and Pedro II.

Pedro I. took the throne with loud-mouthed declarations of his aspirations for liberty. He was going to be a second Washington. But it was all empty talk, the outpourings of a weak brain, a mere dramatic posing, to which he was given. His ardor for liberty soon cooled, and it was not long before he was treating the people like a despot. The constitution promised was not given until it was fairly forced from him, and then it proved to be a worthless document, made only to be disregarded. A congress was called into being, but the emperor wished to confine its functions to the increase of the taxes, and matters went on from bad to worse until by 1831 the indignation of the people grew intense. The troops were in sympathy with the multitude, and the emperor, finding that he stood alone against the country, finally abdicated the throne in haste in favor of his infant son. He took refuge on a British warship in the harbor, and left the country never to return. The remainder of his short life was spent as king of Portugal.

Dom Pedro II. was a very different man from his father. Studious, liberal, high-minded, he did not, like his father, stand in the way of the congress and its powers. But for all his liberality, Brazil was not satisfied. All around it were republics, and the spirit of republicanism invaded the empire and grew apace. From the people it made its way into the army, and in time it began to look as if no other emperor would be permitted to succeed Dom Pedro on the throne. By this time he was growing old and feeble and there was a general feeling that he ought to be left to end his reign undisturbed, and the republic be founded on his grave. Unfortunately for him, many began to believe that a plot was in the air to make him give up the throne to his daughter, Isabel. She was unpopular, and her husband, the Count d'Eu, was hated, and when the ministry began to send the military away from the capital, as if to carry out such a plot, an outbreak came.

Its leaders were Benjamin Constant, formerly a professor in the military school, and Marshal Deodoro de Fonsaca, one of the leading officers of the army. There was one brigade they could count on,—the second,—and all the forces in Rio were republican in sentiment.

On the 14th of November, 1889, a rumor spread about that Constant and Deodoro were to be arrested and the disaffected soldiers to be sent away. It was time to strike. Early the next morning Constant rode out to the quarters of the Second Brigade, called it out, and led it to the great square in front of the war Department building. Deodoro took command and sent an officer into the building to demand the surrender of the ministry. They yielded, and telegraphed their resignation to the emperor, who was at Petropolis, twenty-five miles away in the mountains.

The revolution was phenomenally successful. When the other troops in the city heard of the revolt, they marched, cheering, through the streets to join the Second Brigade, while the people, who did not dream of what was afoot, looked on in astonishment. No one thought of resisting, and when Dom Pedro reached the city at three o'clock in the afternoon, it was to find that he was no longer emperor. A provisional government had been organized, the chiefs of the revolution had named themselves ministers, and they had taken possession of the public buildings. A decree was issued that Brazil had ceased to be an empire and had become a federal republic.

So great a change has rarely been accomplished so easily. A few friends visited the emperor, but there was no one to strike a blow for him. And the feeble old man cared too little for power to wish to be kept on the throne by the shedding of blood. That night word was sent him that he had been deposed and would be compelled to leave the country with his family During the next night the royal victims of the revolution were sent on shipboard and their voyage to Lisbon began. Thus was the third emperor sent out of Brazil through a bloodless revolution.

Yet the reaction was to come. A federal republic was organized, with a constitution closely like that of the United States. But the men at the head of government had the army at their back and were rather military dictators than presidents, and it was not long before rebellions broke out in some of the states. For three years there was war between the two factions of the people, with frightful destruction of life and property. Then, in September, 1893, the navy rebelled.

The navy had always been officered by aristocrats, and looked with contempt upon the army. At its head was Admiral Mello; his ships lay in the harbor of Rio, and their guns commanded the city. It soon became evident that it was the purpose of Mello and his fellows to re-establish the empire and bring back Dom Pedro to the throne.

But the rebel admiral found himself in a difficult situation. He hesitated about bombarding the city, which was full of his friends. Peixoto, the president, filled the forts with soldiers, and the naval officers had much trouble to obtain supplies. Mello, finding himself in a dilemma, left the harbor with one of his ironclads and went to Santa Catharina. Saraiva, an able chief of his party, invaded this and the neighboring districts, but he was hotly pursued and his forces defeated, and Mello returned to Rio without having gained any advantage. Here he found his position a very awkward one. The rebels were all afloat. They had nothing to gain by bombarding the city. The best they could do was to try and establish a commercial blockade, so as to force the government to terms, and in doing this Mello found himself running up against the power of the United States.

We have given these incidents not so much for the interest they may have in themselves, but because they lead up to a dramatic finale which seems worth relating. There were warships of several nations in the harbor, the officers of most of which accorded the rights of belligerents to the rebel navy, though it had not a foot of land under its control. Saldana da Gama, then in command of the ships, refused permission to any merchant vessel to go to the wharves to deliver its cargo, threatening to fire on any one that should venture. Thus the fleet of merchantmen was forced to lie out in the bay and await the end of the war, in spite of the fact that yellow fever was making havoc among the crews.

Rio de Janeiro


The captains of the American merchant ships applied for protection to the senior American officer present, but he refused to interfere, and the commercial blockade went on. Such was the state of affairs when the United States Admiral Andrew E. Benham appeared in the harbor and took in the situation. He was a man to accept responsibilities.

"Go in," he said to the American captains. "Trust to me to protect you from attack or to revenge you if injured."

This promise put new spirit into the captains. Captain Blackford, of the barque "Amy," and two other captains, gave notice on Sunday, January 29, 1894 that they would take their ships in to the wharves the next morning. When Da Gama heard of this he announced that he would fire on any vessel that dared attempt it.

When Monday morning dawned there was a state of excitement in Rio Janeiro harbor. Da Gama might keep his word, and what would the American admiral do in that event? The commanders of the other war-vessels looked on with interest and anxiety. They soon saw that Benham meant business. The dawn of day showed active movements in the small American squadron. The ships were clearing for action, and the cruiser "Detroit" took a position from which she could command two of Da Gama's vessels, the "Guanabara" and the "Trajano."

When the "Detroit" was in position, the "Amy" began to warp in towards the pier. A musket-shot came in warning from the deck of the "Guanabara." Instantly from the "Detroit" a ball hurtled past the bow of the Brazilian ship. A second followed that struck her side. Seeing that two Brazilian tugs were moving inward as if with intent to ram his vessel, Captain Brownson of the "Detroit" took his ship in between the two Brazilian war-vessels, in a position to rake them and their supporting tugs.

This decisive act ended the affair. Da Gama's guns remained silent, and the "Amy," followed by the other two vessels, made her way unharmed to the wharves. Others followed, and before night all the British and other merchantmen in the harbor were hastening in to discharge their cargoes. Benham had brought to a quick end the "intolerable situation" in Rio Janeiro harbor.

This ended the last hope of the naval revolutionists to bring Peixoto to terms. Some of the iron-clads escaped from the harbor and fled to Santa Catharina, where they were captured by the republicans. A few months sufficed to bring the revolt to an end, and republicanism was at length firmly established in Brazil.