The Achievement of Brazilian Independence
In contrast to the political anarchy economic dislocation, and military destruction in Spanish America, Brazil's drive toward independence from Portugal proceeded as a relatively bloodless transition between 1808 and 1822. The idea of Brazilian independence first arose in the late eighteenth century as a Brazilian reaction to the Portuguese policy of tightening political and economic control over the colony in the interests of the mother country. The first significant conspiracy against Portuguese rule was organized from 1788-1799 in the province of Minas Gerais, where rigid governmental control over the production and prices of gold and diamonds, as well as heavy taxes, caused much discontent. But this conspiracy never went beyond the stage of discussion and was easily discovered and crushed. Other conspiracies in the late eighteenth century as well as a brief revolt in 1817 reflected the influence of republican ideas over sections of the elite and even the lower strata of urban society. All proved abortive or were soon crushed. Were it not for an accident of European history, the independence of Brazil might have been long delayed.
The French invasion of Portugal in 1807 followed by the flight of the Portuguese court (sovereign and government officers) to Rio de Janeiro brought large benefits to Brazil. Indeed, the transfer of the court in effect signified achievement of Brazilian independence. The Portuguese prince and future King Joao VI opened Brazil's ports to the trade of friendly nations, permitted the rise of local industries, and founded the Bank of Brazil. In 1815 he elevated Brazil to the legal status of a kingdom coequal with Portugal. ln one sense, however, Brazil's new status signified the substitution of one dependence for another. Freed from Portuguese control, Brazil came under the economic dominance of England, which obtained major tariff concessions and other privileges by the Strangford Treaty of 1810 between Portugal and Great Britain. The treaty provided for the importation of British manufactures into Brazil and the export of Brazilian agricultural produce to Great Britain. One result was an influx of cheap machine-made goods that swamped the handicrafts industry of the country.
Brazilian elites took satisfaction in Brazil's new role and the growth of educational, cultural, and economic opportunities for their class. But the feeling was mixed with resentment toward the thousands of Portuguese courtiers (officials) and hangers-on who came with the court and who competed with Brazilians for jobs and favors. Thus, the change in the status of Brazil sharpened the conflict between Portuguese elites born in Brazil and elites born in Portugal and loyal to the Portuguese crown.
The event that precipitated the break with the mother country was the revolution of 1820 in Portugal. The Portuguese revolutionaries framed a liberal constitution for the kingdom, but they were conservative or reactionary in relation to Brazil. They demanded the immediate return of King Joao to Lisbon, an end to the system of dual monarchy that he had devised, and the restoration of the Portuguese commercial monopoly. Timid and vacillating, King Joao did not know which way to turn. Under the pressure of his courtiers, who hungered to return to Portugal and their lost estates, he finally approved the new constitution and sailed for Portugal. He left behind him, however, his son and heir, Pedro, and in a private letter advised him that in the event the Brazilians should demand independence, he should assume leadership of the movement and set the crown of Brazil on his head.
Soon it became clear that the Portuguese parliament intended to set the clock back by abrogating all the liberties and concessions won by Brazil since 1808. One of its decrees insisted on the immediate return of Pedro from Brazil. The pace of events moved more rapidly in 1822. On January 9, urged on by Brazilian advisers who perceived a golden opportunity to make an orderly transition to independence without the intervention of the masses, Pedro refused an order from the parliament to return to Portugal, saying famously, "l remain." On September 7, regarded by all Brazilians as Independence Day, he issued the even more celebrated proclamation, "Independence or death!" In December 1822, having overcome slight resistance by Portuguese troops, Dom Pedro was formally proclaimed constitutional Emperor of Brazil.