The cry that was not heard
“Independence or Death!” Consecrated by History, the Cry of Ipiranga on September 7th of 1822 had nearly no repercussion among its contemporaries. In Rio de Janeiro press, only the September issue number 20 of the newspaper O Espelho exalted “the agreement cry of all Brazilians”. In practice, Independence was far from coming.
Three centuries after the discovery, Brazil was not more than five different regions that shared the same language, the same religion and, most of all, the aversion or despise for those born in the Kingdom, as defined by historian Capistrano de Abreu. In 1808, the wind started to change. The arrival of the Court and the unprecedented presence of a sovereign in American soil motivated new hopes amidst the Portuguese-Brazilian intellectual elite. At that time, no one conceived of the idea of a separation, but expected at least that the metropolis would stop being so centralizing in its policies. Vain illusion: the empire installed in Rio de Janeiro simply copied Portugal’s main administration structure, which contributed to reinforcing the metropolis’ central place, now in America, not only in relation to the other captaincies in Brazil, but also in the European territory.
The peak of the questioning around the Ancient Regime’s practices occurred on August 24th of 1820, when the Liberal Revolution broke out in Porto. People claimed for a Constitution based on the freedoms and rights of nascent liberalism. The revolution had an important repercussion in Brazil, through an astonishing quantity of newspapers and political flyers. Throughout the year of 1821, however, these publications did not present any proposals in favor of the emancipation.
Until the beginning of 1822, no one spoke about Brazil. When they left for Lisbon Courts to discuss the Kingdom’s Constitution, American deputies only thought about their “local homelands”, that is, their provinces. Only Paulistas showed some concern about building a proposal for the entire Portuguese America. Nevertheless, they would not give up the United Kingdom’s integrity: they suggested Brazil should be the home of monarchy, or else the rotation of the king’s residence between the two sides of the Atlantic. “Independence” meant, first of all, autonomy.
Along that year, however, the speech became radical. Dissatisfaction with the metropolis grew, for proposals came from the Courts aiming to restore some of the old political economical restrictions that had limited Brazil’s autonomy in the past. Along with the constitutionalist project arose the separatist idea, although not yet directed to the whole Portuguese America.
Considered at the time as the date that made the separation of Brazil from its old metropolis official, Pedro I’s acclamation as emperor on October 12th of 1822 did not result in the new Empire’s political unity. The proposal was accepted by the Municipal Chambers of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. Pernambuco hesitated for some time. Due to communication difficulties, Goiás and Mato Grosso only pledged allegiance to the Empire in January of 1823. Meanwhile, Pará, Maranhão, Piauí and Ceará, as well as part of Bahia and the Cisplatin province, remained loyal to Portugal and refractory to Rio de Janeiro’s government. Those were times of war. In the beginning of 1823, while many provinces were choosing their deputies to the Legislative and Constituent Assemblies in Rio de Janeiro, Maranhão elected deputies for ordinary Courts in Portugal.
Finally, despite the horrors of the war and tension that did not disappear, territorial unity in Brazil was outlined through force. But definite separation was kept sub judice. After all, the emperor was Portuguese and heir to the throne of the Braganças. Capable, therefore, of reuniting, after his father’s death, the two territories separated by the Atlantic.
Only in 1825, after time consuming negotiations, Don João VI recognized the Independence, in exchange for indemnities. Even so, the gesture came in the form of a concession, transferring sovereignty over the Portuguese Kingdom, which he held, to the kingdom of Brazil, under his son’s authority. And Don João went beyond: he reserved the title of emperor of the new country to himself, which was registered in documents he signed until his death in 1826.
Kinship ties made Independence an ambiguous and biased process. It was necessary to wait for another date, Don Pedro I’s abdication on April 7th of 1831, for all bonds between Brazil and Portugal to be definitely broken. A sovereign-boy, also him a Bragança, although born and raised in Brazil, assumed the power. In the language of the radicals of the regency period, “the farce of the Ipiranga independence” came to an end.
Lucia Bastos Pereira das Neves is a titular History professor at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro and author of Corcundas e constitucionais: a cultura política da Independência (1808-1822) (Revan, 2003).
(RHBN. No. 48. September 2009. PP. 19-21)