The Idea of Republic in the Brazilian Empire
Those who think that republican ideas in Brazil stem from the proclamation of the republic are wrong. The federative republic institution project was already present in the political scenario of the First Empire (1822-1831) as well as in the regency period (1831-1840), well before November 15, 1889.
The word republic had very different meanings in the first half of the nineteenth century. Firstly, according to inheritance of the old regime, it would still be associated with the identification of a territory governed by the same laws or subjected to the same ruler, regardless of the form of government.
Secondly, the idea of republic was also understood as the precedence of the common good and prevalence of the law and Constitution over individual interests. Thirdly, the republic concept denoted the elective and temporary government. That’s how it was expressed by Nova Luz Brasileira newspaper in an article published on July 9, 1831. "The Nova Luz wants the Brazilian People (...) to understand that they should not trust the head of government whose power is not revocable and temporary."
The vindication of the republic as a form of government was considered a crime by the Constitution of 1824, the press law of 1830 and the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1832. Such legal constraints explain the use of several resources to define or praise the republic. For example, republican newspapers of various provinces of the empire were transcribed in the Court journals with the aim of showing not only the extension of their ideas, but also of escaping legal liability on the proclaimed principles. Another resource would be to disqualify or ridicule monarchist rituals such as the formality of kissing the Emperor’s hand or the granting of titles and honors. But the expedient used most often by the Republican journals was the use of terms such as "American monarchy" or "American system" to describe the concept of republic. In contrast, the hereditary and lifelong government would be referred to as "European monarchy" or "European system".
Curiously, the argument for the establishment of the republic in Brazil was not attributed to history or the past, but to geographic location, i.e., in being part of the American continent. Likewise, the absence of aristocracy in America pointed to the specificity of the continent and made the monarchy irreconcilable with the New World. In 1831, the “O Tribuno do Povo” newspaper wondered about the permanence of the monarchy in Brazil in the midst of many republics in America. "Remember that far from Europe, America walks a quite different path (...), and although the anomaly of a throne exists in Brazil, this is not the end of the Brazilians."
In the early nineteenth century, the republican journals did not advocate the immediate abolition of African slavery. The republic theme associated with the liberation of slaves evoked the recent experience of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) where a slave revolt occurred and everyone tried to keep a distance from it.
But the federalist aspirations or the guarantee of political and administrative decentralization cheered up the republican ideals. However, the federation would not always be used as a synonymous of republic. In Pernambuco, provincial autonomy had precedence over the form of government as long as the monarchy was "truly constitutional and preserved such allowances." These ideas culminate in the proclamation of a confederated republic supported by Ceará, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte - the Confederation of Ecuador.
After four months of conflicts, the movement was suppressed by violent repression of the Imperial troops.
The Federalist clamor was around the revolts of the Regency period whether or not it was associated with the republic. Despite its peculiarities, many denounced the political and administrative centralization as being responsible for the fiscal oppression which provided resources to Rio de Janeiro as well as for the exacerbation of conflicts between local political leaders and the provincial presidents appointed by the central government.
In 1837, Francisco Sabino Vieira (1797-1846), the leader of the Sabinada (1837-1838) in his articles in the newly founded Novo Diário da Bahia (New Journal of Bahia), disputes the impropriety of the republic as a form of government for the country and argues that province autonomy justifies the defense of the establishment of the Republic of Bahia - though the new regime should only be maintained until the future emperor reaches adult age. The War of the Farrapos (The War of Tatters) in Rio Grande do Sul (1835-1845) lasted longer. The final peace agreement included, besides the required tariff changes, the right to choose the local administrator.
The republic theme would gain new momentum in the 1870s with the release of the Republican Manifesto in Rio de Janeiro. The document attacked the political institutions of the Empire, the Moderating Power, the lifelong character of the Senate. The Republicanism of the end of the century shifted its axis to the south-central provinces of the country like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Still, the move was heterogeneous. In Rio de Janeiro, urban medium sectors were accumulated being more attentive to the defense of liberty and individual rights, political representation, and together with some leaders like Jose do Patrocinio (1854-1905), the fight to end slavery. In São Paulo, the Republican campaign congregated mainly coffee growers who thought the establishment of the republican federalism meant to put the provincial government to serve their own interests.
Many opinions, different concepts, distinct projects. But at the end of the nineteenth century, the republic left the world of ideas in order to become a possible reality.
Silvia Carla Pereira de Brito Fonseca is a Prodoc researcher of the University of Rio de Janeiro - UERJ and has a Ph.D. in History acquired at the University of Rio de Janeiro - UFRJ with the following thesis "The idea of Republic in the Empire of Brazil: Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco (1824-1834). "
(RHBN. Nº 5. November 2005. PP. 31-33)