Old Brazilian Flag

Unlike most of Latin America, a monarchy dominated Brazilian government for most of the Nineteenth Century. Official histories describe the period as one of relative political stability, especially when Brazil was compared to some of the more precarious Latin American governments. The stability, however, was superficial at best. Revolt of the Ragmuffins Much of the southern part of the country remained in open revolt for many years, while slave revolts broke out in the Northeast. Slavery remained important to the Brazilian economy, although it had begun to decline by the end of the century. By 1887, there were only 723,000 slaves in Brazil, a figure which represented only about 5 per cent of the population. Most of these slaves were being used in the coffee-growing regions of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Brazil experienced some economic development, but many laws benefited coffee producers, who cultivated large fazendas of coffee plantations. These laws were not always conduicive to other industries. Many planters remained dependent upon slaves for labor. But as the monarchy passed laws that gradually limited slavery and international markets rendered slavery increasingly unprofitable, many planters encouraged widespread immigration from Europe, especially from Italy, to supplant slave labor on their plantations. Thus, slavery was already in decline when Princess Isabel finally signed the document abolishing slavery on May 13, 1888.

The abolition of slavery revived the popularity of the monarchy to some extent, but it angered many large landowners, who accused the government of depriving them of their capital. Even without slavery, fazendeiros, or plantation owners, wielded an enormous amount of power. They were usually referred to as coronels, a title which reflected their sense of place in Brazilian society, not official military service. They dominated politics and often had their own private armies to police their vast landholdings. At the same time, there were a fairly large number of coffee planters from the regions around Minas Gerais and São Paulo, who were progressive, had international commercial ties, and favored a more liberal government that would support expanded trade and commerce. Urban interests also began to demand change that would promote economic growth. Along with the progressive coffee planters, they began to demand the political power they believed was necessary to implement changes in their favor.

Many members of the military, too, began to believe that the monarchy did not respect their position in society, since it refused to grant them the salaries, equipment, and prestige they believed they deserved. Guided by Benjamin Constant, who taught the ideas of republicanism and positivism in the military academy, many officers began to believe that a republic was necessary. Eventually, all of these factors induced a group of army officers led by Manoel Deodoro da Fonseca to launch a coup d'état to proclaim the Republic on November 15, 1889. Republicans insisted that the royal family leave the country, which they did on November 17. Fonseca formed a provisional government that included republican leaders Constant as Minister of War, Ruy Barbosa as Minister of Finance, and Manoel Ferraz de Campos Sales as Minister of Justice. The new government destroyed many records pertaining to slavery and denied landowners the right to compensation for the loss of their slaves. They separated church and state, created civil marriage, and abolished titles of nobility. Though they took many actions which turned many conservatives against them, they did little for any ordinary people. Thus, almost immediately, the republic was under attack, so the new republicans sought to use carefully selected symbols to manufacture a legitimacy for their actions. One of the most important symbols was Tiradentes. They also looked to the French Revolution for symbols. Most important, they attempted to represent the new Brazilian Republic as a woman, they struggled over flags, and they fought over what would be the national anthem of Brazil.

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