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The Brazilian Independence Movement

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During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many Latin American countries went through a time of enlightenment which lead them to independence. One of these movements was the Brazilian independence movement. The Brazilian independence movement was one of the most peacefully-accomplished revolutions in Latin America. In this essay, the underlying and the direct causes to Brazil’s movement, the outcome of the movement, the successes and failures of the movement, and a recapitulation of the history of Brazil will be discussed.

Brazil was discovered by Pedro Alvarez Cabral in the name of Portugal on April 22, 1500. During the 1530’s colonists from Portugal began to settle in Brazil and started establishing large sugar cane plantations. “Brazilian sugar, sold in Europe, brought wealth to Portugal.”(Galloway) Large settlements like Recife, Salvador, and Sao Vicente were created and the Portuguese prospered. In time, two classes had developed. The first class was the reinois, those born in Portugal, and the second, the mazombos, the native-born Brazilians (although still pure Portuguese peoples). “The mazombos disliked those reinois who arrived in the New World to exploit it and then return with [Brazilian] riches to Portugal.”(Burnes,16)

After diamonds and gold were found in Minas Gerais, Brazil became a huge profit to Portugal. Over three million “colonists and slaves lived in Brazil. The slaves made up more than half the population.”(Galloway) Aside from the conflicts between the mazombo and reinois classes, Brazil was a very prosperous colony. After France invaded Portugal and the Portuguese fled to Brazil, the colony became even more important, reaching “to the status of a kingdom.” (Galloway) Afterwards, Brazil’s prosperous times went downhill. Soon enough, the Portuguese royal family could return to Portugal and they left Dom Pedro I to rule.

The Portuguese parliament was “resentful of the exalted position Brazil had come to occupy in the empire, [and] moved to reduce the country to its former colonial status”(Burnes,29), and insisted on making Pedro rule from Lisbon. Brazil would not allow Portugal to push it aside again and Pedro whom was under the influence of Brazilian nationalists, favored Brazilian independence. Jose Bonifacio de Adrada e Silva, a very prominent Brazilian nationalist and a martyr of Brazilian independence happened to be Dom Pedro I’s Minister of the Interior. On January 9, 1822, he refused the orders given to him by Portugal to return to Lisbon and on September 7 of that same you he proclaimed Brazil’s independence as he “raised his sword and cried: “Independence or death!””(Burnes,30) By March of 1824, a constitution was made for Brazil, making it officially independent.

Brazil had many direct causes that lead to its independence, but only one indirect cause. Although the name of the classes of colonists in Latin America differed (like mazombo or mestizo), the tensions between the two were always high. The two classes clashed, because the reinois who were born in Portugal were favored over the mazombos who were also of Portuguese class but born in Brazil. The mazombos soon came to realize that the reinois were given special privileges and that even though person of the mazombo class had the same type of occupation as a person of reinois class, they were treated with less respect. This enraged many mazombos and increased their favoring of a Brazilian independence. This was the one and only underlying cause for the movement. This was the only underlying cause because the Napoleonic Wars had “profoundly altered the course of Brazilian history”(Encarta), in fact it resulted in Brazil’s independence. Because of the Napoleonic Wars, the Portuguese royal family was forced to run from Portugal to Brazil as France seized their empire.

Since Portugal had to establish its economy centered on Brazil, Prince John “decreed a series of reforms and improvements for Brazil, among them the removal of restrictions on commerce, the institution of measures beneficial to agriculture and industry, and the creation of schools of higher learning.”(Encarta) “Now that the seat of Portuguese government was in Brazil, many of the old restrictions on trade and commerce disappeared.”(Mabry) After the royal family was capable of moving back to Portugal, Brazil was expected by the Portuguese legislature to return to its formal colonial status. To Portugal’s surprise, Brazil had developed a growing sense of nationalism and after having had a taste of what life would be like if they were more centered on their own country, they refused to cooperate with Portugal.

Since Dom Pedro was sympathetic towards the people of Brazil, they had a lot of influence on him, and they pressured him into disobeying the Portuguese legislature. Nine years after he declared their independence, in 1831, the Brazilians forced Pedro to resign after he became unpopular due to harsh ruling. In his place, they put his son Pedro II who was only five years old, but by the age of fourteen he was capable of ruling on his own and he ended up ruling as “one of the most able monarchs of his time”(Encarta) for nearly half a century.

Many outcomes came as a result of the Brazilian independence movement. After Dom Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence, he created Brazil’s constitution and also created reforms to improve the economy. Dom Pedro’s son Pedro II had done a great favor for the Brazilian economy, expanding it to “unprecedented rates” and increasing its national production to over 900 percent. Pedro II created a modern banking system and a textile industry, he also dded many schools specified in agriculture and mining. Roads, railroads, telegraph lines, and steamships were also introduced into Brazil helping to improve its development into a more powerful and independent country.

When Brazil obtained its independence, it suffered little having very few failures and many successes. The most significant failure made after the Brazilian independence movement was the war that Brazil fought against Argentina that resulted in the loss of much of Brazil’s southern territories. This and other unpopular exertions made by Dom Pedro, like his constant fighting with the new Brazilian Congress, resulted in his abdication. Afterwards, many successes followed Pedro’s son Pedro II. “100,00 Europeans were immigrating annually to the southeast of Brazil [and] went to work on coffee plantations in Sao Paulo.”(Hew,23) In 1865 Brazil allied with Uruguay and Argentina and successfully defeated Paraguay, increasing the size and stature of the Brazilian army.

The Brazilian independence movement’s long term effects included the gradual emancipation of slaves which was completed in 1889(although it was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery), and the development of a Republic after Dom Pedro II’s reign. Although Brazil had accomplished many things due to its independence, one of the most important ones was how they gained their independence in the first place. “Brazil entered into nationhood almost bloodlessly.”(Burns,82) Brazil’s peacefully accomplished independence came in part because Portugal was intimidated by the sheer number of Brazilians, which was around 4 million. Brazil also had alliances with Britain which they used to benefit their navy and even “at one time 45 of the country’s 159 naval officers were British.”(Vale,219)Due to Brazil’s growing army, nationalism, and economy, Portugal found it a waste of efforts to fight against a country that was not willing to be under Portuguese rule.

The Brazilian independence movement from Portugal was a very swift and painless movement. After being given a look at how an independent country ran when The Portuguese royal family moved to Brazil, Brazilian nationalism took hold of the country and in 1822 they declared their independence. After Brazil declared its independence, it severed its ties with Portugal and started to build up a bustling economy. The movement had a great outcome and lead to many successes and very little failures.


Galloway, J.H. “Brazil”, World Book Online Reference Centre. http://www.worldbookonline.com/ar?/na/ar/co/ar074760.html. October 26, 2003.

*Vale, Brian. Independence or Death! British Sailors and Brazilian Independence, 1822-1825. London: British Academic Press, 1996.

“Brazil,”Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft

Mabry, Donald J. http://oregon.uoregon.edu/~sergiok/brasilhist2.html. 2001.

Leving, Robert. “Andrada e. Silva, Jose Bonifacio de,” World Book Online Reference Centre. http://www.worldbookonline.com/ar?/na/ar/co/ar021000.html. October 26, 2003

Burnes, E. Bradford. Nationalism in Brazil: A Historical Survey. New York: Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, 1965.

Burns, E. Bradford. Latin America: A Concise Interpretive History. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 1994

Heinrichs, Ann. Brazil: Enchantment of the World. New York: Children’s Press, 1997

Jermyn, Leslie. Countries of the World: Brazil. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 1999

E.D. Hew, Shirley. Cultures of the World: Brazil. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1992

*monograph on the independence/revolution of Brazil

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