Brazil, Liberal Movements

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Brazil, Liberal Movements

Liberal movements during the monarchy (1822–1889) varied considerably between partisan developments and inchoate reform mobilizations. Responding to the absolutism and Portuguese interests associated with Pedro I, political and socioeconomic elite members and (often urban, middle-sector) radical ideologues joined in opposition. Although repressed in the Constituent Assembly of 1823 and the secessionist Confederation of the Equator (1824), they were successful in parliamentary obstruction after 1826. That, and the associated street violence and military insubordination, unexpectedly led the emperor to abdicate (1831).

Though colored by lusophobia, this movement emphasized the native elite's control of the state and their aspiration to more decentralized rule and revenue sharing at the local and provincial levels. These issues drove elite members to spurn the radicals (Exaltados) and form the Moderado Party, which dominated Parliament, elected the regents, nearly rewrote the Constitution of 1824, and did, in fact, reform it in the Additional Act of 1834. The Moderados hoped ideally to create a progressive nation; more pragmatically, they hoped to eliminate the possibilities of absolutist restoration and to secure political support in the face of rightist and leftist pressure. By 1835, certain elite groups held the decentralizing reforms responsible for uprisings that threatened social revolution and national dismemberment. Representatives of these groups left the Moderados, joined the reactionaries in parliament, and formed the Conservative Party, which soon dominated the state and began the legislative reversal of the reforms (1836–1841). The more liberal minority joined the exaltados to form the Liberal Party, and broke the Conservatives' control of the state by successfully conspiring to bring Pedro II to power in 1840. They correctly anticipated that he would call them to form his first cabinet. Their excesses, however, led the emperor's advisers to bring a more conservative cabinet to power (1841), which completed the legislative reaction and drove the Liberals of São Paulo and Minas Gerais to revolt (1842). Their military defeat crowned the success of the reactionaries and the creation of a highly centralized, authoritarian regime.

Ephemeral Liberal administrations and one failed revolt in the 1840s confirmed the subsequent era (1842–1862) as one in which reactionary triumph abruptly shifted to a kind of halting, conservative reformism in 1853. That year the emperor tapped the Conservative chieftain, the marquês de Paraná, to bring about partisan conciliation and electoral reform. After Paraná, the Conservatives' moderate wing reached out to the Liberals and led them toward the gradualist reformism of the Progressive League (ca. 1862–1868) and its cabinets (1862, 1864–1868).

The last such cabinet, beset by the purists of both parties, was undermined by the emperor, who then called in the reactionary cabinet of 1868. The Liberal response (ranging from the dramatic reforms of the Liberal Manifesto of 1869 to the 1870 formation of the Republican Party) reflected the florescence of 1860s criticism associated with such figures as Teofilo Ottoni and Aureliano Cándido Tavares Bastos. Critics called for the Abolition of Slavery, direct elections, separation of church and state, the reform or eradication of the crown's role, and decentralization. However, they lacked organizational or ideological unity. The Liberals, occasionally in power after 1878, divided over the choice and extent of reforms; the Republicans did not officially endorse abolition; and abolition had adherents in the two traditional parties.

However divided, such liberal reformism, often associated with the Generation of 1870 or the Recife School, suggests vague coherence and a general movement in opposition to the status quo (although positivism's increasing influence complicates the use of "liberal"). As such, it retains importance in understanding the milieu and mobilization that informed both the abolitionist movement (1879–1888) and the monarchy's political crisis, culminating in the Republic of 1889.

See alsoBrazil: 1808–1889; Brazil, Political Parties: Liberal Party: Liberalism.


Joaquim Nabuco, Um estadista do império, 3 vols. (1898–1899).

Emilia Viotti Da Costa, The Brazilian Empire (1985).

Ilmar Rohloff De Mattos, O tempo saquarema (1987).

Roderick J. Barman, Brazil: The Forging of a Nation (1988).

Leslie Bethell, ed., Brazil: Empire and Republic (1989).

Richard Graham, Patronage and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Brazil (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Paim, Antônio. História do liberalismo brasileiro. São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Mandarim, 1998.

Silva, Ana Rosa Cloclet da. Construçao da nação e escravidão no pensamento de José Bonifácio, 1783–1823. Campinas, Brazil: Editora de Unicamp, Centro de Memória, 1999.

Tosto, Milton. The Meaning of Liberalism in Brazil. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005.

                                  Jeffrey D. Needell

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