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Fonseca, Hermes Rodrigues da (1855–1923)

Fonseca, Hermes Rodrigues da (1855–1923)

Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca (b. 12 May 1855; d. 9 September 1923), president of Brazil (1910–1914). The nephew of Manoel Deodoro da Fonseca, the republic's first president, Marshal Fonseca advanced his army and future political career by adroitly quelling a cadet rebellion during the 1904 Vaccine Revolt (an uprising by citizens opposed to forced vaccination against smallpox). Nominated as war minister in 1906, Fonseca championed efforts to modernize the army, outlining recruitment reforms, sending officers to study in Germany, and staging large-scale maneuvers. His victory as the conservative Republican Party's candidate marked the republic's first hotly contested presidential campaign.

The marshal's presidency was equally tumultuous. In his first week, the government was forced to negotiate an end to the Chibata Revolt, in which rebel sailors protesting barbarous corporal punishment commandeered newly purchased battleships and threatened to bombard Rio de Janeiro with impunity. This conflict was followed by Fonseca's "salvationist" campaigns, or his frequent use of federal troops to interfere in conflicts between political parties at the state level. After his presidential term Fonseca became a controversial military spokesman. President Artur Bernardes arrested Fonseca in 1922 after the marshal openly advised an army colonel not to obey government orders to intervene in Pernambucan politics. The marshal argued ironically that the army should not be politicized. His arrest precipitated the first tenente (lieutenant) revolt in 1922, a coup intended to reinstate Fonseca as president. Shaken by imprisonment and weakened by inveterate smoking, Fonseca soon died of a stroke.

See alsoBrazil, Political Parties: Conservative Party; Chibata, Revolt of the; Pernambuco.


Sources in English on Hermes are piecemeal at best. The marshal's unique role in politics is touched on in Joseph L. Love, Rio Grande do Sul and Brazilian Regionalism, 1882–1930 (1971). Frank D. McCann highlights Fonseca's role as a military reformer in "The Nation in Arms: Obligatory Military Service during the Old Republic," in Essays Concerning the Socioeconomic History of Brazil and Portuguese India, edited by Dauril Alden and Warren Dean (1977), pp. 211-243. The most complete account of Fonseca's life to date is a hagiography written by his son: Hermes Da Fonseca Filho, Marechal Hermes: Dados para uma biografia (1961).

Additional Bibliography

Arias Neto, José Miguel. "Em busca da cidadania: Praças da armada nacional 1867–1910." São Paulo: Ph.D. dissertation, 2001.

Beattie, Peter. The Tribute of Blood: Army, Race, and Nation in Brazil, 1864–1945. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

Silva, Marcos A. de, and Emilio Damiani. Contra a Chibata: Marinheiros brasileiros em 1910. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 2002.

                                                 Peter M. Beattie

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