South America: Chapter XXI


(by William Henry Koebel)

Modern Brazil


After the deportation of their third Monarch, the Brazilians settled down to enjoy the advantages of an ideal and much-exalted Republican Government; but it was not long before they encountered some sharp disillusions.

Their first President, General Don Manuel Deodoro de Fonseca, who had been mainly responsible for the expulsion of the Emperor, was installed immediately after Pedro's departure as head of the Brazilian Government.

He began by proving that a Republic in the midst of unsettled political circumstances is, from its very nature, almost invariably more autocratic than the ordinary empire.


Fonseca, a character sufficiently striking to merit individual mention, was born at Algoas in Brazil, was educated at the military school in Rio de Janeiro, and received his commission as a Lieutenant of Artillery in 1849.

The chief feature of his military career was the prominent part he took in the war with Paraguay in 1868-1870, where he distinguished himself sufficiently to be promoted to the rank of Divisional-General.


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It was not until 1881 that he became definitely known as an ardent Republican, but from that time onward he continued to be actively associated with the ultra-Liberal and Republican movement, and he was responsible for the organization of the Military Club at Rio de Janeiro, an institution which had other objects in addition to those implied by its name.


Although Fonseca was a warm personal friend of the Emperor, his activity and very obvious Republican sentiments led to his being appointed Governor of a frontier province in 1887.
This measure, of course, was adopted in order to remove him from the capital, where his influence was considered the reverse of helpful to the Imperial cause.

In 1889 he returned to Rio de Janeiro, and entered actively into the schemes of the Republican party, more especially in army circles.
In the recently established Republican League, moreover, he was the leading spirit in the movement which culminated in the overthrow of the Empire.


On November 21, 1889, the provisional Government conceded to all Brazilians who could read and write universal suffrage, and this was followed by the appointment of a Commission for the providing of a Federal Constitution.

Republican measures came quickly.
On January 10, 1890, the separation of Church and State was decreed by the provisional Government; and on June 23 of the same year the new Constitution was promulgated.


In February of 1891 General Fonseca was elected first President of the new Republic, for a four years' term.
He was set at the head of a Government depending largely on its troops, and these found themselves suddenly possessed of a power which they had not known previously.

The new citizens of Brazil writhed uneasily under the restraints and affronts which were now for the first time put upon them; the Press was muzzled, and a tribunal established with the power of summarily trying persons suspected of being guilty of want of respect to the new order of things.

There is no doubt that the first establishment of the Brazilian Republic was followed by measures of severe repression, not directed against the Royalists - for this party, to all intents and purposes, disappeared from existence as soon as the Emperor had left the shores of Brazil - but against the dissatisfied citizens who were clamouring against the autocratic methods pursued by the Government.


Some definite accusations were shortly brought against the President.
He was accused of several acts which much exceeded the authority vested in him; he was charged in particular with numerous deeds of tyranny, violence, and corruption.

Following on so many precedents of the kind in South America, Fonseca retaliated by the inauguration of more stringent methods than any which he had hitherto employed.
A state of siege was declared in the capital, and Fonseca caused himself to be invested with every right and privilege of a dictator.

These methods of terrorism he justified by the pretext of monarchical plots.
Very soon, however, General Peixoto became prominent as a rival to the Presidency, and shortly a definite revolt arose in the State of Rio Grande do Sul; while in the far north the State of Pará armed itself in preparation for the struggle against the central power.


The Navy declared itself against the Government. On November 23, 1891, the fleet, commanded by Custodio de Mello, took up its position in front of Rio de Janeiro, and actually fired a shot or two into the town.

President Fonseca was now convinced that the powers against him were too strong to be successfully coped with; he resigned his office, and retired into private life, surviving his fall only by a few months, since he died in August of the following year.

Fonseca's fall was due not only to the measures employed in the government of the country, but also to the financial state of Brazil at the time of his election. Reckless extravagance and unscrupulous handling of the public funds by the various political parties, together with a too liberal use of the printing-press for the purpose of turning out paper money when funds were needed, had caused a condition of affairs which was very near bankruptcy.


This condition, moreover, was largely artificial, since Brazil is almost the first among the States of South America in the matter of natural resources and general aptitude for prosperity.

Nevertheless, the costly wars carried on under the Monarchy had left a large burden for the Republic to manage, and in spite of the strictest economy, the people of the country found that the inauguration of the Republic did not bring about the establishment of so prosperous a paradise as they had hoped.

Naturally, the blame for this fell upon Fonseca, and added itself to the autocratic methods of his government to render him unpopular.


Fonseca was succeeded by the Vice-President, according to the regulations of the Constitution.
This was Floriano Peixoto, who at first gave promise of a liberal and progressive government.

Very soon, however, it became evident that the abuses of authority encouraged by him were becoming even more violent than those of the previous régime, and that the military despotism was even more accentuated.


Any Governor who did not bend without question to the will of the President was instantly deposed, and in this way the Governors of Matto Grosso, Ceará, and Amazonas were deprived of their posts.

Every official, in fact, who did not show himself disposed to serve the new autocrat with a blind obedience was deprived of whatever office he had held.
The discontent grew rapidly, while numerous Ministers resigned, and once again the flames of revolt broke out in Rio Grande do Sul.


On September 6, 1893, Admiral Custodio de Mello, after various abortive attempts, anchored again in front of the capital, and prepared his cruiser Aquidaban for action.
Peixoto, however, determined to defend his position, and prepared himself to face the dozen or more warships which comprised the fleet of the insurgents.

On September 12 the first serious fight took place, the town being bombarded heavily by the fleet, to which the guns of the forts responded on behalf of the Government.

The struggle continued in a desultory fashion, and a daily interchange of shots was wont to take place between the naval and military forces.

This situation continued for the remainder of the year 1893, and, as time went on, the position of the Government became rather more strengthened, especially when it was reported that some war vessels ordered by Peixoto in Europe were on their way to Brazil.


In the meanwhile, however, the position in the south became far more favourable to the insurgents.
The revolutionary forces under Saraiva began a march to the north, when his movement was aided by a portion of the fleet, under Admiral Donello, which had sailed to the south in order to co-operate. Curitiba was captured, and the march up from the south bade fair to be triumphant.

This was to a certain extent neutralized by the interference of the United States warships in the harbour of Rio on behalf of some merchant vessels of their nationality threatened by the revolutionary squadron.

By this means the rebels lost prestige, and the situation of Admiral da Gama, who had been left in command of the rebel fleet, became serious.


On March 7 the vessels ordered by Peixoto from Europe arrived off Rio, and da Gama, hearing no news from Mello, took refuge, with his officers and men, on some Portuguese men-of-war.

The authorities of Rio demanded that these crews should be given up, but the Portuguese refused to surrender them, and sailed away from the harbour with the insurgents on board, a proceeding which caused a diplomatic rupture between Portugal and Brazil.

A few days after this a misunderstanding occurred between the Government and the Commander of the British vessels, and the Cirius threatened to open fire on the Brazilian vessels.
The matter was, however, settled without a shot being expended.


In the meanwhile affairs had not been favouring the revolutionists in the south.
Admiral de Mello's silence had been due to a breakdown in the machinery of his ships, and not to any lack of initiative of his own.

After some time the Admiral arrived at Curitiba, from which point he journeyed inland to Punto Grosso, where he met General Saraiva.
At a council held between the two, a Governor was named for the State of Paraná, and Southern Brazil was declared independent of Peixoto's Government.


When the news of Admiral da Gama's surrender came to Curitiba, the unexpected blow tended greatly to the disorganization of the movements of the insurgents, and when a division of 5,000 Government troops marched from São Paulo to Curitiba, it met with no resistance.

While this was occurring, the revolutionist cruiser Republica and three armed transports, having 1,500 men on board, had sailed for the harbour of Rio Grande. The summons to surrender was ignored by the town, and Mello, after bombarding the place, landed a force which in the end was repulsed.


After this, despairing of success, Mello sailed to the Argentine port of La Plata, where he surrendered to the Argentine Government, who at once handed his vessels over to Brazil.

The Aquidaban, the remaining insurgent warship, was torpedoed a little later by a Government vessel, and the stricken ship was run ashore and abandoned.

General Saraiva in the south was shot in the course of a skirmish, and the revolution was now finally crushed.
The numbers who paid the fullest penalty for their active discontent were very great, and the final embers of the insurrection were extinguished to the tune of wholesale executions.


It was now supposed that General Peixoto would reign unhampered as dictator, and in peaceful circles no small alarm was felt.

In 1894, however, the President resigned, and was succeeded by Dr. Prudente de Moraes Barros.
Moraes was a stanch upholder of civil and peaceful authority, and although a certain section, both of the army and navy, manifested some discontent, the country progressed rapidly under his administration.

The unrest in the Southern States, nevertheless, although it had been temporarily quelled by force, was not long in reasserting itself.
The struggle which occurred here between the Government troops and the revolutionary forces was sanguinary in the extreme.

After a desperate action, Admiral da Gama, wounded, committed suicide, and his death practically ended the revolution.


Towards the end of 1895 the President, true to his pacific policy, granted a general amnesty in favour of the insurgents, which went far to establish his popularity.

In the south, subsequent to a demonstration of local unrest, an attempt to assassinate President Moraes occurred on November 4, 1897, in the course of which the Minister of War was killed, and several other officials wounded.
People in general execrated the act, thus demonstrating the President's popularity.

Towards the end of 1898 the Presidential election took place, and Dr. Manuel Campos Salles, whose candidature received the support of Moraes, was elected President.

Dr. Campos Salles proved himself perfectly able to cope with the modern developments of the Republic.
Before taking charge of his office he had journeyed to Europe and concluded financial arrangements in London and elsewhere, and subsequently a commercial treaty was ratified between Brazil and Argentina.


In 1902 Campos Salles was succeeded in the Presidency by Dr. Rodriguez Alves.

Meanwhile, in 1900, the northern Brazilian frontier, in the direction of French Guiana, had been finally determined by a decision of the Swiss Federal Council.

A dispute with Great Britain over the British Guiana frontier was referred to the King of Italy, who rendered his award in June, 1904, allotting about 19,000 square miles to Guiana, and 14,000 square miles to Brazil.

A more important matter was the dispute with Bolivia respecting the Acre territory, on the settlement of which Bolivia gave up all claims to Acre, a district embracing about 73,000 square miles, in return for a surrender of about 850 square miles on the Madeira and Abuna Rivers, 330 square miles on the left bank of the Paraguay River, and a cash sum of 10,000,000 dollars for the purpose of constructing a railway in the borderland of the two countries.


Subsequently Peru disputed the claim of Brazil to the Acre territory, and this, no doubt, forms a matter for future arbitrators to settle.

The Presidential election raised Dr. Affonso Penna to the head of the State in 1906, since when Brazil has been steadily engaged in strengthening its financial position and in the development of its internal resources.



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