First Brazilian Republic

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Republic of the United States of Brazil

República dos Estados Unidos do Brasil
Motto: Ordem e Progresso
"Order and Progress"
Hino Nacional Brasileiro
"Brazilian National Anthem"
Brazil (orthographic projection).svg
Brazil at its largest territorial extent, including Acre
Capital Rio de Janeiro
Common languages Portuguese
Government Military regime (1889-1894)
Oligarchic federal presidential republic (1894-1930)
Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca (first)
Washington Luís (last)
Legislature National Congress
Chamber of Deputies
Historical era19th–20th century
15 November 1889
 Adoption of the Republic's Constitution
24 February 1891
 End of Sword's Dictatorship
15 November 1894
3 November 1930
19038,515,767 km2 (3,287,956 sq mi)
Currency Real
ISO 3166 code BR
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of Empire of Brazil (1870-1889).svg Empire of Brazil
Vargas Era Flag of Brazil (1889-1960).svg
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History of Brazil
Coat of arms of Brazil.svg
Flag of Brazil.svg Brazilportal

The First Brazilian Republic or República Velha (Portuguese pronunciation:  [ʁeˈpublikɐ ˈvɛʎɐ] , "Old Republic") is the period of Brazilian history from 1889 to 1930. The República Velha ended with the Brazilian Revolution of 1930 that installed Getúlio Vargas as a new president. During this time, the official name of the country in English was the Republic of the United States of Brazil.



The Proclamation of the Republic, by Benedito Calixto. Proclamacao da Republica by Benedito Calixto 1893.jpg
The Proclamation of the Republic, by Benedito Calixto.

On November 15, 1889 Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca deposed Emperor Dom Pedro II, declared Brazil a republic, and reorganized the government.

First Brazilian flag after empire's fall, created by Ruy Barbosa, used between November 15th and 19th of 1889. Flag of Brazil (November 1889).svg
First Brazilian flag after empire's fall, created by Ruy Barbosa, used between November 15th and 19th of 1889.

From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional democracy, but democracy was nominal.

In reality, the elections were rigged, voters in rural areas were pressured or induced to vote for the chosen candidates of their bosses (see coronelismo) and, if all those methods did not work, the election results could still be changed by one sided decisions of Congress' verification of powers commission (election authorities in the República Velha were not independent from the executive and the Legislature, dominated by the ruling oligarchs). This system resulted in the presidency of Brazil alternating between the oligarchies of the dominant states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. This regime is often referred to as "café com leite", 'coffee with milk', after the respective agricultural products of the two states.

This period ended with a military coup that placed Getúlio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency; Vargas remained as dictator until 1945.

The Brazilian republic was not an ideological offspring of the republics born of the French or American Revolutions, although the Brazilian regime would attempt to associate itself with both. The republic did not have enough popular support to risk open elections. It was a regime born of a coup d'état that maintained itself by force. [1] The republicans made Deodoro president (1889–91) and, after a financial crisis, appointed Field Marshal Floriano Vieira Peixoto Minister of War to ensure the allegiance of the military. [1]

Rule of the landed oligarchies

The officers who joined Field Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca in ending the Empire had made an oath to uphold it. The officer corps would eventually resolve the contradiction by linking its duty to Brazil itself, rather than to transitory governments. [1] The Republic was born rather accidentally: Deodoro had intended only to replace the cabinet, but the republicans manipulated him into founding a republic. [1]

The history of the Old Republic was dominated by a quest for a viable form of government to replace the monarchy. This quest lurched back and forth between state autonomy and centralization. The constitution of 1891, establishing the United States of Brazil (Estados Unidos do Brasil), granted extensive autonomy to the provinces, now called States. The Federal system was adopted, and all powers not granted in the Constitution to the Federal Government belonged to the States. It recognized that the central government did not rule at the local level. The Empire of Brazil had not absorbed fully the regional pátrias, and now they reasserted themselves. [1] Into the 1920s, the federal government in Rio de Janeiro was dominated and managed by a combination of the more powerful states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul and to a lesser extent Pernambuco, and Bahia. [1]

As a result, the history of the outset of republic in Brazil is also the story of the development of the Army as a national regulatory and interventionist institution. [2] The sudden elimination of the monarchy reduced the number of masterful national institutions to one, the Army. Although the Roman Catholic Church continued its presence throughout the country, it was not national but rather international in its personnel, doctrine, liturgy, and purposes. The Army assumed this new position not haphazardly, occupying in the conservative national economical elites' heart, part of the vacuum left by the monarchy with slavery abolition, and gradually acquiring support to its de facto role, eclipsing even other military institutions, like the Navy and the National Guard. The Navy attempts to prevent such hegemony were defeated militarily during the early 1890s. [3] Although it had more units and men in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul than elsewhere, the Army's presence was felt throughout the country. Its personnel, its interests, its ideology, and its commitments were national in scope. [1]

In the last decades of the 19th century, the United States, much of Europe, and neighboring Argentina expanded the right to vote. Brazil, however, moved to restrict access to the polls. In 1874, in a population of about 10 million, the franchise was held by about one million [ dubious ], but in 1881 this had been cut to 145,296. This reduction was one reason the Empire's legitimacy foundered, but the Republic did not move to correct the situation. By 1910 there were only 627,000 voters in a population of 22 million. Throughout the 1920s, only between 2.3% and 3.4% of the total population could vote. [1]

The instability and violence of the 1890s were related to the absence of consensus among the elites regarding a governmental model; and the armed forces were divided over their status, relationship to the political regime, and institutional goals. The lack of military unity and the disagreement among civilian elites about the military's role in society explain partially why a long-term military dictatorship was not established, as some officers advocating positivism wanted. However, military men were very active in politics; early in the decade, ten of the twenty state governors were officers. [1]

Constitution of the United States of Brazil, 1891. National Archives of Brazil. Constituicao da Republica dos Estados Unidos do Brasil de 1891.pdf
Constitution of the United States of Brazil, 1891. National Archives of Brazil.

The Constituent Assembly that drew up the constitution of 1891 was a battleground between those seeking to limit executive power, which was dictatorial in scope under President Deodoro da Fonseca, and the Jacobins, radical authoritarians who opposed the paulista coffee oligarchy and who wanted to preserve and intensify presidential authority. The new charter established a federation governed supposedly by a president, a bicameral National Congress (Congresso Nacional; hereafter, Congress), and a judiciary. However, real power was in the regional pátrias and in the hands of local potentates, called "colonels." [1]

There was the constitutional system, and there was the real system of unwritten agreements ( coronelismo ) among local bosses, the colonels. Coronelismo, which supported state autonomy, was called the "politics of the governors". Under it, the local oligarchies chose the state governors, who in turn selected the president. [1]

This informal but real distribution of power emerged, the so-called politics of the governors, to take shape as the result of armed struggles and bargaining. The populous and prosperous states of Minas Gerais and São Paulo dominated the system and swapped the presidency between them for many years. The system consolidated the state oligarchies around families that had been members of the old monarchical elite. And to check the nationalizing tendencies of the army, this oligarchic republic and its state components strengthened the navy and the state police. In the larger states, the state police were soon turned into small armies. The Head of the Brazilian army ordered that it would doubled so they could defend them. [1]

Latifúndio economies

Around the start of the 20th century, the vast majority of the population lived in communities, though accumulating capitalist surpluses for overseas export, that were essentially semi-feudal in structure. Because of the legacy of Ibero-American slavery, abolished as late as 1888 in Brazil, there was an extreme concentration of such landownership reminiscent of feudal aristocracies: 464 great landowners held more than 270,000 km² of land ( latifúndios ), while 464,000 small and medium-sized farms occupied only 157,000 km².

After the Second Industrial Revolution in the advanced countries, Latin America responded to mounting European and North American demand for primary products and foodstuffs. A few key export products— coffee, sugar, and cotton—thus dominated agriculture. Because of specialization, Brazilian producers neglected domestic consumption, forcing the country to import four-fifths of its grain needs. Like most of Latin America, the economy around the start of the 20th century, as a result, rested on certain cash crops produced by the fazendeiros, large estate owners exporting primary products overseas who headed their own patriarchal communities. Each typical fazenda (estate) included the owner's chaplain and overseers, his indigent peasants, his sharecroppers, and his indentured servants.

Brazil's dependence on factory-made goods and loans from the technologically, economically, and politically superior North Atlantic retarded its domestic industrial base. Farm equipment was primitive and largely non-mechanized; peasants tilled the land with hoes and cleared the soil through the inefficient slash-and-burn method. Meanwhile, living standards were generally squalid. Malnutrition, parasitic diseases, and lack of medical facilities limited the average life span in 1920 to twenty-eight years. Without an open market, Brazilian industry could not compete, within a comparative advantage system, against the technologically superior Anglo-American economies. In this context the Encilhamento (a Boom & Bust process that first intensified, and then crashed, in the years between 1889 and 1891) occurred, the consequences of which were felt in all areas of the Brazilian economy throughout the subsequent decades. [4]

The middle class was not yet active in political life. The patron-client political machines of the countryside enabled the coffee oligarchs to dominate state structures to their advantage, particularly the weak central state structures that effectively devolved power to local agrarian oligarchies. Known as coronelismo , this was a classic boss system under which the control of patronage was centralized in the hands of a locally dominant oligarch known as a coronel, who would dispense favors in return for loyalty.

Thus, high illiteracy rates went hand in hand with the absence of universal suffrage by secret ballot and the demand for a free press, independent from the then dominant economic influence. In regions where there was not even the telegraph, far from major centers, the news could take 4 to 6 weeks longer to arrive. In those circumstances, for lack of alternatives, along the last decade of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, a free press created by European immigrant anarchists started to develop, and, due to non-segregated conformation (ethnically speaking) of Brazilian society, spread widely, particularly in large cities.

During this period, Brazil did not have a significantly integrated national economy. Rather, Brazil had a grouping of regional economies that exported their own specialty products to European and North American markets. The absence of a big internal market with overland transportation, except for the mule trains, impeded internal economic integration, political cohesion and military efficiency. The regions, "the Brazils" as the British called them, moved to their own rhythms. The Northeast exported its surplus cheap labor and saw its political influence decline as its sugar lost foreign markets to Caribbean producers. The wild rubber boom in Amazônia lost its world primacy to efficient Southeast Asian colonial plantations after 1912. The national-oriented market economies of the South were not dramatic, but their growth was steady and by the 1920s allowed Rio Grande do Sul to exercise considerable political leverage. Real power resided in the coffee-growing states of the Southeast—São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro—which produced the most export revenue. Those three and Rio Grande do Sul harvested 60% of Brazil's crops, turned out 75% of its industrial and meat products, and held 80% of its banking resources. [1]

Brazil in World War I


Following the Declaration of the Republic in 1889, there were many political and social rebellions that had to be subdued by the regime, such as the Two Naval Revolts (1891 & 1893–94), [5] [6] the Federalist Rebellion [7] (1893–95), War of Canudos (1896–97), Vaccine Revolt (1904), Revolt of the Whip (1910) and the Revolt of Juazeiro ("Sedição de Juazeiro", 1914). [7] Therefore, with the onset of World War I, Brazilian elites were interested in studying the events of the Mexican Revolution with more attention than those related to the War in Europe.

By 1915 it was also clear that the Brazilian elites were dedicated to making sure Brazil followed a conservative political path, meaning they were unwilling to embark upon courses of action, whether domestically (i.e. adopting the secret ballot and universal suffrage) or in foreign affairs (making alliances or long-term commitments), that could have unpredictable consequences and potentially risk the social, economic and political positions held by the Brazilian elite. This course of conduct would extend throughout the 20th century, an isolationist foreign policy interspersed with sporadic automatic alignments against "disturbing elements of peace and international trade"

In August 1916, after almost four years, another rebellion, the Contestado War ended.

Since the end of the 19th century, many immigrants from Europe had arrived, and with them came communist and anarchist ideas, which created problems for the very conservative regime of large estate owners (aka "Café com Leite" republic). With the growth, masses of industrial workers became unhappy with the system and began engaging in massive protests, mostly in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. After a General Strike in 1917 the government attempted to brutally repress the labor movement in order to prevent new movements from beginning. This repression, supported by legislation, was very effective in preventing the formation of real free labor unions.

Ruy Barbosa was the main opposition leader, campaigning for internal political changes. He also stated that due to the natural conflict between Brazilian commercial interests and the Central Powers's strategic ones (demonstrated for example in the German submarine campaign as well as in the Ottoman control over the Middle East), Brazilian involvement in the war would be inevitable. So he advised that the most logical way to proceed would be to follow the United States, which was working for a peace agreement but as the same time since the sinking of the RMS Lusitania was also preparing for war.


President Venceslau Bras declares war on the Central Powers, October 1917. Venceslau Bras declara guerra 1917.jpg
President Venceslau Brás declares war on the Central Powers, October 1917.

There were two main lines of thought regarding Brazil's joining of the war: One, led by Ruy Barbosa called for joining the Entente; [8] another side worried about the notices of bloody and unfruitful fighting in trenches, nurturing critical and pacifist feelings in the urban worker classes. Therefore, Brazil remained neutral in World War I until 1917. But internal problems, aggravated by denunciations of corruption created the need for then president Venceslau Brás to deviate attention, something that could be accomplished by focusing on an external enemy to eventually take advantage of a sense of patriotism.

During 1917, the sinking of Brazilian civilian ships by the German Navy off the French coast created such opportunity. On October 26 the government declared war on the Central Powers; Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Ottoman Empire. Soon after, the capture of ships from those countries that were on Brazilian coast was ordered and three small military groups were dispatched to the western front. The first one consisted of medical staff from the Army, the second consisted of sergeants and officers, also from the Army, and the third group consisted of military aviators, both of Army and Navy. [9] [10] These groups were attached respectively: the Army's members to French Army and the Navy's aviators to British Royal Air Force. By 1918 all three groups were already in action in France.

By that time Brazil had also sent a Naval fleet, the DNOG (acronym in Portuguese for Naval Division in War Operations), [7] [11] commanded by Pedro Max Frontin to join the Allies' Naval Forces in the Mediterranean.

However, during 1918, the turbulent social situation that generated in protests against the military recruitment plus the repercussion of then events in Russia only strengthened the provision of the Brazilian elites to remain obstinate with its doctrine of minimal involvement in international conflicts. In addition, the devastating advent of Spanish flu, amongst other reasons, meant that Venceslau Brás' administration in the end of its Term of office, refrained from getting involved more deeply in the war. Finally, the end of the war in November 1918, prevented even the government that succeeded the Venceslas Bras, could carry out its plan for war. Despite its modest participation, Brazil gained the right to partake in the Versailles conference.

Demographic changes

From 1875 until 1960, about 3 million Europeans emigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants came mainly from Portugal, Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland, and the Middle East. The world's largest Japanese community outside Japan is in São Paulo. Indigenous full-blooded Indians, located mainly in the northern and western border regions and in the upper Amazon Basin, constitute less than 1% of the population. Their numbers are declining as contact with the outside world and commercial expansion into the interior increase. Brazilian Government programs to establish reservations and to provide other forms of assistance have existed for years but are controversial and often ineffective. The plurality of Brazilians are of mixed African, European, and Indian lineage. Immigration increased industrialization and urbanization in Brazil.

Developments under the Old Republic

Demographic changes and structural shifts in the economy, however, threatened the primacy of the agrarian oligarchies. Under the Old Republic (1889–1930), the growth of the urban middle sectors, though retarded by dependency and entrenched oligarchy, was eventually strong enough to propel itself to the forefront of Brazilian political life. In time, growing trade, commerce, and industry in São Paulo undermined the domination of the republic's politics by the landed gentries of that state (dominated by the coffee industry) and Minas Gerais, dominated by dairy interests, known then by observers as the politics of café com leite ; 'coffee with milk'.

President Artur Bernardes (1922-1926) and ministers of state, 1922. National Archives of Brazil. Presidente Artur Bernardes e ministros de Estado.tif
President Artur Bernardes (1922-1926) and ministers of state, 1922. National Archives of Brazil.

Long before the first revolts of the urban middle classes to seize power from the coffee oligarchs in the 1920s, however, Brazil's intelligentsia, influenced by the tenets of European positivism, and farsighted agro-capitalists, dreamed of forging a modern, industrialized society—the "world power of the future". This sentiment was later nurtured throughout the Vargas years and under successive populist governments before the 1964 military junta repudiated Brazilian populism. Although such lofty visionaries were somewhat ineffectual under the Old Republic (1889–1930), the structural changes in the Brazilian economy opened up by the Great War strengthened these demands.

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 was the turning point for the dynamic urban sectors. Temporarily abating Britain's overseas economic connections with Brazil, the war was an impetus for domestic manufacturing because of the unavailability of British imports. These structural shifts in the Brazilian economy helped to increase the ranks of the new urban middle classes. Meanwhile, Brazil's manufacturers and those employed by them enjoyed these gains at the expense of the agrarian oligarchies. Coffee being a nonessential though habit-forming product which affords it a measure of stability and resilience, world demand declined sharply. The central government, dominated by rural gentries, responded to falling world coffee demand by bailing out the oligarchs, reinstating the soon-to-be disastrous valorization program. Sixteen years later, world coffee demand plunged even more precipitously with the Great Depression. Valorization, government intervention to maintain coffee prices by withholding stocks from the market or restricting plantings, then proved to be unsustainable, incapable of curbing insurmountable decline in coffee prices in world markets. By World War I, the reinstatement of government price supports foreshadowed the vulnerability of Brazil's coffee oligarchy to the Great Depression.

Paradoxically, economic crisis spurred industrialization and a resultant boost to the urban middle and working classes. The depressed coffee sector freed up the capital and labor needed for manufacturing finished goods. A chronically adverse balance of trade and declining rate of exchange against foreign currencies was also helpful; Brazilian goods were simply cheaper in the Brazilian market. The state of São Paulo, with its relatively large capital-base, large immigrant population from Southern and Eastern Europe, and wealth of natural resources, led the trend, eclipsing Rio de Janeiro as center of Brazilian industry. Industrial production, though concentrated in light industry (food processing, small shops, and textiles) doubled during the war, and the number of enterprises (which stood at about 3,000 in 1908) grew by 5,940 between 1915 and 1918. The war was also a stimulus for the diversification of agriculture. Growing wartime demand of the Allies for staple products, sugar, beans, and raw materials sparked a new boom for products other than sugar or coffee. Foreign interests, however, continued to control the more capital-intensive industries, distinguishing Brazil's industrial revolution from that of the rest of the West.

Struggle for reform

With manufacturing on the rise and the coffee oligarchs imperiled, the old order of café com leite and coronelismo eventually gave way to the political aspirations of the new urban groups: professionals, government and white-collar workers, merchants, bankers, and industrialists. Increasing support for industrial protectionism marked 1920s Brazilian politics with little support from a central government dominated by the coffee interests. Under considerable middle class pressure, a more activist, centralized state adapted to represent the interests that the new bourgeoisie had been demanded for years — one that could utilize a state interventionist policy consisting of tax breaks, lowered duties, and import quotas to expand the domestic capital base. Manufacturers, white-collar workers, and the urban proletariat alike had earlier enjoyed the respite of world trade associated with World War I. However, the coffee oligarchs, relying on a devolved power structure relegating power to their own patrimonial ruling oligarchies, were certainly not interested in regularizing Brazil's personalistic politics or centralizing power. Getúlio Vargas, leader from 1930 to 1945 and later for a brief period in the 1950s, would later respond to these demands.

During this time period, the state of São Paulo was at the forefront of Brazil's economic, political, and cultural life. Known colloquially as "locomotive pulling the 20 empty boxcars" (a reference to the 20 other states) and still today Brazil's industrial and commercial center, São Paulo led this trend toward industrialization due to the foreign revenues flowing into the coffee industry.

Prosperity contributed to a rapid rise in the population of recent working class Southern and Eastern European immigrants, a population that contributed to the growth of trade unionism, anarchism, and socialism. In the post-World War I period, Brazil was hit by its first wave of general strikes and the establishment of the Communist Party in 1922.

Meanwhile, the divergence of interests between the coffee oligarchs—devastated by the Depression—and the burgeoning, dynamic urban sectors was intensifying. According to prominent Latin American historian Benjamin Keen, the task of transforming society "fell to the rapidly growing urban bourgeois groups, and especially to the middle class, which began to voice even more strongly its discontent with the rule of the corrupt rural oligarchies". In contrast, the labor movement remained small and weak (despite a wave of general strikes in the postwar years), lacking ties to the peasantry, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian population. As a result, disparate social reform movements would crop up in the 1920s, ultimately culminating in the Revolution of 1930. The 1920s revolt against the seating of Artur da Silva Bernardes as president signaled the beginning of a struggle by the urban bourgeoisie to seize power from the coffee-producing oligarchy.

This era sparked the failed but famed tenente (lieutenant) rebellion as well. Junior military officers, who had long been active against the ruling coffee oligarchy, staged their own failed revolt in 1922 amid demands for various forms of social modernization, calling for agrarian reform, the formation of cooperatives, and the nationalization of mines. In this historical setting, Getúlio Vargas emerged as president about a decade later.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Hudson, Rex A. Brazil: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1997, pg.22
  2. Smallman, Shawn C. "Fear & Memory: in the Brazilian Army & Society, 1889–1954" The University of North Carolina Press 2002 ISBN   0-8078-5359-3 pages 17–22
  3. Ibidem - Smallman 2002
  4. Ignacy Sachs, Jorge Wilheim & Paulo S.Pinheiro; "Brazil: a century of change" University of North Carolina Press 2009 pages 58 & 63
  5. Smith, Joseph "Brazil and the United States; convergence and divergence" University of Georgia Press 2010, page 39
  6. Brassey, Thomas Allnutt "The Naval Annual; 1894" Elibron Classics/Adamant Media Corporation 2006, Chapter XI "The Naval Revolt in Brazil"
  7. 1 2 3 pt:Página principal
  8. Woodward; James P. "A Place in Politics: São Paulo, Brazil, from Seigneurial Republicanism to Regionalist Revolt" Duke University Press Books 2009 ISBN   0-8223-4329-0 Page94 2nParagraph
  9. "Grandes Guerras – Os grandes conflitos do século XX". Archived from the original on 2007-12-20. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
  10. ": Exército Brasileiro – Braço Forte, Mão Amiga :". Archived from the original on 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
  11. Maia, Prado "D.N.O.G. (Divisão Naval em Operações de Guerra), 1917–18: uma página esquecida da história da Marinha Brasileira" (in Portuguese) ("D.N.O.G. - Naval Division in War Operations, 1917–1918: A forgotten page in the history of the Brazilian Navy") [S.l.]: Serviço de Documentação Geral da Marinha, 1961 (General Documentation Service of Brazilian Navy) OCLC 22210405


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