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date: 25 September 2017

Popular Revolts in the Empire of Brazil

Summary and Keywords

Scholars have long studied the rebellious movements that rattled Brazil after its independence and during the so-called Regency period. The scholarship has mainly focused on understanding the political and economic elites who led the revolts by joining or fighting the rebels, or whose interests were at stake. Comparatively little attention has been paid to those who actually fought in the battles: namely, the impoverished free and freed people who comprised the majority of the country’s population. These women and men took up arms and, occasionally, led the rebellions, notably during the First Reign and the Regency. Historical accounts of such revolts are limited, however, and those that speak to upheavals that occurred from the 1850s on are even scarcer.

In the past decades, new interpretations of popular revolts during the Empire have enabled scholars to reappraise how free and freed poor (of Portuguese, African, or Native American descent) experienced the innovations brought by the country’s independence, and the long process of state-building.

Even if the country’s Charta was given by the first emperor, and not duly written and approved by a legislative body, it followed quite strictly the liberal creed that inspired so many other contemporary constitutions. According to the 1824 Charta, all of the country’s natural born were henceforth made citizens, regardless of whether they were free or freed, with constitutionally guaranteed rights. Although one should never mistake the letter of the law for its actual enforcement, its existence should also not be dismissed.

This is especially important when trying to understand the history of a country whose elites kept on fighting not only over the Constitution’s true meaning, but also over governmental control. Battling for independence and state power meant publicizing mottos about freedom, emancipation, the people’s rights, and the overcoming of oppression across the country—words that were spoken out loud and printed in newspapers and gazettes, reaching as far as the Brazilian backlands.

One must always factor into any historical equation the specifics of a country’s population. By the time Brazil became independent, slaves amounted to roughly 31 percent of the population, where most of the remaining 69 percent were composed of free poor, freed people, and “domesticated” Indians; all of whom became citizens when the 1824 Charta was enforced (with constitutional Rights, according to the law, and even, depending on one’s gender, age, income, and status—as a free or a freed man—to vote and be voted).

Considering all those specifics, this article analyzes the involvement of free and freed peoples in 19th century rebellions, riots, and seditions; movements that broke out all over the country, rattling regions as far as Maranhão and Rio Grande do Sul, from the 1820s to the 1880s. Regarding the role played by popular revolts in 19th century Brazil, one must go beyond the boundaries set by a traditional historiography to understand how the experience of protesting was directly related to the process of state building, and how the lower strata of society learned to fight for their demands as citizens of a representative constitutional monarchy.

Keywords: Brazil, empire, revolts, free poor, freed people, citizenship, popular demands, independence, state-building, liberalism

In 1848, Domingos José Gonçalves de Magalhães, a renowned romantic poet, published an extensive account of the Balaiada Rebellion in the journal of the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute. He had witnessed part of the revolt, as he traveled to Maranhão accompanying Colonel Luis Alves de Lima e Silva, sent by the central government to subdue the popular movement that had started a couple of months before.

According to Magalhães, the Balaiada’s main leader, Raimundo Gomes, was no more than an illiterate, dark-skinned man, a progeny of “Indians and negroes,” raised among the cattle he herded. A man utterly incapable of any act of a political nature, behaving, as he did, under the influence of a farsighted faction (the Bem-te-vi Party, as the liberals from Maranhão were then called), whose leaders thought they could control the peoples’ wrath, dispersing them when no longer needed.1

Despite Magalhães’ account, praised by contemporary elites as a methodical and lucid exposé, recent researches challenge long-standing interpretations regarding the Balaiada and its most famous leader. From the beginning of the Rebellion until practically its end, Gomes authored a number of manifestos that stated clearly, regardless of the poets’ views, the rebels aimed goals, all born directly out of the populations’ expectations and demands.2

Mainly, they required the Constitution to be upheld and citizen’s rights observed; this meant, among other things, the suspension of all general and provincial laws that were not in accordance to the country’s Charta. In the case of Maranhão, that implied the repeal of such bills as the one that established appointed prefects and sub-prefects. They also demanded the dismissal of the provincial president (the higher executive officer in Maranhão), a political figure affiliated with the Cabanos (the conservatives of the province), to be replaced by the Bem-te-vi vice-president elect.

Those clearly political goals were publicized along with other demands and were constantly interpreted by contemporary elites as tributary to the ignorance and misunderstandings of the people. Gomes and his followers required all Portuguese naturals still living in the province to be expelled and demanded equality in treatment for all citizens, despite their color or quality, for the Brazilian Nation “was a product of Indian together with African and Portuguese blood.” For the rebels, there were two sides: on one side there were the non-white Brazilian-born, whose rights were at stake; on the other side, the oppressors, among whom were the Portuguese natives. Considering that dichotomy, Raimundo Gomes’ words, especially his proclamations regarding the “peoples of color” as the “forces of Brazil,” gain a much deeper significance. The elite’s disrespect for the citizens’ rights—a constitutional guarantee that encompassed all free and freed poor, were they of European, African, or Native American descent—presented a very serious and tangible menace of oppression and forced labor. As duly recorded in an anonymous Balaio manifesto: cabanos’ partisans and Portuguese naturals aimed to force the rebels into slavery. In order to fully grasp the rebels’ statement, it’s necessary to address some facts regarding the Rebellion.3

Gomes is known not only for his leadership, but also for actually starting the upheaval. In 1838, he stormed the jail of the town of Manga, in the backlands of Maranhão, to release his men who, while herding his cattle, had been imprisoned by the newly appointed prefect. Once in jail, they were supposed to be sent away to serve in the army (against their will, of course). No wonder, then, he started rallying for the suspension of the law and the dismissal of all new prefects. These new authorities were a real symbol of oppression, as they were actually enforcing upon all poor men (free or freed) the tribute of blood, as they then called forced army enlistment. According to Gomes, by doing so, the prefects were scandalously acting against the country’s Constitution. To him and his fellow rebels, the 1824 Imperial Charta, the future Reign of Pedro II (whom they considered to be a quasi-prisoner of the Regency), and the Catholic religion were the pillars of society, the fundamental elements that brought all Brazilian naturals together.

Although the rebels’ demands echoed many of the critiques printed in Maranhão’s liberal press (especially the newspaper O Bemtevi), they were not simply repeating some elite political platform or, as Magalhães thought, behaving as blind instruments of their desires. As historian Matthias Assunção duly demonstrates, to grasp the full meaning of the demands of Gomes’ followers is essential to understand the historical importance of popular liberalism, rooted, as it was, in the appropriation of an upscale liberal ideology mixed with elements of regional popular culture. Its “democratic and egalitarian features” were, according to Assunção, “a result of the 1820s–1840s political experiences.”4

The Balaiada Rebellion, nonetheless, was only one of the many movements that rattled Imperial Brazil. Some of them have long deserved more attention from scholars and academics, especially those that occurred during the Regency period (as was the Balaiada’s case) or the ones that opposed different factions of society’s upper strata. Others, those that involved mainly the free and freed poor people of the country, have only recently been more widely researched. As a result of this growing interest in clearly popular upheavals and in popular participation in movements led by the country’s elites, it is now possible to envision a more comprehensive interpretation of what protesting, violently or not, meant to the 19th century Brazilian population.

To do so, as stated by historian Assunção, those movements should not be approached as isolated events, but as results of accumulated political experiences, as epiphenomena of a much larger process, one that usually dates back to the first decades of the 19th century. As was the case of the Balaiada—a rebellion that laid its roots in the 1820s, when the first echoes of the Porto Revolution reached Brazil, followed by the impact of the war for Independence, and the many disputes that succeeded it—the same must be said about all other 19th century Brazilian revolts.5

The history of the northern province of Pará’s adhesion to the Brazilian Empire was quite similar to that of Maranhão, as it took the Navy’s engagement to guarantee the support of the elites to the new independent state. Not only that, but the 1824 Confederação do Equador (Confederation of the Equator) also had its supporters up north. The confederates’ defeat did not amount to the pacification of the province, as its elites kept on fighting for years over provincial political control, something that cannot be overlooked when trying to understand the Cabanagem Rebellion.

The above mentioned Confederation had started thousand miles south of Pará, in the province of Pernambuco, encompassing nearby areas such as Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, and Ceará. People in those areas were not foreign to protests and revolts, as the 1817 Revolution and the 1820 Pedra do Rodeador revolt had already mobilized armed parties. But, once again, the confederate’s defeat was not followed by peace and tranquility, as the 1832–1835 Cabano’s War and the 1848–1849 Praieira Rebellion would still rattle some of those regions. Besides, when talking about revolts in general, it is necessary to bear in mind that they affect not only the place where the upheaval itself takes place, but also adjacent areas, where government forces gather in order to organize their attacks. A good example is the border region of Pernambuco and Alagoas. There, royalists stationed the troops that would later attack the 1817 rebels and the 1824 confederates (years later, that same region would be the epicenter of the Cabano’s War).

But the importance of Pernambuco and adjacent provinces, regarding movements that questioned governmental authorities, is not restricted to the first half of the 19th century. To the contrary, those areas would still be affected by protests and upheavals, as when the authorities were forced to face the 1851–1852 Ronco da Abelha and 1874–1875 Quebra-quilos seditions.

That kind of territorial overlapping was not confined, though, to the above mentioned areas. The same can be said regarding the province of Bahia, especially its capital, the city of Salvador. The population of the former colonial capital endured a year of siege and battles during the war of independence. Soon after, another revolt rattled the city, when, among other things, rebels murdered the province’s governor of arms, during the Revolta dos Periquitos (the Parakeets Revolt). Fifteen years later, many of the inhabitants took up arms to join a rebellion that became known as the Sabinada. Another two decades passed, and the local government was forced to deal with the Carne sem Osso, Farinha sem Caroço Riot, just to mention some more widely known movements, since, throughout the 19th century, a significant number of other riots and protests affected not only the city itself but also its surroundings.

Much the same occurred in almost all other Brazilian provinces. The southernmost part of the country, for example, had been a battleground since the 1810s, either in wars against a foreign enemy or due to intra-elite feuds. No wonder then, historian Matthias Assunção, in his studies of the Balaiada Rebellion, considers it paramount to understand the rebels demands and actions as expressions of considerably longer experience that dates back to the 1820s, when Brazilian elites started talking about independence, freedom, and severing the bonds with the oppressor (in this specific case, Portugal).

Political Experience and Popular Revolts in 19th-century Brazil

In 1824, a Brazilian Army general seemed to understand the impact of such ideas in the populace’s minds and lives. Francisco Alves de Lima e Silva, sent to Pernambuco to defeat the rebels of the Confederacy, compared the situation of the province to that of years before (when the 1817 Revolution broke out) and clearly stated that “back then the peoples were obedient, no one had yet preached them about Constitution, freedom, popular sovereignty, and other similar doctrines that deceive the ill-advised, forewarning them against legitimate authorities, even when acting as justly and liberally as can be.”6

General Lima e Silva’s words were unquestionably very realistic, and one individual’s history serves as an example of what probably happened to many people through the 19th century. In 1817, Agostinho José Pereira was a freedman living in Recife when the above-mentioned Revolution broke out. He dwelled in the same block as the Henrique’s Battalion Headquarter, a battalion that had a very important role during the movement and was composed only of free and freed blacks. A couple of years passed and Agostinho joined the confederates, in 1824. After the movement’s defeat, he was enrolled in the army and sent to very distant parts of the country. In 1839, while incarcerated in Rio de Janeiro, where he was then serving, he actually met Francisco Sabino Álvares da Rocha Vieira (the main leader of the 1837–1838 Sabinada Rebellion, duly named after him).7

But that is only part of the story. After serving all over the country, he went back to Recife and opened a school to teach blacks to read and write. “He was called ‘Divine Master’ by his followers, more than three hundred,” to whom he preached about the freedom of the dark-skinned people. He was arrested by the authorities, under suspicion of preaching subversive ideas; his attorney was the famous liberal Antonio Borges da Fonseca, who, in 1848, not only took part in the Praieira Rebellion, but also became one of its leaders, especially among the urban people of Pernambuco’s capital. To historian Marcus Carvalho, “after travelling the country and getting to know the leader of the Sabinada, he came back to teach the alphabet to the black people [of Recife], talking about freedom and Haiti.”8

Even as Agostinho’s life is amazingly eventful, it exemplifies how participating in protests, evens those led by local elites, could lead to life-changing experiences. According to Carvalho, when dealing with the country’s independence and the state building process, the impact of elite factional warfare on the general population of free poor men and women, freed people, and even slaves cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. By “bearing arms, whether to back landlords, masters, or political bosses, or under the orders of army or militia officials, in civil wars or battles against a foreign enemy, the men that came out of the ‘populace’ could learn a lot, especially considering the peculiar situation they were in.” First of all, they’ve learnt to bear arms, to attack or defend themselves with them, but not only that. The service they rendered also taught them politics; a life changing experience when everyone was talking about “freedom, independence, the rights of the ‘people,’ the Constitution.”9

Power struggles between the Brazilian elites, aiming to control or influence provincial or even State’s politics, fostered singular experiences to those who were then armed to fight for or against the different groups or factions seeking political control. This happened all over the country. As they learned to fight, as they listened to proclamations endorsing the legitimacy of what they were supposed to be fighting for (mottos repeated over and over again by those in command), they learned how to behave in battle and how to lead. As well, that kind of experience was crucial to their ability to reinterpret their social and political situation, what it meant, besides other things, to consider rebellion as a viable path to achieve their own goals.

Although one should not try to explain a movement as simply the cause or consequence of another, it is also ill-devised to dismiss the experience of battle as something secondary to the understanding of the population’s demands and their efforts to fight for their rights and to enforce them (even when that happened in a rather peaceful manner). So, even when contemplating the poorer part of the population, forced either to fight under somebody else’s orders, or going into battle to defend their own interests, one must consider that taking part in those movements meant recurrently experiencing the reality of bearing arms and protesting for the enforcement of a right or some social or political change. As mentioned above, it was not unlikely for a person to take part in more than one of those episodes, but even when they had the chance to protest or participate in only one movement, one should not overlook the importance of the knowledge they gained from it; knowledge that could be passed on to family members, friends, acquaintances, and even their progeny.

Before further discussing popular revolts in Brazil, two essential remarks must be made. First of all, it is necessary to leave behind the traditional portrait of Brazil as a country of masters and slaves, a fallacy that contradicts simple numbers concerning the Empire’s population. Although estimates vary slightly from one author to another, a couple of years before independence, Brazil’s almost four million inhabitants were roughly divided into 31 percent slaves and 69 percent free, freed, and “domesticated” Indians. Five decades later, in 1872, according to the data provided by the first national census, the population had more than doubled, adding up to almost ten million inhabitants, with slaves accounting for 15 percent of the total.10

Second, one must take into account the specifics of slavery in Brazilian 19th century society. Until the 1850s at least, slavery was a pervasive institution. In the past decades, researches have ably shown that captivity was not only widely accepted, but actually was a reality for almost all free and freed inhabitants. Small sharecroppers and cattle herders had slaves (even if only one); urban workers (from the middling and lower strata) also relied on their human properties to make ends meet; not to mention poor people who bought a slave to beg on the streets (and whose handouts constituted their masters only income). Besides that, one should not assume that all those masters were free; many in fact had been born in captivity, buying a slave as soon as they were manumitted and had amassed enough money to do so.

Thus, along most of 19th-century Brazilian history, slavery was not only a reality, but an institution accepted by many (even slaves themselves).11 For long, though, scholars have been puzzled by that reality, shocked by the fact that most of the free and freed peoples regarded themselves as beholders of a social status essentially different from those in captivity; even if that situation was almost self-explanatory to the men and women who lived in Imperial Brazil. Acknowledging the distance between freedom and slavery—a distinction that prompted different expectations and demands regarding those born free or manumitted and those in captivity—allowed researchers to more properly interpret the free and freed involvement in protests along the Empire, movements duly called popular revolts.

Besides that, by taking into account the importance of accumulated political experience, it become easier to overcome some hindrances that marked several sociological or historical interpretations regarding popular revolts. Consider, for instance, works in which authors place different movements on an evolution-based timeline that started in the Ancien Regime and should progress towards the full implementation of a bourgeois society. Such interpretations explain these movements and protests as historical rehearsals that anticipate future, bigger processes that would necessarily achieve society’s revolutionary transformation. Unfortunately, as their participants had seemingly inconsistent demands regarding that kind of progress, were unable to achieve the anticipated goal, and thus failed to properly prepare the path for a final revolution, those movements were usually labeled as incomplete and inconsistent actions (or even a-political).12

Recent scholarly researches, though, proposed a change of focus, achievable only by dismissing future events (or non-events) as explanatory truths and concurrently bringing to the foreground the participants own experiences. By doing so, it became feasible to understand some of those so-called contradictions, a necessary step to grasp more thoroughly the expectations and actions of poor free and freed people. That means understanding their protests as something other than actions motivated by the longing for a lost past or the undoing of new laws and social changes. In the aftermath of independence and during the so-called process of state building, these men and women organized themselves and acted based on their own values but they did so by mobilizing new ideas, rights, and forms of expression that had been surfacing since at least the 1820s.

Beyond Seemingly Contradictory Demands and Expectations

In 1837, the greater part of the Army’s Artillery, stationed in Salvador, together with sectors of the upper and middling strata, took up arms and occupied the city. Suspicious of the State’s future after the election of a conservative Regent (amidst other events), the so-called radicals who constituted the leadership of the Sabinada Rebellion justified the city’s occupation as necessary to achieve “more autonomy for Bahia, within the Brazilian Empire,” undermine the ruling of “aristocracy over society,” and to see through “liberal reforms in the legal system” (which meant primarily legal equality for all free people).13 But that did not sum up the rebels demands. Protesters were also fighting to revoke some recently passed laws that were meant to forward Brazilian society into the same perfect liberal order lawmakers thought prevailed in the United States and Europe.

In the 1830s, as stated by historian Hendrik Kraay, army officials resented not only a decade-long lack of raises and promotions, but also the establishment of the new National Guard. After the first Emperor’s abdication, when a new era would dawn upon the people, they suffered, instead, a hard blow from the Regency government, as the new Guard was created and bills were passed diminishing dramatically the number of army soldiers and officials, and eradicating the long existing militias corps.

As the militia ceased to exist, many officials were incorporated into the National Guard, but without their patents (and the pay that came with it), joining the ranks as privates. Thus, among those who rebelled in 1837 and fought against aristocratic government and for legal equality for all people (free and freed), there was a large group of former officials that, besides the above mentioned demands, also rallied for the reinstatement of the old Militias (troops created during the colonial era, divided according to race, or better, skin color). At first glance, the whole set of demands may seem contradictory, for they not only required equality in the face of the law (for all nationals were citizens and should be treated as such, whether free or freed), but they also demanded the reinstatement of old troops divided according to color; to them, though, there was no contradiction at all, as they were simply fighting for what they considered their rights as Brazilian citizens.

One particular rebellion stands out when talking about seemingly contradictory motives and demands, the so-called Guerra dos Cabanos (Cabano’s War). As with many contemporary rebellions, it started as an intra-elite feud, opposing men dismissed from governmental offices and army ranks to those who ascended to power after the abdication of Pedro I. Landlords, deprived of their positions, armed those who worked for them or were under their sphere of influence, to battle the Regency authorities (to fight for the status quo ante, when Pedro I ruled the country). From 1832 on, though, those men and women whom they thought they controlled took matters in their own hands and waged a war that lasted three years.14

It became the only movement, during the Empire, that really congregated the poor free, the freed, Indians, and even slaves, all fighting for the return of former Emperor Pedro I. Vicente Ferreira de Paula, the Cabano’s War’s greatest leader, condemned the Regency (the government of the “Jacobins”), which had waged war against him and his followers, proclaiming that the rebels had taken up arms to safeguard the Holy Catholic Church, former Emperor Pedro I, and his dynasty.

The rebels’ main goal might be the reason why 20th century historiography never paid the movement half the attention devoted to other so-called Regency rebellions; many scholars, as mentioned before, were only interested in rebellions with liberal mottos that could indicate the population’s proclivity towards a revolutionary change of society. Recent works, especially those by historian Marcus Carvalho, point out that, although long misunderstood, the Cabano’s main goals should not be taken for empty words devised only to hide some obscure intention. Paula’s “speech in favor of Pedro I exemplifies the backwoods men and women interpretation of the provincial government’s recent acts and of the war the Regency was waging against them.”15 Defending the first emperor meant safeguarding their lands, their way of life, and eventually their own existence. Once the intra-elite feud started, many Regency-sided proprietors seized the moment to expel the poor free, the freed, and even “domesticated” Indians from their lands, using their original compliance to Pedro I’s supporters as an excuse to wage a relentless war.

In 1835, when Vicente de Paula tried to negotiate an amnesty for himself and his followers, he was actually trying to ensure the government’s acquiescence to the fact that the rebels had rights. That meant, among other things, allowing the Brazilian hicks (the “rústicos Brasileiros”) to keep their arms and assuring that rebelled slaves, who fought alongside them, would be granted their freedom. His demands clearly show the aim of the Cabanos to be part of society, but only “as free men, with land to farm, with communal access to the surrounding forests, and legally able to bear arms.”16 By reinterpreting the elite’s proclamations and seizing the opportunities brought by a future yet to be determined (due to an instable political situation), they had the chance to express their own demands, inherently different from those of the upper strata of society.

An intra-elite feud was also at the onset of another major movement. As mentioned, the northern provinces’ affiliation to Brazil’s independent state was neither immediate nor peaceful. Despite that, many of Pará’s native elites, who had not supported the Portuguese cause, were still kept far from important ruling posts. Even after Pedro I’s abdication, to the contrary of what happened in Pernambuco and bordering regions, the Regency period did not bring a real change to that situation. If those born on the European continent had long outranked local elites, neither the first Imperial government, nor the Regency seemed to care for the Brazilian provincial upper strata demands for power. Provincial presidents and other high-ranking officials were always from “abroad,” a term used indistinctively to address foreigners and Brazilians born in other provinces (also called “adoptees”).17

In 1834, the discontent towards a recently nominated provincial president, this time a native of Goiás, led many local landlords to organize an armed movement to deprive him of his post in order to appoint a paraense in his place. Their headquarters were in Acará, on a rural property owned by a well-to-do farmer, Felix Clemente Malcher. From there, after an official raid ordered by Pará’s president, they invaded the capital; a raid that ended up, among other things, with the imprisonment of Malcher and the death of cleric João Batista Gonçalves Campos, a prominent political leader in Belém (who had been preaching against the provincial president’s policies since his appointment).

The rebels rapidly succeeded in deposing the provincial president and the military commander (both eventually murdered). They also stormed the city’s jail, freeing all those imprisoned by the former government, including Malcher, whom they proclaimed provincial president. According to a high judicial officer, the rebels, who arrived by the dozens, proclaimed that they were there to “depose the authorities and kill the masons.”18

Even if one considers that the former president was accused of an unreligious affiliation to the Masonry and disrespectful behaviors regarding the Catholic Church and its clergy, such a motto seems surprisingly restricted when taking into account the facts that followed, and the thousands who protested and took up arms during the rebellion.

Malcher, the rebel acclaimed president, was murdered by his so-called subordinates shortly after they occupied the city. The two next rebel presidents, although not killed, had their authority and allegiance questioned by their supposed followers. If the murder or deposition of recognized and eminent leaders is unique to the Cabanagem Rebellion, the diversity of those who stormed the city and later carried on battling governmental troops in rural Pará also deserves special attention.

Among them there were tapuios (detribalized Indians, many forcibly serving—as their fathers and grandfathers had done before them—in governmental troops and militias), mestizos (either from African, Indian, and/or Portuguese descent), freed men and women, and even slaves. As historian Luis Balkar duly points out, once the rebels occupied the provincial capital and murdered many of the established authorities, they had the opportunity to subvert social hierarchies. No wonder that tapuios and natives in general murdered their commanders, taking their uniforms and assuming their ranks, as slaves bound their masters to pillories, flogging them with their own whips.

One episode is especially significant. As a group of rebels encountered a farmer fleeing from the turmoil, their leader, a white man, urged them to leave the farmer alone, as he was not Portuguese, but “Brazilian as we are.” Despite his rank, one of his subordinates answered, “no, no, he is a farmer. Die as the others.”19

If intra-elite feuds opposed those born in Pará to the adoptees, once the rebellion broke out, landlords could no longer control the expectations and demands of the people they had gathered to fight the Imperial government. No wonder then, that Malcher and subsequent provincial presidents gained the rebels distrust when they tried to forestall the population’s demands, claiming that, once the former president was deposed, the movement’s goals had been achieved (so they should give up their weapons and return to their daily duties). The elite’s interpretation of Brazilians versus Portuguese, Paraenses versus foreigners, “philanthropists” versus “adoptees,” were dichotomies that no longer answered the expectations of the people they had armed in order to achieve their goals.

Elites’ Dichotomies Gave Way to More Complex Popular Questions

That shift from anti-Portuguese feelings towards a more comprehensive criticism of social and racial hierarchies, though, was not a Cabanagem specificity. Lusophobia (the mistrust or even hatred towards Portuguese born who lived in Brazil) was a pervasive sentiment among those who took up arms in the 1817 Revolution, the Equator’s Confederacy, but also the Bahian Sabinada, Maranhão’s Balaiada, and the Praieira Rebellion, just to mention some more widely known events, as attacks on those born in Portugal were quite common all over the country, at least during the first half of the 19th century.

During the above-mentioned Sabinada Rebellion, a movement that brought together a large portion of Salvador’s inhabitants, Lusophobia was a rather pervasive sentiment. According to those who rose against the established government, the Portuguese had been enriching themselves at the expense of the country’s natives. But, as the movement spread, actions by the free and freed poor, and even the slaves, gained new meanings, broader significance that could no longer be explained only by the hatred towards those born in the old continent.

As recorded by the British vice-consul, “appearances are materially changed since the commencement of the insurrection and . . . are, at present, more those of a war of color than anything else.” Even if those remarks were written by an Englishmen, they did echo many of the words and actions of the movement leaderships, as, according to an editorial of the Novo Diário (a newspaper owned and penned by men directly tied to the rebellion), the enemies “are warring against us, because they are whites, and in Bahia there must be no blacks, and mulattos, especially in office, unless they are very rich and change their liberal opinions.” Thus, in consonance with historian Hendrik Kraay, from a movement born out of distrust of the central government, fuelled by demands from some urban groups, and fostered by old resentments towards Portuguese natives, the revolt slowly changed into an array of protests against discrimination, unveiling an “incipient race and class-consciousness”.20

In the province of Pernambuco, especially its capital Recife, hatred towards Portuguese born had been a common feature since the 1810s (especially in movements widely known as mata-marotos or mata-marinheiros). During the Praieira Rebellion, it would be no different, or better it would be worst. In 1848, Lusophobia was no longer a diffuse feeling, but rather a pervasive sentiment that fostered a direct demand for the nationalization of retail commerce, an activity semi-monopolized by those from the old continent. According to historians Carvalho and Câmara, such a demand aimed to correct problems independence had not addressed, as the political separation of Brazil did nothing to ameliorate the lives of the poor free people, “marginalized in their own country.” Even if the onset of the Praieira Rebellion occurred in rural areas, opposing rich land proprietors affiliated to different political parties, it rapidly spread to the streets of Recife, catalyzing many of the dissatisfactions of the urban middling and lower strata, stonewalled between slavery and unemployment.21

In the Balaiada movement, the rebels demand for the expulsion of all Portuguese-born still living in Maranhão was a necessary counterpart of their expectations regarding the due obeisance of the country’s constitution. Nonetheless, according to historian Matthias Assunção, the “opposition between Portuguese and Brazilian born individuals was combined and superseded by the dichotomy that opposed white and non-white population.”22 Thus, on the one hand, there were those who oppressed the Brazilian born people and, on the other, the free and freed poor were menaced daily by the hazards of poverty. According to the rebels, they were fighting against the cabanos’ partisans and Portuguese naturals who aimed to force them into slavery.

Hence, citizen’s rights, Lusophobia, and fear of (re)enslavement were distinct, albeit complementary, expressions born out of the discontents and expectations of the free and freed poor regarding their place in society.

In 1851–1852, a movement that became known as Ronco da Abelha or Guerra dos Marimbondos (the Bee’s Buzz or the War of the Hornets) took by surprise the elites of five different provinces, Pernambuco, Paraíba, Alagoas, Sergipe and Ceará (regions long rattled by rebellions). The people were protesting against two Imperial decrees, one that stipulated a state-controlled (or lay) registry of births and deaths, and another that provisioned for the country’s first census. To make sure that those decrees would not be upheld, free and freed men and women tore up official documents (containing the letter of the new laws), occupied towns (preventing the decrees to be read out loud), and even wrote to the authorities, following, according to historian Maria Luiza de Oliveira, “the official instances of the State’s bureaucracy.”23

Even if their goal drove them to oppose and sometimes harass the authorities, their actions were not aimed at questioning the legitimacy of the Imperial government or its representatives and officers. No wonder then, in response to an admonishment by a Justice of the Peace, one of the participants said, “we shall obey you, but we will not accept the law of enslavement.”24 His statement, disregarded by the elites as evidence of the population’s ignorance, was repeated throughout the upheaval by many different protesters and holds the key to understanding what lay beneath a leaderless revolt of dozens of villagers scattered in a multitude of provinces. According to them, the decrees, especially the one that established the lay registries, blurred the differences between freedom and slavery, and, by doing so, enabled the enslavement of the nonwhite population in general.

If the risk of illegal enslavement was already present during the Balaiada Rebellion, via forced enlistment or other unlawful acts by the newly appointed prefects, the menace became even greater after 1850, when the African slave trade was definitely abolished. Without the labor force that flowed from Africa, and due to the growing coffee plantation economy, southern planters bought thousands of slaves from northern owners. The free and freed men and women were well aware of it, as they’ve stated, “the South wants to enslave the peoples of the North.” Until then, birth registries were made by vicars and priests, authorities known and trusted by a widely illiterate population, and the utmost proof of their progeny’s free status. By transferring to lay judges the responsibility for those registrations, the Ronco da Abelha protesters believed that the aim of the government was to “enslave those who lived in poverty.”25

In 1874, legal determinations were, once more, the starting point of the people’s discontent. This time, the upheaval was tributary to a combination of factors. The populations of more than 78 towns (scattered along the provinces of Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco and Alagoas), what amounted to tens of thousands of people, were protesting against the new metric system, the imposto do chão (the ground tax), and the new recruitment law.26

During the two months of the movement, commonly referred to as the Quebra-quilos revolt (Smash-the-Kilos revolt), the population stormed into towns and cities, protesting against the metric system and the new tax, shouting that “the ground belonged to the people, and thus they shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.” The Quebra-quilos protesters were also at odds with the new regulations concerning military enlistment. As historian Luciano Mendonça de Lima clearly shows, the new conscription law contributed heavily to the populations’ discontent regarding the government’s latest rulings. Once more, protesters vituperated that the lawmakers’ real intent was to “enslave the children of the people.”27

As absurd as that sounded to governmental authorities, the new enlistment regulations caused real fear that echoed an ancient terror among the free and freed men and women of the country. This was a fear that, despite particular circumstances specific to each movement, haunted the Brazilian population until 1888, when slavery was officially abolished.

Enslavement (and its antipode, freedom) was a concern even to Brazilian jurists and lawyers, as they had to deal with legal actions to revoke a person’s manumission. As they’ve properly remarked, returning someone back to captivity had a wider consequence than the loss of freedom, it meant also “striping that person of all of his or hers rights as a citizen.”28

Besides the perils caused by the internal slave trade, by the 1870s, the population became subject to several new laws and decrees aimed to tame them, or better to make them more docile to the wills and pressures of landowners, former slave masters who were losing their human properties either because they were selling them to the South, or because they were financially unable to buy somebody else’s slaves (since prices had more than doubled after the African slave trade was abolished).

Rising against those perils, protesting to guarantee one’s rights as a citizen was a common action in 19th century Brazil. Sometimes those protests meant championing the return of the former Emperor, or, more frequently, upholding liberal laws, practices, and even ideas—liberal postulates and creeds that, since the beginning of the century, had been professed over and over by several members of the elites.

Popular Protests, Elite Liberal Creeds, and Citizens’ Rights in Imperial Brazil

Although popular manifestos should not be misconstrued as simple reverberations of upper strata admonishments, Raimundo Gomes’ demands did indeed echo those published in O Bemtevi. In its pages, the maranhense liberal elite broadcast their discontent with the conservatives then in power and the new provincial president, whom they blamed for the wrongdoings of those newly appointed officials. Even if the newspaper had a very reduced number of prints, its influence and reach far surpassed the total of distributed copies, as, even in the province’s backlands, it was “read out loud for a larger illiterate audience.”29

As people read or listened to the contents of O Bemtevi, they grew more familiar with fundamental postulates of the liberal creed, such as the upholding of the Constitution and the importance of a representative monarchical form of government. It also fostered old grievances—against Portuguese natives, for instance—and enabled a multitude of reinterpretations.

In the late 1830s, Bahian radicals also used the press to advertise their demands and discontents. The editor of the Novo Diário da Bahia was none other than Francisco Sabino himself. In the province of Pernambuco, newspapers were equally important in 1824 and 1848. As historian Denis Bernardes states, one “cannot dismiss the existence of an overtly political press, whose influence should not be minimized.” In that province alone nine papers appeared in 1821–1822 and another thirteen in the next two years, including Frei Caneca’s Typhis Pernambucano.30 During the Praieira Rebellion, the Novo Diário played a crucial rolewhich location, at the Rua da Praia, gave name to the movement; several other gazettes had been circulating for years, especially some more radical ones edited by Borges da Fonseca, the most renowned champion for the nationalization of retail commerce.

Popular interpretation of elite’s mottos and actions went far beyond the scope of words. Although mainly devised to answer elites’ demands, the post-Independence constitutional representative government, regulated by the 1824 Charta, eventually established day-to-day policies and practices that encompassed a considerable portion of the country’s free and freed population.

One movement is particularly enlightening regarding this matter. In 1858, a large portion of Salvador’s inhabitants gathered in a protest against the provincial president. By doing so, they were siding with municipal counselors in defense of a regulation, recently approved by township authorities, regarding the control of the prices of manioc flour sold within the city limits (against the provincial president’s desire for a free market, and the deregulation of all prices).31 In spite of the singular events that marked the movement’s first protests, it rapidly turned into a general cry against the rising prices of staples in the city, echoed in the movement’s motto, “meat without bones, flour without lumps” (or, carne sem osso, farinha sem caroço).

The protesters hailed the “town’s representatives and people, demanding the provincial presidents’ resignation,” and they asked for the “enforcement of their citizens’ rights that were not being upheld.” The correspondence of one municipal counselor, which echoed the population’s demands, shows his concern in explaining his actions to his constituents, but also states his preoccupation regarding the proper “assurance and enforcement of individual rights, as warranted by the political Constitution of the Empire.” As pointed out by historian João Reis, “the rebelled people could then count on the township’s protection, but, at the same time, they thought it was their duty to protect their representatives.”32

That two-way relationship, between township representatives and their constituents, gains depth when one considers who were the ones that balloted for municipal counsel’s seats. In 1858, Salvador had a population of ninety thousand inhabitants at most (including women, children, and slaves), and almost 30, percent had voted in the last election for the Municipal Council. That amounts then to almost all free or freed male inhabitants over 25 (or 21 years old if married), legally able to choose directly not only their city representatives but also their Justices of the Peace.

Taking into account that provincial capitals housed the largest electoral colleges, one could infer that participation in the ballots was an experience accessible only to few of those who lived in Brazil. But that was not actually the case, at least in the backlands of Maranhão. As historian Matthias Assunção demonstrates, the Balaiada rebels recognized governmental representative institutions as the proper arenas for negotiation and considered taking part in elections a vital move to legitimize their demands. In the town of São Bernardo, the general counsel, responsible for drafting a statement to be sent to the provincial president enumerating the rebels’ demands, had been established according to the independence era town councils’ formation, gathering officials, officers, and citizens in general. Signed by citizens (people who were constitutionally apt to vote), the rebels’ document recognized and followed legitimate channels to present their demands to legal authorities, “unfortunately ignored by those it was sent to.”33

Those practices called the attention of scholars to another feature common to a number of 19th century movements, the social and political status of its participants. In the Sabinada Rebellion, the initial proclamation registered in the City Counsel’s records shows that not only army and ex-militia officials were engaged in the movement, but also public employees, artisans, and craftsmen, as they all signed the above-mentioned document. Other sources reveal their presence in the rebellion, as, for example, prison records, in which there are significant numbers of carpenters and other craftsmen.34 Leadership and participation in the movement by army and former militia officials also deserve a closer look. As stated before, many of them had been recently engaged in the National Guard, which meant that they had fulfilled the requirements constitutionally determined for a citizen to exercise his right to be an elector. Thus, a great part of the Sabinada rebels was composed not only of voters, but also electors, with the right to cast their ballots for senators, house, and provincial assemblies representatives.

In Recife, during the Praieira rebellion, urban popular participation was even greater, as one of the main goals of the movement directly appealed to the city’s inhabitants: the nationalization of retail commerce. As the provincial capital was the larger electoral college of Pernambuco, balloted craftsmen, clerks, militaries, public employees, and everyone who earned at least 400 thousand réis a year, were qualified to be not only voters, but also electors. They were the “proletários da praia” (the proletarians of the Praia party), as their enemy’s newspapers, the conservative party, used to call them.35

Prison records, concerning the arrests made during and after the Cabanagem Rebellion in Pará, show that most of the rebels were not vagrant unemployed people, but rather men and women with established residences and regular occupations. They were small croppers, soldiers, sailors, fishermen, carpenters, tailors, and shoemakers. As Luis Balkar Pinheiro duly notes, this forces historians to reappraise the traditional interpretation of the rebels as hordes of a miserable and disqualified rabble.

No doubt annual incomes varied from one region of the Empire to another, but, considering the data amassed recently by many historians,36 it does not seem absurd to contemplate the possibility that a considerable number of the Cabanagem rebels were at least qualified voters; a reality common to a large sum of protesters throughout the Empire, from its northern provinces to its southernmost regions.

Epilogue: From Rebellions to Seditions

Almost three decades after the protests against the census and civil registry decrees, the Emperor himself wrote a letter, astounded with how the population was rising against a new tax on trolley rides (in the so-called Motim do Vintem, or Penny Riot). According to him, “during almost forty years, it has not been necessary to employ force such as this against the people.”37 The general dissatisfaction towards the new tax led thousands to the capital’s streets, in such a manner that representatives and cabinet members could not, or would not ignore it. The rioters achieved their goal, the tax suspension, but their movement went far beyond its main objective; it “clearly demonstrated that politics played more publicly and more popularly had strength.”38 Those engaged in the anti-slavery movement (some of them personally involved in the riot) perceived the change and tried successfully to seize the moment, harnessing an ever-growing discontent population to their cause. To do so, as pointed out by historian Maria Helena Machado, the abolitionist movement was forced to update their agenda, encompassing a number of demands not originally in their spectrum.39

Maybe, considering where the riot took place and its repercussions, Pedro II was right to be astonished. By then, he should have been aware that the Second Reign’s portrayal as an age of peace and tranquility could not be farther from reality. In spite of what led him to utter such words, one thing is clear: the peoples of Brazil had been protesting for decades to see their rights upheld.

Some things did change, though, at least considering official responses to the multitude of movements that rattled 19th century Brazil, even before its Independence. Portuguese ordinances and sparse rulings were still the law of the land when the 1817 Rebellion and the 1824 Confederation of the Equator happened. All the other mentioned movements started after the Parliament approved the Criminal Code of the Brazilian Empire, in 1830 (not revoked until after the Republican coup).

According to judicial records, the Cabano’s War, the Cabanagem, the Sabinada, the Balaiada, and the Praieira were all rebellions, as defined by the code. Movements that necessarily encompassed “one or more townships, each comprehending more than twenty thousand inhabitants,” gathered to perpetrate such crimes “to destroy the Independence or the integrity of the Empire [. . .] to destroy the Political Constitution of the Empire, or its form of government [. . .] to disenthrone the Emperor; depriving him partially or totally of his constitutional authority [. . .] to act directly, or by facts, against the Regency or the Regent, in order to deprive him partially or totally of his constitutional authority.”40

Movements that took place in the second half of the 19th century, however, were generally ruled as crimes of Sedition, where “more than twenty people, some or all carrying arms, gather to prevent a public employee, duly appointed and bearing a legitimate title, to take his seat; or to deprive him of his legal duties; or to prevent the enforcement and abidance of any act or legal order by a legitimate authority.”41

Sometimes local authorities did not agree with the letter of the Code or tended to exaggerate the scope of the movement. As the deputy police commissioner of the town of Buique, in the province of Pernambuco, wrote about the 1851–1852 protests against the census and civil registry decrees, “this sedition is becoming very serious [. . .], it is starting to look like a rebellion.”42

Taking into account the scope of some movements, one might speculate that either magistrates and other judicial personnel really decided, or were forced, to follow the law, or that, after 1850, it was no longer interesting for Imperial authorities to publicly acknowledge that the country was still experiencing rebellions; especially if one considers the traditional accounts of the Second Reign as a period of peace and tranquility, as contemporaries back then already affirmed.43

Nonetheless, one thing seems clear enough, citizen’s rights, and the population’s willingness to fight for them, were an expectation since the country’s Independence. If at first, popular demands grew out of intra-elite’s feuds (as happened in almost all movements labeled as “rebellions”), popular seditions and riots (to the elites’ astonishment) were leaderless, or better, had no upper strata faction behind it (or at its onset).

Maybe Imperial elites could not consider that a rebellion, as defined in the Code, might be led by the simple poor free and freed men and women of the country, despite the words of Buique’s deputy police commissioner. Perhaps, after decades of such movements, governmental authorities were not prepared to officially prosecute the discontents as rebels, who, whenever found guilty, could face a sentence of imprisonment for life at hard labor (while those guilty of sedition would, at most, be sentenced to twelve years imprisonment at hard labor). Most importantly, almost none of the seditionists or rioters were formally indicted, even if that is not the same as saying some of them were not persecuted; especially by a rather informal, even if no less cruel, form of oppression, forced army enlistment.

Considering the lack of legal actions, there is another possibility regarding those movements that broke out in the second half of the 19th century: all their demands were eventually met. In 1852, the government suspended both decrees (establishing the lay registry and the first national census); in 1858, the provincial president of Bahia accepted the municipal council ruling on controlled prices for staples; in 1875, almost all protesters’ goals were achieved, as the enforcement of the metric system was postponed and the ground tax was suspended; finally, the same happened to the tax on trolley rides, deserving this time heated speeches against its imposition by representatives of both the House and Senate.

Even if some violence did occur during those movements, authorities seemed to agree with one specific paragraph of the Criminal Code regarding seditions: “the orderly assembly of unarmed persons in order to grieve against injustices and outrageous situations, and the wrongful procedure of public employees” shall not be considered a crime of sedition.44

After decades of armed movements, in rebellions and wars that occasionally lasted years, the free and freed poor had learned they had rights. That long accumulated experience taught them the validity of protesting, and it enabled them to differentiate between a governmental ruling and those obligated to enforce it, and even to acknowledge that sometimes those elected to represent them could be on their sides, or could be forced to take their sides and listen to their grievances. They learned they were citizens, even if what they understood as citizenship and citizen’s rights was not altogether the same as what the elite’s conceived. Nonetheless, in spite of the country’s upper strata thoughts and actions, their protests and expectations should not be misconstrued as inconsistent demands or longings for times past, for a lost world that lay behind them, a world, in fact, where it made no sense to talk about rights.

Discussion of the Literature

Domingos José Gonçalves de Magalhães’ account of the Balaiada Rebellion echoes the traditional view of contemporary elites regarding the poor free and freed people of the Empire.45 Even if later studies did not repeat his description of the populace as savages, inherently violent men and women, many accounts did condone to his interpretation of them as being utterly incapable of fighting for themselves. Thus many a scholar did portray popular revolts as movements directly tributary to manipulation by some upper strata faction. Even when no distinct elite group could be identified (in relation to the revolt), that only proved how keen they were on working behind the scenes, as what has been called the “invisible hand” to achieve their goals.

Later interpretations of 19th century revolts were influenced by other particularities of contemporaries’ accounts; especially those who stressed the defeat of the Praieira rebels as the dawn of a new age, one of peace and tranquility (in contrast, mainly, to the Regency period, when legal forces battled protesters all over the country). The best examples might be Justiniano José da Rocha’s 1855 pamphlet, “Ação, reação, transação,” and Joaquim Nabuco’s account of his father’s life, none other than the judge responsible for legal actions against the Praieira rebels. Even today, these are some of the most quoted works from the 19th century.46

In 1933, Caio Prado Junior, in his Marxist work on Brazilian Imperial history, presented a completely different approach to the revolts that took place in the decades following the country’s emancipation. According to him, independence opened an important path for democratic demands by the lower classes. But as those movements were unable to “fulfill its complete cycle, unable to foster its revolutionary sparkle among all rebellious segments of society,” they ended up being subdued by the conservative forces of society. Despite his impressive new interpretation, the author considered the 1849 defeat as the cessation of all popular protests and revolts in Imperial Brazil.47

In the 1960s and 1970s, an amazing effort was made and a nine-volume work on Brazilian Colonial and Imperial History was published; among its authors were the most important scholars of the day, including Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, one of Brazil’s most eminent historians, who envisioned and edited the collection.48 Even if the authors who wrote about such movements as the 1817 Revolution, the Confederation of the Equator, the Pará Cabanagem, Maranhão’s Balaiada, the Bahian Sabinada, and the Praieira rebellion did stress the importance of popular participation, they seemed somewhat bedazzled by the people’s demands and the course of their actions during the revolts.

Writing about the Balaiada rebels, Arthur Cézar Ferreira Reis stated, “without exemplary restraints that should come from those who governed, they were bound to express their discontent, their revolt, through ravaging actions.”49 The victory of the government over the Praieira Rebellion was considered the beginning of a “time when social and political development could progress in an ambience of relative tranquility.” One or another riot would still disturb and reach the streets, “as the 1858 riot called the ‘Carne sem osso’; but the permanent disorder, doppelganger of anarchy, had faded and stopped.”50

From the 1980s on, the renovation of studies on slavery51 and the development of new research on the history of everyday life in Brazil52 provided a basis not only to debate the idea of the absolute power of slave masters, but also, as its natural counterparts, undisputed preconceptions about paternalism and patriarchalism as overwhelming characteristics of Brazilian history. Following that line of inquiry came new studies that questioned interpretations about the supposed “anomy” of the free and freed poor populations, who were considered, until then, totally dependent on landlords and local political bosses, a situation that rendered them incapable of reacting to domination in any organized manner. According to those narratives, whenever they did react, to escape their everyday hardships, they turned to banditry or to messianic semi-prophets, apolitical choices fit to a population that, at best, was doomed to an existence of violence and favors.53

New researches have brought to light how slaves, freed people, and the poor free population experienced life, their own expectations regarding social and political movements, the development of bonds amongst themselves, and how they organized to resist the will and power of their masters or the elite in general.

From that period on, Brazilian and foreign historians have focused on studies that privileged the actions and interests of the disgruntled populations throughout the 19th century. Examples of those new approaches are the doctoral dissertations of Marcus Carvalho, Matthias Assunção, and Hendrik Kraay, and the articles by Sandra Lauderdale Graham, Guillermo Palacios, and João José Reis and Márcia Gabriela Aguiar.54 Recently, this field of study has been attracting ever growing number of academics, graduate students, professors, and researchers in general, bringing little known movements to light and presenting far richer and more complex interpretations of previously known revolts. An up-to-date interpretation of popular participation in fourteen different movements—whether they were led by elites, were propelled by intra-elite-feuds, or were eminently popular protests from beginning to end—can be found in the book Revoltas, Motins, Revoluções: Homens Livres Pobres e Libertos No Brasil do Século XIX.55

Primary Sources

Most free and freed poor peoples in 19th century Brazil were illiterate, which renders the researchers’ quests for accounts of their own lives, whether in times of peace or during revolts and protests, a rather difficult task. Some leaders could actually read and write, or they had secretaries to pen their manifestos for them, but that was not a pervasive situation; even if some historians were lucky enough to find such documents.

However, the fact that literacy was uncommon is not an insurmountable hindrance when thinking about researching 19th century revolts. Many other sources, written by central or local authorities, referred to popular revolts and recurrently divulged contradictory versions about what was happening or had already passed (nothing is more interesting to historians than contradictions and different versions of the same event).

Justices of the peace and municipal and district judges regularly wrote to higher authorities narrating the nuisances of everyday life, as well as bigger problems such as armed protests. Police authorities, such as police commissioners and deputy police commissioners submitted reports on local events. Municipal counselors were equally as prolific, as were vicars and priests. Official correspondences included landlords and urban elites complaining to authorities about their problems. All these sources are usually available in the archives of the Brazilian states. Sometimes, though, such correspondence would reach the central government; those cases can be found in the Brazilian National Archive in Rio de Janeiro. Priests and vicars, writing to lay authorities, usually sent letters to their superiors, which correspondence is bound to be found within the archival documents of the Catholic Church.

Many historians have resorted to the annual reports of provincial presidents and state secretaries; although utterly interesting, those sources must be handled with care. Those reports, written for the legislative houses, central or provincial, were essentially public political documents. No doubt, all other sources mentioned here were also written to achieve specific purposes, but provincial presidents and secretaries’ accounts were particularly subject to the opinions of the listeners, prime listeners at least, who could eventually decide or influence their continuance in such an office.

From 1835 on, each Brazilian province had a legislative assembly, where representatives would discuss plans for new roads and dams and would address problems of public insecurity (a term that encompassed not only troubles caused by robbers, but also rebels). Depending on the scope of the movement, they could also reach the floors of the House and Senate. Central government legislative annals, either from the lower or upper houses, are easier to read, since they are available on the Internet. Provincial assembly records, on the contrary, are found (with some exceptions) in states’ archives.

Besides correspondence and legislative annals, another kind of source attracts those interested in researching the free and freed poor people of the Empire: judicial records. Legal actions, at least from 1827 on, were an everyday occurrence. The free and freed poor resorted to courts to deal with petty crimes and misdemeanors, and governmental authorities customarily prosecuted those suspected of committing an array of crimes (against property or the lives of others). No wonder, then, that rebellions and seditions ended up in the courts.

Those records are especially interesting to researchers because the testimonies of victims and defendants are duly transcribed, as are statements of witnesses. Such testimonies, whether given by a victim, a defendant, or a witness, are usually pages long, presenting genuine transcriptions of the actual words and phrasings of those who appeared before the courts. Every Brazilian state judicial archive keeps records of legal actions. When a defendant or the prosecution appealed a verdict, those records went into the High Courts documents (the so-called Tribunais da Relação). Finally, as a last resource, either party could appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice (or “Supremo Tribunal de Justiça”), which records are kept in the Brazilian National Archive.

Last but not least, printed materials such as newspapers or gazettes are a very rich material for researchers. Access to those sources was often quite difficult, but now the Brazilian National Library has digitalized most of its collection (the most important one in the country) and made it available on the website of the Hemeroteca Digital.

Further Reading

Assunção, Matthias Röhrig. “Elite Politics and Popular Rebellion in the Construction of Post-Colonial Order. The Case of Maranhão, Brazil (1820–41).” Journal of Latin American Studies 31.1 (1999): 1–38.Find this resource:

Carvalho, Marcus Joaquim. “The ‘Commander of All Forests’ against the ‘Jacobins’ of Brazil: The Cabanada, 1832–1835.” In New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico. Edited by John Gledhill and Patience A. Schell, 81–99. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Dantas, Monica Duarte, ed. Revoltas, motins, revoluções: Homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX. São Paulo, Brazil: Alameda, 2011.Find this resource:

Graham, Sandra Lauderdale. “The Vintem Riot and Political Culture: Rio de Janeiro, 1880.” Hispanic American Historical Review 60.3 (1980): 431–449.Find this resource:

Grinberg, Keila, and Ricardo Salles, eds. O Brasil Imperial. 3 vols. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2009.Find this resource:

Kraay, Hendrik. “‘As Terrifying as Unexpected’: The Bahian Sabinada, 1837–1838.” Hispanic American Historical Review 72.4 (1992): 501–527.Find this resource:

Machado, Maria Helena. “From Slave Rebels to Strikebreakers: The Quilombo of Jabaquara and the Problem of Citizenship in Late-Nineteenth-Century Brazil.” Hispanic American Historical Review 86.2 (2006): 247–274.Find this resource:

Mattos, Hebe Maria. Das Cores do Silêncio, os significados da liberdade no sudeste escravista. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1998.Find this resource:

Palacios, Guillermo, Maria Luiza Ferreira de Oliveira, Hebe Maria Mattos, and Monica Duarte Dantas. “Fórum: Revoltas camponesas no Brasil Escravista.” Revista Eletrônica Almanack Braziliense. 3(2006): 9–39.Find this resource:

Reis, João José, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.Find this resource:


(1.) Domingos José Gonçalves de Magalhães, “Memória Histórica e documentada da Revolução da província do Maranhão,” Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Berasileiro, vol. 10 (Rio de Janeiro: 1870), 263–362, 271.

(2.) Matthias Röhrig Assunção, “‘Sustentar a Constituição e a Santa Religião Católica, amar a Pátria e o Imperador.’ Liberalismo popular e o ideário da Balaiada no Maranhão,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: Homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 295–327.

(3.) Matthias Röhrig Assunção, “‘Sustentar a Constituição e a Santa Religião Católica,’” 309–310.

(4.) Matthias Röhrig Assunção, “‘Sustentar a Constituição e a Santa Religião Católica,’” 300, 323.

(5.) Monica Duarte Dantas, “Of Rebellions and Seditions: Popular Protest, Citizenship, and State Building in 19th Century Brazil,” Ius fugit. Revista de Estudios Histórico-Jurídicos de la Corona de Aragón 18 (2015): 91–124.

(6.) Denis Antonio de Mendonça Bernardes, “A gente ínfima do povo e outras gentes na Confederação do Equador,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: Homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo, Brazil: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 156–157.

(7.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho, “Negros armados por brancos e suas independências,” in Independência: história e historiografia, ed. István Jancsó (São Paulo, Brazil: Hucitec/FAPESP, 2005), 881–914.

(8.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho, “Negros armados por brancos e suas independências,” 900–904, 912.

(9.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho, “Negros armados por brancos e suas independências,” 892, 896–897.

(10.) Andréa Slemian, Cronologia de História do Brasil monárquico, 1808–1889 (São Paulo, Brazil: Humanitas, 2000), 4.

(11.) Actually, the complexity of Brazilian society was even greater; place of birth recurrently opposed those naturally from Brazil to those trafficked from Africa, be they slaves or freed. See João José Reis, Rebelião escrava no Brasil: A história do levante dos Malês (1835) (São Paulo, Brazil: Companhia das Letras, 2003).

(12.) Luis Balkar Sá Peixoto Pinheiro, “Cabanagem: Percursos históricos e historiográficos,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: Homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 216–217.

(13.) Hendrik Kraay, “‘Tão assustadora quanto inesperada’: A Sabinada baiana, 1837–1838,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 263–294.

(14.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho, “Um exército de índios, quilombolas e senhores de engenho contra os ‘jacubinos’: a Cabanada, 1832–1835,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: Homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 167–200.

(15.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho, “Um exército de índios, quilombolas e senhores,” 193.

(16.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho, “Um exército de índios, quilombolas e senhores,” 195.

(17.) Luis Balkar Sá Peixoto Pinheiro, “Cabanagem: percursos históricos e historiográficos,” 223.

(18.) Magda Ricci, “O fim do Grão-Pará e o nascimento do Brasil: Movimentos, levantes e deserções no alvorecer do novo Império (1808–1840),” in Os senhores dos rios. Amazônia, margens e histórias, eds. Mary del Priore and Flávio Gomes (Rio de Janeiro: Elsevier, 2003), 185.

(19.) Luis Balkar Sá Peixoto Pinheiro, “Cabanagem: Percursos históricos e historiográficos,” 225.

(20.) Hendrik Kraay, “‘As Terrifying as Unexpected’: The Bahian Sabinada, 1837–1838,” Hispanic American Historical Review 72.4 (1992): 561–517, 527.

(21.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho and Bruno Câmara, “A Rebelião Praieira,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: Homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 355–389.

(22.) Matthias Röhrig Assunção, “‘Sustentar a Constituição e a Santa Religião Católica,” 309.

(23.) Maria Luiza Ferreira de Oliveira, “Resistência popular contra o Decreto 798 ou a ‘lei do cativeiro’: Pernambuco, Paraíba, Alagoas, Sergipe, Ceará, 1851–1852,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 391–427.

(24.) Maria Luiza Ferreira de Oliveira, “Resistência popular contra o Decreto 798 ou a ‘lei do cativeiro’: Pernambuco, Paraíba, Alagoas, Sergipe, Ceará, 1851–1852,” 398.

(25.) Maria Luiza Ferreira de Oliveira, “Resistência popular contra o Decreto 798 ou a ‘lei do cativeiro’: Pernambuco, Paraíba, Alagoas, Sergipe, Ceará, 1851–1852,” 401, 394.

(26.) Luciano Mendonça de Lima, “Quebra-quilos: uma revolta popular na periferia do Império,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 449–483.

(27.) Luciano Mendonça de Lima, “Quebra-quilos: uma revolta popular na periferia do Império,” 456.

(28.) Keila Grinberg, “Reescravização, direitos e justiças no Brasil,” in Direitos e justiças no Brasil, ed. Silvia Hunold Lara and Joseli M. N. (Campinas: Ed. da Unicamp, 2006), 118.

(29.) Matthias Röhrig Assunção, “‘Sustentar a Constituição e a Santa Religião Católica,” 304.

(30.) Denis Antonio de Mendonça Bernardes, “A gente ínfima do povo e outras gentes na Confederação do Equador,” 150.

(31.) João José Reis, “Quem manda em Salvador? Governo local e conflito social na greve de 1857 e no protesto de 1858 na Bahia,” in Revoltas, motins, revoluções: homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX, ed. Monica Duarte Dantas (São Paulo, Brazil: Alameda Editorial, 2011), 429–448.

(32.) João José Reis, “Quem manda em Salvador?” 444.

(33.) Matthias Röhrig Assunção, “‘Sustentar a Constituição e a Santa Religião Católica,” 308.

(34.) Hendrik Kraay, “‘Tão assustadora quanto inesperada,’” 275.

(35.) Marcus J. M. de Carvalho and Bruno Câmara “A Rebelião Praieira,” 372.

(36.) Maria Odila Leite da Silva Dias. “Sociabilidades sem história: Votantes pobres no Império, 1824–1881,” in Historiografia brasileira em perspectiva ed. Marcus C. Freitas (São Paulo, Brazil: Contexto, 1998); Neila F. M. Nunes, “A experiência eleitoral em Campos dos Goytacazes (1870–1889): Freqüência eleitoral e perfil da população votante,” DADOS—Revistas de Ciências Sociais 46.2 (2003): 311–343; Monica Duarte Dantas, Fronteiras movediças: A comarca de Itapicuru e a formação do arraial de Canudos (São Paulo: Hucitec/FAPESP, 2007), 41–53; and Miriam Dolhnikoff, “Representação na monarquia brasileira.” Revista Eletrônica Almanack Braziliense 9 (2009): 41–53.

(37.) Sandra Lauderdale Graham, “The Vintem Riot and Political Culture: Rio de Janeiro, 1880,” Hispanic American Historical Review 60.3 (1980): 439.

(38.) Sandra Lauderdale Graham, “The Vintem Riot and Political Culture,”447.

(39.) Maria Helena Pereira Toledo Machado, O plano e o pânico. Os movimentos sociais na década da Abolição (Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ, 1994), 150–151.

(40.) Código criminal do Império do Brasil. Coleccção de Leis do Império do Brazil, 1830, parte primeira (Rio de Janeiro: Typographia Nacional, 1876), 151–158.

(41.) Código criminal do Império do Brasil, 158.

(42.) Maria Luiza Ferreira de Oliveira, “Resistência popular contra o Decreto 798 ou a ‘lei do cativeiro’: Pernambuco, Paraíba, Alagoas, Sergipe, Ceará, 1851–1852,” 424, n. 52.

(43.) Monica Duarte Dantas, “Of Rebellions and Seditions.”

(44.) “Código criminal do Império do Brasil,” 162.

(45.) Domingos José Gonçalves de Magalhães, “Memória Histórica e documentada da Revolução,” 263–362.

(46.) Justiniano José da Rocha, “Ação, reação, transação,” in Três panfletários do segundo reinado, ed. Raimundo Magalhães Júnior (São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1956); and Joaquim Nabuco, Um estadista do Império (Rio de Janeiro: Topbooks, 1997).

(47.) Caio Prado Junior, Evolução Política do Brasil. Colônia e Império (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Brasiliense, 1986).

(48.) Eventually, another four volumes, on Brazilian Republican History, were also published, but under the coordination of Boris Fausto.

(49.) Arthur Cézar Ferreira Reis, “O Grão-Pará e o Maranhão,” in História Geral da Civilização Brasileira, vol. 2: O Brasil monárquico, vol. 2, ed. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda. (São Paulo, Brazil: Difel, 1985), 159.

(50.) Wanderley Pinho, “A Bahia, 1808–1856,” in História Geral da Civilização Brasileira: O Brasil monárquico, vol. 2, ed. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda. (São Paulo: Difel, 1985), 284.

(51.) A summarized reappraisal of the historiography on slavery in Brazil can be found at Suely Robles Reis de Queiroz, “Escravidão negra em debate,” in Historiografia Brasileira em perspectiva, ed. Marcos Cézar Freitas (Bragança, Brazil: Universidade São Francisco/Contexto, 1998), 103–118.

(52.) The first study published in Brazil that influenced all others that came after is Maria Odila Leite da Silva Dias, Quotidiano e poder em São Paulo no século XIX—Ana Gertrudes de Jesus (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Brasiliense, 1984).

(53.) The most important, and long lasting, examples of those kinds of approaches are Maria Sylvia de Carvalho Franco, Homens livres na ordem escravocrata (São Paulo, Brazil: Kairós, 1983); Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz, O mandonismo local na vida política brasileira. Da Colônia à Primeira República (São Paulo, Brazil: Publicações do Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros, no. 14, 1969); and Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz, O messianismo no Brasil e no mundo (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Alfa-Ômega, 1977). For an utterly different interpretation, see Monica Duarte Dantas, Fronteiras movediças: A comarca de Itapicuru e a formação do arraial de Canudos (São Paulo, Brazil: Hucitec/FAPESP, 2007).

(54.) Marcus Joaquim Maciel de Carvalho, “Hegemony and Rebellion in Pernambuco (Brazil), 18211835” (PhD Diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989); Matthias Röhrig Assunção, Pflanzer, Sklaven und Kleinbauern in der brasilianischen Provinz Maranhão 1800–1850 (Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert, 1993); Hendrik Kraay, “Soldiers, Officers, and Society: The Army in Bahia, Brazil, 18081889” (PhD Diss., University of Texas at Austin, 1995); Sandra Lauderdale Graham, “The Vintem Riot and Political Culture: Rio de Janeiro, 1880,” Hispanic American Historical Review 60.3 (1980); Guillermo Palacios, A “Guerra dos Maribondos”: Uma revolta camponesa no Brasil escravista (Pernambuco, 1851–1852), (Rio de Janeiro: CPDA/UFRRJ, 1989); and João José Reis and Márcia Gabriela Aguiar, “‘Carne sem osso e farinha sem caroço’: O motim de 1858 contra a carestia na Bahia,” Revista de História 135 (1996).

(55.) Monica Duarte Dantas, ed., Revoltas, motins, revoluções: Homens livres pobres e libertos no Brasil do século XIX (São Paulo, Brazil: Alameda Editorial, 2011).