Portugal – 200 Years of Brazilian Independence

Portugal - 200 Years of Brazilian Indepence

On 7 September 1822, on the banks of the river Ipiranga, near São Paulo, the famous cry rang out: “Independence or Death”. This was the symbolic announcement of the decisive step in the construction of Brazil as an independent nation. Under the aegis of the still reigning House of Bragança, Pedro, until then Prince Regent, assumed the political leadership that had been implicitly bestowed on him by the Brazilian nation, which, in January that year, had heard and echoed his no-less famous cry of “I will stay.” By declaring his intention to stay, thus opposing the appeal of the Constituent Courts gathered in Lisbon, Pedro adopted Brazil as his home, ready for his natural ascent to leadership of a new empire separated from its motherland.

His proclamation as emperor took place soon after, on 12 October 1822. As a tutelary figure, he was fundamental in maintaining the political unity of a vast territory, as well as in shaping the social and political institutions of the Brazilian state under construction. Pedro I of Brazil returned to Portugal in 1831 as Pedro IV to support the liberal cause, which was close to his heart, at a time when the turmoil inherent in the return to an absolute monarchy was far greater than the slight disturbance felt in Brazilian political life as it searched for its horizons.

Many were involved in the construction of this irreversible trajectory set in motion in that giddying year of 1822. Among the many protagonists who, in the Brazilian provinces, had expressed their disgust at the maintenance of colonial administration and powers, the firm and calm leadership of José Bonifácio de Andrade e Silva is worth highlighting. He was responsible for writing programmatic documents that were decisive in affirming the potentials of the emerging country, as well as being influential in persuading Pedro to join the Brazilian cause.

In Portugal, on the eve of 7 September, the Courts were giving the finishing touches to the constitution, which still devoted a specific section to the organisation of the executive power of Brazil. At the same time, the Courts discussed provisions relating to trade relationships between Portugal and Brazil as parts of the same empire, with strong opinions expressed on the advantages of (or the offence caused by) resuming privileges protecting the exclusivity of the former colonial market. However, this possibility was no more than a mirage.

Indeed, while it is true that Brazilian political independence stemmed from converging desires for emancipation and freedom from the former dominant power, there is no doubt that the legitimisation of a much-wanted process of political separation was in large part dictated by the growing economic autonomy that the Brazilian territory achieved from 1808, when the court of the future João VI settled in Rio de Janeiro as a result of the Napoleonic wars. The opening up of Brazilian ports to the powerful British merchant navy represented the end of an era of colonial exclusivity that made Brazil able to achieve its economic freedom, even if in order to do so it had to position itself under the influence of other international strategic interests. But the die had been cast. The union between Portugal and Brazil was weakened at its strongest link. Discontent in the kingdom stirred sentiments that came to embody the regenerative liberal movement, consubstantiated in the revolution of 1820. Two years were all it took for Brazil’s inevitable independence to be confirmed once and for all.

Release date: 7 September 2022