RIO DE JANEIRO – Tuesday, September 7th is Brazil’s “Dia da Independência” (Independence Day), celebrating 188 years of sovereignty. Around the country mini-carnivals are held with flags, balloons, and streamers decorating the streets. People of all ages take part, and in the evening fireworks light up the Brazilian sky.
Brazil’s history as a seceding colony is a bit more colorful, and a lot less bloody, then many. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that Brazil is the only European colony to have it’s (Portuguese) monarchy move and rule the empire from there.
A brief history is; although discovered in 1500, Brazil was not securely Portuguese controlled until the late 1600s. In the early years following its discovery, the Portuguese showed little interest in developing their new American possession due to the existence of profitable colonies in Asia and Africa.
By the late 18th century, the influence of the Portuguese Empire had declined significantly. Although Portugal still possessed valuable colonies, including Brazil, the once formidable Iberian kingdom was dependent on Great Britain.
It was during the Napoleonic Wars, with little hope of defeating a French invasion, Portuguese leaders considered the relocation of the monarchy to the colony of Brazil the best possible option. The Prince Regent, the future Dom João VI of Portugal consented, and the royal family and nearly 10,000 others boarded ships for their exotic outpost, Brazil.
The man that would play a key role in obtaining Brazilian independence, and who would consequently become emperor, was Dom Pedro. The young crown prince was only nine when he left Portugal in 1807, so he had grown up like his other siblings in Brazil.
Over time Dom Pedro’s father Dom João was coaxed back to Portugal where the liberals held power in the Cortes. The Cortes, hostile towards Brazil returned its status back to that of a colony, something that Brazilians, including Pedro could not accept.
In the summer of 1821, Portuguese troops, known as the Legion took power in Rio under their commander General Jorge de Avilez. The Portuguese government ordered Pedro to return to Portugal, but the crown prince defied the command, famously unsheathing his sword affirming that “For my blood, my honor, my God, I swear to give Brazil freedom” and cried out: “Independence or death!”
After Pedro’s decision to defy the Cortes, around 2,000 men led by Jorge Avilez rioted before concentrating on mount Castelo, which was soon surrounded by 10,000 armed Brazilians (as legend has it). Dom Pedro then “dismissed” the Portuguese commanding general and ordered him to remove his soldiers across the bay to Niterói, to await transport to Portugal.
Shortly after, Pedro was crowned emperor in Rio. In 1824, a national constitution was introduced, solidifying the government as a constitutional monarchy under Dom Pedro. That same year, their northern neighbor, the United States, became the first nation to recognize the Brazilian Empire.
Portugal and Great Britain followed the United States in recognizing Brazil’s sovereignty in 1825. In less than twenty years, Brazil had been transformed from profitable Portuguese colony to a separate empire.