Accessibility / Report Error

Portugal and the Luso-Atlantic World in the Age of Revolutions

Portugal e o mundo luso-atlântico na era das Revoluções

Gabriel Paquette About the author


The "Age of Revolutions" paradigm, pioneered by R.R. Palmer and Eric Hobsbawm, has been enormously influential, especially in the study of the Atlantic World c. 1750-1850. Yet it was developed without reference to the Luso-Brazilian World (and a mere passing reference to Spanish America). This essay explores the utility of the "Age of Revolutions" framework for the study of the Luso-Atlantic and suggests that Luso-Brazilian History can enrich, and modify, the prevailing understanding of the "Age of Revolutions".

Luso-Brazilian History; "Age of Revolutions"; Atlantic

O paradigma da "Era das revoluções", pioneiramente trabalhado por R. R. Palmer e Eric Hobsbawn tem tido enorme influência notadamente nos estudos sobre o atlântico dos anos 1750-1850. Este paradigma foi desenvolvido sem referência ao mundo luso-brasileiro (e há uma mera breve menção à América Hispânica). Este ensaio explora a utilidade da estrutura analítica "Era das Revoluções" para o estudo do mundo luso-atlântico e sugere que a história luso-brasileira pode enriquecer e modificar a compreensão da "Era das Revoluções".

História luso-brasileira; "Era das Revoluções"; Atlântico


Gabriel Paquette

Assistant Professor of History, The Johns Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland, USA;


The "Age of Revolutions" paradigm, pioneered by R.R. Palmer and Eric Hobsbawm, has been enormously influential, especially in the study of the Atlantic World c. 1750-1850. Yet it was developed without reference to the Luso-Brazilian World (and a mere passing reference to Spanish America). This essay explores the utility of the "Age of Revolutions" framework for the study of the Luso-Atlantic and suggests that Luso-Brazilian History can enrich, and modify, the prevailing understanding of the "Age of Revolutions".

Keywords: Luso-Brazilian History; "Age of Revolutions"; Atlantic.


O paradigma da "Era das revoluções", pioneiramente trabalhado por R. R. Palmer e Eric Hobsbawn tem tido enorme influência notadamente nos estudos sobre o atlântico dos anos 1750-1850. Este paradigma foi desenvolvido sem referência ao mundo luso-brasileiro (e há uma mera breve menção à América Hispânica). Este ensaio explora a utilidade da estrutura analítica "Era das Revoluções" para o estudo do mundo luso-atlântico e sugere que a história luso-brasileira pode enriquecer e modificar a compreensão da "Era das Revoluções".

Palavras-chave: História luso-brasileira; "Era das Revoluções"; Atlântico.

This essay offers further reflections on the history Portugal and its overseas dominions from approximately 1770 until just before 1850 (PAQUETTE, 2013). Historians generally refer to this period as the "Age of Revolution(s)", when the imperial institutions, non-state networks, and commercial circuits knitting the early modern Atlantic World together became unraveled and new polities and connections, formal and informal, emerged from the ruins. In its Luso-Atlantic variant, the principal thrust of scholarly research has concerned the processes-long-term preconditions, medium-term precipitants, and short-term triggers-which culminated in Brazil's formal, political independence in the early 1820s.

Historians have noted and analyzed how the timing, nature, and extent of Brazil's separation from Portugal differed from the processes by which British North America, French Saint-Domingue, and Spanish America wrested sovereignty from their respective metropoles. Yet there have been surprisingly few attempts to explore a number of topics, discussed in this essay, which would shed light on the differences and similarities of the Luso-Brazilian case. Attention to these topics would help to de-center the process of imperial break-down, challenge its inevitability and completeness, explore the repercussions of decolonization in Portugal, trace empire's lingering political impact in Brazil, and query the appropriateness of the "Age of Revolution(s)" as an interpretive framework.

These gaps, and the historiographical silence concerning these absences, are curious and provocative. Brazil's independence was a rather anti-climactic coda to a sixty-year, strenuous, Crown-directed effort to reform, revive, and reconfigure the Portuguese empire, a non sequitur after more than three hundred years of unceasing interaction-bonds forged in the crucible of maritime discovery, conquest, settlement, slavery, war, and commerce-between Portugal and the continents bordering and archipelagos dotting the Atlantic Ocean. It would be astounding if a political edifice buttressed by culture, religion, coercive power, capital, and personnel collapsed vertiginously, its debris vanished without leaving a trace, and its centuries-old connections were eviscerated, all by the time formal declarations of independence were made, recognized, and enshrined in international law. But that impression is precisely the one with which a reader might come away after surveying the bulk of the historical writing on the subject.

Such an impression would be distorting for Brazil's independence from Portugal was a highly-contingent, generally unsought, and somewhat undesirable break from the previous half-century's trajectory, that is, the second half of the eighteenth century and first two decades of the nineteenth. What is needed urgently, following in the footsteps of great Brazilian historian, is to imaginatively de-center independence's inevitability in the first place and to query its irrevocability (or permanence) once achieved (DIAS, 1972). Instead, murkiness, ambiguity and ambivalence, and widespread desire to reverse historical course should be examined, appreciated, and used to reinterpret this historical epoch.

In order to appreciate the benefits and virtues of this way of viewing matters, it might be helpful to think through the meanings and ambiguities of independence in other more recent, less remote contexts, particularly the second half of the twentieth century. In order to better understand the dynamics of the early nineteenth century, that first "great age of decolonization", it may be profitable to pause and reflect on the long aftermath of a more recent period of imperial dissolution. Whether one looks to British influence in post-colonial East Africa, French relations with (intervention in) post-colonial West African states, or the Portuguese presence in Lusophone Southern Africa, amidst countless other examples, it is clear that the end of formal dominion in the 1950s and 1960s did not portend the elimination of influence of the former metropole.

Military advisors, multinational corporations, robust education links, language, kinship ties and the like abounded. Nor were transitions from colony to nation smooth or trouble-free, as the civil wars which succeeded anti-colonial struggles suggest. Nor did decolonization prevent new predatory powers from inserting themselves into the void: here an obvious example would be US-Soviet rivalry for influence over what was then called the post-colonial "Third World" demonstrates that the achievement of sovereignty, even when recognized by international law and the society of states, did not imply non-interference in the sense of unencumbered action. Independent states in the late 1950s and 1960s were still embedded in a complex network of disadvantageous economic relationships which compromised and hamstrung those nascent, and ostensibly independent, polities.

Influence was not at all unilateral, either. Former colonial powers continued to be effected profoundly by the former colonies from which they were either expelled or which they withdrew or divested more or less voluntarily. Here one might consider decisive demographic shifts produced by North African immigration to France or South Asian and Caribbean immigration to Britain. Or look to how Angolan (and Brazilian) investment in the Portuguese economy (chiefly through snatching up of government issued bonds) has kept that economy from falling off the precipice (or, less charitably, perhaps not descending further into oblivion). Or how both Angola and Brazil have provided an "outlet" for underemployed, over-educated young Portuguese professionals seeking respite from the economic stagnation plaguing Portugal. There are almost 100,000 Portuguese citizens registered at consulates in Angola, twice the number there in 2005; whereas there are 75,000 more Portuguese nationals in Brazil in 2011 than there were in 2010.

This digression should serve to make this article's early nineteenth-century theme somewhat more accessible modernists and non-historians and a bit less arcane for historians of different epochs, regions and orientations. There were many connections, relationships etc. that survived independence, even thrived after them. Historians have of course studied many of these connections before, often through the lens of neo-colonial economic relations, usually encapsulated in the term "informal empire" or "dependency". But besides relationships marked by exploitation or frameworks and rules the impact of which was malicious, there were many other types of connections that defied facile characterization. That is, connections and relationships which were ambiguous.

There are so many of them that it might be useful to think afresh about the multiple meanings, and limits, of "independence" and also whether or not there was anything inevitable about the breakdown of Iberian Atlantic empires in general and the Luso-Brazilian empire in particular? Has the historiographical obsession with the "independence", propelled by the relentless celebrations and commemorations of it throughout Latin America in recent years, led historians and laypersons alike to exaggerate the extent of the disjuncture that occurred? Contemporaries rejected the prognosis that the Luso-Brazilian empire's dissolution was irreversible or that the reconciliation and reunification of the former empire's parts in some mutually satisfactory arrangement was a fantasy. Recognition of the connections that persisted after colonialism have led some scholars to reconsider the so-called late colonial period in the Portuguese Atlantic, from the Marquis of Pombal's ascendancy to the relocation of the Braganzan court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro in 1807-1808 to the final, decisive conflict which began at the Lisbon Cortes in 1821-1822 between Portuguese and Brazilian deputies.

National historiographies are not uniquely culpable for the consensus that independence was somehow ordained, natural/predictable and complete. The study of the breakdown of the Atlantic empires c. 1760-1830, particularly in Anglophone scholarship, has been dominated by the paradigm of the "Age of Revolution(s)", most often associated with R.R. Palmer and of course the late and great Eric Hobsbawm (PALMER, 1959 and 1964; HOBSBAWM, 1962; ARMITAGE and SUBRAHMANYAN, 2010). While salutary in many respects, particularly in facilitating comparative study and promoting awareness of global and transnational processes, it has compounded the distortions spawned by nation-centric historiography of the Luso-Atlantic World. In place of a multiplicity of "exceptional" or "unique" national paths toward imperial breakdown and post-colonial state formation, a single route was proposed by Palmer (and to a lesser extent by Hobsbawm): that of the future US and France during the pre-Napoleonic phase of the Revolution. It was, in Palmer's well-known description, a

single movement, revolutionary in character, for which the word 'democratic' is appropriate and enlightening; a movement which, however different in different countries, was everywhere aimed against closed elites, self-selecting power groups, hereditary castes, and forms of special advantage or discrimination that no longer served any useful purpose. These were summed up in such terms as feudalism, aristocracy, and privilege (PALMER, 1964, p. 572).

Palmer devoted only a few pages to the breakdown of the Iberian empires, but he left little doubt that these were largely derivative phenomena: "All revolutions since 1800 ... have learned from the eighteenth-century Revolution of Western Civilization. They have been inspired by its success, echoed its ideals, used its methods" (PALMER, 1964, p. 574). Undoubtedly, to a degree, this statement is accurate: connections between revolutions and revolutionaries in the Atlantic world abounded and deliberate emulation was rampant. But Palmer's claim, like the assumption underpinning "modernization" theory gaining adherents at the time (the mid to late 1950s) of the publication of The Age of Democratic Revolution, is based upon various assumptions-of a single model of and pathway to political modernity, of the diffusion of "enlightenment" from core to periphery, of the imitative character of political thought in the non-European world-which have been challenged recently by many scholars, perhaps most importantly by Javier Fernández Sebastián and a cohort of scholars working within an Ibero-Atlantic framework (FERNÁNDEZ SEBASTIÁN, 2009). Indeed, the "Age of Revolutions" should be recast on the basis of these new insights and realizations.

For the study of the Luso-Brazilian World in the 1770s through 1850s, the existing "Age of Revolution(s)" paradigm, notwithstanding the updates and amendments since the publication of Palmer's seminal book, poses two special difficulties. The first problem with the paradigm is that it encourages scholars to downplay the largely successful efforts of late eighteenth-century reformers who preserved and transformed imperial structures and fortified connections between the far-flung territories. Unlike elsewhere, the efforts of such exponents of "moderate" enlightenment in the Luso-Brazilian World were not simply inadequate. Nor should they be judged a comprehensive failure.

Such a verdict would fit awkwardly if applied to the Luso-Atlantic case. There the end of empire proved to be a rude, unanticipated shock, an event which legions of Crown officials, nobles, clerics, and merchants tried to forestall, if not prevent entirely, as they watched the crumbling of imperial structures across the Atlantic World (DIAS, 1972). With the benefit of hindsight, they sought to divert the river of History and believed that they had engineered this feat, forcing it to flow away from revolution and toward regeneration and reform. A focus on circuits of revolutionary activity and long-term processes culminating in imperial dissolution, therefore, tends anachronistically to foreground agents of radical change at the expense of partisans of stasis, rejuvenated tradition, or moderate reshuffling (i.e. the formation of confederations or "home rule"). As Jeremy Adelman has noted,

Revolution did not begin as secessionist episodes ... much more common in the complex breakdown was the exploration of models of re-accommodating colonies into imperial formations, a groping for an arrangement that would stabilize, not dissolve empires (ADELMAN, 2008, p. 320; 332).

Drawing on these sorts of insights, the chief complaint to be lodged is that monarchs, Crown officials, colonial administrators, "conservative" political writers, and Brazilian "collaborators" or "loyalists", among others, and their ideas, projects, and imaginaries, have been relegated to the periphery of a Anglophone historiographical tradition oriented toward dramatic and irreversible change. English-language scholarship has to integrate the insights offered by Portuguese-language scholarship, which is keenly aware of such retrograde projects and goals, the preservation of slavery above all. Such positions and historical actors, neglected in English-language scholarship, were crucial to the "Age of Revolution(s)", an era which encompassed experiences and phenomena besides revolution and rupture. Many participants considered the movements, which historians now understand to have ushered in a new historical epoch, as little more than ephemeral disturbances. They remained confident that the rebels would soon return to relent even if they were less than recalcitrant.

Other European states besides Portugal entertained similar ideas, far-fetched as they appear in retrospect: for many observers, the break down and break up of the two sides of the Atlantic was anything but a permanent arrangement; it was, rather, a species of interregnum. While Spanish administrators reconfigured the remaining colonies (primarily Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines), they remained adamant that Peru, Mexico and the others would eventually return to the fold. Spain even forced the issue by launching a disastrous invasion of Mexico in 1829. Similarly, Restoration France could not admit defeat in Haiti: in 1825, the French government despatched a naval squadron of twelve ships in an effort to force the Haitian government, which three years earlier had begun its occupation of the former Spanish colony of Santo Domingo, to pay an indemnity in exchange for recognition of its Independence.

Even where the new political experiments flourished, and where independence proved permanent (or irreversible), sovereignty did not preclude intensive interactions between new states and old metropoles. This observation suggests a second problem with the "Age of Revolution(s)" paradigm, especially for the Luso-Brazilian case. Its trope of disjuncture and discontinuity precludes adequate appreciation of the connections persisting well after formal dominion was declared extinct. Declarations of independence, and the international recognition of the nascent states brought into existence by political speech acts and armed struggle, were as much normative aspirations as faithful descriptions of actual conditions. International trade, diplomatic treaties, socio-economic and legal structures and institutions, dynastic arrangements, religion and culture, ideological solidarity, friendships, kinship ties, and much else survived the "Age of Revolution(s)" and complicated the coalescence and consolidation of national-states.

Ruptures did not always lead to disruption and discontinuity in all areas of life, public and private. Though independence and sovereignty, at the conceptual level, may appear incompatible with the persistence of connections, in practice they co-existed (BROWN AND PAQUETTE, 2013). The "Age of Revolutions" must be expanded to incorporate such phenomena, in the hope that the Luso-Brazilian case will come to be understood as "un-exceptional" and, instead, worthy of integration into a revamped, overhauled paradigm: an updated and improved "Age of Revolutions". The problem at present is that students of the Portuguese Atlantic, and the Ibero-Atlantic more generally, feel themselves pigeon-holed into making one of two claims: either the processes culminating dissolution of empire in the South Atlantic followed the pattern set in North Atlantic, in which case they were simply belated and derivative, of mere secondary interest; or, alternatively, and just as perniciously, that they deviated from the "successful" pattern, which smacks of old, musty ideas about Southern European and Latin American backwardness and "exceptionalism".

Another problem with the Age of Revolutions historiography is its failure to account for the ex-metropoles and the repercussions of imperial breakdown there. Recently, scholars of the period 1750-1850 have become interested in the long aftermath and repercussions of colonial dismemberment on the ex-metropole. This interest has propelled research into its economic, political, and ideological impact: the fate of former royalists, loyalists, and imperial agents and soldiers (as in Maya Jasanoff's book Liberty's Exiles, for example, which traces the itineraries after 1783 of loyalists to Sierra Leone, the Bahamas, Canada, and London [JASANOFF, 2008]); the transformation of administration in the remaining colonies; and the incorporation of the colonial past into debates concerning constitutionalism and national identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as scholars such as Christopher Schmidt-Nowara and Josep-Maria Fradera have shown (SCHMIDT-NOWARA, 2006; FRADERA, 2005).

More generally, recognition of the numerous continuities and persistent linkages with the imperial past, both in Portugal and Brazil, not only permits the writing of national history in broader context, salutary in itself, but it also encourages a reframing of late colonial history, especially in the second half of the eighteenth century, in a way that de-emphasizes break-down and crisis, thus drawing attention to the forces favoring and fostering the survival, not demise, of imperial institutions, mentalities, and relationships.

The rupture which reconfigured the Luso-Atlantic World in the early nineteenth century must be understood with reference to the countervailing, conciliatory, conservative forces which outnumbered and overwhelmed more radical forces seeking or tending toward imperial disaggregation. The break-up of the Portuguese empire occurred against the backdrop of a reform-oriented ultramarine administration, an increasingly integrated Luso-Atlantic economy (held together by commerce, personnel, and ideology) and, in its final moments, a shared, transatlantic constitutional process. Revolution, war, and independence shook and frayed, but did not completely shatter and tear, all of the bonds in the Luso-Atlantic World.

Looking at the entwined constitutional cultures in Portugal and Brazil around 1825 is a good way to grasp how "independence" masked the persistence of connections within the Luso-Atlantic and the potential for its reconstitution. The 1826 Portuguese Constitution, for example, better known as the Carta Constitucional, remained in force, except for brief periods (1828-34, 1836-42) and with only slight modification through revisions and "additional acts" (1852, 1865, 1896, 1907), until the fall of the monarchy in 1910. The Carta was drawn up by Dom Pedro in Rio de Janeiro in late April 1826, almost a year after the treaty by which Portugal recognized Brazil's independence was signed. The death of his father, Dom João VI, in March 1826 left Dom Pedro undisputed heir to the Portuguese throne, an eventuality concerning which the treaty of recognition had been silent. Realizing that the survival of his throne depended on a firm connection to Europe, Dom Pedro interpreted that necessity rather literally. He took the 1824 Constitution he had given to Brazil, crossed out the word "Brazil" and inserted "Portugal", a nineteenth-century analogue of "find and replace". He then dispatched this document, which he re-framed (or rather revised) in three days, to Portugal, where it was called the "Carta Constitucional" (PAQUETTE, 2013).

The Carta embodied the spirit of an anti-popular, revivified monarchy. It was designed largely to mollify Europe's Holy Alliance and appease Brazilians wary of their emperor's continued connection to the ex-metropole (Portugal). In Europe, however, it came to be viewed both as a threat to royal legitimacy and the rallying cry of Portuguese liberals and their sympathizers abroad. In Portugal, the Carta emblemized the assumptions, aspirations, and fears of those who had not fully absorbed, or accepted, the break represented by Brazilian independence. With its strong resemblance to Brazil's 1824 Constitution, the Carta portended an eventual, if distant, reunion of the crowns. While Dom Pedro was motivated primarily by desire to ensure his dynasty's survival, his efforts were embraced by many in Portugal who believed that the ex-metropole's independence was imperilled without robust political and economic ties to Brazil.

If the many forces working against revolution and independence are recognized and, furthermore, the incomplete nature of independence when it did arrive is accepted, what are we left with? What does the story look like and what should the main features of a revised master narrative? Any re-appraisal and revision must begin with an appreciation of the comprehensive reform undertaken throughout the Portuguese empire in the late eighteenth century. It is necessary to highlight how policy (and governance) was pan-imperial in orientation and how symmetry, an intra-imperial "division of labor", and the interdependence amongst its component territories was pursued. Such a new narrative highlights efforts to integrate and develop rustic peripheries, and to create a transatlantic group of administrators and intellectuals linked to the state (scientists, engineers, jurists, and political economists).

Portugal enjoyed the benefit of a sort of vicarious hindsight in the late eighteenth c., as it was able to observe and learn from the demise of rival European empires in the New World. With the help of its transatlantic elite (the "generation of the 1790s" in Kenneth Maxwell's felicitous phrase [MAXWELL, 2003]), the Portuguese crown attempted to implement various sorts of reforms to ameliorate perceived injustices, pre-empt dissent, and undermine the sources of Brazilian-Portuguese rivalry. Unlike in the contemporary Spanish empire, for example, Brazilian-born subjects were able to participate in imperial government, coming to the university of Coimbra and then serving-in Goa, Angola, Portugal itself, as well as in Brazil-in some branch or other of government administration.

Yet even before the cataclysms which tore asunder other Atlantic empires, many planners in Portugal knew that the relationship with Brazil would have to be re-cast. Portugal's small size (population, economy, geography) paled in comparison to Brazil, to an even greater extent than Spain's contrast to Spanish America, the case famously criticized by Montesquieu. Thanks to gold and diamond strikes in Brazil after 1695, of course, the Portuguese empire became increasingly reliant on Brazil for revenue and products for re-export to northern Europe. Already in the 1730s, as is well-known, crown advisors had raised the idea of transferring the seat of the monarchy to Brazil, as such an arrangement would reflect the balance of resources and population within the empire, which increasingly favored Brazil as mining wealth was matched by the rising export of tropical commodities, sugar and tobacco of course, but also cotton and rice. The impression, therefore, is of a far-from-moribund, increasingly efficient and integrated empire, though plagued by certain insurmountable structural problems and geopolitical deficits, prior to the political cataclysm of 1807-1808, namely the French occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.

A revised narrative would then turn to the metamorphosis the Luso-Brazilian empire underwent as a result of the French Revolutionary Wars and their aftermath. The most important change here was the transfer of the Court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro and the political-economic impact of the court's absence on peninsular Portugal. So, in 1807, when Napoleon's troops invaded and occupied Portugal, these long-percolating plans were activated: the entire court evacuated Lisbon and departed for Rio de Janeiro, where they set up a parallel administration and waited for the conclusion of the French Revolutionary Wars. Rio de Janeiro was converted into what historians have dubbed a "Tropical Versailles", replete with promenades, theaters, parks, palaces, and, most importantly, replications of all the public buildings and institutions forsaken in Portugal (SCHULTZ, 2001).

When the general European peace was established in 1815, the Crown showed little sign of budging from the New World, uninterested in returning to Lisbon. Such reluctance, coupled with economic dislocation in Portugal (for three successive Napoleonic invasions had been repulsed not only at the expense of French plunder and rapine, but also a decade-long occupation by "allied" Britain, which had further demanded the dismantlement of trade restrictions with Brazil), led to an unstable situation. If we take a further step back, however, we are able to appreciate what an odd situation the Portuguese Atlantic empire found itself around 1815: an old world monarchy, with all its trappings and pomp, on New World soil surrounded by neighboring Spanish America veering toward republicanism, while revolutionary intrigue against this arrangement simmered in the diminutive, and much diminished, European fragment of this Atlantic empire, itself surrounded by restored monarchies in the wake of the Napoleonic wars.

There is not sufficient space in this article to delve into the details of how it was that Brazil came to separate from Portugal, something already explored in great and expert depth by Brazilian historian, except to say that the spark came from Europe, that it originated in the Old World, in the cities of Porto and Lisbon, which demanded the King's return in 1820, though insisting that he rule as a constitutional monarch, that is as a king in parliament, from the Old World, not the New. They wanted Peninsular Portugal to enjoy primacy once again within the empire, which would have entailed the re-imposition of now-eviscerated trade restrictions and the elimination of the parallel administration-laws courts, magistrates, tax collecting apparatus-established in Brazil from 1808.

The Porto revolution, which quickly spread to Lisbon and to the provinces, was part of that remarkable wave, largely neglected until recently by English-language scholarship, of southern European revolutions-in Naples, Lombardy, Spain, and Portugal-which began 1820 and which took the Spanish 1812 Constitution-the Cádiz constitution-as their standard and the basis for their national constitution-making projects. The Brazilian response to the Portuguese upheaval paved the way for imperial collapse. A declaration of independence was succeeded by the first Brazilian efforts at constitution-making in the 1823 Constituent Assembly, whose deliberations were cut short by Dom Pedro's dissolution of that body.

It is customary at this point for historians of the "Age of Revolutions", and historians of Brazilian and Portuguese history, to lose interest in transatlantic relations and the connections between Portugal and Brazil. But that is precisely the moment at which the efforts of the historian who seeks to reframe and alter the dominant narrative must redouble his efforts to trace connections. Brazilian independence led directly to the overthrow of the constitutional regime in Portugal in 1823 and the restoration of Dom João VI as absolute monarch, ruling without a written constitution and unrestrained by any representative body. In Brazil, at exactly the same moment, Dom Pedro's similar actions provoked major resistance, especially in the Northeast.

To many historians, such phenomena have seemed to be parallel, though bearing surprising resemblances to each other. But these are more than just coincidences and resemblances; rather, they are interwoven histories. This 1823 moment was crucial: the fate of the Ibero-Atlantic world hung in the balance and the likelihood of reconciliation between Portugal and Brazil was great. But both sides ultimately failed efforts to reach some mutually acceptable compromise.

Portuguese and Brazilian constitutional history in 1824-1826 transpired in the shadow of those failed efforts. The writing of new constitutions might appear to signal divergent historical trajectories, but the unresolved nature of the Portugal-Brazil relationship infused the process of constitution-making and influenced its outcome. Portugal's 1825 recognition of Brazilian independence was a prelude to Dom Pedro's promulgation of a Carta Constitucional for Portugal in 1826. Dom Pedro's Carta, and his associated plan to install his Brazilian-born daughter, Dona Maria, on the Portuguese throne, met with great resistance in Portugal, in many ways precipitating the Civil War (1828-1834). Imposing this constitution on Portugal, Dom Pedro clearly foresaw the eventual re-unification of Brazil and Portugal, the revival of the Portuguese Atlantic empire.

Contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic conceived of Dom Pedro's unsubtle design: that if both states had more or less the same constitution, then their legal integration at some point should be fairly straightforward. Of course, Dom Pedro could not effectively rule both states simultaneously without exciting all sorts of nativist resentment in Brazil (for fear of European recolonization efforts remained their hobbyhorse for more than a decade following independence), so he abdicated the Portuguese throne in favour of his seven year-old daughter, Dona Maria.

What is important to recognize here is that the break-down of empire was not definitive. The ambiguous, incomplete nature of Brazil's independence left many threads untied and these unresolved aspects profoundly influenced the trajectory of post-imperial Portugal. In this case, Portuguese constitutionalism throughout the nineteenth century was indelibly marked by the transatlantic empire's strange death (after an period of unprecedented prosperity) and Dom Pedro's unrealized ambition to re-unite the two crowns. In this sense, political history of nineteenth-century Portugal unfolded in the long shadow of imperial breakdown.

The focus, for the post-1825 period, of the larger work from which this article is derived (Paquette 2013) is on the political ideas animating the exiled Portuguese "liberal" opposition, which eventually coalesced around a Regency established on the Azorean island of Terceira in the early 1830s and which, eventually, prevailed in the civil war against the arch-conservative regime headed by the pretender Dom Miguel. The Civil War should be understood as an outgrowth of Portugal's unstable post-imperial condition, with each faction espousing a distinct vision of Portugal's future, but it also must be situated in a broader international context, including Great Power rivalry, the advent of the July Monarchy in France, and the shifting terrain of Brazilian politics.

Constitutionalism was not the only way that Brazil's history continued to influence that of Portugal or the way that the histories of the two states remained connected well after independence. Recall that by the late eighteenth-century, more than 20,000 Africans were sold into bondage each year in the port of Rio de Janeiro alone. In the 1820s, as Britain sought to coerce and coax various states into abolishing the slave trade and slavery itself, the number of slaves entering Brazil rose to almost 40,000 per year, numbers that would remain steady throughout the 1830s. Most of these enslaved Africans were taken from Portuguese controlled enclaves, chiefly those in modern Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. The break-down of the Portuguese empire profoundly affected the transatlantic slave pipeline and yet, paradoxically, made Portugal and Brazil even more dependent on each other than ever before (ALENCASTRO, 2000; FERREIRA, 2012).

Already in the eighteenth century, Portuguese policy-makers believed that Portugal's very existence as an independent state would be imperilled without colonies. With few exports, it imported most of its grain, including some from Southern Brazil in the final decades of the eighteenth century, and ran a trade deficit, to say nothing of its meager population. Without colonial products to re-export and markets to open to larger powers, it had little leverage in negotiations. With Brazil's independence, many in Portugal feared that it was a matter of time before Spain swallowed up its smaller neighbour. In the late 1820s and 1830s, then, many in Portugal urged lavishing attention on Portugal's remaining derelict and neglected colonies, chiefly Mozambique and Angola, with some hoping to convert them into colonies of (free) white settlement, producing tropical commodities formerly obtained in Brazil.

The practical (to say nothing of the moral) problem with this vision was that those colonies had been little more than depot for convict labor and entrepot for the slave trade, the latter of which was controlled almost entirely by Brazilian slave traders with Brazilian capital. At the heart of Portuguese schemes for national survival and regeneration after 1825, then, lay a new imperial vision, one which was impeded by utter reliance on the former colony. Whatever economic vitality Portuguese claimed African territories enjoyed rested upon the Brazilian slave trade. And many feared that Angola and Mozambique would break with Portugal and join Brazil in a type of South Atlantic confederation. This never came to pass, but Portuguese colonial policy, until the final abolition, under intense British pressure, of the slave trade in 1850, hinged on Brazilian policy and agriculture. In this respect, Portuguese imperial schemes, and national regeneration efforts more generally, in the 1830s and 1840s occurred in the shadow of Brazilian decolonization as much as the French Revolutionary Wars. Though in many respects Brazil's relevance to Portuguese politics faded in the largely forgotten decades of the 1830s and 1840s, the persistence of the slave trade-both Brazil's dependence on it and Portuguese Africa's economic orientation toward it-meant that the histories of Portugal and Brazil would remain entwined until nearly mid-century. Abolition, then, much more than independence, was the act that severed the fortunes of Brazil and Portugal from each other.

Many more examples, episodes, and anecdotes could be offered, but the test cases of domestic politics, constitutional culture, and colonial policy in Portugal after Brazil's independence suggest the extent to which historians should re-assess the boundaries separating colonial from national history and to appreciate the legacies which colonialism left not only in the successor states, but in the metropole, in European states. In general terms, this article has suggested that, using the Luso-Atlantic as a test case, that terms such as "independence", "decolonization", and "Age of Revolutions" can obscure as much as they illuminate in the study of that first great age of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century imperial breakdown as well as why paying attention to connections after colonialism is a worth while enterprise for students of both pre-revolutionary as well as revolutionary Europe and the Atlantic World. By bringing the persistence of connections after the end of empire into play, and by departing from the familiar teleology of colonial revolution, the late colonial period in the Luso-Brazilian Atlantic looks less like an impending cataclysm and more of a case of successful "policy learning" and counter-emulation to avoid catastrophe. In this retelling, the existence of broad structural forces prodding breakdown notwithstanding, inevitability (in its various guises and extremist and moderate versions) gives way to contingency, the play of individual decision-making, motivation, and personality, and the pressures of international diplomacy, and many other processes whose outcomes hung in the balance throughout the "Age of Revolutions".


Recebido em maio/2013

Aprovada em junho/2013

Earlier versions of this text were given as papers at seminars at Princeton University, University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford in 2012-2013. The author also thanks Professor Denise Moura for useful criticism.

  • ADELMAN, J. An Age of Imperial Revolutions. The American Historical Review 113:2, 2008, p. 319-340.
  • ALENCASTRO, L. F. de. O Trato dos Viventes: Formação do Brasil no Atlântico Sul, Séculos XVI e XVII. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2000.
  • ARMITAGE, D.; S. SUBRAHMANYAN, (eds). The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760-1840. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • BROWN, M.; PAQUETTE, G., (eds). Connections after Colonialism: Europe and Latin America in the 1820s Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013.
  • FERNÁNDEZ SEBASTIÁN, J., (dir.) Diccionario Político y Social del Mundo Iberoamericano La Era de las Revoluciones, 1750-1850 (Iber-Conceptos I). Madrid: Fundación Carolina et al, 2009.
  • FERREIRA, R. Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World: Angola and Brazil in the Era of the Slave Trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • FRADERA, J. M. Colonias para Después de un Imperio Barcelona: Edicions Bellaterra, 2005.
  • HOBSBAWM, E. J. The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962.
  • JASANOFF, M. Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. New York: Harper Press, 2011.
  • MAXWELL, K.R. The Idea of the Luso-Brazilian Empire. In: MAXWELL, K. R. Naked Tropics: Essays on Empire and Other Rogues. New York and London: Routledge, 2003, p. 109-144.
  • PALMER, R. R. The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800, 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959-1964.
  • PAQUETTE, G. Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-Brazilian World, c. 1770-1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • SCHMIDT-NOWARA, C. The Conquest of History: Spanish Colonialism and National Histories in the Nineteenth Century. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.
  • SCHULTZ, K. Tropical Versailles Empire, Monarchy, and the Portuguese Royal Court in Rio de Janeiro, 1808-1821. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • DIAS, M. O. L. S. A Interiorização da Metrópole. In: Carlos Guilherme Mota (org.). 1822: Dimensões. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1972, p. 160-184.
  • Portugal and the Luso-Atlantic World in the Age of Revolutions

    Portugal e o mundo luso-atlântico na era das Revoluções
  • Publication Dates

    • Publication in this collection
      01 July 2013
    • Date of issue
      June 2013


    • Received
      May 2013
    • Accepted
      June 2013
    Universidade Estadual Paulista Julio de Mesquita Filho Faculdade de Ciências e Letras, UNESP, Campus de Assis, 19 806-900 - Assis - São Paulo - Brasil, Tel: (55 18) 3302-5861, Faculdade de Ciências Humanas e Sociais, UNESP, Campus de Franca, 14409-160 - Franca - São Paulo - Brasil, Tel: (55 16) 3706-8700 - Assis/Franca - SP - Brazil