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José Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva is one of the most important men in Brazilian history. Without the leadership of Bonifacio, Brazil may have never been united and could have been split into several different countries. He has been known as the “Patriarch of Independence” of Brazil. Although he is one of the greatest statesmen in world history, he is unknown to much of the American public.
Bonifacio’s success with Brazil starts with his own personal knowledge. Bonifacio was very well educated. He studied mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and law at some of the best universities of his time. He received a philosophy degree in 1787 and his law degree in 1788. He also did further research in the top universities in France, Germany and Scandinavia. He was also associated with some of the best scientists of his day like Vauquelin, Priestley, Lavoisier and many others.
His personal travels also contributed to his vast knowledge. He traveled extensively through out Europe from 1789 through 1800. By Bonifacio traveling to different areas around Europe, he was able to observe how different people and cultures were organized. He could use the bits of knowledge from each place to assist him in his success with operating the society of Brazil. In addition to all of his travels, Bonifacio was fluent in six languages including Portuguese, English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. All in all, he understood eleven languages and had complete command of Greek and Latin.
Bonifacio’s accomplishments in education were unusual. The majority of people in Bonifacio’s environment were not well educated. In 1822, the Brazilian population was around 4.4 million people and of this number 2 million people were white and only about 10 percent of them were literate or semi-literate. In 1890, the Brazilian population of 14 million only had 14.8 percent who were literate or semi-literate. As one can see, the world in which Bonifacio lived in was surrounded with people living in a very limited world where the great majority was uneducated or even semi-literate.
José Bonifacio was given his great opportunity to unite Brazil when Dom Pedro I, the Prince Regent (later Emperor), appointed him Prime Minister and this gave him unlimited authority. Bonifacio basically got his foot in the door with the help of Dom Pedro. Pedro introduced Bonifacio to the public by bringing him to official ceremonies and handing him the bastion of mordomo-mor, symbol of uncontested prestige on a variety of different occasions.
Bonifacio did not exactly know that when he returned to Brazil, after his studies in Europe in 1819, that he would be playing the part of the founding father of Brazil. His intentions when he came to Brazil were to retire with his family and do scientific research and writing. To Brazil, he was a respected and well know scientist in the top scientific research centers of Europe. Little did he know what was in store for him.
Much of Bonifacio’s accomplishments were done in a very short period of three years from 1821 to 1823. It has yet to be seen another leader who can out due this accomplishment. During those three years, Bonifacio generated an enormous amount of hatred that any politician had ever endured in Brazil. He aggravated the politicians and some people of Brazil with his new ideas. He could only trust a few friends and his brothers, Martim Francisco and Antonio Carlos who aided in the effort to gain independence of Brazil.
Bonifacio had a clear vision of what was needed in order to operate a modern state. His vision was clear, objective and realistic. In many government written documents it is clear that he had an understanding of what kind of social and economic problems were taking place in Brazil. He also was very realistic as to what needed to be done in order to solve the problems. Bonifacio wanted to make a smoother transition than that of France during the French Revolution. He also kept in mind the current independence that was being sought by Latin America from Spain. His thoughts may have been considered to be way ahead of his time and a little too radical.
Although Bonifacio’s actions may have been considered somewhat arrogant, inflexible, and firm, the people of Brazil could not deny that he was defending their interests. March 1822 to December 1822 was a critical nine-month period in which Bonifacio issued decrees establishing foundations, which would give the social, political and economic structure for a new nation. During Bonifacio’s participation in the provisory government of Sao Paulo, he prepared a document called “Lembrancas e Apontamentos” on October 9, 1821. This document may be seen as the most important document in the history of reforms in Brazil. It provided a complete master plan for the new nation and detailed all the necessary building blocks of social, political and economic life.
Bonifacio intended to rattle the economic structure of Brazil. The economy of Brazil was based on agriculture and mining which was done by slave labor. Bonifacio was not in favor of slavery and wanted to free the slaves. He was also in favor of agrarian reform. In order for him to end slavery and get agrarian reform, the Brazilian economy would have to go through a major reconstruction. These changes were considered radical in his time and caused powerful groups such as landowners, slave owners, and slave traders to worry. People were not sure if they were ready to trust Bonifacio’s radical changes.
Bonifacio is credited with the independence of Brazil, but he could not have done it with out his great supporters. Bonifacio and his brothers were commonly called the “Andrada Brothers” by historians. They were mostly considered to be radicals. One of his brothers, Martim Francisco held the position of Finance Minister of Brazil. Martim and Bonifacio were not considered great orators. Both him and José exuded their arrogance when speaking. On the other hand, Antonio Carlos was a great orator. He was considered the greatest orator in Brazil in his generation. He took the leadership position of guiding the proceedings of the framing of the first Brazilian Constitution. There were nearly one hundred representatives of the States in the Constituent Assembly besides the Andrada brothers, but only three or four other people made actual contributions to the framing of the Constitution. Martim Francisco is credited with the Declaration of Independence of Brazil. Francisco drafted the document and reviewed details of it with Bonifacio.
The Andrada brothers wrote editorials in their newspaper O Tamoio attacking the administration. They saw what the Portuguese were doing as trying to reunite Brazil with Portuguese. Francisco and Bonifacio made constant attacks on the cabinet of ministers enticing embarrassment. This enticement upset the emperor and the Constituent Assembly worried that their existence was in jeopardy. The emperor was infuriated with the Andrada brothers and decided to expel the Andradas from the Constituent Assembly. The Andrada’s continued to dominate the situation, which led the emperor to dissolving the Constituent Assembly. The Andrada’s were then exiled.
Deliberation on the Constitution was started by a new group on November 13,1823. Much of the articles of the Constitution had already been decided on and was already in the process of being submitted to the Municipal Chambers of the State for review.
Years later in the beginning of 1828, Martim Francisco and Antonio Carlos returned to Brazil with their families. They wanted to defend themselves and clear their names. Bonifacio stayed behind in France with his wife, but the brothers were also there in defense of him. When they arrived in Brazil, they were immediately imprisoned in the “Ilha das Cobras.” The brothers prepared an outstanding defense that shattered their adversaries in court. They received a unanimous absolution on September 6, 1828 and their names were vindicated and cleared.
After the brothers were vindicated of all charges, Antonio Carlos was elected Deputado and resumed a political career in Brazil while Martim Francisco was also elected Deputado for the Sao Paulo province. José Bonifacio stayed one more year in France before he returned to Brazil. He arrived in Brazil on July 23, 1829. While in exile, the province of Bahia elected him Deputado to represent them in Congress. He returned to Congress as a Bahía representative on June 22, 1831.
Bonifacio not only accomplished the independence of Brazil, but he did it without much bloodshed and war. One can only imagine what more Brazil could have attained if José Bonifacio had not been exiled. Bonifacio is the “Patriarch of Independence.” When he was surrounded by people who did not understand his efforts, he steadily pursued what he knew to be true. The people of Brazil cannot celebrate its independence without celebrating the life of José Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva.
See Josh Rupert, "José
Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva for another short biography.