Policy Legacies in Attempting to Make Federalism Work in the Americas
The Structuring of Intergovernmental Relations
in Mexico, Brazil, and the United States
Draft: August 22, 2001
Introduction: Guiding questions for this chapter
The central question for this chapter is how the tensions between central and local authorities have been addressed in Mexico, Brazil, and the United States during the two hundred-odd years of their existence as independent nations. The chapter is intended both to orient the discussions in the following chapters and to enrich them with an understanding of how and why each of the nations finds itself in its current position at the beginning of the 21st century.
An historical comparison of the intergovernmental systems of three countries risks exhausting the patience of readers if it is not carefully structured. The idea in this chapter is to avoid a tedious point-by-point comparison, choosing instead to consider how a federal structure (and Brazil's monarchy) has affected the responses in each nation to a changing set of questions over time. While the social, political and economic dynamics within each of these countries vary substantially from one another, we argue that each of the countries faced similar problems during five distinct historical eras, and the way in which each country tackled (or ignored) these problems goes a long way toward explaining the current issues of federalism in each one.
Still, the terrain to be discussed is vast and complex, and in each of the cases, we had to leave out a substantial amount of detail, especially in the first sections. We begin the discussion at the point of nation formation for each of the countries. Here, the key issues are the legacy left by each of the colonial powers, the definition of the new national communities, and the arrangements established to govern in each of the new countries. In section III, we dash through large sections of the 19th century, to explain the processes of and obstacles to nation building in each of the countries, with particular emphasis on the challenges to federalism, and the establishment of a tenuous division of powers between the levels of government in the last quarter of the century in all three counties. The subsequent section addresses the recentralizing backlash in the hands of the federal government, which began in each of the countries during the 1930s, partly in response to economic upheaval caused by the Great Depression, but partly for domestic political reasons. The fifth section considers the divergence of patterns in federalism in the three countries during the period between the end of WWII and the 1980s. We close with a discussion of the profound transformations in each of these countries during the 1980s, mostly in response to political and economic changes in the wider world, setting the bases for the chapters that follow.
Nation and State formation
The formation of independent nations from European colonies in the Americas started much earlier than in Africa or Asia, with the Revolution in what eventually became the United States of America in 1776. Mexico, Brazil, and most of the rest of Latin America followed suit during the next half century, mostly in response to instability and political change among the European colonial powers. Once freed of colonial structures, each of these countries faced the task of forming a new, independent government and defining a national identity. As we see in this section, this task was facilitated or impeded in part by the political, social and economic heritage that their respective colonial masters had left in place, as well as the practices and philosophy of the European immigrants (and their descendents) who dominated the political life of each country.
The withdrawal of the European colonial powers from the Americas left substantially distinct legacies in each of the three countries under consideration here, and these legacies appear to have affected both the stability of the federal pact eventually established, and the extent to which federal principles aided each country in meeting the challenges of subsequent decades and centuries.
The formation of autonomous local governments (municipios) in Mexico, and indeed, in all of Latin America, begins with the founding of La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz by Hernán Cortes in 1519. This tradition is reflected in the constitutional status of municipal government since the days of Mexican independence. However, Cortés had no visions of the inherent goodness of local government: rather, he was following Spanish tradition, which not coincidentally, allowed him, as Captain-General of the ayuntamiento (town council), to shake off the authority of Spanish government in Cuba, under whom he had originally sailed. As time went on, the Spanish crown began to grant private individuals the right to explore and claim land in the new territory, in exchange for recognition of Spanish sovereignty and a fifth of the profits gained, a situation basically forced by the lack of resources to pay for official government expeditions. As historian Alejandra Moreno (1995:48) points out, this system made the conquistadores anxious to recoup their private expenses, usually at the expense of the indigenous peoples living on the lands they claimed for Spain. Given the structure of the pre-existing societies in what was to become Mexico, this system also implied full-out military confrontations, rather than scattered battles over land.
As the Spanish crown grew in power of the second half of the sixteenth century, it also began to bring New Spain under more centralized control. In addition, from 1555 on, the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity and the forced abandonment of their languages in favor of Spanish became a function of the State (Moreno 1995:52), which further centralized what was previously a land of many distinct empires. Economic forces pointed in the same direction, with mining providing the basic source of tax revenues for the Colony’s administrative expenses, and all of the products shipped through Mexico City on to Spain. The haciendas (basically, large plantations) established during the Colony, served mostly the domestic market for foodstuffs, since infrequent rains and the lack of artificial irrigation made reliable, large-scale production more difficult (Moreno 1993:57). At the same time, dramatic decreases in population (especially through plagues of smallpox and venereal disease, for which the Indians had no resistance) made labor scarce for the haciendas, and resulted in feudal systems, enslavement of indigenous people, and the eventual importation of slaves from Africa. Mexico City, the administrative center of the country, became increasingly important as an economic and demographic center as well, a pattern which would carry on to the present-day.
Unlike in Mexico, the colonial “power” in Brazil never exercised the same degree of central control over its charge. Much of this was due to the fact that Portugal was too small and had acquired too much territory in Asia, Africa, and the Americas to be able to administer directly the lands under its jurisdiction. The riches produced by its trade in Asia and the extensive system of forts it had to develop to secure the safety of its commerce with the Orient, across the Indian Ocean and around the horn of Africa, meant that the vast and mostly unmapped territory it ostensibly governed in South America was largely left to govern itself under the nominal jurisdiction of the captain-generals and later governors sent out from Lisbon in the name of the Crown. In this regard, the history of the Portuguese colonial empire is markedly different from that of Spain. From 1510, which marks the capture of Goa in India, and until 1580 “Golden Goa” was the jewel of their First Empire (Collis 1943).1 The incorporation of Portugal into the Spanish Empire between 1580 and 1640, as a consequence of dynastic politics, not only led largely to the abandonment of Portugal’s overseas territories, in the face of competition with the Dutch in Asia and the Caribbean, but also produced a national disaster with the incorporation of the Portuguese navy into Spanish military forces and its virtual annihilation in the disaster produced by Spain’s ill-fated attempt to subdue England. While these 60 years of Spanish hegemony over Portugal in Iberia consolidated Portuguese nationalism and a fierce determination never again to be subjected to Spanish rule, the Portuguese came close to losing their American territories to the Dutch, who found the sugar-cane industry in northeastern Brazil a valuable match to their quasi-monopoly on the sugar trade in the Caribbean at the time. Recognizing that little could be done to recapture their position in Asia, the Portuguese re-established control of northeastern Brazil and made Salvador, in the province of Bahia, the capital of Portuguese America. This was the beginning of what Portuguese colonial historians call their Second Empire. The discovery of precious minerals south of Bahia in the province of Minas Gerais (the general mines) and the desire of the Crown to secure its monopoly of the gold and precious stones produced by these mines was instrumental in the decision of move the capital southward to the port of Rio de Janeiro. Accordingly, from the 1700s until independence in 1822, the wealth produced by Brazil was more than sufficient to trigger Portugal’s economic recovery, its autonomy, and the establishment of its American colonies as the new center of its empire. The consequence of this history and the determination of the Portuguese colonizers who first settled in northeastern Brazil to retain their identity and their presence (despite a brief period of Dutch rule) produced a pattern of self-governance by necessity in each of the provincial capitals. Viana Moog, in what is for Brazailianists a famous comparison of the differences between the Portuguese and English colonization of the Americas, referred to this first Brazil as a cultural archipelago, scattered from Olinda and Recife (the first capitals of Brazil) on the northern coast, around the hump of eastern South America to Bahia and southward to Rio, and then to São Paulo. Thus, from the 1700s until independence in 1822, while the Portuguese Crown asserted its hegemony over Brazil it was never able to completely abrogate the traditions of local rule embodied in the municipal governments of each of the provincial capitals established at the outset. The sugar boom of the 1530s and 1540s provided the first economic impetus in Brazil’s development and was decisive in its impact on Brazilian culture through the assimilation of thousands of Africans imported through the slave trade with Portugal’s African territories, the outcome of which was a distinctive Afro-Brazilian regional culture that has ever since given a mark to northeastern Brazil. The second major period of economic growth and development is identified with the 1730s, when gold was discovered and some 600,000 Portuguese immigrated into what is today the center of Brazil. The cultural side of this economic boom was the flowering of the Brazilian Baroque in the mining towns of Minas Gerais, in which Portuguese influences adapted to the Americas was ascendant in a Luso-Brazilian culture that differed greatly from the sugarcane culture and Afro-Brazilian influences dominant in Bahia. It was here that the first uprisings occurred against the centralizing pressures from Lisbon in their version of the Bourbon reforms imposed by the Spaniards over their empire. Again, however, before Portuguese rule from Lisbon could be consolidated in its overseas territories, external events intervened. In 1807 Napoleon sent a military expedition into Iberia to punish the Portuguese for their British ties (Davis 1996:733). But, rather than succumb to French rule as did the Spaniards in Madrid, the Monarchy appealed to Great Britain for support and the British navy responded by transferring the entire Court, numbering some 6,000 to Rio de Janeiro, before French expeditionary forces could reach Lisbon . From 1807 to 1821 Rio became the capital of the Portugal’s Second Empire (reestablished after 1640 and centered in Brazil rather than in India). In the process the Monarchy established a tier of national and supranational administrative structures that decisively changed the future of Brazil. During these years Brazil was elevated to the status of a Kingdom co-equal to that of the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarve. The outcome of this was a peaceful transition to independence, for once Napoleon was decisively defeated and the pressures on the Monarchy to return to Lisbon were irrefutable, the Crown decided to recognize Brazilian independence in 1822 and to leave the Monarch’s son on an independent Brazilian throne.
Nevertheless, underlying this later development of national authority, the earlier autonomous development of a Portuguese-American presence by Portuguese nationals who assimilated themselves into the new world they discovered and colonized without central direction retained much of its vitality. This earlier strategy has much to do with the ambiguous relationships between local and central authorities long present in Brazil. The Portuguese originally lay claim to their American territories through their division into sometimes spectacularly large capitanías, whose administration was essentially privatized and feudal. The legacy of this pattern of colonization, at a time when Lisbon’s attention was focused on its Eastern Territories, was a weak central government incapable of administrating its territories in the Western Hemisphere directly and its dependence on private individuals and, de facto, decentralization; regional “oligarchies” whose power lay with their large land holdings and slave labor, and whose leaders were named by, and reported directly to, the king; and regions which were only nominally linked to one another (Murilo de Carvalho 1993:54). While the capitanías were formally disbanded by 1750, in favor of a general government, the pattern established in this era endured for centuries afterward. This point is an important one because unlike Spanish-American experience, Portuguese-American experience developed from the beginning considerable tolerance for two distinct levels of governance by necessity, the one local and the other national or supranational.
Unlike in Mexico and Brazil, the process of European immigration and colonization in the United States was not carried out by groups of single men in search of gold or other riches to send back to their homelands (indeed, there was little to be found in the Eastern half of the future country). Instead came entire families, usually as parts of religious or political groups in search of freedom to practice their beliefs which they were not afforded in England or other parts of Northern Europe. The results of this pattern of settlement were profound, both in terms of the types of government established and the relations with the previous inhabitants of these territories. The first permanent settlement of the future United States established a system of government which ruled by the explicit consent of the governed, from the first days of the colony. The Mayflower Compact set the bases for a form of self-government never before seen on a large scale. In the decades that followed, small communities whose members owned and worked on family farms became the dominant form of settlement of the new territories. As time went on, larger plantations and cities sprung up to service export markets for raw materials and agricultural goods. The “colonies” formed under this system (which later became the states of the new republic) were very small, homogeneous, and governed through direct contact with the English crown; little integration among them occurred at first. It was later that issues of mutual defense led to the banding together of these colonies: as the population expanded, more land was demanded for agricultural use, which resulted both in increasing hostility from indigenous groups with prior claims to the land, and from other imperial powers which had more recent designs on the territories. Questions of the treatment of the colonies by the English crown also became more important, particularly the taxes and tariffs imposed on trade. Still, English authority over its colonies did not end the way it did in Spain and Portugal at the beginning of the periods of independence for Mexico and Brazil. This implied a more involved process of first, negotiation with England, and later, Revolutionary War, which arguably served to galvanize the proponents for a Union.
Defining the national community: how to maintain national cohesion in the face of regional diversity?
At independence, all three of the new countries had to confront the question of how to establish a national identity across spatially vast territories and diverse regional cultures. This problem was especially acute in Mexico, which had problems establishing a common national identity throughout the 19 century. Indeed, the loss first, of modern-day Central America in the 1820s, followed by Texas and parts of today’s Southwestern United States only a few decades later, emphasizes the difficulty of creating a coherent Mexican nation. At various points during this period, Jalisco, Yucatán and Zacatecas each were considered a serious risk for secession as well, which helps explain the constant struggle between the sovereignty of states and the desire to centralize power which characterized the country. In addition, in spite of mestizaje (“mixing” of Spanish and Indigenous people, the latter mostly men and the former mostly women) approximately one million residents of the new country—members of at least thirty distinct indigenous groups—were neither integrated into political life nor even spoke same language as the dominant groups.
In contrast to a shrinking Mexico, the United States continued to add substantially more territory right up to the Civil War of the 1860s (as well as afterward). Indeed, it appears that the gradual process of independence from England, culminating in the intense struggle of the Revolutionary War, served to commit the states to a united country. The failures of the Articles of Confederation to provide a viable format for governing the former colonies when issues of common concern to all of them emerged, such as the need for a single currency, had convinced reformers of the need for a stronger union, the outcome of which was the Constitution of 1878 that provided for a federal form of government establishing strong central authority in instances linked to the survival of the new nation, but guaranteeing to the states at the same time their rights and liberties and all residual powers not assigned specifically to the federal government. Once the question of the right to succeed was laid to rest in its Civil War, the continental aspirations of the US were encapsulated in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which opened the door to successive waves of westward migration by European immigrants—mostly English-speaking at first—and their descendents. A much smaller indigenous population, with which the European settlers had never mixed much, and a plantation-based economy in the South made the importation of African slave labor more attractive in the US, and these were forced to quickly learn English and adapt to American ways. Indigenous cultures were exterminated or pushed west and north ahead of the white settlers, and their limited numbers represented little threat to the newly dominant American identity. In contrast to Mexico, there was limited mixing between indigenous and European-origin residents, and those born of indigenous or white fathers and African-origin mothers were considered black rather than something in between.
The threat to a unified Brazil came not so much from hungry foreign powers (although there were persistent border skirmishes in the south and west) as from the internal lack of cohesion. There was no single defining event such as occurred in the U.S. in its revolutionary war and continental congresses which mobilized the public throughout the colonies against continued British rule as represented in the person of the Monarch. Indeed, at the time of
Brazil’s independence, the idea of creating a single country was not clear to the political representatives of the regions, who identified themselves in the Portuguese Court through their provincial identities (e.g. paulistas or gaúchos), rather than as Brazilians. Indeed, the unity of the country was based more on interest in the continued existence of the established economic system, including but not limited to slavery, than on more noble ideas about how to form an ideal government (Murilo de Carvalho 1993:58). In contrast to Mexico and the US, Brazilian universities and even domestic newspapers were nonexistent at least until the 1850s, and this, too, limited the development of national identity in the way it had emerged in Europe (Fausto 1999:58). On the other hand, like what occurred in the United States and unlike Spanish-American experience, a strong cultural identity─based on language (Portuguese), religion (Roman Catholic), and social values (family, especially the large extended family) that is termed “Luso-Brazilian” did emerge and provided an unifying force which transcended the weakness of formal political institutions (Wagley 1964). As a result, despite differences among the provinces as great as those among the individual states in the U.S., there was no decisive movement which led to the disintegration of Brazil and the formation of independent successor states, each with its own newly formed government, as occurred in Spanish American once the legitimacy of monarchy was challenged. There were separatist movements at various points in Bahia and the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, but at no time did this degenerate into national conflict approximating what occurred in the U.S. Civil War. Steadily and assuredly a distinctive cultural identity, projected over the space inherited at independence, did emerge with tremendous cohesive power, centered on a single common language which was transformed in the process into a distinctive Brazilian vernacular as radically different from Continental Portuguese as was the case with American English as opposed to British English. By the end of the century, when millions of immigrants had poured into Brazil through São Paulo and had spread throughout southern Brazil, the same phenomenon was repeated there as in the U.S.: so strong was the national culture and the dominant language that by the second and third generations, despite marked differences in national origins, individuals integrated themselves thoroughly into the Brazilian milieu and accepted Portuguese as the national language.
At the outset, however, the king served as an important symbol of unity to the new nation, especially among the vast impoverished masses. At the same time, the dependence of the most profitable aspects of the economy on the labor of black slaves, who made up as much as one third of total population in the late 19thth century, continued to limit the possibilities of their developing an identity as Brazilian citizens; this was to be a development postponed until the decade of the 1980s when masses of Brazilians mobilized against military dictatorship and a debate ensued in the aftermath over the concept of citizenship and who were citizens. Meanwhile, huge numbers of indigenous people had been killed through slavery or disease, and the half a million or so who remained were pushed west, where they were further marginalized from the dominant Luso-Brazilian culture taking form on the coast, with its assimilation of immigrants and upwardly mobile migrants into a common national culture, with a very strong sense of identity and tradition of remaining apart and distinct from Spanish-speaking America. But once again, in making observations such as these, one should be careful in not pushing these points too far because in the original core of Brazil, formed in the northeast, there was a great deal of assimilation and an enormous variety of racial mixtures blending together Europeans of Portuguese ancestry with the Indian and African population (Cunha, 1957). What occurred in the Brazilian center and south, as the frontier was pushed westward, was very different from the formation of the northeast and the movement of its population westward over time, into the interior of the country (Moog 1983).
New governmental arrangements
One of the concrete results of the process of independence for each country was a constitution, which can be seen as the outcome of negotiations among the various factions with power to influence national political life. However, while the US Constitution of 1787 has endured nearly intact for over two centuries, Mexico made substantial changes to its constitution on at least three occasions, and the current national government has proposed an entire revamping of the document. Meanwhile, Brazil has moved more dramatically over the course of its independent existence, from a constitutional monarchy to a federal republic in the 19th century, and in the 20th, among various authoritarian constitutions as well as federal ones.
In hindsight, it is not surprising that it was in the United States that federalism was essentially invented as a system of government. The basic tenets of a federal system—strong states and a relatively weak central authority, defined spheres of competence for distinct levels of government, and an emphasis on what was later to become known as subsidiarity—arose quite naturally from the thirteen original colonies, each with distinct economic bases and semi-autonomous, self-governed towns and villages. Here it is important to remember that there was considerable controversy over the form of union which should be established in the aftermath of independence. Historical scholarship on this generally has concluded that while radicals dominated the debate at the time of the revolutionary wars, conservatives gained the upper hand, once the majority of influentials at the time recognized the failure of confederal governing arrangements agreed upon at independence.2 Of course, this did not occur without substantial discussion about whether this somewhat fragmented system was feasible (see, for example, the Federalist, a series of essays written to defend the proposed Constitution). Indeed, the original charter of government, the Articles of Confederation of 1776-7, was soon replaced by the Constitution precisely because of the recognition that some form of central authority was necessary in order to support state governments faced with local rebellions.
The constitution which emerges from these debates is a relatively brief and general document, which essentially divides the federal government into three branches (and defines the checks and balances between these), as well as defining a separate but equal sphere of action for the states. For comparative purposes here, when it comes time to discuss how federalism was imported into the governance debate in Latin America, it is helpful to keep in mind the differences between the separation of power (through checks and balances) and the division of power (between federal and state governments). Local governments (counties and cities in most states) are defined not in the federal constitution, but in individual state constitutions. Finally, the federal constitution focuses explicitly on limiting the scope of action of government at all levels and clearly depositing powers not granted by the constitution in the states. Even so, defenders of individual rights saw it necessary to amend the Constitution shortly afterward with the Bill of Rights, which essentially elaborate more fully the provisions designed to counteract tyranny by the government and to protect more clearly the rights and liberties of individual citizens.
Although the Spanish empire collapsed in 1807, Mexicans were slow to react to their opportunity for independence, in spite of the fact that discontent with the colonial system had been growing for some time. Finally, in 1810, a priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave what has become known as the grito (cry) of independence in front of his gathered parishioners in the village of Dolores, Guanajuato, sparking widespread regional revolts against vice royal power. Still, the Spanish government had recuperated from Napolean’s rule by 1811, and held a convention at Cadíz to determine the outlines of the Empire’s new constitutional monarchy.
While the Constitution of Cadíz (1812) met many of the demands of the Mexican delegation which attended the convention, it remained in force for less than a year before a hardliner viceroy returned government in Mexico to previous practices. However, events in Spain once again drove changes in Mexico: liberal power in the Cortes threatened to do away with privileges enjoyed by the Church. Wealthy Spaniards and Creoles in Mexico reacted to this menace by turning to Colonel Agustín Iturbide to crush remaining rebel forces within the territory, and to negotiate an agreement with Spain through which independence was finally declared in 1821. Thus, ironically, the Wars of Independence in Mexico were eventually won not by republicans, but by monarchists. Iturbide was elected emperor by a hastily-called Constitutional Assembly in 1822.
The two immediate concerns of Mexican political elites at Independence were the state of public finances and the territorial integrity of the former colony. Financial problems were brought on not only by a large public debt inherited from the Colony, but also by expenditures necessary to support a large army. In addition, economic disruption from continued unrest implied lower collections for central government, as did the abolition of the head tax on Indians (González y González 1995:84-85). And yet, the military was constantly on the move to address threats of secession by the former viceroyalties of Jalisco and Zacatecas, and in the Yucatán. In 1822, the Central American provinces, which had joined the new country only a year before, declared their independence from Mexico. Meanwhile, incursions by the Spain and France, as well as designs on Texas in the United States, contributed to a country in a state of crisis.
The governing compromise reached between the conservative centralists and provincial liberals was expressed in the federal constitution of 1824, which is based on sovereign states and “free” municipalities. This document is in many senses a copy of the US constitution (including the separation of federal power into executive, legislative and judicial branches, and the creation of states with a similar separation of powers). But, somewhat tragically, its ineffectiveness in setting the bases for government was seen even by contemporaries as an example of the impossibility of importing basic agreements on government from other political and social contexts (Tocqueville 1969; Brazilian Senators cited in Murilo de Carvalho 1993:60).
Even before the French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, the relationship between Brazil and Portugal was substantially different from that of the other two countries under consideration here with their respective imperial powers. Indeed, in Brazil and Portugal there was serious debate over whether either could survive as an independent country without the other. For this reason, the temporary solution to problems in Europe was for the entire Court of Dom João IV to resettle in Rio de Janeiro in 1807, where the governmental system continued essentially as it had before, with a weak central administration nominally overseeing the activities of private landowners in Brazilian territory. Only after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, when the Portuguese Court returned to Lisbon, did the question of an independent Brazil become more salient. At first, the two countries formed a united kingdom, but in 1820, liberals in Portugal revolted and succeeded in establishing the Cortes, which included a system of elected representatives from the colonies. However, the system of sending deputies from the Brazilian regions to discuss issues of government in Lisbon was unsatisfactory. Indeed, the majority of those then governing the country appeared more interested in reestablishing the former colonial relationship than developing a new, more balanced one. Thus, Brazil’s independence from Portugal was declared in 1822, with the support of the Monarch.
The question of how to form the country that domestic elites had in mind, however, was problematic. To many residents, especially the large landholders, the idea of unifying the regions into a single Brazil was not obvious. At that time there was little economic or political interaction among the regions, and the relations of each region with Portugal typically had been conducted directly with the king rather than through the viceroy in Río de Janeiro (Murilo de Carvalho 1993). Nor were Brazilian elites interested in changing the social or economic order of the colony, since it was a system from which they benefited (Fausto 1999:78). Trade patterns linked each province directly with external markets and there was little intercontinental trade among provinces.
This led the elites of the day to conclude that a constitutional monarchy was the answer to the need of the newly independent nation to take control of a vast territory and to avoid fragmentation. In addition, the fairly homogenous Brazilian elite (most of who had administrative experience in other colonies and had studied together in Portugal) were concerned that without a strong central government, they might follow the example of the former Spanish colonies, who at the time were engaged in protracted and bloody civil conflicts (Murilo de Carvalho 1993:57). While the reigning monarch, Dom João VI favored a constitutional monarchy for both Portugal and Brazil, he had to reconcile conflicting interests: first, it was essential that he return to Portugal to secure his throne and political preferences (in the bitter struggle between traditionalists favoring absolute monarchy and his supporters favoring constitutional monarchy); second, Portuguese mercantile interests wanted the Crown to reassert sovereignty over Brazil and to rule from Lisbon, while those interests dominant in Brazil as well in Great Britain opposed this move. The solution arrived at was the decision to leave his son, Dom Pedro, in Rio as regent and as heir to the Brazilian throne. Then, once the court had returned to Lisbon and it became clear that he was likely to be removed as regent, Dom Pedro joined hands with Brazilians favoring independence and declared Brazil’s independence (Payne 1973: 518-519).
However, the installation of a constitutional monarchy turned out to be more complex than initially anticipated, in part because it implied consolidation of a more centralized system than that to which the regional powers had become accustomed to up until the arrival of the Portuguese court in Lisbon, when rule from Lisbon had seemed to be both lax and distant (Murilo de Carvalho 1993:58). Indeed, apart from the king, there were few political or economic bonds among the regions which could serve to unite the new country once the Portuguese court left Rio. The limits on imperial powers were made clear when Pedro I dissolved the constituent assembly in 1824 and imposed a constitution of his own design. To declare the existence of a unified Empire was one thing, but to govern effectively was another.
Since this first Brazilian constitution was imposed by a monarch, rather than discussed and ratified by “the people,” it began a pattern of rule in which regimes could be imposed by fiat from above, but effective governance always required that the country’s executives accommodate regional interests, since power was centered in the individual provinces and concentrated in the hands of local elites. Still, the document did manage to organize jurisdictions of the branches of government, allocate powers among them, and guarantee individual rights for citizens (who, of course, made up only a very small fraction of the population at that time, the rest being women, slaves, and those others whose incomes were not judged to be sufficiently high) (Fausto 1999:79-80). The Brazilian political system was defined as monarchical, hereditary, and constitutional. A bicameral legislative branch was organized, divided into a Chamber of Deputies (elected indirectly), and a Senate, whose members were essentially appointees of the crown and who held their posts for life. But the emperor could dissolve the Chamber whenever he wanted, and could also veto decisions of either side of the legislature. Finally, the constitution divided the country into provinces, which were headed by appointed presidents.
In protest to the dissolution of the constituent assembly the five northeastern provinces, led by Pernambuco, immediately declared their independence and the formation of the Confederation of Ecuador. The rebel provinces were subdued in short order, but later military failures along the border with Argentina exacerbated the financial problems of the Empire and its residents, and created a rift between the army and the king (Fausto 1999:83-85). In 1831, the king was forced to abdicate to his infant son.