Panel: Historical and Cultural Issues in Brazilian Development



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Brazilian Studies Association - - BRASA

Panel: Historical and Cultural Issues in Brazilian Development




Comparing Wars: State National Recruitment and Social Resistance in the Paraguayan and Civil Wars.

Vitor Izecksohn - - UFRJ


Atlanta, April 2002
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The present article undertakes a comparative-historical analysis of war and social cohesion in the United States and Brazil during the decade of 1860. It compares the North-American Union enlistment crisis, whose main point was the promulgation of the Enrollment Act in March 1863, with the Brazilian recruitment crisis, whose main point of tension was the Decree 3383 from January 21, 1865. Through this Decree, the Imperial government transferred soldiers from the Brazilian National Guard to the Paraguayan front.


Situation 1: The United States, 1861-65


The Civil War was the most intense conflict faced by the American nation during the 19th century. As a large multifront war, it required unprecedented levels of mobilization, recruitment and training. It led to more American casualties than almost all the twentieth century contests combined. Creating and enforcing a national conscription system in a governmental tradition based on the preeminence of states’ sovereignty raised constant problems for the administration and created a paradox for its political leaders.1

The conflict demanded a state structure capable of coping with a vast and integrated war effort, leading to spectacular processes of institutional change and bureaucratic organization. These proceedings redefined national sovereignty through such procedures as the nationalization of the government-citizen relationship, the designation of provost marshals for the districts and finally by the transformation of slaves into citizens, a process strongly controlled by the federal government.2

The consequences of the Civil War would not be confined to the defeated regions of the South. The struggle would bring unintended effects to most areas of the Union. Some of these changes affected traditional assumptions concerning such vital matters as “states rights,” conscription, personal liberty laws, the centralization of national power, and the voluntary character and composition of the army. They also reinforced the role of the Federal government as the main recruiting agency of the armed forces. The emphasis on state’s rights was progressively replaced by centralization, with the Federal government assuming the main role in military affairs, fiscal policy and economic development.

The above changes affected the lives of the people of the loyal states in many ways. They interfered with usual policy-making practices affecting the relations between individuals and their communities. These transformations were profound enough to affect the social basis of support given by communities to the continuous efforts to feed and expand the army. As a consequence, simultaneously with the struggle against the Confederates, there took place a conflict over the identity the Union itself on the home front, a conflict Lincoln called “the fire in the rear.”3

While much has been written about the economic transformations propelled by the war in the North, less attention has been paid to the moral economy of recruitment and its connections to the American social organization. How was the control of recruitment transferred from the states to the federal government? What kind of conflicts did that transfer generate? Under which conditions did cooperation between local leaders and federal officers become possible? How did the local population react to the growing intrusion of the central government into their lives?

Situation 2: Brazil, 1865-1870

The War of the Triple Alliance had a profound impact in the Brazilian society. The war effort led to the creation of long lines of supply to support the army in operations outside the country. This effort involved many distant Brazilian provinces in the war effort, turning the mobilization into a national phenomenon. The Imperial government committed a good amount of its attention and budget to face the challenges posed by a kind of war unknown in South America. This situation led even to the reorientation of the financial sectors to make possible the feeding and supply of the growing military forces until the total defeat of the Paraguayan army.4


As in the American Civil War, the conflict against Paraguay enabled a collective and bureaucratic effort of the whole society and, as for the American Civil War, this effort was achieved only slowly. A central question posed by the military mobilization was the need to recruit a large number of soldiers. In symbolic and concrete terms, the challenges brought by the mobilization were important because they reminded Brazilian leaders of structural deficiencies in their country’s state-building process. Such deficiencies reinforced old fears about the precariousness of the Brazilian social order. They also revealed the lack of bureaucratic development and military expertise in the country. Finally, the war against small Paraguay would create new tensions involving the control of the internal social order, exposing the problems posed by disputes over the local control of the recruitment and the politicization of military service. These problems had always challenged the Army’s capacity, but this time, due to the rashness of the international campaign, they revealed acute limitations in the capabilities of the country, alarming the sectors responsible for Brazil’s defense to an unprecedented degree. The raising of men and resources would be the Achilles heel of the Brazilian government during these crucial years of its institutional development.

In site of the initial enthusiasm of the population, the military recruitment’s central question during the campaign was the transfer of local forces to the front. According to the Decree 602 from September 19, 1850, troops of the Brazilian National Guard should help the national Army in case of rebellion or invasion of the Imperial territory. These procedures were followed by the Imperial state in 1865, when Paraguayan forces invaded the provinces of Rio Grande do Sul and Mato Grosso. But the law was not clear about what should be done when the front changed to the territory of another country or how long such cooperation should endure. That was the situation after August 1865 when the theater of operations was transferred to the Argentinean province of Misiones.

The fragility of the Brazilian military organization only became evident after its defeat in the battle of Curupayti (September 22, 1866), where the allies (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) lost around 4,000 troops. The defeat at Curupayti paralyzed the campaign, creating an environment of great perplexity among Brazilian troops. Such event only draw attention to a series of circumstances that had been observed since the beginning of the war. Brazilian superiority in men and means was not sufficient to determine the conflict’s outcome. All operations were interrupted for seventeen months. During this period, Argentineans and Uruguayans retreated (due to internal troubles), while the Brazilian government worked desesperately on the home front to reinforce its army and follow up on the campaign. The enormous number of casualties, due mainly to desertion and diseases, intensified the need to reinforce troops and to pursue a longer campaign.

The erosion of the Alliance armies became evident in the reduction of troop numbers, implying more urgent efforts for the recruitment of new contingents. The terrible sanitary conditions and the lack of adequate food caused most casualties. According to the testimony of Menenio Agrippa (pseudonymous of José Fernades Pereira Jr.), of the 51 battalions that invaded Paraguay, only 14 were still organized in 1867. Of 45,000 men, only half were ready for combat. But it would be naive to believe that these problems only began with the interruption of the campaign. Truly, the paralysis only accentuated circumstances that had been building since the second half of 1865. While true enthusiasm was the hallmark of the initial steps in Brazilian recruitment, resistance (individual or collective) was always present and kept growing during the war. In many respects, the resistance on the internal front was as serious as Paraguayan war efforts.

The main problem was in the changes operated by the war over the relations between the central government, local bosses and their protégés. Delays at each step of the war made it impossible to regroup the existing army, increasing the demand for new soldiers. Turning to its hinterlands, the Empire demanded more manpower to fill the lacuna. Notwithstanding these efforts, the population was no longer willing to contribute. Slowly, but progressively, Brazilians of all classes and regions turned against recruitment and resisted government measures. There were individual acts of insubordination, as well as collective actions, intended to keep recruits and National Guards in their places of residence. The resulting tensions between the center and periphery developed into the most acute situation since the 1840’s.

Recent academic research has extensively demonstrated that the army recruited personnel from the lower sectors of Brazilian society.5 The small Brazilian army centered its recruiting actions on those who could not count on the protection of an influential person or who had no godfather to exempt them from this hard service. Vagrants, potential criminals, and jobless men were the main targets of the “recrutadores.” For most of the 19th century, service in the army was considered to be a brutal and dangerous activity, fit only for society’s undesirable individuals. In the army, their conditions of life were regulated by the procedure of Count Lippe’s regiments.6 Those unhappy persons who served in the army considered their fate worse than that of slaves. Not only they, but their military chiefs also, thought that fate a terrible one. General Cunha Mattos, a deputy at the Brazilian parliament, well summarized these feelings in 1826, when he asserted that “the worst disgrace in the entire universe is to be a recruit in Brazil. It is a real punishment; a common soldier is considered a miserable slave.”7

During the Triple Alliance War, the expansion of government prerogatives in Brazil interfered with another kind of market, that is, with established loyalties which took the form of private contracts between planters and their clients. Such state interference with traditional rituals of social control led the provincial populations, especially those living in small villages and districts in the far interior, to appeal for protection to local sources of power against the unreasonable advance of the state. An explosion of local rebellions sought to push recruitment agents out of villages and districts and restore previously existing conditions of livelihood. No rebellion achieved the level of earlier secessionist movements, but some of them seriously challenged the execution of governmental power. In this sense the moral economy of Brazilian populations opposed the state’s universalistic intentions in a movement that rejected the progress of rationalization in the name of tradition.

The wave of small revolts spread to all the country regions, increasing the erosion to the war support. Some of them were supported by National Guard commanders or had the assistance of other important local authorities, such as judges, priests, or planters. These revolts expressed the disillusion of various sectors with government agents’ interference with their private lives. This interference lacked legitimacy in their eyes because it disrupted the local and regional balance of forces. Partisans of deprived groups saw recruitment as just another source of power exercised against themselves. As a consequence, disputes over who would be designated eroded the National Guard’s position. In its turn, the Guard revealed its lack of potential to support the country in the event of a more intense kind of war. The Justice report from 1867 clearly recognized such deficiencies, emphasizing that: “The [current war] experience confirmed the need to reform the National Guard. This militia who was created to defend the order and the public liberties is very far from its finality....”8


Some Considerations


In spite of diverging patterns of historical evolution, Brazil and the United States each faced similar logistical problems during their major 19th century wars. These problems were linked to the lack of bureaucratic expertise and to the incomplete development of national armies in each country. Despite differences in political cultures, these two societies made similar efforts toward centralization, extraction, and recruitment during their wars.

Both conflicts showed strategic and material similarities in the administration of the war efforts. The wars produced internal conflict, opening a window to alternative visions of national organization and social reform. They showed the limits of the central states’ capacity to extract additional resources from their societies, especially the problematic action of recruitment agents in the far interior. Subsequent war efforts exacerbated problems of social cohesion and national stability to an extent never before reached in the historical evolution of either nation.

Emerging social conflicts in each case help us to understand the limits of state action in these periods of national emergency, especially when the state, with its centripetal nationalistic demands, confronted the local interests of individuals and groups. Most of these conflicts centered on the extension of recruitment and its consequences for social stability. Lincoln’s problems with his generals and the instability of the Brazilian command in Paraguay illustrated this point very well.

Armed crowds in Brazilian interior as well as anti-draft riots in the United States were perceived as a threat to progress and social stability. These threats were more symbolic than real as it became clear during the two wars. They reflected attitudes of despair in relation to changes in the ways of life of the affected populations. There was no real risk to the social order. In spite of that, protest contributed for changes in the formulation of recruitment policies in each war. In Brazil they led to the formulation of new proposals about the organization of the army, the introduction of a draft, and the gradual abolition of the National Guard. In the US they led a growing intervention of the federal power in the South as well as the birth of a national conception of citizenship whose implementation was long and difficult.



In spite of the resemblances between the two cases, the American political system was much more functional to the war effort. The Republican party forged a consistent articulation between state and federal interests. In Brazil such an effort created tensions that were not solved with the same efficiency by the party system, eroding the Imperial regime.


1 Created in 1852 as a consequence of the Kansas-Nebraska Ac the Republican Party resulted from the fusion of the Whig, Know Nothing and Liberty parties. Republicans would govern uninterruptedly the United States from 1861 to 1881. The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 led to the separation of the Lower South, the creation of the Confederate States of America (in February 1861), and outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. John Ashworth, Slavery, Capitalism and Politics in the Antebellum Republic. Vol. I, Commerce and Compromise, 1820-1850, pp. 289-365.

2 John Whiteclay Chambers, To Raise an Army. The Draft Comes to Modern America. New York, Free Press, 1987, pp. 41-72.

3 The expression was used during a conversation with Charles Sumner in January 1863. Quotation taken from James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom. The Civil War Era (New York: Ballantine Books, 1980), P. 591.

4 Many Brazilian city streets, squares, and neighborhoods were named in honor to episodes and heroes from the War of Triple Alliance. Vitor Izecksohn, “O Cerne da Discórdia. A Guerra do Paraguai e o Núcleo Profissional do Exército.” (M. A. Thesis, IUPERJ, 1992), pp. 1-27.

5 Meznar, “The Ranks of the Poor,” Petter Beattie, “Transforming Enlisted Army Service in Brazil 1864-1948: Penal Servitude Versus Conscription and Changing Conceptions of Honor, Race, and Nation,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Florida at Coral Gables, 1994). Hendrick Kraay, “The Army in Bahia, Brazil, 1808-1889,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin, 1995), especially chapter III, “The Enlisted Men,” pp. 255-305. Fernando Dores Costa, “Os Problemas do Recrutamento Militar no Final do Século XVIII e as Questões da Construção do Estado e da Nação,” in Análise Social, Vol. 30, no. 130, pp. 121-55. Fábio Faria Mendes, “O Tributo de Sangue: Recrutamento Militar e Construção do Estado no Brasil Imperial, Tese de Doutorado, IUPERJ, 1997.

6 Count Wilhelm de Shaumborg-Lippe was a disciple of Fredrick the Great who was commissioned to reorganize the Portuguese Army during the Seven-year's war. His influence on the Portuguese Army was strongly felt at the end of the 18th century, especially because he provided the Portuguese army with its first penal code constituted by twenty-nine laws, eleven of which prescribed capital punishment for aggravated crimes ranging from desertion to wartime mutiny. Lippi was a loyal follower of Frederick The Great’s assertion that soldiers should fear their officers “even more than any danger.” Frederick The Great quoted in Guibert Bullow, “From Dynastic to National War.” In Edward Mead Earle (ed.), Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler (1943, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), pp. 49-76. On the Count of Lippe’s influences over the Brazilian army see William, Count of Schaumburg-Lippe, Regulamento Para o Exercício e Disciplina dos Regimentos da Infantaria dos Exércitos de Sua Magestade Fidelíssima (Lisbon: Régia Officina Typografica, 1794). Manoel Joaquim do Nascimento e Silva, Synopsis da Legislação Brasileira ate 1874 Cujo Conhecimento Mais Interessa aos Empregados do Ministério da Guerra, 2 vols. (Rio de Janeiro: Typographia do Diário do Rio de Janeiro, 1874), Vol. 2, p. 153, Beattie, “Transforming Enlisted Army Service ...,” pp. 42-3, and McBeth, “The Politicians and the Generals…, “pp. 256-60.

7 Quoted in McBeth, “The Brazilian Recruit,” p. 81.

8 Ministério da Justiça - Relatório Apresentado a Assembléia Geral Legislativa na Primeira Sessão da Décima Terceira Legislatura pelo Respectivo Ministro e Secretário de Estado Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada, Rio de Janeiro, Typografia do Correio Mercantil, 1867, p. 4.



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