The Enigma of Liberalism in Imperial Brazil

The Empire of Brazil, 1822-1889, conformed, it is widely agreed, to the Liberal model. The constitution of 1824 incorporated its precepts; political discourse was conducted in those terms; reform campaigns sought to remove imperfections. While not untrue, this narrative evades the inconsistencies and contradictions, some innate to the ideology, some specific to the country, that characterized Liberalism in Imperial Brazil. Radical liberals (such as Teófilo Ottoni, “the king of the people,”) eschewed social reforms. Slavery long remained a taboo subject, being abolished only in 1888. The impetus for reform often lay not in popular pressure but in imposition from above. Very importantly, the Liberal order depended on the oversight and management of Pedro II (“I have sworn the Constitution”) who, as one critic observed, “spent fifty years pretending he ruled a free people”. Liberalism in Imperial Brazil was an enigma, simultaneously a reality and an artifice.

Author: 
School of Advanced Study, University of London
Speaker(s): 
Dr. Roderick J. Barman (University of British Columbia)
Event date: 
Friday, 10 February 2012 - 12:00am
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