History, The First Republic
Floriano Peixoto, Brazilian states, populous states, political machines, Prudente
Brazil’s first republic was established in 1889. A Constituent Assembly convened to draw up a new constitution and swiftly decreed the separation of church and state as well as other republican reforms. In June 1890 it completed the drafting of a constitution, which was adopted in February 1891. Similar to the Constitution of the United States, Brazil’s constitution eliminated the monarchy and established a federal republic, officially called the United States of Brazil. It replaced a parliament of senators appointed for life with an elected congress consisting of a house and senate. It also provided for an independent judiciary, and an executive branch headed by an elected president. The balance of power shifted significantly from a strong, centralized federalist system to a federalist system that granted substantial powers to the states.
Initially the military dominated the new government under the leadership of General Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca, a conservative general who had joined the revolt at the last minute. The assembly elected Deodoro president of a provisional government and chose a more decidedly republican general, Floriano Peixoto, as his vice president. An inflexible military leader, Deodoro proved incapable of working with the new congress, which took office in late 1890. They fought angrily over financial policy and over the extent of federal influence in the Brazilian states. Unwilling to deal with opposition, Deodoro dissolved Congress several months after it was elected and attempted to rule by decree. Faced with the possibility of civil war, he resigned the presidency in 1891. The tough Floriano assumed control and guided the republic through difficult times. He suppressed rebellions in the state of Rio Grande do Sul and in Rio de Janerio. Floriano supervised the republic’s first elections in 1894 and handed power over to a civilian president, Prudente de Morais Barros, who had served as the first republican governor of Sao Paulo state.
With the election of Prudente, a politician from one of the leading coffee-producing states, the powerful coffee interests again dominated national politics. Under the constitution, voting was restricted to literate adult males. Because of a high illiteracy rate, this provision severely restricted the number of voters. Prior to 1930 no more than 4 percent of the total population voted in presidential contests. Landowners maintained a monopoly on power through political machines—tightly controlled political organizations that they set up in each of Brazil’s states. These machines controlled enough votes to guarantee that landowners dominated local and national politics. Governors in the more populous states used their political machines to ensure that the presidency of Brazil went to an “official” candidate of their choosing. Over the four decades following Prudente’s election, the coffee states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais shared political power. Nine of the 12 presidents from 1894 to 1930 came from these three states, which produced most of Brazil’s wealth and accounted for most of its population.
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