The Greatest

The Greatest


This article is in commemoration of Brazil’s 500th anniversary. (Brazil’s actual birthday date is April 22, 2000) Most well educated Brazilians know that José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva is the “Patriarch of Independence” of Brazil. He is one of the greatest statesman in world history, but he is unknown to the American public.

Most people don’t know enough of our Brazilian history and its details to appreciate the reasons why José Bonifácio (the founding father of Brazil) is considered the most important figure in Brazilian history. There is no other person in Brazilian history who comes close to José Bonifácio in the impact that he had on the history of the country.

To demonstrate José Bonifácio’s importance to the history of Brazil, we can say that José Bonifácio was responsible for the unification of Brazil in 1822. It was José Bonifácio’s statesmanship ability that united the country which we call Brazil. The country that he united in 1822 is almost the same size as the country that we have today. Since 1822 Brazil gained just a little and lost a little territory.

There was no unity in Brazil in 1822 or before 1822. The north of Brazil had better communications with Europe than with Rio de Janeiro. He unified a very large country with his exceptional political savvy and statesmanship skills, with a small army, with a small navy and with almost no bloodshed.

The Outstanding Prime Minister

If José Bonifácio had made a single mistake during that very delicate turning point in Brazilian history, the result would have been disastrous for Brazil. If they had to fight multiple rebellions for independence from the north to the south of Brazil then everything could have gotten out of control and their small army and navy would not have a single chance to keep the new nation together (Brazil was too large to be controlled with this small army and navy with the communication and transportation systems available in Brazil in 1822). If that had happened the result would have been disastrous, and Brazil would have been split into five or six independent countries at that point.

In 1621, Maranhão became a separate colony of Portugal, because it was easier to maintain communications from Maranhão in the north of Brazil with Lisbon, in Portugal, than with the capital of Brazil, São Salvador, in the Captaincy of Bahia. The new colony of Portugal included most of the Captaincies north and west of Cabo São Roque, and included parts of Ceará, Piauí, Maranhão, Pará and Amazonas. This colony was never prosperous.

In 1822 at the time of the Brazilian independence from Portugal, the north of Brazil was precariously connected to the south. The king of Portugal preferred to keep the Captaincies (States) isolated and ignorant of one another. Royal edicts of 1614 and 1620 prohibited a governor-general from one Captaincy to visit another Captaincy in Brazil without permission from Portugal.

To put things in the right perspective let’s review some facts and some other events which were happening around the 1820’s. The United States in the 1820’s was a country half of today’s size. The United States consisted of its thirteen original states. It had also acquired a new piece of land by the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 and Florida in 1819 from Spain. Even if we added the newly purchased lands to the United States, the U.S. still was half of the size of Brazil in 1822, the time of Brazilian independence.

The United States had to fight an independence war in 1776 to achieve the independence of its thirteen original states. U.S. independence was achieved with bloodshed and suffering for American colonists. By contrast, Brazilian independence was achieved with very little bloodshed because of José Bonifácio’s statesmanship abilities. Without José Bonifácio in its history, the country Brazil in its current form would not exist today.

José Bonifácio was aware of the disintegration of the Spanish empire in the Americas. Spanish America disintegrated into eight separate and independent countries during the period 1810 to 1830. Spanish America broke up into various republics and their independence was as follows: Paraguay (1811), Argentina (1816), Chile (1818), Colombia (1819), Ecuador (1822), Peru (1824), Bolivia (1825), and Venezuela (1830). The independence of these countries from Spain was accomplished with a twenty-year civil war in that region of South America and split Spanish America into eight independent republics. Uruguay got its independence in 1828 from Brazil.

Dom Pedro I lost the Cisplatine Province—the country called Uruguay today—in a disastrous war with Argentina in 1828. If Dom Pedro I had kept José Bonifácio as his Prime Minister in the late 1820’s, instead of sending him into exile, most likely the country Uruguay still would be part of Brazil today.

We can summarize José Bonifácio’s importance to Brazilian history as follows: Without José Bonifácio’s influence on Brazilian history, we would have instead four or five independent countries in South America where Brazil is located, and we would not be commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Brazilian nation. Without José Bonifácio in its history, the country Brazil in its current form would not exist today.

The major reason to honor José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva is the fact that Brazilians owe him the country which we call Brazil today. The country itself was José Bonifácio’s legacy to future Brazilian generations.

The impact, which José Bonifácio had as the architect of Brazilian independence did not happen by chance, but as a result of his life-long hard work and experience. He had all the credentials and knowledge which he had acquired in Europe during the thirty six years in which he lived there, before returning to Brazil in 1819 to do a masterful job in directing Brazil in its independence process.

When Prince Dom Pedro asked José Bonifácio to be his Prime Minister in 1822, the Prince Regent was aware that he could not find a more qualified person for that job in Brazil. José Bonifácio told the Prince Regent that he would accept the position only when allowed to impose his unlimited authority. Dom Pedro did not hesitate. He armed José Bonifácio with the highest level of authority possible. The investiture of José Bonifácio carried with it the most extensive powers that any minister had in the history of the imperial or republican Brazil.

The World in the Early 1800’s

To help put things in the right perspective I want to make two important points. First, the journalist/historian James Burke in his television series about world history called Connections gave the viewer some interesting information. In one of the episodes he mentioned that most people who lived up to the early 1800’s spent their entire lives never traveling farther than a 20 mile radius from the place where they were born. In other words, most people lived in a small and limited world.

Second, in 1822, the Brazilian population was estimated to be around 4.4 million people. The white population was around 2.0 million people, and only about 10 percent of them were literate or semi-literate. Very few people had an advanced education.

The percentage of people literate or semi-literate in Brazil improved a little bit by 1890. The census of 1890 in Brazil shows that out of a total population of 14 million people only 14.8 % were literate or semi-literate.

These points are important because they describe the world in which José Bonifácio was living from 1780 to 1838, where most people lived in this very limited world of 20 miles radius, and the great majority of people were illiterate or semi-literate.

José Bonifácio’s Education

José Bonifácio was an extraordinary human being. He had attended some of the best universities of his time; he studied mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and law. He received his philosophy degree in 1787 and his law degree in 1788. Later he studied and did research in the top universities in France, Germany and Scandinavia. He traveled extensively throughout Europe from 1789 through 1800.

He met a large number of the best scientists of his day, including Fourcroy, Vauquelin, Priestley, Lavoisier and many others. He visited many of the well-known universities and scientific research centers of Europe of his day.

José Bonifácio was fluent in six languages (he was able to write and read): Portuguese, English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. He understood 11 languages in total, and he also had complete command of Greek and Latin.

He traveled extensively throughout Europe and witnessed first hand how different places and different people were organized and how their society operated. He was in Paris in the period 1790 through 1792, and he was very interested in the debates of the Convention in Paris. He stayed in Paris until the proclamation of the French Republic in September 1792. During this period he frequented a very exclusive group of powerful thinkers; some of them had influenced and played a major role in the French Revolution and others were authorities in their fields of specialization.

The Portugal Period: 1800-1819

After he returned to Portugal in 1800, he was appointed to many positions of responsibility by the Portuguese government. He also participated in the war effort to defend Portugal from three French invasions from 1808 to 1812. José Bonifácio left Portugal with his family on August 19, 1819 to return to Brazil. He was 56 and 1/2 years old, considered an advanced age in 1819, and he had been living out of Brazil for 36 years.

When he arrived in Brazil in early November 1819, he was a respected and well-known scientist in the top scientific research centers of Europe of his day. He came back to Brazil to retire and to enjoy his remaining days doing scientific research and writing, hardly knowing that the biggest accomplishments of his life and what would immortalize him in world history were still ahead of him.

The greatest accomplishment of Dom Pedro’s life (the Prince Regent) in regard to Brazil, was to appoint José Bonifácio his Prime Minister, and not hesitating in arming José Bonifácio with unlimited authority to do his job.

The Independence Process

The Prince Regent, and later Emperor, on various occasions made a point of showing in public the high regard that he had for his Prime Minister by handing him in official ceremonies the bastion of mordomo-mor, symbol of uncontested prestige. This set the stage for José Bonifácio to assume his Prime Minister position. which would enable him to do a masterful job that culminated with the independence of Brazil from Portugal.

To this day no one has accomplished so much in Brazilian history as José Bonifácio, and his accomplishments were done in a very short period of time in the three years from 1821 to 1823. In those three years José Bonifácio provoked the most outstanding hatred that any politician tasted in Brazil. During this period he could count on support only from a few trusted friends and from his other two brothers Martim Francisco and Antônio Carlos. They were instrumental and also played important supporting roles in the independence of Brazil.

There was a hatred of the Portuguese as they were a dominant force in Rio de Janeiro. There was also a hatred of various groups of Brazilians. These groups of Brazilians could not see in José Bonifácio’s political actions the defense of national unity and territorial integrity.

José Bonifácio had a clear vision, objective and realistic, of the functions of a modern State. In his writings and personal correspondence, in most documents, in government decrees, and in official and diplomatic correspondence to other governments, we can see that he understood the social and economic problems of his day. He also had a profound understanding of the political issues and of what could be realistically done.

His goal was to guide Brazil to a smoother transition than the one that he had seen in France during the French Revolution. He also was aware of the current anarchy present in the new nations that were getting their independence from the Spanish Empire, as was the case in Argentina.

In his writings, correspondence, government documents and government decrees we can see that José Bonifácio and his brother Martim Francisco had an excellent grasp of economic theory and that their thoughts were way ahead of their time in that subject.

The liberal reforms that José Bonifácio was putting in place to completely restructure, not only the economic but also the political and social life in Brazil, created a momentum to form an incredible coalition of Portuguese and Brazilian land and slave owners. This powerful coalition was so strong that eventually they forced José Bonifácio out of power.

The Critical Period

There was a critical nine-month period from March 1822 to December 1822 in which José Bonifácio almost in a despotic fashion issued decree after decree establishing the foundations, which would give the social, political and economic structure for the new nation. José Bonifácio’s actions were arrogant, inflexible, firm, and irreconcilable with dissident groups, but at the same time they were compatible with the people and the nation whose interests he was defending.

When José Bonifácio participated in the provisory government of São Paulo, he prepared a document that was signed by the members of the provisory government on October 9, 1821 called “Lembranças e Apontamentos”. This document might be the most important document in the history of reforms in Brazil. The document provided a complete master plan for the new nation and covered in detail all the necessary building blocks of social, political and economic life.

José Bonifácio’s major accomplishment in Brazil was the consolidation of independence with national sovereignty, political unity and territorial integrity.

The Andrada Brothers

When historians refer to “The Andrada Brothers” they are referring to the three brothers, as follows:

A) José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (B 1763 – D 1838)

B) Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada (B 1775 – D 1844)

C) Antônio Carlos Ribeiro de Andrada Machado e Silva (B 1773 – D 1845)

In 1995, I wrote two articles about José Bonifácio and I posted them in a newsgroup about Brazil. I received many emails in reply to the postings, most of them asking further questions about the Andrada brothers. But some of the emails received from the readers were critical of them, mentioning that the Andrada brothers were considered radical in their time.

Were the Andrada brothers radical?

A radical in this context would be a person who favors fundamental or extreme change, favoring basic change in the social or economic structure of a country. Can the Andrada brothers be considered radical when we look back and analyze their involvement in the history of Brazil? The answer is yes. There is no question that they were radical. Let’s analyze why, in order of events from 1817 to 1840.

Antônio Carlos was working in Olinda, Pernambuco Province, as a magistrate when a republican and mason revolution broke out in that province in 1817. He was asked to join the leadership of that revolution. He even sent a letter to José Bonifácio in Portugal dated April 14, 1817 describing what was happening. In that letter he mentioned how well the revolution had turned out.

A short time later José Bonifácio (in Portugal) found out that the revolution in Pernambuco had been a disaster for the revolutionists. Most of the leaders of that revolution had been hanged. The only reason they spared Antônio Carlos’ life was because they knew he was a brother of José Bonifácio. (The revolution in Pernambuco was crushed by the Portuguese and lasted only 75 days.)

Antônio Carlos spent four years in prison for participating in that revolution. When José Bonifácio returned to Brazil at the end of 1819, his brother Antônio Carlos was still in prison in the province of Bahia.

José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva was the architect of Brazilian independence; that is why he is known as “The Patriarch of Independence.” He guided Brazil through its independence process from 1821 to 1823. During this period José Bonifácio was the Prime Minister and his brother Martim Francisco was the Finance Minister of Brazil.

The First Brazilian Constitution

The three “Andrada brothers” continued participating in the Constituent Assembly after José Bonifácio and Martim Francisco resigned from their government positions. Antônio Carlos was a representative of São Paulo. José Bonifácio had been elected Deputado from São Paulo and Martim Francisco had been elected Deputado from Rio de Janeiro.

They needed a leader to direct the Constituent Assembly. José Bonifácio knew that he was not a great orator. He also had some other drawbacks, as he did not worry about being amiable or courteous. Any one could see when he was angry, and he had a certain arrogant manner. Martim Francisco was a good orator but his personality was a carbon copy of José Bonifácio’s and he also projected that arrogant manner.

Antônio Carlos was a great orator; as a matter of fact he was considered the greatest orator in Brazil in his generation (1817 to 1845). Later, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (The Younger), son of Martim Francisco and grandson of the Patriarch also was considered the greatest orator of his generation (1850 to 1886).

Antônio Carlos took the leadership position to lead and to guide the proceedings of the process of framing the first Brazilian Constitution. José Bonifácio used his brothers to make his points. He had full confidence in the abilities of his brothers to get his points across, but he was always in the background giving support to them.

Out of the almost one hundred representatives of the States in the Constituent Assembly, besides the three Andrada brothers, only three or four people made contributions to the framing of the Constitution.

The Andrada brothers started attacking the administration through their editorials in their newspaper O Tamoio. They were right in their attacks. What the Portuguese were doing arose suspicion that they wanted to reunite Brazil with Portugal. José Bonifácio and Martim Francisco, belonging to the opposition party, made constant attacks on the cabinet of ministers, causing them considerable embarrassment.

The fight got so heated that the members of the Constituent Assembly were worried that their existence was in jeopardy. The Emperor was so angry with the Andradas that he decided to dissolve the Constituent Assembly or to expel the Andradas from the Constituent Assembly. The Emperor watched the three Andrada brothers continue to dominate the situation. Finally he got his horse and, followed by a group of horsemen, went to the Constituent Assembly.

The forces surrounded the Constituent Assembly building and pointed their artillery at the door of the building, and Brigadier Moraes passed on to the Constituent Assembly the Emperors’ order for their dissolution. Antônio Carlos and Martim Francisco were held prisoners as soon as they left the building.

On November 13, 1823 a new group started deliberating the Constitution; at that point most of the articles of the Constitution had been decided and they were in the process of being submitted to the Municipal Chambers of the States for review. Dom Pedro told them to finalize the Constitution by December 13, 1823. This Constitution was to be effective as of December 13, 1823 and the swearing ceremony would be done on March 25, 1824.

The port of Rio de Janeiro was reopened on November 24, 1823 as soon as the ship “Lucônia” left Brazil with the prisoners. When José Bonifácio, Martim Francisco, and Antônio Carlos went down in the ship, they had a nice surprise. Their families were waiting for them to go with them into exile.

In the beginning of 1828, Martim Francisco and Antônio Carlos returned to Brazil with their families. They returned to defend themselves, including José Bonifácio, against all of the charges brought forth by the government. José Bonifácio stayed in France with his wife.

As soon as they arrived in Rio de Janeiro they presented themselves to the authorities who imprisoned them immediately in the prison in the Ilha das Cobras. They prepared their defense and they destroyed their adversaries in court. They got a unanimous absolution on September 6, 1828. Their names were cleared and vindicated.

Political Careers Resumed

When Martim Francisco was in prison he was invited to take a position as a government Minister. He did not accept the offer and told them that first he had to get justice and prove his innocence. Also, when he was in prison in 1828 he was elected Deputado for the Minas Gerais province. Later in 1838, Martim Francisco was elected Deputado for the São Paulo province. Antônio Carlos also was elected Deputado when he returned from exile in 1828, and he resumed his political career in Brazil.

After the Andradas had been vindicated in Brazil, José Bonifácio stayed one more year in France before he returned to Brazil. José Bonifácio left Bordeaux at the end of May 1829 to return to Rio de Janeiro. He arrived in Brazil on July 23, 1829. When José Bonifácio was in exile, the province of Bahia elected him Deputado to represent them in Congress. José Bonifácio returned to Congress as a Bahia representative only on June 22, 1831.

After José Bonifácio’s death in 1838, his brothers Martim Francisco and Antônio Carlos continued their political careers. The political situation was a mess in Brazil in April 1840. The Andrada brothers and other liberal leaders organized a secret club to promote the emancipation of Dom Pedro II. The Andradas began to organize public demonstrations in support of the emancipation of Dom Pedro II, and engaged in debate using the press to get further public support.

Disregarding the pleas from the leader of the government for postponement, a joint session of Congress invested Dom Pedro with imperial authority on July 23, 1840. The young Prince was fourteen years old. He took the oath to uphold the Constitution and from then on he was Emperor Pedro II.

Unlike his father, Dom Pedro II had been born and educated in Brazil. His tutors, starting with José Bonifácio, exposed him to heavy doses of enlightenment thought. During his later years in power some political commentators referred to Dom Pedro II’s government as the best republican government in the Americas.

When the Emperor Dom Pedro II formed his first cabinet of ministers in 1840, he rewarded the Andrada brothers by appointing Antônio Carlos as the Prime Minister, and Martim Francisco as the Finance Minister.

A fact, which many well-educated Brazilians don’t know, is that Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada was entrusted with the job of drafting the Declaration of Independence of Brazil. After reviewing the detail of the document with José Bonifácio, the document was immediately sent to Prince Dom Pedro. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson is the author of the document The Declaration of Independence of the United States. In Brazil, Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada is the author of the document The Declaration of Independence of Brazil.

Fighting Slavery and Landowners

Why was the economic establishment of his time so afraid of José Bonifácio? The basis of the Brazilian economy was agriculture and mining, which were performed by slave labor. As a matter of fact in Brazil they used slave labor for everything including manufacturing (a reason which José Bonifácio highlighted; he pointed out that this was one of the major reasons for the Brazilian low productivity in that sector), as compared with the United States where slave labor was used mostly in agriculture.

José Bonifácio was against slavery, and he wanted to free the slaves. He was also in favor of major agrarian reform. These two issues which José Bonifácio was fighting for so hard would have shaken the Brazilian economy of his time to its foundations. If he was able to end slavery and get his agrarian reform proposal passed, the result would have been that the Brazilian economy would have to go through a major restructuring. These would have been radical changes to the structure of the Brazilian economy of his time and these changes made everyone involved very worried including the landowners, slave owners, and slave traders, and these were a very powerful groups of people of his day.

Most of the above information with the proper footnotes can be found in much more detail in the book José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva – The Greatest Man in Brazilian History by Ricardo C. Amaral. – Copyright © 1999 Publisher: Xlibris Corporation, Tel. # 1-888-795-4274

The book is available to the public in hardcover or softcover at the following website addresses:

Ricardo C. Amaral, the author, was born in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. He attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, USA, where he received a BA degree in Economics and later an MBA degree in Finance. He continued his Academic studies towards a PhD degree in Economics at Fordham University, but then elected to immerse himself totally into a professional corporate career.

Ricardo Amaral is among a very few remaining living descendants of both José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva and his brother Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada, the founding fathers of Brazil. You can contact the author at the following address: Ricardo C. Amaral
P.O. Box 110302
Nutley, New Jersey 07110
Email address:

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