In June of 2004 I wrote the following: “Every September 7 is time to commemorate Brazilian Independence Day, but most Americans never heard of José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva. He is the most important man in Brazilian history. He was responsible for Brazilian independence, and for keeping Brazil together as one country.
“He was responsible for stopping Brazil from splitting into various countries at the time of independence, as the Spanish Empire did in South America. Without José Bonifácio in Brazilian history, we would have five or six independent countries, instead of having the country Brazil as we have today.
“I am a proud descendent of José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, and of his younger brother Martin Francisco who also played an important role in Brazilian independence.
“Every September 7, the Brazilian government has a ceremony to commemorate the Brazilian independence at the statue of my ancestor José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva. The statue is located at Bryant Park on Avenue of the Americas and 41st St. in New York City.
“Every year that event is attended by about 20 cadets of West Point who participate in the ceremony and a number of ambassadors of various countries from the Americas, and around 250 to 300 other guests. Usually the ambassadors of Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and ambassadors of other countries are also present to the ceremony.
“I have been going to this ceremony for many years to represent my family. Last year besides the Brazilian Ambassador, I was the keynote speaker in that event. One thing called my attention in the last year’s ceremony. Besides the usual ambassadors of South American countries, the Ambassador of Angola, and the Chinese Ambassador also were present. I know that China is becoming an important partner for Brazil, but the presence of the Chinese Ambassador to that ceremony confirmed what I already knew.”
Celebration of Brazilian Independence Day
Keynote Speech by Ricardo C. Amaral
Bryant Park – September 7, 2003
Ladies and gentlemen thank you for coming to this commemoration of the Brazilian Independence Day. We are here to honor “The Greatest Man in Brazilian History.” 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.
He is one of the greatest statesmen in world history, but he is unknown to the American public. He is the Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and George Washington of Brazil embodied in one person. 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.
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 he arrived in Brazil in early November 1819 at age 56, 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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 Brazilian Independence Day. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
First Brazilian Constitution
José Bonifácio, and his brothers Martim Francisco, and Antonio Carlos with their leadership, also had a major impact on the Constituent Assembly, and they guided the proceedings of the process of framing the first Brazilian Constitution. That Constitution was effective December 13, 1823.
The Declaration of Independence of Brazil
Today, I also want to acknowledge the major achievement in Brazilian history of José Bonifácio’s younger brother Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada.
There is a sharp contrast between the United States and Brazil in the recognition that they give to the respective authors of their Declaration of Independence documents.
In the United States, Thomas Jefferson is held in the highest esteem by its citizens. However, in Brazil, Martim Francisco Ribeiro de Andrada is not as widely known by the Brazilian population as the author of the document “The Declaration of Independence of Brazil”.
Today, besides honoring José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, we also should honor Martim Francisco for the role he played on Brazilian independence.
You can read other articles by Ricardo C. Amaral at:
Brazzil magazine – Columnist: Ricardo C. Amaral
Ricardo C. Amaral is a writer and economist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.