Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva, Jose
José Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva is one of the most important men in
Brazilian history. Without the
leadership of Bonifacio, Brazil may have never been united and could have
been split into several different countries. He has been known as the
“Patriarch of Independence” of Brazil. Although he is one of the greatest
statesmen in world history, he is unknown to much of the American public.
Bonifacio’s success with Brazil starts with his own personal knowledge.
Bonifacio was very well educated. He studied mathematics, philosophy,
astronomy and law at some of the best universities of his time. He received
a philosophy degree in 1787 and his law degree in 1788. He also did further
research in the top universities in France, Germany and Scandinavia. He was
also associated with some of the best scientists of his day like Vauquelin,
Priestley, Lavoisier and many others.
His personal travels also contributed to his vast knowledge. He traveled
extensively through out Europe from 1789 through 1800. By Bonifacio traveling
to different areas around Europe, he was able to observe how different people
and cultures were organized. He could use the bits of knowledge from each
place to assist him in his success with operating the society of Brazil. In
addition to all of his travels, Bonifacio was fluent in six languages including
Portuguese, English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. All in all, he
understood eleven languages and had complete command of Greek and Latin.
Bonifacio’s accomplishments in education were unusual. The
majority of people in Bonifacio’s environment were not well educated. In
1822, the Brazilian population was around 4.4 million people and of this
number 2 million people were white and only about 10 percent of them were
literate or semi-literate. In 1890, the Brazilian population of 14 million
only had 14.8 percent who were literate or semi-literate. As one can see,
the world in which Bonifacio lived in was surrounded with people living in
a very limited world where the great majority was uneducated or even semi-literate.
José Bonifacio was given his great opportunity to unite Brazil when Dom
the Prince Regent (later Emperor), appointed him Prime Minister
and this gave him unlimited authority. Bonifacio basically got his foot
in the door with the help of Dom Pedro. Pedro introduced Bonifacio to the
public by bringing him to official ceremonies and handing him the bastion
of mordomo-mor, symbol of uncontested prestige on a variety of different occasions.
Bonifacio did not exactly know that when he returned to Brazil, after his
studies in Europe in 1819, that he would be playing the part of the founding
father of Brazil. His intentions when he came to Brazil were to retire with
his family and do scientific research and writing. To Brazil, he was a
respected and well know scientist in the top scientific research centers of
Europe. Little did he know what was in store for him.
Much of Bonifacio’s accomplishments were done in a very short period of
three years from 1821 to 1823. It has yet to be seen another leader who can
out due this accomplishment. During those three years, Bonifacio generated an
enormous amount of hatred that any politician had ever endured in Brazil. He
aggravated the politicians and some people of Brazil with his new ideas. He
could only trust a few friends and his brothers, Martim Francisco and Antonio
Carlos who aided in the effort to gain independence of Brazil.
Bonifacio had a clear vision of what was needed in order to operate a
modern state. His vision was clear, objective and realistic. In many
government written documents it is clear that he had an understanding of what
kind of social and economic problems were taking place in Brazil. He also was
very realistic as to what needed to be done in order to solve the problems.
Bonifacio wanted to make a smoother transition than that of France during the
French Revolution. He also kept in mind the current independence that was
being sought by Latin America from Spain. His thoughts may have been
considered to be way ahead of his time and a little too radical.
Although Bonifacio’s actions may have been considered somewhat arrogant,
inflexible, and firm, the people of Brazil could not deny that he was defending
their interests. March 1822 to December 1822 was a critical nine-month period
in which Bonifacio issued decrees establishing foundations, which would give
the social, political and economic structure for a new nation. During
Bonifacio’s participation in the provisory government of Sao Paulo, he
prepared a document called “Lembrancas e Apontamentos” on October 9, 1821.
This document may be seen as the most important document in the history of
reforms in Brazil. It provided a complete master plan for the new nation and
detailed all the necessary building blocks of social, political and economic
Bonifacio intended to rattle the economic structure of Brazil. The economy
of Brazil was based on agriculture and mining which was done by slave labor.
Bonifacio was not in favor of slavery and wanted to free the slaves. He was
also in favor of agrarian reform. In order for him to end slavery and get
agrarian reform, the Brazilian economy would have to go through a major
reconstruction. These changes were considered radical in his time and caused
powerful groups such as landowners, slave owners, and slave traders to worry.
People were not sure if they were ready to trust Bonifacio’s radical changes.
Bonifacio is credited with the independence of Brazil, but he could not
have done it with out his great supporters. Bonifacio and his brothers were
commonly called the “Andrada Brothers” by historians. They were mostly
considered to be radicals. One of his brothers, Martim Francisco held the
position of Finance Minister of Brazil. Martim and Bonifacio were not
considered great orators. Both him and José exuded their arrogance when
speaking. On the other hand, Antonio Carlos was a great orator. He was
considered the greatest orator in Brazil in his generation. He took the
leadership position of guiding the proceedings of the framing of the first
Brazilian Constitution. There were nearly one hundred representatives of the
States in the Constituent Assembly besides the Andrada brothers, but only three
or four other people made actual contributions to the framing of the
Constitution. Martim Francisco is credited with the Declaration of
Independence of Brazil. Francisco drafted the document and reviewed details
of it with Bonifacio.
The Andrada brothers wrote editorials in their newspaper O Tamoio
attacking the administration. They saw what the Portuguese were doing as
trying to reunite Brazil with Portuguese. Francisco and Bonifacio made constant
attacks on the cabinet of ministers enticing embarrassment. This enticement
upset the emperor and the Constituent Assembly worried that their existence
was in jeopardy. The emperor was infuriated with the Andrada brothers and
decided to expel the Andradas from the Constituent Assembly. The Andrada’s
continued to dominate the situation, which led the emperor to dissolving the
Constituent Assembly. The Andrada’s were then exiled.
Deliberation on the Constitution was started by a new group on November
13,1823. Much of the articles of the Constitution had already been decided
on and was already in the process of being submitted to the Municipal Chambers
of the State for review.
Years later in the beginning of 1828, Martim Francisco and Antonio Carlos
returned to Brazil with their families. They wanted to defend themselves and
clear their names. Bonifacio stayed behind in France with his wife, but the
brothers were also there in defense of him. When they arrived in Brazil, they
were immediately imprisoned in the “Ilha das Cobras.” The brothers prepared an
outstanding defense that shattered their adversaries in court. They received a
unanimous absolution on September 6, 1828 and their names were vindicated and
After the brothers were vindicated of all charges, Antonio Carlos was
elected Deputado and resumed a political career in Brazil while Martim Francisco
was also elected Deputado for the Sao Paulo province. José Bonifacio stayed one
more year in France before he returned to Brazil. He arrived in Brazil on
July 23, 1829. While in exile, the province of Bahia elected him Deputado
to represent them in Congress. He returned to Congress as a Bahía
representative on June 22, 1831.
Bonifacio not only
accomplished the independence of Brazil, but he did it without much bloodshed
and war. One can only imagine what more Brazil could have attained if José
Bonifacio had not been exiled. Bonifacio is
the “Patriarch of Independence.” When he was surrounded by people who did not
understand his efforts, he steadily pursued what he knew to be true. The people
of Brazil cannot celebrate its independence without celebrating the life of
José Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva.
See Josh Rupert, "José
Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva for another short biography.