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History of Brazil - Summary


 Prof Bruno Ferreira


History of Brazil does not have a well-defined initial milestone. Nevertheless, traditionally, there is a recurring date on the arrival of the Portuguese with Pedro Álvares Cabral, on April 22, 1500, to the coastal region of which bahia is today. This would then be the "discovery ofBrazil". However, it is worth mentioning that this is the discovery of the Portuguese. Several ethnic groups already inhabited the territory that came to be Brazil long before any European landed in it.

Brazil is the historical result of several different projects that followed a specific geographical delimitation. First it was a project of conquest; then, a colonization  project;already in the nineteenth century, a project of Empire and constitution of a nation state;and, finally, a project of Brazil Republic, which is what is tried to maintain to this day.

Our hymns, flags,coats of arms, emblems, words of order, and everything that brings us to national identity,relate to thisconstruction. To be a patriot is to be adept at a nation project, which often diverges from other projects that are also under construction. Therefore, it would be more necessary to refer to the process of the arrival of the Portuguese as the invention ofBrazil, from which different projects were followed.

 Complete course on History of Brazil at the link below.

Pre-Cabraline Period (~ -1500)

Before the arrival of the Portuguese, there were several ethnic groups occupying the territory that, in the future, would be called Brazil. The Pre-Cabralino period concerns, as its name suggests, the history that precedes the contact of these peoples separated by the Atlantic.

For some time, it was common to find the name "Prehistory of Brazil", which is no longer considered appropriate by most historians and anthropologists. History does not come into existence after the arrival of the Portuguese. And even if there is the argument that this expression preserves the notion that history concerns written sources, from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, historiography has developed a lot in view of methodologies that analyze other types of sources.

It is estimated that the first peoples  began to inhabit the territory where Brazil is now  60,000 years ago. However, due to this enormous time frame and the absence of any attempt to preserve its beginning, much has been lost from the integrity of this story.

In this sense, one of the most worked indications by archeology about the Brazilian territory are sambaquis,  which consist of deposits of organic matter and limestone formed by human action and which, over time, have undergone a process of fossilization. They offer important information about the first populations  that inhabited our territory around 2,000 to 8,000 years ago.

With the arrival of  the Jesuitsin  the mid-16th century, a series of "grammatical works" were produced with the aim of standardizing some "difficult languages" of the colony. In this venture, valuable knowledge about indigenous languages of the period corresponding to the arrival of the Portuguese in America was catalogued.

Thus it was discovered that there were four main linguisticgroups, namely: the Tupi-Guarani, the Caribbean, the macro-jê and the arauaque. From these linguistic trunks, as they are also called, derive a series of ethnic groups and linguistic variations that give rise to modern indigenous languages.


Pre-Colonial Period (1500-1530)

After April 22, 1500, with the arrival of the Portuguese in the United States, these new unknown lands did not arouse much interest in the Crown immediately. The Portuguese Empire was at that time focused on trade with the Indies, which, in turn, was already in the process of decline, since the seizure of  Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, ending the Byzantine Empire.

The French, on the other hand, were not long after, and at the beginning of the 16th century, they sent vessels to the South Atlantic, as they were keeping an eye on these new lands and questioned the Luso-Spanish division determined by the Treaty of Tordesilhas. In  1555, they established a colony inGuanabaraBay, known as Antarctic  France.

Portugal, at this initial moment, promoted the so-called exploitative  expeditions in South American territory with the objective of recognizing and mapping the territory and establishing contact with the  native  Indians. The  main product extracted from theselands, until then, was a tree native to the Atlantic Forest that came to be called  brazilwood.

It is interesting to know that the name Brazil comes before the Brazilian land itself. Since the 14th century, European maps have attributed it, withseveral possible variants(Bracil, Brazille, Bersil, Braxili,  etc.), to one or more islands, "expressing a still mythical geographical horizon", according to historian Laura de Mello e Souza. However, on May 1, 1500, in a letter,Pero Vaz de Caminha referred to this land by Vera Cruz. Later, other names were also used, such as Terra dos Papagaios and Santa Cruz.

At the end of the Pre-Colonial Period,in1530, when Portugal sends expeditions with the aim of establishing settlers and implementing a colonial administration, the name State of Brazil becomes official. If you want to know more about this period, read:  Pre-Colonial Period.




Colonial Period (1530-1815)

In 1530, Portugal sent Martim Afonso de Souza as head of  a colonizing expedition. His mission was to fight the French traffickers, who worried the Crown, establish some settlement nuclei in the coastal region and seek precious metals. For this, it was Afonso de Souza appointed captain-major, which accumulated the function of exercising civil and criminal justice,  distributing sesmarias, claimingland in the name of the king and appointing officials for colonial administration.

In 1532, the explorer received the order, coming from King John III, to implement the system of hereditary captaincies. In this system, the newly discovered territory was divided into 15 lots, which formed 14 captaincies, and  the donatarian captains were appointed responsible for the administration of each of them. The system is implemented in 1534 (in it, Martim Afonso de Souza himself becomes the captaincy of São Vicente) and lasts until 1548,  when the general  governmentarises, with the aim of centralizing the colonial administration of the entire territory.


It is also in the captaincy of São Vicente that Martim Afonso de Souza establishes, in the mid-sixteenth century, the first sugar mill (which, until the mid-seventeenth century, would be the main export of the colony), inaugurating, then, the sugar cycle. The plantation system  was the model used in this type of production. Extensive territorial bands were granted to the masters of ingenuity,who, armed with the fertility of the land,  the slave  labor and the monoculture of sugarcane, became the main economic, social and political elite from then on.

At first, the Portuguese used the indigenous slave labor. However, with the pressure of  the growing slave trade,alreadyin the mid-sixteenth century, black enslavement became the largest source of work, with Brazil receiving about 4.9 million African slaves until the 19th century, when the  Eusébio de Queirós Law was enacted in 1850.

The end of  the sugar cycle is marked by the invasion and attempt of  Dutch colonization. The Dutch were able to establish themselves in 1637, and until 1644, Count Maurice of Nassau ruled the region of Pernambuco, which also began to produce sugar. However, in 1645, with the support of England, the Portuguese returned to fight the Dutch, in what became known as the Pernambuco insurrection,until, in1654, they were able to re-establish the city of Olinda as possession of the Portuguese Crown.

From then on, the Dutch settled in Central America and began to compete with their sugar production,directly harming the foreign trade of the Portuguese. With this, the  entrances and flags begin to turn in search of precious metals, until, already at the end of the seventeenth century, in the region of the captaincy of São Paulo, significant amounts are found,  beginning the  gold cycle.

The Colonial Period is also marked by a series of conflicts and uprisings,such as nativactivist  rebellions  and separatist rebellions. Especially from the end of the 17th century, the interests of a growing local elite and Portuguese began to create problems for colonial administration.

In addition, the Portuguese Royal  Family,under threat of French invasion in Portugal, flees to Brazil,  which in 1815 is designated the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, with Rio de Janeiro being the home of the kingdom's administration. This movement ended the Colonial Period.

Since the end of the 18th century, processes of independence of the English, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies have begun to take place. The conflicts between the Brazilian Party, the name given to the political group that defended local interests, and the Portuguese were increasingly accentuated, culminating, in 1822,in the process of independence of Brazil. For more details of this period, visit:  Brasil Colônia.

Read also: Differences between Indigenous Slavery and African Slavery

Imperial Period

Imperial period runs from 1822, with the independence of Brazil, until 1889, with the proclamation of the Republic,and is  divided into three main phases:the  First Reign  (1822-1831), the Regencial  Period (1831-1840) and the Second Reign  (1840-1889). Although, since 1815, Brazil had become the Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves,as a direct consequence of the transfer of the Court to Rio de Janeiro.

Other important measures were taken,such as the opening of ports to friendly nations in1808, the  founding of Banco do Brasil in the same year, the  treaties of 1810,the  foundation of the Royal Library,the French Artistic Mission in1816, among other things. It is estimated that between 10 and 15,000 people boarded for Brazil between November 25 and 27, 1807. Entire administrative structures have settled across the Atlantic.

Since then, Brazil has undergone major transformations. In politics, for example, there was an  emancipationist movement, inspired by the Enlightenment ideals, in the captaincy of Pernambuco. Known as  the Pernambucan Revolution,or Revolution of theFathers, such a mutiny was strongly suppressed by the Kingdom.

These and other conflicts established in this period, added to the Liberal Revolution of Porto  and the return of the Court to Portugal,were decisive for the Process of Brazilian Independence, which Portugal only officially recognized in 1825, after receiving a large indemnity.

·         First Reign

The main icon of Brazilian independence was Pedro de Alcântara  (the fourth son of D. João VI), who, after this process, becomes the first emperor of Brazil,assuming the nickname Pedro I ofBrazil. Unlike his father, Peter I admired Enlightenment  ideals,defended  liberal ideas,such as the abolition of slavery,and individual freedoms.

  Complete course on History of Brazil at the link below.

In this context, two formal political groups emerge in the dispute for spaces of power:the Portuguese Party, which concentrated defenders of absolutism,of a centralized and strong government, of Portuguese merchants and, often, of the restoration of Brazil as a colony ofPortugal; and the Brazilian Party, composed of Brazilian merchants, landowners and slave owners, whose main objectives were in the defense and expansion of rights and privileges conquered.

In 1823, the National Constituent Assembly was installed,which gave rise to the Political Constitution of the Empire ofBrazil, of 1824. Although, at first, its role would be to limit the powers of the monarch, according to enlightenment ideals, the Constitution of 1824 had a strong authoritarian and centralizing character, especially through the institution of moderating  power.

Still with remnants of the Pernambuco Revolution in the air, after the promulgation of the Constitution of 1824 and its expressly authoritarian character, the Pernambucans again revolted, and in July 1824, the Confederation of Ecuadorwas triggered, of a separatist and republicancharacter. Soon after, the Empire became involved in the  Cisplatine War,bringing even more unpopularity to D. Pedro I.

In 1826, with the death of John VI, the emperor's father, a succession problem opens up in the Lusitanian monarchy. Faced with this and the inability to calm the spirits in Brazil, Pedro I abdicates the throne and leaves his son, Pedro II, only five years old, as his successor. However, the 1824 Constitution itself determined that the emperor should be at least 21 years old to take office. It was necessary, therefore, to establish a regency government, inaugurating a new phase of the Imperial Period.

·         Regency Period

The Regency Period was marked by a series of constant conflicts with the central government, creating successive frameworks of political  instability,aggravated by the serious economic situation. Political forces were basically divided into two aspects: liberals and conservatives, those with greater political presence.

In an attempt to contain these rebellions, in 1834 an additional act was  enacted that revised important points of the Constitution of 1824, providing, among other things, greater autonomy of the provinces. Yet that wasn't enough. Among these regenciais revolts, the:  Revolt of the Malês  (1835),  Cabanagem  (1835-1840),  Sabinada  (1837-1838),  Balaiada  (1838-1841) and Revolta dos Farrapos  (1835-1845) stood out.

In July 1840, under the initiative of the liberals, who pressed the Regency, was given the Blow of Majority,naming  D. Pedro II,at the age of 14, emperor of Brazil. It was an attempt by liberals to take up more space in political decisions, as well as enabling a way to contain the political unrest that raged throughout the territory. Thus, the Second Reign begins  (1840-1889).

·         Second Reign

During this period, profound transformations occurred. The economy of the Empire, which, since the gold cycle, was in serious difficulties, found in the increase in coffee consumption abroad the possibility of increasing its exports, thus reducing its trade deficit. This attitude started the  coffee cycle. This activity, which had already occurred even before the arrival of the Portuguese Court, therefore, accelerated.

Economic power began to transfer from the Northeast to the Southeast of the country, where coffee plantations were concentrated. At the same time, the agricultural production system itself, the plantation,is beginning to come understrong pressure, especially from the English, with the demand for an end to the slave trade and, consequently, the abolition of slavery.

However, only with the enactment of  abolitionistlaws, from 1850 with the Eusébio de Queirós Law, the fight against slavery began to be put into practice in Brazil. Another important event, both for abolition and for socio-political formation that gave rise to the movement to overthrow the Brazilian monarchy, was the  Paraguayan War  (1864-1870). Slaves were sent to the battlefield, many of them even obliged, under the promise of alforria after the end of the conflict.

After the Brazilian victory, and its high level of indebtedness to finance the war, D. Pedro II is politically weakened, while the military now occupies more space within the political debate. They are even the ones who head the proclamation of the Republicin1889. If you want to delve deeper into this period in the history of Brazil, read:  Brasil Império.

Read also:  Princess Elizabeth - responsible for the signing of the Law Of The Year

Republican Period

The Brazilian Republic, period under which the country is still in force,can be divided as follows:  First Republic/Old Republic  (1889-1930),  Provisional Government  (1930-1934),  Vargas Constitutional  (1934-19  The New State (1937-1945), the Fourth Republic (1945-1964),  the Military  Dictatorship (1964-1985), and the New Republic (1985-to present day).

It is important to highlight that, even in the face of the republican system, Brazil has historically serious difficulties in staying under the democratic regime. During this period, six other constitutions were promulgated, two of which (the 1937 Estado Novo and the 1967 military dictatorship) were strongly authoritarian.

·         First Republic

Early in the Republic, during the presidency of Prudente de Morais, the first civilian elected and by popular vote, one of the greatest armed conflicts of the period broke out, whose motivations are still uncertain and imprecise: the War of the Canudos  (1896-1897).

This period of the First Republic was also marked by the alternation of power, between the oligarchies of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, which became known as the policy of coffee with milk. This type of policy contributed even more to the isolation of the other states of the federation and consolidated the hegemony of the Southeast of the country.


Only in 1930, with the military civil movement led by Getúlio Vargas, after Washington Luís's victory as the national executive was questioned by the Liberal Alliance, the Revolution of 1930began. Brazil, from then on, begins a new phase of the Republic.

·         Era Vargas

During the Vargas Era  (1930-1945), there was a rearrangement of political forces, which focused on middle sectors of urban centers. This was also the period of greatest industrial growth in the history of Brazil. That's when, too, the  Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT) was created, on May 1, 1943, unifying and expanding workers' rights, among other things.

However, it is important to emphasize that the Estado Novo was a dictatorship that persecutedpolitical leaders, especially linked to the Communist Party of Brazil, in addition to having made an alliance, in some moments, with the Brazilian IntegralistAction,  fascist-inspired,  with Lusitano Integralism and with the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.

At the same time, Vargas had a strong capillarity in workers' movements, even managing to closely control the activities of the unions. For these reasons, Vargas is often called a populist. However, a historiography already consolidated in the subject identifies problems of this type of attribution, since it treats the mass of voters who supported it not because it is easily manipulated around a power project, but because a considerable part of its demands was met by the Executive.

In fact, Getúlio Vargas is a personality with many nuances. The whole era that bears its name in the history of the Republic of Brazil is divided into very different moments, being on different sides of the political spectrum and meeting seemingly contradictory demands. Even today it is the main political and historical reference for Brazilian work.

However, the tradition of work left by Vargas became a major political threat, according to the military and forces of the National Democratic Unity (UDN), who wanted his resignation. In the second half of the 1940s, there followed a series of pressures seeking to interfere in the already fragile democracy recently established after the end of the Estado Novo. Vargas was elected in 1950 bydirect vote, assumed the presidency in 1951 and, under pressure from the military, who were already threatening a coup in the country,  committed suicide in the early hours of August 24, 1954.

Despite this act "slowing the coup", the climate of political instability has intensified increasingly. In 1961, when Vargas' former minister of labor, João Goulart,then vice president of Brazil, was supposed to assume the presidency of the Republic after the resignation  of Jânio Quadros, the military tried to stop him.

That's when Leonel Brizola, on that occasion governor of Rio Grande do Sul, promoted the campaign of legality,even taking up armsto secure the inauguration of the new president. Despite this, in April 1964,   the military coup in Brazil was triggered, with the support of the United States of America,establishing a dictatorship that lasted 21 years.

·         Military Dictatorship

During the Military Dictatorship,a series of achievements obtained with the 1946 Constitution, in the brief period of the Fourth Republic, were suspended with the promulgations of institutional acts. In 1968,  The AI-5, considered the coup within the coup,  banned political  meetings, performed  prior censorship in films, books, plays and television programs, suspended the habeas corpus, granted the president the right to close the National Congress, among other things. This document institutionalized repression in the country.

During this period, important artistic movements also emerged that stood alongside resistance to the regime,such  as new cinema   and Tropicalism,and that revolutionized their respective fields of activity in Brazil, having reverberation until the present day. From 1974 on, the process of political opening of the regime began slowly and gradually, with the aim of handing over political power to civilians.

In 1985 the executive branch is, in fact, delivered by the military. Still indirectly, Tancredo Neves is elected president of Brazil, but before he even took office, he died of a widespread infection. José Sarney,the vice president, finally assumed the presidency of Brazil in March 1985, ending the period of the Military Dictatorship.

·         New Republic

This is how the Period of the New Republic begins. To this day, this is  the longest  democratic period in our history, its beginning was marked by the fight against hyperinflation, in addition to an external debt that, during military governments, grew 30 times. To date, eight presidents have been succeeded, the first of which was elected Fernando Collor de Melloin1989.

In 1988  was also promulgated a new  Constitution, which, for the wide guarantee of access to public services, received the nickname of Citizen Constitution. Despite being the largest democratic period in Brazilian history, the New Republic has already gone through two impeachment (or impeachment)processes.

In the presidential regime, as is the case in Brazil since it became a Republic, the impeachment process must be committed with many caveats,since the dynamics of the office of president gives him more powers than the office of prime minister, as is the case of parliamentarism. Otherwise, the very  credibility of the democratic regime is put at risk,highlighting that it is a political-legal process,whichminimizes  the power of voting. In order to delve further into this subject, read:  Brazil Republic.

 Complete course on History of Brazil at the link below.