Who made Brazil’s Old Republic? – Coffee, Slavery, and the Making of a New Ruling Class in Late 19th Century

Pedro Salgado


The political consolidation of Brazil as a sovereign political unit – a monarchy under an American branch of the House of Braganza – comes with the crowning of a young Pedro II in 1841. But only throughout the second half of the nineteenth century the social and economic fundaments of the Brazilian Empire begin to differ from those it inherited from the final moments of the colonial period. From 1850 onwards the social conditions upon which independence was achieved and territorial sovereignty consolidated went through substantial changes, which are essential for understanding the fall of the monarchy and the rise of the republic in 1889. In particular, I argue that transformations on the form of property over land and the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade – both in 1850 – paved the way to the ascension of a different class of landowners, namely, the coffee planters in the western portion of the São Paulo province. I also suggest (not as an a priori assumption, but as an outcome of historical investigation) that the analytical key to understand this transformation of the social property relations in Brazil is the intra-elite (“horizontal”) class struggle in that period, which must be understood in the context of its closer connection to British informal empire. This allows for a renewed argument about the social and geopolitical roots of Brazilian capitalism, constituting a shift from colonialism to dependency as the main explanatory tool for Brazil’s international relations.

Brazil - Historical Sociology - International Relations - Capitalism - Political Marxism