Friday, April 18, 2014
Empire in the Americas
One high-born European visitor to the Empire of Brazil was the idealistic Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, younger brother of Emperor Francis Joseph. A lover of nature and romanticism, the Archduke was positively intoxicated by the Empire of Brazil which seemed like a tropical paradise, full of nothing but promise and he was no doubt greatly impressed by the rule of Dom Pedro II, a very liberal minded monarch, whose values so closely resembled his own. Eventually, he would be in a similar position, though he could never have imagined it at the time. Where others had worked hard for years to spread republicanism throughout Latin America, on both sides of the Atlantic truth be known, there was one man who tried to revive the idea of monarchy in the New World and that man was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, since 1852 Emperor Napoleon III of the French. He envisioned building a canal across Central America, perhaps across Mexico, perhaps further south, that would open up new avenues of trade and he also envisioned a new generation of monarchies from Mexico down to the Andes that would be part of a new French-friendly bloc of nations. He allied with Mexican conservatives, sent in his army and in no time at all had occupied Mexico City. In 1864 the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was crowned Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. The French Emperor also began exploring the possibility of a pro-French monarchy for Ecuador but that dream was to remain unfulfilled.
The primary obstacle to that grand vision was, of course, the United States which refused to recognize the Mexican Empire and worked diligently to thwart any European powers from supporting it and to aid the republican rebels fighting against Maximilian. It was made perfectly clear from day one that the United States would not tolerate any monarchy on American soil and that it was only because the Confederate States of America blocked U.S. access to the Mexican border that military action was not taken immediately against Maximilian and the French army. The War Between the States/American Civil War was raging north of the Rio Grande and ultimately the fate of the Mexican Empire rested on the death or survival of the Confederacy. There was also no hope of any sort of close cooperation with Imperial Brazil as Dom Pedro II was also at war with Paraguay and relations between the United States and the Empire of Brazil were not too friendly at that time either. A major incident occurred that threatened a major break when a U.S. warship violated Brazilian neutrality by attacking a Confederate vessel, the commerce raider CSS Florida, in Bahia Harbor and seizing it. Brazil angrily protested but, being engaged in a bitter war already could do little about it. The United States also wished to focus on “one war at a time” (as Lincoln famously said about a similar problem with Britain) and so court martialed the officer responsible but never carried out his punishment and ended up promoting him to captain. They did agree to hand the captured Confederate vessel over to Brazil but it sunk, supposedly by accident, during transfer and that was basically the end of it.
In the Speech from the Throne that year, Dom Pedro II announced his wish to gradually and peacefully, but certainly irrevocably, abolish slavery in Brazil. It was a slower process than was seen in the United States certainly but it also did not rip the country in two and cost over 600,000 lives. When slavery was finally abolished in 1888, however, it did cost Brazil its monarchy. Disgruntled elites and junior army officers embraced republicanism and launched a coup that abolished the monarchy and declared Brazil a republic on November 15, 1889. Dom Pedro II certainly fared better than the tragic Maximilian but both were alike in that they were, in many ways, too good for their own good. With the loss of the Empire of Brazil, republicanism has remained the dominant form of government in the New World to the present day. With an angry proclamation in Brazil and a hail of gunfire in Mexico, the dream of a liberal monarchist Latin America had vanished and all countries involved would be the worse off because of it. What should also be emphasized is that, despite what short-sighted leaders thought at the time, the demise of the Mexican and Brazilian Empires was ultimately bad for the United States as well. When one considers the problems of human trafficking, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, bloody revolutions and Marxist dictatorships which the United States has been obliged to deal with over so many decades; all of these could have been avoided if the dream of Maximilian for monarchy in the Americas had become a reality. A prosperous and stable neighbor is always to be preferred to a poor and chaotic one but if this lesson was ever learned, it was learned too late.