Friday, April 18, 2014

Empire in the Americas

The mid to late 1860’s were certainly the high water mark of monarchy in the New World. During those crucial years, a time of extreme violence and hardship, the future was forged which determined whether the Americas would be dominated by monarchy or republicanism, at least in terms of numbers. Of course, the Americas had been dominated by monarchy since the time of the first European exploration but these extensions of European monarchies had faded away considerably by the middle of the Nineteenth Century. By 1783 the rebel colonies of Great Britain had broken away from the reign of King George III and formed the United States of America. The last French monarchial foothold was lost with the sale of the Louisiana Territory to President Thomas Jefferson of the United States by the Emperor Napoleon and following the Napoleonic Wars, piece by piece, the Spanish colonies had broken from their empire to form a patchwork of independent republics, most with the support of the United States and Great Britain. A short-lived effort to establish a monarchy in Mexico, formerly New Spain, in 1821 ended in failure and was so short-lived it often escapes notice. Following the slave revolt in Haiti several leaders claimed monarchial, even imperial, status for themselves but none lasted very long with the self-proclaimed Emperor Faustin I being deposed in 1859.

However, there was one, big exception to this trend and that was to be found in Brazil. 1822 saw the emergence of the Empire of Brazil, breaking away from the Kingdom of Portugal and the wider Portuguese colonial empire, to establish itself as an independent country. The first emperor, Dom Pedro I, eventually returned to Portugal to take up the throne there (both countries still shared the same Royal Family) and in the aftermath there was some confusion and some growing pains. However, under the reign Dom Pedro II, from 1831-1889, the Empire of Brazil became a stable and extremely significant South American power. It also managed, from the start, to stay on relatively good terms with the large and expanding United States in North America. The United States was the first to recognize Brazilian independence and was always quick to encourage independence movements in the Americas as a way of supplanting European influence in the hemisphere. On that score, however, the Empire of Brazil and the United States did not always see eye-to-eye and Brazil (along with other countries such as Argentina) resisted some of America’s more ambitious plans for pan-American cooperation in opposing Europe because these countries had closer and friendlier ties with European countries. Certainly, they had broken ties with their former motherlands and there was often no love lost between them, but after the publication of the Monroe Doctrine, not a few viewed the United States next door as a greater potential threat to their independence than the European countries across the Atlantic.

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.

Emperor Maximilian, despite the continuing troubles which beset his Mexican Empire from day one, was not without a grand vision of his own. His dream was for a Mexican Empire that would become a major scientific, artistic and military power with a navy that would dominate the Gulf of Mexico and which would expand into Central America, reclaiming those republics which had briefly been part of the original Mexican Empire. He also continued to have the greatest admiration for the Empire of Brazil and envisioned Mexico and Brazil becoming close partners in Latin America, being the twin pillars of a new age of “enlightened” monarchy in the Americas. He even entertained some hope of the two empires being joined by marriage. Maximilian put the idea to his brother, Emperor Francis Joseph, for the marriage of their younger brother, Archduke Ludwig, to one of the daughters of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. This would unite Mexico and Brazil alongside Austria in the bonds of Hapsburg matrimony and create a sort of Hapsburg Byzantine Empire, sitting astride of the primary artery of trade which the Emperor of the French planned to build across Central America. Aside from these grand, dynastic aspirations, he was also quite convinced that Dom Pedro II was just the sort of good example and guiding influence Archduke Ludwig needed to set him on the right path in life. However, as we know, this was not to be. Still, a partnership with Imperial Brazil was never far from the thoughts of the Emperor of Mexico and he foresaw a New World that would be dominated by three great powers: the United States of America in the north, the Empire of Brazil in the south and the Mexican Empire in the middle.

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.

The year 1867 was to be the last year in which two empires would stand on American soil. The Civil War having ended in a Union victory in 1865, the United States put pressure on Napoleon III to withdraw French troops from the country and to prevent Austria from sending any reinforcements. Then, support in men, money, guns and war material of every kind poured in to the republican rebels of Benito Juarez who succeeded in demolishing the Mexican Empire and (against the wishes of the United States) having Emperor Maximilian and all his top generals shot. All the grand dreams of both Maximilian and Napoleon III had come to a sudden end. Only the Empire of Brazil persevered. Under Dom Pedro II it became the most advanced and prosperous country in Latin America. Yet, it was also in 1867 that Dom Pedro II made the speech that would prove to be the beginning of the end of his empire.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent overview!

    It's a shame that only the Commonwealth Realms retain monarchies in the Americas, especially given the socio-political advantages of Royal patronage. One needs only to skim the over the crime rates: Canada, British Honduras, and the Caribbean Realms have proven vastly more stable than their republican counterparts.

    My only critique: Napoleon only ever governed Louisiana during his tenure as "First Consul" of the French Republic (he sold it to America in 1803, a year before his coronation). The last monarch to reign over the Territory was HM Carlos IV of Spain.


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