Leandro Machado is a teacher of Portuguese and freelance translator who has produced several English-language translations of the works of the Brazilian Romantic poet and playwright Álvares de Azevedo. The poem below is the work of Machado and the accompanying introduction is written by Stephen Basdeo.
Pedro Ivo was the great hero of the Brazilian Revolution of 1848 (also called the Praieira Rebellion). The son of a colonel, he was born in Olinda and during his youth was witness to several popular insurrections. He later became a soldier and was sent to Pará and to Cabanagem in 1835 to put down a rebellion. Evidently, his views on resistance to authority changed between 1835 and 1848.
In the nineteenth century Brazil was a constitutional monarchy ruled by Dom Pedro II.
The Brazilian Revolution of 1848 was not occasioned by any tyrannical act on Dom Pedro II’s part but was instead the result of the great emperor taking a step back from political affairs. Under the Brazilian constitution, the emperor—much like what happened in Britain during the Georgian era—was permitted to select his cabinet based on whichever party emerged triumphant after an election (all men with an income of Rs 100$000 per year were obligated to vote in elections—this financial threshold was much lower, in relative terms, to the forty shilling freehold voting threshold that existed in Great Britain).
In 1847, Pedro II decided that he would no longer appoint an entire cabinet but select a small Council of State who, working in concert with the ruling party, would make all the necessary appointments in the national and regional senates. It seemed like common sense.
Yet when the Conservatives were returned to power in 1848, and a Conservative was appointed as President of Pernambuco, with its capital in Recife, hard-line Liberals—who had held sway there for the best part of a decade—were much aggrieved. It was not only with political upsets that the Pernambucan Liberals, and their allies among the mercantile classes, had to contend (unusually for Brazil at this point, the majority of the population of Pernambuco was free and not enslaved). Recife was one of the most important ports in the whole empire and Pernambuco’s main exports were hides, sugar, coffee, and cotton. The passage of the Aberdeen Act (1845)—a rigorously enforced British law which gave the British Royal Navy the power to seize any Brazilian ships they suspected of involvement in the slave trade—and Britain’s imposition of high tariffs on slave-made goods, meant that the region’s primary exports plummeted to unseen levels.
The Rise of a New Political Party
Brazilians in Pernambuco saw Britain’s measures as an affront to its national sovereignty and a betrayal of the principles of free trade which the United Kingdom supposedly espoused. As exports dried up, plantations and merchants, in debt to Portuguese bankers and creditors—many of whom had remained in Brazil after independence—became bankrupt and so a new political party, which broke away from the Liberals, was founded in Pernambuco to represent the commercial interests of the free people, the mercantile classes, and the aggrieved plantation classes.
The name of the new party was Praia, named after the Rua da Praia where the party’s newspaper, O Diario Novo, was based. Successful in local and then national elections during the 1840s, the Praia, under Antonio Pinto Chicorro de Gama, began to mobilise the landless free labourers against the central government by denouncing social inequalities, blaming the Portuguese population of rich bankers for all the region’s ills, while stuffing important regional posts such as chief of police with their own men.
A pamphlet war against the region’s Conservative Party also ensued, and radical street orators were a regular site in the region’s streets. The Conservatives responded with insults along the lines of calling the Praia supporters an ‘inferior and ignorant’ group of men.
However, much of the Praia’s anger was contained because during the 1840s, at a national level, their sister Liberal Party was in power. They moaned about the influence of bankers and land inequalities, but until the return of the Conservatives to power in the Imperial Senate in September 1848, the Praia’s grievances were carried out mainly through the medium of the press.
When the Conservatives assumed power, they did exactly what the ruling Liberals had done in the previous decade: They filled the important national and regional offices of state, including those in Pernambuco, with their own men. The Conservative Herculano Ferreira Pena was appointed as President of Pernambuco. The Praia simply could not accept this and equated the Conservatives’ measures with those which an empire imposes upon an ‘inferior’ colony.
Having been admirers of the French Revolution in February 1848, on 7 November an armed group of planters, paupers, artisans, migrant workers, and liberal civil servants in Olinda, led by Pedro Ivo da Silveira, took up arms and began burning Conservative landowners’ fields, freeing prisoners, and entering into skirmishes with landowners’ private armies.
Yet it was all over within a year. Despite taking the city of Recife, most of the rebels were quickly hunted down and their trials began on 17 August 1849, with the Conservative judge Jozé Thomaz Nabuco Araujo presiding over the proceedings. Many of the rural labourers and the free workers claimed that they only participated in the revolt on the orders of their superiors, that they were not political, and barely understood how the constitution worked as it was, and had no clue about the reforms that the Praia leaders were asking for.
Yet despite his arrest and death, Pedro Ivo’s legend lived on in the hearts and minds of Brazilian radicals who admired his bravery.
Álvares de Azevedo’s ‘Pedro Ivo’ (1850)
Forgive him, Lord! He was a brave man! He made pale the slave’s cheeks When in the heat of battle he lifted his brow, And from his corsair the sweat-dripping Between blood and corpses it ran! What a genius of battles he seemed... Forgive him, Lord! Where, in a heart more free, or a braver chest [Ran] the living, burning blood, which fought For the fervour of this America? He was a bloody lion roaring… From the war in the trumpets, he got drunk — And your people—pallid, retreated— When he appeared! He was the son of the people—the burning blood His cheeks loomed incandescent, When he thought of Brazil in fate... Yesterday—the stranger who mocked, Tomorrow—the killing blade, On the scaffold the vile carnage Who in blood rejoiced! The red nightmare was frightful! But on the bulging foreheads of genius the seal It would record the anathema of history! From the sons of the nation the red sword In the impure blood of the inglorious faction Laundry of the free in victory The desecrated stain! His forehead wrapped in laurel leaves We didn't hide it, no!... he was a warrior! He laid down his sword for an idea! Soul full of fire and youth— Who does not cower before the fury of kings, Once were the dreams of this bastard generation— Glory and freedom! He was thirsty for life and future; For freedom—to the sun he bowed, pure And kissed the sublime flag: He loved it as much as God himself—more than life! Therefore, a pardon on his laurel brow! Throw him not to the bloody pack The eagle never won! Forgive him, Lord! For when thro’ history Thou seest kings crown themselves with glory, It's not their thrones they wash in blood Wrapped in their prostitute robes— Forget the glories of which they dreamed! For those—damn them in their beds! The corrupt quagmire! Not even Ratcliffe’s blood does the fire quench That popular fronts intoxicate, Nor the severed head of the hero Filthy, wrapped in dust, on the ground of the square, Contracted, yellow, bloody, Frightens the crowd that ardently shouts And thrones shatter! The corpse without blessings, unburied, Thrown to the crows of the uncultivated grassland, The manly forehead shot through, To imperial sleep with cold lips May pass in faded scorn, Bloody the silk on the curtain And laugh to the chills! Do not listen to this impious faction Who repeats to you their rebellious strain. Like the worm on the dark tomb’s floor It convulses from darkness into mystery: Like the wind of hell in impure water, With the accursed mouth it murmurs to you: "Die! Save the empire!” Yes, the empire saves; but not with blood! See — the homeland leans over its bloodless chest Where that mob crowed, and fed! In the face of past glory they spit! As the Breton knelt and surrendered their homeland Kissed their feet, plunged into the mud! They will prostitute themselves! Damn all present in that group Like a filthy Messalina stripped, To the infamous grips of the foreigner They traffic from that mother who rocked them! Unbelieving souls of dreaming first Would sell the last kiss Of the virgin who loved them! Forgive him, Lord! They never won, If they threw him in irons, he was betrayed! Like the Arab yonder in his desert, Like the deer in the grasslands, No one on the tracks followed you close In the murmur of the jungles! Forgiveness! from your father! who was brave Who beat himself in the sun with a burning face, A king—and a brave knight too! That from the sword in war the light knew And at the roar of the cannons it swelled The warrior chest! Forgiveness, for your mother! for your glory! For your future and our history! Do not tarnish your future’s laurels! Not even flattering incense can the stain exempt! — The polluting of an unclean bed is washed away, The pallor of dark addiction is washed away; But you don't wash away a crime! Rio de Janeiro. November, 1850.
 Paulo Santos de Oliveira [online], ‘Pedro Ivo, herói e mito da Revolução Praieira’ (n.d.), accessed 18 February 2023: ‘Pedro Ivo nasceu em Olinda, em 1811, filho de um coronel, e viu muitas insurreições populares rebentarem em Pernambuco durante a sua infância e juventude. Como soldado, chegou a ser enviado ao Pará para combater uma delas, a Cabanagem, em 1835. E acabou se tornando o grande herói de outra, a Revolução Praieira, em 1848’.