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Press & politics

Freedom of the Press in Rio

Having thus far brought before you what I know of the revolution in Brazil, I have now only a few remarks more to make.

One of the most powerful means which was employed to effect the mighty change was the freedom of the press, an engine of incalculable utility or mischief. It has been well observed that the freedom of the press is likely to be beneficial only when the Government is firmly established, rests for its stability on the attachment of the nation to it – but that on the contrary when a Government is weak – or recent origin – or mismanaged, it may be made the most efficient organ of rebellion and revolutionary principles. Now among us the press exercises its sanative power, because we are strong in an excellent constitution, our countrymen are civilized, and are able to judge for themselves. Brazil again, and I speak particularly of Rio, Bahia and Pernambuco (which I have seen) has as a constitutional portion of its population thousands of discontented spirits, Novarum serum cupidi – and in the hands of their orators, the freedom of the press has enabled them to inflame the minds of such and thus to overturn the Government. What will you think when you find that thro’ the Press in Rio – in the Capital of the Empire, and almost in the presence of the Emperor himself, the language of certain men and certain papers has been most abominable against their government and their prince. No abusive epithets have been spared – no mine of insult and invective left unexplored – and lies and inflammatory expressions have been promulgated, which would not discredit the father of lies himself. Now however were these infamous papers left unanswered. The Portuguese were to the full as abusive of the other party and as strenuously supported what the other vilified. Accusations produced replies, exculpations and counter charges: jests and insults were bandied about from the one to the other, and the Whigs and Tories of Rio regarded each with a far more embittered feeling than is ever manifested among us. And what a powerful effect would not the views of the Brazilians thus openly expressed have among a large mass of ignorant, jealous and revengeful mulattoes and blacks. It would be impossible in a moderate compress to mention the various instances where the Emperor has been abused – or the abusive language they employed – it is sufficient to say that the epithets of Imperial Thief – Crowned Robber – ingrate – and Perjurer were among the least abusive that were applied.

Political Clubs

The freedom of the press was thus one of the chief instruments for circulating abuse of the existing Government – for giving currency to interested and all disguised misrepresentations – and for preparing the minds of men for rebellious principles. And not content with this, the Brazilians formed themselves into Anti-Portuguese Clubs, where politics were the subjects of discussion. There their plans were originated – matured, and the means of executing them considered. There they drew closer those ties which bound the members together in common – and it was easy for the Federals to spread their opinions and infuse their spirit by going about among the common people who are ever ready to follow men of superior sense and sagacity, who chose to appeal to their passions, and not to their reason. And instead of suppressing at the onset these pernicious societies & restricting or withdrawing the liberty of the press, the Emperor to his prejudice and ruin gave his discontented & factious full liberty to shoot their envenomed shafts at his person & character, and to sap and undermine the very foundations of his authority by rendering both himself and the contemptible in the eyes of the people. No other Infant State in the New World ever ventured to act as Don Pedro has done in this respect – and their reasons stood good before, they will now have his example before their eyes, as an additional reason for continuing the same line of conduct, they have hitherto pursued.

Conduct and Intentions of the Emperor

Various reports were current respecting the manner the Ex-Emperor and his Queen bore this reverse of Fortune. The former was said, (and I am inclined to believe it), to evince a stoical firmness of mind, and to treat the matter with great nonchalance. The Empress on the contrary was much affected, and was almost constantly in tears. The Young Queen of Portugal, as far as I could judge from her appearance on board the Warspite, did not seem to be very much affected.

Immediately after the act of abdication it was an object of great curiosity – and much anxiety was manifested by the Portuguese – to learn what was to be the future destination of Don Pedro, or what his plans. Many thought that all was not over yet, and that with the aid of the English & French Marines, together with the ____ of his Luza-Brazilian subjects, he would still make an effort to retain his throne – and from the general dastardly character of the Brazilians they augured well for success. But a very short time served to shew that the abdication was no feint or constrained act – and that it was the full purpose of his Ex-Majesty to resign his Empire without a struggle. A communication at an early period, was made to the New Government, that it was his wish to proceed to England – and in the confidence of his sincerity no molestation or obstruction was offered to such measures for his comfort & which he might judge necessary. His Britannic Majesty’s Sloop of War Volage, Lord Colchester, [7] which had arrived but a few days previous from Buenos Ayres was appointed to convey him. The Volage immediately after her arrival had been stripped of her rigging and was undergoing repairs, when the necessity of the circumstances, there being no other vessel proper for the purpose here, required her to be got ready as soon as possible. It was expected that she would [be ready] on Wednesday 13th, and as we sailed on the 10th she may be there before us. Her destination was said to be Portsmouth, and we were directed to make all possible sail, as it would be of importance that our Government should be acquainted with Don Pedro’s intention of visiting us. We also heard that he purposes to carry his wife to her Mothers and there reside with her. He will not be in want of the means of living in splendour. He has a very large sum vested in the English funds – by his economy he has saved much yearly of the income allowed him for his private expenses – and besides, if I am rightly informed, he will be permitted to take with him his jewels, plate, & other private property – altho’ perhaps some dispute might arise as to what was public and what personal property.

It will no doubt afford abundant matter of speculation to conjecture the course, which is likely to be pursued when the Ex-Emperor arrives in England, the asylum of dethroned Kings. Will he or can he claim again the Crown of Portugal in his mown right? If not, he may endeavour to support his daughter’s rightful claims, and having gained his Object ascend the throne himself. Or will seek in truth and in deed the vale of privacy and retirement and having been twice been obliged to leave the country – Portugal his native and Brazil his adopted land, will be content to live in a third in a situation, in which none will be tempted to annoy or expatriate him? These are questions which time can show and I shall not attempt to resolve.

Anecdotes of Don Pedro

By the fortune of saying I have been twice in Brazil and each time have heard much of Don Pedro – and thus I have become interested in him. This interest in him has led me to jot down such incidents as showed his character both in public & private. It has also so chanced that we have several passengers onboard who were at the Mines when the Emperor paid them a visit, and from them I have one or two anecdotes, of which perhaps nothing but the person to whom they related, would excuse the insertions. I speak particularly in reference to the Mine of Gongo Soco the richest & most productive of all – to the Chief Commissioner Col.l Skerrett.

Intimation had been given some months beforehand of the honour His Imperial Majesty deigned to confer – and accordingly great preparations were made to receive him. He arrived in the afternoon with a small escort of cavalry – some of his nobility – and some of the Magistrates of the neighbouring towns. He did visit the Mines that day but remained at Colonel Skerretts house. The next day, however, a new level having been made purposely, he entered it and was neither incommoded nor nice about the narrowness & dampness of the place. He had I believe on an ordinary suit of clothes [&] did not care about drying them – but his courtiers were afraid to enter, and besides did not like to spoil their new clothes. Pedro sent repeatedly for them but his commands were not obeyed. Having seen all that was worth seeing he came out, and by his orders, accompanied with several shoves & pushes, he forced them in before him. When they were all fairly inn, he managed to get all the torches extinguished, and in total darkness, he himself set the example of hustling, jostling, and roaring a-bellowing like a bull. For some time he enjoyed this unprincely amusement – the miners entered into the spirit of the thing, and all scrambled to the outlet the best way they could. The poor courtiers cut a most ridiculous figure but were obliged to chew the cud of chagrin in silence.
To gratify the Empress an elegant box had been made, which was presented to her, filled with the most beautiful specimens of gold, which the mine produced, and the present was most graciously accepted. The Emperor was offered nothing but he took care to indemnify himself by pocketing several pieces – and in particular, a remarkably fine specimen of pure gold weighing several pounds, having been submitted to his inspection as a matter of curiosity but with no design to give it to him, he admired it very much, and then coolly popped it into his pocket.

Don Pedro was extremely well pleased with his reception by Colonel Skerrett, and at the neighbouring mines of Capt.n Lyon – both of which gentlemen were made Commandadus of Christ, an order of great distinction. He commended the industry of the English to those around him, and called upon them to take example by them. He promised the Mines his constant protection, little knowing how soon it would be out of his power to keep that promise – and in short he showed such a partiality for these foreigners as must have [been] exceeding galling, when compared with the contempt with which he had treated the Brazilians.