The breakdown of the Portuguese-Brazilian empire has been a topic of controversy for a long time. The dispute has converged on matters of fact as much as on matters of interpretation. Historians on both shores of the Atlantic have failed to present a common perspective on basic issues, such as the nature and scope of the growth that preceded the collapse, or the timing, duration, and intensity of the crisis itself. Thus a variety of explanations have been offered for this major turning point, as scholars tried to analyze the consequences of the collapse of the old colonial system.

However, beyond the controversy, the crucial significance of this period for the now diverging history of the two countries must be universally admitted. For Brazil, of course, this was the time of the birth of the nation, when crucial choices were made and many...

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