The article concerns differences in the nature and signs of honor among nineteenth-century Brazilian elites. Based primarily on the court records of a dispute between a frontier rancher and a wealthy urban merchant in Rio Grande do Sul, as well as the correspondence of the merchant with a wide variety of commercial and political contacts, it argues that honor symbolized the value and reliability of exchange partners among all elite groups, but differences in the nature of exchanges led to different means of gauging honor. Landowners involved mainly in local face-to-face exchanges evaluated male honor primarily by the observance of spoken agreements and promises, whereas merchants involved in long-distance trade emphasized careful accounting and the fulfillment of written obligations. In a vast country with severely limited educational opportunities for the great majority of the population, fluency in written communication and accounting skills became important means to accumulate wealth and power, allowing individuals with these skills to occupy central positions in long-distance trade and patronage networks. Differences in the nature of honor also fueled disdain and hatred in the civil wars of nineteenth-century Rio Grande do Sul, which tended to pit frontier ranchers against urban commercial and political elites.

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