Brazilians of the 1930’s agreed that the radical movement of young army officers and politicians known as tenentismo dominated the first two years, or radical phase, of the Vargas era (1930-1945). Whether praised or attacked, the tenentes (lieutenants) were usually assigned central roles in the Revolution of 1930 and in the political and social transformations which followed. Now that the Revolution is attaining historical perspective, and recently published memoirs and biographies have shed new light on the tenentes, it is appropriate to re-examine their program, organization, political tactics, and strategy. This article seeks to establish the relationship of the tenentes to other interest groups, including the entrenched military bureaucracy, and to evaluate their capabilities as officials in the central and state governments that evolved out of the Revolution of 1930.

On November 3, 1930, in uniform, wearing a red scarf and a large gaúcho hat, Getúlio Vargas accepted supreme power as head of a new provisional government. His prospects of success were not auspicious. An unexpected coup d’état by the army had robbed his forces of a clear military mandate while indebting his future administration to the professional soldiers of the armed forces. The frenzied, politically inarticulate crowds which roared their approval of his political victory hardly signified a firm popular basis for his “revolution.” The makeshift coalition of conservative, liberal, and radical elements called the Liberal Alliance had supported him on his triumphal march to the capital, but it could not be depended upon to provide lasting political support. The nation’s shaky financial structure and the threatened total collapse of the international coffee market confronted the new president with another set of potential enemies. Coffee growers, foreign creditors, and the governments supporting them waited impatiently for him to tip his hand. Labor, although still in its formative stage, grew restless as unemployment spread from the cities to the countryside. In this confused situation Vargas, as became his custom, announced a rhetorical program designed to forestall for the moment any threat to his government.

Each social and economic group capable of articulating its demands was encompassed in a governmental program. But while Vargas called for action by the central government in the fields of social welfare, land reform, and national planning, he nonetheless stopped considerably short of proposing a radical social and economic revolution. Thorough-going change, as Vargas astutely sensed, was neither demanded by the disorganized lower classes nor desired by many of his supporters. There was, consequently, little in Vargas’ early proposals to suggest that he was, in fact, ushering in a quarter-century of change during which the gaúcho lawyer’s style—-compromise, opportunism, and caudilhismo—would dominate Brazil.

Vargas probably went as far as he dared under existing conditions. The Liberal Alliance had been organized in 1929 to exploit an immediate political crisis over the presidential succession, but few of the revolutionaries appreciated the full significance of 1930. It was recognized that, to some extent, the Revolution was rooted in the social and political tensions of postwar Brazil. Conservatives alone looked upon the previous decade of military revolts, and especially the Prestes Column (see below), as isolated, alien conspiracies. Yet the extent to which the Revolution reflected immediate crisis or the pressures for new groups to share in national decision-making was unclear to the Liberal Alliance. In other words, a revolutionary situation existed but there was little consensus as to its meaning.

Most elements in the Liberal Alliance were prepared to settle for a political victory. The Republican oligarchs of Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul hoped to crush the powerful planter-commercial elite of São Paulo but to continue the político, governadora, that system of rural control and patronage whereby “each four years Brazil was invaded by a state.”1 Middle class liberals were ideologically at odds with their allies, the colonels and chefes políticos who ran the state Republican parties, but even the Democratic Party of São Paulo, the most important liberal organization, was unprepared mentally to seek the support of urban labor and lower middle class elements. Regionalism and state politics were overriding considerations. Typical were the politicians in Rio Grande do Sul who, in their eagerness to win national hegemony, had contacted members of the exiled Prestes Column as early as 1927.

In this otherwise traditional political climate the tenentes, who staffed and directed the military campaigns of the Liberal Alliance, were a colorful group. Years of rebellion had earned for the most important young officers the title of “historical revolutionaries,” and these tenentes had just returned from exile in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Many had sought asylum after the São Paulo revolt, which they led, was suppressed in 1924, and others only after having served under Captain Luis Carlos Prestes.2 Disheartened by exile and unsuccessful in arousing the public to what they considered the abuses of the ruling oligarchy, the tenentes resolved to join the Liberal Alliance, from which they hoped to launch their far-reaching reform program.

The roots of tenentismo go back to the civilian-military struggles for political supremacy (1910-1924). It was not pride in the army alone which led the young officers to revolt at Copacabana fortress (1922), at São Paulo (1924), and to join the Prestes Column (1924-1927) when their earlier efforts failed. Along with their superior officers, the tenentes distrusted politicians and believed that civilians were administering the Republic badly. They differed, however, from their superiors on the military’s role in national affairs. The tenentes would reform and regenerate the nation their seniors would settle for a more active role in a reformed and centralized administration.

The intense concern of the tenentes with Brazil’s backwardness and social rigidity can be traced to their predominantly lower-middle class origins and the fact that many were trained as military engineers. While these two considerations have not been fully examined, one may speculate on the basis of what is known of middle class aspirations in Latin America, that at an early age the families of the young officers had made them aware of the impediments to social and economic mobility, while their training in the military academy had instilled in them the conviction, dating from the overthrow of Pedro II in 1889, of the army’s redemptive role in Brazil.

Insofar as it was a doctrine, tenentismo began to take form as a set of assumptions about Brazil during the Prestes march. As the Column wandered in the interior, these young officers were impressed by the vast undeveloped hinterland and its huge poverty-stricken population living on the outskirts of the nation. Beginning with the middle class liberal reform program,3 the lieutenants soon came to emphasize basic institutional change and aggressive nationalism. They ascribed the ills of Brazil to the nation’s latifundio system, monoculture, and economic imperialism. “We now had a better understanding of the country’s political problems,’’ a former tenente recalled, “and we wanted to resolve them. Only a revolution could destroy the electoral machines, clean up the ‘colonels’ and little chafes who dominated the people of the interior, and give a new social, economic, and political structure to Brazil.”4

The tenentes soon proved more effective as doers than as abstract thinkers, and while their “new structure” remained little more than a vague expression of youthful idealism, the tenente acts of protest captured the public’s imagination. Idolized in the middle class press as the revolt of youth against the old and tired, the tenentes were made to symbolize the demands of the emerging middle class for a more modern and nationally oriented society. By 1930 the tenente image was that of dedicated and self-sacrificing young men who were committed to national transformation and progress.

With their self-appointed role to modernize a backward society subverted by corrupt politicians, the tenentes belonged to a type of impatient, reformist officers which has appeared in the junior ranks of several twentieth-century armies.5 Like many of their counterparts in the emergent nations of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the tenentes supported, or were at least susceptible to, authoritarian change from above. Accustomed to military hierarchy, the tenentes assumed that social and economic change could be commanded or decreed. It was this authoritarian mentality, coupled with their belief that the ultimate responsibility for the nation rested with the military, which later alienated those of the middle class to whom constitutionalism, free elections, and the rule of law were of the essence.

The tenentes were ideologically unsophisticated, but they thought badly of Communism and the Russian Revolution.6 Native Brazilian thinkers, such as the pre-war nationalist writer Alberto Torres and his disciple Oliveira Viana, did, however, exercise considerable influence on them. In O problema nacional brasileiro Torres wrote that Brazil was beset with regionalism, self-ignorance, and false optimism, it was not yet a nation, nor did it have a nationality. He looked to a strong, centralized administrative state to protect the national patrimony from foreign exploitation and to organize national action.7 His insistence that organization was the vital problem in Brazil was elaborated later in Viana’s statist philosophy, and became a tenet of Brazilian military doctrine.

Even before Prestes announced his conversion to Communism in May of 1930, the majority of his followers had been diverging in degree from his more thorough-going radicalism. They could agree with his demands that monoculture and latifundio be ended and imperialism resisted, and that repudiation of the huge foreign debt was folly since intervention would follow on the heels of any such action.8 But Prestes, who had become a professional revolutionary, saw the presidential crisis of 1930 as a temporary struggle between ins and outs, and he was willing to wait in exile until the right preconditions for the regeneration of Brazil should arise. The tenentes, less reflective and more naïve, believed that a few revolutionaries could immediately seize power and command change.

The split between Prestes and his tenentes came (just before the Revolution) because of his willingness to break with the middle class from which he had sprung, with Brazilian tradition, and to place his faith in an international ideology and the Brazilian proletariat. To the tenentes such a position was incomprehensible. Unable to understand Prestes’ doctrinaire position, his former lieutenants and many others accepted the opportunity offered by the Liberal Alliance to return from exile and to wage war against the conservative oligarchy.

The background and mentality of the tenentes as traced above suggests that they were above all middle class radicals in uniform. Their program called for limited capitalism of the petty bourgeoisie, democratic individualism bolstered by syndical organizations, producers and consumers cooperatives, minimum wage laws, and legislation regulating the hours of work for women and children. But above all the tenentes demanded the gradual elimination of latifundio, and the nationalization of mines, power sources, commerce, and retail trade.9 Thus they were friendly to those middle groups which had been left out of the so-called “Old Republic,” but they were hostile to the special interests of Anarcho-Syndicalist and Communist labor unions (both of which had small membership lists) and to the middle class liberal parties which they considered too close to the elite.

Included in their demands for an expansion of government were protection and greater opportunities for the little man, especially the Brazilian national. Government to them was a benevolent authority, the agent in creating a strong Brazilian nationality, integrated and harmonious. That government should be paternalistic as well issued from their authoritarian mentality. The seeds of corporatism and neo-fascist radicalism were there, but confused with a vague socialism. And while the tenentes were modernizers, the author found no evidence that they promised a “nationalist democratic, socialist party,” as was recently suggested.10 The greatest weakness of the tenente program appears to have been that it embodied no concept of priorities and did not distinguish between goals and the means to reach them. A contemporary was probably closest to the truth when he wrote that at bottom the tenente “did not know what he wanted, and poorly understood what he did not want.”11

To conservatives in the Liberal Alliance the tenentes personified anarchy, subversion, and disrespect for the rules of the game. It was only with reluctance that they accepted military assistance from “those people.” The tenentes, however, did add a mystique of popular revolution to the Alliance and an idealism which Vargas realized would enhance the Revolution’s prestige. And though, as Prestes warned, they were being used by the politicians, the tenentes were the only group which stood for fundamental change in an established order.

As originally conceived, the Liberal Alliance represented two currents: the conservative and the regenerative. But soon after Vargas took office it became apparent that “national regeneration” meant different things to different groups. To the liberal politicians and intellectuals it was conceived of as middle class democracy and juridical reform, while to the tenentes and some younger politicians it meant social and economic change.12 Yet because of the fluid balance of political and military power between 1930 and the summer of 1932, no faction was wholly free to impose its chosen direction on the body politic. Because the structure of power was not clearly defined, the tenentes thought they could overwhelm the politicians. This was more than the conservatives and liberals were prepared to sanction freely, and their strength was far from broken.

If a government is defined as the use of force to make binding decisions on a population, then these decisions will not be authoritative unless power is accepted as legitimate. Force, in revolutions, is more overtly coercive. For revolutionary governments which are not broadly based, as in Brazil after 1930, the problem of force and authority is acute.13 How the tenentes faced this problem as well as the balance of military force had a direct effect on their role after the October campaigns.

The military organization of the Liberal Alliance was loosely constituted and poorly coordinated. State militias in Minas Gerais, Paraiba, and Rio Grande do Sul marched with police, firemen, irregular forces raised by rural colonels and political chefes, as well as with some regular army units assigned to the South. No revolutionary ideology cemented the fighting forces together. No concerted effort was made to win over the national army. It was hoped that in the wave of revolution units would be carried along. Many officers did go over to the Revolution, but they did not play a decisive role because, before a military victory was won, elements of the general staff in Rio de Janeiro overthrew the legal government of President Washington Luis and formed a military junta.

The Junta Pacificadora (or Provisória) lasted only 10 days, from October 24-November 3, but in that time it assumed supreme control of the state, appointed a cabinet, and apparently intended to remain as a nonpolitical government until “the unity and peace of Brazil” were reestablished.14 Acting in its role as “the arbiter of the nation’s destiny in the social convolutions which disturb Brazilian life,” the army made no distinction between victors and vanquished. The revolutionary forces pushed on toward Rio, however, and to forestall loss of life and property in the event of a power vacuum the Junta agreed to compromise.

Getúlio Vargas was accepted as the interim “head of a victorious revolution,” but not as the legally elected president who had been “cheated” of his rightful prize in the dishonest 1929 elections.15 Furthermore, the military was assured of a role in the new government when Vice Admiral Isaías de Noronha and General Leite de Castro, the Junta’s Minister of War, were carried over in the ministries of marine and war. Unfortunately for Vargas, many general officers and colonels refused to accept as a legitimate authority the revolutionary army headquarters which remained in Rio de Janeiro until April, 1931.16 The officer corps began its qualified support and, in some instances, disloyal attitude toward the government.

Having been denied their self-assumed role as national unifiers, some general staff officers resigned, while others were purged. Members of this latter group considered themselves the initial victims of the Revolution, and later many of them joined the paulista “constitutionalist” revolt in 1932. In addition, the regular officer corps resented the young tenentes, “yesterday’s rebels” who demanded and received rapid promotions for their services to the Revolution. The older professionals particularly disliked “the shameless interference of military officers in functions [high political posts] without any correlation with the profession.. . . ”17 In effect, the Army emerged with a strong position, but divided, its morale low, its mission in jeopardy.

To understand further the political power structure in Brazil at this time, it is essential to establish the balance of all military and irregular forces under arms. Limitations on the central government’s ability to make and apply decisions, for example, could be studied in Rio Grande do Sul, where sizable irregular forces (provisórios) were still mobilized as late as 1937.18 The militia in Minas Gerais had been rearmed with equipment captured from the national army, and the Republicans could supplement these troops with numerous irregulars under local colonels. São Paulo’s Public Force was a French-trained army in its own right. This diffusion of military force contributed to making Brazil the most regionalistic nation in South America, and it placed explicit or implied limits on the tenentes as well as Vargas in the Catête Palace. It will be instructive to examine how the tenentes faced this problem in the two regions they tried to dominate and change, the impoverished North and Northeast and the rich State of São Paulo.

Other than in the South the only decisive military victories of the campaign were won in the North by tenentes under Captain Juarez Távora. Although Távora exercised considerable power in the area, he was unable to achieve his ends without the support of local colonels won over by certain political agreements. The religious caudilho Father Cicero, for example, was given special consideration and aid in return for supporting Távora in Ceará,19 while the most popular and effective tenente Interventor, Juracy M. Magalhães in Bahia, was accused of making political deals with the bosses.20 Once reestablished, the old relationship between chefe and governor enabled Juarez Távora to exercise control and he soon became known as the “Viceroy of the North.”

The combined support of political bosses and restive masses allowed the tenente interventors to run state and local governments through the mid-1930’s with tumultuous, but often popular and effective, regimes. To the extent that the vigorous efforts of Juracy Magalhâes to form agricultural development commissions, establish health clinics, and end banditry in the countryside were typical of tenente reforms, then there was an evident measure of change in the Northeast. A pledge by the Liberal Alliance to resume the irrigation projects begun under the administration of President Epitacio Pessôa (1919-1922) was redeemed when José Américo de Almeida of Paraíba became Minister of Transport and Public Works. As the agents of central government, the tenentes could administer the neglected North with a combination of force and authority never achieved elsewhere by them. Nonetheless, when all the records of tenente government can be fully evaluated, it will probably be determined that their freedom to change the social and economic structure was sharply limited by local chefes and special interest groups.

If the tenentes were welcomed as deliverers in the North they were regarded in São Paulo as military conquerors who brought revolution from the outside to a proud and prosperous region. Tenente rule in São Paulo was only a phase in that state’s protracted and bitter conflict with Vargas. But the failure of tenentismo there in the industrial center of Brazil resulted first of all from a division of force and a clear lack of authority.

The “case of São Paulo” began even before the November triumph. A military interventor had been appointed by the Junta Pacificadora, and he in turn organized a civilian secretariat of prominent paulistas to run the state government. But Vargas would not give control of this key state to the Democratic Party, and he appointed as supreme authority a well-known veteran of the Prestes Column, Captain João Alberto Lins de Barros. Already the democráticos were expanding into the old município strongholds of the Republican Party (P.R.P.) and hoped to control the state bureaucracy.21 When João Alberto countered by centralizing control of the município police, the secretariat resigned in protest and the democráticos, now defending state sovereignty against “foreign” intervention, demanded a “civilian and paulista” government.22

The military situation, difficult at best in independent-thinking São Paulo, soon was complicated by factionalism and division of authority. Control of the Second Military District (São Paulo) was given to a liberal, General Isidoro Dias Lopes, while the Public Force was commanded by Miguel Costa, another “historical revolutionary” but who with labor support attempted to build his own political machine in the militia. Three-way recriminations between Lopes, Costa, and João Alberto led to indecision and encouraged unrest. The military problem was further complicated when a faction in the Public Force loyal to the democráticos revolted on April 28, 1931. General Lopes, implicated in the uprising, resigned and was replaced by Col. Góes Monteiro, who arrived from Rio de Janeiro with nine recently promoted tenente colonels to take over federal garrisons in the Paraiba Valley.23 This irritated the regular army, and some officers began to plot with paulistas for a return to constitutional government and state autonomy.

In terms of the power structure alone it is clear that the tenentes could not hope to control Brazil’s important states. Rio Grande do Sul revolted in the heat of regional enthusiasm to impose a gaúcho president. São Paulo was hostile to the Revolution. Minas Gerais, with its strong political machine and militia, does not seem to have been a tenente sphere.24 Thus, except in the economically backward and politically weak North, the tenentes lacked force and authority to make credible their commitment to change. Without a stronger political base tenente power in Rio de Janeiro was bound to be ephemeral and ultimately dependent on Getúlio Vargas.

As Vargas moved quickly to assert his authority over the national government it does not seem likely that he contemplated a power struggle with the tenentes. There is every reason to believe he worked closely with them even though the momentum for change lay with the tenentes. His first major victory came with the Organic Law of November 11, 1930, which gave him unlimited emergency powers. It abolished all local, state, and federal legislative bodies until such time as a new constitution should be drawn up regulating their responsibilities.

Next Vargas triumphed over the established political parties. Two of the four ministers that the Republican parties of Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul had named in the first cabinet promptly deserted in favor of Vargas. They were Education Minister Francisco Campos, a mineiro intellectual, and Oswaldo Aranha, who first won national recognition as a commander during the militant phase of the Revolution. The liberals, meanwhile, were easily outmaneuvered, as Joaquim Francisco de Assis Brasil of Rio Grande do Sul, Minister of Agriculture, left his post in December for an extended sojourn overseas. Others were given diplomatic and consular assignments outside the country. At the same time Vargas brought to the government a respected elder statesman, Afrânio de Melo Franco (Foreign Affairs) and the conservative paulista banker, José Maria Whitaker. With Melo Franco and Whitaker on his team, Vargas let it be known in terms which could be clearly understood in New York and London that Brazil’s economic and financial structure would not be upset. This won him three quick victories. Foreign investors and creditors indicated their acceptance of his regime, the major powers with whom Brazil historically had maintained close diplomatic and economic relations promptly recognized his government, and at home the São Paulo coffee growers who had been dissatisfied with the bankrupt valorization scheme of the Washington Luis government gave the new regime their tacit approval. The planters’ “surrender” was tantamount to trading, at least temporarily, their political control in return for promises that their hegemony over Brazil’s international trade would be protected and promoted.

With the established interest groups momentarily appeased, the Vargas government, conservative in economies, middle class in leadership and orientation, nonetheless swung toward what was for Brazil in 1930 the politics of radicalism. The traditional politicians and liberals were momentarily off balance, and public interest focused more sharply on the tenentes and their newly found adherents. And with this civilian and military support tenentismo crystallized into a political doctrine.

From the beginning there appear to have been two tendencies in the movement. One, the political, was content to accept the political realities of Brazil and work with Vargas; the other, apolitical, was largely comprised of revolutionaries who were determined to reform regardless of political considerations. This divergence within the tenentes along with the public resentment of tenente failure to coordinate their reform program put the group on the defensive by the summer of 1931. But before the tenentes fell into public disfavor they had taken advantage of the political confusion resulting from the Revolution to orient the Vargas government toward a nationalistic, reformist regime.

The shift to radicalism was announced in November at Poços de Caldas, where Aranha, Távora, João Alberto and Góes Monteiro were supposedly discussing the basis of a new constitution. Instead, as it turned out, they drew up plans to continue government by decree and to perpetuate the revolutionary situation. They guaranteed the provisional government “until it had wholly fulfilled its ends, that is, to permit the radical transformation of the political-administrative system linked to the recently extinct regime.”25 The past was to be buried with the elimination of political parties, abolition of state police forces, and strict control of the armed forces. Senior officers in the army and navy were to be forcefully retired and replaced with tenentes.26 A revolutionary Legion of October would be organized to defend the public interest and recruit support for the government. This formulation of tenente objectives became known as the Caldas Pact.

Although at Poços de Caldas the tenente leaders talked of constructing a new Brazil, their emphasis on administrative reform instead of full-scale social and economic change left little doubt that they envisioned a middle class government imbued with considerable military authoritarianism. Their failure to give emphasis to land reform suggests that this key indicator of social change also had been downgraded. Hostile critics saw the pact as fascistic, but it was, above all, a statement of authoritarian nationalism.

One of the first actions of the new government was to form a Revolutionary Tribunal. Various investigation commissions named by it attempted to root out the “corrupt practices of the politicians” in the Bank of Brazil, the judiciary, the armed forces, and federal and state bureaucracies. A general dismissal of employees resulted. Several prominent officials of the Old Republic, including Washington Luis, were exiled. Fifteen generals were retired by the “blue ticket” or walking papers. Góes Monteiro claimed later that the objective was to clear the way for a national promotion system by merit,27 but the conservative officers, typified by General Klinger (who later commanded the paulista revolt), regarded it as a tenente coup to capture control of the army hierarchy.28 At Itamaratí (the Foreign Office) Melo Franco protected his staff from the mass dismissals which were demanded by the most extreme revolutionaries.29 And in São Paulo the investigating commissions were seen as a transparent device to rob the treasury while giving jobs to unemployed revolutionaries.30

When the Tribunal and its commissions were disbanded in early 1931, the Liberal Alliance was defunct, the politicians jolted, and old-line military officers alienated. A purge of officials had been intended, but it was conducted without system or plan. Oswaldo Aranha was made an honorary general; officers of doubtful “revolutionary spirit” were posted to remote garrisons. The Legion of October was never in effective operation, however, and Vargas continued the army system of “promotion by influence” in the general officer ranks. The tenentes, who thought they were reconstructing the country, joined the conspicuous scramble for appointments and they received bureaucratic posts and promotions. In so doing they cleared the way for a spoils system. The net result was that Vargas had a new lever of power while the tenentes’ favorable original image was permanently tarnished.

Meanwhile, in dynamic and progressive São Paulo the crises and inconsistencies of tenentismo stood out most clearly. Perhaps the failures there, rather than successes in the North, provide a better insight into the approach and objectives of the tenentes in this early and most important phase.

João Alberto’s eight-month interventorship in São Paulo was a conspicuous failure. His approach to labor unrest and unemployment was terse and authoritarian. He raised wages, regulated and reduced the working hours, and compelled employers to agree to these measures by threatening to confiscate their properties.31 Labor, on the other hand, was enjoined not to strike, and the government let it be known that it was “firmly resolved to reprimand with severity the attempts which they [Anarchists and Communists] make to disturb public order, to damage private property, or to offend individuals.”32 Steps were taken to resettle unemployed workers in the countryside. Two fazendas which had been mortgaged to British capital through the family bank of Júlio Prestes (initial victor in the 1929 presidential election) were expropriated and used for this purpose.33 When asked what he would do if the workers refused to resettle, João Alberto replied that hunger would force them to cooperate. But if this failed, and they demonstrated instead, then “I will have to seize them and apply the stick.”34

There is little doubt that the young tenente underestimated the difficult problems of latifundio and unemployment and that as a result he erred when he thought they could be treated together. Early in his regime one pilot colony was actually founded on a fazenda expropriated from the State Bank. The colonists were not provided with supplies, however, and when they attacked neighboring plantations in search of necessities, rural police closed the settlement.38 João Alberto never satisfactorily explained how the countryside, with its labor force suffering from the fall of coffee prices and unemployment, could absorb jobless urban masses.36

Before much of a significant nature was accomplished, João Alberto swung away from land reform to become an advocate of the planter interest.37 Midway through his tenure in office he established the Coffee Institute, which represented the demands of coffee producers for crop supports and market guarantees, and the Democratic Party charged him with temporarily suspending interest payments on the heavily bonded coffee crop.38 It was obvious to a contemporary, disturbed as he was by the Vargas government’s unwillingness to undertake basic reforms, that João Alberto was “almost in the arms of the P.R.P. [Republicans] and already in the diabolical clutch of the coffee plutocracy.. . .”39 Like the tenentes under Távora in the North, he had learned that he could not rule without the support of powerful rural interests.

João Alberto had early turned his attention to renovation of São Paulo’s bureaucracy. Many gaps and arbitrary dismissals resulted when inept young army officers replaced those experienced public officials allegedly lacking in “revolutionary spirit.” Proposals by the Interventor to redistrict the municípios, to make social assistance a state responsibility, and to supervise gambling were well-meaning attempts by the young moralizer to centralize and to regulate. For the paulistas the reform program amounted to destruction of past progress in favor of an uncertain future, and, in the words of a conservative officer, this tenente administration achieved “the almost unbelievable miracle of uniting paulista politicians around an ideal.”40 Adding to João Alberto’s difficulties was the increasing opposition of Miguel Costa, whose men in the Public Force were taking over the municípios. By the time João Alberto summarily resigned in July, 1931, his disagreement with Miguel Costa over policy was complete, and a pattern of divided authority between civilian and military branches of the government in São Paulo was set and was continued for another year until the revolt.

When João Alberto left São Paulo for Rio de Janeiro, where as Chief of Police he would have free access to Vargas, the tenentes were everywhere under attack. Their leaders, feeling the increasing pressure of resurgent conservative and liberal forces, hastened to establish some central direction over the sprawling movement.41 The result was a semi-official party, the Third of October Club, which early became identified with Vargas. The club attempted to keep politics out of the military barracks and to act as a buffer between political opportunists and the more ardent tenente revolutionaries.42 But it failed to protect the tenentes from an unfavorable middle class press which, with growing frequency, charged them with corruption and nepotism, of trying to form a dominant “northern block” and a dictatorship. The same press labelled the inner circle of tenentes which surrounded Vargas the “black cabinet.” These charges amounted to denying to tenentismo the independent identity which was needed if changes of a radical nature were to be achieved.

Brazil’s Thermidor, the July-August 1932 São Paulo revolt, followed a year in which growing opposition to the Vargas regime indicated that the Revolution had given way to resurgent regionalism. The “case of São Paulo,” unrest in Rio Grande do Sul, and local revolts in the North all threatened the broad centralization of power and government by presidential decree, both of which the tenentes had championed. And as civil war loomed, certain irresponsible acts by the tenentes provided significant indications of their declining influence. For example, in March, 1932, fifty officers from the October Club openly used government vehicles to raid a Rio de Janeiro newspaper office. This precipitated a cabinet crisis which was eased only when Vargas agreed to negotiate with his political enemies in Rio Grande do Sul, Minas, and São Paulo for a return to constitutional government. In May more than 150 tenentes were arrested for refusing to accept a promotion schedule designed to reduce their influence in the army and to end dissension in the officer corps, thereby strengthening the military for an anticipated showdown with the State of São Paulo. Clearly, the tenentes were fast becoming political and military liabilities for Getúlio Vargas.

Victorious in overcoming the challenge from São Paulo, Vargas hastened to draw the teeth from sectionalism by agreeing to set up a constitutional commission and to isolate the Third of October Club from the government. This move against the Club was successful, for without official status it declined rapidly. Still, the conclusion must be that the eclipse of tenentismo as a political movement was not due so much to political blunders and civil war as to the fact that Brazil under Vargas had quickly outgrown the tenentes.

Tenentismo in its last phase as a political ideology groped toward an authoritarian state with roots in Brazilian nationalism. Juarez Távora expressed the mood of tenentismo when, in 1933, he said that Brazil was rapidly developing a new kind of regime, marked by the growing transformation of individual interests into collective associations and professional groups.43 Tenentismo had merged into corporatism, and the combination of statism and social justice which was discussed in the October Club was, in fact, later written into the hybrid 1934 Constitution.

But it would be incorrect to assume that in its final evolution tenentismo had become a fascist movement. The tenentes were an elite group without a mass following or a major political base. The Revolution of 1930 cleared the way for foreign doctrines which were both more consistent and better organized than home-grown tenente radicalism. What middle class support the Third of October Club may have retained was lost to the neo-fascist Integralista movement of Plínio Salgado or to the resurgent liberalism which followed São Paulo’s revolt. Salgado appealed to lower middle class groups, organized them, gave them green shirts, slogans, and a sense of participation. Luis Carlos Prestes, in the meantime, had been inflated by the Comintern into a leader of world Communism, and for the first time Marxism and Communist organizations were entertained seriously by Brazilian intellectuals. What is surprising from the perspective of today is not that such a vague movement as the tenentes headed fell apart, but that it played an important role, as it did, in 1930.

The preeminence of the tenentes had rested in their image as middle class rebels in revolt against a corrupt and outmoded past, and the fact that their thinking was more advanced than that of other groups in the Liberal Alliance. Furthermore, they had taken advantage of political confusion, the temporary fluidity of political power, and the world depression to vault into a position of decisionmaking. When these favorable factors began to wane—that is, by early 1931—their stature as an independent force in Brazilian politics rapidly declined. Also, by temporizing on land reform, the tenentes lost the one program which might have differentiated tenentismo from the politics of Getúlio Vargas.44

After 1932 the tenentes split into a number of segments. Many remained with Vargas as his political and administrative assistants, while the majority was re-absorbed into the military chain of command and accepted once again the opinions of the professional officer corps.45 Others remained as officials in the North and Northeast, where the tenente power base, as noted above, was maintained until 1935. Still others went into opposition, either retiring from public life, or writing anti-Vargas editorials, or joining the abortive Prestes revolt in 1935. But the final aspect of tenentismo which must be considered was its relationship to Vargas, the politician who absorbed it. Three interpretations of his enigmatic relationship with the tenentes can be advanced on the basis of currently available information.

  1. The liberal view, which might be called the gaúcho conspiracy theory, is well expressed in Afonso Arinos de Melo Franco’s distinguished biography.46 Rio Grande politicians, it is argued, attempted to retain power by making Brazil their personal preserve through a national, or expanded, concept of the old política governadora. The gaúchos let civil and military revolutionaries have a free hand in destroying the state system and other props of the Old Republic. The tenentes, who were encouraged to instigate their reforms or further their careers, were used by the rio-grandense politicians to destroy traditional rivals. “Gaúchification” of Brazil was the result.

  2. A progressive interpretation of the events he witnessed is given by the Brazilian journalist, Martins de Almeida.47 According to him, developments ran ahead of the government, which, lacking a rule of action or a revolutionary technique, was unable to channel the stream of events. There was nothing revolutionary about the regime, for Vargas had neither ideas nor a program. Into this confusing welter of cross-currents came the tenentes, only to be overwhelmed in 1932 when Vargas, now consolidated in office, moved to the right.

  3. This author holds that Vargas enjoyed the exercise of power but he lacked legitimacy. Because he was politically astute in the extreme, he sensed that Brazil was about to reject its traditional values in favor of those associated with state-sponsored technological change. The argument which follows logically is that he needed the tenentes to give him authority. Tenentismo also enabled Vargas to establish contact with those groups in the North and the urban lower-middle class which, in looking for support from the central government, were ready to follow a national caudilho. His attention to the social services, the spoils system, and the proliferation of the bureaucracy were devices to attract these newly articulate, but as yet politically uncommitted, groups. The fact that both Vargas and the tenentes were anti-liberal, authoritarian, and were first of all Brazilian nationalists helped to make them political bedfellows. Finally, Vargas liked to make decisions on the advice of a small group of trusted intimates. He seems to have enjoyed the loyalty of his tenentes, even as he used them.


Martins de Almeida, Brasil errado, 2 ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1953), p. 115.


Relatively little is known about individuals in the various elements which participated in the militant tenente movement. The dominant group of so-called “historical revolutionaries” was led by Captain Juarez Távora, long-time boss of the North and Northeast, who, after resuming a professional army career in 1937, was UDN presidential candidate (1955) and is currently an outspoken nationalist; Captain João Alberto Lins de Barros, Interventor in São Paulo and Police Chief of Rio de Janeiro, Coordinator of Economic Mobilization in 1942 and holder of other high posts under Vargas; Siqueira Campos, one of the famous “18” who stood at Copacabana Fortress (1922), who was only to drown on the eve of revolution as the plane carrying him and João Alberto plunged into the Río de la Plata; and lesser figures, including Newton Estillac Leal, Oswaldo Cordeiro de Farias, and Ari Parreiras. Most of the surviving members of this group have, in recent years, been identified with center and center-right political parties.

Other groups of tenentes were less committed to revolution but hoped to profit from it. These included veterans of the 1924 revolt who had been given amnesty and many of those who joined the Vargas forces in 1930. Among the regular officers who went over to the Revolution was the neo-fascist Colonel Pedro Aurélio de Góes Monteiro, who, as Chief of Staff for the Liberal Alliance forces and later as Minister of War and Chief of Staff, gave the Vargas regime support from the military; and Juracy Montenegro Magalhães, Governor of Bahia until 1937, then a prominent national figure since 1945, general, UDN congressman, president of Petrobras, and governor once again until his stinging defeat by leftist groups in the 1962 Guanabara elections. Yet another strand was typified in the civilian revolutionaries, of whom the revolutionary commander and Vargas confidant, Oswaldo Aranha, played a key role for many years in Brazil’s national and international affairs; the Northeastern novelist, José Amérieo de Almeida, who, as Minister of Transport and Public Works, attacked foreign rail and utility concessions but was disappointed in his hopes for the presidency; and many others who entered and left the government and public notice as often as Vargas saw fit.

A helpful source for tenente federal and state officers may be found in the Appendix to Alzira Vargas do Amaral Peixoto’s Getúlio Vargas, meu pai (Rio de Janeiro, 1960), pp. 391-414. See also the brief summary in Jorge Amado, Vida de Luis Carlos Prestes, 3 ed. (São Paulo, 1945), pp. 234-235, and Robert J. Alexander, “Brazilian Tenentismo,” HAHR, XXXVI, No. 2 (May 1956), 231-232.


Free elections, honest administration, secret ballot in the municípios, autonomy of the states, free public education, attack on rural domination of politics. Jorge Amado, ibid., p. 193, in which are summarized issues of 5 de Julho, organ of the 1924 revolt.


João Alberto Lins de Barros, Memórias de wm, revolucionário, Parte I: A marcha da Coluna (Rio de Janeiro, 1953), p. 210.


Lucian W. Pye, “Armies in the Process of Political Modernization,” in John J. Johnson, ed., The Sole of the Military in Underdeveloped Countries (Princeton, 1962), p. 70.


Lins de Barros, Memórias, pp. 147, 220.


Alberto Torres, O problema nacional brasileiro (Rio de Janeiro, 1914), p. 129.


Mauricio de Lacerda, Segunda república, 2 ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1931), pp. 146-147. Prestes at that time gave his public support (though sporadic and half-hearted) to Vargas until he joined the embryonic Brazilian CP.


Virgílio Santa Rosa, O sentido do tenentismo (Rio de Janeiro, 1933), p. 114, quoted in Nelson Werneck Sodré, Introdução à revolução brasileira (Rio de Janeiro, 1958), p. 211.


Robert J. Alexander, “Brazilian Tenentismo,” HAHR, p. 240.


Almeida, Brasil errado, p. 122.


From the analysis of Afonso Arinos de Melo Franco, Um estadista da república, III (Rio de Janeiro, 1955), 1421.


The concept of force and authority is taken from Peter Amann, “Revolution: a Redefinition,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXVII (March 1962), 36-53.


Melo Franco, Um estadista da república, III, 1361-1362. Also, Alexandre José Barbosa Lima Sobrinho, A verdade sôbre a revolução de outubro (São Paulo 1933), p. 250.


Barbosa Lima Sobrinho, A verdade, p. 249.


Lourival Coutinho, O general Góes depõe . . ., 3 ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1956), p. 150. There were two parallel commands, in effect, a double army.


Jeneral (Bertholdo) Klinger, Parada e desfile duma vida de voluntârio do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1958), p. 405.


Coutinho, O general Góes, p. 149.


Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz, “O mandonismo local na vida polítics brasileira,” Parte VI, Anhembi, XXV, Ano VII, No. 76 (March 1957), 55.


Juracy M. Magalhães, Minha vida pública na Bahia (Rio de Janeiro, 1957), pp. 52-53.


Renato Jardim, A aventura de outubro e a invasão de São Paulo, 3 ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1932?), pp. 178-179.


Democratic Party manifesto “O Paíz,” quoted in ibid., p. 210.


Coutinho, O general Góes, p. 154.


The struggle for control of Minas Gerais was between the old Republican Party (P.R.M.) and younger politicians, such as Francisco Campos with his proto-fascist Legion of October, Gustavo Campanema, and others. Melo Franco, Um estadista da república, III, 1423, 1489.


João Neves de Fontoura, Por S. Paulo e pelo Brasil, quoted in José Maria Bello, História da república, 4 ed. (São Paulo, 1959), pp. 357-358.


Jardim, A aventura de outubro, pp. 186-187.


Coutinho, O general Góes, p. 162.


Klinger, Parada e desfile, p. 355.


Melo Franco, Um estadista da república, III, 1427.


Jardim, A aventura de outubro, pp. 107-109.


Ibid., p. 172.


Euclydes Figueiredo, Contribuição para a história da revolução constitucionalista de 1932 (São Paulo, 1954), pp. 19-20, quoting a decree issued by João Alberto.


Lacerda, Segunda república, pp. 281-282.


Ibid., p. 283.


Jardim, A aventura de outubro, p. 177.


Somewhat later a survey of immovable property was recommended as the first step toward tax reform and the extinction of latifundio.


Jardim, A aventura de outubro, p. 208.


Democratic Party manifesto of January 13, 1932, in which the party finally broke with Vargas. Quoted in ibid., p. 273.


Lacerda, Segunda república, p. 283.


Figueiredo, Contribuição para a história, p. 30.


Werneck Sodré, Introdução à revolução brasileira pp. 207-209.


Amaral Peixoto, Getúlio Vargas, meu pai, pp. 78-79.


Para onde vai o Brasil? (Rio de Janeiro, 1933), p. 26. A series of interviews which appeared in Diario de Noticias of that year.


Vargas seems to have discarded the issue of wide scale land reform shortly after he assumed power. What measures may have been taken or were considered, and when references to land reform disappeared from his public statements, have yet to be considered.


Werneck Sodré, Introdução à revolução brasileira, p. 213.


Melo Franco, Um estadista da república, III, 1422.


Almeida, Brasil errado, pp. 120-122.

Author notes


The author is a doctoral candidate at Stanford University.