In this lengthy book Dauril Alden provides a series of informative essays on the military, economic, and political history of Brazil in the eighteenth century. He concentrates on the military history of the South, the area from Santa Catarina to Colonia do Sacramento on the Plata estuary. In the longest section of the book, 216 pages, he minutely chronicles Spanish-Portuguese rivalry in that strategic area, beginning with the penetration of Guairá by the Spanish Jesuits in the early seventeenth century and concluding with the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1777. Economic matters are his second concern, and the shortest portion of the book treats political subjects.
One of the principal points which the author tries to make in his study is that the viceroys exercised scant power outside the captaincy in which they resided: “In theory they [the viceroys] were charged with the management of the king’s domains throughout the length and breadth of the colony, but in reality they administered a small part of them” (p. 447). Much of what Alden writes seems to verify that conclusion, and yet he introduces so many exceptions throughout the text that one hesitates to endorse it fully. For example, the Marquis of Lavradio (the viceroy whose administration, 1769-1779, gives much of the continuity to the essays) complained that the governors depended too heavily on him for defense. In fact, he did “direct” the governors of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Bahia, and Pernambuco to send troops to the South. At one point, the governor of Bahia was put under direct command of the viceroy. As the author also reveals, “each new governor carried special orders making him militarily dependent on the viceroy” (p. 139). In fiscal matters the viceregal capital served as the collecting point for Crown revenues from Brazil, and the viceroy was charged with shipping them to Lisbon. The viceroy also served as the “channel” through which much information was sent to the various governors.
Alden further asserts that Pombal never strengthened the viceregal powers. It is difficult for me to rationalize that statement after reading what he says about the increase of the viceroy’s fiscal powers in the 1760s and military powers in the 1770s and finally his report that Pombal conferred strong, though seemingly undefined, new powers on Lavradio: “In addition to a more exalted military title, the viceroy was given full war powers and authority equal to that of the former viceroys of India” (p. 141). Unfortunately, the author does not tell us the powers which the viceroys of India once exercised, a lapse in an otherwise heavily documented and footnoted discussion. Although Alden usually goes into military policy thoroughly, he does not mention that Pombal wanted to unify Brazil so that it could be more easily defended as well as more effective in its own defense.
Nor is it clear why the author chooses not to discuss the extinction of the state of Maranhão in 1772, a significant political event which occurred during the Lavradio administration. To the best of my knowledge, Maranhão and Piauí at that time became a part of Brazil, and, at least in theory, they were subordinated to the viceroy, so that, here too, one finds, if nothing else, a nominal extension of viceregal authority. The author might also have considered some of the contemporary charges that the viceroys exalted their powers. In a candid letter of 1783, Chancellor José Luís França wrote from Rio de Janeiro to a friend in Lisbon: “The viceroys always try to be independent . . .” (Anais da Academia Portuguêsa de História, Vol. XV, 36). With such statements as “in more than one way did the viceroy’s job resemble that of the king’s” (p. 479) fresh in my mind, I hesitate to concur unreservedly with Alden’s assertion that in his relations with the governors the viceroy was simply primus inter pares (p. 447).
The book admirably discusses the governing agencies in Portuguese America, but it has little to say about the metropolitan institutions which governed Brazil. Apparently the accouterments of Portuguese power in the New World were minimal. The civil service was tiny; the garrisons small, undermanned, and scattered. It seems then—although the author does not explore the possibility—that the control which the Portuguese exercised over that vast subcontinent stemmed from the power of legitimacy. The Brazilians accepted the system, rarely questioned it, and seldom challenged it until the end of the eighteenth century. When they did—for example in the Beckman revolt—they quickly surrendered to the Crown’s will. The book’s final conclusion that Brazil is more divided than united certainly will reopen an old debate.
Repetition contributes to the length of this book. I noted that by the time I had reached p. 33 the term devasse had been defined three times in more or less the same wording. Information about the Boards of Inspection given on p. 12 is repeated almost word for word on p. 45 and in part again on p. 282.
Alden lauds Varnhagen’s História Geral do Brasil, calling it the foremost history of Brazil’s colonial past. Well-documented facts were the forte of Varnhagen as they certainly are of his admirer, who, however, might note that the first edition of the História Geral was not published in Rio de Janeiro between 1854 and 1857 (p. 486). The printing press of V. de Domínguez turned out the first volume in Madrid in 1854 and the second in 1857.
In general, the book is clearly written. The author has done an impressive amount of research, most of it in the documents and accounts of the period. He is obviously a diligent and careful scholar intimately familiar with archival material. In fact, it is really remarkable that such a complete study could be made without ever visiting Portugal. There is no doubt that this monograph provides a rich source of information, and its comparisons of royal government in Brazil with other colonial systems are particularly valuable. No one will be able to study colonial Brazil without consulting this factual work.