Recent studies of twentieth-century Latin American society have found a surprising convergence in political attitudes between big businessmen and landowners. This is especially true for Brazil. Brazil’s business elite has never challenged the political power of the traditional landowning elite or the patriarchal framework in which politics traditionally has been practiced.1 There has been no conflict between the two elites, such as characterized the development of industrial capitalism in Europe during the middle of the last century.2 Various reasons have been advanced for this convergence in political outlook; however, it should be noted that the phenomenon is not new. It dates back at least to the nineteenth century, when Brazil fully entered world trade patterns as an exporter of tropical products. Nineteenth-century Brazilian large-scale businessmen and landholders evidence, if anything, stronger feelings of political solidarity and economic identity than do their modern counterparts. Big businessmen not only supported the interests of landholders, they even took the initiative in defending them.

This tradition of solidarity between business and landholding elites was not dependent upon mutually beneficial social and economic ties, although such ties were common. Solidarity prevailed despite differing national origin between the two groups and despite formal economic relationships with a strong potential for conflict over questions of commodity prices and credit.

The identification of interests between big business and landholding had its roots in nineteenth-century Brazil’s agricultural export economy. This economy was overwhelmingly tied to overseas markets; industry was virtually nonexistent and even internal commerce was stunted. Thus, businessmen freely and frequently paid tribute to what most regarded as Brazil’s only viable source of wealth: export-producing landholding. Insuring the prosperity of agriculture became a chief concern of Brazil’s business elite and this strong identification even served as an obstacle to industrial development. Such was the convergence of outlook that it might be correct to speak of landowning and business elites not as differing class sectors but as an “export sector” devoted to the interests of export agriculture.

Nineteenth-century Brazil offers itself as a good example of an agricultural export economy. Manufacturing industry began to blossom only in the last two decades of the century.3 Most manufactured goods and even some staple foodstuffs were imported. Economic activity centered in some dozen coastal ports, which generally traded more with foreign nations than with other parts of Brazil.4 Even much of the internal commerce was carried by ships because of the lack of adequate land routes. Large-scale business was most often connected with foreign trade. Although diversity of economic interest characterized nineteenth-century Brazil’s business elite, businessmen associated with overseas commerce—export-import merchants, jobbers, and commodity brokers—were commonly the wealthiest and most prestigious.5

Aside from their participation in an agricultural export economy, Brazilian businessmen and landowners had little in common. A basic point of difference was their national origin. Although precise statistics cannot be obtained, it is quite likely that the majorty of the leaders of nineteenth-century Brazil’s business community were foreign-born.6 Almost all landowners were, of course, native Brazilians. Foreign predominance in the business world was promoted by the overseas orientation of commerce and by the reluctance or inability of Brazilians to enter the profession of business.7 As a result, business and landowning came to be in large measure divided along ethnic lines, a potential source of hostility.

Economic relations between landowners and big businessmen brought forth more specific points of contention. Landowners often protested the unjustness of the prices offered for their products by merchants and the arbitrary imposition by the latter of the tares or deductions from the sum paid for the weight of containers and wrappings. Agricultural credit, always in short supply in nineteenth-century Brazil, prompted even more serious tension. Few banks were willing to lend to landowners; thus planters were forced to borrow from merchant houses at such high interest rates that, in the words of one spokeman, agriculture became “the submissive slave of commerce.”8 Businessmen, for their part, continually complained of the difficulty in collecting debts from landowners and of the lack of security faced by those who made farm loans. The creditor confronted not only mortgage laws which favored the debtor, but also the prejudice of rural judicial authorities in favor of the landowner should the creditor try to recover his loan through the courts.9 The nature of economic contacts of landowning and business elite, much as their differing national origins, seemed likely to generate hostility.

Nevertheless, despite the high potential for conflict, large-scale landowners and businessmen in nineteenth-century Brazil strongly evidenced a common outlook and purpose. The goal of both was the prosperity of export agriculture. And in promoting this prosperity the businessman was much more active than the landowner. The business elite most often attempted to influence public policy not through participation in partisan politics, but through its interest groups, the commercial associations.10 In organization and membership, commercial associations were similar to modern chambers of commerce, but boasted legal regulatory and advisory powers inherited from the tradition of Portuguese corporatism. The associations claimed to represent all forms of business endeavor, including industry and retailing.11 Their leadership, however, like the composition of Brazil’s business elite itself, reflected the dominance of overseas commerce. Historians of nineteenth-century Brazil have perhaps underestimated business influence on public policy, first because such influence was exercised through interest organizations and secondly because of the lack of business identification with or partisanship toward a specific political party. Business interest groups, however, preferred to keep a strict and scrupulous political neutrality; their tactics were to support policies or individuals favorable to commerce, whatever the party of origin.

There were logical reasons for business interest groups to proclaim and practice political neutrality. For one thing, political partisanship would leave business open to retaliation should the opposition party gain power. In addition, open political activity by a group with such a strong foreign complexion inevitably would arouse resentment. Finally, many business leaders may have felt a fastidious disinclination to meddle in what they termed the “rancors” of partisan politics.12

Business interest groups, as their public statements indicate, considered themselves explicitly to be serving agriculture as well as commerce. Most commercial associations also admitted landowners as members, although not to positions of leadership. Thus, nineteenth-century Brazilian business interest groups were in effect agricultural interest groups as well. The primacy of commercial associations as spokesmen for both big business and big agriculture lasted well into the twentieth century.13 In part, this situation occurred because agricultural interest groups were few and relatively inactive, but more importantly members of the business elite recognized clearly that their well-being depended on the prosperity of agriculture. “The greatest or almost the only economic strength in Brazil resides in agriculture,” stated the Commercial Beneficent Association of Pernambuco in 1888; “this is a truth so well-known that it seems pure idleness to repeat it.”14

Government ratified the claim of business interest groups to speak for agriculture. National and provincial authorities frequently called on commercial associations to furnish evaluations of the current agricultural situation and to suggest means for agricultural development.15 This meant that the commercial associations’ right and duty of furnishing advice on economic matters, an inheritance from the tradition of Portuguese corporatism, applied to agriculture as well. The opinion of business interest groups was of considerable importance to government because of a dearth of additional sources of economic expertise. This importance was also magnified by the scarcity of other permanent interest organizations in Brazil during most of the nineteenth century.16 National and provincial governments continued to request commercial association opinion on agricultural matters even after the creation of agricultural interest organizations in the 1860s.

Encouraging the welfare of agriculture, a task business interest groups had assumed, was complex and time-consuming because nineteenth-century Brazilian husbandry was beset with problems. Perhaps the most glaring was outmoded technology. A principal aim of business, therefore, became the promotion of agricultural modernization. Commercial associations imported new machinery and put it on display for planters, and translated and published literature on the latest farming techniques.17 The foreign origin and overseas trading connections of business leaders made the associations natural channels for disseminating the technological innovations developed in Europe and the United States. However, business interest groups served as more than transmitters of technology. Commercial associations were frequently asked by government to evaluate new agricultural machinery or blueprints, and a few technical pamphlets were written by businessmen members themselves.18

Another major problem of nineteenth-century Brazilian agriculture was defective quality. Brazilian commodities, especially those of the Northeast, were occasionally discounted in overseas markets.19 In part, this resulted from outmoded technology and careless farming techniques; in part, it stemmed from outright fraud on the part of some planters who mixed sand and gravel with their sugar and were even known to pack cotton bales with “rocks, bricks, pieces of iron, and nails.”20 To counter such tendencies, business interest groups organized standard quality types for Brazil’s principal products and introduced the use of uniform weights, measures, and containers. They also promoted and supervised, often against the frenzied objections of small retailers, Brazil’s conversion to the metric system.21 Business usually demanded government inspection of exports; when such inspection was abolished or proved inadequate, at least four commercial associations organized their own privately financed inspection service.22

In addition to efforts to upgrade the quality of Brazilian commodities, business interest groups worked to expand agricultural markets by promoting and supervising the display of Brazilian exports at special expositions or international fairs. They also disseminated information on product types and prices to overseas customers and even encouraged reciprocal trade agreements as a means of expanding markets. Occasionally, when discouraged at the market prospects of their regional staples, commercial associations promoted the introduction of new crops into their home areas.23

The scarcity of farm credit constituted another obstacle to agricultural development. In the first half of the nineteenth century there were, in fact, virtually no banks; loans, usually high-interest and shortterm, could only be obtained through merchant houses. The comercial associations tried to remedy this by sponsoring the creation of some of Brazil’s earliest banks.24 Not all of these attempts were successful, and those that were could not satisfy the growing demand for agricultural credit. Banks set up in Brazil later in the nineteenth century did little to remedy the situation because most, especially the British banks, lent to landowners only with reluctance.25 Agricultural creditors, whether banks or merchant houses, were put off by the legal difficulty of foreclosing on landed property. The commercial associations therefore turned to the state for a solution, enthusiastically backing the creation of government-financed hypothecary banks designed to give planters long-term credit at low interest. Several such projects were, in fact, drawn up by commercial association leaders.26 However, none of Brazil’s projected hypothecary banking systems was successful, mainly because of inability to attract sufficient foreign capital.27 Despite the repeated entreaties of business interest groups to government, Brazilian agriculture continued to lack adequate credit throughout the nineteenth century.

Landowners, especially those raising sugar, cotton, and coffee, Brazil’s nineteenth-century staples, needed cheap labor as well as credit. The assurance of abundant manpower for agriculture became a major concern of business interest groups. They demonstrated extreme sensitivity to the issue, attempting, for example, to curb recruitment of agricultural laborers for military service and even to promote government aid for railroads in order to supplant mule-train transportation and force thousands of mule drovers into agricultural work.28

The anxiety to insure an adequate farm labor supply also forced business interest groups into a dogged defense of slavery. Such a defense was especially surprising in a class sector which continually waved the banner of nineteenth-century liberalism and whose connections with nations opposed to slavery, particularly England, were strong. This apparent anomaly demonstrates the strength of the businessman’s solicitude for agriculture and his conviction that slavery was an evil absolutely necessary for Brazil’s economic survival.29

Business interest group support for slavery was kept inconspicuous, but it was determined. Only the Commercial Beneficent Association of Pernambuco, from an area of strong abolitionist sentiment and British influence, occasionally wavered.30 However, virtually all business interest groups participated in a joint campaign of planter and business organizations against the abolition project of Prime Minister (Presidente do Conselho) Manuel Pinto de Souza Dantas in 1884.31 The Dantas bill, the greatest threat to slavery to that time, would not only have suppressed the institution within a matter of years, but would have implicitly destroyed the right of slave owners to indemnification.32 The concerted pressure of business and agricultural organizations blocked the Dantas bill, toppled the Dantas cabinet, and even brought electoral defeat to the bill’s young and ambitious author, Rui Barbosa.

Such campaigns, however, could only delay, not halt abolition. When Brazil, the last nation in the Western world to end slavery, did so in May of 1888, several business interest groups reacted by demanding the imposition of some other form of forced labor.33 This expedient had been suggested prior to abolition by business organizations dubious about the willingness of free Brazilians to perform plantation labor.34 The slave, as one commercial association put it, was more productive not only because of his legal status but because of his “lack of intelligence and education.”35 Certain business interest organizations also advocated the mass introduction of Chinese contract laborers, a substitute for slavery controversial even among planters.36

Another, perhaps more reasonable, substitute for slavery was European immigrant labor. Commercial associations, foreseeing the “inevitable” end of slavery, were enthusiastic promoters of immigration as early as the 1860s.37 However, most of their effort was aimed at facilitating the migration of agricultural laborers; the associations were apparently uninterested in the attraction of urban artisans or industrial workers. The Commercial Association of Pôrto Alegre and other business interest organizations of the province of Rio Grande do Sul were anxious to maintain or increase German immigration to that area, as it was known that Germans tended to settle as farmers.38

A final means by which the business elite attempted to aid land-owners was to reduce their taxes. Export taxes were virtually the only levies affecting landowners because direct taxation, including real estate taxes on rural landholdings, was rare. Nineteenth-century Brazil collected some seventy percent of its revenue from export and import duties.39 Export taxes, although paid by exporters, were mostly passed on to landowners in the form of a lower price for their products, since the price of commodities in world markets could rarely be raised.

Virtually all business interest groups opposed export taxation on principle. However, commercial associations realized that complete elimination of export taxes would be impossible in view of the chronic revenue shortages of Brazil’s national and local governments, so they concentrated on removing them from cotton and sugar, the two commodities most threatened by international competition. National export duties on cotton were rescinded in 1877 and on sugar in 1887, as were such duties in many of Brazil’s provinces by the end of the empire in 1889. Unfortunately for agriculture, increased revenue demands under the republic often brought a resurgence of these taxes.

Nothing better illustrates the obsession of the business elite with agricultural welfare than the drive against export taxation. As business interest groups were well aware, the suppression of an export tax meant that rates would have to be increased elsewhere in compensation. This juggling process usually involved the raising of taxes on imports. But despite the significance of importation to Brazilian business, the nation’s principal commercial associations repeatedly offered to accept increased import tariff rates in exchange for the elimination of export taxation.40 Only occasionally did import firms object to this proposal.41 That importers would usually agree in theory to increased taxation indicated commerce’s overall awareness of the importance of agricultural prosperity to Brazil’s economy. Expanded import volume in a year when exportation slumped did not result in profit for import firms; instead they were left with large unsold stocks since public demand was geared to export prosperity.42 Export earnings financed imports.

As has been seen, business interest groups fought for agriculture in the problem areas of modernization, product quality, farm credit, manpower, and taxation. What did agriculture do for itself? Surprisingly little. Business organizations defended agriculture in nineteenth-century Brazil not only because of mutual interdependence but also because agriculture lacked effective organizations to articulate its own needs.

Brazil’s first enduring agricultural interest groups were not created until 1860.43 The Imperial Agricultural Institutes of Rio de Janeiro (Fluminense), Bahia, Pernambuco, Sergipe, and Rio Grande do Sul were, however, launched under most favorable circumstances. A byproduct of Pedro II’s excursion to northeast Brazil in 1859, the Imperial Institutes could count on not only the Emperor’s backing but also the promise of generous government funding for projects and the advantage of a membership composed of the most distinguished members of the empire’s landed aristocracy. In addition to promoting the general interests of agriculture, the institutes were dedicated to fostering agricultural engineering schools and technological laboratories.44

The bright promise of the Imperial Institutes of Agriculture was not fulfilled. The Rio Grande do Sul and Sergipe associations were stillborn, and the Pernambuco institute lapsed into dormancy within a few years.45 The Bahian organization lasted until the end of the empire in 1889, but with ever-decreasing membership and activity.46 Only the Imperial Institute of Agriculture of Rio de Janeiro, bolstered by the personal interest and frequent attendance of the Emperor, was consistently active. However, perhaps the most vigorous of nineteenth-century Brazil’s agricultural interest groups was the Pernambuco Agriculture Auxiliary Society (Sociedade Auxiliadora da Agricultura de Pernambuco), founded in 1872.47 It joined two Recife business interest organizations in attempting to rally government aid for the province’s troubled sugar industry. Not until 1897 did an agricultural organization with national scope appear.48

Agricultural interest groups were apparently willing to let business organizations carry the burden of defending agriculture. With the exception of the Pernambuco Agriculture Auxiliary Society, their activities were aimed almost entirely at the improvement of agricultural technology through the evaluation and distribution of new plants, seeds, and agricultural devices. This relieved the commercial associations of part of the task of promoting agricultural modernization, and their activities in this field declined after 1860. The associations did not object to being released from this expensive and time-consuming responsibility.49 However, business activities on behalf of agriculture in other fields did not subside.

The creation of agricultural interest organizations did not imply a divergence of outlook between landowning and business elites. Businessmen were active in founding and financing these groups and often assumed positions of leadership.50 The Visconde de Mauá, nineteenth-century Brazil’s most famous and controversial entrepreneur, served as vice president of the Imperial Institute of Agriculture of Rio de Janeiro. The vice president, secretary, and treasurer of the Bahian Institute at the end of the empire were businessmen who also directed the Bahian Commercial Association.51 Programs for the defense of agriculture articulated by agricultural interest organizations were virtually identical to those continually advocated by business groups.52

Business interest groups, then, acted as the principal defenders of Brazilian agriculture during the nineteenth century. But how successful were they? Agriculture advanced in the sense that income from exports showed an overall increase during the nineteenth century, but this gain was much greater in the coffee-exporting South than in the Northeast, which depended upon sugar and cotton.53 However, business interest groups had only mixed success in realizing their objectives on behalf of agricultural prosperity.

Agricultural modernization, for example, made only limited advances. Despite the efforts of commercial and later agricultural interest groups, Brazilian farming remained on the whole technologically backward. Landowners, with some notable exceptions, continued to be indifferent to improving their methods or their products.54 The problem of technological inadequacy was particularly acute in the Northeast, where sugar and cotton had difficulty competing in international markets. This situation persists to this day.55

Agricultural modernization lagged not only because of indifference but also because of lack of money. As noted above, easy farm credit was virtually unavailable during the nineteenth century. In part, this resulted from the failure of government and its business interest group advisors to devise effective institutions of credit; it can also be attributed to mortgage laws and judicial authorities unduly favorable to the interests of the debtor.56 Brazilian landowners protected by law and sympathetic judges were simply bad risks. The frequent complaints of commercial associations about overprotection of debtors were not mere self-serving acts on the part of organizations representing lenders. Without fair play for the creditor there would be no credit for Brazilian agriculture.

The manpower policies of business interest groups obtained mixed success. Immigrants came in large numbers to the South of Brazil, but not to the Northeast, where the unattractive tropical climate discouraged European laborers. On the other hand, business organizations were undoubtedly instrumental in perpetuating Brazilian slavery—a victory for large-scale agriculture, but not necessarily for the interests of the nation as a whole. The transition from slave to free labor, however, occurred with relative ease after abolition in 1888, despite the considerable misgivings of business interest groups.

In the field of taxation, business interest organizations made only limited gains on behalf of agriculture. The struggle to eliminate export taxes was, in fact, almost hopeless in view of the dependence of Brazil’s national and provincial governments on export and import taxation as a principal source of revenue. This dilemma might have been removed had Brazil relied on some form of direct taxation rather than on such indirect revenues, but business interest groups strongly condemned the few proposals for direct taxation that were voiced during the nineteenth century.57

The efforts of business interest groups were handicapped not only by circumstances beyond their control, but also by their own inconsistency. The commercial associations had no long-range plans for agricultural development. Their programs to aid agriculture were often a response to some form of crisis, usually a drop in export volume or revenue. If the crisis eased, the exertions of business interest groups tended to slacken. The campaign to remove export duties on cotton, for example, was vigorously pursued during a period of falling cotton prices during the 1850s, but quickly forgotten in the 1860s when cotton prices soared because of the United States Civil War. When prices once more plummeted following that conflict, the commercial associations precipitously renewed the anti-export tax drive. Such variations of effort marked many of the business campaigns on behalf of agriculture. These campaigns were hampered not by adversity but by prosperity.

When their efforts to advance agriculture were frustrated, business interest groups usually reacted by calling for closer businessman–landowner cooperation. In Pernambuco, the failure of government to respond to the needs of the area’s faltering sugar industry brought attempts to form joint landowner-businessman political movements, culminating in the creation of a short-lived political party in 1899.58 Another answer to the problems of a particular commodity, especially sugar, was the organization of local and national conferences. These featured leaders from business and agricultural interest groups and were designed to alert government to the needs of the threatened agricultural industry as well as to mobilize private action. Such conferences became even more popular in the early twentieth century. As pressures for landowner-businessman cooperation intensified in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, commercial associations and also some agricultural leaders began to characterize landowners and businessmen as a unified class sector. They spoke of them as the “useful classes,” the “productive classes,” and by the early twentieth century, settled on the label “conservative classes.”

Another response was the formation of joint landowner-business interest organizations in defense of a threatened commodity. Two of these, headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, had national backing. The Commercial and Agricultural Center (Centro da Lavoura e do Commércio) was created in 1881 to combat two ominous dangers to Brazil’s coffee industry: lagging sales abroad and abolition at home.59 It arranged expositions of Brazilian coffee at home and overseas during the 1880s and was also instrumental in organizing planters to oppose the Dantas abolition project in 1884.60 The Center for Industry and Commerce of Sugar (Centro da Indústria e Commércio de Assucar) was formed in 1887 to relieve an industry beset by falling prices and strong foreign competition. It worked to promote overseas sales, rally government aid, and coordinate the efforts of business and agricultural groups in defense of Brazilian sugar. Yet neither organization survived the downfall of the empire for long, primarily because the first years of the republic brought a falling exchange rate profitable for the export producer and a temporary climb in export prices, even for sugar.61 Neither group survived favorable conditions for its commodity. In addition, their programs and, to an extent, their leadership duplicated those of the commercial associations.

Clearly, big businessmen and large landowners felt themselves to be partners, not rivals, in nineteenth-century Brazil. What were the reasons for this unity of outlook? It is true that their personal interests converged at many points. Leading members of the planter aristocracy, including prominent statesmen, often invested in business enterprise (although they rarely became businessmen in the occupational sense).62 More common was the movement of members of the business elite into agriculture. Some became planters because they wanted the prestige of owning land for themselves and their offspring; other businessmen became landowners involuntarily when forced to foreclose on rural property because of unpaid debts. Indeed, the widespread indebtedness of planters to merchant houses was itself a factor which assured the concern of businessmen for agricultural welfare. Direct business investment in agricultural enterprise was also significant, particularly in the late nineteenth century. This took the form of large-scale corporate farms and also central sugar mills (engenhos centrals) designed to revive Brazil’s sugar industry through more efficient large-scale processing. Finally, the activities of business and landowning elites often converged through intermarriage. The traditional social gulf between the two class sectors was considerably narrowed by the wealth and elegant lifestyle of the foreign merchants, particularly British, who flocked to Brazil during the nineteenth century.63

The importance of common personal interests, however, can be exaggerated. British and German merchants, for example, did not seem to share the enthusiasm of their Brazilian and Portuguese fellows for landowning as a means of increasing social status. Nor was business investment in agricultural enterprise a decisive factor in the unity of business and landowning elites. Business interest groups in Pernambuco, for example, publicly assailed the performance of central sugar mills in that province and took the side of sugarcane growers in the latter’s disputes with the mills.64 In addition, marriage ties between business and landowning families, while common, were not predominant; nor did business leaders without such ties seem any less concerned for the welfare of agriculture.

Again, the overriding reason for the unity of outlook of business and landowning elites in nineteenth-century Brazil was their mutual dependence on export agriculture. It is doubtful that the concern of big businessmen for agricultural prosperity would have been less even had there been no common personal interests between the two class sectors. In view of nineteenth-century Brazil’s overwhelming dependence on export commodities as a source of wealth, the repeated tributes of business interest groups to the importance of agriculture seem justified as well as sincere. Only with the growth of industrialization and the establishment of viable internal markets did dependence on export agriculture decrease.

An understanding of the convergence of views between business and landowning elites helps clarify many political tendencies in nineteenth-century Brazil. The urban middle sectors supposedly opposed to the landowners did not include big business.65 Thus the weak challenge to the power of landowners may be explained, in part, by the fact that opposing elements lacked the financial strength and energy that big business as a sector could provide. Among the consequences of the lack of serious competition to landowner power were the long duration of slavery and the absence of any important movement toward agrarian reform.66 The uniformity in outlooks of business and landowning elites also helps explain the lateness of Brazilian industrialization, the persistence of an economy based on exportation, and the situation of dependency on the world’s industrialized nations from which Brazil has not yet fully extricated itself.

Finally, we ought to modify our concept of the political forces in nineteenth-century Brazil, and perhaps in other nineteenth-century Latin American nations as well. Landowners did not stand alone. The business elite not only supported them, but also took the initiative in defending their interests. Borrowing from the nineteenth-century concept of the “conservative classes” referred to above, it is correct to speak of landowners and businessmen as an “export sector” devoted to the interests of export agriculture.67 Further research may well prove the same to be true for other nations with an agricultural export economy.


See for example Anthony Leeds, “Brazilian Careers and Social Structure: An Evolutionary Model and Case History,” American Anthropologist, 66 (Dec. 1964), 1340; Warren Dean, The Industrialization of São Paulo, 1880-1945 (Austin, 1969), pp. 67-80; and Riordan Roett, Brazil: Politics in a Patrimonial Society (Boston, 1972), pp. 127-129.


Celso Furtado, Diagnosis of the Brazilian Crisis, trans. by Suzette Macedo (Berkeley, 1965), pp. 116-117. On attempts to derive theories of antagonism between Latin American big businessmen and landowners by analogy from struggles of European aristocracy and urban bourgeoisie, see Frank Safford, “Social Aspects of Politics in Nineteenth-Century Latin America: New Granada, 1825-1850,” Journal of Social History, 5 (Summer 1972), 349-351.


Werner Baer and Annibal V. Villela, “Industrial Growth and Industrialization: Revisions in the Stages of Brazil’s Economic Development,” The Journal of Developing Areas, 7 (Jan. 1973), 218, 227.


Richard Graham, Britain and the Onset of Modernization in Brazil, 1850-1914 (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 14-15.


On the prevalence of economic diversity and export-import interests among Brazilian businessmen, see Eugene W. Ridings, “A Elite Comercial do Brasil no Século Dezenove: Uma Análise Preliminar do Componente Rio de Janeiro,” Mensário do Arquivo Nacional (Rio de Janeiro), 8 (Jan. 1977), 4.


The commercial associations, representative organizations of large-scale business, were naturally reluctant to publish figures on the extent of foreign membership. The one exception was the Commercial Association of Rio de Janeiro, whose statutes during most of the century called for proportional representation on its board of directors by nationality. Only 36 of 113 directors examined for the period 1844-1902 were Brazilians; ibid. In 1872 the membership of the Commercial Beneficent Association of Pernambuco was, according to a director, “more than one-third” Brazilian; Minutes, meeting of Apr. 5, 1872, Arquivo da Associação Comercial de Pernambuco, Recife (hereafter cited as AACP), Livro 3 de Atas, p. 94. Among foreign members of the commercial associations, the Portuguese were by far the most numerous.


Many nineteenth-century Brazilians had little regard for business as a profession. See Thomas Ewbank, Life in Brazil, or a Journal of a Visit to the Land of the Cocoa and the Palm (New York, 1856), p. 184; James Wetherell, Stray Notes from Bahia (Liverpool, 1860), p. 75; and Alberto de Faria, Mauá: Ireneo Evangelista de Souza, Barão e Visconde de Mauá, 1813-1889 (Rio de Janeiro, 1926), p. 53. On the other hand, foreign merchants, especially Portuguese, were accused of refusing to hire young Brazilians as clerks and of reluctance to turn over the management of their businesses to Brazilians, even their own sons. Gilberto Freyre, The Mansions and the Shanties: The Making of Modern Brazil, trans, and ed. by Harriet de Onís (New York, 1966), pp. 177-180. In 1834, a tax measure designed to force foreign businessmen to hire Brazilians was narrowly defeated in the Maranhão Provincial Assembly. Jerônimo de Viveiros, História do Commércio do Maranhão, 1612-1895 (São Luís, 1954), II, 191-192.


Miguel Antônio da Silva, “Agricultura Nacional: Estudos Agrícolas,” Revista Agrícola (Rio de Janeiro), 8 (Dec. 1877), 141.


Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório da Direcção da Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Apresentado à Assemblêia Geral da Mesma em 9 de Agôsto de 1861 (Recife, 1861), p. 4; Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1879 (Recife, 1879), pp. 19-20; Bahian Commercial Association to President of province, Salvador, Jan. 18, 1869, Relatório da Associação Commercial da Bahia de 17 de Novembro de 1869 (Salvador, 1869), pp. 47-48.


This paper will use the term “interest group” rather than “pressure group.” For the descriptive advantages of the former, see Graham Wooten, Interest Groups (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1970), p. 76. Scholarly studies of Brazilian commercial associations are rare. For the Bahian group, see Eugene W. Ridings, “The Bahian Commercial Association, 1840-1889: A Pressure Group in an Underdeveloped Area” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Florida, 1970). Businessmen members of commercial associations have also written on their own organizations, although these works do not treat their activities vis-à-vis the government. For Rio de Janeiro, see Eudes Barros, A Associação Commercial no Imperio e no República, 2d ed. rev. (Rio de Janeiro, 1975). For Pernambuco see Estevão Pinto, A Associação Comercial de Pernambuco (Recife, 1940). For Bahia, see M. S. L. Vaiverde, Subsídio para a História da Associação Commercial da Bahia (Salvador, 1917) and Waldemar Mattos, Palácio da Associação Commercial da Bahia, Antiga Praça do Comércio (Salvador, 1950). Much material on the Maranhão organization is included in Viveiros, Commércio do Maranhão.


There were few retailers in the commercial associations. Most retail establishments in nineteenth-century Brazil were small-scale and rude, and a wide social gulf traditionally existed between retailers and businessmen who dealt in money or bulk goods. For Portuguese tradition, see Charles R. Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415-1825 (New York, 1961), p. 333.


Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1878 (Recife, 1878), p. 13.


Philippe C. Schmitter, Interest Conflict and Political Change in Brazil (Stanford, 1971), p. 142.


Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1888 (Recife, 1888), p. 24.


See for example Minutes, meeting of Jan. 10, 1857, AACP, Livro 2 de Atas, p. 68, and Minutes, meeting of Nov. 5, 1873, AACP, Livro 3 de Atas, p. 135.


Aside from agricultural interest groups, only the short-lived (1881-1884) Industrial Association (Associação Industrial) was significant. It suffered from lack of interest and poor financial support. Associação Industrial, Relatório Apresentado a Assembléa Geral da Associação Industrial em Sessão de 9 de Junho de 1884 pela Directoria da Mesma Associação (Rio de Janeiro, 1884), p. 85. Most large-scale industrialists were members of the commercial associations.


See for example Associação Commercial do Maranhão, “Economia Rural: Cultura da Caima no Maranháo,” Revista Agrícola, 15 (Mar. 1884), 69, and Minutes, meeting of Apr. 20, 1873, AACP, Livro 3 de Atas, p. 118.


See for example Minutes, meeting of Aug. 10, 1852, AACP, Livro 2 de Atas, p. 9; Minutes, meeting of Jan. 20, 1846, Arquivo da Associação Commercial da Bahia, Salvador (hereafter cited as AACB), Livro 1 de Atas, pp. 197-198, and Bahian Commercial Association to President of province, Bahia, May 14, 1846, AACB, Registro dos Offícios, not numbered.


Praça do Commércio do Maranhão to President of province, São Luís, Apr. 21, 1871, Relatório da Commissão da Praça, Apresentado à Assemblea Geral dos Assignantes da Casa da Praça em 9 de Janeiro de 1872 (São Luís, 1872), p. 31; Moacir Medeiros de Santa Ana, Uma Associação Centenária (Maceió, Alagôas, 1966), pp. 66-67; Eugene W. Ridings, “Elite Conflict and Cooperation in the Brazilian Empire: The Case of Bahia’s Businessmen and Planters,” Luso-Brazilian Review, 12 (Summer 1975), 86.


Minutes, meeting of Sept. 9, 1889, AACP, Livro 7 de Atas, p. 39.


For an example of retailer opposition, see Minutes, meeting of Apr. 10, 1869, AACP, Livro 3 de Atas, p. 31.


Associação Commercial de Maceió, Relatório da Junta da Direcção da Associação Commercial de Maceió, Apresentado à Assembléa Geral da Mesma em 22 de Agôsto de 1872 (Maceió, 1872), pp. 9-10; Bahian Commercial Association to Chief of Customs, Salvador, Mar. 3, 1871, Relatório de 1871 (Salvador, 1871), p. 24; Minutes, meeting of Jan. 8, 1845, AACP Livro 1 de Atas, pp. 118-119; Minutes, meeting of Feb. 5, 1875, AACP, Livro 4 de Atas, p. 31.


See for example Minutes, meeting of May 12, 1879, AACP, Livro 1 de Atas da Associação Commercial Agrícola de Pernambuco, Recife (hereafter cited as ACAP), p. 25; Minutes, meeting of July 21, 1897, AACP, Livro 3 de Atas da ACAP, p. 131, and Minutes, meeting of Dec. 21, 1875, AACP, Livro 4 de Atas, p. 51.


For two of the most successful such banks, in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, see Heitor Beltrão, “O Civismo da Praça num Século de Labor,” in Associação Commercial do Rio de Janeiro, Aspectos Colligidos a propósito do Centenário da Associação Commercial (Rio de Janeiro, 1935), p. 75, and Minutes, meeting of Oct. 2, 1844, AACB, Livro 1 de Atas, p. 151.


Praça do Commércio de Pôrto Alegre to President of province, Pôrto Aiegre, Sept. 23, 1872, Relatório da Praça do Commércio de Pôrto Aiegre dos Annos de 1872 e 1873 (Pórto Aiegre, 1873), doc. 7, pp. 3-4; Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1885 (Recife, 1885), p. 15; David Joslin, A Century of Banking in Latin America: To Commemorate the Centenary in 1962 of the Bank of London and South America (London, 1963), p. 25.


Honório Augusto Ribeiro to Visconde de Ouro Prêto, Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 11, 1889, Arquivo do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro (hereafter cited as AIHGB), Coleção Ouro Prêto, lata 427, doc. 13, pp. 1-2; Bahian Commercial Association to Francisco P. Mayrink, Salvador, Apr. 11, 1881, Relatório de 1881 (Salvador, 1881), pp. 15-18.


According to the British consul in Bahia, the first such measure was inflationary and the lands offered for security were inaedquate for the bonds issued. Morgan to Foreign Office, Salvador, Dec. 17, 1875, Public Records Office/Foreign Office, 13/485, fols. 137-139.


See for example Praça do Commércio do Maranhão, Relatório de 1867 (São Luís, 1867), p. 8, and Associação Commercial Agrícola de Pernambuco, Congresso Agrícola do Recife (Recife, 1878), p. 15.


See for example Associação Commercial do Rio de Janeiro, Elemento Servil: Primeira Representação da Commissão Especial Nomeada em Assembléa Geral Extraordinaria de 2 de Maio de 1884 (Rio de Janeiro, 1884).


In its communications with the government, the Commercial Association of Pernambuco sometimes attacked, sometimes defended slavery; however, it openly called for abolition in 1888. Minutes, meeting of Apr. 2, 1888, AACP, Livro 7 de Atas, p. 19.


Neither the Commercial Beneficent Association of Pernambuco nor the Agricultural Commercial Association of Pernambuco participated in the campaign as a corporation. However, both invited their membership to an anti-Dantas project meeting held at Commercial Beneficent Association headquarters. Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1884 (Recife, 1884), pp. 37-39.


Robert Conrad, The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery, 1850-1888 (Berkeley, 1972), p. 213-216; Robert Brent Toplin, The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil (New York, 1975), p. 102. The Dantas bill was substituted by another emancipation project created by José Antônio Saraiva. Much weaker and with numerous loopholes, the latter was generally supported by pro-slavery elements. Conrad, Destruction of Slavery, pp. 224-225; Toplin, Abolition of Slavery, pp. 105-109.


Representação Dirigida pela Commissão da Lavoura e Commércio a Sua Alteza Imperial Regente, Salvador, July 5, 1888, Presidência da Provincia/Govêmo à Associação Commercial, 1846-1889, Arquivo do Estado da Bahia; Viveiros, Commércio de Maranhão, II, 469.


Associação Commercial Agrícola de Pernambuco, Congresso Agrícola, p. 17; Relatório da Commissão da Praça do Commércio do Maranhão Dirigido ao Presidente da Província, São Luís, Apr. 21, 1871, Relatório de 1872 (São Luís, 1872) p. 30.




Centro da Lavoura e do Commércio, Representação Submettida ao Roder Legislativo sôbre Algumas das Necessidades da Lavoura e do Commércio (Rio de Janeiro, 1882), p. 14; Commercial Association of Rio de Janeiro to National Congress, Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 12, 1892, Relatório da Associação Commercial do Rio de Janeiro do Anno de 1901 (Rio de Janeiro, 1902), pp. 23-24.


Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1866 (Recife, 1866), p. 13; Diário da Bahia, June 3, 1866, p. 1.


Praça do Commércio de Pôrto Alegre to President of province, Pôrto Alegre, Sept. 23, 1872, Relatório de 1872 e 1873 (Pôrto Alegre, 1873), doc. 7, pp. 5-6.


Nathaniel H. Leff, “Economic Retardation in Nineteenth-Century Brazil,” Economic History Review, 25 (Aug. 1972), 503.


For example, Associação Commercial do Maranhão, Relatório de 1891, p. 5; Minutes, meeting of Jan. 9, 1861, AACB, Livro 3 de Atas, p. 9; Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1879 (Recife, 1879), pp. 36-37.


As in Recife in 1883. Monhard, Mettler & Cia.; Bemet & Cia.; Adamson, Howie & Cia; Cramer, Frey & Cia. to Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Recife, May 7, 1883, Relatório de 1883 (Recife, 1883), pp. 89-90.


See for example, Commissão da Praça do Commércio do Pará, Relatório da Commissão da Praça do Commércio do Pará, Apresentado em Assembléa Geral dos Srs. Assignantes em 2 de Janeiro de 1875, (Belém, 1875), p. 4.


The Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Society of the Province of Bahia was founded in 1832, but disappeared within a few years. Representing agriculture and business, it was probably Brazil’s first interest group. Sociedade de Agricultura, Commércio, e Indústria da Província da Bahia, Acta da Installação (1832), Arquivo do Instituto Geográfico e Histórico da Bahia, pp. 3-11; Ridings, “Elite Conflict and Cooperation,” p. 84.


Miguel Antônio da Silva, “Agricultura Nacional: Estudos Agrícolas,” Revista Agrícola, 9 (Mar. 1878), 17-18.


Ibid., pp. 44-45; Peter L. Eisenberg, The Sugar Industry in Pernambuco: Modernization Without Change, 1840-1910 (Berkeley, 1974), pp. 141-142.


Arlindo Fragoso, Ensino Agrícola: Escola Agrícola da Bahia, Série de Artigos Publicados no “Jornal de Notícias,” sôbre a Urgência e Bases de Reforma dêsse Estabelecimento (Salvador, 1893), pp. 98-99.


Eisenberg, Sugar Industry, pp. 142-143.


Luiz Márquez Poliano, A Sociedade Nacional de Agricultura: Resumo Histórico (Rio de Janeiro, 1942), p. 24.


Minutes, meeting of June 26, 1861, AACP, Livro 2 de Atas, p. 139.


Receipt for 4:000$000 from Visconde de Ipanema to Visconde de Bomfim, Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 8, 1860, AIHGB, Coleção Instituto Histórico, lata 328, doc. 38; Minutes, meeting of Jan. 7, 1860, AACP, Livro 2 de Atas, p. 120.


“Imperial Instituto Fluminense de Agricultura,” Revista Agrícola, 1 (Sept. 1869), 73; “Imperial Instituto Bahiano de Agricultura,” Revista Agrícola, 18 (Mar. 1887), 151.


See for example, Miguel Antônio da Silva, “Agricultura Nacional,” Revista Agrícola, 9 (Mar. 1878), 7-17.


Nathaniel H. Leff, “Tropical Trade and Development in the Nineteenth Century: The Brazilian Experience,” Journal of Political Economy, 81 (May-June 1973), 680-681.


There seems ample evidence of the indifference and routine outlook with which most nineteenth-century Brazilian landowners regarded farming. It was decried by agricultural experts as well as the commercial associations. See for example John Casper Branner, Cotton in the Empire of Brazil (Washington, D.C., 1885), pp. 33-39; Miguel Antônio da Silva, “Agricultura Nacional; Estudios Agrícolas,” Revista Agrícola, 8 (Dec. 1877), 133-138; Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Belatório de 1862 (Recife, 1862), p. 5; Praça do Commércio do Marahhão, Relatório de 1872 (São Luís, 1872), p. 31. See also Stanley J. Stein, Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee County, 1850-1900 (Cambridge, Mass., 1957), pp. 23, 48-50, 214—216; and Eisenberg, Sugar Industry in Pernambuco, p. 42. For discounts in international markets suffered by Brazilian commodities because of poor preparation by landowners, see footnote 19.


Two examinations of this problem are Anthony Leeds, “Economic Cycles in Brazil; The Persistence of a Total Culture Pattern; Cacao and Other Cases” (Ph.D. Diss., Columbia University, 1957) and H. W. Hutchinson, “Value Orientations and Northeast Brazilian Agro-Industrial Modernization,” Inter-American Economic Affairs, 21 (Spring 1968), 73-88.


Eisenberg, Sugar Industry, pp. 72-74.


See for example Minutes, meeting of Apr. 5, 1877, AACP, Livro 4 de Atas, p. 83, and Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1879 (Recife, 1879), p. 34.


Minutes, General Assembly of Installation, July 26, 1899, AACP, Livro de Atas da Assembléia Geral do Centro Politico da Lavoura, Commércio e Indústria de Pernambuco.


Associação Commercial do Rio de Janeiro, Relatório de 1881 (Rio de Janeiro, 1881), pp. 17-18; Conrad, Destruction of Slavery, p. 166.


The Commercial and Agricultural Center was more than merely an antiabolition group as implied in ibid. See Centro de Lavoura e Commércio, Breve Notícia sôbre a Primeira Exposição de Café do Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, 1882).


Better prices came from increased domestic consumption and a temporary drop in European sugar beet production. Henri Raffard, O Centro da Industria e Commércio de Assúcar no Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro, 1892), p. 79; since export producers are usually paid in hard currency, the fall of local exchange acts as a bonus or premium. J. P. Wileman, Brazilian Exchange: The Study of an Incontrovertible Currency (1896; reprint ed., New York, 1969), p. 13. For contemporary awareness of this, see Sociedade Auxiliadora da Agricultura de Pernambuco to Centro da Indústria e Commércio de Assucar, Recife, June 13, 1887, in Raffard, Centro da Indústria, pp. 22-23, and Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1900 (Recife, 1900), p. 10.


In Bahia, for example, the Barão de Cotegipe and the Visconde de São Lourenço, planter aristocrats and Conservative Party chieftains, were founding directors of the Bank of Bahia. Waldemar Mattos, Panorama Econômico da Bahia, 1808-1960 (Salvador, 1961), p. 74.


Omer Mont’Alegre, Capital e Capitalismo no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1972), p. 70.


See for example Associação Commercial Beneficente de Pernambuco, Relatório de 1884 (Recife, 1884), p. 8, and Minutes, meeting of Oct. 7, 1889, AACP, Livro 1 de Atas da ACAP, p. 174.


On conflict between urban middle class and landowning elite see E. Bradford Bums, A History of Brazil (New York, 1970), pp. 188, 199; and Sugiyama Iutaka, “The Changing Bases of Social Class in Brazil,” in John Saunders, ed., Modern Brazil: New Patterns and Development (Gainesville, 1971), p. 259.


There was some sentiment for agrarian reform among abolitionists which may have helped turn landowners against the empire. See Richard Graham, “Landowners and the Overthrow of the Empire,” Luso-Brazilian Review, 7 (Dec. 1970), 44-56.


As in Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Enzo Faletto, Dependencia y desarrollo en América Latina (México, 1969).

Author notes


The author, an Assistant Professor of History at Winona State University, would like to thank Neill Macaulay, Phil Brian Johnson, and Robert Davis for their helpful comments. Much of the research for this article was made possible by a grant from the American Philosophical Society.