The burden of military service in Brazil has always weighed most heavily on the poor. Yet while we know that changes in the army during the Empire opened new opportunities for middle-class officers to participate in national politics, the importance of military service for the rank-and-file soldiers drawn from the rural poor has been overlooked.1 During most of the nineteenth century Brazilian soldiers served either in the army or in the national guard. Most often studied as political institutions, these organizations deserve more careful consideration as instruments of social control that also helped define the place of the poor in Brazilian society. The attitudes of the poor toward military service provide a glimpse of a world in which it was critically important to maintain or improve status by reinforcing differences between the honorable and the dishonorable, the worker and the vagrant, the free and the slave.

This essay will examine how military service in imperial Brazil delineated social differences among the poor. Bather than bind citizens together, the army and national guard accentuated divisions. I will argue that opposition to broadening the base of recruitment into the national army after 1870 reflected the desire of “honorable” working poor to maintain their position apart from slaves and “undesirables.” To support this argument I will examine resistance to draft reform in the Quebra Quilos revolt of 1874 in northeast Brazil.

It should come as no surprise that peasants resented being drafted into the army. Contemporary observers and historians alike have been puzzled, however, by the outrage northeastern peasants hurled against draft reform in 1874, since the new legislation was designed to distribute military service more fairly among Brazilians. No longer would conscription be enforced arbitrarily against the poor. Instead, a lottery would select draftees, distributing the hardship of military service more equitably among all Brazilian men. Yet shortly after word of this change reached the interior towns, rioting broke out in the markets of northeastern provinces. The police reported that various grievances triggered the riots: new taxes, mandatory adoption of the French metric system, the imprisonment of two bishops, and the new conscription law.

Although scholars generally acknowledge that this Quebra Quilos revolt was a protest against what many of the poor perceived as unjust taxation, and that some priests legitimized the rehellion, they have dismissed the conscription issue, arguing that peasants either did not fully understand the law or believed it to be merely an official ruse that would add to the burden of their responsibilities toward the state.2 Some have suggested that the poor were duped by their elite patrons, who had reasons of their own to oppose this law. For why should peasants rebel against a law designed to make military service more equitable? Would not those who had borne the brunt of military service in the past be the ones to benefit most from the new law?

While not denying that the Brazilian free poor were suspicious (and usually rightly so) of any government decree, or that peasants often felt that their interests coincided with those of their patrons and therefore supported elite causes, I will argue that they had practical reasons to oppose specifically the recruitment law of 1874. Labeling the protest misguided assumes that all the poor were equally victimized by, and equally opposed to, military recruitment. This was simply not so. Protest against the 1874 law highlighted social differences among the Brazilian poor. In order to understand these differences, we must first examine the meaning of different types of military service before 1874.

An Occupation for the Unemployed

Compulsory service in the Brazilian army before the Paraguayan War was overwhelmingly restricted to vagrants, to the unemployed.3 A roval decree of 1822 regulating recruitment expressly stated that it should not interfere with the sources of public prosperity,” defined as the arts, navigation, commerce, and agriculture. Conscription targeted those “individuals who, for want of occupation of legal industry, live in criminal idleness.”4 Recruitment into the army was designed as much to protect society from the dangers posed by the shiftless poor left to their own designs as to protect the nation from outside aggression. Although all Brazilian single males between the ages of 18 and 35 were subject, in principle, to service in the army, the law provided so many categories of exemptions that one Brazilian legislator called it the “nonrecruitment” law. It exempted all who were married or only sons; the overseers and administrators of cattle ranches, plantations, and brick factories; seamen; merchants; and students. Cattle herders, bricklayers, carpenters, and fishermen were also specifically exempted so long as they “actually exercised their craft and were well behaved [uma vez que exercitem os seus officios effectivamente e tenham bom comportamerito]"5 The national army was to be manned by a very particular group of citizens.

The duty of keeping internal peace and protecting Brazilian borders fell increasingly to the national guard after its creation in 1831. Modeled after the citizen militias of France and the United States, the guard provided an inexpensive lawkeeping force. All Brazilian men between the ages of 18 and 60 from families whose annual income qualified them to vote became subject to national guard service. Social status, based on income, unified the corps and distinguished it from the army. The 200$000 reis income requirement restricted service, in principle, to those who owned some property and who shared a desire to protect it.6 Citizen-soldiers would keep order in the Brazilian empire.

At its inception, the guard was an institution based on local power. The August 18, 1831, law that created the national guard, promulgated only four months after Pedro I had abdicated in favor of his five-year-old son, placed the guard under the responsibility of local justices, provincial presidents, and the empire’s minister of justice. The governing elite had seized the opportunity to curb the potential power of a military caste without jeopardizing order. By dispersing responsibility for these lawkeepers, the elite also restricted, for the moment, the centralizing power of the young emperor. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s the guard quelled regional uprisings and reinforced army forces along the borders whenever necessary. Municipal commanders wielded tremendous influence over their men, strengthening the bonds of deference between the humble and the elite in a given community. As the guard increasingly overshadowed the army, the size of the latter dropped from 30,000 troops in 1830 to only 16,000 in 1848.7

After 1840, however, with the political preeminence of conservatives and Pedro II’s full ascension to the Brazilian throne, the effort to centralize power resumed and was reflected in the 1850 reform of the national guard: commanders were appointed by the state and served at the pleasure of the central government.8 Political factionalism spilled over into the guard, which, one historian claims, became “the social instrument of the conservative group in maintaining their privileges.”9 Local potentates, appointed commanders, transformed the guard into a client army, using it to further their own political purposes. This troubled the opposition party bosses and fueled dissension at the elite level.

Within the ranks, the guard polarized between the elite officers and the lowly guardsmen. The hardship involved in guard service fell mainly upon its poorer members, while wealthy landowners either served only in the highest positions or simply supplied substitutes, excusing themselves from service altogether. The guard rather quickly lost sight of the democratic principle embodied in the image of the citizen-soldier.

Instead of creating a democratic corps, service in the guard actually highlighted ties of patronage and dependence. For the Brazilian national guard differed in a significant way from the models it emulated: the 1831 legislation automatically exempted guardsmen from recruitment into the army. As the century progressed, more and more men sought entry into the ranks of the national guard not from a sense of civic duty, nor from the esprit de corps of the propertied, but simply to escape compulsory army service.10 Those on the bottom rungs of the propertied ladder, and even those aspiring to step onto that ladder, often found patrons to place their names on national guard lists. The lofty principle of civic duty had probably never been enough to persuade poor farmers to enlist in the guard, purchase uniforms, and take on the responsibility of ensuring order in the empire. The carrot that enticed these men into free service to the state was exemption from army recruitment. Large landowners encouraged their retainers to enlist in the national guard even when the retainers did not meet the income requirement, hoping to maintain these workers’ services both as farmers and as guardsmen under their command.11

Serving in the national guard came to define a specific social niche. Guardsmen saw themselves as socially superior not only to slaves but also to soldiers recruited into the army. The differentiation was closely tied to the protection of patrons on whom those who did not meet annual income requirements depended in order to be placed on the national guard lists. The authorities were not blind to this unwarranted expansion of the guard roll. In 1839 the Brazilian minister of justice complained that the national guard harbored undesirables who “escaped recruitment under a uniform they dishonor."12 Yet he had no real power to resolve the problem, because guard commanders tenaciously protected the privilege of exemption from army recruitment. And in offering protection to their clients, regardless of income, they insisted on upholding the honor of the guard by refusing to acknowledge that the institution harbored individuals who, according to economic position, should be serving in the army.13 Although the 1850 national guard reform bill omitted the clause on exemption from the army, patrons and their clients continued to behave as though nothing had changed.14 A fundamental assumption continued to be that honorable men, regardless of income, served in the national guard, while vagrants and criminals ended up in the army.

Thus, while it bound clients more tightly to their patrons, the national guard accentuated divisions among the free poor. The laws themselves highlighted social distinctions among the poor by specifically exempting some from conscription. Yet as it became clear that many who were not legally exempt could escape the army if they merited the protection of patrons, the distinctions between guardsmen and recruits came into sharper focus. Between 1831 and 1874, military service provided one way of delineating place in the world of the poor. As more and more propertyless men joined the guard, that service became a sign no longer of property but of patronage and honor. The badge of this honor was not income or uniform but adherence to the values of work and family, values that included acceptance of roles as protectors and protected. Those who did not uphold these values and had no patron to protect them would likely find themselves in the army. Service in the guard did not raise peasants to the status of the elite, but it did clearly separate them from the ranks of the “undesirable” poor. It was “the marginal population, those without work, drunks, those who led irregular lives, vagrants, nonwhites” who were recruited into the army.15

The Changing Face of the Poor

In the mid-nineteenth century the Brazilian poor did not fit neatly into a single category. Recent scholarship argues that the free poor could find no place in the work system of Brazil’s slave society, and were relegated to its fringes as marginalized, “declassified,” or vagrant human beings.16

After slave traffic from Africa ceased in 1850, many northeastern masters sold their slaves at inflated prices to coffee planters in southern Brazil. Consequently, the proportion of poor but free farmers in the northeastern population multiplied, and the productive presence of those men and women who stood somewhere between masters and slaves became increasingly obvious.17 Production did not decline; the free poor took up the slack. In fact, the renewed importance of cotton as a northeastern export crop in the 1850s soared when the North American states went to war in 1860. The major cotton-producing region (the agreste, situated between the sugar-producing coast and the cattle-ranching sertão) witnessed a significant increase in population. This growth was reflected in the incorporation after 1850 of new towns (cidades), from which protest against the central government would emanate in 1874.

The expansion of cotton production also brought about greater concentration of land and use of tenant farmers to plant and harvest the crop.18 Ties of patronage tightened. All the same, cotton in the 1850s and 1860s was undeniably a freeman’s crop in a country noted for its reliance on slave labor.19 The free poor clearly were not all equally marginalized by slavery. In the northeastern agreste, at least, a complex system of social differentiation emerged: on the one side the working poor, who were often bound by ties of patronage to the elite; and on the other those who were excluded from the acceptable order, the vagrants.

In this social context, some of the poor unabashedly used the laws governing recruitment to separate the honorable from the dishonorable among them. Although vagrancy had provided the primary justification for army recruitment, conscription was often used to punish criminals of all types. Vagrants, furthermore, were often perceived as those men who, because they did not have steady work, would be most likely to resort to crime (particularly theft) and to sexual mischief with local women. By assuring that such men fell prey to recruiters, the honorable poor protected the values of their community. In a more practical vein, they also protected their meager property and their women.

The most serious crime against family honor in the backlands of the Brazilian northeast was sexual seduction (defloramento). When families could not avenge the honor of their offended women, they turned to army recruiters to uphold their status by punishing the offender. The threat of recruitment sometimes compelled single men to marry. In fact, seduction often outweighed patronage and influence; a man who should otherwise easily escape recruitment might find himself in the army for failing to marry the woman whose virtue he had impugned. In the village of Pilar, Paraíba, after a mother reported the deflowering of her young daughter, the offender was detained in the local prison “as a recruit, in order to see if he would subject himself to marriage.” Upon discovering that the young man was not a candidate for recruitment, “for he belonged to a peaceful and hardworking family, one that is even rather wealthy,” the police of Pilar consulted with the province’s chief of police to determine the appropriate course of action. Because he steadfastly refused to marry, the young man was in the end conscripted.20

Often the poor themselves petitioned local authorities to salvage the honor of their women. In 1865, for example, a widow who was “dark, old, miserable, and crippled” denounced a young man who was “dark, single, sambista, a gambler, and a complete bum [completo vadio]” for abducting her niece, “an orphan with no father or mother, under 17 years of age, who lived honorably in her company.” The couple proceeded to live “scandalously” in concubinage. The young man then seduced two more women, fathering two children by one of them. And to cap off the damage he had done, he now also “lives in concubinage with a slave … thus keeping her from serving her master and encouraging her to steal, not only in the neighborhood, but also from market to market.” The slave woman “supports all of his vices which are approved by his own father and his wife.” The widowed aunt further reported that “whenever this young man learns that a father from the neighborhood will be going on some journey he introduces himself into that home in order to seduce either the wife or one of the daughters.”21

The aunt’s complaints reveal some of the values within free poor society. Not only did the young man besmirch the honor of local women by living with several while refusing to marry them, he brought the free women down to the same level as his slave mistress. His own family, furthermore, did not instill discipline and respect for the prevailing order.

Recruitment protected other vulnerable orphans. In 1877, João Candido da Silva was sent to the provincial chief of police as a potential recruit because he took advantage of the innocence of an orphan who lived peacefully in her grandfather’s home.” The grandfather could not himself provide much protection for he was “old and paralyzed.” João Candido seduced the young girl, promising to marry her; hut when the grandfather learned of the seduction and demanded that João Candido fulfill his promise, he refused. This evil man was given the option of marrying or joining the army.22

Family values of the poor were also upheld when recruitment was used to punish wandering husbands for abandoning their wives. Many of the army recruits were accused of “not living in the marital state [não vive maritahnente]" with their wives, of abandoning their women, and of forcing wives into prostitution through their neglect.23 Sometimes recruitment avenged both an abandoned wife and a single, unprotected woman. In Araruna, a young man was detained for army service in 1865 on confessing that he had “despised his wife” eight months before and “had taken advantage of a poor young woman, serving himself of her through illicit means, then had abandoned her. His behavior, according to the subdelegado of Araruna, demonstrated that “there can be no better recruit than he.”21

Military service thus separated the orderly poor citizens from those who threatened the foundations of social integrity represented by the family. While this strengthened the position of the elite by reinforcing the values that legitimized their position as patrons and protectors, it also confirmed divisions among the poor. Recruiters protected the honor of the daughters of the poor, not the wealthy who were less likely to be seduced by vadios.

Besides protecting family honor, recruitment also rid society of thieves. Vadiagem, or vagrancy, to working Brazilians meant propensity for theft. Those without permanent work had to find a way to survive, and it was commonly believed that they did so by stealing. Most army detainees accused of theft were cattle rustlers, who undoubtedly posed a threat to the propertied classes.25 Yet although recruitment provided a valuable service to the wealthy ranchers (who, nevertheless, usually had scores of retainers to watch their livestock), it was far more important to the peasants, whose few animals, often indispensable to their livelihood, were most at risk.

Recruitment was not, of course, formulated as an instrument to protect the working poor. In the official quest for order and for potential soldiers, however, the poor singled out those individuals who could most disturb their own communities and saw them on their way to service in other parts of the country. Prisons were burdensome drains on local finances and also the scene of frequent escapes. The army, by contrast, seemed an ideal institution for ridding society of undesirable elements.

The eight long years of compulsory army service had long been perceived as tantamount to slavery. During the colonial period, rumors of recruitment efforts emptied villages as men fled their homes to form, in the words of a military historian, “white quilombos [runaway slave communities]” to defend their freedom from conscription.26 In the early years of the independent Brazilian empire, conscription was overtly compared to slavery. Recruitment in the northeastern province of Ceará in the late 1820s, for example, mimicked the taking of slaves in Africa.

Often captured deep in the interior, the men were chained together, then marched overland to Fortaleza. Upon arrival in the provincial capital, they descended into the steaming rat-infested holds of ships. There they waited for days and even weeks before continuing to Rio de Janeiro. Shortages of food and water, together with heat, filth, and contagious diseases, killed many of those locked in the hold.27

Members of Congress, in their speeches, also associated military service with slavery. General Cunha Mattos declared in the Chamber of Deputies that the worst disgrace in all the universe is to be a recruit in Brazil. It is a real punishment; a common soldier is considered a miserable slave. He asserted that “everyone wants to defend his homeland, hut no one wants to be treated worse than the most vile slave,” and concluded on another occasion that militarv law is as severe as that of slavery; or slaves are perhaps more free than soldiers on certain occasions.”25

The parallels between army service and slavery sharpened whenever recruitment efforts intensified. As long as the national guard provided an escape from the army for most citizens, protest against the slavery of recruitment remained subdued. It survived, nonetheless, ready to erupt when the state renewed efforts at forced conscription.

The system of social differentiation reflected through militarv service suffered a serious disruption when Brazil went to war with Paraguay in 1864. A foreign war could not be conducted in the same fashion as localized unrest within the empire had earlier been controlled. No longer was it acceptable for the army to serve primarily as a detention center for undesirable citizens. Recruitment efforts mounted to increase the fighting force. Exemptions for the poor became more difficult to obtain. National guardsmen in large numbers were called on to fight alongside army foot soldiers in Paraguay. While many Brazilians joined the war effort as the Voluntarios da Pátria, to which militarv historians point with pride, northeastern peasants bitterly resented their homeland’s call to arms, and many violently resisted service.29 In one case, in the village of Bananeiras, Paraíba, 12 armed men and a large number of women also armed with knives forced the police escort to release 5 national guardsmen who were to be sent south to the war theater. As soldiers were sent in to disperse the resisters the incident escalated, until eventually more than 40 men had fled into the brush “determined to appear as soon as any detentions were made” to release the unwilling soldiers.30

War had come at a particularly inopportune time, as far as northeast-erners were concerned. The Union blockade of Confederate ports had expanded European markets for and increased the price of Brazilian cotton. By 1864, most of the northeastern poor were involved either in growing cotton for export or in selling produce locally—also at high prices. Manpower could not be spared; vagrants were in short supply. The working poor continued to insist that they were exempt from service in the army, while recruiters struggled to fill their quotas.

It is therefore understandable that so little patriotism and voluntarism for the war effort arose among the small farmers in Paraíba.31 Besides, the army continued to be considered the domain of the lowest of the lower classes. To make matters worse, slaves also were being freed to increase the number of foot soldiers.32 While the slaves performed valiantly, winning the admiration of their commanding officers, it is unlikely that the national guardsmen would find it acceptable to be equated not only with criminals but also with slaves. For centuries, as the elites sought to blur the distinctions between slave and free, the free poor ever more tenaciously committed themselves to sharpening those differences. Freedom was a precious commodity to be protected at all cost.

Any law that changed the nature of slavery brought fear to free peasants. In 1851, for example, revolt was sparked by northeastern peasants who feared that a new civil registry law, coming on the heels of the abolition of the African slave trade, masked an attempt to enslave dark babies. Protest was so fierce that the cabinet quickly revoked the offensive legislation.33 Future constraints on African slavery (such as the Free Birth Law of 1871) would revive fears among the free poor that they might be used to replenish the supply of slaves.

It is not surprising that peasants resisted service in Paraguay. By the end of the war the reputation of the army had not improved in the northeastern backlands. Responding to the provincial president’s request that they supply more soldiers, the police of Mizericordia reported that it was impossible to find one volunteer, and even recruitment proved difficult.34 Although the war in Paraguay forced a large number of previously exempt poor farmers into army service, it did not change the perception of recruitment as a form of slavery. It heightened fears that the state was pushing the free poor ever closer to the slaves. In April 1871, foreshadowing events to come, a man who lived in the Paraiban agreste town of Fagundes was accused of “seducing the people to lay hold of arms in order to disobey the laws of [what he called] a despotic government that wished to enslave the people through taxes, persecution, and forced recruitment. 35

Reform and Resistance

The war did change elite thinking about the army. It opened a new era of reform, heralded by renewed debate over the national army’s role. The national guard became less important as a military organization as the army sought to improve recruitment and training of competent soldiers and officers.36 In the spirit of this reform, the strength of the guard was curtailed by law in 1873 and a new conscription law was passed in 1874. According to the new legislation, the Brazilian poor would not continue to suffer arbitrary impressment but would instead participate with all Brazilian men, from every social class, in a draft lottery.37 The reputation of the army among the poor, however, could not be transformed by the stroke of a ministerial pen. Many poor farmers protested their loss of exemptions, convinced that the law meant to equate them with criminals and slaves. Equality held little attraction for those who had led exemplary lives in order to earn protection and to demonstrate that they were very different from the radios. Thus they rioted against the 1874 law.

In November and December 1874, in what came to be known as the Quebra Quilos revolt, peasants rampaged through markets in four northeastern provinces, destroying weights and measures of the recently adopted French metric system, threatening tax collectors, and burning notarial and tax records. Residents of the provincial capitals feared their cities would be invaded by the mobs, and sensationalist newspaper accounts of this seditious movement fueled the spreading panic. Only when a battalion from Rio de Janeiro marched into the backlands, ferreting out suspected insurgents and punishing them in an exemplary wav, did the movement subside.

Henrique Pereira de Lucena, the president of the province of Pernambuco, reporting to the minister of justice on the reasons for the uprising in his province, claimed that “hidden agents” had convinced the people of “silly notions such as that the recruitment law would enslave men of color,” and that the poor had come to believe that “the recruitment law was to enslave the free.”38 The earliest newspaper accounts of the uprising pointed to the new recruitment law as a major target of popular protest. On November 19, 1874, the Jornal da Paraíba reported that “some of the people spoke against the recruitment law, which they call the ‘law of captivity.’ ”39 Local authorities also claimed that the rioters insisted the recruitment law “turned citizens into slaves.”40

The authorities’ immediate conclusion was that wealthy patrons who opposed the recruitment law were exploiting the peasants’ naivete. One Pernambucan baron informed the provincial president that his neighbor had overheard a conversation in which a lieutenant colonel of the national guard, a member of the local elite, had asked a notorious troublemaker to incite a mob against the recruitment law. The invitation was allegedly made in these terms: “Soon the new recruitment law will be published in São Bento. You gather your people and cause a commotion against that law, because it is an inconvenient law and should not be accepted.” The baron clearly perceived the “finger of those who are not part of the people” in the protest movement, for “the people on its own accepts everything without murmuring.”41

On December 3, 1874, the Diario de Pernambuco published a lengthy admonition to “men of judgment [criterio] and good will” advising that the protest against the recruitment law had been fanned by traitors to the nation. The law, it argued, benefited the poor. The old manner of conscription was a “terrible weapon … in the hands of the strong against the weak, the powerful against the unprotected.” The new law, on the other hand, called for the “enlistment of all, without regard to fortune or position.” It provided the “men of the people with solid guarantees” against illegal impressment and assured them that, when conscripted, they would have as “companions the rich man and the potentate, equally chosen by lot.” Therefore, the article continued, it was “unbelievable that the men of the people should rebel against a law that protects them in their weakness, that guarantees them their rights, that upholds them in their despair.” The only logical conclusion was that those who did not have the best interests of the people at heart had convinced them to work against a law that actually favored them.42 Local authorities often agreed. One judge was ļinclined to believe that some shortsighted politicians of the opposition … had spread false information about the new recruitment law, a true triumph for the class of the insurgents.”43

The elite no doubt had other reasons besides political rivalry to oppose recruitment reform. Landowners lost some of their power every time one of their laborers was recruited into the army. Not only did they lose the loyalty that formerly constituted repayment for providing escape from army recruitment; they also were forced to give up members of their own private forces. A significant amount of prestige and power transferred from the patron to the state when clients were recruited.44

Newspaper reports, furthermore, misrepresented the true nature of the new law. Few readers believed that its egalitarian terms would be applied to all. And in fact, the law contained explicit provisions for buying one’s way out of service and for providing substitutes to serve in one’s place.45 The wealthy continued to avoid conscription. Those who had relied on exemplary behavior and a patron’s protection (reflected by their participation in the national guard) to avoid recruitment were certainly the most threatened by the new legislation.

It is, of course, problematical to argue that poor farmers could so easily be duped into struggling against their own interests. As the Diario de Pernambuco editorialized, “the rustic and ignorant man, as well as the enlightened one, even the most limited intelligence, can understand the numerous advantages of the reform; and, if the law works to anyone s advantage, it is without doubt to that of the man of the people, weak and unprotected, who used to live under the constant threat of the old recruitment. 46 Why, then, did hundreds of armed men continue to proclaim “vivas to the freedom of the people, and foras to the slavery in which the government wants to place them”?47

Quite clearly, many of the northeastern poor who had been exempted from military service realized that they now faced the draft. And while this would be damaging to their patrons, it would be far more damaging to those actually forced into the “slavery” of army service. The notion of enslavement in the army might not be new, but enslavement by lot was. To be at the mercy of fate in a society guided by patronage proved troubling indeed.

The more equitable recruitment law also curtailed the power of the poor to use official means for their own purposes. A lottery would not single out seducers and thieves. Not only would the “honorable” poor be forced into an army riddled with criminals and ex-slaves; their communities would lose the protection from “undesirable elements” that recruitment had provided in the past.

Ironically, the riots and unrest caused by the Quebra Quilos revolt reinforced the old stereotypes of Brazilian army service. The force sent to protect Paraíba’s capital from the rioters was responsible for at least one rape, along with other “disruptions and crimes against property and honor.”48 The commander of the forces that pacified the interior of the province reported that his soldiers had abducted a woman from her mother’s house (the offender was later forced to marry her); had seduced the daughter of a Campina Grande family; had stolen jewelry, cloth, and money; had gotten drunk; had disobeyed authority; and had practiced “other less important deeds … all of which were, however, appropriately punished.”49

When the provinces were finally pacified, the minister of war declared that only the leaders of the “sedition” should he tried in court. The gulf between the elite and the poor remained unbridged. The central government determined that landowners and clergy had led the revolt and eventually granted them amnesty. While the more illustrious suspects awaited trial and sentencing in relative comfort, the “insignificant” were conducted to the provincial capitals wrapped in wet leather vests, torture instruments that shrank as they dried in the hot northeastern sun, constricting breathing and sometimes killing the prisoner. The fortunate who survived were conscripted into the army. Military service as punishment was still a fact of life.50

Yet distinctions among the poor were also maintained; eventually the old exemptions from service were once again respected. In 1877, for instance, the police of Serra dos Pontes recommended the discharge of a loot soldier stationed there who was “married with nine minor children and was detained … at the end of December 1874 by the commander of the expeditionary forces on occasion of the seditions movements; at that time he lived with his wife.” 51 The provisions of the 1874 recruitment law, although not rescinded, were never enforced. Only after 1908, in a republican Brazil and with the support of a rising middle class, would a draft lottery finally become reality. The stigma of army service, however, even then was not erased. The elite continued to battle against the enlistment of their sons and retainers.52

The Quebra Quilos revolt revealed the reaction to some of the mid- to late nineteenth-century social transformations that threatened to disrupt the world of northeastern Brazilian peasants. Relationships of power and patronage that they had learned to use to their advantage were being challenged. Slavery, an institution that had distinguished the social position of many of the free poor, was under attack; and as slaves gained freedom through the emperor’s emancipation fund, the Free Birth Law, and even army service, they swelled the ranks of the poor. It became increasingly important to maintain that status and differentiation; but instead, new laws were written that seemed to deny the expected rewards for honesty and morality. As the state withheld those rewards, these poor but honorable farmers challenged the law as best they could: they rioted to protest a newer, “fairer” regimen.

A National Endowment for the Humanities Travel to Collections Grant, a Mount Holyoke College Faculty Development Grant, and a University of South Carolina Research and Development Grant funded research in Brazil during the summers of 1987 and 1990. I also owe thanks to Richard Graham, David Bushnell, and the anonymous HAUR reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.


See Frank D. McCann, The Formative Period oſ Twentieth-Century Brazilian Army Thought, 1900-1922,” HAHR 64:4 (Nov. 1984), 737–65; and Robert A. Haves, The Armed Nation: Brazilian Corporate Mystique (Tempe: Center for Latin American Studies, Arizona State Univ., 1988), 45–77. For an examination of military service among the rural poor in revolutionary France, see Alan Forrest’s work, especially Conscripts and Deserters: The Army and French Society During the Revolution and Empire (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), and The Soldiers of the French Revolution (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1990); see also I. Woloch, “Napoleonic Conscription: State Power and Civil Society,” Past and Present 3 (1986), 101–29.


For studies of the Quebra Quilos revolt, see Henrique Augusto Milet, Os qutebrakilos e a crise da lavoura (Recife: Typographia do Jornal do Recife, 1876); Hamilton de Mattos Monteiro, Crise agraria e luto de classes (Brasilia: Editora Horizonte, 1980), and Nordeste insurgente, 2d ed. (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1981); Roderick J. Barman, “The Brazilian Peasantry Reexamined: The Implications of the Quebra-Quilo Revolt, 1874-1875,” HAHR 57:3 (Aug. 1977), 401–24; Joan E. Meznar, “Deference and Dependence: The World of Small Farmers in a Northeastern Brazilian Community, 1850-1900” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Texas, Austin, 1986), 191-247; Geraldo Ireneo Joffily, O Quebra Quilo: a revolta dos matutos contra os doutores, 1874 (Brasília: Thesaurus, 1977); Armando Souto Maior, Quebra-Quilos: latas sociais no outono do imperio (São Paulo: Editora Nacional, 1978). The Diario de Pernambuco, a Recife newspaper, published almost daily reports of events in the hinterland between November 25 and December 16, 1874.


This was not strictly a Brazilian phenomenon; it was common practice in much of Latin America. For the case in Argentina see Richard W. Slatta, Cauchos and the Vanishing Frontier (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1983), 128–49.


Law no. 67, July 10, 1822, Collecção das decisões do império do Brazil de 1822 (Rio de Janeiro; Imprensa Nacional, 1887), 56.


Jeanne Berrance de Castro, A milícia cidadã: a guarda nacional de 1831 a 1850 (São Paulo: Editora Nacional, 1977), 74; Law no. 67, July 10, 1822, 57.


For studies of the national guard in the imperial period, see Castro, Milicia cidadã; Fernando Uricoechea, O minotauro imperial (Rio de Janeiro: DIFEL, 1978); and Michael C. McBeth, “The Brazilian Recruit During the First Empire: Slave or Soldier?” in Essays Concerning the Socioeconomic History of Brazil and Portuguese India, ed. Dauril Alden and Warren Dean (Gainesville: Univ. Presses of Florida, 1977), 71–86.


Edmundo Campos Coelho, Em busca da identidade: 0 exército e a política na sυciedade brasileira (Rio de Janeiro: IUPERJ, 1976), 34–40. McBeth discusses the legal limitations placed on the size of the army in 1831 and 1832 in “Brazilian Recruit,” 85.


Emilia Viotti da Costa, The Brazilian Empire (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), 66–70.


Castro, Milicia ciclada, 14, 40.


Ibid., 24, 82.


Monteiro, Crise agraria, 100–101.


Quoted in Castro, Milicia cidadã, 82.


Ibid., 81.


See Law no. 602, Sept. 19, 1850, Collecçãυ das lets do imperio do Brazil de 1850, vol. 2, pt. 1 (Rio de Janeiro: Typographia Nacional, 1885), 238–59; and Decision no. 88, Ministerio da Guerra, Mar. 10, 1873, in Coĩlecção das decisões do governo do imperio do Brazil de 1873, vol. 36 (Rio de Janeiro: Typographia Nacional, 1874).


Castro, Milicia cidadā, 70.


The pioneering work is Maria Sylvia de Carvalho Franco, Homens livres na ordern escravocrata (São Paulo: Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros, 1969); more recent studies include Laura de Mello e Souza, Desclassificados do ouro. a pobreza mineira no seculo XVIII (Rio de Janeiro: GRAAL, 1982); and Lucio Kowarick, Trabalho e vadiagem: a origem do trabalho livre no Brasil (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1987). For a critique of this interpretation, see Hebe Maria Mattos de Castro, Ao sul da história: lacradores pobres na crise do trabalho escravo (São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1987), and idem., “Beyond Masters and Slaves: Subsistence Agriculture as Survival Strategy in Brazil During the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century,” HAHR 68:3 (Aug. 1988), 461–89.


In Paraíba, the agreste towns of Areia, Ingá, Alagoa Nova, Bananeiras, Alagoa Grande, Independencia, and Campina Grande grew from a total population (slave and free) of 97, 427 in 1851 to 107, 551 in 1872. The slave population, however, declined from 10,214 in 1851 to 5,920 in 1872. In other words, the percentage of free and slave in the region went from 89.5 percent free and 10.5 percent slave in 1851 to 94.5 percent free and 5.5 percent slave in 1872, while the entire population grew by 10.4 percent. See “Mappa estatístico da população livre e escrava da província da Parahyba do Norte em 1851,” in Antonio Coelho de Sá e Albuquerque, Relatório apresentado à assemblea legislativa provincial da Parahyba do Norte pelo excellentíssimo presidente da província em 3 de mato de 1852 (Paraíba: Typographia de José Rodrigues da Costa, 1852); and Brazil, Directoría Geral de Estatística, Recenseamento da população do imperio do Brazil a que se procedeu no dia 1 de agosto de 1872 (Rio de Janeiro: A Directoria, 1873–76).


See Linda Lewin, Politics and Parentela in Paraíba: A Case Study of Family-Based Oligarchy in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1987), 48–78.


For contemporary observations on the nature of laborers in Brazil’s cotton fields see Manoel Clementino Carneiro da Cunha, Relatório recitado na abertura da assemblea legislativa da Parahyba do Norte pelo vice-presidente da provincia em 1 de agosto de 1857 (Paraíba: Typographia de José Rodrigues da Costa, 1857), 25–26; and The Empire of Brazil at the Universal Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia (Rio de Janeiro: Typographia e Litographia do Imperial Instituto Artístico, 1876), 260–61.


Delegado de Policía da Villa de Pilar to Chefe de Policía da Província da Paraíba, Pilar, July 7, 1858, Arquivo Histórico da Paraíba, João Pessoa (hereafter cited as AHP).


Delegado segundo suplente de Alagoa Nova to Chefe de Policía da Província da Paraíba, Alagoa Nova, Jan. 5, 1865, AHP.


Subdelegado de Polícia do Distrito da Jacoca to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Jacoca, Sept. 27, 1877, AHP.


See, for example, Subdelegado de Polícia da Povoaçāo de Pitimbú to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Pitimbú, Mar. 6, 1854, AHP; Delegado de Polícia da Cidade de Areia to Chefe de Policía da Provincia da Paraíba, Areia, July 24, 1858, AHP; Juiz de Direito Interino da Villa de Independencia to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Independencia, Aug. 12, 1858, AHP; Secretaria de Polícia da Paraíba to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Paraíba do Norte, Oct. 6, 1858, AHP; Luis Antonio da Silva Nunes, “Relação de indivíduos, que de marxa para a Villa de Campina fiz prender entregando-os às autoridades policiais … para recrutamento,” Campina Grande, Aug. 4, 1860, AHP; and Tenente Recrutador to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Paraíba do Norte, Oct. 30, 1860, AHP.


Subdelegado quinto suplente de Araruna to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Araruna, Mar. 6, 1865, AHP.


See, for example, Delegado de Policía da Cidade de Areia to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Areia, May 28, 1858, AHP, Delegado de Polícia da Villa de Pilar to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Pilar, July 7, 1858, AHP; Delegado de Polícia da Villa do Ingá to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Ingá, Aug. 16, 1858, AHP; Delegado de Polícia da Villa de Pilar to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Pilar, Oct. 10, 1858, AHP; Delegado de Polícia da Villa de Bananeiras to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Bananeiras, Apr. 5, 1865, AHP; Subdelegado de Polícia de Cuité to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraiba, Cuité, June 10, 1865, AHP; and Delegado de Polícia da Villa de Pedras de Fogo to Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba, Pedras de Fogo, Oct. 5, 1874, AHP.


See Enrique Peregalli, Recrutamento militar no Brasil colonial (Campinas; UNICAMP, 1986), 22–23.


McBeth, “Brazilian Becruit,” 81.


Anais da Cămara, June 4 and Aug. 25, 1828, July 9, 1829, cited in McBeth, “Brazilian Recruit, 81.


See, for example, Gustavo Barroso, Historia militar do Brasil (Sāo Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1935), 72.


Delegado de Polícia da Villa de Bananeiras to Chefe de Polícia da Provincia da Paraíba, Bananeiras, May 6, 1865, AHP.


On April 15, 1865, a group of “volunteers” was sent off with a patriotic speech urging them to “Go, for to be a patriot is to be loved by all of Brazil. Go reap honors and victories, the Fatherland gratefully awaits you.” To this, one of the recruits responded: “If it is so wonderful, why don’t you join us?” The orator’s speech was then drowned out by hecklers. For examples of Paraiban farmers’ unwillingness to fight in Paraguay, see Paulo de Queiroz Duarte, Os voluntarios da patria na guerra do Paraguai, vol. 2 (Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca do Exército Editora, 1984), 135–41.


Slaves belonging to certain religious communities in Paraíba were freed and sent to Paraguay in November 1866. See Ministro do Império to Presidente da Província da Paraíba. Rio de Janeiro, Nov. 28, 1866, AHP. Landholders could send slaves to fight in their place. See Hayes, Armed Nation, 62.


See Irineu Joffily, Notas sobre a Parahyba (Rio de Janeiro: Typographia do Jornal do Comércio, 1892), 187; Monteiro, Crise agrária; Monteiro, Nordeste insurgente. and Meznar, “Deference and Dependence,” 86–88.


Delegado de Polícia da Villa de Mizericordia to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Mizericordia, Dec. 12, 1870, AHP.


Interrogatorio feito à Francisco Gomes dos Santos,” Fagundes, Apr. 27, 1871, AHP.


Castro, Milícia cidadā, 11; Hayes, Armed Nation, 63.


See Law no. 2556, Sept. 26, 1874, Collecção das leis do império do Brazil, 1874 (Rio de Janeiro: Tvpographia Nacional, 1875), 64–74.


Henrique Pereira de Lucena to Manoel Antonio Duarte de Azevedo, Recite, Dec. 22, 1874, Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (hereafter cited as AN), IJ1 346.


Cited in Joffily, Quebra Quilo, 43.


See Juiz de Direito da Comarca de Bom Jardim to Presidente da Província de Pernambuco, Bom Jardim, Nov. 22, 1874, AN, IJ1 346.


Barão de Buíque to Henrique Pereira de Lucena, São Bento, Nov. 26, 1874, AN, IJ1 346.


”Aos homens de bem e de critério,” Diário de Pernambuco (Recife), Dec. 3, 1874, p. 1, cols. 5, 6.


Juiz de Direito da Villa de Bananeiras to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Bananeiras, Nov. 21, 1874, AHP.


Monteiro, Crise agrária, 100-101.


Law no. 2556, p. 65.


Aos homens de bem e de critério,” col. 6.


Juiz de Direito da Villa de Bananeiras to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Bananeiras, Dec. 7, 1874, AHP.


Chefe de Polícia da Província da Paraíba to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Paraíba do Norte, Dec. 5, 1874, AHP.


Segundo relatório de Severiano da Fonseca, Paraiba do Norte, Mar. 16, 1875, Publicações do Arquivo Nacional 34:126.


See Presidente da Provincia da Paraíba to Ministro da Justiça, Paraíba do Norte, Feb. 2, 1875, AN, IJi 318; Presidente da Província de Pernambuco to Ministro da Justiça, Recife, Dec. 31, 1874, AN, IJ 1 346; “Resposta do juiz de direito da comarca de Campina Grande … ao relatório do dr. chefe de Polícia … sobre os movimentos sediciosos havidos n’esta provincia,” Campina Grande, Feb. 23, 1875, AN, IJ1 318; and Ministerio dos Negocios da Guerra to Presidente da Província da Paraíba, Rio de Janeiro, Dec. 16, 1874, AIIP.


Subdelegada de Polícia do Distrito da Serra dos Pontes to Chele de Polícia da Provincia da Paraíba, Ingá, Nov. 26, 1877, AHP.


See Frank D. McCann, The Nation in Arms: Obligatory Military Service During the Old Republic, in Alden and Dean, Brazil and Portuguese India, 212–13; and McCann. “Formative Period," 747, 757.