Mr. Hilliard to Mr. Evarts.
Rio de Janeiro , June 4, 1879. (Received June 27.)
Sir: In my dispatch No. 92, under date of May 3, I stated that an important change in the electoral system of Brazil had been proposed by the ministry to the Chambers, with the sanction of His Imperial Majesty.
The measure was submitted to the chamber of deputies, and it has been much discussed there.
Some of the ablest Liberal leaders oppose the proposed change vehemently, and the bill has not yet passed the chamber. It has, however, been ordered to a second reading. It may be styled the electoral reform bill of Brazil. It abolishes the electoral colleges, and makes the system of one degree instead of two.
On the 31st of May the bill was pressed to a second reading. Before the vote was taken on the bill, the various amendments that had been brought forward, in the course of an interesting and at times very exciting debate, were voted upon. One of these amendments declared among its other provisions that non-Catholics and naturalized Brazilians should be eligible to seats in the chamber of deputies. It was defeated, however, by a vote of 27 to 55; and this in a chamber unanimously Liberal. This amendment was offered by Mr. Saldanha Marinho, member from Amazon, one of the ablest and most distinguished men in the empire.
Councillor Saldanho Marinho is an eminent Liberal statesman of advanced views, who, some five or six years since, took such a prominent part in the war against the Ultramontane bishops of Pernambuco and Para, when a conflict arose in the empire between the authority of the late Pope Pius IX and the authority of the Emperor.
The bishops insisted that their allegiance was primarily due to the Pope, whose supremacy was indisputable in spiritual affairs.[Page 137]
A great conflict ensued. The bishops were firm, obstinate, uncompromising; and the excitement ran high.
As the bishops refused to yield, they were brought before courts, tried, condemned, and imprisoned.
In this onslaught on the bishops, Councillor Saldanha Marinho was so active and conspicuous that he brought down upon his head the thunders of the Vatican. He was excommunicated by Pope Pius IX, and his work entitled “Igregia e Estado” was placed in the Index librorum prohibitorum.
The electoral reform bill will, in all probability, pass both the chamber of deputies and the senate. The senate’ is largely conservative; and it is thought that the measure, brought forward as it is, by a Liberal ministry, will pass that body without serious opposition.
The Emperor is understood to be earnestly in favor of the measure, and it seems to me that he treats the question in a way eminently statesmanlike; for while the reform in the electoral system will bring the-people nearer to the throne, it at the same time narrows the basis of the privilege of suffrage so much that popular influence will scarcely be felt under the new restrictions.
The right of suffrage will be confined to men of education and property, who will naturally feel an interest in maintaining the imperial authority, and who will oppose any material change in the structure of the government. There is in the empire a powerful party properly named Liberal. There are in its ranks men who decidedly approve a republican form of government.
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The Emperor is not merely a wise ruler, he is a great statesman; and he looks far beyond the present in shaping the measures of the government. The best interests of this vast country are associated with the reign of the Emperor. So long as he lives, the empire is stable. This is a free government, essentially so, with an imperial form, but still the Emperor might say, in a high sense, “I am the State.”
When you observe his course; the crown placed upon his head while yet a youth 5 great political changes going on, not only in Europe, but revolutionary convulsions shaking the states of South America so frequently that the friends of liberal institutions began to despair of any stable free government, the young ruler of Brazil steadily grew in strength, and exhibited such fine sense and such admirable temper in the administration of his power, that the empire became consolidated, and, while its supremacy was maintained, it not only tolerated, but it encouraged the growth of liberal principles.
A profound student of history, he has enjoyed, too, the advantages of extended travel, and he has brought the civilized world under his observation. The teachings of history are not lost upon him, and he has observed the world not as a tourist lingering in gay capitals, but as a philosophical student of human affairs.
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M. de Siminbu, the great leader of the Liberal party to-day, advocates the new measure with his accustomed ability. He insists that when the existing electoral system, the indirect, was adopted, the actual condition of the country demanded it; the population was widely scattered, and the facilities for intercommunication imperfect 5 so that it was obviously proper the people should vote for a body of men constituting an electoral college, a body of higher intelligence than the masses, and who would upon consultation select suitable persons for seats in the chamber of deputies. But, that now, with the improved condition of the country, [Page 138] it is proper to confer upon the people the privilege of voting directly for their representatives, with such restrictions as will secure a proper choice of men.
But some of the eminent leaders of the party dissent broadly from the Premier’s views. Such men as José Bonifacio, the great, pure tribune; Martinho Campos, the ablest parliamentarian in the chamber; Baron de Villa Bella, late minister of foreign affairs; Silveira Martius, late minister of finance; Baron de Macedo; Andrade Pinto; and Joaquin Nabueo, a young brilliant member, lately attached to the Brazilian embassy at Washington; these and others voted against the proposed measure.
Some of the Leaders of the Liberal party, who really favor the idea of conferring on non-Catholics and naturalized Brazilians the full rights demanded in the proposed amendment of Saldanha Marinho, voted against it because they believe the senate would not concur, and that the country is not prepared for such an advanced measure. But a statesman should not vote against his convictions upon a question of such momentous interest.
The proposition that in a country so advanced as Brazil a religious test should be applied to men in every respect qualified for office, so as to exclude them, is not only wrong in principle, but it is a stupendous blunder in policy. The underlying force of a great principle, especially a principle which involves the rights of conscience, is simply indestructible. It will yet upheave all that oppresses it, and drive from power the men that would bind it.
The electoral reform bill will probably pass in the course of a few days. But you, as a statesman, will at once comprehend the effect of it. The people will clamor against the restrictions placed upon the privilege of suffrage until they sweep them away, and break down all the barriers that exclude them from the polls. Then comes the test of the strength of imperial government.
I have, &c.,