to Mr. Bayard.
Petropolis, March 12, 1888. (Received April 12.)
Sir: I have to inform you of the fall of the Cotegipe ministry, which has been in power since August 20, 1885, and of the appointment of a new ministry. The immediate cause of the fall of the ministry was a conflict between the navy and the Government; but to understand this fully it will be necessary to refer briefly to other facts leading up to it.
The ministry had been weakened in the confidence of the public by their attitude on the slavery question. Almost immediately after they came into office a law was passed, known as the Cotegipe-Saraiva law, providing for the gradual extinction of slavery. This law was a compromise between the conflicting opinions, and it was generally accepted at the time as the end of legislation on that subject; but it is alleged that in the execution of the law the Government adopted a dilatory policy, and construed every doubtful question against the slave and in [Page 58] favor of the slave-owner. The action of the Government in thus neutralizing the law re-opened the whole question, but the Government was strong enough in the popular branch of the general assembly to sustain itself on all points. Public sentiment proved to be far in advance of the Government, and the people commenced organizing outside of the law for the more speedy emancipation of the negroes. In the last few months the movement has received a wonderful impetus, and it is now led by some of the largest slave owners, and by some who a year ago were among the strongest supporters of the Cotegipe government.
The course of the Government on this question has subjected it to many attacks, which, aided by the desertion of some of its strongest adherents, have gradually deprived it of the support of the country. But another and a still more serious trouble (because it may repeat itself) was what is known here as the military question. Some six or eight months ago an army officer published articles in the newspapers defending certain acts of army officers, and criticising certain Government officers. The minister of war reprimanded the officer, who in turn was supported by his fellow-officers; and finally the minister put some of the officers under arrest for insubordination. Army officers then commenced holding meetings and passing resolutions to such an extent that the matter was taken up by the general assembly, which was then in session, and the Government was interrogated as to its intentions. The ministry announced their purpose to compel the army to submit to proper discipline and to subordination to the civil authorities. The army was not without friends and supporters in parliament, and the questions at issue excited a good deal of feeling in and out of the general assembly.
The discussion and excitement went on day after day till finally it was adjusted by the passage of a compromise resolution by the senate, which was something of a victory for the army, but which the ministry accepted as a means of settling what threatened to be a dangerous difficulty. I have referred to this occurrence because I think its influence can be seen in the events of last week, which were the direct occasion of the fall of the ministry. One night in the early part of last week an officer of the navy in citizen’s dress was arrested by the police on the street in Rio for disorderly conduct, and was imprisoned for several hours.
When his fellow-officers heard of it they became very indignant at what they termed an outrage upon the dignity and rights of the navy. They held meetings, appointed committees, and demanded the dismissal of the chief of police and the punishment of the chief offending persons. The ministry was not disposed to yield to these demands, and conflicts followed between the police and squads of marines on the streets to such an extent that persons were wounded and property was destroyed. The disorder and the insecurity of life and property became so serious that it was found necessary to withdraw the police from the streets and to substitute for them a regiment or more of soldiers. Under these circumstances the ministry tendered their resignations in a body, and they were promptly accepted.
A new ministry has just been announced, composed as follows: President of the council and minister of finance, Joâo Alfredo Correa de Oliveira; minister of the Empire, José Fernandes da Costa Pereiro, jr; minister of justice, Dr. Antonio Perreira Vianna; minister of foreign affairs, Antonio da Silva Prado; minister of the navy, Luiz Antonio Vieira da Silva; minister of war, Thomaz José Coelho de Almeida minister of agriculture, Rodrigo Augusto da Silva.[Page 59]
The ministry belongs to the same party (the Conservative) as the Cotegipe ministry, but its members are understood to be much more I progressive, and on the slavery question they are said to be in favor of speedy action. I think it may therefore be concluded that the extinction of slavery in Brazil is near at hand, and it is probable that at the coming session of the general assembly, which will begin on the 3d of May next, a strong movement will be initiated to hasten that end.
I have, etc.,