The War of Paraguay: Chapter XIV, The Ministry Before the Chamber. — Nabuco’s Reasons for Not Accepting the Presidency of the Council.

I know I said it last chapter, but this chapter you really will be completely lost without reading this supplemental post on politics of the Empire of Brazil.

The ministry reflected the situation of the party, but with respect to the hope of restoring unity to the party, the sacrifices that the ministers made were certainly in vain. Otaviano—representative of the Liberal Party in the organization, confidante and friend to Teófilo Ottoni, Furtado, and Sousa Franco—soon proved it, refusing the position offered him. The reason alleged by Otaviano was that he had been designated by Furtado, that is, by his own friends; and for an ambassador of his prestige, standing before the Progressive cabinets, the role of minister did not equate to the position of executor of the Triple Alliance, which he himself ended up signing, or the position of arbiter in the theater of war.

But the reasons he alleged did not leave doubt about the insurmountable division of the old allied parties. To Olinda, who had informed him of his appointment, he answers with the following, in a letter dated 29 May: “The names of political friends, friends at whose side I have been since I began to form part of one of the two parties, appeared in the previous potential cabinets. With such names suppressed in the last and definitive ministerial organization, I don’t consider seemly for me, nor useful for the ministry, my separation from those friends, becoming weakened and without moral force, alongside another citizen friend of mine—a personal friend worthy of my admiration for his talent, but with whom the nation has seen me fighting some in the press, on the debate platform, and in elections, when I appealed to the people who were convinced that he’d fulfilled a great debt.”

The friend alluded to is Ferraz (1), although few politicians have shown more willingness to forget old fights and personal offenses upon entering that cabinet than he. With his political self-sacrifice upon accepting this reliable post, exposing himself openly before the Chamber to the attacks of his adversaries from 1860, he seems to symbolize the sacrifices that partisan interests had to make for the sake of our forces’ victory in the South—sacrifices of which the most heroic was without a doubt that of Caxias (2), who, aged and ailing, went to suffer the fatigues of long campaigns in the marshes and under the sun of Paraguay.

franciscootaviano
Francisco Otaviano de Almeida Rosa, as depicted in Virgilio Cardoso de Oliveira’s A Patria Brazileira.

Nabuco did whatever he could to ensure that Otaviano did not desert during that crisis, which was more national than political. He created the formula of the ministerial pact, which formula, taken from the law according to the habits of his jurists’s spirit, was the status quo, that is to say, that would not make any alteration in the state of the party. He formed the ministry to “end the war”; after the victory, the groups in which the political scene is divided can dispute their predominance with some other ministerial organization. The war, only the war, obliges Otaviano to accept the role, as it obliges Ferraz.

This is Nabuco’s innermost thought, and he explains it to Otaviano, insisting that he not refuse his nomination (letter from 18 May): “I don’t have time to relay to you the details of the crisis; its solution was the ministry of which we form a part. Will you not accept? I hope that you do, because I know your patriotism. Will Saraiva and I not be guarantee enough of the quality of the government we have helped form? The ministry’s agenda is reduced to the war, keeping the political situation separate. Of this I am a guarantor. The division of the two elements composing the current government would be, in these circumstances, a grave danger, a great misfortune. Considering Ferraz as a problem is nothing more than an excuse, because he’s not an enemy of the Progressives, and no one would dare to deny that his acquisition lacks value. Otaviano, Saraiva, Dias de Carvalho, Paulo Sousa, Olinda, Nabuco, can they not serve as guarantee against Ferraz? … A final word—patriotism imposes on us the sacrifice of accepting this cross; we ought not to alter the political status quo, finding ourselves facing a war. Whatever extreme circumstances, it would be a disaster. You are free from passion and can see the problem as it is; resolve it as is best.”

These same ideas are those that Nabuco put forth in the Chamber, after explaining the reasons he had for not accepting the Presidency of the Council. He recounts what happened to him in São Cristóvão:

“Summoned by the Monarch, at 9:00 pm, His Majesty charged me with the organization of a ministry. I was able to plead personal inability, because I always told my friends that I did not want to be prime minister for that very reason; of that personal inability I was judge (Senhor Martinho Campos: And the country too.) … There is nothing to be surprised by, as the honorable deputy is surprised, in the fact that a politician would refuse power; the Chamber knows that politicians from other countries, men of merits which I am far from having, restrain themselves from being minister despite having taken a very active part in the negotiations of their time; such were Burke, Sheridan, Foy, Royer Collard, and Lamartine, who wanted to be ministers of opinion rather than ministers of the crown … besides, I had already served at another time in a long ministry (3). But let us leave this matter that has come about incidentally. It is a time of sacrifice for all Brazilians, and I feared to make the mistake of egoism if I pled before the crown a personal inability to excuse me from forming a ministry; whatever it was, this business about me, if I were to remove its weight from my spirit, would take a political reason of great importance. The political reason, senhores, that I determined to not accept the mission to organize a ministry, was the speech that I delivered in the Senate during last year’s session.

“As the Chamber knows, I said then that the ruling party was not, nor could be, the old Liberal Party defeated in our fighting, but a new party; a definitive Liberal Party where victors and losers, congressmen from all sides, could meet without hostility; a party in which the eager creation of new ideas and glory could come together, but without risking the hatred and exclusion of the past; that this party would not have the same ideas already defeated or judged in our fights, but that it would have to be a new scene in which, in the future, two grand ideas would shine: the regeneration of the representative system, and the individual liberty consecrated in our code, the desideratum (4) of the civilization still not realized among us … the Chamber knows that coming to power, I would’ve come with my convictions, and that being head of the ministry, I would had directed it according to my beliefs; that finding myself at the head of the party and having left it, that was the character, the tendency and ideas that would inspire it, which necessarily implies an alteration of the status quo; well, that alteration seemed to me one more complication in the state of war in which we found ourselves.

“I explained my doubts before the crown, for which he deigned to dismiss me from the honorable mission he had conferred upon me. H.M. told me to consider, taking into account the country’s circumstances, the reasoning of my pretext, and return the following day. I returned and, not believing myself the man needed, I stood by that reasoning and obtained the dismissal I had requested.”

Translator’s Notes

1. Ângelo Moniz da Silva Ferraz, Conservative Brazilian politician, Minister of War from 1865 to 1866, President of the Council of Ministers from 1859 to 1861.
2. Luís Alves de Silva e Lima, Duke of Caxias. A Conservative politician and military leader, veteran of many wars, who eventually became field marshal of the army during the Paraguayan War. He was 61 at the war’s beginning.
3. The Paraná ministry, which lasted from September 1853 to May 1857.
4. Latin, meaning something desired, needed.

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