The War of Paraguay: Chapter XV, Speech on the “Status Quo.” — The Government.

The speech Nabuco gave in the Chamber on 26 May 1865 was, for that divided assembly, like a shining ray of patriotic eloquence. In the middle of the partisan disagreements, which only tended to worsen and become more irreconcilable, no one expected that appeal to harmony, that invitation to a political armistice in the name of the invaded country. In that moment, his speech had everyone’s assent. Nabuco’s presence beside Olinda was in itself only an agenda of political truces, since one could not forget the sacrifice that he made—his little fondness for power, and his neutrality in personal rivalries. A year later historians will come to do justice to Nabuco’s intentions to save the government and avoid internal struggle. From the first day, his attitude was such that, upon the ministry’s fall, he would continue to be the organizer preferred by the political spirits of the majority and the minority. The session had been very busy. “I have seen you shine today in the Chamber of Deputies,” the humorist Abaeté writes to him, “and I would have envied you if the feeling of friendship did not prevail over that of envy. There is nothing like being minister of the King!”

The speech was short, as fit an appeal to national sentiment, but, precisely because of this, it was vibrant. After having explained the reasons he had for not wanting to take on the task of forming a cabinet, he declares the reasons that moved him to accept his role as justice:

jtnabuco-1
José Tomás Nabuco as depicted in Galeria dos Brasileiros Ilústres by Sébastien Auguste Sisson.

“My noble friend senhor Minister of the Navy has already explained the reason for my entry into the current ministry. It was a sacrifice that patriotism imposed on us all. You know the circumstances in which the country found itself: the crisis was becoming prolonged; public anxiety instantly increased; each day wasted harmed the great concern by which everyone was preoccupied, that is to say, the dream of returning our national honor and dignity. There does not exist any contradiction in my behavior, given the circumstances that suddenly arose, and besides, there is a great difference between organizing such a cabinet—being its brain—and forming a part of it. What’s more, this ministry’s agenda has been reduced to the war, not wanting to alter the political status quo. The noble deputy of Minas province (i), explaining the reasons that he has for not putting confidence in the current ministry, examined some of its members, attending only to the Liberal element, but upon doing so forgot the principle that serves as the basis of the current government. In effect, so that the noble deputy may deny the ministry his trust for such a reason, he should begin by proving that the Progressive Party, under whose government this Chamber was elected, is dissolved.”

Finally, he invoked with the solemnity of his convictions, words, and gestures, the irresistible motivation of the country’s defense, winning over the Chamber and making it forget its divisions:

“It is evident, senhores, that the same thinking that stopped me from accepting the charge to form a ministry, has brought me to enter into this one; that is, the desire to not alter the status quo during a war. Nothing is less timely than exciting political passions in these moments in which we need the concurrence of everyone to save the country, which has been invaded and bloodied by foreigners. This is not a good opportunity to divide the Chamber, making it powerless to do good and making the life of any ministry impossible.

“I believe, senhores, that with the government limited to this agenda of making war without altering the status quo of our political system, it can’t help but deserve the trust and support of this Chamber and of the whole country.

“I could say more, senhores, but I conclude by making these vows: God would not wish that the country, swayed by political passions, come to be powerless against the foreigners that have insulted our flag; God would not wish that history deplore the fluke of a young nation full of resources and life, but disgraced by its own failings … Let us take on the responsibility of the war and leave the settling of scores for after the victory.”

Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!” (1) exclaimed Lopes Neto, a constant adversary of Nabuco in the fights of the Praia (2), upon hearing this speech. Returning to Parliament after so many years, he was not now Lopes Neto the rebel politician, the convict from Recife, but the next extraordinary envoy, the Emperor’s intimate. Meanwhile in that assembly, which was then not to his liking, in that political environment to which he then belonged, he continued to employ with incurable perseverance the same language of prejudices and passions of 1848—although now he did not feel them.

The difference between Nabuco and the old Liberals lies in the fact that Nabuco desires the party coming out of the League, by virtue of its “progressive” fusion, to be a new party, representing a new epoch as well, instead of considering itself a continuation of the former Liberal Party, influenced by the men, spirit, and traditions which characterized it—while for the Liberals of 1848 and the young politicians that venerate them like relics of the ancient democratic epochs, the Liberal Party was what it had always been, it’s only duty being, given the new situation, to loyally open its arms to newcomers without looking at their origin. Lopes Neto expressed this idea with the most clarity in his speech on 31 May, saying to Nabuco:

“The alliance of Liberals with moderate Conservatives should be signed on this platform before the eyes of the nation, for the sake of the country, and for noble motives. Let us sign it, senhores, without mental reservation, with the loyalty of gentlemen, openly declaring ourselves all to be Liberals. What exists now cannot last: it is not the normal situation, it is the corruption of the representative system; it is the organization of anarchy, not loud anarchy that is killed in the street by cannon fire, as Guizot said, but latent anarchy, even more dangerous, which lies in our spirits, which fills us with distrust, and which every day is discovered in our actions and the actions of the government. We do not desire the impossible; enough painful experiences. According to our institutions only Liberals or Conservatives can govern. Then and only then, I, an old Liberal, with my back to the past, and eyes fixed on the country’s future, will extend my hand to senhor Minister of Justice, so many times slandered by myself and my political fellow believers, repeating with satisfaction the memorable words of Corneille:

‘Soyons amis, Cinna; c’est moi qui t’en convie.’” (3)

Nabuco feels that, despite all, despite the reconciliation, for the Liberals he has the original sin, or at least the irredeemability of his political past; he desires fusion, but as a new government in which the old Liberal element does not dominate. He declares this frankly in another speech: “No one has fought against leagues as a principle of political organization more than I. I always proposed fusion; and this not being possible, what was best was that things continue as they were, even as bad as they were.” He never asked how many ministers of Liberal origin there were in the Furtado ministry; no one had the right to ask how many there were, and which ones were ministers of Conservative origin in the new government.

“Senhores,” Nabuco continues, laying out the ruling government’s problem with characteristic candor, the candor, in that moment, of detachment and power, “it is necessary to go to the root of these things, to the reality of them. If the Progressive organization survives, if you wish it to survive, it is necessary to respect the consequences … But if you do not want this organization you have to be sincere before the country; if you don’t care for it, say so: ‘We don’t want you, men that are in the ministry, because you are of Conservative origin; you have helped form this government, you have lent it important services, but now we don’t want you …’”

The Progressive majority, the entire Chamber, still faithful to its origins, received these phrases with the same enthusiasm with which a year before they welcomed José Bonifácio’s response to the die-hards in the Praia, who asked the government, “Where do you come from?”—“We come from the ballots.” (4)

But reaching this challenge, Nabuco suppresses those who are impatient and implacable with a word: “But if the desire to break this tie exists, I will say: If there’s a reason for such a thing, which I deny, the time is not opportune. I repeat what I expressed in another speech: It is not the time to divide the Chamber; it is not the time to unsettle the country, with a war before us.”

The effect of this speech on May 30th completed and consolidated the speech from the 26th. By this time, during the legislature of that year, at least, the battle was won; the majority had to be well-set, steady, and full of self-sacrifice. The opposition becomes conditional: it fights the status quo on the political field, in which it sees the continuation of the Progressive policy, but it finds itself inhibited by the war. In such conditions, debates are no more than oratory tournaments; which perhaps was enough for José Bonifácio. “This argument now has no objective,” the Minister of Justice says upon finishing his speech, amid the applause of the Chamber. “Given that the same noble deputies that refuse to trust the government are offering it their support to realize its war agenda, what remains of this debate, or what significance does it have? Await the coming events.”

Footnotes

i. He’s alluding to Martinho Campos, who, however, recognized the competence that Nabuco lent to the government: “I recognize and confess that this policy initiated by some of the Conservative leaders, and of which one part, perhaps the main part, corresponds to the worthy senhor Councilor Nabuco, brought to the empire a time of political tolerance and progress that has produced unarguable benefits for us.”

Translator’s Notes

1. A Latin quote, which often appears in English as Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant. It means “Hail, Caesar, those who are about to die salute you.”
2. Felipe Lopes Neto was a Brazilian politician and diplomat, who took part in the Praiera Revolt—one of many Liberal rebellions in Brazil in the mid 19th century.
3. This is a quote from Cinna, a 1643 play by French tragedian Pierre Corneille. It means, “Let us be friends, Cinna; it is I who invites you.” It is spoken by Emperor Augustus to Cinna, after Cinna’s plot to assassinate him has been discovered. The play ends with Augustus pardoning all his enemies, and giving them the government positions he had promised them earlier in the play.
4. This might more properly be translated as, “We come from our victory at the ballots,” but that doesn’t have as nice a ring to it. The original Portuguese is: “Donde vindes?”—“Vimos da victoria das urnas.”

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