The War of Paraguay: Chapter XVIII, The Emperor in Rio Grande do Sul. — Letters from Ferraz and Boa Vista. — Ferraz and the Cabinet.

The Emperor’s presence in Rio Grande do Sul during the invasion, and concurrent with the allied troops’ arrival, was an act of great consequences—not only for the strengthening of Monarchist sentiments, especially in Rio Grande, but also for the strengthening of the alliance. The letters from Ferraz to Nabuco, written during the voyage, are noteworthy documents. Nabuco was Ferraz’s closest friend in the ministry, perhaps the only one to whom Ferraz could freely vent, without fear of political mistrust or memories of old disagreements. He shows himself extremely protective of his authority, clothing himself with the regalia that his position as ministerial delegate requires. What things he would’ve done, and how he would’ve had to reign everyone in, had the Emperor not been there!

Reaching Santa Catarina (1) on 13 July, Ferraz writes to Nabuco, “The minister has disappeared. The Emperor intrudes in even the most minor details, and everything revolves around him. He has at his disposal even the employees of my office, he gives orders through De Lamare (2), and through any other means. He is stubborn, but then he changes his mind. It is impossible for me to bear. There is no money here for the troops. Let us hope that Dias de Carvalho (3) does something, or takes some measure. I beg that you tell our colleague Silveira Lobo to order the authorities and subordinates in Rio Grande to obey my orders, and only my orders, or those of the governor of the province …”

On 16 July the Emperor unexpectedly arrives in Rio Grande; on the 10th Ferraz writes from that city: “Today, or better said, within two hours (eight thirty), we march to Porto-Alegre. Everything is going well. Enthusiasm has surpassed what was expected. The Emperor is satisfied and is doing well for the moment. The enemy’s plan is to stir up the Blancos … We have to be prepared for everything and we don’t even have cannons … Rest assured that these people think highly of me and are satisfied.”

On 21 July he complains from Porto-Alegre (4) about the state of the palace, and about the manner in which they were received, and on the 22nd he says:

Ângelo Moniz da Silva Ferraz, as depicted in Galeria dos Brasileiros Ilústres by Sébastien Auguste Sisson.

“They have put me in a jam. They wanted rich tack (5) of silver for the Emperor and the prince; they want for Cabral, Meirelles, and De Lamare also rich tack of three hundred to four hundred thousand réis (6) each, and all this at the Ministry of War’s expense. The demands are constant. They want horses for everyone, and even revolvers for the servants. The Emperor is fine, but he listens to these people despite the fact that he recognizes their (illegible). Caxias has comported himself discreetly and well. It’s been going around that he will be named chief general. Porto-Alegre’s appointment was done at the Emperor’s instruction, after hearing that Caxias and I were pleased with him, because this way everyone is content. Danger has silenced the partisan spirit to the point of seeming dead. ‘Good riddance,’ people tell me, ‘to arms and munitions. There is no money, our colleague who’s giving timely orders as fast as possible.’ The active troops are unpaid and unequipped.”

Meanwhile the Count of Eu traveled to Rio Grande, the government adopted extraordinary measures to bolster the insufficient recruitment of volunteers, and Nabuco wrote to Ferraz on 31 July: “Dear Ferraz: There goes our imperial prince, God help him—I believe that he will do us a good service, because he already knows what war is. Perhaps he would be, given the high position that he occupies, our best general in this land of divisions and petty rivalries … I received the letters from the 13th, 18th, 21st, and 22nd of this month, and I have processed their content, point by point and comma by comma. I gave our colleagues an account of the parts of those letters’ content referring to each one of them, and they were also left fully informed … Here we enjoy peace; politics seems dead or collected up backstage. But we are fighting with great difficulty to bring people together for the army … Recruitment still provides little, and the National Guard is shrinking. We have to employ, however, every means, even unusual means, to accomplish our goal.

“You must give it your all to stop the Emperor from exposing himself to danger—our enemy being ferocious and treacherous, they will employ all kinds of measures to destroy the obstacles that oppose them, out of fear. Saraiva was not pleased that you gave orders from Rio Grande to the arsenals and offices here (i)—I believe that he is right, and that you can obtain whatever you need by addressing yourself to Saraiva, such that he himself would give your orders.

“Among other measures, we are going to take the following: 1st Considering as volunteer corps those of the national guard (7) that want to go to war voluntarily with their own organization and their own officers and soldiers. 2nd Entrusting the designations of the national guards to the lieutenants, colonels, commanders of the corps, with the superior commanders being able to opt out. 3rd Suspending for an undetermined time and replacing the chief generals, lieutenants, colonels, and officers that don’t want to volunteer their services in the designated corps, etc., etc. 4th Mobilizing the national guard battalions with their present organization, excluding those men married with children and widowers with children. 5th Dissolving any national guard that does not want to lend service to the designated corps, and opening up recruitment. 6th Activating recruitment. God help us.”

On 27 July Ferraz proposes Pinto Lima as a candidate for decoration, for services volunteered as Minister of the Navy, and gives a complete explanation to Nabuco about an intrusion in the Justice Department, which caused a serious rift between the two: “Find attached a decree dated yesterday, relating to an issue of your department, since you deal with the appointment of national guard officers in this province; I ordered it issued because it was urgent, as was agreed; let us, however, discuss the argument against this later. From here on out all decrees that you order issued will bear the name of the corresponding minister, and will be endorsed by me. Some decrees from your department are returning without imperial signature (8), for the reasons expressed in the penciled notes I’ve written on the reports accompanying said decrees … Tomorrow we will march to Rio Pardo, and from there we will march to Cachoeira, and maybe we’ll go to São Gabriel. The true work is going to begin.”

Map of Rio Grande do Sul, with Ferraz’s path.  Map from A Patria Brazileira by Virgilio Cardoso de Oliveira.

Nabuco was Ferraz’s friend, he knew him since his youth, and the affection between the two withstood the Paraná ministry fights, in which Ferraz was the main adversary. But despite this friendship, and the high esteem that Nabuco had for Ferraz’s skill, Ferraz’s behavior as the Emperor’s only minister, assuming in himself the powers of all seven ministers, while the sovereign stayed in Rio Grande, if it did not bother Nabuco’s colleagues, must have seemed demanding and obstructionist for the Cabinet. On 11 August Nabuco expressed to his friend Ferraz the incongruence that existed between these acts and his previous actions, as well as the impossibility of sustaining this isolated and overbearing position. “Dear colleague and friend,” Nabuco wrote him. “I received the dispatch from my ministry, namely: 1st The decrees that I sent you and that carry the imperial signature, but come endorsed by yourself. 2nd The decrees that you ordered sent and countersigned, regarding issues in my department. 3rd The decrees that I ordered, and that returned without the imperial signature, for the reasons explained in the penciled notes written by order of H.M.

“Regarding the 1st and 2nd items, I should say you have been mistaken, and that it was impossible for me to agree to fulfill decrees from my department, endorsed by another minister. 1st Because I do not recognize in anyone the right to intervene between the Emperor and myself. 2nd Because by proceeding this way, that’s to say, all of the decrees having to be endorsed by yourself, the ministry would be left annulled, and you would be the only minister. 3rd Because your conduct is found in contradiction with the example you set for us during your 1859 ministry, when the Emperor went to the north.

“As such, and to remedy the problem, I now send other decrees in place of those that you endorsed, and those that you ordered sent there and later endorsed.

“With regard to War, you can do everything in Rio Grande in the name of the Department of Justice, but provisionally, while I send you the decrees making definitive what’s been agreed—this is what I already did when you reported to me the first nominations for the national guard.

“In view of decree 3491 and the organization of Executive Power, from the moment in which the ministry finds itself without its head, neither the ministers (except the Minister of War) nor the chief can adopt resolutions unless they are provisional, because to be solidified the resolution requires the signature of the head of state and of the corresponding minister.

“You should not insist, dear Ferraz, because your insistence places us in a fatal interim during the emperor’s absence. I will not argue with you, because with you I do not argue; but I will not order more decrees. Figure out yourself the inconvenience of this interim …”

From Caçapava on 13 August, Ferraz wrote to Nabuco before receiving his letter: “Here we are, and besides the hastiness of the trip, the desires to bring together the army, etc., etc., we’re doing well. Caxias is quite displeased; in part he has reason, but the blame is his own. No one should act a knave where the king went before. This is enraging. Among the imperial servants there are many intrigues; they don’t spare me; but it seems they want to devour themselves. They complain between themselves that I don’t give them everything they want, that’s to say, silver horse tack, good horses, etc., etc. The emperor treats me with great distinction, as well as my retinue; but I live separate and only accompany him on the road, without seeking him for anything other than issues of public service, or when I go to eat with him, as this is how he makes use of me.

“P.S. I have seen myself in great trouble because of a lack of money to pay the troops, and I have had to draw on exceptional measures. I beg you to support them, and include the deducted money in the costs of war. Despite said measures, I don’t expect for the moment to gather more than 160 million réis, and the troops are unpaid. I promised everyone a happy outcome, but the Paraguayans have already achieved so much without encountering resistance because we lack people!!”

In the following letter comes the response to Nabuco’s observations:

“Passo do Rosário, municipality of Alegrete (9) 5 September.

“I received today your letters. You and your colleagues understand the issue of the countersignature in a way contrary to what, to my mind, the special circumstances in which we find ourselves, I in Rio Grande and my colleagues in Rio de Janeiro, require. It was not necessary, to resolve the issue, the threat that you made to me. Forming a part of the ministry, I had to submit myself to the majority, despite the precedent that I could make an appeal, or withdraw myself. In questions of quibbles you will never find difficulties on my part!

“But I beg that you keep in mind that the emperor has to grant titles and make pardons, and that I don’t know what to do now. If you want I will not endorse the decrees, but the pardons should be complied with after being granted; and how can they be so if I do not countersign them? Today I have given myself a gallop of five hours to meet the emperor, and I almost couldn’t find him on the path. He says that in these cases one cannot deprive him of his powers. Tell our colleagues that as soon as he stops I will send the decrees that conform with your view.

“I am encountering greater and greater difficulties. The emperor wants to command through his aides-de-camp, and he wants the Count of Eu to be incorporated into the army. I still don’t know that officially, but everyone knows it. I have said and repeated that I can’t give my assent to that at all. These hasty marches are tiring and killing horses. Yesterday alone we lost, between exhausted and dead, 120, and the same has happened today. The cost is immense.”

In the dispatches that Ferraz sent back to Nabuco without imperial signature, he was served for some time by the following formula: “And H.M., despite the fact that Y.E. believes that I don’t legally serve as intermediary, ordered me, notwithstanding my excuses, to send this to the most excellent senhor Minister of Justice.” The Council of Ministers adopted on 27 September an agreement regarding the decrees of other departments that could be endorsed by Ferraz. They were these: 1st, decrees relating to war; 2nd, urgent decrees relating to Rio Grande do Sul. “These decrees, endorsed by senhor councilor Ferraz,” said the agreement, “should be addressed to H.E. With this objective the Council proposes the following formula: ‘Senator Ferraz, member of my council, minister and secretary of State, who accompanies me, understand it and execute it as such.’”

In the letter that follows Ferraz is seen discontent with that accord; the fact is, however, that no minister had the right to expect a more extensive delegation, nor a greater show of confidence than this, which placed in his hands completely the direction of the war, and the government at the warfront. But ultimately he was satisfied. “I received together,” he writes, “on 3 October your various letters. I’m writing to my colleagues and, especially to you, senhor Olinda. Through that letter you will see that I am not content with you, nor could I be so, our personal friendship aside. You all believe me only half a minister, you want to untangle yourselves from me, and to achieve that you are trying to snub me, you Olinda above all.”

The complaint was, as is seen, from a friend. For Nabuco the issue lacked gravity as it regarded Ferraz; not so with respect to the emperor, whose insistence would have forced him to withdraw. Ferraz also considered it resolved. On 23 October Nabuco wrote to Dantas (10): “There exists no dissidence between the ministers; the solidarity of the ministry is complete. There was one disagreement with Ferraz because he wanted to countersign the decrees that were sent from Rio de Janeiro, but the issue ended with him yielding, as you can see in the Diário Oficial (11). With no difficulty arising, everything is going well.”

The Count of Eu, so enthusiastically recommended by Nabuco, described as, “given the high position that he occupies, perhaps our best general in this land of divisions and petty rivalries,” in no way made a good impression on Ferraz. Ferraz had called for Saraiva to hear the ministry’s opinion about the emperor’s intentions to appoint the Count of Eu Commander General of the artillery. The following letter from Saraiva, dated 7 September, gives us Nabuco’s opinion: “I am pleased to have received your letter and I am in agreement with you … the Count of Eu would fall into ridicule if he was only a general in name.” That thinking did not please Ferraz, and in the former letter, after his complaint (“you want to untangle yourselves from me, and to achieve that you are trying to snub me, you Olinda above all.”) he continued by saying: “Do you know the Count of Eu? Or is it that you’re dazzled by the brilliant shine of royalty? No, careful. I’m not saying anything else. I’m not of the same mind as you, but let’s allow time to teach us.”

The following paragraphs taken from letters from Boa Vista (12) to Nabuco portray the state of Rio Grande in that time. Boa Vista found himself already ailing; but he was, like Caxias, of those elderly men whose patriotism, experience, moral integrity, and administrative capacity compensated sufficiently for their lack of physical soundness. His letters are dictated; only one paragraph or another is written by Boa Vista himself.

Francisco do Rego Barros, Count of Boa Vista.

In Porto-Alegre nothing was known of the front. The news sometimes arrived from Rio de Janeiro. There were no resources of any kind. The disorder and confusion were such that they sufficed to confound those most senior and intelligent administrators. On 18 August Boa Vista writes: “… Since my last letter I know nothing positive; one talks of marches, meetings of forces, and of other things that don’t yield any results. Suffice it to say that the news stories that we have are those published on the 4th of this month by the Jornal do Commercio (13); of the front there are some notices from the 1st, but they are so contradictory, that they only serve to cause anxiety. The province is going slowly, the movement of all the wheels is being hindered by speculations, which the gathering of corps causes, which are so many more battering rams against the poor defenseless Treasury. The package I’m carrying on my shoulders is crushing me, and if I well overcome this spell of misfortune I’ll be putting a spear in Africa (14). The emperor drags however many people surround him in his wake, and I worry that, in an outburst of his impulsive patriotism, he’s not stopping until the border, which causes me great fear; let us trust in God …”

In August he even added: “Tonight I received the correspondence from the Minister of War in Caçapava. From this I learned that the Paraguayans control Uruguaiana, where they entered without any resistance from the celebrated frontier brigade commanders. I will say nothing more about this, because your colleague Saraiva must be receiving meticulous reports of everything happening. The worst of it is that H.M. continues exposing himself, and is going to march to São Gabriel, which in some people’s opinion is an act of recklessness. Also bad is his proximity to all our frontline posts, these being as defenseless as they are. The gathering of forces continues here, and there, and there; if your measures regarding the national guard had been adopted in an opportune time, or if at least they were observed from now on, by everyone, much anarchy would be avoided, or what’s the same, much money and many future annoyances …” And by his own hand he added: “Everything is going poorly here. The Paraguayans have passed little further than São Borja. Send arms and more arms, as much infantry as cavalry. Where are our generals? What did I tell you?”

Some words from Ferraz in the Chamber (13 April) complete the portrait of this painful voyage through the province, and the disorganization in which everyone found themselves. “That I did not bring a soldier? It’s inaccurate. That I didn’t bring a single cartridge? I could not make them arrive in time; but everything was found en route and in great abundance. The time was not auspicious, and the delay was unavoidable despite all my efforts. I’ll give you an example to prove this. The worthy governor of the province sent, from the city of Pelotas (15), a great batch of uniforms and munitions on 7 June, and on 14 August they were still halfway from their destination; the difficulties were great, there were not oxen nor horses; our animals grew skinny, they died in great numbers; everything was lacking!”


i. On 22 July, Saraiva complained to Nabuco in this way: “Your excellency, having a close relationship with senhor Ferraz, make him see the inconvenience of giving orders to subordinate offices, instead of addressing himself to me, I who have such strong desire to help him … Senhor Ferraz knows that I would not have to replace him to be his subordinate.”

Translator’s Notes

1. The Brazilian province directly to the north of Rio Grande do Sul.
2. Joaquim Raimundo De Lamare, Viscount of Lamare, Brazilian politician and military leader.
3. José Pedro Dias de Carvalho, economic minister of the 1865-1866 Olinda cabinet.
4. The capital of Rio Grande do Sul, a coastal city.
5. Meaning horse tack—the accessories and equipment worn by horses, such as saddles, stirrups, bits, saddle blankets, etc.
6. The old Brazilian real, the official currency of the Empire of Brazil. It underwent severe inflation throughout the 19th century, with 1,000 réis becoming the practical currency unity, then 1,000,000 réis by the time the empire became a republic. In 1865, a pound of high-quality coffee [café superior] cost 187 réis, and a pound of regular coffee [café ordinario] cost about 115 réis. A bushel of tobacco cost from 3$000 to 7$000 (3,000 to 7,000 réis), and a cask of good rum went from 100$000 to 110$000. (Diario do Rio de Janeiro)
7. Although called the National Guard, the National Guard was really the exact opposite (which is apparent from the fact that “national guard” and “national guards” are both used, sometimes interchangeably.) The National Guard was a collection of provincial or regional militias, not any kind of centralized army. Regardless, for a long time the National Guard was a major component of the Brazilian military, though during the Paraguayan War they came to be eclipsed by the regular Brazilian army, bolstered by the Voluntários da Patria.
8. One of the prerogatives of the Emperor of Brazil was signing, or deciding not to sign, bills and decrees into official law. Parliament could force a bill into law by passing it twice in two consecutive legislatures, but that’s not what’s happening here.
9. Rosário do Sul is today its own municipality, though it was just a parish in 1865, west of São Gabriel. Alegrete is west of Rosário.
10. Antônio Luís Dantas de Barros Leite, a Brazilian senator who will absolutely not be important in this book.
11. The official journal of the federal government of Brazil.
12. Francisco do Rego Barros, count of Boa Vista, president of Rio Grande do Sul from 1865 to 1867. He was 63 years old in 1865.
13. Likely the Jornal do Commercio of Rio de Janeiro.
14. An idiomatic phrase meaning a very difficult task. Supposedly it originates from the Portuguese general Nuno Álvares Pereira. In his later years, when he was a friar living in Lisbon, he wanted to join an expedition to the North African Portuguese colony of Ceuta, to protect it from Moors. When people cautioned him against it, due to his old age (he was in his 60s at the time), he responded by picking up a spear, declaring, “I can put this in Africa, if I must!” [Em África a poderei meter, se tanto for mister.] Then he hurled the spear from the balcony of the convent to the far end of Rossio Square.
15. A coastal city in the south of Rio Grande do Sul.

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