The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | Articles | Latin America/Colonial | Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, José

Email to a friend
Printer friendly

Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, José

by Josh Rupert

José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva was a Brazilian statesman and scientist, often referred to as "The Greatest Man in Brazilian History" was born in Santos, Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1763. Some say that in Brazilian history, José Bonifácio is what Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and George Washington were in the history of the United States but all combined into one person. Since José Bonifácio is almost unknown to most Americans, we will discuss some of the many accomplishments of José Bonifácio's life.

José Bonifácio studied geology in Europe and graduated in Law and Natural Philosophy in Coimbra and joined the Science Academy of Lisbon where he gained international fame as a geologist. While he was in Europe, he conducted several studies in Chemistry and Mineralogy with other important scientists collecting data. José Bonifácio was commissioned in 1790 by the Portuguese government to conduct several scientific surveys in many countries across Europe. His findings led him to study mining, mineralogy, and chemistry in Paris and mining in Saxony. This was a 10 year process of studies that gained him a widely known reputation as a natural scientist of note. During his studies, he discovered four new minerals and eight types of unknown species. In 1800, José Bonifácio went to Portugal and was appointed as general intendant of mines. In Portugal, he began a teaching career at the University of Coimbra where he held an assortment of technical, scientific and administrative positions. With the rise of Napoleonic invasion, José Bonifácio helped to fight the French from 1808 to 1810, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel and a command position. He also taught at the University of Coimbra and could fluently speak four of the twelve languages he had studied. When he returned to Brazil in 1819, after 36 years of absence from his homeland, he continued his studies in areas of science. After being back in Brazil, Bonifácio focused more towards political actions and became more involved with the independence of Brazil and was appointed as head of the Ministry for Kingdom and Overseas Affairs.

Dom João VI, the Portuguese monarch, fled from Portugal in 1807 to Brazil to escape capture by Napoleon's troops. He brought with him large numbers of Portuguese troops and officials to patrol and govern the colony. This caused Brazil to be in a state of political and social unrest. Brazil was elevated from the status of a colony to the status of a Kingdom by Dom João VI in 1815, but there was still a feeling of dissension between the natives of Brazil and the Portuguese.

When José Bonifácio arrived to Brazil in 1819, Dom João VI was feeling great pressure to return to Portugal because Brazilians felt that with Dom João VI's presence that their status as a kingdom was in jeopardy and could even be lost. In 1821, Dom João VI finally left Brazil and returned to Portugal.

Bonifácio prepared the document "Lembranas e Apontamentos do Governo Provisorio de Sao Pualo" on October 9, 1821, which is said to be the most important document in Brazilian history. This document laid the foundation for the new nation of what we currently know of as Brazil. A major part of this document was key in implementing the end of Brazilian slavery and creating an awareness of the hardships that native Brazilian Indians incurred. All future legislation in Brazil was impacted by the composition of this document. José Bonifácio's grandson even went on to fight to put an end to slavery in Brazilian Senate until his death in October of 1886. Slavery was finally ended in Brazil on May 13, 1888.

José Bonifácio worked to seek a peaceful solution sought a peaceful resolution to the social unrest that existed in Brazil while the country was under Portuguese rule and during its early years of independence. The establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Brazil was encouraged mostly by José Bonifácio and he influenced the Prince of Regent to declare Brazil an independent country in 1822. The Prince of Regent in Brazil proclaimed himself Emperor Pedro I after claiming Brazil an independent nation. José Bonifácio served as an advisor and counselor to the Prince Regent and as the First Minister of Brazil. During his service he persuaded Emperor Dom Pedro I to declare Brazil an independent nation and insisted upon a liberal constitution for the new nation of Brazil. José Bonifácio's brothers Martin Francisco and Antonio Carlos Andrada were also deeply involved in Brazilian politics and eventually became too outspoken against the Brazilian government. This eventually led to the dismissal of José Bonifácio from his position as counselor to Emperor Dom Pedro I and led to the banishment of him from Brazil in 1823 sending him to live a life of exile in Bordeaux. Emperor Dom Pedro I dissolved the assembly in November of 1823 and sent Martin Francisco and Antonio Carlos Andrada to live a life of exile in France. In 1824, a new constitution was adapted in Brazil and even though the Bonifácio brothers were banished from Brazil, many of their ideas were used in the new constitution. José Bonifácio was allowed to return to Brazil in 1829 only to find that his home country was in yet another state of political unrest. This time the native Brazilians were in opposition of the Portuguese-born Brazilians. The Portuguese-born Brazilians supported Emperor Dom Pedro I and this was displeasing of the native Brazilians. There was strength in the opposition of Emperor Dom Pedro I and he finally left the throne. Emperor Dom Pedro I left his son, Emperor Dom Pedro II, the throne José Bonifácio was appointed in 1831 as tutor under Emperor Pedro II, who was only five years old, where he served until 1833.

José Bonifácio and his two brothers continued their service as active politicians. However, José Bonifácio was forced to serve as an observer of politics rather than a participant, since he was tutor to Emperor Dom Pedro II. Many people in the Brazilian community opposed to José Bonifácio's position as tutor and in 1833 he was dismissed from his position as tutor because he was accused of conspiring to disturb public order and disturbing public order but he was later acquitted. On April 6, 1838, José Bonifácio died on an island named Paqueta, near Río de Janeiro.

Aside from science and politics, José Bonifácio was also involved in literature. In 1825, Bonifácio began publishing Poesias Avulsas otherwise known as Sundry Poetries in the Americo Elisio under a fictitious name. In 1861, Poesias Avulsas was republished by another publisher named Laemmert and it was coordinated through Joaquim Norberto de Sousa. In 1942, Afranio Peixoto was inspired to prepare another issue of Poesias Avulsas that came out of the Brazilian Acamedy of Letters. This also inspired Sergio Buarque de Holanda in 1946 to publish a text in a volume idealized by the "Instituto Nacional do Livro" otherwise known as The National Institute of the Book that was given the title Poesias de Americo Elisio otherwise known as Americo Elisio's Poetries. José Bonifácio's original work was full of natural pantheism that expressed his intellectual character and scientific curiosity and sparked the same in many others after his time. Volume III of Poesias Avulsas was published in 1963 to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the Patriarch of Independence. José Bonifácio is remembered as a Patron of the 40th chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

Works Cited

Amaral, Ricardo C. Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva. Book Review. 6/25/2003.

"Bonifacio, Jose." The Columbia Encyclopedia. 2001, sixth edition.

"Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva." Encyclopedia Of World Biography. 1998.

Mabry, Donald, "Pedro II," Historical Text Archive

Miller, James Russell. Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil. Historical Text Archive 6/25/2003.

Morales, Walter. Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva. 1996.> 6/25/2003.