Military Rebellion and the Revolution of 1930
Military Rebellion and the Revolution of 1930
Military planners in the late 1920s characterized the army as the
central agent of Brazilian national unity and greatness. They believed
that economic development, military preparedness, and national power
were linked tightly. The national territory held immeasurable resources
that had to be protected from covetous foreigners until Brazilians
could exploit them. They pointed to Japan and Argentina as examples
of countries building military and economic power simultaneously.
Reformist officers (called "Young Turks" after the military
reformers of Turkey) thought that the lack of national cohesion
was a far greater threat to Brazil than was any foreign threat.
The army, in their view, was the only instrument to hold the country
together by being a school of citizenship, and by teaching the superiority
of the collective over individual good in sacrifice for the motherland.
Meanwhile, Brazilians of all classes fled from military service,
and draft dodging was chronic.
Even so, obligatory military service resulted in the physical expansion
of the army, which eventually gave it the ability to intervene in
politics and in society more profoundly than in the past. To give
the army a local image while eliminating the expense and supervisory
burden of transporting draftees to distant training camps, garrisons
were established in every state to train them. The new system also
required expanding the number of personnel in the army (18,000 to
25,000 in 1916-17, 30,000 in 1920, 48,000 in 1930, 93,000 in 1940);
indeed, during the Old Republic, it grew 52 percent faster than
did the rapidly growing population.
In the 1920s, an intense struggle for control of the army was in
part motivated by conflicting ideas of what the institution's role
was to be in the increasingly consolidated Brazilian nation-state.
The German-trained Young Turks sought modernization. After 1919
the French Military Mission also encouraged professionalization
and enhancement of the army's self-image as the central institution
of the Brazilian state. By 1929 the state had intensified its centralizing
powers by expanding federal ownership of the country's railroads,
shipping lines, ports, and banks. In the coffee-dominated economy,
the federal government controlled coffee marketing and sought to
influence world coffee prices. However, some officers were troubled
by who was running the state and army during the presidencies of
Venceslau Brás Pereira Gomes (1914-18), Delphim Moreira da
Costa Ribeiro (acting, 1918-19), and Epitácio da Silva Pessôa
The lieutenants' rebellions of the 1920s were complicated in that
they involved a minority of officers who were as much in revolt
against the army hierarchy as against the central government. There
was to be no amnesty, and so faced with either giving up their careers
or continuing to conspire, the tenentes chose the latter. The result
was the 1924 uprising in São
Paulo and Rio
Grande do Sul, which led to the retreat of the tenentes into
the interior and the long campaign of the Prestes Column, named
after the romantic revolutionary Luis Carlos Prestes, across Brazil
until it gave up and entered Bolivia in 1927. In that decade, many
of the best of the officer corps became rebels to save their careers
and to save the army from corrupt officers. Thus, during the 1920s,
the army institution played a conservative role, while a determined,
talented minority of its officer corps pursued revolution.
In the revolts of 1930, the tenentes joined with disgruntled former
officers and anti-Paulista politicians who felt that their regional
interests were suffering unduly from the São Paulo-centered
national state. For the tenentes , joining the Liberation Alliance
(Aliança Libertadora) was a compromise of their ideals because
they were locking arms with the very politicians against whom they
had rebelled--former presidents Pessôa and Artur da Silva
Bernardes (1922-26). This course of action was necessary, however,
if the tenentes hoped to win. The alliance also included their old
civilian allies: the gaucho "liberators," Paulista democrats,
and Federal District (Distrito Federal) opposition politicians.
In the past, the tenentes had always sought the support of higher
ranking officers. In 1930 they failed to get any generals to join
them, so they settled for an up-and-coming lieutenant colonel, Pedro
de Góes Monteiro, who had fought against them. In the next
decade, he would reshape the army. For its part, the Liberal Alliance,
led by Getúlio
Dorneles Vargas, governor of Rio Grande do Sul, embraced tenente
demands--such as the secret ballot, better election laws, treatment
of social problems, and especially amnesty. In this way, the tenentes
became one of the strong arms of the dissident oligarchies of Rio
Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Paraíba.
The revolutionaries were successful in 1930 largely because the
army lost its will to defend the regime. The command structure in
effect imploded, and the rebels quickly gained control of fifteen
of the twenty states. The senior generals in Rio de Janeiro realized
that the government was finished, and that they would be too if
they did not at least keep hold of what remained of the army in
the capital. Also, they were nervous that the police would lose
control of the streets, so they took President Washington Luís
Pereira de Sousa (1926-30) into custody. Many texts speak incorrectly
of the army staging a coup and turning the government over to Getúlio
Vargas. In fact, the generals were looking at defeat and acted to
gain some say in the future.
Nonetheless, the senior ranks were thinned by a massive purge.
By the end of 1930, nine of the eleven major generals and eleven
of the twenty-four brigadier generals were retired, and in 1931
twelve of the twenty brigadier generals, many of whom had been promoted
recently, also were retired. The revolution of 1930 opened a decade
of reform that made the army even more an instrument of the central
government and its civilian leaders.
Data as of April 1997