Great Britain, the Paraguayan War and Free Immigration in Brazil, 1862-1875

Miguel Alexandre de Araujo Neto



For instance, in relation to the breaking off of relations between Brazil and Great Britain and to the differences between the two countries, the Irishman derisively condemned the exorbitant demands of William Christie (ABT, 24 March 1865). On the other hand, he soon manifested an even greater arrogance than that displayed by the ex-Minister, filling his articles with threats and warnings about what would befall Brazil if his advice and suggestions were not followed immediately.
This can be seen in the ninth issue of the Anglo-Brazilian Times (8 June 1865). Scully's lead article contains a weighing up of the results of Brazilian governmental measures aimed at the promotion of immigration until that point, together with an appreciation of the possible results of the delay in addressing appropriately the problem of manpower scarcity created by the slavery crisis. After beseeching the Brazilian readership not to be afraid or disdainful of the European colonist ('foreign immigrants are not the God-forsaken wretches that Brazilian ignorance and Brazilian prejudice fain would deem them'), Scully reminds them that 'their tenure of the slave population is slipping rapidly from out their grasp' and that 'their lands, though fertile and productive, are valueless without the laborer.'

Demonstrating affinity with the economic theories propounded by Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scully then warns Brazilians that 'they must consider that the laborer is of more value to them than they to him, that he is the true wealth-creator of the world, and the merchant, fazendeiro [rancher], and government are dependent on his labor.' Further, Brazilians should:

remember that with the European immigrant comes progress, wealth, and empire; that he brings with him skill, knowledge, enterprize, and advanced ideas, and has full right to demand, as a condition of his advent, equal consideration with the children of the soil he attaches his fortunes unto.


Scully also presents his precise considerations about Brazilian policies regarding the admittance of immigrants:

Brazil 'tis true votes some 600:000$ annually for the encouragement of immigration -cui bono? The general and the provincial governments and individuals have established 'colonies' which they 'direct' and surround with regulations. They waste their money on these exotic plants that barely vegetate beneath the fostering care of Directors, Chefs de Policia, and Juízes de Paz, while the independent immigration that asks no subventions, no outlay for religious or profane instructors, no agricultural schools to 'teach the most improved modes of agriculture and grazing,' and no salaried 'directors;' that would bring with it intelligence, enterprize, new ideas, and improved appliances of agriculture, is afforded no facilities, no information, no encouragement.


Scully then plays up the threat of a general slave rebellion:

Do the Brazilians not see that their whole prosperity is in danger; that it now depends solely upon the retention in servitude of some three millions and a half of negro population; [...] that no reliance can be placed upon the uneducated slave when once he is relieved from the stimulus of compulsion [...] that their lines of railways and river navigation, though largely subsidized by the national treasury, are commercial failures from the absence of population along their courses [...] and do they not see [...] the danger of a second Hayti looming in the future, facile amidst the mountains, forests, and unnavigable rivers of this vast and fertile, but almost roadless region?

'Do they not see the danger of a second Hayti looming in the future?
(Latin American Studies Resources)


In continuation, as well as pledging support for mass immigration, his argumentation has aspects that anticipate the geopolitical strategic thinking that underpinned policies implemented by the Brazilian military during the twentieth century:

in fine, do [Brazilians] not see that, with the grasping and warlike republics that envelop Brazil, each having to gain largely by her dismemberment, her existence in her integrality requires her to keep far in advance in population, wealth, and material progress; a result attainable only with the concurrence of a large and persistent immigration?


Therefore, he states that

To arrive at this result, let the Brazilian government and the Brazilian people extend a welcoming invitation to foreign immigrants. Let them be afforded every possible facility of settlement, and be relieved from the disabilities and irritating surveillance that disgust them and prevent development.


Finally, Scully argues in favour of the North American model of free immigration:

Let [...] government lands be granted, or sold at moderate prices, in tracts of 30,000 to 500,000 braças, each, to real settlers only. Let a sufficient quantity of such tracts, of easy access, be always kept surveyed and mapped. [...] Let every encouragement be given [...] to the formation in Brazil of Societies like the St. George in New York, to which immigrants [...] could apply for assistance and advice; and let means be taken to disseminate knowledge of Brazil in British and Continental Europe.


He ends the article with the following assessment:

With these and similar measures, and perhaps, for a time assisted immigration, together with liberality from the government and the people, such a current of immigration might be induced as would place the prosperity of Brazil upon the only sound and safe basis -a free and intelligent producing population warmly attached to their country, their constitution, and their Emperor.


This line of argument, taken in its totality, suggests the existence of a strategy aiming at the extinction of slavery in Brazil by means of the promotion of mass European immigration. Although it may perhaps have proved historically inapplicable, the greatest obstacle to the implementation of Scully's proposals may have been the man himself. After the first editions of his newspaper, and prior to 8 June of 1865, he published quite disdainful analyses and comments on the political and cultural life of the Brazilian elites. The interpretation of these pieces lends itself to the perception that the aims of his initiatives in relation to immigration were to promote an extensive reform of Brazilian society under the tutelage of the English. This is corroborated by the indications in Scully's discourse of a fundamental inspiration for his proposals: the radical thinker and reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), one of the founders of the utilitarian philosophical movement, also known as Benthamism.

Having in mind the prospect of implementing this supposedly reformist agenda, the practice of clientelism (patronage) was emphatically deplored by Scully, since it inverted the priorities of parliamentary and governmental activities. According to him, the working hours of a Brazilian minister were almost totally devoted to the task of finding posts for friends, relatives and party affiliates, while legislative and executive activities were relegated to second place. This was undoubtedly true, and is attested to by diverse sources. [11] Scully, though, used the rough edge of his tongue: addressing the issue of patronage, and how detrimental it was to the development of the country, one reads in the editorial of the Anglo-Brazilian Times of 24 May 1865 that 'the life of a Brazilian Minister is a life of downright slavery'. In other words, slavery was compared to a cancer that afflicted all of society, from bottom to top, including the elites. The Brazilian elites' Eurocentric self-image of enlightenment, combined with their real, or imagined, ties to the nobility to the Old World and with a romantic ideal of indigenous ancestry, certainly would not admit the perceived insolence inherent in this and other denunciations.

Finally, these charges would not be complete without an appreciation of the underdeveloped condition of education in Brazil. Demonstrating yet again what seems to be a utilitarian academic background, the editor of The Anglo-Brazilian Times believed that the Brazilian patronage system unavoidably engendered indolence and low productivity, stemming from the absence of competition for positions within the public administration. If they were to remain inactive, the new generations of the Brazilian elites would be crushed under the wave of progress generated by the arrival of European immigrants.

Scully begins a discussion by stating that 'true, our Brazilian boy is not unlearned [...] still, all his studies are without an aim, his only view in life is towards the dolce far niente of a government employment.'


the Brazilian educated classes have through indolence and pride abandoned to the more utilitarian foreigner engineering, mining, trades, commerce, and manufactures, and leave the resources and the riches of their wonderful country undeveloped until the educated science of some enterprising foreigner finds out the treasure and turns it to his own advantage.


Throughout the article, published on 8 April 1865 under the title 'Education', the threat is reiterated from different angles. Scully then resorts to a downright derogatory argument in order to underline the likely outcome: 

Again we repeat that mind and body react upon each other and enervate together, and we warn our Brazilian youth that, if they suffer to degenerate and become emasculated through their indolence and contempt for usefulness, they will 'ere long endure the mortification of being ousted even out of their present stronghold of the public service, by those other classes whose pursuits they affect so much to scorn, when once the energies that win for these their wealth be directed to the loaves and fishes of the government employ.


Finally, in defence of the incorporation of physical education into the curriculum of Brazilian schools, Scully argues that it, 'joined with Western utilitarian science, makes two hundred thousand Europeans the arbiters of two hundred millions of the inhabitants of Indian climes'

Brazilians also had to remember that, thanks to discipline and physical exercise, 'Waterloo was won at Eton and Harrow'. Eton and Harrow are two very traditional fee-paying schools for boys in the United Kingdom, founded respectively in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Apparent in the three articles cited is not only a Eurocentric and Benthamist (Utilitarianism) tenor, but above all an uncontained British hegemonic and colonialist vocation. Expressed in these terms, this involves, paradoxically, praising ideas of merit, competitive education, and approval in exams. This naturally clashed with Brazilian social and political customs, then almost exclusively founded on privilege and the formation of clienteles. In the articles of 1865 in the Anglo-Brazilian Times it is possible to perceive, with an antecedence of almost three years, who was the real antagonist of Caxias.

In Scully's discourse, then, British expansionism is articulated along a liberal politico-economic axis, openly opposed to the slavery system. The destruction of that system, according to the newspaper, should be achieved by means of free European immigration. Brazil, however, would ultimately have affirmed her sovereignty by rejecting both that form of expansionism and its proposals. As a result, an initiative in which Scully was directly involved may have been sabotaged. To this end, the Brazilian elites resorted to a practice similar to the 'spoils' system introduced by president Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) in the United States in 1828, [12] according to which only affiliates to the party in power could occupy public office. In Brazil, that political system was known as 'derrubadas,' or the wholesale change of occupants of public office, after every general election. As soon as they were sworn in, they were able to prevent their opponents' undertakings from prospering. This was an immediate consequence of the removal of Zacarias in July 1868, which concurred to produce the failure of Colônia Príncipe Dom Pedro, in Santa Catarina, to which Irish settlers had been sent (Marshall 2005: 78).


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 July 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Araujo Neto, Miguel A. de, '
Great Britain, the Paraguayan War and Free Immigration in Brazil, 1862-1875' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 4:3 (July 2006). Available online (, accessed .


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