Challenges to State Consolidation in Imperial Brazil: Minas Gerais during the Paraguayan War

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:50 PM
Great Republic Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Matthew M. Barton , University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Charles Tilly’s hypotheses concerning the mutually beneficial relationship between war and state formation have spurred a wealth of research across regions and fields.  Most of this research has focused on how state policies respond to an international threat and the ensuing necessity for institutional consolidation.  My paper will ask how in an otherwise ‘successful’ state, there can be such varied success rates in creating national institutions during wartime.

The province of Minas Gerais was the largest and most populous in nineteenth-century Brazil.  Yet, during the Paraguayan War (1864-70), it had recruitment rates that were five times lower than the national average.  Given its economic power, as well as its close proximity to the battlefront, one would assume that its resources would have been integral in the State’s strategy to vanquish the Paraguayan forces.   Instead of concentrating on military recruitment, though, the Provincial Assembly of Minas Gerais spent previously unheard of budgetary allocations on schooling, creating the province’s first public libraries, and other institutions that would have been deemed non-essential in wartime. 

My paper will compare Minas Gerais with Alagoas and Goias – two politically and economically weaker provinces that, nonetheless, were able to successfully increase recruitment during the war.  This comparison will determine how such a successful nation-state permitted one of its most resourceful provinces to contribute so little to the war effort.   The imperial government had a prior record of failures in enforcement and consolidation of national(izing) institutions in Minas – most notably in terms of tax collection.  During a time that the nation’s resources were already spread thin, it appears the imperial government chose to focus on raising recruitment levels in provinces that were more amenable to the presence of the national government and turn a blind eye to its failures in Minas Gerais.