Diogo Antônio Feijó

Diogo Antônio Feijó (1784-1843) was a Brazilian liberal priest and minister of justice. He did much to establish order during the first regency but was plagued with insurmountable difficulties as the first single regent.

Diogo Antônio Feijó was born in São Paulo on Aug. 17, 1784, the natural son of a priest and the daughter of a powerful landowning family. He was instructed by private tutors and admitted to minor religious orders in 1804. Four years later he was ordained, and he spent the next 10 years of his life as a planter, priest, and teacher in São Carlos, a small village north of São Paulo. In 1818 he renounced this life and entered the ascetic community of the Fathers of Protection at Itú, the Brazilian center of religious liberalism.

In 1820 Feijó was elected deputy to the Cortes of Lisbon, and in his only speech before the Cortes, on April 25, 1822, he demanded Brazilian autonomy. He later refused to sign the constitution drafted by that body and fled to Brazil. He was chosen as a substitute delegate to the short-lived Brazilian Constitutional Assembly of 1823 and from 1826 to 1829 was a member of the Chamber of Deputies as representative from São Paulo. Among the liberal reforms he advocated was the abolition of the rule of clerical celibacy.

After the abdication of Pedro I in April 1831, Feijó aligned with the moderates and became minister of justice in the first permanent tripartite regency. His vigorous measures did much to bring the near anarchy of the period under control. When his success in putting down rebellion was not followed by success in his reform program, he resigned in 1832. After a brief retirement in São Paulo, he was elected senator by Rio moderates and campaigned in the Senate for the social, juridical, and military reforms he failed to achieve as minister.

In 1835 the moderates elected Feijó as the first permanent single regent, as provided for in the Additional Act of 1834, an amendment to the constitution. But the vigor and leadership Feijó had demonstrated as minister of justice failed him as regent. One month before he assumed leadership of the government on Oct. 12, 1835, the 10-year War of the Farropos broke out. A week before taking office, he suffered the first in a number of recurring paralytic strokes.

Feijó's 2-year regency was marred by a series of civil uprisings and political disputes. His demands for liberal reforms met the unyielding opposition of an increasingly conservative Congress. His refusal to organize a government on the principle of ministerial responsibility to the legislature further alienated that body. He failed to end the African slave trade and came into conflict with Pope Gregory XVI over the appointment of a liberal bishop of Rio de Janeiro. The latter incident was complicated by Brazilian proposals to allow civil marriage and Feijó's own advocacy of the abolition of clerical celibacy. The intransigent Congress refused to approve the measures necessary to deal effectively with the war in Rio Grande do Sul. Finally, when the Conservative victory in the congressional elections of 1836 intensified opposition of the legislature, Feijó resigned on Sept. 19, 1837.

On his return to the Senate in 1839, Feijó continued to press for reform. Frustrated again by Conservative opposition, he returned to São Paulo and joined an uprising of paulista liberals in May 1842. The Duque de Caxias quickly subdued the rebelling province and personally took Feijó prisoner in August. Following a 6-month banishment to Espírito Santo, Feijó resumed his seat in the Senate. He presented his own defense and retired to São Paulo to await the Senate's judgment. He died on Nov. 10, 1843.

Further Reading on Diogo Antônio Feijó

The best treatment of Feijó in English is the brief sketch in Harold E. Davis, Latin American Leaders (1949). C. H. Haring, Empire in Brazil: A New World Experiment with Monarchy (1958), is recommended for general background.

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