Tiradentes: A Reluctant Messiah

Student: Bruno Lopes*
Mentor: Charlotte Gradie
Major: History

My thesis is concerned with one of Brazil’s most intriguing historical heroes. My research and analysis is based on how the story of a nondescript military officer who lived during the 18th century, became mythicized, turning him into the literal savior and unifier of the nation one hundred years after his death. Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (November 12, 1746 - April 21, 1792), known as Tiradentes (Tooth puller), was a leading member of the Brazilian revolutionary movement known as the Inconfidência Mineira (Minas Conspiracy). Its aim was full independence from the Portuguese crown and the creation of a republican government in the captaincy of Minas Gerais, a state in southeastern Brazil. When details of the conspiracy were revealed to the local Portuguese governor, Tiradentes was arrested, tried, and subsequently executed. As a Brazilian, I found it almost mandatory to look back at this man’s life to understand the reasons that encouraged him to risk everything for the cause of liberty. While these events bear great relevance to the historical record and later myth, there is much more to the Tiradentes narrative than can be explained in concrete terms. The Tiradentes story helped Brazilians to embrace a faith-based understanding of national identity, despite it being a figment of popular memory. This story was integral to the installation of a republican government in Brazil in the year 1889. I could think of no comparable example in history where a deceased individual was able to lead a country and inspire its citizens to participate in a nationalist awakening. This situation will become clearer as I discuss another recurring theme in Brazilian politics—militant nationalism with its intent on preserving social norms and the status quo.

*Honors Senior