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Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, known as Tiradentes (August 16, 1746–-April 21, 1792), was a leading member of the Brazilianmarker revolutionary movement known as the Inconfidência Mineira whose aim was full independence from the Portuguesemarker colonial power and to create a Brazilian republic. When the plan was discovered, Tiradentes was arrested, tried and publicly hanged. Since the 19th century he has been considered a national hero of Brazil.

Family and early occupation

Born to a poor family in a farm in Pombal, close to the settlement of Santa Rita do Rio Abaixo, near to São João del Reymarker, Minas Geraismarker, Tiradentes was adopted by his godfather and moved to Vila Rica (now Ouro Pretomarker) after the deaths of his parents (mother in 1755; father in 1757).

Tiradentes was raised by a tutor, who was a surgeon. His lack of formal education didn't stop him from working in several fields, including dental medicine; Tiradentes means "tooth puller", a pejorative denomination adopted during the trial against him. He practiced several professions — cattle driver, miner, dentist — and was a member of the Regimento dos Dragões de Minas Gerais militia. As Tiradentes was not a member of the local aristocracy, he was systematically overlooked for promotion and never rose above the rank of alferes (2nd lieutenant).

Political ideas

Living in a State rich in gold, Tiradentes used the knowledge he acquired about minerals to enter the public service (he achieved the ranks of alferes, low in the hierarchy of the epoch), and he was sent to missions in cities along the road between Vila Rica (the capital of Minas Gerais) and Rio de Janeiromarker; this road was the "open vein" used to export most of the gold to Portugalmarker.

Tiradentes soon noticed the exploitation to which Brazilians were subjected; he saw how much gold, and other valuable resources were being pillaged for export to Portugal.

His trips to Rio put him in contact with people who had lived in Europe and brought from there the libertarian ideas (the American colonies had become independent in 1776, and French Revolution would be in 1789). In 1788, Tiradentes met José Alvares Maciel, son of the governor of Vila Rica, who had just returned from England; they could compare the British industrial progress with the Brazilian colonial poverty. They created a group of freedom aspirers, led by clerics and other Brazilians with some social presence, like Cláudio Manuel da Costa (staff of government and important writer), Tomás Antônio Gonzaga (staff of government) and Alvarenga Peixoto (eminent businessman); the group propagated their ideas among Brazilians.

At that time, Portugal was hungry for gold; however, the production of Brazilian mines was declining. The Brazilians were not meeting the yearly quota of gold that was requested by the crown, and there was pressure from Portugal to ensure all the due taxes were paid. The days of payment of taxes were called derrama.

Influenced by the writings of Rousseau, and by the American Revolution Tiradentes joined with a number of like-minded citizens in the Inconfidência Mineira. They wanted to found a republic with its capital at São João del Reimarker and to create a university. The proposed flag for the new republic bore the Latin motto "Libertas quae sera tamenmarker" (Freedom, even if it be late.)

Discovery, trial and execution

The plan of Tiradentes was, in a day of derrama (when the sentiment of revolt of Brazilians would be stronger), to take the streets of Vila Rica and proclaim the Brazilian Republic. The movement, however, was denounced to the governor, who canceled the derrama scheduled for February of 1789 and ordered the imprisonment of the rebels. The person who denounced the movement was Joaquim Silverio dos Reis; he was a participant of the movement, and betrayed the group in exchange for waiving of his due taxes.

Tiradentes fled to Rio, where he tried to reorganize the movement. Not knowing who had denounced the group, he went to meet Joaquim Silverio dos Reis in Rio; Tiradentes was arrested on May 10, 1789.

The trial lasted almost three years. Tiradentes assumed the entire responsibility for the movement. Ten members of the group were sentenced to death; all of them - except Tiradentes - had their sentences, by mercy of the Queen, commuted from death to degradation.

On April 21, 1792 (today the date of a national holiday in Brazil), Tiradentes was hanged in Rio de Janeiro, in the plaza today named Praça Tiradentes. His body was quartered into several pieces. With his blood, a document was written declaring his memory infamous. His head was publicly displayed in Vila Rica and pieces of his body were exhibited in the cities between Vila Rica and Rio to terrorize the populace and those who had empathized with Tiradentes' ideas of independence.

National hero

He began to be considered a national hero by the republicans in the late 19th century, and after the republic was proclaimed in Brazil in 1889 the anniversary of his death (April 21) became a national holiday.

As of now there is a city in the state of Minas Geraismarker bearing his name and major avenues and streets in countries like the Dominican Republicmarker.

External links

Further reading

  • Cheney, Glenn Alan, Journey on the Estrada Real: Encounters in the Mountains of Brazil, (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 2004) ISBN 0-89733-530-9

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