Brazil at War with Germany
Significant Reply to the Pope

[The New York Times/Current History, December 1917]

Brazil declared war on Germany Oct. 26, 1917, and President Braz sanctioned the act by official proclamation. The vote of the Chamber of Deputies in favor of the war declaration was 149 to 1; in the Senate it was unanimous. The Germans, in anticipation of the action of the Brazilian authorities, set on fire and sank the German gunboat Eber at Rio Janeiro, a vessel of 984 tons. A few days later German submarines in the Atlantic sank two Brazilian ships, the Acary and the Guaniba, which had formerly belonged to Germany.

President Wilson on Oct. 30 cabled as follows to the President of Brazil:

Allow me, speaking for the people and the Government of the United States, to say with what genuine pleasure and heartfelt welcome we hail the association with ourselves and the other nations united in war with Germany of the great republic of Brazil. Her action in this time of crisis binds even closer the bonds of friendship which already united the two republics.

The Chamber on Nov. 7 adopted the following measures of reprisal against Germany. They had been recommended by the President:

Annulment of contracts for public work entered into with Germans.

Prohibition of new land concessions to German subjects.

Control of German banks, eventual annulment of their license, and the extension of these measures to German commercial firms.

Prohibition of the transfer of ownership of German properties.

The internment of German subjects.

A few days after the declaration of war strikes were reported throughout Southern Brazil, said to be due to Germans. The German population in three States of Southern Brazil is as follows:


Total Population.


Rio Grande do Sul
Santa Catharina



The Brazilian Army on Nov. 8 was concentrated in the State of Rio Grande do Sul for strike duty, and plans were inaugurated to increase the army to 100,000 by conscription, including men between the ages of 17 and 30.

Shortly after Brazil entered the war Secretary Lansing at Washington made public two dispatches which had been sent through the Swedish Minister at Buenos Aires by Count Luxburg, the German Chargé d'Affaires of the Argentine Legation. They revealed a plot to violate the Monroe Doctrine by consolidating the German settlements in Brazil. The text of the telegrams was as follows:

No. 63. July 7, 1917. Our attitude toward Brazil has created the impression here that our easy-going good nature can be counted on. This is dangerous in South America, where the people under thin veneer are Indians. A submarine squadron with full powers to me might probably still save the situation. I request instructions as to whether after a rupture of relations legation is to start for home or to remove to Paraguay or possibly Chile. The Naval Attaché will doubtless go to Santiago de Chile.

No. 89. Aug. 4, 1917. I am convinced that we shall be able to carry through our principal political aims in South America, the maintenance of open market in Argentina and the reorganization of South Brazil equally well whether with or against Argentina. Please cultivate friendship with Chile. The announcement of the visit of a submarine squadron to salute the President would even now exercise decisive influence on the situation in South America. Prospect excellent for wheat harvest in December.

These dispatches had been made known to the Brazilian authorities prior to their declaration of war against Germany.

Reply to Pope's Peace Note

Brazil's views of the only manner in which durable peace may be obtained were set forth in the Government's reply to the peace proposal made last August by Pope Benedict. The note, which was made public on Nov. 14, is signed by the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nilo Peçanha, and is addressed to the Brazilian Minister at the Holy See. It explains that the President of the republic had not personally replied to the Pope's peace proposals because only now is Brazil in a state of war. The note follows:

The Brazilian Nation, which has never engaged in a war of conquest, but has consistently advocated arbitration as the solution for external conflicts in the constitution of the republic, and has no grievances and sufferings past or present to revenge; which has solved with serenity all questions regarding territorial limits, and with a precise knowledge of what belongs to her and an accurate acquaintance with the extent of her vast territory; which, thanks to the labor not only of her own sons, anxious to prove themselves worthy of so rich a patrimony, but of that of all foreigners whom our hospitality has assimilated; this nation, your Excellency can assure his Holiness, would have remained apart from the conflict in Europe in spite of the sympathy of public opinion for the Allies' liberal cause had Germany not extended the war to America and thereby prevented intertrading between all neutral countries.

Without renouncing her obligations as an American nation, this country could not fail to assume the position of a belligerent as a last resource, without hatred or any interest other than the defense of our flag and our fundamental rights.

Happily today the republics of the New World are more or less allied in their rights, but all, equally menaced in their liberties and their sovereignty, draw closer the bonds of the solidarity which formerly was merely geographic, economic, and historic, and which the necessities of self-defense and national independence now make political as well.

For such reasons Brazil can no longer maintain her isolated attitude, and now, in close solidarity as she must be and really is with the nations on whose side she has ranged herself, she can even speak as an individual entity.

No Brazilian heart can receive without emotion the eloquent appeal of his Holiness in the name of the Almighty to the belligerents in the cause of peace. Though no State religion has been adopted by Brazil, and all creeds are equally free, none the less Brazil is the third Catholic country of the world, and has maintained unbroken for centuries relations with the Government of the Holy See. Brazil, therefore, recognizes the generous motives that inspired the appeal of his Holiness asking that by disarmament and arbitration and the establishing of a regime in which the brute force of armies shall give way to the force of moral law, the restoration of France and Italy should be granted, and the Balkan problem and the restitution of liberty to Poland be considered.

Only the countries most deeply interested in these questions can judge if the honor of their arms has been saved in this war, or if these modifications of the political map of Europe are likely to restore tranquillity.

So long as the political and military organization that suspended living law the world over and suppressed spiritual conquests supposed to be established beyond question so long as this power continues to abuse the alleviating functions of war and to destroy the Christian spirit that inspired the society of nations, only these nations can say whether confidence in treaties has disappeared and whether any other force excepting some new spirit of order can be accepted as a guarantee of peace.

Through the sufferings and the disillusions to which the war has given rise a new and better world will be born, as it were, of liberty, and in this way a lasting peace may be established without political or economic restrictions, and all countries be allowed a place in the sun with equal rights and an interchange of ideas and values in merchandise on an ample basis of justice and equity.

The Colombian Senate on Oct. 20 adopted a resolution protesting against German submarine warfare.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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