Constitutionalist Revolution

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Constitutionalist Revolution
Soldados paulista em trincheira em Silveiras, 1932.jpg
Revolutionary troops entrenched in the battlefield.
Date July 9, 1932–October 2, 1932
Location São Paulo and some parts of Mato Grosso, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Result Legalist victory, Brazilian constitution of 1934

 São Paulo


  • Volunteers rebels

File:Bandeira do Rio Grande do Sul.svg Rio Grande do Sul

Brazil Brazil

Commanders and leaders
São Paulo (state) Pedro Manuel de Toledo
Mato Grosso do Sul Vespasiano Martins
São Paulo (state) Euclides Figueiredo
São Paulo (state) Júlio de Mesquita Filho
Mato Grosso do Sul Gen. Bertoldo Klinger
File:Bandeira do Rio Grande do Sul.svg Borges de Medeiros
São Paulo (state) Artur Bernardes
Brazil Getúlio Vargas
Brazil Gen. Góis Monteiro
40,000 soldiers (military police and volunteers)
30 Armored Vehicles
44 artillery
9 aircraft
100,000 soldiers (Army and Navy)
90 Armored Vehicles
250 artillery
58 aircraft
Casualties and losses
2,200 estimated dead

1,050 estimated dead

3,800 wounded

The Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932 (sometimes also referred to as Paulista War) (And sometimes also referred to as 1932 civil war) is the name given to the uprising of the population of the Brazilian state of São Paulo against the 1930 coup d'état when Getúlio Vargas forcibly assumed the nation's Presidency; Vargas was supported by the military and the political elites of Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul and Paraíba. The movement grew out of local resentment from the fact that Vargas ruled by decree, unbound by a Constitution, in a provisional government. The 1930 coup also affected São Paulo by eroding the autonomy that states enjoyed during the term of the 1891 Constitution and preventing the inauguration of the governor of São Paulo Júlio Prestes in the Presidency of the Republic, while simultaneously overthrowing President Washington Luís, who was governor of São Paulo from 1920 to 1924. These events marked the end of the Old Republic. Vargas appointed a northeasterner as governor of São Paulo.

The Revolution's main goal was to press the provisional government headed by Getúlio Vargas to abide by a new Constitution, since the elected President Prestes was kept from taking office. However, as the movement developed and resentment against President Vargas and his revolutionary government grew deeper, it came to advocate the overthrow of the Federal Government, and it was even speculated that one of the Revolutionaries' goals was the secession of São Paulo from the Brazilian federation. However, it is noted that the separatist scenario was used as guerrilla tactics by the Federal Government to turn the population of the rest of the country against the state of São Paulo, broadcasting the alleged separatist notion throughout the country. There is no evidence that the movement's commanders sought separatism.

The uprising commenced on 9 July 1932, after four protesting students were killed by government troops on 23 May 1932. On the wake of their deaths, a movement called MMDC (from the initials of the names of each of the four students killed, Martins, Miragaia, Dráusio and Camargo) started. A fifth victim, Alvarenga, was also shot that night, but died months later.

In a few months, the state of São Paulo rebelled against the federal government. Counting on the solidarity of the political elites of two other powerful states, (Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul), the politicians from São Paulo expected a quick war. However, that solidarity was never translated into actual support, and the São Paulo revolt was militarily crushed on October 2, 1932. In total, there were 87 days of fighting (July 9 to October 4, 1932—with the last two days after the surrender of São Paulo), with a balance of 934 official deaths, though non-official estimates report up to 2,200 dead, and many cities in the state of São Paulo suffered damage due to fighting.

In spite of its military defeat, some of the movement's main demands were finally granted by Vargas afterwards: the appointment of a non-military state Governor, the election of a Constituent Assembly and, finally, the enactment of a new Constitution in 1934. However that Constitution was short-lived, as in 1937, amidst growing extremism on the left and right wings of the political spectrum, Vargas closed the National Congress and enacted another Constitution, which established an authoritarian regime called Estado Novo.

July 9 marks the beginning of the Revolution of 1932, and is a holiday and the most important civic date of the state of São Paulo. The paulistas (as the inhabitants of São Paulo are known) consider the Revolution of 1932 as the greatest movement of its civic history. It was the first major revolt against the government of Getúlio Vargas and the last major armed conflict occurring in the history of Brazil.

The Paulistas and Federal Forces

Paulista propaganda poster during the Constitutionalist Revolution.

According to García de Gabiola, when the revolution began the Paulistas only counted with 1 of the 8 divisions of the Brazilian Federal Army (the 2nd one, based precisely in São Paulo), and with half of the Mixed Brigade based in the southern part of Mato Grosso. These forces were reinforced also by the Força Publica Paulista, a kind of regional military police, and with the MMDC militias. In all, there were some 11-15,000 men at the beginning of the conflict, later joined by thousands of volunteers.[1] In fact, according to most authors, as Hilton, São Paulo equipped some 40 battalions made from volunteers, but García de Gabiola states that he has identified even up to 80 of them, of some 300 men each.[2] At the end, taking into account that in the São Paulo state armory's there were only between 15,000 to 29,000 rifles depending on the source, the Paulists were never able to arm more than 35,000 men maximum.[3] Additionally, the Paulists only had 6 million cartridges, failing their attempts to acquire some additional 500 millions, so, for an army of some 30,000 men fighthing during 3 months, it represented a mere 4.4 cartridges per day per soldier.[4] Against them Brazil equipped approximately 100,000 men, but taking into account that a third of this amount never went to the front (they were kept to protect the rearguards and for security purposes in the other States), their numerical superiority was of some 2 to 1.[5]

Course of the Conflict

Initially the main front was the eastern Paraiba Valley that leds to Rio do Janeiro, the capital of Brazil during these days. The 2nd Division, revolted, advanced against Rio, but was stopped dead by the loyal 1st Division based there, under General Gois Monteiro, in the frontier between Rio and São Paulo. According to sources as Hilton,[6] the general Tasso Fragoso, the chief of staff of the Brazilian Army tried to oppose to the deployment to the 1st Division in the Valley, for being friendly to the revolts, but according to García de Gabiola[7] probably he was just trying to protect the government based in Rio City in case of a revolt happening there. In any case Gois finally imposed over Tasso and the 1st Division was placed there just in time to block the advance of the Paulista. In the Paraíba, Gois Monteiro created the East Detachment, reaching some 34,000 men, against some 20,000 Paulistas, but after 3 months of trench warfare and despite advancing some 70 km, the Federals were still some 150 km distance to São Paulo City when the war ended.[8] In the South of São Paulo State, the Federals created the South Detachmemt, made of the Federal 3rd and 5th Divisions, 3 Cavalry divisions and the Gaucho Brigade of Rio Grande do Sul reaching 18,000 men against just 3-5,000 Paulistas depending on the date. The Federals broke the front in Itararé on July the 17th, producing the largest advance in the war, but they were still very far from São Paulo when the war ended.[9] Finally, the decisive front was the Minas Gerais Front, that was only active since August the 2nd. The 4th Federal Division based there, with the Police of Minais Gerais and other States troops, broke the front in Eleutério in the 26th of August, advancing some 50 km to near Campinas, adding 18,000 soldiers against some 7,000 Paulistas. In any case, there were just some 70 km to São Paulo City, so finally the Paulistas surrendered in October the 2nd.[10]

In Popular Culture

The Revolution plays a key role in the setting of Peter Fleming's book Brazilian Adventure, an offbeat portrayal by a foreigner caught in the midst of the fighting.


See also


Silva, Herculano. A Revolucao Constitucionalista. Rio de Janeiro. Civilizacao Brasileira Editora. 1932.

García de Gabiola, Javier. 1932 São Paulo en Armas. Historia y Vida 535. October 2012. Barcelona. Prisma Editorial. Planeta.

Hilton, Stanley. A Guerra Civil Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro. Nova Fronteira, 1982.


  1. For the units involved see García de Gabiola. For the strength of the units see both Hilton and Garcia de Gabiola
  2. See Hilton and García de Gabiola
  3. See both Hilton and García de Gabiola.
  4. See both Hilton and García de Gabiola. The calculation of the 4.4 cartridges has been made by Garcia de Gabiola
  5. See García de Gabiola
  6. Stanley Hilton. A Guerra Civil Brasileira. Río de Janeiro. Nova Fronteira, 1982.
  7. Javier García de Gabiola. 1932, Sao Paulo en Armas. Historia y Vida 535. 2012
  8. See both Hilton and García de Gabiola for troop strength, Silva for details of the operations, and Garcia de Gabiola for a summary of them
  9. See both Hilton and García de Gabiola for troops strength, Silva for details of the operations, and Garcia de Gabiola for a summary of them and for military units
  10. See both Hilton and García de Gabiola for troops strength, Silva for details of the operations, and Garcia de Gabiola for a summary of them and for military units