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Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil

by James Russell Miller

Dom Pedro de Alcantara João Carlos Leopoldo Salvador Bibiano Franciso Xavier de Paula Leocadio Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Bragança e Borbón was born in Rio de Janeiro December 2, 1825. This august name bestowed on him by his parents Don Pedro I and Doña Leopoldina attest to his high and noble birth. This unsuspecting child was born into a family whose relations included the oldest and most noble royal houses of Europe. His grandfathers included the kings of Spain and Naples. His extended family were the royal houses of Great Britain, Frances, Barvaria, and Sardinia. If these impressive relations were not enough to set this child above in prospects for future success, his ancestors included Louis XIV of France and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. However, this child was born into less than desirable circumstances, for his would-be empire and future throne were far from secure.
The Empire of Brazil was a newly created state and was not completely accepted in the circles of world power. This experiment in crafting an empire has been called a ?political hybrid.? A mixture of the traditional monarchy, shaped by the Divine-Right theory, and shaped interestingly enough by the ideals of the Enlightenment that had shaped the United States' and France?s revolutions. Brazil was a nation divided into three classes: those of Portuguese descent; those of Amerindian extraction; and those of African derivation. The labor of black slaves provided economic benefit for thriving agri-businesses. The royal court of João VI had fled the encroachments of Napoleon and set up court in Rio de Janeiro in 1807. The situation finally improved and the court returned to Lisbon in 1821. There were strained relations with the Portuguese Cortes and the interests of far away Brazil.
On September 7, 1822, Dom Pedro declared that Brazil was independent of Portugal. He was proclaimed Emperor some weeks later not wishing to usurp the tile of his father, the King of Portugal. The new Emperor was to begin his reign with problems. Dom Pedro I would resist any attempts to lessen his royal prerogatives. He, after all, was of a royal blood but lacked the political prowess to accomplish his desires. Pedro I gradually lost his grip on power, first exhibited in the unpopular choice of a mistress, a mistress elevated in royal position, with her bastard seed , to that of equality of the Empress and royal children. The death of Doña Leopoldina was a blow to the national psyche and surprisingly enough to Pedro I. Later Pedro I lost the trust and cooperation of the Chamber of Deputies. He dismissed his ministers, causing street riots. The Emperor was give in his view no choice but to abdicate and hope for better results back in Portugal. He did so on April 7, 1831. He quickly left with his new Empress Doña Amelia, his daughter Doña Maria da Gloria, and with as much of the royal silver and possessions as possible. It was said that there was only one silver spoon left at his departure and no one cared, only wishing him to leave immediately.
The world was an unsure place for the new five-year-old Emperor of Brazil. He and his two sisters would be the only members of his immediate family left in Brazil. The continuance of the Bragança dynasty in Brazil became tenuous at best. Fear became a motivating force for unity to preserve Brazil in this unsure time. Politicians united in support of the monarchy; it now would serve as a rallying point for the survival of the Empire. Three men were chosen as interim regents until the Legislature could meet and choose permanent regents. Dom Pedro II was proclaimed Emperor of Brazil on April 14. A meeting to choose three to rule as Regents until the eighteenth birthday of Pedro II, December 2, 1843. A motherless, and now with an absent father, fatherless, child of five had his fate in the hands of others. Others that would make decisions about the future of Brazil, the monarchy, and the boy himself. He would never see his father again, and it would be forty years until he would see his cherished stepmother, Doña Amelia, in 1871. Pedro II never had a clear picture of his parents and this would haunt him into his later life. He would live an isolated life ordinarily as a royal, but this upbringing denied the child emperor stability in family.
Pedro I had selected Jose Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva as his tutor or really guardian. Bonifacio was a loyal man to the former Emperor and was a man who was known for his belief in the monarchical system. He had served as chief minister of the former Emperor and it was implied that Bonafacio was designated for the same role in the Regency of Pedro II. Jose Bonafacio proved to be a man of political ambition and provided more controversy and partisan quarrels that could have been lessened or completely avoided. Bonafacio was forced from power by the Regents on December 14, 1833. Dom Pedro II seems during this time to be much influenced by a former stable groom. This groom, Richard Shelley, an Englishman, acted as a surrogate father for the young Pedro II.
Young Dom Pedro II loved to study and set about to become educated. He studied and became fluent in French and came to accept French culture as his own. His quest for knowledge was a lifelong pursuit. In his younger years, reading books and study provided an escape into a world in which he could be separate from his problems and pressures. Later in life he acquired a knowledge of Hebrew in order to study the Old Testament and Hebrew literature. Once being able to read and write Hebrew, his studies led him to on to learn Arabic, Sanskrit, and Tupi-Guarani. He employed world class linguists to help in these pursuits. In addition to study, the emperor wrote in great amounts. His love of science and study in general better suited him for a role other than Emperor of Brazil.
This love of knowledge led Pedro II to world travel. During his visit to The United States, he heard the preaching of Dwight L. Moody, the evangelist, in New York City. He approved of Moody?s assertion that the Christian spirit existed above denominational differences. He viewed buffalo in Wyoming, and was curious about Mormonism in Salt Lake City. He secured Mormon literature and inquired about their beliefs. His visit to New Orleans brought him to a Jewish synagogue and found him engaged in a philosophical discussion with a Jewish scholar, Professor Fontaine. While he made other stops and saw the vast nature of the American experiment, these tours in the area of religion seem to set this emperor apart from the average head of state. He visited homes for the handicapped and institutions for the insane, offering advice when he felt it was needed. During a farewell tribute, the third stanza of Whittier?s "Freedom in Brazil" was read. The poem had been composed when the Emperor set about the initiative that led to emancipation in 1871. The American tour had been invigorating for Pedro II.
During his reign, major changes took place in Brazil. Pedro II was popular, but his policies in economic and social matters proved problematic. Entanglements in Latin American wars also plagued his reign. In 1850, the slave trade was prohibited; in 1871, gradual emancipation was granted; and in 1888, with Pedro II absence in Europe, his daughter Isabel, acting ruler, signed a law abolishing slavery. The nature of Brazil?s agrarian economy and the power of plantation owners led to opposition to the nature of these laws. A growing coalition of the urban middle class, plantation owners, and military leaders united in opposition to the traditional monarchy and to the privileged class. Pedro II wrote late in his reign "If I were not an emperor, I should like to be a school teacher. I know of no calling greater or nobler than that of directing young minds and of training the men of the future" (Williams,1937, p. 214).
Brazil at his accession was an almost illiterate nation in need of a teacher. During his reign progress was made to foster in Brazil the quest for learning. After the war with Paraguay, he learned of efforts to erect an equestrian statue of him. Pedro II promptly wrote a letter encouraging that the money be used for the construction of more primary school buildings or improvements in existing public buildings. He would not allow needed reapairs to be made to the City Palace, when in his words "to think of a palace for me when we have not enough schools and school buildings"(Williams, 1937, p. 215). The Emperor would at times visit a school, sit by the teacher, watch the students, and even participate. His committed to education was fueled by his desire to produce Brazilian leaders for the future. He is credited with making Brazil the most liberal and enlightened nation in Latin American of the day.
Even with all of the improvements and social changes, there were growing problems for the monarchy in Brazil. The three most important sources of discontent were within the Church, the planters, and the military. These had been traditionally the closest supporters of the monarchy. Imprisonment of bishops caused a great blemish on the monarchy?s prestige and image. The general population of Brazil held the Church in esteem and above reproach. The Emperor?s government suffered a great loss in public sympathy. Abolition of slavery alienated the planters and fostered republican ideas among their ranks. The military became increasingly dissatisfied with the government. Discontent had festered since the Paraguayan War.
Monarchists could not perceive of a nation without this stabilizing institution and could not understand the growing conditions that would lead to an overthrow of the monarchy. Republicans wanted to rid the nation of the abuses and corruption they perceived inherent in the monarchy. They saw abuses in the power of the emperor as indicative for the need to change to a republic. The Republican movement desired to carry out the will of the people as their mandate. Some came to see all monarchies as condemned by history, an institution best replaced by a republic.
The Masonic controversy proved to be a mortal wound for the monarchy. The position of the Church was followed by the bishops of Para and Pernambuco in barring Masons from participating Church activities. The Masons appealed to the government. The monarchy, using imperial privilege, supported the Masons over the bishops, and thus the Pope?s decision. The bishops resisted the interference and were arrested. They were eventually released, but the damage to the crown was irreparable.
Abolition led to further erosion of royal support for her most logical supporters, the planters. These landowners depended upon the economic benefits produced by slavery and were unwilling to support the royal government?s efforts to be socially responsible.
Adding to these crown problems in the Church and in society was the military. Republicans formed a large interest group within the military. There had been growing dissatisfaction during the time since the Paraguayan War. Military men had assumed a greater sense of importance in the society as a whole and felt that they were underpaid and thus under-appreciated. The military assumed the duty of assuring to secure the nation?s political and social well-being. The resulting demise of the monarchy and replacement government would be devised from these three forces growing out of the military movement: a military faction, plantation owners, and the urban middle class.
Dom Pedro II was at a crossroads. The Bragança dynasty was crumbling. The will of the Emperor was broken. His daughter Doña Isabel convinced him to call a meeting of the Council of State. Their final advice was to form a new cabinet. The decision was made, the monarchy was finished. The boy emperor would now be dealt a similar fate as his father before him. Exile was the only option. The republic was now firmly established as a new constitution was called requested. Dom Pedro II retired to bed leaving Doña Isabel and her husband to await the reply. An ultimatum was delivered next morning stating the reasons for the overthrow of the monarchy and for the establishment of the republic. Dom Pedro and his family were to leave the nation within twenty-four hours. His reply was "I am leaving, and I am leaving now" (Barman, 1999, p361). The provisional government made an allowance of five thousand contors de reis, which amounted to six years income from the civil list.
Dom Pedro II contracted a chill on November 23, 1891 in Paris. The doctor confirmed influenza and he was put to bed on November 26. His temperature soared to 105.8 degrees by December 4, giving the doctors no hope for recovery. He suffered little pain and offered no struggle. His surviving daughter and a small group of family and loyal courtiers attended the deathbed. The count of Aljezur, acting as court chamberlain wrote out the legal act of death. As played out some sixty-five years before with the death of his mother, all present kissed his hand. Then in turn, all kissed the hand of Doña Isabel, acknowledging her claims to the throne. After great pomp in France, his body was transferred to Lisbon to be received by King Carlos and the royal family. He was laid rest beside his wife, Doña Teresa Cristina, his father, Doña Amelia, sisters, and other relations of the Bragança family.
Many years would pass until the true accomplishments and legacy of Dom Pedro II would be discussed and appreciated in Brazil. Closure would not come for the former Emperor until 1971. His remains, along with those of Doña Teresa Cristina, Doña Isabel and her husband are at rest in the city that he loved, Petropolis. He is now at home.


Barman, R.J. (1999). Citizen Emperor. Pedro II and the Making of Brazil, 1825-91. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Da Costa, E.V. (2000). The Brazilian Empire. Myths and Histories. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Williams, M.W. (1937). Dom Pedro The Magnanimous. Second Emperor of Brazil. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press