Pedro II (1825-1891) was the second emperor of Brazil. His wise rule brought internal peace and progress to Brazil while most of his Latin American neighbors were absorbed in disastrous civil strife.
On Dec. 2, 1825, Pedro was born in the imperial residence at São Christovão. When his father, Pedro I, abdicated in 1831, young Pedro literally became the ward of the nation. His education, so rigidly structured that almost all of his waking time was spent in study, prepared him well for his future duties.
Until Pedro reached the age of 18, Brazil was to be ruled by a regency, but during a 9-year interregnum the empire almost disintegrated. Recognizing the regency's utter failure, liberals forced a declaration of Pedro's majority on July 23, 1840. In 1843 he married Princess Thereza Christina of Naples. By 1850 order was restored, and the monarchy entered an era of internal stability. At first glance, Pedro II's government resembled the British parliamentary system, but in reality the Emperor was the master of state. His judicious exercise of the poder moderador (moderating power) created a political balance which ensured domestic peace during most of his 49-year reign.
For over 2 decades Pedro had to contend with British economic and political preeminence-an inheritance from the old Portuguese Empire. He encountered a major crisis after the British Parliament passed the Aberdeen Act in 1845, as British ships arbitrarily entered Brazilian ports and cut out vessels engaging in the African slave trade. In December 1862 Britain temporarily blockaded Rio after a series of altercations between British seamen and Brazilian officials.
Pedro II's intervention in faction-torn Uruguay involved Brazil in a war with Argentina's Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1851-1852. Chaotic conditions persisted in Uruguay into the 1860s, and in September 1864, as a result of attacks on Brazilian nationals, Pedro sent in imperial troops. Capitalizing on the situation, Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López attacked the Mato Grosso region in December. Brazil joined Argentina and Uruguay in the War of the Triple Alliance in May 1865 but bore the brunt of the battle as Pedro refused compromise or mediation until López was eliminated. The 5-year conflict was expensive for Brazil: it drained the treasury, cost 50,000 lives, and postponed many urgent domestic reforms. After the war a conjunction of several factors served to destroy the Braganza dynasty. Although Pedro was still overwhelmingly popular, the monarchy was not. He encouraged the Republican party, founded in 1870, and republican ideas circulated widely in a press whose freedom he carefully guarded.
In the 1870s Brazil experienced its first serious church-state conflict. The bishops of Olinda and Pará, contrary to the orders of Pedro, a former Masonic grand master, continued to censure irmandades (lay brotherhoods) in their districts which refused to abjure Freemasonry. When the bishops persisted in defying civil authority, they were arrested and sentenced to 4 years at hard labor in early 1874. Pedro eased the situation in September 1875 by granting an amnesty but had already lost the support of the clergy.
The slavery issue also weakened the Emperor's position. Although he was an ardent abolitionist, he temporized on emancipation as he realized that the slave-owning fazendeiros were his strongest support. But the proclamation of total, uncompensated abolition in March 1888 alienated the planters.
The major factor in the downfall of the monarchy, however, was the rise of militarism. After the Paraguayan War, the army, inspired by positivism, developed an arrogant disregard for civilian leadership. A serious illness in 1887 greatly impaired Pedro's physical and mental ability, and his inaction during the army coup on Nov. 15, 1889, doomed the empire. On November 16 the republic was proclaimed, and on the next day the royal family was exiled. Pedro died in Paris on Dec. 5, 1891.
The best book on Pedro II is Mary Wilhemine Williams, Dom Pedro the Magnanimous: Second Emperor of Brazil (1937). The open admiration for her subject does nothing to diminish the quality of Dr. Williams's standard work. See also Clarence Henry Haring, Emire in Brazil: A New World Experiment with Monarchy (1958).