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Pedro II, original nameDom Pedro de Alcântara (bornDec. 2, 1825, Rio de Janeiro, Braz.—diedDec. 5, 1891, Paris,France), second and last emperor of Brazil (1831–89), whose benevolent and popular reign lasted nearly 50 years.
On April 7, 1831, when he was five years old, his father, Pedro I (Pedro, or Peter, IV of Portugal), abdicated in his favour; and for nine years Brazil was governed by a turbulent regency. To restore political stability, Pedro was declared of age on July 23, 1840, and crowned emperor on July 18, 1841. Although the disturbances in the provinces that had plagued the regency continued for the next five years, the young emperor’s intellectual curiosity and profound concern for his subjects soon became apparent. He considered himself the arbiter of Brazil’s political life, and he used the power granted him by the constitution to regulate the antagonistic groups that sought to dominate the country. He was greatly aided in this activity by the support offered by the country’s dominant military figure, the duke of Caxias (Luiz Alves de Lima e Silva). The first Brazilian monarch to be born in Brazil, Pedro guarded his country’s sovereignty in disputes with Great Britain and the United States. He led Brazil into the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay (1864–70), gaining new territory and prestige for Brazil.
The rule of Pedro II, a calm, serious, and intelligent man, brought stability and progress to the troubled economy. He encouraged coffee production instead of sugar, and under his guidance Brazil made significant gains in railroad, telegraph, and cable construction. As a result of his leadership, he enjoyed almost unqualified support for 40 years.
During Pedro’s 49-year reign, he presided over 36 different cabinets, most of which received and merited public support, as Pedro was generally served by excellent councillors and ministers. By astutely alternating support for the Liberal and Conservative parties, he ensured that both enjoyed a roughly equal amount of time in power, and he provided orderly, nonviolent transitions between them. Both parties, however, represented the landholding oligarchy, and, as a result, issues that affected other sectors of Brazilian society were often hedged.
Thus, despite Pedro’s generally benign and progressive leadership, by the end of his reign his support had weakened. The crucial issue was the abolition of slavery. Personally opposed to slavery (he had freed his own slaves in 1840), Pedro felt that abolition in the agriculturally based Brazilian economy would have to occur gradually so as not to upset the landowners. When complete emancipation was at last decreed (1888), with his daughter Isabel acting as regent, 700,000 slaves were freed, and no provision was made for compensation to the owners. Pedro also had strained relations with the Roman Catholic church after 1872 because of his opposition to the anti-Masonic laws passed by the church. In addition, the emperor, who represented the colonial countryside and landed classes, found himself removed from increasingly powerful elements in society, particularly the emerging urban middle class and the military. These and other factors combined to bring about his downfall. On Nov. 15, 1889, a military coup forced him to abdicate. The royal family went into exile in Europe. His remains and those of his wife were returned to Brazil in 1920 and placed in a chapel in the city of Petrópolis, named in his honour.
Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca, (born Aug. 5, 1827, Alagôas, Braz.—died Aug. 23, 1892, Rio de Janeiro), nominal leader of the coup that toppled Emperor Pedro II. He became the first president of the Brazilian republic.
The son of an army officer, Fonseca was trained for a military career. He distinguished himself in the Paraguayan War (1864–70) and subsequently rose to the rank of general. Named field marshal in 1884 and both military commander in and administrative head of Rio Grande do Sulestado (state) after 1886, he viewed himself as the heir to the duke of Caxias as Brazil’s leading military figure. Although he was politically conservative and personally loyal to the emperor, he felt that it was his duty as an officer to protest the despotic acts of the government and insist that his fellow officers had a right to express their political views. Declared insubordinate by Pedro II, Fonseca headed the military revolt of Nov. 15, 1889, which established Brazil as a republic. He served as provisional president until February 1891, when he was elected president by the constituent assembly, a body largely controlled by the generals. As president, Fonseca was both arbitrary and ineffective. When he attempted to rule by decree, he was forced to resign in November 1891.