South America: Chapter XX

(by William Henry Koebel)

From Empire to Republic


Dom Pedro II. was but five years old when his father abdicated in his favour on April 7, 1831, and, during his minority, the government of the country was entrusted to Regents.

In 1840, when he was fifteen years old, it was officially announced that he had attained his majority, and he was crowned in 1841.
In 1843 he married Theresa Christine, sister of Ferdinand II. of the Two Sicilies. His sons died in their childhood, and his daughter Isabella became heiress to the crown.


Pedro II. came to the throne at a perilous time.
The people were in a state of revolution, while the National Exchequer was practically empty, and the National Bank was bankrupt. With the abdication of Pedro I. the Ministry and official Service had disappeared.

Yet the crowd that had forced the abdication of Pedro I. drew the new boy Sovereign in triumph through the streets of the city, and, placed in a window of the palace, he watched the great multitude throng past, acclaiming him with immense enthusiasm.

It was soon seen that, in spite of the national upheaval, the mass of the people were fully alive to the necessity for preserving order and preventing licence.

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There were riots and disturbances for a time, as was inevitable; but the patriotic, although turbulent, family of the Andradas again came to the front, and suppressed all signs of revolution.
Thus the boy Emperor's position was secure.


Still, with a country nearly bankrupt, stringent measures were necessary to restore prosperity; official independence and peculation had to be suppressed, and the Regents, who succeeded each other with marked rapidity, had to be watched, while it was necessary at the same time to maintain the executive power.

These exigences led to strenuous scenes in the Assembly, and the succession of Regents became still more rapid.
In this capacity Andrada, Carvalho, Muniz, Feijo, and Lima, succeeded each other, while Ministers and Opposition squabbled and strove together, denouncing each other as the worst of tyrants.


Notwithstanding the confusion, a certain amount of progress was effected.
Abuses were remedied, reforms effected, while the national tendency towards Republicanism strengthened the ultra-Liberal party, to whom the old-time Absolutists allied themselves.

A reactionary party, desirous of seeing the Emperor recalled, came into being, and between these two was the moderate party, composed of the greater part of the population of the country, and represented politically by the Regency and the majority in the legislative chambers.

There was, however, sufficient strength in the Republican and ultra-Liberal party to accomplish revolt in the provinces of such extent as to call for military action in order to suppress it.

Accordingly the provinces became, through the various reforms introduced, self-governing States, and, when the number of Regents had been reduced from three to one, there was little difference between the Constitution of Brazil and that of the United States of America.


The old Emperor, Pedro I., died in Portugal on September 24, 1834, and after that event a strong reaction set in among the Brazilians in favour of the Monarchy.
The democratic party asserted that the Emperor's sister was, on attaining the age of eighteen, fully capable of exercising the duties of Regent.

Having once granted this, the natural deduction followed that if a girl was fit to rule at eighteen, a boy was fit to rule sooner.
In 1840 the Opposition brought forward a motion to the effect that the Emperor was of age, in spite of the article of the Constitution which declared that the majority of the Sovereign should be the age of eighteen.


By that time the nation was prosperous and at peace, while moderate men were tired of the faction struggles and the tumults caused thereby.
Lima, Regent at the time, was extremely unpopular, and, when the debates began in the Assembly, there was a general wish that he should be defeated.

The motion of the Opposition was made, and was met by the answer that the Constitution forbade this premature declaration of majority.
The Opposition retorted that circumstances warranted the infringement, since in extreme evils the interests of the State required extreme measures.


Such a proposition as this implied that the Regent and Ministry were an extreme evil, and the scene in the Chamber grew animated as the speech grew more and more personal.

Antonio Carlos de Andrada, one of the younger men of that great family, as fiery tempered as he was patriotic, led the attack, accusing the Regent and Ministry of usurpation and unconstitutional tyranny, since the Princess had attained the age of eighteen.

Then Galvão, one of the most prominent of the Ministerial party, turned against his own side, and urged the immediate proclamation of the Emperor.
Another eminent member of the Assembly, Alvares Machado, declared "that the cause of the Emperor was the cause of the nation, and ought to receive the approbation of every lover of his country."


The language of the Opposition grew violent and threatening.
Navarro, a Deputy representing Matto Grosso, denounced Lima and all his acts, finishing his declamation by shouting, "Hurrah for his Imperial Majesty's majority!"

The applause from spectators and the Opposition alarmed the Ministerialists, who tried to secure delay in bringing about the change.
Limpo de Abreo moved that a committee be appointed to consider the matter at once, and, this being carried, the Opposition consented to an adjourning of the Assembly.

On the next day the Regent prorogued the Assembly until November, and appointed Vasconcellos, a man of great standing and political power, but factious, selfish, and immoral, as Minister of the Empire.


These unpopular movements brought about actual revolt in the Assembly, for Antonio Andrada called on the members of the Assembly to follow him to the Senate.
The two Houses conferred, and appointed a deputation to the Emperor himself, urging his consent to being immediately proclaimed.

The deputation returned, bearing His Majesty's consent, and an order to the Regent to revoke his decrees, pronouncing the Chamber to be again in session.

These powerful measures ended the controversy.
In 1841 the coronation ceremony was performed, and Pedro II. assumed actual rule over Brazil.


He was in almost every sense an efficient ruler.
His personality was viewed with confidence in Europe, and so long as he occupied the throne the very important question of foreign loans presented few difficulties.

The influence of the Emperor was especially notable at the conclusion of the Paraguayan War, when the finances of Brazil were in an exhausted condition.

Pedro II. was no autocrat; of a gentle and exceptionally unselfish character, he governed in a simple and most painstaking fashion, manifesting his patriotism in every possible direction.


Exterior events were of little importance during the first years of Pedro's reign.
The chief happenings were a certain amount of civil war in the Rio Grande, and the partaking of the Brazilian forces in the battles between Uruguay and Rosas, the tyrant of Argentina, varied with occasional fights with Uruguay itself.

In 1842 revolts broke out in the provinces of São Paulo and Minas Geraes, but these, together with similar insurrections in Rio Grande in 1845, and in Pernambuco in 1849, were suppressed.

In 1851 Brazil espoused the cause of Urquiza, the Governor of Entre Rios, against that of Rosas, and the aid of the Brazilian troops was largely instrumental in bringing about the fall of the tyrant.


Dom Pedro's administration, moreover, was conducted with tact and good judgment.
His presence acted as a check upon the experimental tendencies of the more effervescent of his subjects.

He believed in slow and sure progress, and undoubtedly during his reign Brazil responded to the care and thought expended on her.
Indeed, the policy of the Emperor was liberal to a degree, and as such very welcome to a populace whose ideas, if not instincts, had grown more or less democratic.


In 1865 the Five Years' War with Paraguay was commenced, a struggle in which, under the tyrant Lopez, the tiny Republic held at bay the armies of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, to the utter ruin of Paraguay itself, and the virtual destruction of its male population.

The struggle terminated with the death of Lopez at the Battle of Cerro Cora in 1870, after exhausting the resources of Brazilian finance.
Meanwhile, in 1867, Dom Pedro opened the Amazon to the commerce of all nations, and in 1871 passed a law for the gradual abolition of slavery.

Had Pedro been gifted with a child of a character resembling his own, it is reasonable to suppose that the Empire would have continued for far longer than was the case.


Unfortunately, however, neither his daughter, the Princess Isabel, nor her husband, the Conde d'Eu, had succeeded in winning the sympathies of the Brazilians.
Princess Isabel was markedly cold and restrained in manner, and these unfortunate traits appear to have been fully shared by her husband.

The latter was somewhat deaf, which added to the apparent reserve of his manner; he was, moreover, credited with the possession of a miserly disposition.

These qualities, when viewed by an impetuous and mercurial people, whose lightning sympathies demanded as rapid a response, inevitably threw their supposed possessors into disfavour.

The situation was doubly to be regretted, in that both the Princess and her husband were in reality devoted to Brazil and to the best interests of the Brazilians.
It may truly be said that nothing beyond the lack of demonstrative power cost them their throne.


This factor in the general situation appeared at the time to be more than counterbalanced by the great popularity of the Emperor himself.
The Republican spirit was growing, it is true, and the progressive State of São Paolo headed the movement.

After a while this tendency was shorn of all disguise, and the formation of a Republic was openly advocated; but the universal desire appeared to be that the form of government should not be changed during the lifetime of the popular Emperor, Pedro II.

In the meanwhile the commercial and industrial resources of Brazil were rapidly becoming extended, and the wealth of the planters increased steadily.


Dom Pedro on various occasions visited Europe for the purposes of the State, and, in 1886, he started on his third journey to the Old World since the conclusion of the Paraguayan War.
At no time in the history of South America has it been found prudent for the head of a State to leave his country for too long in the hands of a Regent or deputy.

In this case the powers of Regent were handed over to Princess Isabel, and this lady lost little time in putting some admirable intentions into effect.
This, however, she managed to effect in a manner, as is frequently the case with well-intentioned persons, which wrought no little mischief to her own interests.

Humane and of advanced ideas, Princess Isabel had always regarded the slave trade with abhorrence.
The Emperor Pedro himself had approved of the conditions very little more.

It is certain, indeed, that he had intended ultimately to do away with this state of affairs by a gradual series of moves, so as to leave the general industrial situation unaffected.


Princess Isabel, on the other hand, favoured the idea of an immediate uprooting of the evil.

As it happened, some steps had already been taken which must in the end, of themselves, have done away with slavery; thus, it had been decreed in 1871 that every child of a slave born after that time was free.

This was not sufficient for the warm-hearted daughter of the Emperor.
In her impatience to free the older generation from their shackles, Princess Isabel determined on a general abolition forthwith.

In 1888, notwithstanding the entreaties and warnings of her Ministers, she issued a decree to this effect, by which it is said that 720,000 slaves became emancipated.


At the time remarkably little stir was caused by this upheaval of the industrial status; but there is no doubt that the measure alienated the sympathies of the most important class of all - that of the landowners, who were now quite determined that the Princess and her husband should never come to the throne of Brazil.

While all this was occurring, matters had cropped up in Europe which had caused the Emperor's absence to be prolonged unduly so far as home matters of State were concerned.
His health was bad, and his suite were anxious to save him as much as possible from the anxieties of politics.


In order that this should be effected, he was persuaded to stay away from his country for a considerable while.
At length it became evident that his return was imperative, and in August, 1888, he landed again in Rio, where he was received with genuine enthusiasm.

His loved personality, however, could no longer stand between the throne and popular opinion, for, in addition to the discontent aroused by the acts of the Princess, the centralized system of government, and the general prevalence of corruption in the provincial administration, had excited a widespread feeling of discontent, especially in the Assembly and among the Republican party.


In May, 1889, occurred the resignation of the Cabinet which was in power when the Act of Emancipation had been passed.
A new Cabinet was formed on June 7, under the Presidency of the Vizconde de Ouro Preto, a statesman much respected by the Emperor.

The liberal policy of this new Cabinet was resented by the landowners, and a serious agitation, which now began, shortly after received the support of the army.

General Deodoro da Fonseca and General Floriano Peixoto placed themselves at the head of the military malcontents, and it became clear to the inhabitants of Brazil that a crisis was not far off.

On November 14, 1889, some fifteen months after the Emperor had returned to his country, the Imperial residence at Petropolis was surrounded by soldiers, while the palace at Rio was taken possession of by other troops.


The revolution was conducted in the simplest fashion.
Beyond the arrest of the Emperor and the wounding of the Baron de Ladario, the solitary Minister who resisted, nothing happened - nothing, that is to say, of a dramatic nature.

Indeed, after the arrest, the chief work of the revolutionists appears to have lain in the obliteration of Imperial badges and the cutting out of similar tokens from their uniforms and flags.

The main population of the country appears to have regarded the change with a most complete indifference.

Dom Pedro's personality appears to have retained somewhat of its popularity up to the very last.
He was sent to Portugal a few days after the successful revolt, it is true, but it seems that this move was taken rather because it appeared to be the traditional and proper thing to do than from any dread of plotting on the part of the deposed monarch, who was allowed to retain the whole of his property.


In fact, in order to show that no personal malice was intended, the new Republic pressed a pension on the deposed monarch, which, however, was refused.
Pedro II. quitted the harbour of Rio on November 16, 1889, and with his person the last trace of Iberian Monarchy vanished from South America.



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