Pedro II

Emperor Pedro II
Emperor Pedro II

Emperor Pedro II, or Dom Pedro II, as he was commonly known, was related to most of the royal families of Europe. His father was Pedro I and his mother was Maria Leopoldina of Austria. Ironically, despite his royal pedigree, Pedro II is called the Citizen Emperor of Brazil. On April 7, 1831, five-year-old Pedro II was left by his father with his two younger sisters in Brazil.

Pedro I was forced to leave Brazil due the corruption of his government and his desire to remain an heir to the crown of Portuguese throne. He fought his brother Miguel in Portugal to secure the Portuguese crown for his daughter, Maria II, who was Pedro II’s older sister.

The flight of Pedro I from Brazil left Pedro II with neither father nor mother to guide him. Three regents were to rule for Pedro II until he came of age; he was crowned emperor in 1841. Pedro was calm, serious, and intelligent. He was interested in the study of languages, religion, and science.

He studied life in other countries, especially the United States, and began to industrialize Brazil. He created railroads between major cities and had a transatlantic cable placed in Brazil. He encouraged Brazilians to grow coffee. Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber created another important new export for Brazil. The motto of his reign was “Union and Industry.”

Politically, Pedro ruled with care. He alternated the parties in power and listened to advice while maintaining the power of the monarchy. However, Pedro II was caught between the conservative upper class of Brazil and the Brazilian liberals to whom he was more closely allied.

Conservatives did not like Pedro’s attempts to do away with slavery in Brazil. Like some slave owners in the United States, Brazil’s elite families could not envision life without slavery. The slave trade was banned in 1850, and gradual emancipation was granted in 1871.

In 1888 Pedro II’s daughter signed the act eliminating slavery in Brazil. To replace this manpower, Pedro II encouraged Italians, Poles, and Germans to settle in Brazil. The liberals, on the other hand, found that having an emperor as their champion, no matter how liberal his actions, was a contradiction to liberalism.

Pedro II wanted to make education part of every Brazilian’s life. He suggested that instead of erecting a statue of him commemorating his victory in the Paraguayan War, more primary schools should be built. He also refused to allow repairs to the royal palace while there were not enough schools for the children of Brazil.

He even said that if he had not been destined to be an emperor, he would have chosen to be a teacher. He traveled to the United States and visited the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876 and used one of Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephones. He was so impressed that he became the first investor in Bell’s company.

Although Pedro II had earned the affection of many of his people, several groups of Brazilians were unwilling to remain under his control. The military that Brazil built up during the Paraguayan War produced officers and soldiers who were not willing to go back to their life in the lower classes of Brazilian society. They sought new positions in the power structure of Brazil. The church was upset because Pedro II supported the Masons against several church ordinances.

The urban middle class also joined with the military against Pedro II, whom they saw as a tool of the rural landowners. In addition the coffee growers, whom Pedro had always encouraged, joined other dissatisfied groups against the monarch. Despite his popularity among the lower classes, the military forced Pedro II to leave Brazil in 1889.

Pedro II left Brazil without bitterness, hoping that Brazil would have a prosperous future. He died in Europe and was buried there. Eventually, his remains and those of his wife were returned to Brazil.