Emperor Pedro II of Brazil

September 13, 2019

On the 9th of December 1891, a funeral procession was making its way towards the L’église de la Madeleine in Paris. The streets were lined with thousands of mourners and the carriage containing the coffin was well-guarded by French soldiers. Among those in attendance was General Joseph Brugère, representing the French government, as well as diplomats and other representatives from countries all over Europe in the Americas, and even from more distant nations like the Ottoman Empire, China, Japan and Persia. One could also find the former kings and queens of Spain and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, as well as the count of Paris out of the former French King Louie Philippe. Gathered there were also most of the French Academy: the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, and the French Academy of Sciences. Once the services in church were done, the procession proceeded to the train station; from whence the body would travel to its final destination. In the procession were also two carriages, containing nearly 200 funeral wreaths with messages paying homage to the deceased. One for example read, “To the great Brazilian worthy of honors from the fatherland and humanity.” Another one said, “Happy times when the thought, word and pen were free…” And yet another one was dedicated, “A Brazilian black on behalf of his race.” The man in the coffin was (Dom) Pedro II, the last emperor of Brazil. When he had been born back in 1825, his father, Prince Pedro of Portugal, and just a few years earlier declared Brazilian independence and had been proclaimed as his constitutional emperor. However, scandals and political instability would soon lead him to abdicate, and instead have him travel to Europe to fight for his daughter’s claim on Portugal. But, he couldn’t just leave the Brazilian throne vacant and so decided to leave his eldest son behind so that he could take up his place. Thus, the just five-year-old Pedro II, found himself emperor of Brazil in 1831. Although, of course under regency. Having been left behind by his parents and having few films of his own age, Pedro II’s childhood turn out to be a lonely and unhappy period of his life. He spent most of his time studying in preparation for his role as monarch, and when it wasn’t doing that, He often indulged himself in the books of his own choosing as a means of escaping the world. In July of 1840, the shy fourteen-year-old Pedro II was declared to be of age and a year later, he was crowned as emperor. Under normal circumstances, this would have had to wait until was 18, but ever since his father had left, the regency had struggled to hold the country together. Disputes and rivalries between political factions, lead to violence and rebellions all over the country and many politicians have become convinced, That a unifying authority; in the form of an emperor was needed to prevent the country from imploding. Luckily, this turned out to work. Although, the young emperor was initially under the influence of the so-called “courtier faction”, he had within a couple of years managed to shake them off, and become an expert at handling political parties in a non-confrontational and cooperative manner. He’s described as being impartial, courteous and patient. He kept his motions under iron discipline and was never rude or lost his temper. Pedro II would play his role as monarch, not in the manner of a British style of figurehead, nor in the manner of an autocratic Russian Tsar. The emperor didn’t have constitutional authority to force through his initiatives without support, so instead he exercised power through cooperation, either with elected officials, economic interests, or by popular support. Thanks to this approach, political stability could be achieved and Brazil entered a period of rapid economic growth, which would last throughout Pedro’s reign. Electric telegraphs and steamship lines were established and the first railroads were constructed in 1854, at the time when many European countries didn’t even have any. All over the country, factories were popping up like mushrooms, increasing by an annual rate of almost 7% from the 1850’s and forward. Towards the end of the imperial period, Brazilian cities were being equipped with electrical lighting and tram companies, and was the fifth country in the world to install modern city sewers, and the third to have sewage treatment. Brazil was also one of the first countries to have a telephone service, and was second in the Americas after the United States, to establish a transatlantic telegraph line, connecting them directly to Europe. The empire also showed itself to be capable player on the international arena, by successfully navigating itself through a number of crises. For example: they led a coalition to overthrow the Argentinian dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas, who supported rebellions within Brazil, and they also refused accept an ultimatum by the British Empire, following two minor incidents in 1860’s. Shortly after that, a civil war broke out in Uruguay, leading to the murder of the Brazilians and the looting of their property. the Brazilian army, then led a successful invasion of the country in 1864, but as they were preoccupied with that, the dictator of Paraguay took the opportunity to invade the Brazilian province of Mato Grosso. As the local military failed to assist the Paraguayan army, Pedro II wanted to go there in person. However, the cabinet would have none of that and forbade him from going. Upon hearing this, though the emperor threatened to abdicate, and instead go as a so-called “fatherland volunteer”. Needless to say, they gave in and Pedro II left for the front in 1865. The Paraguayan war turned out to be a long and costly endeavor, but in the end Brazil came out on top. The victory was to a large extent possible because of the Emperor’s decision to fully support political parties and factions, that were in favor of the war effort. This turned out to severely harm his reputation as an impartial mediator, and worked in the long run, lead to more and more criticism of the monarchy. Although Pedro II himself didn’t seem to care much. A couple of years earlier, he had written in his journal, (Read from above) Over the years, Pedro II grew ever more tired of his role as monarch. He had always been more interested in things like science, history, and linguistics, and had once remarked that had not been emperor, he would have liked to be a teacher. That being said, he did do a lot to spread learning and culture in his role as monarch. His reign saw the establishment of things like, the Brazilian Historic and Geographical Institute, the Imperial Academy of Music and the National Opera. And he also supported the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, established by his father. With its private money, Pedro II provided scholarships for students, and financed the creation of the Pasteur Institute, which were going to pioneer many vaccines, and of course pasteurization among other things. The emperor was also quite learner himself, and had by the end of his reign, amassed a library of more than 60,000 books. Apart from the sciences, he was also interested in things like philosophy, painting and poetry, and is said to have been able to speak and write – at least to some degree not only Portuguese, but also Latin, French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Chinese, Occitan, and the native Brazilian language of Tupi. He also exchanged letters with many prominent intellectuals of the day, and received praise from people like Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche. During the 1870’s, Pedro II went on to long trips abroad traveling throughout Europe, to the Middle East and the United States. The far less restricted and informal life that he could live while traveling, reminded him of what he’d lost by being Emperor. Pedro started becoming resentful of the burden that had been placed on him, back when he was just 5 years old, and found it difficult to reacclimate himself to his role as Emperor upon returning. The fact that both his sons who died at a very young age, had long since made him doubt whether the monarchy would survive. According to the constitution, when his daughters could succeed him, but neither Pedro II, nor the political establishment considered that to be a good idea. Thus, he thought that the Empire was destined to fall. But following his trips abroad, he also lost the desire even to keep it going during his own lifetime. The following years, Pedro II became increasingly apathetic towards politics and the fate of the monarchy, although the last part of his reign saw one major breakthrough: slavery was finally abolished. This was something that both, Pedro II, his father and his daughter, Isabella pushed for, but it would turn out to be the final blow to the monarchy. Although, the Emperor was now at the height of his popularity among the people, the rich and powerful coffee farmers who had owned many of the slaves, now turned away from the monarchy and instead started supporting Republicanism. In 1889, a coup d’etat was staged by a group of military leaders, wanting to turn Brazil from a constitutional monarchy, with guaranteed freedom of speech and civil liberties into a republic, headed by a dictator. Pedro II’s response to all of this was… nothing. He showed no emotion upon hearing the news and simply said, “If it is so, it will be my retirement.” On the 17th of November that year, he and his family were sent to Europe in exile. The last years of Pedro II’s life would just like his first, be lonely. Three weeks after their arrival, his wife, Teresa Cristina, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, died. Pedro would spend his two remaining years living in modest hotels and dreaming of returning to Brazil not as Emperor, but as citizen. One day, after having attended the French Academy of Sciences in Paris, He caught an infection which progressed into pneumonia, and on the 5th of December, 1891, Pedro passed away at the Hotel de Bedford, surrounded by his family, which brings us to where this video began.

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