Dom Pedro II de Alcântara was quite possibly the most influential leader in Brazilian history. Through his long reign as emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II made numerous contributions to the country. He was born in 1825 and became emperor at the age of five in 1831 when his father abdicated and left for Europe. Civil War broke out and mutinies and rebellions sprung out in all parts of Brazil, trying to determine who would be the next leader. His father died when he was nine and he was declared of age in 1840. He led a government far more functional and different than Dom Pedro I.

Unlike his father, Pedro II was highly educated. He was religious, knew fourteen languages fluently, and throughout his life, learned to honor the laborer. He actually led what seemed like a functional government system by exercised power discreetly, allowing his rule to continue from 1831-1891.

If there was one thing that Pedro II and his father agreed on, it was the importance of slavery for Brazil's economy. Both leaders set aside the issue of dissolving slavery for as long as possible. Finally, in 1850, slave trade was prohibited, but still in 1862, one-fourth of the Brazilian population were slaves. By 1871, gradual emancipation began, but only until 1888 was slavery abolished by acting regent, Isabel his daughter. Some also say Pedro II was sick and weak, visiting Milan at the time.

Along with social change and economic policies, Dom Pedro II also greatly influenced Brazil's international affairs with surrounding countries of South America. From 1851-52, Pedro II supported Justo José de Urquiza in the overthrow of Argentine dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas. He also helped Venancio Flores rise to power in Uruguay at about the same time. In the Paraguayan War, also known as the War of the Triple Alliance, Pedro II joined forces with Argentina and Uruguay to crush the Paraguayan forces. In 1867, when a peace initiative was advanced by Paraguay, Pedro rejected it, wanting the full unconditional surrender of Paraguay. By this time, Pedro II began to lose his extreme popularity with the people, his downfall further emphasized by his domestic policies.

Over time, overwhelming liberal support formed in Brazilian politics. In 1868, he tried to impose a new constitution, despite the overwhelming liberal majority in the country. In 1870, radical liberals who opposed his views formed the Republican party. After more domestic failures, General Manuel Deodoro da Fonseca led the coup that forced Pedro II and his family into exile in the November of 1889, and began the republic of Brazil a day later.

In all fairness, Pedro II was a reasonable and intelligent man, who tried to lead one of the largest countries in the world. On the boat to Europe, his grandson suggested that he write a farewell letter and attach it to a pigeon’s leg. He watched in dismay as the helpless bird took flight, flapped its wings to exhaustion, and fell into the waves. He died in December 1891, remembered by his countrymen as Pedro the Magnanimous.

See Also: Pedro I

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