Stories of South America - E. C. Brooks

The Last Emperor of Brazil

Brazil has experienced fewer changes of government than any other South American country. When Dom Pedro was crowned emperor of Brazil, the people rejoiced because of the separation from Portugal. Yet the Brazilians, like the citizens of other South American states, were universally discontented. One faction was opposed to absolutism but feared anarchy if the emperor fell. Another party wanted to have a strong almost absolute government. Dom Pedro won some popularity by persuading the councils to adopt a constitution in 1824. Later, however, he was engaged in a war with Argentina and suffered a severe defeat. His administration, as a result, became so unpopular that, as we have seen, he abdicated in 1831 in favor of his son, then only five years of age, and left the country forever.

The son became emperor under the title of Dom Pedro II. For the first ten years after his father's abdication, the government was in the hands of, a regent, who was regularly elected like a president. The effort to establish a representative government proved a failure because of the bitter factional struggles and the unpreparedness of the Brazilians for self-rule. At length the people became so dissatisfied that in 1840 Dom Pedro was declared old enough to take charge. He was then just fifteen years of age. This measure improved conditions very little in the period before the emperor himself was mature enough to rule. When he reached manhood, he made an excellent constitutional emperor and was perhaps the ablest ruler in South America for more than a generation. Brazil prospered greatly under his reign. Occasional political outbreaks occurred, but none was sufficiently important to disturb the government seriously. The emperor was opposed to war, and his nation was strong enough to repel invasion, though it was occasionally drawn into conflicts with neighboring states to the south. These wars did not seriously interfere with the prosperity of Brazil or greatly affect the popularity of the emperor.

Dom Pedro was a highly educated man and he desired to improve the intellectual condition of his people. He founded schools and promoted the cause of education generally. Realizing that Brazil was capable of a great development, he sought to attract citizens from other countries. He visited Europe and the United States several times, in the effort to show the world the extent of Brazilian resources. He also made a study of liberal governments in order that his own nation might profit by their experience.

Dom Pedro was so simple in his manners and so democratic in his way of living that the Brazilians were very fond of him. He mixed with them freely—altogether unlike the tyrants of South America or the kings and emperors of Europe of that period. He was profoundly interested in the prosperity of his people and everything that concerned them. He cared little for his personal appearance. His clothing was ill-fitting and shabby. He might be seen driving about the streets of Rio de Janeiro in a rickety old carriage with broken-down horses, just like any careless trader or farmer. A stranger seeing the kindly, fatherly old gentleman stopping here and there to converse with people would never have guessed that he was the ruler of one of the largest countries on earth.

The period from 1845 to 1870 was one of revolution throughout the world. It was the age in which the German Empire was created, when France became a republic, when Italy was united, when the War between the States was fought in the United States. In fact, nearly every important nation was involved in war during this time. Many citizens of these countries, disturbed by wars and the evils resulting from them, grew dissatisfied with their native lands and sought homes elsewhere. Dom Pedro used the opportunity afforded by this general unrest to present the advantages of Brazil, especially southern Brazil, as a place in which to live.

Many Southerners of the United States became interested in Brazil immediately after the War between the States. Representatives from South Carolina and Georgia were sent to southern Brazil to make investigations. They traveled over a large part of the country and on their return reported that Dom Pedro had not exaggerated its possibilities. The climate was very similar to that of Georgia, Alabama; and Florida; cotton, corn, sugar cane, tobacco, grapes, and watermelons grew as well in Brazil as in the Southern States of North America. As a result of this survey, several hundred men, women, and children from South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and other parts of the South settled in Sao Paulo, one of the southern states of Brazil, in the period from 1866 to 1870. The name of one of these settlements has been for years Villa Americana. Here the people laid out their farms, built homes, such as they were accustomed to in the United States, and bought slaves to work their fields. Soon many of them became prosperous. They produced from one to two bales of cotton an acre and raised the finest watermelons in the world.

Yet cotton was not the chief agricultural product of southern Brazil. The state of Sao Paulo is famous the world over for coffee. Dom Pedro, seeing the great possibilities of this product, encouraged its cultivation and was instrumental in extending its sale until almost every civilized nation imported it from Brazil. Villa Americana lay in the richest coffee country in the world. Settlers came thither in great numbers from Germany, Italy, France, England, and other European countries.

Pedro II of Brazil


Wealthy Brazilians, dwelling on their coffee plantations, had good homes and lived well. They were friendly neighbors. Still they had many customs that Europeans did not like. Portuguese, Brazilians, Indians, free negroes, and all shades of mixed races associated freely. They visited each other in their homes and formed business partnerships. The children of all races attended the same schools and churches; and the men and women of all races intermarried. The Brazilian is a new race formed from this amalgamation, which has been going on for several centuries.

At the time that villa Americana was founded, Brazilian parents decided whom their children were to marry: the boy or girl had very little to say in the matter. When a young man fell in love with a young lady, he first mentioned the matter to her parents. The question was taken up by them. On a certain evening the family and near relatives of both parties met. The young man unfolded his reasons for desiring to marry the young woman. The parents, if favorably impressed, gave their consent. Rings were produced and exchanged between the young man and young woman, and the evening was devoted to dancing and music. Next morning the young couple, accompanied by relatives, attended a religious service, and the engagement was announced and published in the papers. The couple then appeared together in public places with a chaperone. After the engagement was announced, the future bride could not appear in public with any other young man or the prospective bridegroom with any other young woman. The marriage was expected to follow within a year.

Besides this custom, the Americans found other usages that impressed them as singular. Fashionable Brazilians dressed extravagantly. In prosperous families even small children wore expensive jewelry. The men always kept their shoes well-polished and fretted if their clothes were not always in perfect order. On entering one of the better homes, coffee was invariably served; water was kept boiling all the time for that purpose. Wherever one went coffee was served. People drank it in the cafes, much as people today in North America take soft drinks in drug stores. Another custom that seemed peculiar to the Americans was the conduct of the population when a funeral procession was passing. Everybody would stop and remain with hat off until the procession had passed.

Girls were not permitted to appear in public when strangers were present, and if visitors were in the home girls were not seen. Even their mothers did not sit at the table with strange guests. Since that time, however, the women of Brazil have acquired more freedom as a result of the influence of the foreigners who have settled in the country. The customs of the Brazilians, so different from those to which Americans and Europeans were accustomed, had the effect at first of causing foreigners to live in separate settlements and have little to do with the native people. The Americans were confronted by another disagreeable circumstance. The Brazilians were able to pronounce or spell their names only with difficulty, .and it was hard for Brazilians to trade with them. Therefore, many Americans changed their names entirely or added Portuguese affixes or suffixes, so that they could be more easily pronounced. North Americans likewise find it hard to pronounce foreign names. So in the same way, foreigners sometimes have their names changed after coming to the United States.

Although the Americans were in the midst of a coffee country, they did not at first attempt to produce coffee. They confined themselves to raising cotton, sugar cane, tobacco, rice, and watermelons. They could easily raise one and one-half bales of cotton to the acre, and the finest of watermelons. Since that time Villa Americana has become the greatest watermelon center of Brazil.

The production of coffee, however, due to the influence of Dom Pedro, has overshadowed everything else in Sao Paulo. Santos, the largest city in Sao Paulo, is the greatest coffee port in the world. A traveler, returning a few years ago from that city after visiting Villa Americana, wrote:

"No matter which way you turn or where you go coffee looms up in some form or other. If you walk down a street you see drays going by laden with sacks of the berry; if you go near the railroads you see train-loads of it; if you go to the docks you see ships laden with it; if you go into a cafe it is served to you instead of the drinks usually found in such places. You smell coffee everywhere." A large percentage of the coffee of the world is cultivated in the state of Sao Paulo and passes through the streets of Santos.

A couple of centuries ago coffee was considered a medicine, not a beverage, and was sold as a drug, though it has been known in the Orient as a drink for a thousand years. At the opening of the eighteenth century, people in Europe and America began to use it as a beverage. At that time it was not cultivated in South America; it was derived chiefly from Abyssinia and was sold to America by the Turks, who called it "kahveh." When the English spelt the word, it became "coffee."

The beverage grew to be such a popular drink that other nations tried to cultivate it. The conditions required for its production are a warm, moist climate and a rich, well-drained soil. It was discovered that Sao Paulo possessed the right kind of soil and climate. At the time Villa Americana was founded, the province was becoming famous for its production of coffee. The reader may be interested to learn more of this great industry promoted by Dom Pedro.

The coffee seed is planted, as a rule, in a nursery; as soon as the sprouts are twelve or fifteen inches high, they are taken up and planted in rows from fifteen to twenty feet apart. About the third year the plant begins to bear flowers and a small quantity of berries, but not until the fifth year does it begin to pay for the cost of cultivation. For twenty years the tree produces abundantly. Many trees, when well-cared for, continue to bear until they are fifty and even seventy-five years old.

The flower is very pretty and has a sweet jasmine-like perfume, but it withers and falls off after about twenty-four hours, when a little green berry begins to form. This berry requires about seven months to ripen, and then it is very much like a ripe red cherry, though occasionally of a deep yellow color.

If you will examine a coffee bean you will notice that one side is nearly flat. The berry contains two beans stuck together. When the berry is gathered the beans are separated, and the thin, light skin covering each bean is removed by soaking in water and by drying and rubbing. After this the beans are graded and are ready for the market.

One small plantation may contain 10,000 coffee trees, requiring the attention of about three or four people. By careful work, such a plantation will produce from 1,000 to 1,500 bushels annually, which, at the usual prices, will net the owner a good income.

A young coffee plantation looks very much like a cherry orchard. The months of May and June are the period of harvest. Some of the estates, or fazendas, are very large, containing as much as 15,000 acres of land. Large corporations are formed for cultivating and marketing the coffee crop. The government looks upon this industry with such favor that it determines the number of acres that may be cultivated in order to maintain favorable prices.

Long lines of railroads have been built through coffee estates, and the country has prospered tremendously. The owner of a plantation usually lives in becoming style. He has his own automobile, and passes from one field to another quickly. He is generally well-educated, being able to speak English, French, and Spanish, in addition to his own language.

Dom Pedro, in encouraging the agricultural development of Brazil, in which he took great pride, saw the southern and eastern portions of his country becoming rich and prosperous. Great cattle farms were established by foreigners, who settled in large numbers in Brazil. As the plantations developed, slavery extended. The cultivation of coffee, sugar cane, and cotton depended upon slave labor. But the enlightened nations of the world had done away with slavery. Dom Pedro, being a student of government and a humane ruler, desired to see his country follow the example of other nations and put an end to slavery, which was contrary to the intelligence of the world.

In 1884 two of the states of Brazil freed their slaves. But the leading land-owners in the coffee and cotton regions did not see how their great estates could be successfully conducted if the slaves were freed. Dom Pedro was growing old and feeble, and the Brazilians realized that he would probably be unable in the future to give much attention to public affairs. He had already largely turned over the government to his daughter, the Princess Isabella, whose husband was much disliked. The agitation for the freedom of the slaves, together with the unpopularity of Princess Isabella and her husband, fostered the desire for a republic. All classes liked Dom Pedro, but in the last years of his reign he spent most of his time in Europe while the movement for freeing the slaves and establishing a different form of government went on. The Princess Isabella, who acted as regent, was even more opposed to slavery than was her father. She was so hostile to it that she did not believe the government should even pay the owners on liberating the slaves. This angered the land-owners, who feared what might happen on the death of the emperor and realized that he could not live much longer.

Through the influence of Princess Isabella, a law was passed in 1886 setting all the slaves free. It had little opposition because it was seen that the whole world was against slavery. The wealthy land-owners, however, informed Princess Isabella that this measure meant the fall of the empire, which was already unpopular because of the autocratic power of the princess and her husband, a penurious old man who cared only for his own comfort and pleasure and had little sympathy with the Brazilians.

This state of unrest, coupled with the discontent caused by the emancipation of the slaves, brought the various factions together in a determination to establish a republican form of government, at least on the emperor's death. All the other nations on the continent had republican governments, and the feeling was general that monarchical forms should be abolished in the New World.

In the midst of this crisis, Dom Pedro returned from Europe. His officials, some of whom were very unpopular, attempted to send the army away from the capital and disperse it, since it was apparent that the government could not rely on the troops to protect it in the growing dissatisfaction. In fact, the military leaders were openly in favor of a republic. Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, the head of the army, resisted the order of the officials. Realizing that the time had come to act, he ordered the arrest of some of the government officials who seemed to be usurping authority. Many patriotic Brazilians wished to put an end to the empire and to establish a republic such as the United States. Nevertheless, a great majority of the people little dreamed that the emperor was to be dethroned.

On November 14, 1889, a group of citizens met at the municipal palace and formed a provisional government, electing Marshal Fonseca as head. The palace was surrounded and the aged emperor, greatly astonished at the progress of the revolution, received a notice that the peace of the nation and the prosperity of the people depended upon the abolition of the empire and the erection of a republican form of government.

The people loved Dom Pedro, but he was too feeble to guide the affairs of state. The revolutionists knew that if he remained in Brazil the imperial faction would seek to have him reinstated or, if he should not live long enough for that, that the presence of his daughter and her husband might be the cause of a bloody civil war. In the note that was sent him announcing the transition from empire to republic were these words:

"We are forced to notify you that the provisional government expects from your patriotism the sacrifice of leaving Brazilian territory with your family in the shortest possible time."

In order to provide sufficiently for the emperor's household, the provisional government agreed to pay him and his family 350,000, or nearly two million dollars, and make a yearly allowance of 26,000, or about $150,000, on condition that the family embarked the next day on a vessel that lay in the harbor waiting for them. The emperor, broken with age and ill-health, complied with the demand, sending the following note to the provisional government:

"In view of the address handed to me on the 17th of November at three o'clock in the afternoon, I resolve to start with my family for Europe to-morrow, leaving this beloved country, to which I have tried to give firm testimony of my affectionate love and devotion during nearly half a century as chief of the State. I shall always retain a kindly remembrance of Brazil and cherish hopes for its prosperity."

The next morning the vessel lay in readiness, and the emperor and his family were escorted aboard. The deposed monarch knew that times had changed and that the people thereafter would prefer to choose their own rulers. The steamer conveying him and his family was convoyed away from the coast of Brazil by a small naval squadron. Two years later Dom Pedro II., the last emperor of Brazil, died in Paris.

Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca was elected first president of Brazil, and later a constitution very similar to that of the United States was adopted. Under it the provinces, twenty-one in all, became states with separate legislatures. It took some years for the people to grow used to a republican form of government, but Brazil today is recognized as one of the foremost republics of the world.