Friday, April 4, 2014

Economy of Pedro II's Empire

Pedro II
Today, Brazil is a major power in the South American continent. It will host the 2016 Summer Olympics and in 2014, it will host the FIFA World Cup. Much of Brazil's wealth could be credited with its export of numerous raw materials. From coffee, to rubber, and even steel are dollar earners for Brazil. Much of its agricultural exports started during the time when Brazil was an Empire under Emperor Pedro II.

The Empire of Brazil was formed during the ravages of the Napoleonic War. When the French General Napoleon Bonaparte marched into the royal palace of Lisbon, the ruling monarch, Queen Maria, fled to Portugal's bastion in South America - Brazil. Brazil was a spoil of Portugal during its golden years in the 16th century. When Queen Maria landed in Rio de Janeiro, it became unofficially the seat of the Portuguese royal government. In 1822, Maria's grandson, Pedro I, declared the independence of Brazil from Portugal and declared the formation of the Empire of Brazil.

In 1831, Emperor Pedro I abdicated in favor of his son. During that time, his son was only a child, about six years old. A regency was set up until Prince Pedro matured and prepared to assume his duty as the head of state.

Prince Pedro was loved by the Brazilians. They wanted him to assume the throne. Reasons for the favor of the Brazilians to Pedro included his birthplace being Brazil. Moreover, he was also educated in Brazil. He also grew up in Brazil and very much knew the country he lives in. He was also known as a moral and very descent boy.

After a decade of regents, finally, Pedro II too direct rule of the Empire at the age of fifteen. After setting up his benevolent despotic government, he began to take charge of day to day affairs of the Empire, including its economic affairs.

Brazil's economy during the 19th century was highly reliant on its agricultural sector. During the first half of the century, sugar dominated the agricultural sector. Many fazendas or estates of land growing sugar dominated Brazil. It brought huge revenues and economic activities to the northern regions of the country. Besides sugar, another export crop that was rising in Brazil during the 19th century was coffee.

Coffee was growing by the start of the 19th century. In 1822, coffee registered to encompass 20% of exports. But when British capital and investments flowed to the coffee industry of Brazil, major changes happened. Coffee cultivation shifted its focus from the north to south. It expanded through the areas of Paraiba Valley, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. They export coffee to Europe and also the United States. After several decades, by 1890, coffee had become the number primary export of the Brazilian Empire. It became a competitor for the largest exporter of coffee, alongside with Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and others. It encompasses 50% of total exports of Brazil with half being sent to the United States.

Other agricultural products also flourished during Pedro II’s reign. Rubber became another product widely exported by Brazil during Pedro II’s reign. When Charles Goodyear created the process of vulcanization, rubber demand skyrocketed across the world. Brazil, with its tropical climate, became suitable for rubber tree plantations. Small plantations began to appear. In 1850, the amount of rubber exported was only minimal, amounting 1,500 tons. Almost two decades letter, it doubled. In 1870’s, rubber industry in Brazil experienced exponential growth. Many provinces became center of the rubber trade. The provinces of Manaus and Belem moved away from growing drug plants and shifted to rubber cultivation. In the provinces of Pala and Amazonas, a same growth of rubber was seen as well. By 1880’s, Brazil was exporting 8,000 tons of rubber.

The government policy were also a key factor to the economic growth of the Brazilian economy. The Alves Branco Tarriff promoted the development of local industries. Under the tariff law, 30% to 60% import taxes would be imposed to any imported goods. This meant that local industries could flourish. With a strong agricultural foundation, processing the agricultural products became highly profitable and flourished through his reign. Sugar mills to the north appeared and increased in numbers as imported sugar was taxed by the government. Flour, cotton, and coffee mills also rose in numbers.

Alongside the protectionist measures of the government, infrastructure development became a priority as well. Development of infrastructure would be vital to improve the efficiency of the distribution of perishable goods across the country and oceans also. In 1854, the first railroad line was opened. It connected Rio de Janeiro, the capital, to the port city of Santos in the Sao Paulo Province and into the interiors of the country where lies the coffee plantations. Two decades after opening of the first line, operational rail road tracks were 2,000 km. Another decade later, 6,000 miles of tracks were used to transport both goods and people. Communication networks also improved. In 1857, a 7,000 km wire of telegraph was set up. When telephone became available, Pedro II also had it installed.

Most of the labor that built the economic foundations of Brazil, however, was something sinister. Slavery was still legal during the 19th century in Brazil. Mostly from Africa, during the first decades of the 1800’s, 50% of the population was black African slaves. The slave culture became entrenched to the ruling landlord class of fazediero. Britain, a nation that abolished slavery, wanted to stop the transatlantic slave trade. It powerful navy began to sink any ships suspected of harboring African slaves. The slave reliant economy of Britain was damaged. In 1826, an Anglo-Brazilian treaty to stop the slave trade was concluded. The treaty resulted for the enactment in 1831 a law that stop the importation of trade. However, the act was not enforced strictly. For several decades, slave trade of Brazil continued. However, when Pedro II took direct rule in 1841, he became determined to root out slavery slowly and carefully. He showed example by freeing his own slaves. For three years, from 1850, the 1831 law was enforced. He also asked for British naval aids to stop the transatlantic slave trade. In 1871, the Law of Free Birth Act or the Rio Branco Act was promulgated. Under the law, all children born to a mother slave were free. However, the child must stay with his/her parents master until the age of 8, when his master must decide whether to take care of the children till he/she reaches the age of 21, or turn them over to the state for a payment of about $600.

Eventually, the issue of slavery became more discussed during and after the War of Triple Alliance. The war was waged between Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay against the small country of Paraguay. It ravaged the four countries from 1864 to 1870. Slaves joined the army to fight Paraguay in exchange of their freedom. More than a thousand joined the army and army were decorated for their bravery and valor. Later on, young military officers admired the slave soldiers and advocated the total abolition of slavery.

Some decades later, abolition did came but for Emperor Pedro II, it was not jubilation but a tragedy. During his trip to Europe in 1888, he left her daughter Isabel to manage the daily affairs of the state. Army officers by 1880’s were very influential. A number of officers persuaded Isabel to enact the Golden Law, the law that abolish slavery. Following the demise of the century old system of slavery, many saw the need for change in the government as well. In 1889, a group of army officers led by Marshall Deodoro da Fonesca surrounded Pedro’s Palace and demanded for the establishment of a republic and the Emperor to go exile. Pedro decided to step aside and allow the establishment of a republic. Two days later, he and his family took a ship and sailed across back to Europe. A feeble old man, in 1891, Emperor Pedro II of Brazil died. Many Brazilian admired him for his liberalism and for placing Brazil on the map of the world.

See also:
The Adventure of Gabriel de Clieu
An End of an Era - The Birth of the First Republic of Brazil
Viscount de Mauá: Story of Success and Tragedy


Clayton, L. A History of Modern Latin America. California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005. 

Levine, R. The History of Brazil. England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Fowler, W. Latin America Since 1780. New York: Routledge, 2013. 

Weiner, J. et. al. Global History Volume Two:  The Industrial Revolution to the Age of Globalization. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.  

Farah, A.G.V. “History of the Empire of Brazil.” The Brazil Business. Accessed April 3, 2014.

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