Viscount of Rio Branco

Virginia Barbosa
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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José Maria da Silva Paranhos, the Viscount of Rio Branco, was the greatest statesman of the Brazilian Monarchy. He was born at nº 8 Ladeira da Praia, later Freguesia da Sé, in Salvador, Bahia, on 16 March 1819. He was the son of a rich Portuguese businessman, Agostinho da Silva Paranhos, and Josefa Emerenciana Barreiros.

His formation as a public figure was based in the politicisation of his paternal ancestors and of the political events he would witness in his childhood. Also, these clashes would influence the family economics of the Viscount: his parents were Portuguese traders and ship-owners and saw their fortunes collapse after the separation from Portugal, which substantially affected his education. Also, born with a “silver spoon”, he began to live in an intermediate, semi-aristocratic and semi-bourgeois class in its moral aspects.

He began his primary studies in 1825 and finished them in 1831. From 1832 to 1835, he studied Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, French, English, History, Geography, Philosophy and Rhetoric. In 1836 already an orphan, he began his life at the Court, enrolling in the Naval Academy and finishing the course in 1841. In 1849 he joined the Military Academy. Although politics, administration and diplomacy always occupied his public life, he never left his career as a teacher (at the Escola Militar, Escola da Marinha, Escola de Engenharia – today called the Politécnica) until he retired in 1877.

From birth until adulthood, the Viscount lived in a Brazil of great social and political upheaval that changed the history of the country: the arrival of the Portuguese court to Brazil, Regency, Majority and the rise to the power of Pedro II, economic crises that followed the departure of D. João VI, the birth of liberalism among others. In this melting pot of events, the Viscount, who had already joined the liberal wave, matured his partisan ideas and assumed another political position, which provoked attacks from his political enemies.

He headed various ministerial cabinets, was a Congressman, Senator (1863), Minister and State Secretary for Foreigners (1855, 1958 and 1868), of the Navy (1853 and 1856), of War (1858 and 1871), of Revenue (1861, 1871 and 1875), of External Relations and President of the Province of Rio de Janeiro (1858). He was a Dignitary of the Order of Christ and Commander of the Order of the Rose. He carried out the functions of secretary on the Plate River special mission, under the orders of the Marquis of Paraná (1851), being special envoy on missions to the republics of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. He was President of the Council of Ministers, from 1871 to 1875, the period of the Second Kingdom in which fell to him to sanction, on 28 September 1871, the Ventre Livre Law, and faced, from 1873-1874, the religious issue between the Catholic Church and Masonry. He presided over the Grande Oriente do Brasil Masonic lodge as Grand Master. He organised the Provisory Government of Paraguay after the conclusion of the war in 1869/1870. He is that patron of Chair nº 40 of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

He was a corresponding partner of the Brazilian Historic and Geographic Institute (1847) and presided over various societies and academies, including the Auxiliary Society of National Industry.

He contributed with articles to the newspapers O Novo Tempo, Jornal do Commercio, O Maribondo and Correio Mercantil, and at the latter he was also editor.

He did not produce any literary work, but what he did write – speeches, reports, newspaper articles – have significant documental valour for the history of the country.

He passed away in Rio de Janeiro on 1 November 1880 at the age of 60, a victim of mouth cancer aggravated by cerebral meningitis.

Recife, 24 March 2006.
Updated on 16 September 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.





BARATA, Carlos Eduardo de Almeida; BUENO, Antonio Henrique da Cunha. Dicionário das famílias brasileiras. São Paulo: Ibero Americana, [1999]. V. 2. p. 2079: Silva Paranhos.
BESOUCHET, Lídia. José Maria Paranhos: Visconde do Rio Branco. Ensaio histórico-biográfico. Trad. Vera Mourão. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira; [Brasília]: INL, 1985.






Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Viscount of Rio Branco. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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