Nilo Peçanha

Nilo Peçanha
Nilo Peçanha
7th President of Brazil
In office
14 June 1909 – 15 November 1910
Vice President None
Preceded by Afonso Pena
Succeeded by Hermes da Fonseca
Personal details
Born October 2, 1867(1867-10-02)
Campos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Died March 31, 1924(1924-03-31) (aged 56)
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nationality Brazilian
Political party None
Spouse(s) Anita de Castro Belisário de Sousa

Nilo Procópio Peçanha (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈnilu proˈkɔpju peˈsaɲɐ]; 2 October 1867 – 31 March 1924) was a Brazilian politician. Governor of Rio de Janeiro State (1903–1906). Elected vice-president in 1906, he assumed the presidency in 1909 following the death of President Afonso Pena and served until 1910. He was disputably the only mulatto president of Brazil.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11]



Nilo Peçanha was born to Sebastião de Sousa Peçanha, a baker popularly called "Sebastião da Padaria" (Bakery Sebastian) and Joaquina Anália de Sá Freire, the descendent of a rich and noble family from northern Rio de Janeiro State. He was one of seven siblings (five boys and two girls). His family lived in a state of poverty in the remote and poor neighborhood of Morro do Coco, Campos dos Goytacazes, and moved to the downtown area when he started elementary education.

He was frequently described as being a mulatto[2][4][5][9] and often ridiculed in charges and jokes in the press for his skin color.[1][7][8] During his youth, the local Campos dos Goytacazes social elite alluded to him as the "mestiço of Morro do Coco" (the half-breed from Morro do Coco district).[6] In 1921, when he ran for the Presidency of Republic, letters falsely attributed to the other candidate Artur Bernardes were published by the press and caused a political crisis because they insulted both the former president Marshal Hermes da Fonseca and also Peçanha, another former president, claiming he was a mulatto. Gilberto Freyre mentioned his "mulatismo" in Brazilian politics as the same that prevailed in Brazilian soccer.[11] According to some scholars, his presidential photographs were touched up to whiten his dark skin.[7][12][13]

Nilo Peçanha at home in an amateur photo

Some scholars assert that, despite his tez escura (dark skin color), Nilo Peçanha always hid his black origins, and to this day his descendants and family have denied that he was a mulatto.[14] The official biography written by a relative, Celso Peçanha[10] do not mention his racial origins, but another later biography [2] does so, thus some scholars express doubts.[3] In any case, his origins were very humble: he used to claim that he had been raised on day-old bread and paçoca (cassava flour grounded with jerked beef).[6]

After finishing his primary studies in his home city, Peçanha went on to study at the Law Schools of São Paulo and Recife, where he earned his degree. As a student, he supported both the campaign to abolish slavery and the establishment of the Republic.

Peçanha was married to Ana de Castro Belisário Soares de Sousa, also known as "Anita", the descendant of an aristocratic and wealthy family from his birth city. She was a daughter of lawyer João Belisário Soares de Souza and of Ana Rachel Ribeiro de Castro, who was herself a daughter of the viscount of Santa Rita, one of the richest men in northern Rio de Janeiro State. The marriage was a social scandal since the bride escaped her house to marry her poor and "mulatto" groom, despite his status as a promising young politician.[6]

He worked as a lawyer and a university teacher in the Faculdade Livre de Direito do Rio de Janeiro.

Peçanha started his formal political career as an elected member of the first Republican Constituent Assembly in 1890. His political career advanced rapidly as a protégé of Campos Sales who became President in 1898.[2] In 1903 he was successively elected Senator and then President (Governor) of the state of Rio de Janeiro, remaining in the latter position until 1906 when he was elected vice-president under Afonso Pena presidency.

Pena died in 1909 while still in office and Peçanha assumed the presidency promising a government of Paz e Amor (Peace and Love). He was 41 years old, the youngest Brazilian president up until then.[15]

Nilo Peçanha in a postage stamp

His presidential government had many political troubles and Nilo Peçanha proved himself a man of wit and guts. The balance of power of the Brazilian República Velha (Old Republic) was acquired between a compromise of the governing elites of the main states, specifically Minas Gerais and São Paulo. The deceased president, Afonso Pena, was elected with the support of this political alliance, but Peçanha was just a vice-president who assumed presidency by chance. Thus friction between the state oligarchies intensified, particularly within those of Minas Gerais and São Paulo. His government was also marked by friction with José Gomes Pinheiro Machado, the most powerful political leader of the Conservative Republican Party. Rui Barbosa started a run for the presidency promoting the "Campanha Civilista" (civilist campaign) against the Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, and attracted the opposition and discontent of the military. Federal intervention was required in the government of the Rio de Janeiro and Amazonas states.[15]

He was a man of deep political wit who carved a practical and non-doctrinaire course between the positivists and the idealistic adherents of a pure Republican system that fought each other during the first decades of Brazilian Republic.[2] He was renowned for anticipating all the movements of his adversaries and achieving good political outcomes even when the odds were not favorable.[15]

Nilo Peçanha´s last official photo

During his presidency, Peçanha created the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce and Industry, as well as the Indian Protection Service (SPI) and inaugurated the first system of technical schools in Brazil. He also began a basic sanitation program in the Baixada Fluminense region. He fought the excesses of workers in the public service and the high government expenditures that caused the elevation of taxes.[15]

At the end of his mandate, he returned to the Senate and two years later was again elected President (Governor) for the state of Rio de Janeiro. He gave up this post in 1917 to take up the position of Minister of Foreign Relations and during his rule Brazil declared war against the Central Powers in World War I. In 1918, he was again elected to the Senate.

In 1921 he was a leader of the Republican Reaction Movement which had the goal of championing the politics of liberalism against those of the state oligarchies. His run for the presidency was supported by the state governments of Rio Grande do Sul, Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco, and also by a large part of the military. The campaign was fierce with mutual attacks and the famous case of letters falsely attributed to candidate Artur Bernardes which insulted the military and the former president Marshal Hermes da Fonseca. Brazil was divided and despite the strong support, Peçanha was defeated by Artur Bernardes, the pro-government candidate in the presidential election of 1922.

Peçanha died in 1924 in Rio de Janeiro, retired from political life.


  • Minister of Justice: Esmeraldino Olímpio Torres Bandeira
  • Minister of the Navy: Rear Admiral Alexandrino Faria de Alencar
  • Minister of War: 1st: General Carlos Eugênio de Andrade Guimarães; 2nd: General José Bernardino Bormann
  • Minister of Foreign Relations: José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, Barão do Rio Branco
  • Minister of Finance: José Leopoldo de Bulhões Jardim
  • Minister of Industry, Transportation and Public Works: 1st: Miguel Calmon du Pin e Almeida; 2nd: Francisco Sá
  • Minister of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce: 1st: Antônio Cândido Rodrigues; 2nd: Francisco Sá – intern; 3rd: Rodolfo Nogueira da Rocha Miranda

See also


  1. ^ a b BEATTIE, Peter M. The Tibute of Blood: Army, Honor, Race, and Nation in Brazil, 1864–1945. Duke University Press, 2001. ISBN 0822327430,9780822327431. pp. 7. (visited 3 September 2008)
  2. ^ a b c d e GIFFIN, Donald W. The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Aug., 1964), pp. 437–439. Review of TINOCO, Brígido. A vida de Nilo Peçanha. Coleção Documentos Brasileiros, Livraria José Olympio Editora, RJ, 1962. (visited 3 September 2008)
  3. ^ a b MÉTRAUX, Alfred. Brazil, Land of Harmony for all Races?. UNESCO Courier, Volume IV, no 4 April 1951; pp. 3 (visited 3 September 2008)
  4. ^ a b ANDRADE, Manuel Correia de. A Civilização Açucareira. Recife:Biblioteca On-line do SEBRAE-PE. pp. 3 (visited 8 August 2008)
  5. ^ a b CAMPOS, Diego de Souza Araújo. Um Estudo sobre a Escravidão em suas Relações com a Hierarquia Social: Heranças e Particularidades da Instituição Escravocrata. Dissertação de Mestrado em Ciências Sociais. Rio de Janeiro: PUC-Rio, setembro de 2007. pp. 61 (visited 2 September 2008)
  6. ^ a b c d VASCONCELLOS, Francisco de. As Grandes Damas do Rio Negro na República Velha in Petrópolis:Tribuna de Petrópolis; 20 May 2001 (visited 9 August 2008)
  7. ^ a b c LUSTOSA, Isabel. As Trapaças da Sorte: Ensaios de História Política e de História Cultural. Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 314 pages, 2004. Reviewed by Adelto Gonçalves. Elite "branca" no Brasil. Storm Magazine (visited 3 September 2008)
  8. ^ a b CARNEIRO, Cleverson Ribas. Mendes Fradique e seu Método Confuso: Sátira, Boemia e Reformismo Conservador. Tese de Doutorado em Letras. Curitiba: Universidade Federal do Paraná, 2008. pp. 148 (visited 3 September 2008)
  9. ^ a b PAIXÂO, Marcelo Jorge de Paula. Crítica da Razão Culturalista: relações raciais e a construção das desigualdades sociais no Brasil. Tese de Doutorado em Sociologia. Rio de Janeiro:Instituto Universitário de Pesquisas do Rio de Janeiro, abril de 2005. pp. 296 (visited 3 September 2008)
  10. ^ a b NETO, Manoel. O Negro no Maranhão. São Luís: Clara Comunicação e Editora Ltda. 2004, p.73-79 apud Manoel Neto. Ninguém quer ser negro. Suplemento Cultural e Literário JP Guesa Errante, Ano III, Edição 82 (visited 3 September 2008)
  11. ^ a b FREYRE, Gilberto. Foot-ball mulato, in Diário de Pernambuco, 17-6-1938 apud MARANHÂO, Tiago. Apolíneos e dionisíacos — o papel do futebol no pensamento de Gilberto Freyre a respeito do «povo brasileiro», in Análise Social, vol. XLI (179), 2006, pp. 441 (visited 3 September 2008)
  12. ^ Dagoberto José Fonseca, anthropology professor of Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) of Araraquara. In: Painéis resgatam negros ilustres, 'branqueados' pela história (visited 3 September 2008)
  13. ^ Muniz Sodré, journalist, writer and professor of Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). In: Fabio Gomes. Muniz Sodré e a Cultura do Sentir. Brasileirinho, a sua página de Música Brasileira (visited 3 September 2008)
  14. ^ NASCIMENTO, Abdias; NASCIMENTO, Elisa Larkin. O negro e o Congresso brasileiro. In: MUNANGA, Kabengele. (Org.) História do negro no Brasil. v.1 Brasília:Fundação Palmares, 2004 apud DUARTE, Rebeca Oliveira. Nos Alicerces do Mundo: O dilema e a dialética na afirmação da identidade negra. Dissertação de Mestrado em Ciência Política. Recife: Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, agosto de 2006; pág. 25, and also apud Relatório de Desenvolvimento Humano – Racismo, Pobreza e Violência – Brasil 2005. Brasília: PNUD Brasil, pág. 28 (visited September 3, 2008)
  15. ^ a b c d Galeria de Presidentes do Período da República Velha (1889–1930) (visited September 4, 2008)


  • KOIFMAN, Fábio, Organizador - Presidentes do Brasil, Editora Rio, 2001.
  • PEÇANHA, Celso, Nilo Peçanha e a Revolução Brasileira, Editora Civilização Brasileira, 1969.
  • SILVA, Hélio, Nilo Peçanha – 7º Presidente do Brasil, Editora Três, 1983.
  • SANTIAGO, Sindulfo, Nilo Peçanha, uma Época Política, Editora Sete, 1962.
  • TINOCO, Brígido, A Vida de Nilo Peçanha, Editora Jose Olympio, 1962.

External links

Preceded by
Quintino Antônio Ferreira de Sousa
President of Rio de Janeiro
Succeeded by
Francisco Chaves de Oliveira Botelho
Preceded by
Afonso Augusto Moreira Pena
Vice-President of Brazil
Succeeded by
Hermes da Fonseca
President of Brazil
Title next held by
Venceslau Brás

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