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Viscount of Rio Branco (José Maria da Silva Paranhos)

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Statesman, Diplomat, Military, Journalist


Viscount of Rio Branco (José Maria da Silva Paranhos)

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 31/05/2022

By: Virgina Barbosa - Librarian at Fundação Joaquim Nabuco - Specialist in Librarianship and History

José Maria da Silva Paranhos, the Viscount of Rio Branco, was the most outstanding statesman of the Brazilian Monarchy. He was born in Ladeira da Praia, no. 8, later known as Freguesia da Sé, in Salvador, Bahia, on March 16, 1819. He was the son of a rich Portuguese merchant, Agostinho da Silva Paranhos, and of D. Josefa Emerenciana Barreiros.


His development into a public figure was due to the politization of his paternal ascendants and the political events he witnessed during childhood. These political clashes influenced the Viscount’s economic and family life: his parents were Portuguese merchants and shipowners and saw their wealth collapse after the independence from Portugal, which substantially affected his education. Thus, born with a “silver spoon in his mouth,” he lived in middling class, semi-aristocratic and semi-bourgeois in its moral aspects.


He began his primary studies in 1825 and completed them in 1831. From 1832 to 1835, he studied arithmetic, algebra and geometry and studied French, English, history, geography, philosophy, and rhetoric. In 1836, already orphaned, he began his life at Court, enrolling in the Navy Academy and completing the course by 1841. In 1849 he enrolled in the Military Academy. Although politics, administration, and diplomacy had always occupied his public life, he never left his teaching career (Military School, Navy School, and Engineering School – now called Polytechnic), retiring only in 1877.


From birth to adulthood, the Viscount lived in a time of great social and political turmoil that marked the history of Brazil: the arrival of the Portuguese court in Brazil, Independence of Brazil, Regency period, Declaration of Majority and Pedro II rise to power, the economic crisis that followed the departure of D. João VI, the birth of liberalism, among others. Amid these bustling events, the Viscount, who had already adopted the liberal current, matures his partisan views and takes on another political position, provoking attacks from his political enemies.


He headed many ministerial offices, he was Deputy, Senator (1863), Minister, and Secretary of State for Foreigners (1855, 1958, and 1868), of the Navy (1853 and 1856), of War (1858 and 1871), of Finance (1861, 1871 and 1875), and of Foreign Affairs. He was President of the Province of Rio de Janeiro (1858). Dignitary of the Order of Christ and Commander of the Order of the Rose. He served as secretary in the special mission in the Rio de la Prata, under the orders of the Marquis of Paraná (1851) and was special envoy in missions to the republics of Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. President of the Council of Ministers, from 1871 to 1875, period of the Second Reign, in which it was up to him to sanction, on September 28, 1871, the Law of the Free Womb and faced, in the years 1873-1874, a religious issue between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry. He presided as Grand Master in the Masonic lodge of the Great East of Brazil. He organized the Provisional Government of Paraguay after the end of the war in 1869/1870. He is the patron of Chair No. 40 of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.


He was a corresponding partner of the Brazilian Historical and Geographical Institute (1847) and presided over several societies and academies, including the National Industry Society.


He collaborated with articles in the newspapers O Novo Tempo, Jornal do Commercio, O Maribondo, and Correio Mercantil, and in the latter he was also a reporter.


He did not produce literary work, but what he left written – speeches, reports, articles in newspapers – are of significant documentary value for the history of the country.


He died in Rio de Janeiro on November 1, 1880, at the age of 60, from oral cancer aggravated by cerebral meningitis.


Recife, March 24, 2006.

sources consulted

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.

how to quote this text

BARBOSA, Virgínia. Viscount of Rio Branco (José Maria da Silva Paranhos). In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2006. Available from: Accessed: day month year. (Ex.: Aug 6, 2009.)