The Second Reign (1840–1889), the monarchic times under the rule of D. Pedro II, had two political parties. The Conservative Party was the cornerstone of the regime, defending political and social institutions, including slavery. The Liberal Party, the weaker player, adopted a reformist agenda, placing slavery in debate in 1864.
Although the Liberal Party had the majority in the House, the Conservative Party achieved the government, in 1868, and dropped the slavery discussion apart from the parliamentary agenda. The Liberals protested in the public space against the coup d’état, and one of its factions joined political outsiders, which gave birth to a Republic Party in 1870. In 1871, the Conservative Party also split, when its moderate faction passed a Free Womb bill. In the 1880s, the Liberal and Conservative Parties attacked each other and fought their inner battles, mostly around the abolition of slavery.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party grew, gathering the new generation of modernizing social groups without voices in the political institutions. This politically marginalized young men joined the public debate in the 1870s organizing a reformist movement. They fought the core of Empire tradition (a set of legitimizing ideas and political institutions) by appropriating two main foreign intellectual schemes. One was the French “scientific politics,” which helped them to built a diagnosis of Brazil as a “backward country in the March of Civilization,” a sentence repeated in many books and articles. The other was the Portuguese thesis of colonial decadence that helped the reformist movement to announce a coming crisis of the Brazilian colonial legacy—slavery, monarchy, latifundia. Reformism contested the status quo institutions, values, and practices, while conceiving a civilized future for the nation as based on secularization, free labor, and inclusive political institutions. However, it avoided theories of revolution. It was a modernizing, albeit not a democrat, movement.
Reformism was an umbrella movement, under which two other movements, the Abolitionist and the Republican ones, lived mostly together. The unity split just after the shared issue of the abolition of slavery became law in 1888, following two decades of public mobilization. Then, most of the reformists joined the Republican Party.
In 1888 and 1889, street mobilization was intense and the political system failed to respond. Monarchy neither solved the political representation claims, nor attended to the claims for modernization. Unsatisfied with abolition format, most of the abolitionists (the law excluded rights for former slaves) and pro-slavery politicians (there was no compensation) joined the Republican Party. Even politicians loyal to the monarchy divided around the dynastic succession. Hence, the civil–military coup that put an end to the Empire on November 15, 1889, did not come as a surprise. The Republican Party and most of the reformist movement members joined the army, and many of the Empire politician leaders endorsed the Republic without resistance.
A new political–intellectual alignment then emerged. While the republicans preserved the frame “Empire = decadence/Republic = progress,” monarchists inverted it, presenting the Empire as an era of civilization and the Republic as the rule of barbarians. Monarchists lost the political battle; nevertheless, they won the symbolic war, their narrative dominated the historiography for decades, and it is still the most common view shared among Brazilians.