Afonso Augusto Moreira Pena was born in Santa Bárbara, Minas Gerais, on November 30, 1847. Son of Domingos José Teixeira Pena, Portuguese immigrant and Brazilian Ana Maria dos Santos. He studied at the Caraça College of the Lazarist Fathers. He graduated from the São Paulo Law School in 1870. He was a colleague of Rodrigues Alves, Rui Barbosa and Castro Alves. He devoted himself to the judiciary, but soon abandoned in favor of a political career.
Afonso Pena had a long career in politics. He was Deputy of the Province of Minas Gerais in 1874, was elected four times Deputy General between 1878 and 1889, by the Liberal Party. During this period he accumulated the post of Minister of War in 1882, of Agriculture, Commerce and Public Works between 1883 and 1884 and Minister of Justice in 1885.
Afonso Pena participated in the Minas Gerais Constituent Assembly and was rapporteur of the State Constitution. Thus began his approach to the Republican group. With the removal of Cesário Alvim from the presidency of Minas Gerais, he was elected to complete his term. In 1892 he was one of the founders and director of the Faculty of Law of the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Afonso Pena transferred the headquarters of the government of Ouro Preto to Curral del Rei, where, in 1894, the construction of the new capital, Belo Horizonte, began.
During this period, Afonso Pena founded the Faculty of Law of Minas Gerais, where he was a professor. He was president of Banco do Brasil, during the term of Prudente de Moraes. In 1900, he was president of the deliberative council of Belo Horizonte, a position corresponding to that of mayor. With the death of Francisco Silviano de Almeida Brandão, elected but not sworn in, Afonso Pena was elected vice president of the republic in the four-year period 1902-1906.
In 1905, in the succession of Rodrigues Alves, Afonso Pena was chosen candidate for presidency of the republic, running against Nilo Peçanha. Elected with the most votes, Afonso Pena chose his ministry and soon took a four-month trip through all the Brazilian coastal states, to hear directly from local governments and public opinion.
During his rule an international peace conference was held in The Hague, when Brazil was represented by Rui Barbosa, who defended the interests not only of Brazil, but of all small nations, against the privileges sought by the great powers. .
Its economic policy, elaborated by Finance Minister Davi Campista, aimed to guarantee the “coffee valorization policy”. Afonso Pena accelerated immigration and in 1908 nearly 100 000 settlers spread throughout the south of the country, notably the Italian.
Afonso Pena supported a broad rail program. Created the Geological and Mineralogical Service, for research and exploitation of the mineral wealth of the country. Improved the squadron with the acquisition of several ships, among them the battleships, Minas Gerais and São Paulo.
Afonso Pena remained in office from November 15, 1906 to June 14, 1909, passing away before the end of his term and being replaced by Vice President Nilo Peçanha.
In his government was created the Indian Protection Service, whose direction was handed over to Marshal Cândido Rondon. In his government the succession campaign was developed. Broken relations between São Paulo and Minas (first break of the Coffee-with-Milk policy), São Paulo supported the Bahian Rui Barbosa and Minas Gerais, allied to Rio Grande do Sul, supported the candidacy of Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, who having Nilo Peçanha's support won the elections.
Afonso Pena died in Rio de Janeiro, at Catete Palace, on June 14, 1909.