Abolition of Slavery in Brazil

 

            Brazil was a key part of the history of slavery because not only was it the first to begin this treatment during the 1500s when colonization of the New World had just begun, it was also the last to abolish slavery. Brazil fell under the control of the Portuguese in 1494 after the Treaty of Tordesillas was established. This was a Spanish-Portuguese agreement that relocated the line of demarcation, showing the regions in which both the Spanish and the Portuguese could further their colonization without complications between one another. Once the Portuguese had established themselves within Brazil they began to ship slaves over from Africa due to the shortage of labor. The Natives living in Brazil died off quickly due to the new diseases brought over by the Portuguese as well as the harsh treatment so there was a need for more labor in Brazil. Slavery remained in Brazil for over three hundred years. There were continuous efforts being made throughout this time to abolish slavery in the Brazil.

            Brazil was under Portuguese control up until September 7, 1822 when abolitionists and slaves were finally able to break free from their mother country. There were many early movements that helped the Brazilians reach independence, but many of the actions were discovered before any form of revolt could occur. The events that were occurring on the Iberian Peninsula during the 1820s also helped to put Brazil on the path towards achieving independence. Napoleon, King of France, was invading Portugal. Portuguese rulers fled to Brazil to escape France’s invasion. When the French were no longer a threat the king of Portugal, King John returned to Portugal in 1821. King John’s son, Pedro, remained in Portugal. Many delegates within Brazil argued that the conditions in Brazil were much different from those in Portugal; therefore it was necessary for the two to separate because different laws were needed within each. Pedro went against the Portuguese government, including his father, on September 7, 1822 and issued the Grito do Ipiranga, which stated that Brazil was independent from Portugal. The emancipation of slaves was the next aspiration for the Brazilians to accomplish.

 

 


           

Slavery survived in Brazil after independence because the separation from Portugal was a peaceful transition. But it was eventually abolished in Brazil not only by the slaves and abolitionists but there were also outside effects that contributed. On the outside, the slave trade had been abolished in 1850 by the Brazilian government for a few different reasons:

1. The spreading of yellow fever by Africans.

2. Insurrection.

3. Lastly, Britain put pressures on the Brazilians to end the slave trade. The British did this by authorizing their navy to seize slave ships in Brazilian waters, which forced the Brazilian government to finally end the slave trade.

This created a problem for the slaveholders because there was no way to replenish the slave population, but slavery still continued in Brazil even though the number of slaves was declining rapidly. The plantation culture within Brazil was beginning to fall apart by the 1870s and the abolishment of slavery was on the rise. Individuals were rising up against slavery; one abolitionist in particular who had a great impact was Joaquim Nabuco. Nabuco worked to produce a bill that proposed a moderate reform in an attempt to abolish slavery within Brazil but the Assembly was not interested. He later established the Brazilian Anti-Slavery Society, which was created to use propaganda to fight slavery. In order to inform others they published a newspaper that was used to lash out against slavery. Opposition was growing within Brazil. The pressure from the abolitionist as well as Cuba’s abolishment of slavery pushed the General Assembly to abolish corporal punishment in Brazil. Corporal punishment was the main component of slavery. Slavery was coming to an end after this law was established. There was also the passage of the “free birth” law in 1871, which stated that any child that was born to a slave parent was free from having to be a slave in Brazil. Slaves continued to revolt knowing that they were soon to be free. Many slaves were abandoning their plantations as a form of revolting. Antonio Manoel Bueno de Andrada, an ex-abolitionist, recalled the fleeing of a large group of slaves from Capivari on the eve of the abolishment of slavery.

“From the neighborhood of Capivari fled a large group of captives, some one hundred persons including full-bodied men, women, old people and children, led by a black man named Pio…Police units surrounded them on the road. They resisted and dispersed their attackers….They were hunted like wild beasts….Less than twenty fugitives were able to reach Santos.”

The slaves continued their march even though they were being attacked and killed by soldiers. The slaves were determined to win their freedom once and for all no matter what it took for them to accomplish emancipation. Many slaves also gave up their lives so others could enjoy freedom in the future.

            After the continual turmoil, the politicians met on May 3rd, 1888 to discuss the passing of the bill that would abolish slavery and re-organize the country. The bill, known as the “Golden Law” was passed on May 13th, 1888 finally ending slavery in Brazil and all the laws that went along with slavery. After this bill had been passed by parliament, celebrations began throughout Brazil by those who had been pushing so hard for abolition. But Brazilians still faced the challenge of rebuilding their country. This new environment also created struggles within Brazil for these freed slaves. Former slaves were still unable to rise up in society and they were still denied equality. Ex-owners and the newly freed slaves had established a new relationship that was based on paid labor, which allowed for the ex-masters to have their pride and the freed slaves to remain un-humiliated. Previous slave owners were pleased with their slaves wanting to stay and work with them but they also knew that they could not treat them like they used to do during slavery because the freed slaves will end up leaving to find another way to earn money. The monarchy in Brazil was also lost as a result of the abolition. Angry plantation owners gave their support to a takeover by the military, which forced Pedro and Isabel into exile. Brazil, like the other Latin American countries, fell into the pattern of military rule and dictatorships. But to the abolitionists within Brazil, such as Nabuco, the bloodless revolution for emancipation was the first and easiest step to make toward the democratization of Brazil. Emancipation had been achieved thus making all the problems that followed worth while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home

 

    Brazil  United States  France/Haiti  England  Africa

About the Authors Bibliography