Brazlian History: Abolition of Slavery



Figure 1.--This school portrait was taken at a school in Teixeiras, Minas Gerais. The photo was taken during a graduation ceremony. The photo is undated, but looks to have been taken in the late 19th century. Among the students we can see the republican Brazilian flag that was adopted on November 19, 1889. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, but after this date there were not segregation laws and the children of the former slaves attended schools along with the white children. The boys seem to wear their best clothing for the ceremony.

Brazil was a major desination of the Atlantic slave trade. Brazil justsout into the Atlantic and was thus a much shorter run for the slavers. Brazil had the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than the United States. Pedro II was a ruler of conservative mindset. He came to see slavery, despite its economic importance to Brazil as inherently evil. Pedro began a series of measures liberating Brazilian slaves. He was posed to entirely abolish slavery. His measures against slavery met oposition from major landowners and the military, the leadership of which was drawn from the landed elite. The Emperor was on a trip to Europe when his daughter, Princess Isabel serving as regent, issued a decree abolishing slavery (May 13, 1888). This essentially did away for the last bastion of slavery, although forced labor cotinued for some time, in the Western Hemishere and ended what remained of the the African slave trade. Princess Isabella's decree is known as the Golden Law. It was widely praised in Europe. Abolishing slavery was the last major action taken by the Brazilian royal family. Brazil proved to be the last Western Hemisphere country to abolish slavery.

Atlantic Slave Trade

Brazil was a major desination of the Atlantic slave trade. Brazil justsout into the Atlanyic and was thus a much shorter run for the slavers. A new outlet for Aftrican slaves appeared in the 15th century. Portuguese explorers began voyages south along the Atlantic coast of Africa. The Portuguese were looking for a route to Asia, but as they moved south they began setting up trading posts. First the Portuguese established trading posts along the coast of West Africa, but gradually moved further south along the coast. Other European maritime powers followed suit. This was the beginning of the African slave trade. The Europeans differed from the Arabs in that they did not normally conduct raids themselves, but usually bougth slaves from Arab slave brokers and African chiefs. Europeans built trading post and forts all along the coast of West Africa. From Senegal south to Cameroons there were about 60 forts that served as trading posts for the slave trade. The Europeans exchanged rum, cloth, guns, and other trade goods for their human cargo. The slaves were transported across the Atlantic Ocean primarily to Brazil, the West Indies and the English colonies in North America. Imense fortues were made in the trade. As the demand for slaves expanded, whole areas of Africa were depopulated. Scholars estimate that 10-15 million Africans were transported to the New World. The European African slave trade began during the mercantalist era. It continued well into the industrial era. In fact because African slaves played a major role in the industrial revolution in Europe. The ememse profits from West Indian sugar islands helped to finance the industrial revolution. And the raw material for the first real modern industry, cotton textiles, was produced by slaves. The slave trade was finally ended by the Royl Navy in the mid-19th century.

Slavery in Brazil

Brazil had the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than the United States. The Portuguese who settled Brazil needed labor to work the large estates and mines in their new Brazilian colony. They turned to slavery which became central to the colonial economy. It was particularly important in the mining and sugar cane sectors. Slavery was also the mainstay in the Caribbean islands with economies centered on sugar. Estimates suggest that about 35 percent of captured Africans involved in the Atlantic slave trade were transported to Brazil. Estimates suggest that more than 3 million Africans reached Brazil, although precise numbers do not exist. Brazil had begun to turn to slavery in the 15th century as explorers began moving along the coast of Africa. With the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese attempted to enslave the Native American population as well. This did not prove successful. The Native Americans died in large numbers, both because of slave rading, mistreatment, and the lack of resistance to European diseases. The Portuguese found captured Africans to be a valuable trading commodity as Europeans began to settle the Caribbean islands. They also began transporting Africans to their Brazilian colony. Portuguese Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal abolished slavery in Portugal (February 12, 1761). The Portuguese action, however, did not address slavery in the colonies. Slavery was widely practiced. Brazilians of all classes owned slaves. Slaves were not only owned by upper and middle class Brazilians, but also by lower class Brazilians. There were even slaves who owned other slaves.

Independence (1822)

Independence followed as with the other Latin american countries in the wake of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Only in Brazil rather than an independent republic, an imperial ruling family was established. The Brazilian royal dynasty stemmed from the Portugese royal family that was forced by Napoleon to flee from Lisbon. Dom Joao set up his court and temporary capital of the Portuguese Empire in Rio de Janeiro, Napoleon's defeat in Russia (1812) fatally weakened France and the French had to withdraw from Iberia (1814). Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo (1815). Dom Joao did not return to Portugal, however, until several years later (1821). Dom Joao left his son Dom Pedro in charge of Brazil when he returned to Portugal (1821). Dom Joao attempted to resume the traditional system of colonial rule. Dom Pedro decided to declare Brazil's independence from Portugal and his independence from his father as Pedro I (1822). This is a major reason why slavery continued in Brazil. The republican regimes in the rest of Latin America abolished slavery.

Preliminary Steps

Brazil abolished slavery in a series of incremental steps. finally began to nove against slavery in the mid-19th century. The Government banned the importation of slaves (1850). Brazil fought a major war with Paraguay--the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-70). Thisin effect played a major role in ending slavery. Large numbers of youths and men enlisted in the Brazilian Army and were granted their freedom. Another major step was the freeing of the sons of slaves (1871). Many were the sons of the veterans of the War with Paraguay. The next step was freeing aged slaves over 60-years old (1885). This was an easy step because the elderly were more odf an econnomic buden than an assett.

Grande Seca / Great Drought (1877-78)

Brazil experienced the Grande Seca (Great Drought) (1877-78). It was most pronounced in the northeast where cotton-growing was important. The Drought had aterrible impact on the people of the Northeast. It was so severe that people began to mifrate out of the area. Some people actually starved when crops failed. The result was considerable economic and political turmoi. Landowners with no crops to harvest began selling their slaves in southern Brazil which was not affected by the Drought. Some slaves resisted transportment as it often meant families being split. and resentment grew.. Public opposition o slavery began to grow and emancipation societies were founded. The result was the abolition od slavery by the state government in Ceará--one of the norheatern states (1884).

Declining System

Brazil's economy changed significantly in the 19th century as coffee became an increasingly important crop. Slavery in Brazil was by the 1880s a system in decline. The steps takeb since the 1850s had substantially reduced the number of slaves. Another factor was the increase in European immigration which had begun to reach sizeable numbers in the 1880s. Italian immigration was especually important. Besides helping to restructure the labor system, these new immigrants viewed slavery as imoral. The many slaves freed since the 1850s also were another group which objected to slavery.

Emperor Pedro II

Pedro II was a ruler of conservative mindset. He came to see slavery, despite its economic importance to Brazil as inherently evil. Pedro began a series of measures liberating Brazilian slaves. He was posed to entirely abolish slavery. His measures against slavery met oposition from major landowners and the military, the leadership of which was drawn from the landed elite.

The Golden Law (May 1888)

Abolishing slavery was the last major action taken by the Brazilian royal family. Brazil proved to be the last Western Hemisphere country to abolish slavery. The Emperor was on a trip to Europe when his daughter, Princess Isabel serving as regent, issued a decree abolishing slavery (May 13, 1888). This essentially did away for the last bastion of slavery, although forced labor cotinued for some time, in the Western Hemishere and ended what remained of the the African slave trade. Princess Isabella's decree is known as the Lei Aurea (Golden Law). It was widely praised in Europe.






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Created: 7:19 PM 10/27/2008
Last updated: 7:00 AM 12/30/2009