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The Abolition Of Slavery In Brazil

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The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil, 13 May 1888

Next year sees the 120th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Some contemporary writers saw the period as an horrific maltreatment of our fellow human beings while others saw through this and viewed the patriarchal and familial advantages that society, especially slaves received. Whichever way one sees it, the period before its abolition saw a huge boost in Brazil’s economy, mainly down to its vast manpower вЂ" 37% of all African slaves traded вЂ" a massive 3 million men, women and children.

Brazil is famous for its three main exports вЂ" sugar, gold and coffee and the discovery, production and distribution of these materials was mainly down to African slaves. After the Portuguese developed the technology to extract sugar from sugarcane, the slaves were the ones who worked on the fields and essentially boosted the economy on their own. When the sugar economy levelled out, the slaves were the ones to extract the gold from mountainous, largely inhospitable areas. When the strongest of the three economies was discovered, coffee, the efficiency of the slaves saw coffee take 63% of the nation’s economy. From these facts, it is not easy to say that slave labour was wholly detrimental.

However, several factors and events led to the eventual abolition of slavery. In 1850, foreign slave trade was outlawed while by 1871 all sons of slaves were released and in 1885 all slaves over 60 were released. By the mid 19th Century, slavery had become more of a social condition than a racial one. Newly constructed emancipation groups were resistant to the fact that some slaves, through eugenic selection, were whiter than their patriarchs. A contemporary writer writes

“The circumstance that particularly struck me in Brazil was, the interminable period to which the offspring of a slave is doomed to bondage, from generation to generation. It is a taint of the blood, which no length of time, no change of relationship, no alteration of colour, can obliterate.”

The Paraguayan War was another major factor that contributed to the abolition as slaves enlisted in the services in return for their freedom.

There was also pressure from countries outside South America that contributed to the end of slavery. The Clapham Sect, an evangelical group from London tried to convince the United Kingdom government to use their huge political influence to stop slavery. The UK’s economy would grow as result, they claimed, since the slave-led Brazilian sugar trade was out pricing the UK’s sugar trade in the Caribbean.

While there were those who opposed slavery, there were some who protested that the Brazilian economy could not withstand the abolition. Padre PompÐ"Єos argued that since agriculture was the chief source of the economy and is mostly effected by slaves, without them there is no agriculture and without agriculture there is no commerce. He believed it could вЂ?destroy… the basis of our great social status.’ On the other hand, there were celebrated figures such as the financial backer,

AndrÐ"© RebouÐ"§as, the mulatto lawyer Luiz Gama and the black journalist JosÐ"© do PatrocÐ"­nio who made up the figureheads of the Abolitionist Confederation. After the law was passed, they in particular fought for the establishment of compulsory education, the separation of the Church and State and a readjustment program for ex-slaves. They also succeeded in finding ex-slaves new jobs and recruited Italian workers as replacements for the black slaves.

Yet, the strongest force that supported the abolition of slavery was the monarchy. They, according to Gilberto Freyre �acted… in defense of law, of justice, of morality against paternalistic abuses of power’. Since the rich autocrats who owned slaves were looking to be recognised with titles, such as marquises and dukes, they were willing to cooperate with the Royal Family. However, many rich nobles did not believe the threat from Empire to abolish slavery since the predicted effects were well known and well documented in the press. So, when Princess Isabel passed


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