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The Abolition of Brazilian Slavery, 1864–1888  

Ricardo Salles

Brazil was the last Western country to abolish slavery, which it did in 1888. As a colonial institution, slavery was present in all regions and in almost all free and freed strata of the population. Emancipation only became an issue in the political sphere when it was raised by the imperial government in the second half of the decade of the 1860s, after the defeat of the Confederacy in the US Civil War and during the war against Paraguay. In 1871, new legislation, despite the initial opposition from slave owners and their political representatives, set up a process of gradual emancipation. By the end of the century, slavery would have disappeared, or would have become residual, without major disruptions to the economy or the land property regime. By the end of the 1870s, however, popular opposition to slavery, demanding its immediate abolition without any kind of compensation to former slave owners, grew in parliament and as a mass movement. Abolitionist organizations spread across the country during the first half of the 1880s. Stimulated by the direct actions of some of these abolitionist organizations, resistance to slavery intensified and became increasingly a struggle against slavery itself and not only for individual or collective freedom. Incapable of controlling the situation, the imperial government finally passed a law in parliament granting immediate and unconditional abolition on May 13, 1888.

Article

Beyond Slavery: Abolition and Post-abolition in Brazil  

Hebe Mattos and Wlamyra Albuquerque

What happened after slavery in the first slave society of the Americas? How did the abolition process shape post-abolition Brazilian society? On September 28, 1871 the Lei do Ventre Livre (Free Womb Law) signaled the end for slavery in Brazil. It created, for the effects of the compensation of slave owners, a general registration of the last slaves, which shows that Brazil officially recognized around a million and a half of them in 1872. How did these last enslaved workers live and politically influence the legal process that resulted in their freedom? Certainly they did so, since between flights, negotiations, and conflicts, the number of slaves fell by half over the following years. In this process, conditional manumission letters became almost like labor contracts, the results of negotiations between slaves and slave owners which gave expectations of freedom to some and prolonged the exploitation of the labor of others. In 1887, abolition seemed inescapable. En masse flights of the last slaves made it a fact, recognized by law on May 13, 1888. How could social relations be reinvented after the collapse of the institution which had structured the country, in all its aspects, since colonization? This dismantling would have consequences that were not only economic but would also redesign the logic of power and the architecture of a society willing to maintain distinct types of citizenship. Old experiences of racism and citizenship were redefined in the process. Former slave owners fought for compensation for their lost property until Rui Barbosa, an old abolitionist and minister of finance of the first republican government, decided to burn the registration documentation in 1889, thereby preventing any compensation proposal for around seven hundred thirty thousand slaves freed by the abolition law. With the Republic (1889), a new racialized rhetoric narrated abolition as the product of the republican action of the “emancipating race,” which guaranteed freedom without conflict to the “emancipated race.” It thus made invisible not only the fundamental action of the last slaves, but also the demographically majoritarian status of the free Afro-descendants in the Brazilian population, evident in the action of numerous black abolitionists. For Afro-Brazilians, the struggle remained to define their place and rights in society. More recently, the political action of the Brazilian black movement in the commemorations of the centenary of abolition (1988) established the idea of incomplete abolition, defining May 13 as the date of the struggle against racial inequality in the country and consolidating the post-abolition period as a field of historiographic research.

Article

Slave Revolts  

Ricardo Figueiredo Pirola

Brazil received the largest number of enslaved Africans in the countries in the Americas. Of the 12.5 million men and women taken captive in Africa, about 5.5 million (44 percent) were sent to Brazil, which became one of the main slaveholding areas in the world. The enslavement of Africans and their descendants persisted in that country for more than three centuries and permeated all aspects of life. There was no work in which slave labor was not used, whether in the fields or in towns and cities throughout Brazil’s vast territory. The wealth produced by the exploitation of sugar cane, coffee, and the extraction of gold and diamonds relied primarily on the work of enslaved Africans. Brazil was built on the backs of Blacks. If the work of enslaved Africans and their descendants marked the building of wealth in that country, the struggles they waged over the centuries were also part of Brazilian history. The enslaved resisted the world conceived by their masters in many ways: by sabotaging the production of goods, slowing the pace of work, escaping, forming quilombos (maroon communities), killing masters and overseers, and planning slave revolts. These various forms of resistance coexisted during over three centuries of slavery in Brazil, but above all in the 19th century, when most of the collective slave revolts occurred. This does not mean that there were no uprisings before that time, but the accelerated arrival of Africans in the 19th century and the dissemination of several revolutionary ideologies (such as Islamism and the ideas of equality and freedom arising from the Enlightenment) created a favorable context for the outbreak of mass revolts. It was in the 1800s, specifically in 1835, that Brazil witnessed the largest urban uprising of enslaved individuals in the Americas when the Revolt of the Malês erupted in the streets of Salvador, Bahia.

Article

African Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Rio de la Plata Region  

María Verónica Secreto

Historiography has traditionally divided the policy of introducing enslaved people to Spanish America into three periods based on the legal framework in effect at the time. These divisions are: the period of licensing from 1493 to 1595; the period of asientos from 1595 to 1789: and the period of free trade in enslaved people from 1789 to 1812. However, Spanish enslaved traffic did not end in 1812; it remained for decades thereafter, with the main destinations being Cuba and Puerto Rico. Spanish colonial expeditions to the Americas included enslaved Black people from the outset. The Instructions to Comendador Fray Nicolás de Ovando, published in 1501, contain the earliest reference to Black slavery in the West Indies. Supply was seen as an increasingly important problem as demand grew. Systematic mechanisms were needed to ensure a regular supply of enslaved people. The joining of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns under Phillip II, known as the Iberian Union (1580–1640), seemed to solve the problem of supplying enslaved labor to Spanish possessions throughout the world. The Rio de la Plata played an important role in the extensive route linking Angola to Potosí, which, together with its hinterland, constituted a rich market made enormously attractive by the silver mined from the mountain for which the city was named. The lure of Peruvian silver hung over the slave trade and the institution of slavery in the Rio de la Plata region throughout the entire slaveholding period. During the 1789–1812 period, local merchants and traders in leather, tallow, and timber vied for position in this profitable market.

Article

Antislavery and Abolition in the Spanish American Mainland  

Marcela Echeverri

One of the major changes that was produced by the wars of independence and the consequent foundation of new republics across the Spanish American mainland during the first five decades of the 19th century was the abolition of slavery. The history of the abolition of slavery in this region illustrates how economic, political, and social factors were entwined in the Spanish American revolutions as processes that were at once embedded in the broader imperial and transimperial dynamics of the 19th century, yet also singular in the origins and consequences that the end of slavery had in that region due to its connection to republican formation and the integration of African-descended people in legal and political terms.