The fiery lawyer Joaquim Nabuco led a passionate campaign within Brazil against slavery. Slavery became the dominant issue in Brazilian politics for 20 years.


Formation of the Humanitarian Society for Abolition. (Pierson 1967:58)

In 1869 the Liberal party adopted emancipation as a party policy. (Pierson 1967:59)


Law of the Free Womb emancipates the children of slaves. The Rio Branco Law (free-birth legislation) was sanctioned in 1871 after a hard legislative battle. Upon reaching 8 years of age, the so-called "freeborn" were to serve their mothers' masters without pay until they reached the age of 21.


rubber plant seeds smuggled out by Victorian adventurer Henry Wickham; ended in Ceylon and Malaya which developed rubber plantations


Devastating drought; thousands go into the Amazonian rubber industry.

Manaus became the largest city of the Amazon. Rubber turned it from a muddy village into a rich trading city within a couple of decades. The peak of the rubber boom was from the 1870s to the outbreak of WWI.


A new and more powerful antislvery movement began ledy by Joaquim Nabuco. Member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. He introduced a bill in 1879 and 1880 to end slavery within ten years.


Spain abolished slavery in Cuba.

Frustrated by an overwhelming rejection of his legislatiion, Nabuco established the Brazilian Antislavery Society (Sociedade Brasileira contra a Escravidao).

Black journalist Jose do Patrocinio began to express abolitionist views.


Nabuco and other abolitionist candidates were defeated


Formation of the Sociedade Humanitaria Abolicionista. Four years later the name changed to Sociedade Abolicionista Bahiana. (Pierson 1967:58-59)

Publication of O abolicionismo by Joaquim Nabuco, the best known abolitionist. It was a small band of Brazilians, including Nabuco, who openly championed the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Nabuco expressed the fear that his Antislavery Society, still held together by a few friends, might die out altogether.


Commercial leaders like Ramalho Ortigao, president of the Bahian Centro of Commerce and Agriculture, opposed the abolition movement. Portuguese immigrants also opposed abolition. Also opposing abolition were the large plantation owners and their political spokesmen. At one time, their forces dominated the Liberal party. (1884) (Pierson 1967:65-66)

Even some of the black freedmen opposed the end of slavery for they had invested some of their money in the slave trade and some owned slaves. (Pierson 1967:67-68)

Ebullient antislavery campaign of 1884 in the provinces of Amazonas and Rio Grande do Sul.


Slaves who had reached the age of 65 received their freedom.


3.5 million immigrants to Brazil (Italians, Portuguese, Spanish, Germans & Japanese)


abolition of slavery in Brazil, the last country in the western world to do so

The final abolition of slavery is usually regarded as the most immediate cause for the fall of the monarchy. With the Emperor away in Europe, his daughter, Princess Isabel, acted as Regent. On May 13, 1888, responding to the collapse of slavery as a workable system and yielding to pressures from the abolitionists, she signed the so-called "Golden Law" (Lei Áurea) which abolished slavery in Brazil. The abolition of slavery was in reality the outcome of a long-standing British policy of putting pressure on the Brazilian government to end the slave trade. The fight against the trade intended to assist the expansion of production in British colonies (e.g. sugar), thereby favoring the growth of British industrial capitalism.

It must be noted that by the end of the l9th century, slavery in Brazil was declining under pressure from immigrant laborers whose wages cost less than the upkeep of slaves. Nevertheless, the "Golden Law" set off a reaction among slave owners which rapidly eroded the political foundations of the monarchy.

The real reason why slavery ended was that it was finally becoming less profitable. With the slowing of the incoming of new slaves, there was a real labor shortage in Brazil. Brazil turned to European immigrants, but this policy was failing because as long as the slave environment continued, the working conditions for the immigrants were also bad. "It was becoming clear to those who gave it any thought that, since slavery and immigrant labor could not work side by side, slavery would have to go." (Skidmore 1999:69)


Return to Main Page Table of Contents

Return to Home Page