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Brazilian Slavery and Emancipation

1815--The Congress of Vienna, Portugal agreed to cooperate with the United Kingdom to abolish the slave trade gradually. Independent Brazil recognized this commitment.

1826--Convention signed on November 23rd to end the slave trade on the African coast and make the end slave trade equivalent to piracy by 1830.

1832-32-- Brazil passed strong anti-slave trade legislation

1835--Most serious slave revolt of the century occurred in Bahía-- the Cabanagem Rebellion in which the non-whites revolted against Imperial authority and slaughtered the white population. They declared a revolutionary secessionist government declared. In October of 1835, a French ship loaded with French-manufactured guns arrived at Bélem and the rebels took the arms and killed the crew. The French retaliated, blockading the Amazonian coast and landing soldiers to get the rebels, which they did. The Imperial government and France then fought a war which the French won. The peace treaty of 1839 forced Brazil to cede to France the entire expanse of the Amazonia. In 1835, the famous Male revolt occurred and many enslaved Africans were returned to Africa after this revolt.

1837-- The Marquis of Barbacena sponsored a bill to end the trade.

1845-- Brazil agreed to allow British cruisers to search ships in Brazilian waters and prosecute offenders in joint Brazilian-British admiralty courts as pirates under the "Aberdeen Act."

1851--The British force Brazil to outlaw the legal slave trade.

Slave Imports, 1840-51

Year Number Year Number
1840 30,000 1846 50,324
1841 16,000 1847 56,172
1842 17,435 1848 60,000
1843 19,P095 1849 54,000
1844 22,849 1850 23,000
1845 19,453 1851 3,287
TOTAL 371,615

Characteristics of Slavery

Under plantation conditions, it was common for 75% of the slaves to die within the first three years before they were acclimatized and trained. Slaves were treated badly. Whipping was common. The tronco was used, whereby the arms and legs were imprisoned together forcing the victim to hunch forward. The slave diet was heavy on corn meal.

Purchasers of slaves preferred to get people from the Gold Coast and women from the Congo as well. In Brazil, slaves were rented both on plantations and in towns.

Overwhelming preponderance of males. We know that it was 7 to 3 in Vassouras. In the 1872 census, 9% of the slaves were married. The highest percentage ever recorded for slave marriage was 11%.

Salves resisted by a variety of means. They engaged in passive resistance by sabotage and malingering. Active resistance included rebellions, attacks on overseers, escapes, suicides, and quilimbos (ex-slave redoubts in the interior.


1864-- Pedro II suggested that the advantage of freeing the children born of slave mothers. The slave owners resisted.

1866--In a speech from the throne, Pedro II suggests that emancipation be studied.

1868--A commission headed by Senator Joaquim Nabuco de Araújo reported out the Law of the free Womb whereby children born of slaves were free.

1871--Río Branco Law. José María Silva Paranhos (later Río Branco) managed to get the Nabuco law passed. It provided for the registration of all slaves and their children and that all children of slaves born after the law were to be free. When the child was eight, the slave owner could receive a government payment or enjoy the labor of the child until age twenty-one.

1878--Joaquim Nabuco's bill to end slavery by 1888 was defeated. The masters still resisted. Nabuco, Rui Barbosa, and José Patrocínio founded the Brazilian Antislavery Society.

1884--Manoel Parito de Souza Dantas introduced a bill to increase the redemption funds to entice more owners to free slaves, prohibit the movement of slaves from state to state, and emancipate all slaves over 60.

1885--The Parliament passed a bill similar to the Dantas bill except that it freed those over 65 and required those over 60 to work for three more years.,

1887--Nabuco got the Pope to make an antislavery pronouncement.

1888--Passage of the Golden Law, abolishing slavery without compensation to owners.

Many states had abolished slavery long before the Imperial government did. Slave had been fleeing to those states or to cities. The army refused to be in the slave catching business. The abolition of slavery in the United States (1865) and Cuba (1886) as well as western European opinion put pressure on Brazil to end it. However, without internal pressures and the passage of laws, slavery would not have ended. The slave owners liked it too much.