Brazilian Slave Emancipation Act 1888

The Brazilian Slave Emancipation Act 1888

Brazilian Slave Emancipation Act 1888
Slaves on a coffee farm in Brazil, c. 1885, in a photograph by Marc Ferrez.
Brazilian Slave Emancipation Act 1888

Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil (1846–1921)

Brazilian Princess Isabel of Bragança signed Imperial Law number 3,353 on May 13, 1888. It is one of the most important pieces of law in Brazilian history, despite having just 18 words. It was known as the “Golden Law” since it eliminated slavery in all of its manifestations. Slavery was at the center of the Brazilian economy for 350 years.

According to historian Emilia Viotti da Costa, Brazil was home to 40% of the 10 million enslaved Africans carried to the New World. Enslaved people were so important to the economy that Ina von Binzer, a German schoolteacher who resided in Brazil in the late 1800s, wrote: “The Blacks hold the principal function in this country.” They are the ones that perform all of the labor and generate all of the money in this country. “It’s just not working with the white Brazilian.”

Abolition had the support of the majority of Brazilians by 1888, including numerous conservative groups, marking the end of a lengthy period of societal and economic transformation. Slavery had already begun to decline by the time it was abolished, due to agricultural modernisation and increased migration from rural regions to Brazil’s cities.

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