May 13th 1888: Brazil abolishes slavery

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‘Slavery in Brazil’ by Jean-Baptiste Debret

 

On this day in 1888, Brazil passed the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) which abolished slavery in the country, making it the last nation in the Western world to abolish the practice. Prompted in part by the initiative of local abolitionists, the urging of the British and the defeat of the slave-holding Confederacy in the American Civil War, Brazil emancipated its slaves. Prior to the 1888 law the Rio Branco Law of 1871 freed slave children and an 1885 law freed slaves over 60. However it was not until 1888 that complete emancipation of the Brazilian slave population was secured. Brazil had one of the largest slave populations in the world, and the slaves there were predominately Africans who had been torn from their homes by the brutal Atlantic slave trade. The Golden Law, composed by Minister of Agriculture Rodrigo Augusto da Silva and signed into law by Princess Isabel, was very brief and provided no assistance for the newly freed slaves, leaving them on their own at the bottom of the economic ladder. Whilst hailed by many foreign observers and local abolitionists, the law fuelled discontent among the Brazilian upper class, who preceded to oust the monarchy and establish a republic the year after the Golden Law.

 

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The Lei Áurea which abolished slavery

 

Article 1: From this date, slavery is declared abolished in Brazil.
Article 2: All dispositions to the contrary are revoked.

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