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Slavery: The Stronghold of the Brazil Economy Essay

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Updated: Mar 19th, 2022


Slavery is a term used to refer to an affiliation of supremacy and obedience whereby one person possesses another and can extort from the possessed person labor or any other services. Slaves can be people detained against their will, bought or born into this dehumanizing way of life, they are denied the right to leave or to reject work, or even ask for reimbursement.

Slavery in Brazil created the country’s societal arrangement and cultural background. All through the regal period, and for a period of more than six decades after the 1822 independence, slavery was one of the strongholds of the Brazil economy, in particular in the mining and sugar cane production sectors[1]

Slave Trade in Brazil

In the years after the 1500s Portuguese colonies situated in Brazil began to import African saves in large numbers. This was easy for them as the Portuguese were in control of several slave trade centres in the coast of West Africa where slaves were sold.

African slaves became the preferred choice to work in big sugar cane plantations and mines as they were resilient to tropical diseases and heat and the fact that they were reluctant to run away from their masters was a good thing for the Portuguese as they made more money this way. Soon after the 1600’s African slaves were found to be engaged in all economic sectors of Brazil. This is because they were good workers who worked hard for their masters; rarely got sick and rarely run off into the jungle.

Slave trade was abolished in May 1888 when Princess Isabel signed the; Lei Aurea, the ‘Golden Law’ that made slave trade illegal therefore legally putting an end to slavery in Brazil. The original script and the pen used to sign this document are preserved in the Brazilian national museum as it part of the history of Brazil. This single document freed the slaves and if it was not signed when it was, maybe slavery would have continued for much longer.

Due to the ending of the slave trade in 1888 in Brazil, the African culture is still very pronounced especially in the Bahia and the Northeast. The African slaves still practiced and practice their native cultures, food, music, dance and customs all which are viewed in the pulsating cultural assortment that is now independent Brazil[2].

Abolition of slavery in Brazil

Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slave trade as slavery. The plight of slaves was noted down in literature that spoke out against slavery and spoke for the slaves themselves. Literature in Brazil included poems that spoke out against the suffering of slaves at the hands of their slave masters who in most cases were than not brutal. Abolitionist literature in Brazil was not limited and each and every person was allowed to freely express themselves and their feelings how they saw fit.

After independence in Brazil, antislavery appeals were found in local dailies and periodicals majority of these appeals however called for a stop to the slave trade and not slavery itself which is ironic. “In 1850, the travel of human slaves to Brazil was stopped due to the consequence of British political and naval pressure”[3].

Shortly after the stop of slave trade, literature and poetry that depicted free blacks and slaves positively began to make its way into the market, how ever these works did not openly criticize slavery on its own.

Essays, poems, drama and novels began aggressively attacking slavery as a corrupting authority on white slave holders and as a hindrance on economic progress of the country as a whole. This catalyzed the process of abolishing slave trade and slavery itself and the slaves were set free to find and build their own lives away from the slave lives[4].

It took some years however before the literature works took centre stage in fighting against slavery and positively stating that the slaves should be set free. Arguments based on the sufferings of the slaves were the basis of majority of the literature works they talked about how much the slaves suffered under their masters and this brought about awareness concerning slavery.

Some of the most famous abolitionist in Brazil include: Antonio Frederico de Castro Alves who was termed as the Conscience of Brazil due to his works that openly denounced slavery Os EScravos which contain poems like “Navio Negreiro: tragedia nomar”, “ O Bandido Negro” and “ Vozes d’Africa” published in 1883.

Other poets; Silvio Romero and Valentim Magalhaes also fanned the flames of abolitionism with depictions of extreme brutality and inhumanity of slavery. On top of poems, novels were written that were against slavery and slave trade for example; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin published in 1852. This novel showed how innocent slaves suffered at the hands of their masters and their overseers.

Joaquim Manuel de Macedo’s As Vitimas Algozes written in 1869 and Bernardo Guimaraes’s A Escrava Isaura written in 1875. O Abolicionismo by Joaquim Nabuco a statesman written in 1883 is widely noted and accepted as an abolitionist work for its common and political appeal. This book disproved of the underlying principle of pro-slavery forces used in opposition for the continuation of Brazilian slavery.

It is important to note that all the above mentioned works of literature were written before 1888 when the golden rule was signed. This is to show that these literature works played a major part in pushing for the abolishing of slave trade and slavery in Brazil. They played a major role in abolishing slave trade and slavery in Brazil as they identified the pleas and cries of the slaves at the hand of their masters and spoke out these injustices for all people to know[5].

Ways in which Abolitionism was anti slavery and anti slave in Brazil

There were quite a number of ways in which abolitionism was against anti slavery and anti slave in Brazil. This paper will discuss the moral, political, societal motivation behind the abolitionist movement not also forgetting the policies and plans employed in the abolitionist movement. These different ways in which abolitionism is looked upon as being both anti slavery and anti slave will help us understand not only the plight of the slaves but also why other people fought passionately for freedom of slaves and the abolition of slave trade.

Looking at the moral point of view, citizens of Brazil had a number of reasons to be part of the abolitionist movement. Religion was the first moral perspective to join the abolitionist movement, Christians who were at the forefront of this movement believed that it was the duty of the church to correct wrongs made by the society.

Christians viewed slavery as wrong and believed that each person was equal in the eyes of God, so it should also be in the eyes of fellow mankind. Other secular movements joined the movement of abolitionist as they felt slavery was going against the basic foundations of the government as it brought about unfair torment that clearly spelled out inequality among human beings[6].

The economic and political view of slavery brought about questions of inequality as some politicians saw slavery as being unconstitutional. One of the goals of constitution was to bring equality to all man and slavery was a hindrance to this therefore, the politicians also joined in the abolitionist movement.

Majority of the people were passionate about the cause of ending slavery that they formed a political party that specifically fought for the rights and freedoms of slaves. The fact that the constitution brought forth the equality of all mankind and that citizen also fought for the freedom of the slaves made the abolitionist movement stronger and more effective and finally slave trade and slavery was eradicated all together in Brazil[7].

Societal reforms were also a huge part of how abolitionist was anti slaves and anti slavery in Brazil. These societal reformers included groups of ethical and outstanding citizens who were concerned with church communities, or new group thinkers. These individuals made it their sole purpose to correct the wrongs of slavery and the wrongs in education, prisons and also voting rights.

These people wanted radical changes in the society that would make the society a much better place to live in for all people. People who joined the reformers were persuaded by the leaders’ views and they saw it as their responsibility to make changes in the society.

The abolitionist movement in Brazil was both anti slave and anti slavery as to employ different ways and tactics to use in spreading the cause in order to get many supporters. One of the major ways of distributing the information they had was through use of leaflets that were distributed all over the countryside.

These leaflets were used to tell people and educate them on the reasons they had for being against slavery and about why they wanted to end it. Novels, poems, stories and other literature works were also used in educating people on why slavery needed to be abolished thus getting support for the abolitionist movement. Organizations against slave trade and slavery also came into being and they fought for equality rights of the Brazilian slaves.

These organizations got a lot of support as they were led by prominent people who were passionate about bringing an end to slave trade and slavery. Several revolts and riots organized by these organizations which included free and enslaved men fighting for their freedom this however led to the slaves being deported to Benin, Nigeria and Togo[9].


In conclusion, slave trade and slavery was a booming business in the 1800’s. People were captured from their native lands and sailed hundreds of miles to work in plantations, mines under the cruelty and brutality if their masters. These people were also forced to work in their masters houses performing terrible acts that their overseers and masters demanded. Slaves were uprooted from their lives that they knew only to be forced to adapt to a whole new lifestyle that saw the treated far much worse than animals themselves.

The brutality and cruelty of the masters brought about a lot of suffering on the slaves as they were inflicted with wounds that would take a long time to heal not to mention that the punishments that were mostly beatings that at times resulted in death of the slaves. The slaves would at times result to witchcraft to quell the brutality of their master’s and at times the slaves killed their masters.

Some slaves who opted not to run away continued suffering at the hands of their masters and overseers. The biggest issue about slavery was that some of the slaves were born into it and they knew no other life other than the life of submission, and following orders that resulted in punishment when one disobeyed.

The brutality and cruelty of the masters of these slaves brought about activists that rose and fought against slavery and slave trade. These activists brought forth the abolitionist movement that fought for the freedom of all the slaves in Brazil.

The abolitionist movement approached the issues of slavery and slaves from different view points that included the moral, political, societal motivation. These different view points by different people were all anti slave and anti slavery and pushed for reforms in the society that were going to be of help in getting freedom for the slaves.

The ways in which the abolitionist movement spread it views in the countryside where majority of the population were slaves, helped in drumming up major support for the noble cause of putting an end to slavery and slaves. Through the distribution of pamphlets the abolitionist movement was able to educate the people and get a lot of manpower and individuals to participate in the riots and revolts that were arranged by organizations to drum up support that would fight against slavery and slaves.


Bentley, J. & Ziegler, H. 2005. Traditions and encounters: A Global Perspective on the past. Mcgraw-Hill College.

Creative commons. 2001. . Web.

Diouf, S. A. 2009 ed. Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Mattoso, Katia M. de Querios 2004. To be a slave in Brazil, 1550-1888, Rutgers University Press.

Richardson, K. 2009. . Web.

The Gale Group 2004 Nineteenth-Century Abolitionist Literature of Cuba and Brazil, the Gale Group, Inc. Farmington Hills.


  1. Creative commons 2010. A Brief History of Slavery
  2. Mattoso, Katia M. de Querios 2004. To be a slave in Brazil, 1550-1888, Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0813511550
  3. The Gale Group 2004 Nineteenth-Century Abolitionist Literature of Cuba and Brazil, the Gale Group, Inc. Farmington Hills
  4. The Gale Group 2004
  5. The Gale Group 2004
  6. Richardson, K. 2009 Abolition- the Role of the individual in Effecting Change
  7. Richardson, K 2009
  8. Bentley, J. & Ziegler, H. Traditions and encounters: A Global Perspactive on the past. Pp 781-805
  9. Diouf, S. A. 2009 ed. Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. Athens: Ohio University Press
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