The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil / Edition 1

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Overview

In May 1888 the Brazilian parliament passed, and Princess Isabel (acting for her father, Emperor Pedro II) signed, the lei aurea, or Golden Law, providing for the total abolition of slavery. Brazil thereby became the last “civilized nation” to part with slavery as a legal institution. The freeing of slaves in Brazil, as in other countries, may not have fulfilled all the hopes for improvement it engendered, but the final act of abolition is certainly one of the defining landmarks of Brazilian history.
The articles presented here represent a broad scope of scholarly inquiry that covers developments across a wide canvas of Brazilian history and accentuates the importance of formal abolition as a watershed in that nation’s development.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822308881
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/1988
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 180
  • Lexile: 1610L (what's this?)

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The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil


By Rebecca J. Scott, Seymour Drescher, Hebe Maria Mattos de Castro, George Reid Andrews, Robert M. Levine

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1988 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-0888-1



CHAPTER 1

Exploring the Meaning of Freedom: Postemancipation Societies in Comparative Perspective


REBECCA J. SCOTT

The centennial of the final abolition of slavery in Cuba and Brazil has occasioned an exceptional burst of scholarly interest, perhaps in part owing to the moral weight that the questions of slavery and freedom continue to carry. Integrating a moral vision into scholarship on this subject, however, has remained problematic. The old notion of slave emancipation as a purifying, redemptive triumph of moral rightness over self-interest has receded, sometimes to be replaced by a more jaundiced view of emancipation as the trading of one master for another, or the relinquishing of explicit coercion and explicit protection for implicit coercion and no protection at all. The best recent work on emancipation has challenged these polarities, emphasizing the complexity of former slaves' initiatives in the context of the constraints placed on them.

As one attempts to formulate a research design for work on the aftermath of emancipation, the question arises: what exactly should one do with this insight about behavior, this realization that slave emancipation was neither a transcendent liberation nor a complete swindle, but rather an occasion for reshaping—within limits—social, economic, and political relationships? It is one thing to invoke the concept of multiple options and multiple constraints; it is quite another to show with any precision what processes and outcomes resulted from the interaction of initiative and context.

In this essay I will first discuss certain ways in which the articles that follow expand our understanding of emancipation and postemancipation society. My focus will be on questions that can be raised for a range of societies in the Americas, with particular attention to Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. I will then try to suggest several new directions in which inquiry might go, focusing on sources, methodology, and interpretation. In some instances, I will draw on work from the very different, but conceptually related, field of Latin American colonial history. Analyses of the transformation of indigenous societies in the aftermath of conquest can, on occasion, provide both practical and theoretical insights into the study of relations between former masters and former slaves.

The larger purpose of the essay is to suggest ways of studying the meaning of freedom. A comparative approach to emancipation has certain obvious advantages for the highlighting of crucial differences and the testing of hypotheses. Perhaps less obvious is the value of comparison in raising new questions and reshaping old ones. For comparison can juxtapose not only selected "cases," but also very different historiographies, each with a set of analytic presuppositions and accompanying questions. Out of the clash of those presuppositions and the careful application of some of the questions from one historical tradition to the evidence of another, new frameworks for analysis may emerge. Thus, for example, a close examination of several societies after slavery can pose a challenge to the conventional dichotomy of dependence versus autonomy for the former slave. At the same time, such a comparison may encourage us to expand our focus to encompass a wider range of social groupings, rather than attempting to isolate the interactions of former masters and former slaves.

Hebe Castro's essay, "Beyond Masters and Slaves," provides a précis of her larger work on the community of Capivary in the province of Rio de Janeiro during the nineteenth century. Her study is a model of the way in which the systematic exploration of new sources in a local context can force a reframing of central questions about the national experience. Three features of this work might be highlighted. First, Castro's study illuminates the lives of poor rural Brazilians, not as individuals "marginal" to a dominant society, but as participants in a lively economy complementary to both urban society and the coffee-growing activities undertaken by more prosperous residents of the region. Second, her portrait of Capivary adds to the complexity of our image of Brazilian slavery. Like Stuart Schwartz, Castro emphasizes the dispersed character of Brazilian slaveholding, and the small size of the units on which many slaves resided, even in the context of a highly concentrated pattern of formal landowning. Third, her work implicitly rejects a unilinear concept of proletarianization as the inevitable outcome of emancipation and the expansion of commercial agriculture. Whatever the aims of legislators and large-scale landowners, the poor of Capivary were not fully denied access to land. By retaining such access, they were able to escape transformation into a mere "rural work force."

Capivary, with its mixed population cultivating coffee for the internal market and manioc for consumption and for sale to the city, provides more than a simple community study. The presence of dispersed, small-scale, partially slave-based subsistence and commercial agriculture—characteristic not only of Capivary but of significant portions of the province of Rio de Janeiro—raises a question of crucial importance for the understanding of abolition. The question is: how does the precise class structure of a given slaveholding society affect the transition to free labor, both in terms of changing patterns of labor use and in terms of the development of pro- and antiabolition movements? Coincidentally, the same question emerges in Seymour Drescher's analysis from the opposite perspective—from the vantage point of a transnational comparison of the course of abolition.

Drescher's study, "Brazilian Abolition in Comparative Perspective," explores the dramatic regional variations in the significance of slavery within Brazil that emerged after the termination of the transatlantic slave trade, and explores the consequences for the development of abolitionism and antiabolitionism. He draws parallels with similar regional disparities—North/South and East/West—in the United States and Cuba, and notes the political risks to slaveholders of such divergence. In both the United States and Brazil, there seems also to have been a concentration of slaveholding within regions in the decades before abolition, as large-scale rural owners came to hold an increasing fraction of all slaves and the proportion of farmers owning no slaves grew.

The political outcomes in the United States and in Brazil, however, were very different. While planters in the U.S. South managed to forge a regional coalition to oppose abolition, planters in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo seem to have had only limited success in mobilizing opposition to the steps that were taken toward gradual emancipation in the 1870s and 1880s. Drescher comments on Brazil: "The historian of North Atlantic abolitions is ... struck by the absence of a united front of the major slaveholding provinces against the gradual termination of the institution."

There are many possible explanations for this contrast. Regional and intraregional variations in the degree of commitment to slavery itself constitute the factor most often cited. The slaveholders of different producing zones within Brazil varied radically in the markets they faced and the labor supply they could draw on and thus in their visions of the risks and benefits of abolition. One might still wonder at the failure to organize widespread resistance to abolition in key regions of Rio and São Paulo, where the institution of slavery remained strong. The point here is not to imply that planters acquiesced early on to abolition; they did not. The question is why they did not choose to mount a broad-ranging offensive against the erosion of one basis of their livelihood. Drescher cites elite fear of the consequences of mobilization among a racially heterogeneous free population. Others have pointed to the ideological ambivalence and defensiveness of Brazilian planters in the face of a growing European and North American ideology of free labor.

One should perhaps recall that the unity created by slaveholders in the southern United States was itself both incomplete and precarious, resting on regional identity, political concessions, ideological maneuvers, and a longstanding tradition of racism at all social levels. The costs of a cross-class white "racial" coalition were high, and its survival during wartime was uncertain. The feat was perhaps hardly likely to be replicated in the very different environment of Brazil decades later.

Castro's work suggests that one should also seek a partial answer in the dynamics of relationships at the local level. From her analysis, it appears that free small-scale cultivators were often the "clients" of large landowners, but were not entirely the creatures of the elite. If we compare them to the small farmers of the southern United States, we find that they were bound to larger planters by ties of debt and credit, and perhaps by a need for protection, but not necessarily by a shared "racial" identity, and certainly not by a democratic electoral practice. The implications of this pattern for the dependence or autonomy of such individuals are ambiguous. As victims of the "clientelism" for which Brazil remains famous, the poor of Capivary acted at times to support the political power of specific patrons, and had virtually none of the political rights of their counterparts in the white population of the U.S. South. But it was the self-consciously "independent" poor southerners, not the "dependent" Brazilians, who were persuaded to join forces in a war to defend slave society. The interplay of shared and conflicting interests, culture, and ideology that brought about this contrast remains to be explored comparatively.

Drescher poses the intriguing question: "Was the relationship between slaves and free people in the rural areas different in Brazil because of the cumulative effect of manumissions and the consequent existence of bonds which did not exist in the racially more polarized U.S. South?" The question, however, could quickly become even more complex. What were the implications for cross-racial social relations of a pattern of slaveholding in Brazil so widespread that people who were indisputably poor—whether white, black, or mulatto—often owned a slave or two? While frequent manumission might provide the basis for a multiracial "plebeian subculture," selective but extensive slave ownership among the poor could also create tensions that would divide free and slave. More detailed comparison would seem to be necessary here. Further systematic analyses of specific regions should enable us to move beyond the stereotypes of a politically "democratic" but racially exclusionary South and an oligarchic Brazilian society with a large racially integrated marginal population.

Answers to these questions, as they emerge, will have important implications not only for the classic question of the causes of abolition, but also for the evolution of postemancipation society. Each region's social structure on the eve of abolition shaped the balance of forces with which former slaves would have to contend. Patterns of debt, credit, marketing, access to land, and social relations formed the backdrop to the transformations wrought by the ending of slavery, and the existing free rural population was generally the milieu into which former slaves would at least initially move.

Drescher emphasizes the evaporation of the Brazilian abolitionist movement after the ending of slavery and the lack of organized programs to aid the freed people. But equally significant, surely, is the relative absence of the violence and vengeance so characteristic of white southerners' responses, not only to emancipation but to the mere mention of "social equality." To what extent does the lack of white violence directed at former slaves in Brazil reflect an acceptance of social change, and to what extent does it instead reflect the containment of such change through other mechanisms?

Though the image of oligarchic continuity can be overdrawn, it seems clear that in some regions, such as the Northeast, the incorporation of former slaves into existing patron-client relations diminished the probability of direct confrontation. Peter Eisenberg, for example, has argued that former slaves working on the sugar plantations of Pernambuco continued in a position of dependency. They moved into established roles in the agricultural economy, becoming part of a longstanding free, but impoverished, work force. But what of areas such as São Paulo, where former slaves were not smoothly incorporated into the evolving pattern of agricultural production?

Reid Andrews, in "Black and White Workers: São Paulo, Brazil, 1888–1928," cautiously uses the category of "marginality," rejected by Castro, to describe the role of Afro-Brazilians within the growing rural and urban economy. One strength of his analysis is that his use of the concept is time dependent, contextual, and specific. He disputes Florestan Fernandes's emphasis on the importance of a slave "heritage" in handicapping Afro-Brazilians in the postemancipation labor market, focusing instead on the specific choices and bargains that former slaves attempted to make, and on the context in which they had to negotiate.

In Andrews's view, it was planters, in alliance with the state, who took the initiative in excluding Afro-Brazilians by flooding the São Paulo labor market with subsidized immigrants once abolition was underway. But at the same time, the values on which libertos insisted put them repeatedly at a disadvantage in competition with immigrant laborers. Libertos' desire to be treated with respect, to escape the direct coercion of plantation overseers, and to construct a new family division of labor conflicted with planters' preferences. Employers generally sought subjugated laborers who were prepared to put all members of the family to work in the fields or factory. The image of the "marginal" Afro-Brazilian thus ceases to be one of an incapable worker and becomes one of an individual unwilling to submit to unreasonable exigencies for inadequate pay, particularly in the face of employers who explicitly disparaged his or her capacities.

Instead of attributing fixed patterns of behavior to immigrants and libertos, Andrews shows how the demands and bargains of each group evolved. As the immigrants gained a footing, they too balked at low wages and direct control. When factory jobs opened up for Afro-Brazilians with the ending of subsidized European immigration, the composition of the labor force changed, and elite portraits of the descendants of slaves altered swiftly to revalue the "national worker." One might draw a parallel here to Walter Rodney's analysis of the Guyanese working population, in which he contrasts the experiences and behavior of Afro-Guyanese Creoles and East Indian immigrants, but carefully avoids the classic stereotype of "submissive" indentured immigrant workers.

One could perhaps take this analysis a step further and emphasize the highly relational character of contemporary portraits of different groups of workers. In Saão Paulo, former slaves were juxtaposed with Italian immigrants, and planters characterized the former slaves as excessively demanding and sensitive to violations of their dignity. In Bahia, on the other hand, observers in the early twentieth century contrasted the moradores resident on plantations, often descendants of slaves, to the catingueiros who came in seasonally from the back country to work on the sugar estates. The stereotypes and attributed attitudes were suddenly reversed: the morador was portrayed as a good and reliable worker, the catingueiro as strong but haughty and proud.

Obviously, substantive differences between Bahia and São Paulo shaped the behavior of former slaves in each area after emancipation. But the variability of the stereotypes invoked should alert one to the need for extensive direct evidence of actual beliefs and behaviors against which to measure attributed "attitudes." Scholars have become sensitive to the malleability of elite views concerning the aptitudes of different ethnic groups for different kinds of work. As Andrews points out, these tended to shift with changing labor markets, and cannot be taken as descriptions of reality. But equal caution may be called for in using indirect evidence of the attitudes of the former slaves themselves. Contemporary accounts of prideful former slaves may seem less obviously biased than accounts of lazy ones, but in both cases the descriptive terms should themselves be subject to critical scrutiny.

Robert Levine's essay, "'Mud-Hut Jerusalem': Canudos Revisited," also addresses the question of the goals of rural Brazilians, but from a very different angle. While Castro traces the structure of rural society and Andrews analyzes the evolution of the labor market, Levine examines a specific social movement that cut across the line dividing former slaves and long-free rural folk. Perhaps most intriguing in Levine's portrait of the followers of Antônio Conselheiro is his emphasis on their common vision of self-sufficiency, a desire to achieve a degree of insulation from the demands of large landholders and government authorities. While discussing the conjunctural political factors that shaped elite responses to Canudos at both the national and the state levels, Levine also discerns an economic and social vision within the religious vision of the community. The goal of self-sufficiency expressed by the followers of Conselheiro, though a frequent feature of religious secessionist movements, could also constitute a significant challenge to the economic power of dominant groups, if it were realized on a large scale.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil by Rebecca J. Scott, Seymour Drescher, Hebe Maria Mattos de Castro, George Reid Andrews, Robert M. Levine. Copyright © 1988 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

A Note of Introduction,
Exploring the Meaning of Freedom: Postemancipation Societies in Comparative Perspective,
Brazilian Abolition in Comparative Perspective,
Beyond Masters and Slaves: Subsistence Agriculture as a Survival Strategy in Brazil During the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century,
Black and White Workers: São Paulo, Brazil, 1888–1928,
"Mud-Hut Jerusalem": Canudos Revisited,
Contributors,

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