Joaquim Aurelio Nabuco de Araujo

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Joaquim Aurelio Nabuco de Araujo

Joaquim Aurelio Nabuco de Araujo (1849-1910) was a Brazilian abolitionist, statesman, and author. Best remembered as the outstanding leader of the Brazilian abolitionist movement, he was also an ardent supporter of Pan-Americanism.

Joaquim Nabuco was born on Aug. 19, 1849, into the plantation aristocracy of Recife, Pernambuco. During 1865-1870 he studied at the law academies of São Paulo and Recife. During his years in São Paulo (1865-1869) he was stirred by the currents of liberalism, romanticism, and humanitarianism which permeated the southern city, and he joined the abolitionist movement.

After graduation Nabuco seemed content to lead the life of a comfortable dilettante. Yet the years from 1870 to 1878 merely served as a period of apprenticeship. He casually engaged in his law practice and contributed to various literary journals. In 1872 he published his first book, a literary study entitled Camöens and the Lusiads. In 1876-1877 he served as legation attaché in Washington and London.

In 1878, following the death of his father, Nabuco returned to Recife to continue the family political tradition. He soon won a seat in the national Chamber of Deputies. With the philosophy of Walter Bagehot as his political guide, the English humanitarians his inspiration, and abolition his constant goal, Nabuco hoped to gain complete abolition by legal processes based on humanitarianism and social justice without resort to the terrible civil war experienced by the United States.

In 1880 Nabuco promoted the foundation of the Brazilian Antislavery Society, which gave a loose organization to disparate abolitionist groups. A 2-year self-imposed exile in London, following an unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1881 because of his position on slavery, resulted in O Abolicionismo (Abolitionism), a polemical indictment of Brazilian slavery. Of transitory importance, as is most polemical literature, O Abolicionismo was the most learned and forceful study presented against slavery during the abolitionist campaign. In 1886, disheartened by reverses in the antislavery movement, Nabuco wrote O Eclypse do abolicionismo (The Eclipse of Abolitionism) but 2 years later exalted in the proclamation of total, uncompensated abolition.

Nabuco, a stout proponent of parliamentary monarchy, unsuccessfully led a campaign to federalize the empire—a longtime goal of the Liberal party. But when the monarchy fell and a republic was established in November 1889, Nabuco began a 10-year retirement from public life.

During this respite, Nabuco produced his most important literary work. Um estadista do imperio (1889; A Statesman of the Empire), a study of the life and times of his father, Senator José Thomaz Nabuco, and his own episodic autobiography, Minha formacão (1900; My Formation), were his best efforts.

Although not completely reconciled to the new regime, in 1898 Nabuco agreed to present Brazil's case in the boundary dispute with British Guiana. Soon after Nabuco arrived in London, the Brazilian minister died, and Nabuco reluctantly agreed to fill the vacancy. He served in that capacity until 1905, when he became Brazil's first ambassador, the Washington legation having been elevated to the rank of an embassy. At a time when United States—Latin American relations were at an all-time low, Nabuco remained a staunch supporter of hemispheric unity. In 1906 he served as president of the Third Pan-American Conference in Rio.

In the United States Nabuco was a popular ambassador and able representative of his country. But his health, racked by a combination of heart difficulties and migraine headaches, deteriorated in mid-1909. He died in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17, 1910.

Further Reading

The major work on Nabuco is a biography by his daughter, Carolina Nabuco, The Life of Joaquim Nabuco (1950). It is a detailed account of Nabuco's life and is greatly enriched by extensive quotations from his speeches, books, articles, and letters. □

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Joaquim Aurelio Nabuco de Araujo

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