Golden Law

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Golden Law

Golden Law, or Lei Áurea which was passed by the Brazilian Senate and sanctioned by Princess Isabel on 13 May 1888, freed all remaining slaves (approximately 600,000) and abolished the institution of slavery. Despite the desperate resistance of some planters (especially those whose properties were heavily mortgaged against the value of their slaves), the law recognized what had become fact. Slaves had fled plantations in increasing numbers, causing many planters to free their remaining slaves in hopes of retaining their services as wage workers or sharecroppers. Planters who had already begun to hire indentured immigrant laborers, notably in the São Paulo zone, found their economic position strengthened. In the cities slave populations had dwindled so dramatically that by 1888 in Rio de Janeiro only about 7,000 slaves remained of an estimated 100,000 slaves living there in the 1860s. Contemporary abolitionists—particularly Joaquim Nabuco and André Rebouças—were outspoken critics of what they regarded as only a partial abolition that had failed to include land reform, necessary in their view if Brazil was to realize its potential as a producing nation on a footing with the industrializing societies of Europe. Questions remain regarding the post-emancipation lives of former slaves and blacks as people seek to understand more precisely what changed and what persisted.

See alsoFree Birth Law; Queirós Law; Sexagenarian Law.


Robert Conrad, The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery, 1850–1888 (1972), esp. pp. 239-277.

Joaquim Nabuco, Abolitionism: The Brazilian Antislavery Struggle, translated and edited by Robert Conrad (1977).

Additional Bibliography

Azevedo, Celia Maria Marinho de. Abolitionism in the United States and Brazil: A Comparative Perspective. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

Baronov, David. The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil: The "Liberation" of Africans through the Emancipation of Capital. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Machado, Maria Helena Pereira Toledo. O plano e o pânico: Os movimentos sociais na década da abolição. Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ; São Paulo: EDUSP, 1994.

Needell, Jeffrey D. The Party of Order: The Conservatives, the State, and Slavery in the Brazilian Monarchy, 1831–1871. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

                          Sandra Lauderdale Graham