Sexagenarian Law

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Sexagenarian Law

Sexagenarian Law, or the Saraiva-Cotegipe Law (named for its principal sponsors), an 1885 decree that freed all Brazilian slaves when they reached age sixty. Proponents recognized that planters who had lied about the ages of African-born slaves—listing them as older than they were in order to subvert the 1831 law that prohibited the importation of African slaves into Brazil after that date—were now caught with slaves who would be eligible for freedom even though they were actually younger than sixty. The law stipulated that slaves thus freed would continue to work for an additional three years or until age sixty-five (whichever came first) as compensation to their owners. The ambiguously "freed" slaves, moreover, were to perform their work in the countries in which they were freed; elsewhere they would be regarded as vagabonds, arrested, and put to work on state projects. Unless they found work they would be imprisoned. In these ways planters could keep tight rein on former slaves, who they feared would become troublesome drifters. If the law largely favored planters, at least one provision satisfied abolitionists: not only did the law abolish the trading of slaves across provincial boundaries, but to penalize their owners, it also declared such slaves freed.

See alsoFree Birth Law; Golden Law; Queirós Law; Slave Trade.


Robert Conrad, The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery, 1850–1888 (1972), esp. pp. 210-237.

Additional Bibliography

Butler, Kim D. Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition São Paulo and Salvador. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Graden, Dale Torston. From Slavery to Freedom in Brazil: Bahia, 1835–1900. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Mendonça, Joseli Maria Nunes. Entre a mão e os anéis: A lei dos sexagenários e os caminhos da abolição no Brasil. Campinas: Editora da UNICAMP: CECULT, 1999.

                            Sandra Lauderdale Graham