Lei Áurea (Golden Law)
The Lei Áurea (Golden Law), adopted on May 13, 1888, was the law that abolished slavery in Brazil. It was signed by Isabel, Princess Imperial of Brazil (1846–1921), an opponent of slavery, who acted as regent to Emperor Dom Pedro II, who was in Europe.
The Lei Áurea was preceded by the Rio Branco Law of September 28, 1871 (“the Law of Free Birth”), which freed all children born to slave parents, and by the Saraiva-Cotegipe Law (also known as “the Law of Sexagenarians”), of September 28, 1885, that freed slaves when they reached the age of 60.
The text of the Lei Áurea was brief:
Art. 1.º: É declarada extinta desde a data desta lei a escravidão no Brasil.
Art. 2.º: Revogam-se as disposições em contrário.
(Article 1: From this date, slavery is declared abolished in Brazil. Article 2: All dispositions to the contrary are revoked.)
The succinctness of the law was intended to make clear that there were no conditions of any kind to the freeing of all slaves. However, it did not provide any support to either freed slaves or their former owners to adjust their lives to their new status: slave owners did not receive any state indemnification, and slaves did not receive any kind of compensation from owners or assistance from the state.
Before the abolition of slavery, slaves were prohibited from owning assets or receiving an education; but after being freed, former slaves were left to make their own way in the world. Without education or political representation, former slaves struggled to gain economic and social status in Brazilian society.
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