1902 Encyclopedia > Slavery > Slave Trade: Cuba; Brazil.

(Part 20)


Slave Trade: Cuba; Brazil.

The Spanish slave code, promulgated in 1789, is admitted on all hands to have been very humane in its character ; and, in consequence of this, after Trinidad had become an English possession, the anti-slavery party resisted—and successfully—the attempt of the planters (1811) to have the Spanish law in that island replaced by the British. But, notwithstanding this mildness of the code, so habitually and glaringly were its provisions violated in the colonies of Spain, that Dr R. R. Madden, who had personal knowledge of the affairs of Cuba, declared in 1840 that "slavery in Cuba was more destructive to human life, more pernicious to society, degrading to the slave and debasing to the master, more fatal to health and happiness, than in any other slaveholding country on the face of the habitable globe." "It is in Cuba at this day," wrote Cairnes in 1862, ". . . that we see in the servile class the coarsest fare, the most exhausting and unremitting toil, and even the absolute destruction of a portion of its numbers every year by the slow torture of overwork and insufficient sleep and rest." The slave population of the island was estimated in 1792 at 84,000 ; in 1817 at 179,000 ; in 1827 at 286,000 ; and in 1843 at 436,000. An Act was passed by the Spanish legislature in 1870, providing that every slave who had then passed, or should thereafter pass, the age of sixty should be at once free, and that all yet unborn children of slaves should also be free. The latter, however, were to be maintained at the expense of the proprietors up to their eighteenth year, and during that time to e kept, as apprentices, to such work as was suitable for their age. This is known as the Moret Law, having been carried through the house of re resentatives by Señior Moret y Prendergast, then minister for the colonies. By the census of 1867 there was in Cuba a total population of 1,370,211 persons, of whom 764,750 were whites and 605,461 black or coloured. ; and of the latter number 225,938 were free and 379,523 were slaves. In 1873 the Cubans roughly estimated the population at 1,500,000,—of whom 500,000, or one-third, were slaves. Mr Crowe, consul-general in the island, has lately (1885) stated that "the institution is rapidly dying,—that in a year, or at most two, slavery, even in its present mild form, will be extinct."

There was a convention between Great Britain and Brazil in 1826 for the abolition of the slave trade, but it was habitually violated in spite of the English cruisers. In 1830 the traffic was declared piracy by the emperor of Brazil. England asserted by the Aberdeen Act (1845) the right of seizing suspected craft in Brazilian waters. Yet by the connivance of the local administrative authorities 54,000 Africans continued to be annually imported. In 1850 the trade is said to have been decisively put down. The planters and mine proprietors cried out against this as a national calamity. The closing of the traffic made the labour of the slaves more severe, and led to the employment on the plantations of many who before had been engaged in domestic work ; but the slavery of Brazil has always been lighter than that of the United States. On 28th September 1871 the Brazilian chambers decreed that slavery should be abolished throughout the empire. Though existing slaves were to remain slaves still, with the exception of those possessed by the Government, who were liberated by the Act, facilities for emancipation were given ; and it was provided that all children born of female slaves after the day on which the law passed should be free. They were, however, bound to serve the owners of their mothers for a term of 21 years. A clause was inserted to the effect that a certain sum should be annually set aside from fines to aid each province in emancipating slaves by purchase. Seven years before the passing of this Act the emperor, whose influence has always been exerted in favour of freedom, had liberated his private slaves, and many Brazilians after 1871 followed his example. According to the census of 1835 there were then in Brazil 2,100,000 slaves. It was estimated that at the beginning of 1875 there were not more than 1,476,567. But in 1884 they are spoken of as 3,000,000 in number. A gradual separation has been for some time taking place between the parts of the country in which slave labour is used and the free-labour regions. Slavery is being concentrated in the districts between Maranhão and São Paulo. In 1880 the deputy Joachim Nabuco, leader of the anti-slavery movement, obtained leave to introduce a bill for a more rapid liberation of slaves than was attainable under the law of 1871, and for the final extinction of slavery in Brazil by 1st January 1890. The Government, however, refused to sanction the further progress of the bill; but the question has since become again of present political interest, being the principal subject of discussion in the parliament which opened 1st March 1885. A bill has been passed, known as the Saraiva Law, on which we cannot yet form a definitive judgment, but which is understood to have disappointed the expectations of the abolitionists. It is said to provide exorbitant compensation for the slave-owners ; and, although slaves over 60 years of age are to obtain their freedom, it appears that all slaves, on being set free, as well as the indentured children of slaves, are to remain three years longer with their masters at very low wages, the planters thus practically receiving an additional indemnity.

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