Since the middle of the 19th century, monarchy has shown its disposition to approve abolitionist projects. Amidst the increasing violence in conflicts between slaves and masters, the Free Womb Law (1871) and the Sexagenarian Law (1885) sought to maintain the great agrarian production and preserve social order.
This process caused the growth of slave masters’ opposition, who joined the republican ranks. By drifting away from those, the monarchy prepared to build a new base for legitimacy aligned with emerging groups (such as urban middle sectors) and general expectations of the population. To that end, it made great investments in advertising that would associate the abolition to an action taken exclusively by Princess Isabel. A kind of monarchist fever of cultural and religious nature was disseminated at that moment. Making use of concepts of royalty inherited from Africa, it was natural for blacks to adopt such idea of abolition as the redemption granted by monarchy. It was spread within popular culture circuits, strengthened for its mystical and africanized character.
After the fall of the monarchy, the Republic tried to connect to the memory of the abolition. Its main argument was the army’s refusal to capture runaway slaves. In that way they claimed the recognition of military republicans as abolition agents and redeemers of the free country. In school books, the history of abolition extolled Silva Jardim and Deodoro da Fonseca as republican heroes. At Abolition official celebrations, May 13 and November 15 were presented as complementary dates in the same process of modernizing the country, milestones of a new era that has made full citizenship possible, opening Brazil’s doors to progress and civilization. In addition, they connected the monarchy to slavery and a backward country, besides removing Princess Isabel’s name from the process of approving the project converted into a law.
But the strategy did not win the freedmen and African descendants. There was bloodshed and resistance attempts after the proclamation of the Republic. The new regime was haunted by mass shootings, beatings of blacks loyal to their “Redeemer”, arrests and deportation of leaders of the Black Guard (a kind of militia organized to defend the monarchy and Princess Isabel), and conflicts with former slaves who refused to work for republican farmers. Many blacks convinced that they owed their freedom to the crown, would become martyrs for the monarchy. As a consequence, they were forgotten by the Republic.
ROBERT DAIBERT JÚNIOR IS A PROFESSOR AT THE CENTER FOR HIGH STUDIES OF JUIZ DE FORA AND AUTHOR OF ISABEL, A “REDENTORA” DOS ESCRAVOS: UMA HISTÓRIA DA PRINCESA ENTRE OLHARES NEGROS E BRANCOS (1846-1988). (BAURU: EDITORA DO SAGRADO CORAÇÃO - EDUSC, 2004).
(RHBN. No. 32. May 2008. P. 21)