At the outset of this impressive work Jeffrey Needell explains that, despite its quality and extent, the existing literature on Brazilian slave emancipation fails to focus on the vital interaction between social movement and elite politics that eventually allowed plantation slavery, after 300 years, to be legally suppressed in 1888. The Brazilian empire was a constitutional monarchy providing space for contestation and negotiation. Needell urges that “social history” fails to explain the seesaw advance and retreat of the abolitionists' “Sacred Cause.” Supplying the missing dimension, he has scoured the newspapers and magazines, the diaries and private correspondence of the Brazilian political class to chart its very reluctant retreat in the face of an increasingly bold, and increasingly Afro-Brazilian, antislavery movement. As the subtitle makes clear, Needell's account is centrally focused on Rio de Janeiro, the empire's capital. Given the empire's great size...

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