Three key moments have marked the areas of greatest historiographic interest related to the abolition of Brazilian slavery. These moments have been the termination of the slave trade (1831/1850), the Law of the Free Womb (1871), and final emancipation in 1888. The 1888 result is often presented with teleological inevitability, as external diplomatic forces and domestic popular demands forced leading Brazilians to recognize the incompatibility between the continuation of slavery and hopes for national progress.

Joseli M. N. Mendonça rejects such linear causality and, instead, explores the numerous tensions surrounding the parliamentary debates that led to the passage of the 1885 Saraiva-Cotegipe Law. This legislation was much more than the “Law of the Sexagenarians” — for its move to manumit slaves older than 60 — as it is often popularly remembered. The 1885 law also was intended to diminish the ranks of the enslaved slowly, by making liberation increasingly affordable...

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