In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Abolition

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Reference Works
  • Primary Sources
  • Slave Trade Abolition
  • Brazil
  • Abolitionism

Latin American Studies Abolition
Christopher Schmidt-Nowara
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0002


The abolition of slavery in Latin America took place between the Wars of Independence of the 1810s and 1820s and the 1880s when slavery was finally suppressed in Cuba (in 1886) and Brazil (in 1888). Abolition thus coincided with the fight for (and the formation of) independent states in Latin America in the 19th century. Historians have paid increasing attention to this convergence, moving from economic and legal explanations to a focus on the conflicts not only over slavery but also over political and civil rights in emergent and consolidating national states. Within this broad framework, scholarship has concentrated on various topics, including slave agency, British pressure to suppress the slave traffic from Africa, abolitionism, and the transition from slavery to new labor regimes. In studying abolition, scholars need to keep in mind how much slavery varied across Latin America, including during the century of its demise. In the 19th century, the Wars of Independence in Spanish America, combined with British efforts to abolish the transatlantic slave trade, considerably weakened slaveholders and empowered slaves and supporters of abolition. In contrast, in Brazil and the Spanish Caribbean, the slave trade, which was illegal for much of the era, escalated, and plantation slavery spread at an incredible rate, especially in west-central Cuba and Brazil’s Paraíba Valley. Slavery persisted several decades longer in these places, and the struggles to abolish it were more complex. The scholarship is also more ample, so the reader will note that there are more works on abolition in Cuba and Brazil than in Mexico, Colombia, or other Spanish American countries.

Overviews and Reference Works

The works included here will introduce the reader to the broad sweep of abolition in various frameworks, including regional (Andrews 2004, Clementi 1974, and Klein and Vinson 2007), Atlantic (Blackburn 1988, Geggus 2001, and Scully and Paton 2005), and global (Drescher 2009) frameworks. The researcher will find a guide to primary material in Scott, et al. 2002, while the reader interested in introductions to aspects of Latin American slavery and abolition will find syntheses and bibliographies in Paquette and Smith 2010.

  • Andrews, George Reid. Afro-Latin America, 1800–2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Perhaps the most important synthetic work on slavery and abolition since Tannenbaum’s Slave and Citizen (1946) and one based far more on empirical research than Tannenbaum’s suggestive essay. The first three chapters are remarkable overviews of late colonial slavery, the struggles for independence and abolition, and the democratic potential of post-independence and post-slavery nation-building in Latin America.

  • Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848. London: Verso, 1988.

    Indispensable survey of slavery and antislavery during the Atlantic world’s age of revolution with notable chapters on the Haitian Revolution, the Spanish American revolutions, and British antislavery. Important reflections on the possibilities of democratic revolutions and the links among capitalism, slavery, and antislavery.

  • Clementi, Hebe. La abolición de la esclavitud en América Latina. Buenos Aires: Editorial La Pleyade, 1974.

    Introduction to the topic that surveys slavery in Latin America and the impact of the revolutionary era, and then turns to a chapter-by-chapter summary of events and trends in each country of Latin America, including the last Spanish colonies, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

  • Drescher, Seymour. Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511770555

    Sobering history that analyzes and brings together several instances of mass slavery and the efforts to overcome it, including a chapter on abolition in Latin America. The author concludes by asking the reader to contemplate the persistent legacies of abolitionism.

  • Geggus, David P., ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

    Cogent collection that brings together fifteen chapters asking what impact the Haitian Revolution’s destruction of slavery had on slave societies and metropolitan political centers. The conclusions are wide-ranging. For the scholar of Latin American slavery and abolition there are excellent chapters on Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Colombia.

  • Klein, Hebert S., and Ben Vinson III. African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Informative and accessible survey of the economic, social, and institutional history of slavery in Latin America from the era of Iberian colonization until abolition at the end of the 19th century. The work’s final chapter discusses abolition. Extensive bibliographies here will benefit students of Latin American slavery. This work is the second edition of Klein’s sole-authored 1986 work.

  • Paquette, Robert L., and Mark M. Smith, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Slavery in the Americas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Collection of more than thirty historiographical essays on American slave societies and thematic issues related to the study of slavery and emancipation. Several essays treat abolition and post-emancipation societies. These essays discuss trends in the field and include succinct bibliographies for further reading. A good starting point for students, both undergraduate and graduate.

  • Scott, Rebecca J., Thomas C. Holt, Frederick Cooper, and Aims McGuinness, eds. Societies after Slavery: A Select Annotated Bibliography of Printed Sources on Cuba, Brazil, British Colonial Africa, South Africa, and the British West Indies. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.

    An important and helpful guide to research that started as part of the University of Michigan’s Postemancipation Studies Project, founded in the 1980s. This work emphasizes the study of the transition from slavery to freedom in comparative context. Each section has a general introduction followed by entries for printed primary and secondary sources. An excellent starting point for research on the topic.

  • Scully, Pamela, and Diane Paton, eds. Gender and Slave Emancipation in the Atlantic World. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

    This important collection has a helpful introduction by the editors in which they outline theoretical and historiographical questions in a comparative context. Among the contributions are studies by Michael Zeuske, Ileana Rodríguez-Silva, and Marta Abreu on transitions to freedom in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil and an article by Roger Kittleson on Brazilian abolitionism.

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