By Dom Gregory Murray

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The final blow to slavery came on May 13, 1888. Princess Regent Isabel, acting on her father’s behalf, signed the Golden Law, which emancipated the remainder of Brazil’s slaves without compensation to their previous owners. Importantly, although emancipation was lauded by the 5 percent of the population still in bondage, legislation and common social practices severely limited real opportunities for blacks and mulattoes. Many of the same people who had cast a critical eye on the institution of slavery also turned their attentions to the monarchy, which was increasingly seen as an outdated 42 B R A Z I L : A Global Studies Handbook institution.

This possession gave the donataries a number of economic rights, like the collecting of fees. The hope, of course, was that these men would make use of their territories (by exploiting brazilwood, among other things). Fourteen captaincies were granted between 1534 and 1536, but they proved overall unsuccessful. In fact only two—São Vicente (south of present-day São Paulo) and Pernambuco (in the Northeast) were actually successful. In general terms, the failure reflected issues including a lack of experience and resources, internal rifts, and continuous attacks by indigenous groups.

This was clearly the case with the discovery of Brazil. Along with the state, the Catholic Church was one of the main institutions involved in the colonization of Brazil. Catholicism, not surprisingly, was recognized as the state religion. In very general terms the church was subordinate to the state in Brazil—it was in charge of people’s everyday lives and behavior, and it also aided in ensuring obedience to the state. In the very early days of settlement there were a number of Franciscan and secular priests meeting the needs of the settlers.

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