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Joaquim Nabuco – Anti Slavery Campaigner and First Brazilian Ambassador to the USA

February 11, 2009
Joaquim Nabuco (1902)

Joaquim Nabuco (1902)

Joaquim Aurélio Barreto Nabuco de Araújo (born in Recife in 1849 and died in Washington, D.C., in 1910) was a Brazilian writer and statesman.

He was the son of a wealthy landowner, Jose Thomas Nabuco (1813-1878), who was also a major political figure in the Brazilian Empire, becoming a lifetime senator and counselor of state. Jose established the Liberal Party in 1868 and supported reforms that would lead to the eventual abolition of slavery. (Richard Graham, “Joaquim Nabuco, Conservative Historian” in Luso-Brazilian Review, 1980.)

Like his father, Joaquim vehemently opposed slavery, which he fought by political activity and in his writings. He campaigned against slavery in the Chamber of Deputies from 1878, and he founded the Brazilian Anti-Slavery Society. He was largely responsible for the abolition of slavery in 1888, but his reasons for doing so were less than egalitarian. He opposed slavery, not only because it “Africanized” Brazil, but also because he believed that it slowed Brazil’s progress towards civilization and modernity. He is quoted as saying, “Free labor and slave labor cannot coexist, and neither can slavery and immigration”. (Citation: Sales Augusto dos Santos, translated by Laurence Hallewell, “Historical Roots of the ‘Whitening’ of Brazil” in the journal Latin American Perspectives, 2002.) Like many of his elite counterparts, Nabuco believed that slavery would discourage European immigration into Brazil, thus retarding the process of “whitening.”

His best known work is his autobiography Minha formação (My education), published in 1900. It vividly portrays the slave holding society in 19th century Brazil.

After the overthrow of the Brazilian monarchy, he retired from public life for a period of time.

He later became the first Brazilian Ambassador to the United States (1905–1910), which marked a significant shift in his country’s role on the world stage. Nabuco realized the importance to Brazil, and other South American nations, of developing a close relationship with North America. In Washington, he worked with Elihu Root, who also supported this idea of Pan-Americanism.

Pan America Union Building, Washington, D.C.

Pan America Union Building, Washington, D.C.


As an advocate of the idea of Pan-Americanism, he travelled to both England and France and presided over the 1906 Pan-Americanism conference. The Pan-American building in Washington was completed after Nabuco’s death on January 17, 1910. At the dedication ceremony, the Secretary of State said the following words about him: One voice that should have spoken here today is silent, but many of us cannot forget or cease to mourn and to honor our dear and noble friend, Joaquim Nabuco. Ambassador from Brazil, dean of the American diplomatic corps, respected, admired, trusted, loved and followed by all of us, he was a commanding figure in the international movement of which the creation of this building is part…” (Citation: Ronald Hilton and Alexander Wyse, Reviewed Work: ‘”The Life of Joaquim Nabuco” by Carolina Nabuco’ in the journal of The Americas, 1950.)

Joaquim Nabuco Memorial, Recife

Joaquim Nabuco Memorial, Recife

In downtown Recife today, we find Joaquim Nabuco square, the centerpiece of which is a monument to Nabuco. The statue, in Art Nouveau style , is thought to have been designed by João Bereta de Carrara. This square is visited during Tour 2 of the Recife Guide Walking Tours.

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