Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

"Princely Offspring of Braganza": The "Brazil Plan" for Portugal and the Miscarriage of British Abolition, 1806-1815

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

"Princely Offspring of Braganza": The "Brazil Plan" for Portugal and the Miscarriage of British Abolition, 1806-1815

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

THE WORLD ANTI-SLAVERY CONVENTION IN 1840 ASSEMBLED VETERANS OF Britain's abolitionist movement like Thomas Clarkson, who despite serious illness and personal tragedy continued to work on behalf of "the great cause" at age 81; (1) younger, more radical recruits like David Turnbull, who in 1843 became implicated in the Escalera uprising of enslaved Afro-Cubans; and society adherents like Lady Byron. Works like Thomas Buxton's The African Slave Trade and the Remedy for It (1840) globalized the goals of the movement, setting its agenda for the rest of the nineteenth century. In a review of Buxton's book, however, Lord Henry Brougham, the formidable lawyer, politician, and intellectual who co-founded the Edinburgh Review, and who in 1840 was, as Clarkson noted, "one of the oldest abolitionists alive except myself," (2) felt the need to defend the abolitionists' record. (3) Despite the abolition of slavery in British Atlantic colonies, Brougham lamented the exponential expansion of the slave trade in the South Atlantic. Numbers tell the story: in 1807, 9,689 enslaved persons were disembarked in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; by 1810, the number had increased 100% to 18,677. In 1829, the number of enslaved persons trafficked through Rio had grown by 500% to 47,630. (4)

Brougham traced the failure of British abolitionist policy in the South Atlantic to the Congress of Vienna, in which "Those who could dictate, or nearly dictate the terms of that peace, were wholly without an interest in the slave question." He wrote:

It is painful to reflect on the opportunity which was lost in 1814, and
still more in 1815, and which is not likely ever to be again presented,
of obtaining the concurrence of the different powers.... Spain and
Portugal were alone deeply concerned in maintaining it, and were more
completely at the mercy of Allies who brought the war to a successful
termination, than any dynasties nominally independent ever were in
modern times.... Had the Congress foreseen that upwards of two hundred
thousand Africans yearly would be carried into slavery by the
miscreants who use the flag of these two feeble powers, it would have
assuredly come to a resolution, that slave trading is a crime against
the law of nations, and should be treated as a piratical offense. (5)

In the two hundred years of British annals on the victory over Napoleon, which placed Britain at the center of the new European order, Brougham's reflection stands out for its construction of post-Waterloo not as victory, but as an "opportunity which was lost." A doleful tone prevails throughout instead of the usual panegyric: in retrospect, he finds it "painful to reflect," and depicts Waterloo clinically as the "successful termination" of war. More significantly, by framing 1814-1815 as a lost opportunity, Brougham posits an unacknowledged intersection between the Peninsular War, the Congress of Vienna, and the continuation of Atlantic Slavery in the second half of the nineteenth century. (6)

This essay analyzes how Britain's role in the transportation of the Braganzas, the royal family of Portugal, to Brazil in 1807 facilitated Britain's "Brazil plan," as Brougham called it. (7) While it is clear from historical and critical accounts that the transfer of the Portuguese court fulfilled a longstanding idea in Portugal and saved the royal family from Napoleon, British interventionist support of the court's transfer de facto legitimized the transposition of the slave trade and slavery south of the Equator as part of the strategy for the transoceanic and transnational pan-Atlantic system of Britain's material, geopolitical, and cultural interrelations between Africa and the Luso-Hispanic Americas. Historians have started to consider the interrelation among these events through Spain's liberal 1812 constitution, the more progressive legislation of Spanish American republics in contrast with Spain, and the abolitionist networks between Spanish and British intellectuals such as Joseph Blanco White and Richard Robert Madden. …

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