André Pinto Rebouças was born in the town of Cachoeira, on the coast of Bahia, on 3 January 1838, the oldest son of Antônio Pereira Rebouças and Carolina Pinto Rebouças.
Despite racial prejudice, his father, a mulatto, was an important and prestigious man at the time. Self-taught to read and write, he had been granted the right to practice law throughout the country, represented Bahia in the House of Representatives on a range of legislature, was secretary of the Provincial Governorship of Sergipe, advisor to the Empire, and had received the title of Knight of the Imperial Order of the cross in 1823.
André Rebouças was always very discreet when it came to his colour and the prejudice he suffered. On few occasions did he ever speak about the subject, and there are almost no references to the problem in his diary, which has been used by researchers as an important source of historical information.
In February 1846, his family moved from Bahia to Rio de Janerio, where André attended several schools, always obtaining good grades, until he entered the Military School (since renamed Centre and, later, Polytechnic, in Largo de São Francisco) finishing his basic studies in 1857 and being promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of the Engineering Corps.
He obtained his degree in Physical Sciences and Mathematics in 1859 from the Escola de Aplicação da Praia Vermelha, and achieved the rank of military engineer in December 1860.
From February 1861 to November 1862, Rebouças and his brother Antônio, also an engineer, went to Europe on a study holiday. Upon returning to Brazil, both were commissioned by the Brazilian state to work on the upgrading and redevelopment of ports and coastal fortifications, which were considered strategic for the defence of Brazilian sovereignty.
Rebouças was sent to the war against Paraguay in a military engineering capacity, where he remained from May 1865 to June 1886, when he had to return to Rio de Janeiro for health reasons.
He was director of the Rio de Janeiro Customs Dock Company from 1866 to 1871, working on the elaboration of technical projects for new ports, including Cabedelo, Paraíba, Maranhão, Recife, and Salvador, and also on the water-storage project for the city of Rio de Janeiro during the drought of 1870. In 1871, he took up the post of director of the Pedro II Dock Company.
He participated in the Paraná-Mato Grosso (Princesa Isabel) railway construction project, the Paraíba railway (Conde d’Eu) and the Companhia Florestal Paranaense (Paraná Forest Company).
In the 1880s, he was part of the abolitionist campaign, along with Joaquim Nabuco, with whom he exchanged a significant amount of correspondence which can be found in the arquivo de documentos textuais (textual documents achive), at the Centro de Documentação e de Estudos da História Brasileira (Cehibra) (Centre of Documentation and Brazilian Historical Studies), of Fundação Joaquim Nabuco.
Rebouças participated in the creation of several anti-slavery societies, such as the Sociedade Brasileira contra a Escravidão (Brazilian Society against Slavery), the Sociedade Abolicionista (Abolitionist Society) and the Sociedade Central de Imigração (Central Society of Immigration).
As an abolitionist, he not only contributed intellectually to the abolitionist ideology, but also in the effective actions of the movement. His progressive and liberal vision made him oppose all types of slavery, not just black slavery, fighting against the “re-enslaving of immigrants by landowners”. He was one of the few abolitionists who foresaw the deepest implications of the elimination of slave-labour. To him, “slavery is not only a name but in fact the exploitation through work of the desperate without having to pay a salary, or paying the barest minimum so they don’t die of hunger […] Demeaning and minimising salaries is re-enslaving”[...]
He defended the emancipation and reintegration of slaves through the acquisition of their own land. To him, the key to the transformation of Brazilian agriculture was changing the systems of land-ownership.
These ideas were put forward in his most famous book, Agricultura nacional, estudos econômicos: propaganda abolicionista e democrática (National Agriculture, Economic Studies: Abolitionist and Democratic Propaganda). He wanted to implement in Brazil what he called Brazilian Rural Democracy. His statement: “Whoever owns the land owns Man.” summarised his attitude towards social problems of the 19th century, as well as giving an insight into his way of thinking.
André Rebouças was held in in extremely high regard by Dom Pedro II. In the period between the Abolition of Slavery, 13 May 1888, and the Proclamation of the Republic, 15 November 1889, the emperor assigned him important roles, as he had been deeply involved with the political events of the country.
Monarchist and personal friend of Emperor Pedro II, Rebouças could not accept the implantation of a republican regime and decided to follow the royal family into exile. He left the country on 16 November 1889, with the royal familiy, on the speedy and luxurious steamer Alagoas, destined for Europe.
From 7 December 1889 to 24 April 1891, he lived in Lisbon. He wrote for the newspaper Gazeta de Portugal, where with his critical and scathing style he wrote against the new regime that had been implemented in Brazil. He was also a correspondent of The Times of London.
At the request of Pedro II, who knew that he was in his final days, Rebouças travelled to Cannes in France to meet him, staying with him from 28 April until 2 May 1891.
Even after the death of Dom Pedro II, Rebouças never returned to Portugal and it is not clear why he chose not to. He remained in France until January 1892, a few days after the death of the former Brazilian emperor on 5 December 1891, going to work in Luanda, the capital of Angola, in Africa, where he only stayed for 15 months. In 1893 he decided to live permanently in Funchal, the capital of the island of Madeira.
Greatly affected by exile and in a precarious state of health, he died on 9 May 1898. His body was retrieved from the base of an approximately 60-metre-high cliff near the hotel where he lived.
On 18 June his remains arrived from Madeira and were solemnly taken by boat from the National Docks to Botafogo beach, and from there on foot to the São João Batista Cemetery, in Rio de Janeiro, where they were entombed.
Recife, 9 December 2004.
Updated on 20 August 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
CARVALHO, Maria Alice Rezende de. O quinto século: André Rebouças e a construção do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Revan: IUPERJ-Universidade Cândido Mendes, 1998. 256 p.
JUCÁ, Joselice. André Rebouças: reforma & utopia no contexto do Segundo Império: quem possui a terra possui o homem. Rio de Janeiro: Odebrecht, 2001. 208 p.
______. A questão abolicionista na visão de André Rebouças. Cadernos de Estudos Sociais, Recife, v. 4, n. 2, p. 207-218, jul./dez. 1988.
how to quote this text
Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. André Rebouças. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.