Slaves and Land between Possession and Titles
The Social Construction of Property Law in Brazil, 1843–1883
This research project is being carried out at the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte and in conjunction with the graduate law program at the Universidade de São Paulo. Its main purpose is to identify the role of “property titles” in the acquisition of slaves and land ownership in nineteenth century Brazil. In this study, the expression “property titles” has a historical, conceptual meaning and designates the kinds of documents that specified, with judicial value, an object of property and its respective owner. Historically, “property titles” were different from “possessory acts” (that is, the factual relationship between a person and a thing that, under certain conditions, generates legal recognition of property rights). Thus, in this research, “property titles” and “possessory acts” are historical concepts that translate the abstract opposition between a modern legal conception for which the “property titles” were the sublime formal expression of property rights, and a traditional legal conception for which the “possessory acts” constituted the objective manifestations of a property right to be legally recognized. The identification of the concrete multiplicity of document types embraced by the category “property titles” and a stricter legal treatment of this expression constitutes one of the research goals.
The main objective of this research consist of four secondary aims: a) to distinguish the different documents used as property titles in nineteenth century Brazil and to analyze its regulations; b) to expose the proposals and doctrinal arguments for the introduction of property titles in Brazilian law; c) to describe the different ways of proving ownership – by “property titles” or by “possessory acts” – in the course of legal proceedings; and d) to investigate the relationship between the introduction of property titles in Brazilian law and seizure practices of land and slaves.
It should also be noted that the problem of latent illegality of property acquisition approaches slave and land issues. Thus, this research adopts a unifying perspective of slave and land issues and will seek to deepen their academic understanding by investigating how property titles acted in a context of widespread practices of irregular acquisition of slaves and land.
Moreover, slave and land issues were related to a broader process of legal modernization that consolidated titles as the main form to acquire property in Brazil. Therefore, this research will place the specific discussions concerning slaves and land properties within the broader framework of the modernization of property law debates in Brazil. As such, this research will also contribute to a better understanding of the legal modernization process since it will approach an important aspect of the transition from traditional property to modern property: property rights individualization by the issuance of titles.