Record of historical transformations

Archives of the Assembly show how the State evolved

It is hardly possible for anyone to carry out serious research of Brazilian politics in the Empire and in the first decades of the Republic without consulting the Historical Archives of the Legislative Assembly of the State of São Paulo. It is one of the best sources for documents of the period that runs from 1824, shortly after Independence, up to 9th July 1947, when the Assembly resumed its activities, after being closed for ten years as a consequence of the New State (Getulio Vargas dictatorship from 1937 to 1945). The Assembly also has some extremely rich material on the period from 1947 onwards. But it is kept in the normal archives, not the Historical Archives.

Just in the Historical Archives, the material amounts to 480,000 pages of documents, 90,000 negatives of photographs, 25,000 books, and 10,000 texts of parliamentary amendments, explains Dainis Karepous, of the Division of the Historical Collection of the Assembly. The investment made by FAPESP in the archives was very important for all this to be preserved. It helped, for example, to digitalize 150,000 pages of documents and photographs, and to restore 5,020 books.

The original documents are now in sliding cabinets, which makes them easier to handle and saves space. The Foundation’s support also made it possible to install a computer network, with a server, four workstations, a scanner and three printers. Another venture made possible with the funds from FAPESP was the organization of small exhibitions, specially intended for visits by groups of pupils from public schools.

Prado Júnior
These exhibitions are focused on a theme, usually a period of São Paulo’s history or a particular politician. There is no problem if material from the Historical Archives and from the normal archives are included in the same exhibition. In the next few months, for example, an exhibition will be put on about the writer Caio Prado Júnior, a state representative in 1947 and 1948.”We are now appealing for new funds, to conclude the digitalization of the documents” says Karepous. He explains that digitalization is very important for two reasons: it makes the consultations more agile, and, as there is no more physical contact with the documents, it prolongs their durability. At a later stage, he intends to put all the digitalized material on the Internet, thus making it possible for consultations to be carried out at a distance.

If this happens, it will even be possible to access documents that predate the foundation of the Legislative Assembly, in 1835. The Historical Archives has documents that go back to 1824, when the General Council of the province of São Paulo was organized. In those days, the presidents, or governors, of the province were appointed by the central government. The councils were advisory bodies, made up of 21 members. The councilors could draw up laws, which would be forwarded to the president, but they did not exactly have any legislative powers. These belonged to the members of another body, the General Chamber.

The Legislative Assemblies of the provinces, with legislative powers, were only to be created in the Regency, with the Additional Act of 1834. In those days, São Paulo was much larger than it is today. Its territory covered the whole of the state of Paraná and parts of Santa Catarina. The separation of Paraná was only to take place in 1853. It used to work in a building next door to the governor’s palace, in the Pátio do Colégio, in the center of São Paulo.The deputies would spend more time in their homes and on their farms than in session. Legislative business took only between three and four months a year, usually at the beginning of the year. The Historical Archives holds the records of the parliamentary activity up to 1889, when it was interrupted, with the end of the Empire. Its work would resume in 1891, now in the Republic.

In 1891, the Constituent Assembly decided that the legislative branch of São Paulo would have two chambers, with an Assembly and a state Senate. Each State, at the time, could chose how its parliament was to be. Contrary to the highly centralized administration of the Empire, the new Republic wanted to increase the autonomy of the States. The Old Republic  (from 1889 to 1930) was the scenario for enormous transformations. It was in this period that the population of the state leapt from a little more than 1 million inhabitants at the beginning of the 1890s to 5 million in 1930, 1 million of which in the capital city.

With a still more profound change, São Paulo transformed itself into the most important state in the country. The Republic did away with the earnings requirements for those who wanted to vote. But other restrictions continued: the illiterate, beggars, and a part of the armed forces and clergy were not able to vote. At the beginning, the Assembly had 40 deputies, with a three year mandate, and 20 senators, with a six year mandate. This was soon to change. In 1906, the number of deputies was increased to 50. Senators rose to 24, with a nine-year mandate.

All this movement is reflected in the documents of the Historical Archives. “Up to 1935, the executive branch was forbidden to present projects of law, and all the proposals were born in the Assembly”, Karepous recalls. The parliamentary activity also reflects the changes in the economy. “We have, for example, the documentation of the immigration contracts, carried out on the initiative of Senator Nicolau Vergueiro”, explains the director. On the other hand, there were always emergency projects appearing, drawn up at the last moment, to get round crises over the price of coffee in the international market.

The vote was not mandatory and there was no lack of campaigns to encourage registration, with posters, for example, that mixed São Paulo traditions, such as the bandeirantes- the country explorers – , with touches of modernity, like the skyscrapers that were beginning to arise in the capital and other important cities. The interested person, anyhow, had plenty to present: proof of being at least 21 years old, certificates showing that he lived for over two months (later on, four) in the municipality, and proof that he had means of subsistence. To show that he knew how to read and write, he would write his name and personal details in a special book.

The details in the Historical Archives make it possible to follow the characteristics of the electoral process that nowadays sound odd. For example, the vote was secret, but not obligatorily so – anyone who wanted to, or was pressed to do so, could vote overtly. There were voting booths that were so narrow that the votes piled up on top of each other, making it possible to discover who voted for whom, by the order of voting. And, above all, there was the so-called “degola ” (which can be translated as mass sacking or beheading). Under a law that came from the Empire, but which was used particularly in the First Republic, the results of the elections had to be confirmed by the Assembly itself. Needless to say, many of those elected, regarded as undesirable by the ruling party, saw their careers interrupted before taking office.

But the collection of the archives of the Assembly is not limited to information on politics. An examination of the legislative works gives important information on education, health, and on the major social issues. During the Empire, for example, the Assembly was responsible for dealing with the Indians, which still dominated large tracts of the state. And there are signs of the first popular movements. The inhabitants of a neighborhood who wanted a public school set up in the district organized themselves to prepare a petition, which was then sent to the Assembly with the request.

The Assembly once again suspended its activities in 1930, with the victory of the revolution led by Getúlio Vargas. The legislative branch was only reopened in 1935, to be closed again in 1937, with the advent of the New State. Karepous finds the documentation on these two years extremely significant. On the one hand, some deputies were already beginning to present projects on the initiative of the people, breaking the almost complete domination of the elite over the house. On the other hand, proposals come up that were clearly inspired on corporatism and on the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy.

Anyway, the Historical Archives, even without competing with the normal archives, is a field for studies that goes beyond 1947, when sessions were restarted after the New State. There is, for example, a collection of negatives of photographs on the works of the Assembly, in the period from 1950 to 1992, and copies of the pronouncements made from 1948 to 1996. This covers an important period in Brazilian history, including the return to democracy after the military regime. Add to this the 25 volumes that contain the works of the Legislative Congress, and the whole library of José Carlos Macedo Soares, Minister of Foreign Relations for Getúlio Vargas and Juscelino Kubitschek, received in 1965.