Twenty-one political pamphlets that were distributed in the provinces of Rio de Janeiro, Maranhão, Pernambuco, Bahia, and Grão-Pará are gathered in the book Vozes do Brasil: A linguagem política na Independência (1820–1824) (Voices of Brazil: The political language in Independence, 1820–1824). Released by the Federal Senate at the end of last year, the book was put together by Heloísa Maria Murgel Starling and Marcela Telles Elian de Lima, two historians from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). A digital version can be accessed for free on the Senate’s online bookstore. The pamphlets are part of a collection of 135 leaflets related to the Independence of Brazil that were stored in the private library of Pernambuco diplomat and historian Manuel de Oliveira Lima (1867–1928).
In 1916, Oliveira Lima donated his entire collection of about 40,000 books, documents, maps, and works of art to the Catholic University of America, located in Washington, DC, USA, where it has remained ever since (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue nº 266). “Oliveira Lima used to buy pamphlets from auction houses and second-hand bookstores in Europe and Brazil. They were not transcribed in the book Voices of Brazil, instead reproduced in full so that readers can see what the printed material really looked like,” explains Brazilian sociologist and political scientist Nathalia Henrich, director of the Oliveira Lima Library and author of the book O antiamericano que não foi: Os Estados Unidos na obra de Oliveira Lima (The anti-American that wasn’t: The United States in the work of Oliveira Lima; EdiPUCRS, 2021), which was based on her doctoral thesis at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).
The book joins publications such as Guerra literária: Panfletos políticos da Independência – 1820-1823 (Literary war: Political pamphlets of the Independence – 1820–1823), organized by historians José Murilo de Carvalho, Lucia Maria Bastos Pereira das Neves, and Marcello Basile (Editora da UFMG, 2014). The four-volume compendium, which is now out of print, has just been digitized and is freely available on the Brazilian National Library website. It contains 362 leaflets that were circulated primarily in Rio de Janeiro, but also in the provinces of Bahia, Pernambuco, and Maranhão, as well as in Portugal. “These pamphlets, which were handwritten or printed, addressed the political events of the time. They were ephemeral, with no specific frequency, and they used virulent and passionate language, starting with the striking headings,” explains Bastos, from the Department of History at Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ).
About 80% of the documents in the collection came from the National Library, in Rio de Janeiro, collected over almost two decades of research by the organizers. “We selected pamphlets that were not written by the official authorities. These documents, most of which were written anonymously, are fundamental to understanding the independence process in Brazil because they represent sentiments outside the official line, which sometimes masks reality,” says Bastos. According to the specialist, the pamphlets came in various different formats: they can comprise a single page or compilations of up to 50 pages. “They were cheaper and more manageable than newspapers, and reached a wide audience,” he adds.
According to Cecília Helena de Salles Oliveira, a historian from the Paulista Museum at the University of São Paulo (MP-USP), the approach was possible in Brazil, despite most of the population being illiterate at the time, thanks to shared readings. “Not just political pamphlets but also newspapers were read aloud in popular areas, such as taverns, public squares, and fountains,” says the specialist, who has studied the subject since the 1980s.
The use of this form of communication was not exactly a surprise in the Luso-Brazilian political landscape, writes Starling in Voices of Brazil. “At the time of Portuguese America, pamphlets quickly circulated during many of the revolts that broke out with impressive regularity in the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century. […] Defamatory, pornographic, or satirical pamphlets, were also distributed as acts of provocation through the colonial territory. The Portuguese Inquisition began documenting them between 1587 and 1591. In 1789, the year of the Inconfidência Mineira separatist movement, the political situation worsened and inflammatory manuscripts—allegedly written by quilombolas [escaped slaves and their descendants]—began circulating in the town of Mariana, taking the population and authorities by surprise: ‘Everyone belonging to the empire must die. Only a few old people and clergymen will remain,’ they threatened,” says the researcher. The pamphlet Cartas chilenas (Chilean letters) was distributed in the same era, attributed to the poet Tomás Antônio Gonzaga (1744–1810) and possibly written between 1786 and 1789 in collaboration with poet Cláudio Manuel da Costa (1729–1789). Both were prominent figures in the Inconfidência Mineira movement (1789–1792).
Giving a voice to different perspectives
The circulation of political pamphlets and newspapers reached its heyday in the early 1820s in both Brazil and Portugal. According to historian Marcelo Cheche Galves of the State University of Maranhão (UEMA), this was due to the Liberal Revolution of 1820, which began in the city of Porto. “In response to the demands of the movement, the first constitution of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves was drafted the following year. The document established the end of prior restraint, ushering in the freedom of the press,” says the researcher and author of the book Ao público sincero e imparcial: Imprensa e Independência na província do Maranhão (1821-1826) (To the sincere and impartial public: The press and independence in the province of Maranhão [1821–1826]), released in 2015 by Editora UEMA and Café&Lápis. “It is estimated that more than 80 periodicals and more than 500 political pamphlets were printed on both sides of the Atlantic between 1821 and 1823. The freedom to print created public opportunities for political representation, which gave voice to different perspectives, even if restricted to the world of the haves,” continues Galves.
It had been possible to produce printed material in Brazil since 1808, with the arrival of the Portuguese Court in Rio de Janeiro. “But between 1808 and 1821, pamphlets and periodicals were scrutinized by the Royal Press,” says Oliveira. This was the case, for example, with Gazeta do Rio de Janeiro, a newspaper that began circulating that year and closed in 1822. “Supposedly printed by individuals, it was really the court’s newspaper and only published news that interested the Portuguese monarchical government,” reports Brazilian political scientist and historian Isabel Lustosa from the Humanities Center at NOVA University Lisbon. Also in print at the time—with the crown’s permission—were the newspapers O Patriota (1813–1814) in Rio de Janeiro and A Idade d’Ouro no Brasil in Bahia, which was founded in 1811 with the approval of the province’s governor and Count of Arcos, Marcos de Noronha e Brito (1771–1828).
The exception was Correio Braziliense, also called Armazém Literário, a Portuguese-language publication intended for readers in Brazil that was started in England in 1808. “It was edited by Hipólito da Costa [1774–1823], a Brazilian who studied at the University of Coimbra but was forced to flee Portugal as a result of his Masonic connections. He eventually settled in London in around 1806,” says Lustosa, author of the book O jornalista que imaginou o Brasil – Tempo, vida e pensamento de Hipólito da Costa (1774-1823) (The journalist who imagined Brazil – The life, times, and thoughts of Hipólito da Costa [1774–1823]), released in 2019 by Editora da Unicamp. “The newspaper, published monthly, took about three months to reach Brazil, depending on maritime conditions. Since it wasn’t authorized by the crown, it was circulated in the provinces clandestinely.”
According to the expert, Hipólito da Costa was a supporter of so-called enlightened reform. “As a monarchist, he argued that institutions should be reformed, but without removing the sovereign power of the king. When he found out that the Portuguese Court was moving to Rio de Janeiro, he saw an opportunity to defend his idea of a Luso-Brazilian empire based in Brazil and created the newspaper that same year,” explains Lustosa. “Its articles criticized provincial governors and ministers of the court, but never Dom João VI (1767–1826). Many were actually criticisms that the Prince Regent himself, who would become king in 1816, would have liked to have made. There were moments of repression, with copies occasionally seized, but in general the court turned a blind eye to its illegal circulation.”
As a result, the newspaper obtained a secret subsidy from the crown in 1812, according to Lustosa. Until then it was maintained by subscriptions and the sponsorship of a group of Portuguese businessmen based in England with commercial interests in Brazil. With a print run of 500 copies, the periodical aimed to spread liberal ideas in the country, for example by demanding an end to the commercial monopoly and wider access to education. “One of the newspaper’s great merits was that it helped create a political culture among Brazil’s elites. Its articles caused many readers to begin questioning the political order in the country,” explains Lustosa. Another of its major contributions, he says, was that it forged the idea of a nation, which did not exist in Brazil at the time. “Through a network of correspondents, the newspaper reported on events in several provinces, such as the opening of a post office in Ceará or a library in Rio Grande do Sul,” says the researcher.
With the freedom of the press, typography spread throughout Brazil. “When the crown was in charge, there were just two newspapers in Brazil: one based in Rio de Janeiro, the other in Bahia. But from 1821 onward, dozens of public and private presses were opened. Another three outlets emerged in Rio de Janeiro alone, as well as others in provinces such as Pernambuco, Maranhão, and Grão-Pará,” says Oliveira. “Those who had money, including people involved in the slave trade, turned to this type of enterprise alongside other business interests.”
In his master’s thesis “Origins of the press in Brazil: Prosopographic study of the editors of periodicals published between 1808 and 1831,” funded by FAPESP, historian Luís Otávio Vieira of USP’s School of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences analyzed 29 figures to outline the profile of newspaper editors and writers in the early nineteenth century. He used a method known as prosopography, which involves the systematization and collation of collective biographical data. Rio de Janeiro was home to the largest number of authors in the study (seven), but there were also plentiful examples in other provinces, such as Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Paraíba, and Goiás. In Goiás, the first press only arrived in 1830, used to print the newspaper Matutino Meiapontense, edited by Father Fleury (1793–1846).
The study found that the editors and writers, all male, were generally from wealthy families. “Fourteen of them were the children of merchants or landowners,” says Vieira. This was true of Joaquim Gonçalves Ledo (1781–1847) and Januário da Cunha Barbosa (1780–1846), the pair in charge of the oppositionist newspaper Revérbero Constitucional Fluminense that circulated between 1821 and 1822, whose parents amassed large fortunes in Rio de Janeiro. Similarly, Felipe Patroni (1798–1866), one of the editors of O Paraense (1822), was a descendant of Pedro Manuel Parente, leader of the captaincy of Pará and commander of the Order of São Bento de Avis. “In the early nineteenth century, the production of periodicals was not accessible to individuals from less prestigious social strata—the common people,” says Vieira. “At the same time, most of these periodical editors and writers had money, but they did not belong to the nobility with closest ties to the Portuguese Court and saw the press as a way of expanding their social and political power.”
The strategy had its drawbacks. Ledo and Barbosa, for example, were exiled because of their stance against the government, vocalized by their newspaper. Clergyman and politician Friar Caneca (1779–1825), who ran the newspaper Thypis Pernambuco (1823–1824), was executed in 1825. “In 1824, he was one of the most active names in the Confederation of the Equator, which among other aims, sought greater autonomy for the province of Pernambuco,” says Vieira. “There was a lot of arguing. The atmosphere was tense. Sometimes, heated discussions left the pages of the periodicals, with editors beaten up in the street, or worse,” says Galves.
Even before 1822, newspapers and pamphlets rarely addressed the possibility of Brazil becoming independent. “There was a lot of discussion about Brazil’s autonomy in relation to Portugal. The public were polled on controversial issues such as whether Prince Regent Pedro [1798–1834] should return to Portugal or stay in Brazil,” continues Galves. “Discussions over independence really heated up in 1822.” And there was no consensus. “In general, newspapers in Rio de Janeiro argued that Dom Pedro should remain in Brazil, since the province had benefited greatly from the court’s presence, drawing political power and public resources,” explains Lustosa. According to Galves, the situation was different in the northern provinces, such as Maranhão and Pernambuco. “The benefits of direct trade with England, an ally of Portugal, did not offset the costs of keeping the court in Rio de Janeiro. When freedom of the press was established, these divergences of interest exploded,” says the researcher.
According to UERJ’s Bastos, there was an intense dialogue between newspapers and pamphlets. “Both were battlegrounds in the midst of the effervescence of the era. The letters sections of the newspapers, which may or may not actually have been sent by readers, echoed the virulent tone of the pamphlets, for example,” says Bastos. “Newspapers sometimes included separate leaflets. And it wasn’t unusual for newspaper editors to also write pamphlets. Not to mention that booksellers in Brazil ran advertisements in newspapers informing people when leaflets were arriving from Portugal.” According to Oliveira of the Paulista Museum, these documents invite us to revise some of our assumptions about Brazil’s independence. “This printed material undermines the belief that the clashes were limited to alleged confrontations between the colony and the homeland. The pamphlets show that the process included freed slaves, small landowners, and women, who even wrote some political texts,” he points out.
Origins of the press in Brazil: Prosopographic study of the editors of periodicals published between 1808 and 1831 (nº 16/12566-7) Grant Mechanism Master’s (MSc) Fellowship; Supervisor João Paulo Garrido Pimenta (USP); Beneficiary Luís Otávio Vieira; Investment R$50,077.83.
BASILE, M. et al. Guerra literária: Panfletos políticos da Independência – 1820-1823. Belo Horizonte: Editora da UFMG, 2014.