The Rediscovery of the Recueil

By Kenneth Maxwell

In Rio de Janeiro Tiradentes had pointed to section 8 of the “Constitution de la Republique de Pennsylvania,” and in particular to section 19 of the constitution, which he wanted translated. Section 19 delineated the method of electing the conselho privado from the city and the counties and described the severe limitation on office holding to three years. Xavier Machado said “the content was most special to the Alferes.”

The reference is to the election of the supreme council with executive powers in the Recueil. Xavier Machado also testified that Inácio José de Alvarenga Peixoto had “for two years been writing laws,” and that en route he had met the prisoner, the desembargador Gonzaga, the vicar of São José (Carlos Correia de Toledo), and Alvarenga Peixoto, and it was said that he had also “entered into the same uprising was the same Vicar of São José and the Lieutenant-Colonel of his Regiment, Francisco de Paula Freire de Andrade.”

The section of the constitution of Pennsylvania about which Tiradentes was so “enthusiastic” decreed that because of the limitations placed on the term of office “more men will be trained to public business… and moreover the danger of establishing an inconvenient aristocracy will be effectively prevented.”

The viscount Barbacena in his relatorio of July 11, 1789, his first account to Lisbon, to Martinho de Melo e Castro, of the Minas Conspiracy, had written that Colonel Francisco Antônio de Oliveira Lopes had described that he had heard that “a dozen Brazilian students at Coimbra had joined hands to achieve the independence of their fatherland, but of these only three were now here,” and that Alvarenga Peixoto “had for two years been working on laws of the new government… to which can be added Dr. Jose Álvares Maciel, who had arrived from Lisbon and England, and is for certain one of the Student confederates from Coimbra: one of the most prestigious.”

Barbacena added that “he had always thought that the sentiments, opinions and influence of Brazilian bachareis that return to their fatherland, especially those instructed in political and public rights, the interests of Europe, and with knowledge of the productions of nature, and much more those who passed through foreign universities, as had some done so without sufficient reason, was very risky.” He also said he was investigating whether there had been any correspondence from abroad or any foreign support.

Despite his denunciation of Álvares Maciel and Freire de Andrade in his letter to Melo e Castro, neither was arrested until October 1789. Álvares Maciel remained at the viscount’s home at Cachoeiroa do Campo and the lieutenant-colonel remained in his post as commandant of the Dragoons. They were arrested only by order of the judges sent from Rio de Janeiro by the viceroy, and even then, the arrests were delayed for twenty days.

(Testemunha 20ª, Francisco Xavier Machado, Assentado, 27th June 1789, Vila Rica, casa do Desembargador Pedro José de Araujo de Saldanha, Bacharel José Cetano Cesar Manitti, Autos da Devassa, 1, (1976) 188-191. The Constitution of Pennsylvania, section 19, is translated in the Appenso XXVIII, Coleção das Leis Da Colônias Inglesas Confederadas — in: Autos da Devassa, 3 (1981), 19-135, at 81-84,; “Secção décima nona, O Supremo Conselho” in “Constituição da Republica de Pennsylvania,” Kenneth Maxwell (coord.) O Livro de Tiradentes, 227-229.)

The copy of the Recueil that had been given to the viscount Barbacena in Minas Gerais in May 1789 was brought to Rio de Janeiro when the investigations by the judges of the Alçada were reopened in 1791. The desembargador Saldanha had died April 19, 1791, which meant that José Caetano César Manitti, brought the Minas devassa and related papers with him to Rio in 1791 where they were turned over by the new viceroy, the Conde de Resende, to the head of the Alçada, desembargador Vasconcelos e Sousa, and into the hands of the scribe (escrivão) Francisco Rodrigues da Costa. Manitti was then nominated to be the escrivao auxiliar of the Alcada, where he substituted for the desembargador Marcelino Pereira Cleto, who left to join the high court of Bahia.

The Recueil remained in the archives of the secretary of the Brazilian empire in Rio de Janeiro, “inside a green bag” attached to the documents of the original devassas. In 1860, the copy of the Recueil was removed from the archives and given by the director of the National Library, historian Alexandre José de Mello Moraes, to the public library in the city of Desterro (today Florianópolis) in the southern state of Santa Catarina.

The note written by Mello Moraes on the first page of the Recueil is as follows: “I offer this precious book to the Public Library of Santa Catarina, for being the document number 26. I thought it has been part of the huge process of the Conjuração de Minas, of the Tiradentes. I suppose that this code belongs to the Desembargador Tomas Antônio Gonzaga, or to Dr. Cláudio Manuel da Costa, as a historic process, to be kept, Rio de Janeiro, 30 de Janeiro de 1860.”

(“Introdução histórica,” Autos da Devassa 1 (1976): 17–85; Rui Mourão, Museu da Inconfidência (Sao Paulo: Banco Safra, 1995); Freitas e Souza, “A aquisição do Recueil para o arquivo da Casa do Pilar de Ouro Preto/Museu da Inconfidência”; Rafael de Freitas e Souza, “Combate nas luzes,” 30–40.)

The classification of the Recueil as apenso 26 was made by the escrivão da Alçada, desembargador Francisco Luís Álvares da Rocha. This was the copy of the Recueil appended to the devassa of Minas Gerais as number 26 by Manitti. Mello Moraes had no connection to Santa Catarina; the gift of the Recueil formed part of a collection of books he gave to the newly established provincial library in Desterro.

He described his actions as follows in his Historia do Brasil-Reino e Brasil-Imperial, published in Rio de Janeiro in 1871: “Appended to the original process, I found a copy of the Constitutions of the United States of America, translated into French, which made me know clearly that the revolution of Minas was a reality, and that either already had written ‘constitution’ for the new republic, or was planned, as exist in the American constitutions basis for it.”

(The copy of the Recueil in Mariana, which was brought to Minas Gerais by José Pereira Ribeiro, was borrowed by Luís Vieira da Silva, Gonzaga, and Cláudio Manuel da Costa; see footnote by Tarquínio J. B. de Oliveira, Autos da Devassa 2 (1978): 496. Luiz Carlos Villalta, “Usos Inventivos fo livro e contestação politica: A Inconfidencia Mineira,” in Usos do livro no mundo Luso-Brasileiro sob as Luzes: Reformas, censura, e contestações, 459–509 (Belo Horizonte: Fino Traço Editora, 2015).

The National Library of Rio de Janeiro published the Autos da Devassa, in seven volumes between 1936 and 1938, edited by the library’s director, Rodolfo Garcia. Between 1976 and 1983, the Brazilian Congress and the government of Minas Gerais published a more complete edition of the Autos da Devassa in ten volumes (the eleventh volume was published later).

The language was modernized and supplementary documentation was included with annotations and introductory commentary by the editors—Tarquínio J. B. de Oliveira, a retired businessman, historian, and enthusiast of the Minas Gerais conspiracy, and historian Herculano Gomes Mathias. These volumes also incorporated documents held by the Galveias family, descendants of Martinho de Melo e Castro, purchased at auction in London by the Brazilian government in 1976.

(Notas explicativas, Herculano Gomes Mathias, Autos da Devassa 4:17, 31–39.)

The second volume of the Autos da Devassa, published in 1978, contains a transcription of the frontispiece of the Recueil. Volume 3, with a partial transcription of the text of the Recueil, translated into Portuguese, contains the Declaration of Independence, Harvard’s honorary degree for George Washington, the Articles of Confederation, and the constitutions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia.

The Recueil, at the time of the publication of this volume of the Autos da Devassa in 1978, was still held in Biblioteca Publica de Florianópolis. (There is a photograph of the “Estado atual do livro que pertenceu a Tiradentes” between pages 99 and 100.) The translation in volume 3 attributes the footnotes made on the constitution of the republic of Pennsylvania to Régnier, though they were in fact made by Benjamin Franklin.

In September 1981, Professor Delson Gonçalves Ferreira obtained a duplication of the text of the Recueil from the Newberry Library. In 1984, Tancredo Neves, then the governor of Minas Gerais, and his secretary of culture, José Aparecida de Oliveira, requested that the governor of Santa Catarina, Esperidião Amin, return the Recueil to Minas Gerais. After consultations in the Assembly of Santa Catarina, Governor Amin agreed, and on April 21, 1994, Tiradentes Day, the Recueil arrived with great ceremony in Ouro Preto. In 1989 the Recueil was transferred and catalogued by the arquivo of the Casa do Pilar of the Museu da Inconfidência.

(Starling, Ser republicano no Brasil Colônia, pages 161–75.)

What does an examination of this text tell us about the plans for the Minas conspirators to establish a constitutional republic on the North American model in Brazil in 1789? The copy of the Recueil held at the Museu da Inconfidência, which I have been able to examine, has annotations in ink and in pencil.

The annotations made in pencil cover many of the same points made in the text. I had originally thought these might have been made later, but I changed my mind after I was consulted by Richard Ramer, an antiquarian book dealer, on the authenticity and likely provenance of two manuscripts he had obtained of travels in Brazil.

I was able to identify these as being the diaries of Luis de Albuquerque, the governor of Mato Grosso between 1771 and 1791, of his travels by the land route to Vila Bela in Mato Grosso from Rio de Janeiro via Minas Gerais and Goiás, and of his return route via the Madeira and Amazon Rivers to Belém.

These diaries, which were subsequently obtained by the Newberry Library, were written in pencil; both have been reproduced and published in Brazil in 2014 by Janaína Amado and Leny Caselli Anzai.

(Janaína Amado and Leny Caselli Anzai, Luís de Albuquerque: Travels and Administration in the Captaincy of Mato Grosso (1771–1791) (São Paulo: Versal Editores, 2014). The Newberry Library’s copies of the Albuquerque Diaries were provided by John Powell, Digital Services Manager; the volume is excellently edited, illustrated, and documented. On the emergence of the Madeira-Momore-Guapore Rivers as Brazil’s far western border, see David Michael Davidson, “Rivers and Empire: The Madeira Route and the Incorporation of the Brazilian Far West, 1737–1808,” diss., Yale University, 1970. For the governorship of Luis de Albuquerque and Pombal’s conception for the Amazon-Far West connection from Vila Bella to Belem via the Madeira River; For the background to the European mapping of the South American frontier region, see Júnia Ferreira Furtado, Oráculos da Geografia Iluminista: Dom Luís da Cunha e JeanBaptiste Bourguignon D’Anville na construção da cartografia do Brasil (Belo Horizonte: Editora UFMG, 2012); Rubens Ricupero, A diplomacia na construção do Brasil (1750–2016) (Rio de Janeiro” Versal Editores, 2017), 23–71; and Simon, Scientific Expeditions.)

So now I think that these pencil annotations also may well have been made in the period between 1788 and early 1789 when the Minas conspirators were discussing the new constitutional republic they intended to establish.

The ink and pencil annotations have also been examined by Rafael de Freitas e Souza in his 2004 master’s dissertation under the supervision of Professor Joao Pinto Furtado at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. He provides a breakdown of the ink annotations on pages 45–49 and of the pencil annotations on pages 207–208.

(Rafael de Freitas e Souza, “Combate nas Luzes: A recepção e leitura do Recueil pelos inconfidentes,” dissertação, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, UFMG, 2004.)

I have also examined the Recueil at the Casa do Pilar at the Museu da Inconfidência which is, in places, badly damaged and was rebound, as well as the facsimile of the original text of the Recueil at the Newberry Library and two copies of the Recueil (one purportedly published in Switzerland and one purportedly published in Philadelphia), which altogether provide the basis for my analysis here.

What do these annotations in ink and in pencil on the Recueil show us?

(The annotations are mostly made on the constitution of the Republic of Pennsylvania, which was largely written by Benjamin Franklin, and most particularly on his footnotes concerning the definition of the status of slaves and of free and unfree people and on the right to freedom of religion. (The pencil annotations on the Virginia constitution, which had been largely written by Thomas Jefferson, relate to general principles.)

The annotations were most probably made while the discussion was taking place as to what the statutes of the constitutional republic in Minas Gerais might have looked like, and at the moment the Minas conspirators were actually discussing the new form of constitutional republic they envisioned.

These annotations are not mediated and distorted, nor are they deliberately obfuscated, as was the case of the responses to interrogations by the skilled lawyer and former judge Tomás Antônio Gonzaga, during the devassas. The annotations explain, in particular, the intensity of the discussion on slavery and role of the enslaved at the time of the uprising and within the new republic they envisioned.

They show that they were interested in the legal processes, penal law and criminal proceedings, the judgment by peers, the constraints on the leadership of the state, the subjection of the military to civilian control, the means of representation by elections, and property rights.

Many of these specific annotations reveal the work of a legal mind, which points very much to Gonzaga and Manual da Costa. Júnia Furtado and Heloisa Starling have called Minas Gerais in 1788–1789 “a society of thought” (uma sociedade do pensamento). Here we see would-be revolutionaries translating these aspirations into concrete institutional procedures. The Mineiros were not seeking to create an “invented” republic.

They were much more imagining how a new Brazilian constitutional republic might be constructed. They were interested, these annotations show, in elections, in laws, in the organization of a new republic with representative assemblies, in the fair administration of justice, in the freedom of expression, and in public education and a university.

láudio Manuel da Costa, the most eminent Vila Rica lawyer and former secretary to the governor of Minas Gerais; Francisco de Paula Freire de Andrade, military officer and commandant of the Dragoons; Inácio Alvarenga Peixoto, also a former chief magistrate and poet; José Álvares Maciel, former student at the University of Coimbra, who had just visited the heartland of the industrial revolution in England where he had bought the Recueil while in Birmingham; Father José da Silva e Oliveira Rolim, a prominent priest from the diamond district; the canon Luís Vieira and padre Carlos Correia de Toledo, leading ecclesiastical figures; as well as the most influential entrepreneur and de facto banker of the region, Joao Rodrigues de Macedo: these were the men who had conspired to overthrow the rule of Portugal in its richest overseas province in 1789.

They had imagined a constitutional republic on the North American model. They had been inspired by the most radical of the constitutions of the new North American states contained in the Recueil, and in particular by Benjamin Franklin’s short-lived republic of Pennsylvania as it was extensively described and annotated and, in many ways, imagined by Franklin for propaganda purposes in its French iteration in the 1778 Recueil.

In Brazil, those who had been inspired by the Recueil were denounced, imprisoned, and exiled to Africa or, in the case of the ecclesiastics, sent to imprisonment in Portugal. Tiradentes was publicly executed by hanging in Rio de Janeiro, his decapitated head sent to Vila Rica to be hoisted onto a pole in the main square and his body cut into four pieces for public display at the entrances into Minas Gerais.

Yet all were participants in an Atlantic history that joined the constitutional republican experiments in the United States, via their translation and, at times, their mistranslation in France, to their use as a manual for republican, constitutional, and revolutionary innovation by Brazilians in Minas Gerais during 1789, the very apex year of the Atlantic revolutions. In the end, this is the history of a Brazilian constitutional republic which was imagined by the Minas conspirators in Vila Rica.

It is a moment when the specifics of the Age of the Enlightenment were translated into concrete proposals for governance. And it is the history of a memory, a project of what might have been but which, like the Recueil itself, was for many decades thereafter deliberately suppressed and was almost lost to history.