Text by Mayra Guapindaia
Today, the twenty-third (23) of August, the penultimate stamp of the series 200 years of Independence goes into circulation , alluding to Brazil's participation in the Cortes Gerais in Lisbon.
The meeting of the General Court of the Portuguese Nation between January 24, 1821 and November 4, 1822 was a direct consequence of the Porto Revolution. The movement was inspired by the liberal ideals of the time, and according to the experience of the Constitution of Cádiz, signed by the Spanish King Fernando VII in 1820. Thus, deputies from different regions of Portugal were elected to discuss, in the General Courts, the first Constitution. Portuguese, of which the King of Portugal would be a signatory.
Initially, there was no provision for the participation of Brazilian deputies, which generated a series of protests. Finally, the deputies from the Brazilian provinces who showed support for the Porto Revolution were chosen and took their seats in the Assembly only in August 1822. Not all provinces were in favor of the Cortes and, especially, of the return of D. João VI to Portugal. Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Norte and Rio Grande do Sul did not send deputies, remaining in Brazil in favor of the then Prince Regent D. Pedro.
The Lisbon Courts are part of the long historical process that culminated in the Independence of Brazil. Its context matters insofar as it allows us to perceive the gradual separation between the interests of Brazilian and Portuguese deputies, which would later lead to the Brazilian decision for political rupture.
Despite this lack of conciliation, it is undeniable that the Lisbon Courts for Brazil meant the participation of a first parliamentary experience for the construction of a constitutional charter. Therefore, the Cortes directly influenced the later Brazilian parliamentary experience, that is, after Independence. This can be seen in the organizational structure of the 1823 Constituent Assembly and, later, in the constitutional text of 1824, which has numerous similarities with the Portuguese Constitution of 1822.
One of the points of synchrony concerns precisely the parliamentary discussions on the issue of Post Office Administration and the guarantee of the individual right, by the State, of the inviolability of letters. This debate was in line with the liberal view at the time of maintaining privacy as an extension of fundamental rights. It appears both in the minutes of the Cortes of Lisbon and in the documentation referring to the Constituent Assembly in 1823.
Historically, the issue of letter secrecy is not new, and it did not arise only with the political liberalism of the 19th century. The Philippine Orders, a Portuguese legal compilation from the 17th century, contained an article entitled Dos que abrem as carta do Rei, or da Rainha, or de other persons., condemning the improper opening of letters and providing for sanctions that could even lead to the death penalty. At the end of the 18th century, with the postal reforms in Portugal and in its overseas domains, a series of rules were published. In some, it is possible to perceive the refinement of the issue of correspondence security, which was increasingly in charge of the Post Office as a public State institution. The Post Office employee, who by this time was already a civil servant, paid by the royal treasury, who committed the crime of opening letters, should be arrested and punished according to the laws.
It was mainly in the period of the postal reforms of 1798 that, more and more, the Post Office came to be valued as a matter of State. It is worth remembering that, before this year, postal services were the private monopoly of a family, the Gomes da Mata, who had the right to financially exploit the delivery of letters. The entire operational and administrative structure was also provided by this family, without falling into the hands of the monarchy. In 1797, the post office was reinstated to the royal patrimony, and the post office started to be provided directly by the Crown. Thus, the hiring of employees, maintenance of postal networks and the security of letters became part of the direct responsibilities of the State.
This post office structure, both in Brazil and Portugal, remained intact during the first quarter of the 19th century. However, at the time of the Lisbon Cortes meeting, in 1821, there were many complaints and dissatisfactions regarding the postal service. The deputies were concerned about the misappropriation of letters that many authorities and important people suffered. This meant that the Postal Administration was not acting in accordance with the rules that had governed it since 1798. In addition, the liberal principle of the right to privacy was being discussed, something that until then had been absent from political discussions. In the section of June 8, 1821, deputy Pereira do Carmo gives a concrete example of the distrust of the opening of letters in the postal service and how, therefore,
Fulfilling what I promised in yesterday's session, this is to reinforce Mr. Baeta's statement about the lack of punctuality in the administration of the Post Office. I place on the Table a Letter signed by Friar Joaquim do Sagrado Coração de Maria, resident of the Convent of Senhor da Fraga, near Viseu, in which he apologizes for not writing a voluminous Letter, and for not putting in the envelope my position as Deputy , because the Post Offices open and disappear (he says) the voluminous or extraordinary letters, addressed to the Deputies, in which some papers are presumed to be included, which must be presented to the Sovereign Congress, intending in this way to cut off communications between the Nation and its Representatives.
To avoid breaching the secrecy of the letters, and the responsibility of the Post Office Administration and the responsible agents, the deputies included in the Portuguese Constitution of 1822, in Title 1: On the individual rights and duties of the Portuguese, article 18, which states: the The secret of the cards is inviolable. The postal administration is strictly responsible for any infringement of this article.
The debates that took place in the Brazilian Constituent Assembly of 1823 were similar to those in the Lisbon Courts, and many deputies pointed to the failure of the Correios Administration to keep the letters secret. And, as a result of these discussions, Article 179 of the Brazilian Constitution of 1824, which guaranteed the inviolability of civil and political rights of Brazilian citizens, based on freedom, individual security, and property, brought, in item XXVII, the exact same content of the Portuguese Constitution of 1822 on the inviolability of letters.
In other words, from this debate of the first Portuguese constitutional experience, the individual right to secrecy of distance communications was recognized, with the Post Office being the main responsible for maintaining this interest of each citizen. With this case, we can see how the postal system, in Portugal and Brazil, was recognized as an essential public institution for the maintenance of basic citizenship rights.
BRAZIL. Political Constitution of the Empire of Brazil (March 25, 1824). Available at: < http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/constituicao/constituicao24.htm >. Accessed on: 07/27/2021
CABRAL, Dilma. General and extraordinary courts of the Portuguese nation. Available at: < http://mapa.an.gov.br/index.php/dicionario-periodo-colonial/164-cortes-gerais-e-extraordinarias-da-nacao-portuguesa >. Accessed on: 07/27/2021.
DOLHINKOFF, Miriam. History of Empire Brazil. São Paulo: Context, 2020.
POTUGAL Constitution of September 23, 1822. Available at: < https://www.parlamento.pt/Parlamento/Documents/CRP-1822.pdf >. Accessed on: 07/27/2021
PORTUGAL _ Diaries of the General and Extraordinary Courts of the Portuguese Nation . Years 1821 and 1822. Available at: < https://debates.parlamento.pt/catalogo/mc/c1821 >. Accessed on: 07/27/2021