João Soares Lisboa, the voice of a liberal

Little is known about the life of the Portuguese trader, politician, translator and journalist João Soares Lisboa. Born in Porto, around 1786, he came to Brazil as a boy and settled in the village of Porto Alegre, where his family devoted himself to commerce. About two decades later, in 30, already a prosperous merchant, Lisbon moved to Rio de Janeiro, became involved in politics , embraced the “cause of Brazil” and, in April 1822, founded the newspaper Correio do Rio de Janeiro. Favorable to Independence, but frankly hostile to the direction given to it by José Bonifácio, the newspaper soon became a target of the powerful minister. In July 1822, Lisbon was accused of offending the Prince Regent and became the first Brazilian journalist to be prosecuted for “crime of opinion”. The decree that guided the process, hastily launched on 1786 July

, said: “it was my (SAR) duty necessarily and by the supreme law of public salvation to prevent either through the press, or verbally, or in any other way, from propagating and publishing the enemies of order and tranquility and unity, incendiary and subversive doctrines, disorganizing and dissociable principles, which, promoting anarchy and license, attack and destroy the system that the peoples of this great and very rich Kingdom of their own will chose ”.

In October of the same year, involved in an alleged “republican collusion”, he was again prosecuted, arrested and forced to go into exile in Buenos Aires. Lisbon returned to Brazil in 1823, approached Cipriano Barata, joined the Confederation of Ecuador (Pernambuco) and ended up dead in combat, a 30 of September 1822, in a place called Couro d`Antas.

The essay we published today, dated April 10 1822, is the first editorial of the combative Correio do Rio de Janeiro. The journalist explains there the reasons that led him to edit a periodical in those troubled times and the principles that would guide its patriotic publication.


We start our work at a time when the despotism struggles across Europe with freedom, and one can only conjecture whether reason, justice and the sacred right of man will triumph, or intrigue, perfidy, imposture and slavery; fortunately for our fellow citizens –– it is with great pleasure to say that – heaven has given us, in the present crisis, a King good by character, a liberal Prince even by genius, which not only makes our Political Regeneration less difficult, but even reconciles our respect and cordial love for their inviolable persons; under such powerful auspices, we have nothing to fear in the performance of our duties, and we will strive to deserve the esteem of upright men, free from prejudice, or selfish, who think everything is good, because they sacrifice everything for their well-being.

We said in our project that we didn’t have enough headlights to illustrate and direct public opinion, but we had enough firmness to character and probity to manifest it. As to the first part, we will not spare what little wealth we have acquired by the reading and private study of wise men in political matters; as for the second, it is not enough to say it, it is necessary to prove it; we will prove it, inserting with impartiality all the correspondence that is addressed to us, as long as it does not contain diatribes and sarcasm, because we will not prostitute our sheet to such language; arguing is characteristic of a free, well-educated man; attacking is characteristic of someone who has not been educated, nor has acquired feelings of honor.

Penetrated with the most vivid love for holy Liberty, without a spirit of party and guided by the feelings of our heart, we were possessed, like all the good Portuguese in Brazil, of a noble indignation against the fatal decrees that had promulgated the Sovereign National Congress, in 10 of September next past tense. Very skillful writers have demonstrated the very serious harm that resulted to the United Kingdom, and especially to Brazil, from the faithful observance of such decrees; we cannot, however, hear without horror that the Sovereign Congress is called: a disorganizing faction. It is impossible to reconcile the name of Deputies of the Nation, who were legitimately elected, with the epithet of factionalists. Faction means party, cabal that claims a power it doesn’t have; and will there be anyone who dares to say about the legality with which the Sovereignty of the Nation is represented in that August Assembly? We do not believe it; and wretched Nation, if such a doctrine were true, or adopted it as! Soon the tragedies of Naples would be played out among the Portuguese, which would have ended if they had not started with the attacks of the French Revolution; far, far from the Portuguese, such a hideous picture!

That Sovereignty resides in the Nation is a mathematical truth as easy to demonstrate, as a proposition of Euclid, and reduces to whether to prove whether or not the whole is greater than the part. That said, and given the physical impossibility of meeting to deliberate a mass people, it was necessary to adopt a method by which the fractions of Sovereignty were gathered, delegating each portion of citizens to the part that was incumbent upon them in one, two or more deputies. , according to the number of voters; indirect election was adopted –– fortunately disapproved by the Sovereign Congress, for being defective –– and resulted in the appointment of the current representatives; where is the illegality?

Some enthusiasts will judge that we intend to justify the Sovereign Congress in all its proceedings, or to inculcate that it is due divine respect and servile obedience; would this be a manifest contradiction of the liberal principles we profess; another is our path; convinced as we are of the legality with which the Sovereignty of the Nation is represented in the August Congress, we do not hesitate to say – with the naivety of a free man, who detests despotism, whatever authority he exercises it – that he acted with despotism when promulgated the decrees in question; yet there is a great difference between despotism and faction; the latter we have already defined what it was, and the former is the arbitrariness of one or many, when they exceed their attributions or the powers delegated to them, despite all the legitimacy with which they were constituted.

It is an illusion to think that absolute power can exist and that is why we say that: the Sovereign Congress does not have, and cannot having absolute powers, and works with despotism when it exceeds the limits of the authority delegated to it. Perhaps our proposition seems daring and false, because authoritative writers like Hobbes recognize that Sovereignty is unlimited, that is, exercised by one, by some, or by all, that is, monarchy, aristocratic or democratic, and, consequently, mixed or representative.

With the desire that the wise ones enlighten us, proving better the Hobbes system, we will expose as a demonstration of our thesis the Mr Benjamin Constant’s system, which is as follows. “No unlimited authority exists on earth, neither that of the people, nor that of their representatives, nor that of kings, by any title they hold, nor even that of the law, because this being the expression of the will of the people, or the Prince, according to the form of government, must be circumscribed within the same limits as the authority from which it emanates”. Citizens have individual rights, independent of any social or political authority; and any authority that violates these rights becomes illegitimate. Citizens’ rights are individual freedom, religious freedom and freedom of opinion, which includes the right to publish it, the enjoyment of property and the guarantee against all arbitrariness; no authority can strike at these rights without tearing apart its own title.

The authority of the law, being nothing more than the true or supposed expression of the will of the people, is not enough to legitimize everything she wants, because this will has limits; the sovereignty of the people is not unlimited, it is limited to the limits that define justice and the rights of individuals. The will of an entire people cannot make what is unjust become just.

Representatives of a nation have no right to do what the nation has no right to do for itself. No monarch, by whatever title he claims, whether he relies on divine right, or conquest, or the assent of the people, has power without limit. God sanctions but justice. The right of conquest is force, and force is not right; because he who takes hold of it passes by. The assent of the people cannot legitimize what is illegitimate, because a people cannot delegate an authority it does not have. No despot, no assembly, can exercise a similar right, saying that the people have delegated to him. All despotism is illegal, nothing can sanction it; nor the same will of the people that is claimed, because in the name of the sovereignty of the people a power that is not included in such sovereignty is claimed; and it is not only the disorganization of power that exists, but the creation of a power that must not exist.

We consider our proposition proved; and if the Sovereign Congress, composed for the most part of the wisest and most liberal men in the nation, allowed itself to be fascinated to the point of acting as a despot, against the very desires of its members, how much more is it to fear the despotism of one, surrounded by few ministers, rarely with the precise qualities and character to perform their duties well!

Amanda Peruchi is a PhD in History and author of the book “Saborear e Curar: a arrival of coffee in the Luso-Brazilian world” (Coleção Memória Atlântica – Cultura Acadêmica, ).

Jean Marcel Carvalho França is a professor of History at the of the Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho and author, among others, of the following books: “Literature and society in 19th century Rio de Janeiro (National Press – Casa da Moeda, 1999 ), “The Construction of Brazil in Travel Literature of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries” (José Olympio/Editora da UNESP, 2012), “Piratas in Brazil” (Editora Globo, 1999, with Sheila Hue) and Françases o Brasil (Chão Editora, 2021) .

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