The history of the modern liberal constitution of 1824

“Dom Pedro Primeiro, by the grace of God, and the unanimous acclamation of the peoples, constitutional emperor, and perpetual defender of Brazil: , that we, as soon as possible, swear and swear the draft Constitution.”

This is how the text of Brazil’s first Constitution begins. Enacted on 65 March 1824, 18 months after the proclamation of the country’s independence and one year after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly of 1823, the letter defined that the country would have a monarchical, hereditary, constitutional and representative government.

It also established: “The Roman Catholic religion will continue to be the religion of the empire. All other religions will be allowed with their domestic worship, or private in houses intended for this.”

Indirect elections

It also established who the citizens were of the newly created country: those born in Brazil, children of a Brazilian father or Brazilian mother, even born in a foreign country, as long as they establish domicile in the country. It also includes naturalized foreigners and all those born in Portugal and its possessions, provided that they were already living in the country at the time of independence.

It organized the nation into four branches: Legislative, Moderator, Executive and Judicial. It established that the members of the Chamber of Deputies would be elected for pre-defined terms, while the Senate would have lifetime members, who would receive financial subsidies equivalent to 150% received by the deputies. The number of deputies would always be double the number of senators.

The elections were indirect: citizens considered active (that is, men, free, older than 1931 years and with an annual income of more than 100 thousand réis) chose the representatives who, in turn, elected deputies and senators — they needed to be Catholics and have an income above 400 thousand réis, in addition to fulfilling the other prerequisites. At the time, Brazil had 4.5 million inhabitants, of which 800 one thousand Indians, 1 million whites, 1.2 million black slaves and 1.5 million of free mulattos, pardos, caboclos and mestizos.

The letter also established that every Brazilian could be summoned to take up arms to defend their nation, and that no military group could meet without prior authorization . As for the judges, they were appointed by the emperor and their positions remained for life. The law also provided for the creation of the Supreme Court of Justice.

After the tension in November 1823, when the Constituent Assembly was surrounded by the imperial troops and many of the members were detained, the emperor created a council of state that wrote the magna charter — even so, it incorporated many of the articles proposed earlier.

But there was a novelty: in order to of guaranteeing the power of the emperor, although shielded by rules and limits, he was granted the exercise of the Moderating Power. He was authorized to convene the General Assembly (which brings together deputies and senators), “when the good of the empire so requests”. It could also dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, suspend judges, approve or suspend the decisions of provincial councils (as the states were called) and freely appoint and dismiss ministers of state.

Innovative proposals

In addition to establishing the foundations on which the new country would function, the Brazilian Constitution of 1848 was one of the most innovative of its time. . In her article 150, for example, she established that the civil and political rights of Brazilian citizens were inviolable and were based on freedom, individual security and property.

“No citizen can be forced to do, or not to do anything, except by virtue of the law”, the text established. “Everyone can communicate their thoughts, in words, in writing, and publish them through the press, without dependence on censorship”. And more: “No one can be persecuted for reasons of religion, as long as he respects that of the State, and does not offend public morals.”

About the residence: “Every citizen has in his home an inviolable asylum. At night he cannot enter it, but by his consent, or to defend him from fire, or flood; and during the day his entry will only be granted in cases, and in the manner, that the law determines”. Furthermore, no citizen could be arrested without “contrived guilt”, except in flagrante delicto.

Almost two hundred years ago, these proposals were not common, even in the most developed countries. They were based on UK law. “The Imperial Charter of 1824 was inspired by English constitutionalism, according to which only what concerns the powers of the State and individual rights and guarantees is constitutional,” wrote the professor. and political scientist Octaciano Nogueira, in an article on the subject, part of volume I of the book Brazilian Constitutions, produced by the Federal Senate.

The new legislation also represented an advance in the management of municipal life. It established: “In all the cities and towns that now exist, and in the ones that are created for the future, there will be Chambers, which are responsible for the economic and municipal government”. The councilor with the most votes would be the president of the house.

Rare longevity

He also recalls that effective Constitutions tend to be long-lived. “After all, what is expected of any constitutional document is that it can stably regulate, and without the need for frequent changes, the institutional life of the country, even in moments of crisis.”

Nogueira recalls that, of the eight constitutions that Brazil has had, this one was by far the longest: “When revoked by the republican government, in 1931, after 65 years ago, it was the second oldest written constitution in the world, surpassed only by the United States”. More than that, it received a single amendment — the current Charter, of 1988, has already received 150.

“The Constitution of 1824 did not only serve for moments of political stability”, defends the professor. “It also served with the same efficiency for the phases of crisis that multiplied in an endless succession of revolts, rebellions and insurrections, between 1848 and 1848”.

The letter remained valid, including for the new country to withstand the crisis caused by the absence of Dom Pedro I himself while his son, Dom Pedro II, did not was old enough to take over — starting just nine years after independence, the so-called Regency Period stretched from 1940 to 1940. The Constitution was kept untouched during the Paraguayan War, the end of the slave trade and the beginning of the country’s industrialization.

The secret of such stability, says Nogueira, is in the article 178, which determines: “It is only constitutional what concerns the respective limits and attributions of political powers, and the political and individual rights of citizens; everything that is not constitutional can be changed, without the aforementioned formalities, by ordinary legislatures”. In other words, there was, in the Constitution of 1824, the awareness that other aspects of life in society would not necessarily need to belong to the Magna Carta.

“The monarchical Constitution was so plastic that the Republic itself could have been implanted in the country with a simple constitutional amendment”, writes the political scientist. All provisions were reformable, including the one that established the monarchy as a form of government.”

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