Pombaline Reforms

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Pombaline Reforms

The Marqués de Pombal, the Portuguese statesman who was brought to power when José I came to the throne in 1750, changed the administrative organization of Brazil and the demographic, economic, social, and cultural policies of the entire Portuguese Empire.

In response to military and diplomatic operations, Pombal decided to promote settlement in the unoccupied north and west of Brazil: the Estado do Maranhão and the captaincy of Mato Grosso. Settlers from the Azores and Madeira islands were given assistance in order to populate and labor in these unexploited regions. New towns, planned according to eighteenth-century rationality and sense of regularity, were created in the hinterland.

Pombal revised policies toward Indians during his administration. He believed that whites and Indians should mingle. Marriages between white men and Indian women were encouraged by giving white men access to some public offices. In order to better integrate Indians into white society, the Jesuit aldeias (villages) were converted into parishes or even villas (small towns). As in the north and west of the country, Azorean immigration and settlement also were promoted in southern Brazil, in Rio Grande de São Pedro and Santa Catarina; vagrants in the captaincy of São Paulo were ordered to settle in towns. Indian villages were dealt with in the same way as those of the northern regions.

Parallel changes in the administrative organization of Brazil were undertaken through the creation of new captaincies and the incorporation to the crown of the last private captaincies, which went back to the earliest colonization of Brazil. The seat of the viceroyalty was transferred from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro in 1763. The creation of new administrative bodies, such as the Junta do Comércio (Board of Trade) in 1755 and the Erário Régio (Royal Treasury) in 1761, also changed the administration of Brazil.

Beginning in 1767, as the result of the new financial institutions, the local finances of each captaincy were administered by a Junta da Fazenda (Board of Treasury) comprised of five or six members, including the already existing provedor da fazenda, with the governor as its president. Accountable only to the Royal Treasury in Lisbon, these local juntas were responsible for collecting and distributing royal income. Some specialized institutions were also created: the Mesas de Inspecão de Açúcar e Tabaco (Boards for the Inspection of Sugar and Tobacco) in Bahia, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and São Luís do Maranhão (1751); and the Intendentes da Marinha e Armazéns Reais (Intendants for the Navy and Royal Warehouses) in Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife.

To speed up justice, a second Relação (High Court) was created in Rio de Janeiro in 1751. It assumed responsibilities of the Relação da Bahia for the southern captaincies. Other judicial changes were the Juntas de Justica (Boards of Justice), which were established first in Pará and Pernambuco in 1758 and then throughout Brazil in 1765. More significantly, secular magistrates were no longer allowed to base their decisions on canon law, and Roman law was abandoned. Only the laws of the country (ordenações and subsidiary laws) along with custom and well-established practices would be followed.

The military reorganization was less successful in Brazil than it had been in Portugal, but some efforts were made to reinforce the southern frontier, and military recruitment became easier when Pombal ordered a census of inhabitants in each captaincy. Henceforth, it became more difficult for the male population to escape from military enlistment.

From the social point of view, Pombal's administration was marked by a deep change in the Portuguese system of inheritance, especially concerning entailed property. After the law of 9 September 1769, it became impossible to create capelas (chapels) with the obligation of masses ad perpetuum at a high cost for the heirs; and the law of 3 August 1770 prevented the abuses of entailing property (morgados).

The expulsion of the Jesuits in 1759 resulted in wide-ranging changes in the educational system. Jesuit methodology was abandoned, and Aulas Régias (Royal Classes) were created in most towns and townships of Brazil. They were funded by a new tax, the subsídio literário. The reform of the University of Coimbra also contributed to the secularization of culture and the formation of a Brazilian-born elite.

See alsoPombal, Marquês de (Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo) .


Marcos Carneiro De Mendonça, O marqués de Pombal e o Brasil (1960).

Antônio Alberto Banha De Andrade, A reforma pombalina dos estudos secundários no Brasil (1978).

Biblioteca Nacional De Lisboa, Marqués de Pombal: Catálogo bibliográfico e iconográfico (1982).

Antônio Carreira, As companhias pombalinas: De Grão-Pará e Maranhão e Pernambuco e Paraíba (1983).

Alvaro Teixeria Soares, O marqués de Pombal (1983).

Leslie Bethell, ed., Colonial Brazil (1987).

Additional Bibliography

Maxwell, Kenneth. Pombal, Paradox of the Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

                           Maria Beatriz Nizza da Silva

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Pombaline Reforms

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