Senado da Câmara

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Senado da Câmara

Senado da Câmara, town council. In colonial Brazil municipal government was in the hands of the senado da câmara. Elected by the propertied men of status (homens bons), it was the smallest and most independent unit of local self-government. Similar to the Spanish cabildo, it was an arena where local elites fought with the Portuguese-born royal officials for control of local affairs. The first town councillors (vereadores) were chosen by the governor rather than elected by the people. Even when elected, the number of electors was restricted to local propertied elites and landowners. The town council was composed of the following: a president or presiding judge, an ordinary judge or a crown judge, two justices of the peace (juiz de paz), three aldermen (vereadores), and one procurator (procurador). The ordinary judge (juiz ordinário) was elected by the other councillors, but the crown judge (juiz de fora) was sent by the crown. The justices of the peace, aldermen, and procurators were elected once every three years by an indirect system of election, whereby local electors composed of propertied men drew up names of qualified candidates.

The town council was in charge of local justice, land disputes, and implementation of royal laws and collection of municipal taxes. The senado da câmara had its seat in a town or city but exercised jurisdiction over the county. The town council met in session twice weekly every Wednesday and Saturday. It had its own source of revenue and patrimony independent of public funds or the royal treasury. Rent on land and local taxes were its chief sources of income.

In important cities like São Luís de Maranhão, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador, the town councils challenged the governor's power and succeeded in having him removed from office. During the colonial period, the town councils increased their power and independence. In emergencies the senado da câmara was responsible for calling upon the people to meet together to draw up local bylaws and rule on cases of petty theft, land disputes, verbal abuse, and disputes over rights of way. The crown judges meddled in municipal affairs by confirming appointments to the local senado da câmara. The crown judge decided who was eligible for local office, and attended council meetings and special sessions. The governors also intervened in municipal affairs by controlling nominations to government office, extending terms of office, and initiating public works.

The town councils acted as local executive agents of the government by enforcing royal laws, thus functioning as an agency of the central government. Although the governors held the town councillors responsible for the execution of their written orders, the town council was also responsible to the local elite interests for transmitting their complaints to the higher authorities. Municipal government survived the colonial period and was actively involved in the independence movement.

See alsoJudicial Systems: Brazil .


Charles R. Boxer, Portuguese Society in the Tropics: The Municipal Councils of Goa, Macao, Bahia, and Luanda, 1510–1800 (1965).

Caio Prado, Jr., The Colonial Background of Modern Brazil (1971).

Additional Bibliography

Fragoso, João Luís Ribeiro, Maria Fernanda Bicalho, and Maria de Fátima Gouvêa. Antigo Regime nos trópicos: A dinâmica imperial portuguesa, séculos XVI-XVIII. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2001.

                                        Patricia Mulvey