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Collection Historic Sources of Brazilian Law

About this Collection

This collection brings together important historical sources of Brazilian law in original editions, covering Brazil and related jurisdictions from the 15th through the 19th centuries. Books in the collection relate to the laws of Spain and Portugal during the Iberian Union (1580-1640), the Kingdom of Portugal and the Portuguese Colonial Empire, the United Kingdom of Portugal and Algarves (1815-1822), legislation of the Empire of Brazil (1822-1889) and the Republic of Brazil (beginning in 1889) as well as to the canon law of the Catholic Church. In addition to colonial and pre-colonial legislation, these materials include the historic constitutions of independent Brazil through the end of the 19th century and some related literature. It also includes the texts of Brazil’s early civil, commercial, and penal codes, as well as treatises and contemporary commentaries on them. These texts have had direct influence on the historical development of modern Brazilian law and are key sources of Brazilian legal history.

Among the significant items in the collection are early imprints of Portuguese documents that served as sources of law in Brazil. These include: Ordenações Manuelinas, which was the body of laws issued by Portugal’s King Manuel I (1495-1521), here in a hybrid edition published in Lisbon in 1521 and 1539; and the Ordenações Philipinas of 1603 printed in Lisbon in 1603, which was originally promulgated by King Philip II of Spain during the Iberian Union (1580-1640). The code was in effect through much of the colonial period and beyond. Portions of it were in force until the civil code that Brazil adopted in 1916 came into effect. Also included in the collection is the Ordenações Afonsinas, or Alfonsine Code, of 1447, here in an edition printed in Lisbon in 1792, which records the laws enacted by Dom Afonsa V of Portugal (1432-1481).

Constitutional literature includes the Constituição politica da Monarchia Portugueza (Lisboa, 1822); Constituição explicada (Rio de Janeiro, 1821); and Constituição politica do imperio do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro, 1834), which records the first constitution of independent Brazil (1824); also represented is Constituiçâo da repubilca dos estados unidos do Brazil, acompanhada das leis organicas publicadas desde 15 de novembro de 1889 (Rio de Janeiro, 1891), which contains the constitution of the first Brazilian republic, adopted in 1891.

Prominent in the collection are primary texts and commentaries related to the civil, commercial and penal codes of Brazil as they were developed in the 19th century. Efforts to draft a civil code for Brazil began in the middle of the 19th century. Augusto Teixeira de Freitas, an attorney who was legal counsel to the Empire’s State Council, made outstanding contributions to the civil code, culminating in this work: Código civil, esboço (Rio de Janeiro, 1860-1864), or The Civil Code, a Sketch, which he published in three volumes between 1860 and 1864. It is represented here, among other items by the same author. That work, which contained 4,908 articles, formed the basis of the code that Brazil adopted in 1916 and influenced the civil codes of nations throughout South America.

The materials in this collection were acquired in conjunction with intensive bibliographic research into the legal history and bibliography of Brazil and certain other nations undertaken by Edwin Montefiore Borchard (1884-1951), who served as Law Librarian of Congress from 1911-1916. The author of numerous books and bibliographical studies, Borchard published the results of his research in his Guide to the law and legal literature of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile (Washington: Govt. Print. Office, 1917). These books, and many others at the Law Library touching the law and legal history of Brazil, were acquired in order to provide the United States Congress and the researching public with the best possible record of the history of Brazilian law in original and authoritative editions.

The history of Brazilian law, as in other democratic republics, represents the result of a series of transformations and advances from pre-democratic forms of government to constitutional democracy. This historical legal literature, therefore, is an historic agent of change. It is similarly both a body of primary sources documenting the history of Brazil’s political culture, and a central intellectual achievement of that nation.