“Gathering Vassals around the Throne”: Private Entrepreneurs and Statesmen in the Establishment of Brazilian Postal Services, 1829-1844

Abstract: The establishment of postal services in Brazil occurred simultaneously with processes of state building and market formation in the first half of the 19th century. Between 1829 and 1844, the Brazilian government introduced important institutional measures such as the creation of the General Post Office and the adoption of uniform stamp-based postage. To succeed with such policies, however, the monarchical state needed the support of several private agents and these initiatives are the subject of this research. Urban mail was one of the areas that attracted the interest of private entrepreneurs. In 1838, for example, a custom-house official returning from a trip to Europe proposed to the Brazilian government that he adapt the management model of the Parisian petite poste to Rio de Janeiro’s postal service. His patriotic request was denied. Three years later, Cândido José de Araújo Viana, the head of the Ministry of Imperial Affairs at that time, introduced several institutional changes in the General Post Office. He restored the Brazilian General Post Office that had been closed in 1831. He also instituted pre-paid and uniform postage making Brazil the second country in the world to adopt the English model of stamp-based postage. Despite the difference in outcome, both initiatives contribute to our understanding of the difficulty faced by private entrepreneurs in adapting their interests to government prerogatives. They also suggest that private enterprise may not simply reflect a desire for profit but can also be a powerful distinguishing feature of citizenship that differentiates the entrepreneurial elite from the rest of the population. In this respect, insight into the establishment of postal services in Brazil helps us understand how that the ideas that make the economic liberalism of the 19th century can be considered to be a “sum of aspirations” as such entrepreneurial initiatives occur at the intersection between public service, civil society and the need for commerce.