Acúrsio das Neves (1766-1834)

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Frontispiece of the Memória sobre os Meios de Melhorar a Indústria Portuguesa, of 1820.

José Acúrsio das Neves was born on 14 December 1766, in Cavaleiros de Basto, municipality of Fajão, district of Coimbra. In 1782 he enrolled at the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra, having completed the course in 1787. He then started his career in magistracy. In 1794, he published his first work, a commendation to the court chairman of the Mesa do Desembargo do Paço, Luís de Vasconcelos. In 1795 he was sent to the city of Angra, as Circuit Judge, from 1795 to 1799, and then as Local Governor, from 1799 to 1802.

After having terminated his duties as Local Governor in the Azores, he married Delfina Maria das Neses, a rich widow. He returned to the mainland in 1807, having been present at the departure of the court from Lisbon to Brazil at the time of the first wave of French invaders. When the Junta Provisória do Porto was formed, he moved to Beira, where he started writing 12 pamphlets, which he later called Obras Patrióticas, aimed at fomenting the reaction of the populations against the invaders.

In 1810, he was nominated by D. João VI as Judge of the Court of Appeal of Oporto, also taking on the position of Deputy and Secretary to the Real Junta do Comércio, Agricultura, Fábricas e Navegação, Deputy to the management board of Real Fábrica de Sedas e Obra das Águas Livres and Deputy to the Junta de Liquidação dos Fundos da Extinta Companhia do Pará e Maranhão. In the meantime, he was honoured with the Ordem de Cristo and the Ordem de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. He published his first major work, História Geral da Invasão dos Franceses em Portugal, e da Restauração deste Reino (5 volumes) in 1810 and 1811. As from 1814, he started publishing Variedades sobre objectos relativos às artes, comércio e manufacturas, considerados segundo os princípios de Economia Política (2 vols.). Within the framework of the Junta do Comércio, in 1818 and 1820 he defended the use of the steam engine in an attempt to contribute towards the improvement of the country’s production structure.

The freedom revolution of 24 August 1820 saw the start of a period of intense work on political and ideological fighting, during which he published several works between 1821 and 1824. In 1821, he was dismissed from the leading positions he occupied. He was elected deputy to the Courts of 1822 for Arganil. Following the Vilafrancada (a counter-revolutionary movement which broke loose on 27 May 1823), he was readmitted to the Junta do Comércio, from which he was once again dismissed in 1824, being imprisoned on suspicion of having participated in the Abrilada (a counter-revolutionary movement unleashed by Infante D. Miguel on 29 April 1824). In 1826, after the death of D. João VI, he was readmitted to his former positions, publishing the Entretenimentos Cosmológicos, Geográficos e Históricos (1826) and the Noções Históricas, Económicas e Administrativas sobre a produção e manufactura das Sedas em Portugal e particularmente sobre a Real Fábrica do subúrbio do Rato e suas anexas (1827).

In 1828, he was nominated Literate Attorney of the City of Lisbon in the Junta dos Três Estados, becoming politically associated to the absolutist government of D. Miguel. He published his last work in 1830, the Considerações Políticas e Comerciais sobre os Descobrimentos e Possessões dos Portugueses em África e na Ásia. In 1833, during the civil war between liberals and absolutists, which took place from 1832 to 1344, he abandoned the city of Lisbon after an outbreak of cholera, spending some time in Caldas da Rainha, where he wrote the bulletin for D. Miguel’s army. He then set up residence in Sarzedo, Arganil, where he died on 6 May 1834, alone and abandoned in a hayloft where he hid from the persecutions against the partisans of D. Miguel.

The Economic Thinking of José Acúrsio das Neves

Acúrsio das Neves was the author of a vast and diversified number of works, having written both political and historical texts, the most significant being História Geral da Invasão dos Franceses em Portugal, e da Restauração Deste Reino (1811) and Cartas de Um Cidadão Português a seus Considadãos sobre Diferentes Objectos de Utilidade Geral e Individual (1822).

The most important texts concern Economics. Acúrsio das Neves was a reformist who defended the strengthening of the State apparel and the creation of structures that would permit the supported development of agriculture and industry. Normally considered an absolutist, Acúrsio das Neves was in fact a supporter of the political guidance of D. Miguel, who tried to recover the absolutist regime in Portugal. From an economic point of view, however, he sided with the theories of contemporary liberal economists.

António Almodovar considers there to be two lines of force in Acúrsio das Neves’ thinking: the belief in the need to bring about reforms so as to ensure the survival of the societies and the need to prevent these reforms from having unnecessary and excessive social costs. (V. António Almodovar, “O Pensamento Político-Económico de José Acúrsio das Neves. Uma Proposta de Leitura”, in Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, vol. 1, p. 33)

“Industry is the only one that can save us, as it is the only one that provides wealth, the main basis of strength, and the prosperity of populations. However, industry does not fortify unless aided by a good government, and in a terrain free from obstacles, that is duly prepared by wise institutions and well thought of reforms. The lack of these is what limits the national genius…” (Memória de 1820, p. 7)

In keeping with Adam Smith (1723-1790), he felt it was necessary to stimulate private industry as this would only exist through the respect for private property. He upheld the need to boost economic activity in general. In order to achieve this objective, he believed it was vital to create literary and economic associations and to set up public libraries. In his opinion, it was essential to disseminate scientific and technological knowledge and to create societies/associations that complemented the theoretical action of the University of Coimbra and of the Academy of Sciences. In this way, “the practical applications, propagated in such a way with the elementary principles that they penetrate even the villages and fields, where the exercise should be held” would be promoted. (Variedades, t. II, 306-307)

Besides Adam Smith, Acúrsio das Neves followed the political economic principles of Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) and J. - C. L. Sismondi (1773-1842), as well as those of the Portuguese Duarte Ribeiro de Macedo (1618-?).

His work is inserted in an industrialisation effort with clearly visible signs between 1814 and 1823, a period in which the number of industrial establishments almost doubled and during which the first steam engines were introduced in Portugal. Acúrsio das Neves was the main indoctrinator of this industrial movement, opposing those who wished to reduce the country to an agricultural economy (physiocrats), on the one hand, and the mercantilists, who saw money as the basis of wealth of a nation, on the other. He defended the application of moderate protectionism, upholding national versus foreign production, especially English. He further defended the free circulation of products throughout the country and the abolition of entailed estates, a better division of rural property, the reduction or elimination of taxes on farmers, the exploitation of uncultivated land and investments in agriculture. Many of these measures were later put into practice by the policy of Mouzinho da Silveira (1780-1849) in 1832.

Acúrsio das Neves also upheld the creation of Political Economic classes, greater freedom of the press and the regulation of State taxes. In his opinion, this last aspect implied protecting the traditional sources of State revenues and developing them, as well as creating new forms of revenue via the creation and supported development of a group of activities, performed by individuals from the various orders, with no privileges whatsoever, and therefore taxable.

The creation of a modern State implied that its employees should have appropriate training and that they should be fully versed in the principles of Political Economics.

Also according to Almodovar, the economic thinking of Acúrsio das Neves and of the reformists is clearly different from both the liberals and the traditionalists:

“for Acúrsio das Neves, an economically “liberalised” civil society is a need resulting from the needs of the State; for the reformists, the State is a need resulting from the needs of the civil society, whereby only by controlling and “liberalising” the State can the fundamental objective of liberalising the civil society be achieved; for the traditionalists, the elementary question was to avoid at all costs a separation between the State and the civil society, attempting for this to dissolve that State once again in the orders, in its privileges and in its hierarchies”. (Almodovar, pp. 44-45)

José Tengarrinha states that “José Acúrsio das Neves can be considered as one of the most lucid spirits of the first half of the nineteenth century and without a doubt one of the greatest figures of economic thinking in Portugal”.


Texts on Economics

Memória Económico-Política sobre a liberdade do Comércio dos grãos com a sua aplicação às Ilhas dos Açores, manuscrito de 1800, published in 1941.

Variedades sobre objectos relativos às artes, comércio e manufacturas consideradas segundo os princípios da economia política, Lisbon, 1814, 1817, 2 tomes.

Memória sobre os meios de melhorar a Indústria Portuguesa, considerada nos seus diferentes ramos, 1820.

Memória sobre alguns acontecimentos mais notáveis da administração da Real Fábrica das Sedas desde o ano de 1810, e sobre o seu restabelecimento. Dirigida à Corte do Rio de Janeiro em 1819, Lisbon, 1821.

Noções Históricas, Económicas e Administrativas sobre a produção e manufactura das Sedas em Portugal, e particularmente sobre a Real Fábrica do Subúrbio do Rato, e suas Anexas, 1827.

Considerações Políticas e Comerciais sobre os Descobrimentos e Possessões na África e na Ásia, 1830.

Historical and Political Texts

Ao E Senhor Luís de Vasconcelos e Sousa, do Conselho de Sua Majestade e Presidente do Desembargo do Paço em sinal de gratidão O. D. C.. 1794.

Manifesto da Razão contra as usurpações francesas oferecido à Nação Portuguesa, aos Soberanos e aos Povos, 1808.

A Voz do Patriotismo na Restauração de Portugal e Espanha, 1808.

O Despertador dos Soberanos e dos Povos, 1808.

Post-Scriptum ao Despertador dos Soberanos e dos Povos, 1809.

Reflexões sobre a Invasão dos Franceses em Portuga
l, 1809.

A Salvação da Pátria. Proclamação sobre a sua honra e o seu dever nas actuais circunstâncias da Monarquia, 1809.

Observações sobre os recentes acontecimentos das Províncias de Entre-Douro-e-Minho e Trás-os-Montes, 1809.

A Generosidade de Jorge III e a ambição de Bonaparte. Wellesley e os Generais Franceses, 1809.

Discurso sobre os principais sucessos da Campanha do Douro oferecido aos ilustres guerreiros que nela se distinguiram, 1809.

Paráfrase ao Capítulo XIV do Livro de Isaías, 1809.

História Geral da Invasão dos Franceses em Portugal, e da Restauração deste Reino, 1810-1811, 5 vols.

Elogio Fúnebre do Marquês de La Romana, D. Pedro Caro de Sureda, recitado na Assembleia Ordinária da Academia Real das Ciências de Lisboa de 23 de Fevereiro de 1811, 1811.

Cartas de um Português aos seus concidadãos sobre diferentes objectos de utilidade geral e individual, 1822.

Manifesto em que o Desembargador José Acúrsio das Neves expõe e analisa os procedimentos contra ele praticados pelos ex-regentes do Reino, e os seus fundamentos, 1822.

Entretenimentos Cosmológicos, Geográficos e Históricos, 1826.

All of these texts are included in Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, introductory studies by António Almodovar and Armando de Castro, Porto, Afrontamento, 6 volumes.

Fernando Reis


ALMODOVAR, António, “O pensamento Político-Económico de José Acúrsio das Neves: Uma Proposta de Leitura”, in Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, Porto, Ed. Afrontamento, Vol. I, pp. 15-60.

ALMODOVAR, António, “Acúrsio das Neves e a Penetração da Economia em Portugal”, in Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, Porto, Ed. Afrontamento, Vol. III, pp. 81-110.

ALMODOVAR, António, “Acúrsio das Neves: Um Pensamento e o seu Contexto”, in Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, Porto, Ed. Afrontamento, Vol. VI, pp. 7-25.

AMZALAK, Moses Bensabat, A Economia Política em Portugal – O Economista José Acúrsio das Neves. I – Bio-bibliografia, Lisboa, 1920.

AMZALAK, Moses Bensabat, A Economia Política em Portugal – O Economista José Acúrsio das Neves. II – Doutrinas Económicas, Lisboa, 1921.

CASTRO, Armando, “José Acúrsio das Neves, um doutrinador da sua época historicamente atrasado”, in Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, Porto, Ed. Afrontamento, Vol. 1, pp. 61-136.

CASTRO, Armando, “O Sistema Económico Conceitual de José Acúrsio das Neves”, in Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, Porto, Ed. Afrontamento, Vol. III, pp. 5-79.

LARANJO, José Frederico, Economistas Portugueses, Subsídios para a história das doutrinas económicas em Portugal, Lisboa, Guimarães Eds., 1976 (reedição do texto original de 1881-1884).

LOUREIRO, Fernando Pinto, Vida e Ideias Económicas de José Acúrsio das Neves, primeiro grande defensor da indústria moderna em Portugal (1766-1834), Lisboa, 1957.

Obras Completas de José Acúrsio das Neves, Porto, Ed. Afrontamento, s. d., 6 volumes.

PEDREIRA, Jorge Miguel, “Neves, José Acúrsio das”, PEREIRA, José Costa (coord.), Dicionário Enciclopédico da História de Portugal, Lisboa, Alfa, 1990, Vol. II.

TENGARRINHA, José, “Neves, José Acúrsio das (1766-1834)”, in Serrão, Joel (dir.), Dicionário de História de Portugal, Porto, Figueireinhas, 1981, vol. IV.

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