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Inconfidência Mineira, 1789 (Brazil)

Minas Gerais Conspiracy

Last modified: 2004-12-29 by joe mcmillan
Keywords: brazil | inconfidencia mineira | minas gerais | triangle | indian | tiradentes |
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About the Inconfidência Mineira

In Minas Gerais, a man called Tiradentes (Joaquim José da Silva Xavier) organized a revolt, which was aborted by Portuguese colonial authorities through breach of faith (inconfidência) of one of the conspirators.
Jaume Ollé, 13 September 1996

The name Inconfidência Mineira is due to the fact that the conspirators were considered traitors by the Portuguese crown. The name was given by the Portuguese colonial authorities to the conspirators and has nothing to do with the traitor who dennounced the conspiracy. At the time, it was used derogatorily, but later the Brazilians turned around its meaning (in this special case), making it a term of praise. What was infamous to the Portuguese became an act of heroism to independent Brazilians.
Heitor Martins, 15 March 1999

What Was the Flag of the Inconfidência?

The Minas Gerais state flag is known to have been based on what was assumed to have been the flag chosen by the members of the abortive 1789 Incônfidencia Mineira. The problem is, what exactly was that flag? The issue is complicated by the fact that the flag never actually existed in the cloth, and I have considerable doubt, based on the record of interrogation of the conspirators, that they ever even reached firm agreement on a design. There seem to be three candidates, discussed below.
Joseph McMillan, 30 August 2002

Tiradentes' Proposed Flag

Reconstructed Tiradentes Flag of Inconfidência Mineira, 1789 (Brazil) by Joseph McMillan

An on-line trove of Brazilian historical documents, called "Textos políticos da história do Brasil" and sponsored by the Brazilian federal senate, includes the record of interrogation of Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, known as Tiradentes, one of the leaders of the Inconfidência Mineira. In this record, Tiradentes is recorded as saying that, "as Portugual has in its arms the five wounds [of Christ], the new Republic should have a triangle, signifying the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity." This confirms that Tiradentes really did ascribe Christian meaning to the triangle on the flag.
Joseph McMillan, 16 August 2002

Clóvis Ribeiro says, and most succeeding Brazilian vexillologists seem to agree, that the flag was white with a green triangle and the motto Libertas quae sera tamen. With the green triangle changed to red, this is the modern Minas Gerais state flag. It is clear from the interrogation records and other contemporary sources (including the priest who heard his confession) that Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, known as Tiradentes, proposed a flag with a triangle and nothing else. I have found nothing to support the theory that this triangle was supposed to be green or that the design included the motto. Ribeiro seems to present the green triangle on white as a hypothetical reconstruction that others have followed as gospel.
Joseph McMillan, 30 August 2002

The motto on the flag is literally "Freedom although late," meaning, "Freedom is necessary although it is already late for it."
Heitor Martins, 15 March 1999

Libertas quæ sera tamen is a verse from a Latin poem that was popular then [Virgil's Eclogues--ed.].
Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete Dutra, 12 April 1999

Alvarenga's Proposed Flag

Tiradentes' testimony goes on, after describing his proposal for a flag with a triangle, to say that "Colonel Ignácio José de Alvarenga [another conspirator who was colonel of a militia artillery regiment] said no, that the arms for the flag of the new Republic should be an Indian breaking his chains with a Latin inscription, which [Tiradentes] could not remember, and that the matter would be set aside .... The court's findings concerning Alvarenga include the statement, "It is shown ... that the accused having conferred with the accused Cláudio Manuel da Costa about the form of the flag and arms that the new Republic should have, later revealed his proposal in one of the conventicles, saying that it should be a genius [i.e., an allegorical human figure] breaking his chains, and the motto, Libertas quae sera tamen.
Joseph McMillan, 16 August 2002

Composite Reconstruction?

Reconstructed Flag for Inconfidência Mineira, 1789 (Brazil) by Jaume Ollé

Although Tiradentes testified only to the triangle as his proposal, the court found that, "It is shown, concerning the accused Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, alias Tiradentes ... that this abominable accused conceived the form of the flag that the new republic should have, which should consist of three triangles in allusion to the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity ... yet against this proposal, that of the accused Alvarenga prevailed, which is recalled as having been something more allusive to liberty, and which was generally approved by the conspirators ..." [emphasis added]
Joseph McMillan, 16 August 2002

The findings of the interrogation describe the flag as combining the triangle, Indian, and motto--although it is hard to say how the court reached that conclusion based on the testimony of the accused conspirators that I have read or seen cited. The flag illustrated in William Crampton, The World of Flags, on which this image is based, seems to conform to the court's conclusions.
Joseph McMillan, 30 August 2002

Crampton doesn't say that this flag was the flag of the Inconfidência. What he says in the caption to this drawing (the only reference to the flag there is in the whole book) is that this is a flag "commemorating the congress of 1798 (Minas) [sic]," which is a different thing altogether.
Jorge Candeias, 31 August 2002

In summary, it seems to me, based on reading the reports of the investigation, that there was no definitive flag of the Inconfidência. There was a proposed design by Tiradentes, another by Alvarenga, some conclusions apparently drawn by the investigators as to a composite of the two, but no agreement ever reached. So anything now shown as "the" flag of the Inconfidência is really a hypothetical reconstruction based on these conflicting verbal descriptions.
Joseph McMillan, 2 September 2002