South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Progress of Argentina


The Argentine Republic had two struggles for liberty—one with Spain, the other with her own tyrants. The movements of affairs in Argentina, which through stress and struggle reached the period of splendid achievement under General Mitre, are briefly as follows: Liniers, who was viceroy at the time Joseph Bonaparte was placed on the throne of Spain, was deposed by the adherents of Ferdinand VII., and Cisneros was made viceroy in the name of Ferdinand. On May 25, 1810, a date still celebrated, a provisional government was formed. This was the beginning of the republic. On January 31, 1813, a congress assembled at Buenos Ayres, and Posadas was elected Dictator of the republic. A struggle ensued between the party of independence and that of the royalists. On March 25, 1816, a new congress met at Tucuman, which elected Pueyrredon President of the republic, and declared the separation of the country from Spain. The Congress did not represent all of the ancient viceroyalty. Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay became separate republics. The war of liberation under San Martin followed.

On January 23, 1825, the federal states of the present Argentine Republic formulated a national constitution. Two parties arose in the republic—the Unitarians, who favored a strong central government, after the model of the United States; and the States' Rights Party, or Federalists, who would still hold the old provinces under their local chiefs and laws.

The Banda Oriental of Uruguay was a territory in dispute, but was made independent by the mediation of England in 1827.

In 1825 Rivadavia was elected President of Argentina. He sought to establish a strong central government. He was opposed by the Federalists, who elected Lopez President, and after him Dorrego. There was a fierce contention between the two parties in the days of Quiroga. Rosas became the leader of the Federal party.

After the long period of tyrants began the succession of illustrious presidents who have led Argentina to the front of the new nations of the world.

That a nation which had emancipated itself from Spain should fall into the power of men without heart, without character, without armies, with nothing but the terror that they were able to inspire by a barbarous personality, is one of the events that illustrate how easy is the reaction from enthusiasm, and how unstable are susceptible minds amid changes of fortune.



Juan Facundo Quiroga was born in the province of Rioja in 1790. His parents were shepherds. At school he assaulted the teacher and fled. In 1806 he was sent by his father with merchandise to Chili. He lost the proceeds at the gambling-table. On being reproached by his father he fled again, and collected a band of robbers.

This man, gathering around him a few reckless and adventurous spirits, raided cities, destroyed the liberties of Argentina, and put his own arbitrary and insane will in the place of law. He brought Jujuy, Catamarca, Tucuman, Rioja, San Juan and Mendoza, heroic places associated with the great names and deeds of Belgrano and San Martin, under his influence. He made himself a despot by the force of his irresistible will. The cities as well as the country were at the mercy of this human thunderbolt.

"Most tyrants," says Sarmiento, "are superstitious. Quiroga seems to have been born without fear, though he said he once knew fear when he was watched by the eye of a tiger in a bending tree. He is even said once to have wept when he returned to his old home and saw the ruin that he had brought upon his aged father. But such incidents are but exceptions to his life and conduct. From boyhood he delighted in cruelty, and this nature grew in him until he became like a beast of the forest that has tasted human blood. He gloried in his power over men, and in his power to do injustice.

"He did not believe in God, in any morality or virtue. He had a magnetic will, and to exercise this thrilled him. He was like the hawk when the bush-bird cowers before him. In the line of battle his soldiers trembled with terror, not of the enemy, but of their own chief, who strode behind them brandishing his lance. They fell upon the enemy merely to put something between their eyes and the figure of Quiroga, which haunted them like a phantom."

Quiroga aspired to set up a president who should obey him. He named Dr. Jose Santos Ortez, ex-governor of San Luis.

Quiroga had one impulse; it was to free Argentina entirely from the rule of Spain. He breathed the air of freedom, and drew men after him like the wind. He had caused the old Spanish cities to fall before him, and wherever he went he left desolation. He put his own wild will in the place of foreign tyranny.

Sarmiento, in picturing the mad career of the tyrant of the plains, says: "On the Godoy farm in San Juan are shown mud walls of Quiroga's treading. There are others in Fiambala and in Rioja made by him. He himself pointed out others in Mendoza. In that place he had caused twenty-six officers to be shot. What motives induced this man, brought up in a respectable family, to descend to the hireling's work of treading brick?" The question may perhaps be answered by saying that to become a hero of the plainsmen one had at that day to identify one's self with the people.

In the fullness of his power, for men to laugh at him was death. He murdered a girl whom he had promised to marry, and struck dead his own son. "Pax," he said of one of his enemies in the field, "shot six of my officers; I have shot ninety-six of his."

Quiroga talked of the country as though he held its fate in his hand, yet he had no regular army, and was not even the governor of a province. His sword of power was merely the terror which he was able to inspire. The people dared do nothing against his will. He would cut down any opponent without mercy, and without any just cause. No one dared to stay his hand.

He made Rioja the seat of his power. He robbed the country in the name of the government, and sent the treasures to Rioja. It is said that he hid in the woods guns, swords and lances to the number of twelve thousand; that he had sixteen hundred horses in the pastures of Cuzco. He concealed an immense amount of treasures of silver and gold.

Rosas, a man who sprang from the people, was made governor of Buenos Ayres. He, too, was a tyrant. He became a confederate with Quiroga, raised the red flag, and from his campaigns in the interior took the title of the "Hero of the Desert."

The years following the revolution found Argentina and the Banda Oriental largely under the rule of three tyrants —Quiroga, Lopez and Rosas.

Quiroga came to Buenos Ayres unannounced, a man without an army. But in the city of Rosas he soon found himself surrounded by followers, and felt his growing power. He began to speak contemptuously of Rosas, made investments in the public funds, did deeds of personal strength and valor that excited the admiration of the barbarous classes, and boasted that he would one day treat Buenos Ayres as he had done the river provinces.

Rosas resigned the governorship of Buenos Ayres under compulsion, to take up the sword and to follow the example of Quiroga. The year 1834 found two tyrants in the field. One was to destroy the other.

Quiroga was called away from the city of Buenos Ayres to settle divisions that had arisen in the northern provinces. He said to his friends on leaving the port city: "If I succeed, you will see me again; if I fail, farewell forever!" He started forth for the pampas accompanied by Dr. Ortez, whom he had wished to make President.

There comes a time when one's crimes gather upon one's own head, and the man of terror becomes a terror to himself. To Quiroga now came the darkness of apprehension. He felt that he had made an enemy of humanity. He regarded every man as a cunning and merciless assassin. As he rushed over the pampas toward the foot-hills and mountain towns of the Andes, his apprehensions and suspicions grew. "How long since a courier passed? "he asked at every post. "An hour or so," would be the usual answer. "Hurry!" He changed horses rapidly. He was as one who could not wait.

It began to rain on the plains, turning parts of them into lagoons. But he flew on, asking, "When did a courier pass?" He reached Santa Fe after the long ride of terror. His anxieties increased. He seems to have had the conviction that some avenging spirit was pursuing him. On arriving at the post of Pavon he found no horses there. The delay almost crazed him. An evil spirit seemed to possess him. He was not contented except when flying at a deadly pace. When he started out from Santa Fe he exclaimed: "If I can only get beyond the boundary it is enough!" But it was not enough. They arrived at Cordova in the night. He sat in his carriage calling for horses. An officer came to him to invite him to spend the night in the town. "Horses!" answered the chief. "You shall have the hospitality of the place." "Horses!" At midnight he renewed the mad ride. The people were greatly excited at seeing him come and go. There had been a plot formed to assassinate him on his way to the city, but he had escaped it by his haste. He arrived at his point of destination and settled the political difficulties there. Then the madness seemed to return upon him. "To Cordova!" he said to a postilion. This was not the safe way, but he felt it was the one over which fate compelled him to ride. He came to a post-station called Ojo del Agua. A young man came racing out of the woods to give warning to Dr. Ortez, his friend. "A company is stationed near Barranca-Yacco," said the messenger. "It is waiting to fire into the carriage. No one is to escape." The doctor told Quiroga what he had heard. He replied: "The man is not born who can kill Quiroga!" He rode on into the face of death. They came to a post-station. Again they were warned. A company of thirty men was waiting to avenge the crimes of Quiroga. "We must go on—on!" he said. He lay down exhausted. At midnight Dr. Ortez, who had again been warned, aroused him. "We must escape by another way," he said. The chief laughed wildly. "The wrath of Quiroga is more than a match for anything we can meet at Barranca-Yacco," he said. In the gray of the morning the carriage passed on. Dr. Ortez knew that he was following his friend to certain death. But amid his terror Quiroga believed that his methods of the past would render him superior to all his enemies. He was attacked. Men with swords cut down the horses. They stabbed the driver and the courier. "What is this?" cried Quiroga from the coach window. The answer was a ball through his head. He sank. They pierced his body with a sword. He had met the fate that he had made for himself.

The tyrant Rosas followed.

Don Juan Manuel Rosas, who rose to be governor of the Buenos Ayres Confederation, and afterward to be President of the Argentine Confederation, was born at Buenos Ayres. March 30, 1793.

He made the Federal principle the excuse for his rule of blood. About the year 1833 he gained almost absolute power over Argentina, after the methods of Quiroga.

The politics of the country must be understood in order to form a just judgment of the character and conduct of Rosas. Rivadavia, the first President of the republic, endeavored to establish a strong central government. The party which he represented was the Unitarians. The opposing party was known as the Federals. It maintained provincial rights, much after the manner of the old-time South Carolinian idea of State rights in the United States. The Federals aimed to keep each state as independent as possible of the national government. At the end of the first President's term of office his opponents elected Vicente Lopez President, and in 1827 Dorrego, another representative of the Federal plan of government. In 1828 the Unitarians defeated the Federals. Dorrego was shot. Rosas became the leader of the Federal party. He defeated the Unitarians, and inaugurated a reign of terror. He proclaimed himself Dictator, and after many bloody struggles proved himself superior to all of his enemies.

In 1829 he was governor or captain-general of his native province, then in federal union with the provinces. He subdued the Indian revolts, established a tyrannical but stable government, and was elected President of the Argentine Confederation.

Autocrat that he was, intestine revolts subsided under his strong arm. Industrial conditions improved. Commerce revived. Buenos Ayres grew and flourished. The other provinces became jealous of Buenos Ayres. Rosas, to strengthen the river provinces, sought to force Paraguay to unite with the confederation. This policy led to a war with Brazil. Rosas was defeated in the political complications that followed. His rule had been so bloody that it became intolerable, and the states elected General Urquiza President. In a battle at Monte-Caseros, near Buenos Ayres, on February 3, 1852, the forces of Rosas were totally defeated. He fled to England, where he died in exile.

It is hard to estimate the value of a life like that of Rosas. He ruled the country for seventeen years with an iron hand. His strong government represented his own ambition. His utter disregard of the sacredness of human life, his bloody deeds that defied justice, have left him a place among the darkest names of political crimes.

General Mitre may be regarded as the father of the new republic. Between the years 1810 and 1835 Argentina had known thirty-six political changes. The republic became a unity under Mitre, who, both in and out of public office, for almost a generation was the guardian of her destiny. His principles once sent him into exile, but his influence on progressive Argentina was powerful.

Bartolome Mitre was born at Buenos Ayres in 1821. Persecuted by Rosas on account of his patriotic writings, he removed to Montevideo, where he became a journalist, and led the country in journalistic enterprises which were made the medias of his progressive opinions. In 1846 he went to Bolivia, and was in the battles of Lalava and Behistre as commander of artillery. He later went to Peru and Chili. In the latter country he awakened enmity by his views in El Progreso, published at Santiago. He heard of the rising of the Argentines against Rosas, and returned to Argentina. He joined the revolutionary forces under General Urquiza. He commanded the artillery in the decisive battle of Monte-Caseros, February 3, 1852. After the overthrow of Rosas he founded the journal La Nacion. His influence grew; he was intrusted with high public offices, and appointed to positions of the gravest responsibility. In 1862 he was proclaimed constitutional President for six years. His administration was a glorious industrial period in Argentina. Railroads, telegraph lines and public improvements multiplied, and, like the literary President Sarmiento, he advanced the cause of public education. He led Argentina in the war with Paraguay. His La Vida de San Martin  is one of the best works for the American reader to select for beginning a study of South American history.

Argentina Pampas


After her second struggle for freedom Buenos Ayres became a commercial city of growing importance, and gathered to herself men who favored the enterprises that make such a city prosperous. Societies of the industries and arts multiplied. Literature was cultivated, and stimulated achievement. The English Literary Society, with its extensive library and fine reading-room, became an inspiration to literary culture.

The suburbs of Flores and Belgrano expanded into places famous for the beauty of their villas and gardens. The recoleta  (cemetery), with its marble homes of the dead, became one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Monuments rose everywhere, each commemorating some illustrious deed.

Three ports instead of one became essential to the trade of the expanding city. Approached from Ensenada, the white domes and tall spires of the city rise in the purple air over the pampas, with a beauty that fills the eye of the traveler with wonder. His admiration grows as the home port, with its city of ships, comes into nearer view. At all hours ships from European ports come and go, and the immigration from the East comes and does not go, but remains to make a new history in the world.