South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

San Martin and the South


What good airs are here!" exclaimed a Spanish sailor on landing on the shores of the pampas, in the age of the explorers. His exclamation, "Buenos ayres!" according to the popular tradition, gave the name to the littoral part of that country which became the viceroyalty of Buenos Ayres, and is now the Argentine Republic. The Spanish viceroyalty of Buenos Ayres occupied a wide territory. On the separation of the country from Spain this territory came to form, after some changes, the republics of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and the Banda Oriental del Uruguay. It covered an area as large as central and western Europe, and its resources and fertility are such that it might sustain a European population. Here the sea, the air, the sky, wear a purple hue; the flag of Argentina is purple; and that color so prevails that the country has been called "the purple empire that England lost."

Argentina is the land of the pampas. The sterile plains of Patagonia are on one side, and the Gran Chaco, like a world's museum of natural history, on the other. Over it on the west looms the high Andes, rising in Aconcagua to a height of more than twenty thousand feet. Of the Cordilleras, whose long, lofty lines of white glimmer above the pampas, Mr. Darwin says: "The highest peaks appear to consist of active, or more commonly dormant, volcanoes, such as Tupungato, Maypo and Aconcagua, which latter stands twenty-three thousand feet above the level of the sea. This grand range has suffered both the most violent dislocations, and slow, though powerful, upward and downward movements in a mass. I know not whether the spectacle of its immense valleys, with mountain masses of once liquefied and intrusive rocks now barred and intersected, or whether the view of the plains, composed of shingle and sediment hence derived, which stretch to the borders of the Atlantic Ocean, is better adapted to excite our astonishment at the amount of wear and tear that these mountains have undergone."

On one side the Argentine, Patagonia has the climate of Norway and Sweden. On the other side is the perpetual glow of the tropics. In the middle is the subdued and ethereal mildness of southern France and of Italy. Its agricultural productions, therefore, are diversified and almost boundless.

The wars between England and Spain first broke the authority of the viceroys. In June, 1806, General Beresford landed on the Rio de la Plata, or river Plate, with a body of English troops, and took possession of the city of Buenos Ayres. Sobremonto, the Spanish viceroy, fled to Cordova, where General Liniers gathered an army. He defeated Beresford, who surrendered to him in the summer of the same year. In February, 1807, Sir Samuel Auchmuty stormed the city of Montevideo and captured it. In 1808 the English, under General Whitelock, again endeavored to take possession of Buenos Ayres. The inhabitants made a resistance which was of such a heroic character as to have been a favorite subject of romance and song. The houses of old Buenos Ayres were built with large windows, protected by strong iron railings, open to the street. For the purpose of defense this made the city a great fortress. The low, flat roofs were also favorable for repelling an invasion. The English army experienced heavy losses and capitulated.

The resistance to the English invasion inspired the people of the country with a sense of their own valor and strength. The overturning of the throne of Spain by Napoleon gave them the opportunity for self-government. They refused to acknowledge the authority of Joseph Bonaparte, whom Napoleon had placed on the throne of Spain.

In 1809 Cisneros was made viceroy by the junta of Seville, in the name of the deposed Spanish king, Ferdinand VII. On May 25, 1810, with the consent of the viceroy, a council was formed, which was called the Provisional Government of the Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. This council was the beginning of Argentine independence. An attempt was made by the loyal subjects of King Ferdinand to make the viceroy president of the council. It failed, and Cisneros retired to Montevideo.

In 1813, on the 31st of January, a congress assembled at Buenos Ayres, and elected Posadas Dictator of the republic.

The people of Uruguay were still favorable to the cause of Ferdinand. The city of Montevideo was attacked by the republicans from Buenos Ayres in 1814, and after a siege captured.

The party of independence grew in Argentina, and became a powerful organization on both sides of the river Plate.

On March 25, 1816, a new congress of deputies, elected by the Argentine people, met at Tucuman. Pueyrredon was elected President of the republic, and on July 9 the independence of Argentina was formally declared, with Buenos Ayres as the seat of government.

But the union of the whole country was not secured. Paraguay, Uruguay and what is now Bolivia, after many changes of political fortunes, established independent governments. Buenos Ayres, from her commanding position, excited the jealousy of a part of the Argentine Republic. The independence of the country from Spain had been proclaimed, and it was rapidly progressing toward freedom.

At the period when the cause of South American independence in Argentina most needed a directing mind, civil and military, there landed on her shores a young hero of fame, one born on her own soil, and who was destined to be known as the greatest of creoles—Jose de San Martin. He was born on February 25, 1778, in Yapeyu, Missiones. He was the fourth son of the lieutenant-governor of the department of Yapeyu. When he was eight years of age he was taken to Spain, where he became a pupil in the Seminary of Nobles at Madrid. At the age of twelve he was a cadet in white and blue. Before he had reached the age of twenty we find him in Africa fighting against the Moors. Though a lover of peace, he was educated to war, and though he became a champion of republican principles, he was trained in the armies of royalty.

Strangely enough, this young creole, like Bolivar, met Miranda, then the ardent apostle of South American liberty, in Europe, and fell under his influence. He was one of those young men to whom Miranda disclosed the restless secret of his political dream. Miranda had established in London the Gran Reunion Americana for the emancipation of South America from foreign dominion, and was engaged in forming like societies on the Continent.

Bolivar was to liberate half of the South American continent; San Martin was to free the other half from foreign dominion. The two followers of Miranda were to meet under the glowing arch of the equator, and there clasp hands for the first time.

The life-thought of San Martin was one of the noblest that has ever inspired the human breast:

Thou must be that which thou ought's to be,

And without that thou shalt be nothing.

His life fulfilled this principle. There was a moral grandeur in his character that places him in the rank of Pericles, Cincinnatus, the Gracchi, and other great leaders of the world. What this man's faults and errors were we do not know, unless the distribution of medals to the Order of the Sun in Peru, which act was called unrepublican, be one. It has been said that he held a too conservative view of the capability of men for self-government. Be this as it may, he gave his sword to the best interests of the human race, lived stainlessly, and when he could best serve the cause of humanity by retirement and poverty, he went into exile. Chili voted to him ten thousand ounces of gold, but he refused it, and gave it over to the public good.

On May 25, 1810, the Argentine government passed into the hands of the representatives of the people. A junta first exercised the power. This was succeeded by a triumvirate. This represented no party, but sought only the welfare of the people. A national congress proclaimed republican principles. All of these bodies acted in the name of the deposed King Ferdinand.

San Martin, on his arrival at Buenos Ayres, began a military reform. He was soon called to succeed the eminent patriot Belgrano in the command of the army. His political influence grew. The name of the King of Spain disappeared from public affairs. The Inquisition was abolished, and the flag of blue and white took the place of the colors of the Peninsula.

San Martin assumed the command of the army. He now determined to liberate Chili and Peru. The way to Lima from Buenos Ayres had been by the mountain-passes of Upper Peru.

To create an army and to cross the Andes now became the first effort of San Martin. With this army he would descend, as it were, from the sky, and meet the Spanish power as the condor strikes his prey. He would begin that march that would not end until he met the patriots of the north at the equator. Such was the plan of San Martin.

The work began at Mendoza, at the foot of the Andes. Here the army of liberation began to assemble. From this point the march which would free South America should begin. He decided that the highway of his army should not be by the road to Upper Peru. He would cross the Andes by the Uspallata Pass, nearly thirteen thousand feet high, would liberate Chili, and pass to Lower Peru. The plan was so bold that he guarded it as a secret. He resigned his place as commander of the Army of the North to his friend General Alvear, and accepted the appointment of governor of Cuzco. Here an army of rugged patriots, mountaineers and plainsmen, could be slowly formed, men of lofty courage, who would dare to scale the pinnacles of the Andes and die for liberty on any field. On August 10, 1814, he became governor of Cuzco, and from that time his eye was fixed upon the Andes, whose forbidding heights towered over him in the sun. He saw the way to victory there, in the line of the flight of the condor. Would his daring thought ever turn into deeds? The purpose of Bolivar amid the ruins of Caracas was equaled by that of San Martin.