BECK index

Argentina 1850-1935

by Sanderson Beck

   Argentina & Mitre 1850-68
   Argentina & Sarmiento 1868-74
   Argentina of Roca & PAN 1874-1904
   Argentina of Reform & Yrigoyen 1905-35

Argentina & Mitre 1850-68

Argentine Revolution 1810-17
Argentine Revolution & Paraguay 1817-30
Argentina & Paraguay 1831-50

       Juan Manuel de Rosas had governed the Buenos Aires Province for three years to December 1832 and again since March 1835. When imperial Brazil began aiding Uruguay against Argentina in 1851, Rosas, who had dictatorial control over several provinces of Argentina, declared war against Brazil on August 18, beginning the Platine War. In the war Brazil had 20,200 men fighting along with 20,000 Argentine allies and 2,000 Uruguayans against 26,000 Argentines led by Rosas and 8,500 Blancos from Uruguay.
      The Argentine Justo José Urquiza governed the Entre Ríos province for almost all of the decade beginning in January 1842. After gaining allies from Brazil and Uruguay he rejected the re-election of Rosas in May 1851 and called for Rosas to resign. Urquiza raised the siege of Montevideo in September, and he led an army toward Buenos Aires and attacked Rosas at Caseros near El Palomar in Argentina on 3 February 1852. Each side had about 25,000 men, and in the battle the allies had only 300 killed and 300 wounded. The Argentines led by Rosas suffered about 1,500 killed or wounded, and 7,000 men were captured. Rosas had his hand wounded, and he fled to Bueno Aires and resigned. He boarded a British Navy ship that took him to England, and there he spent the rest of his life. Urquiza’s army massacred several hundred followers of Rosas in Buenos Aires. Many Argentines joined Urquiza because he aimed to establish a national constitution. Brazil and its allies had “won” the Platine War in which they had at least 6,500 casualties while the Rosas army suffered over 11,000 killed and wounded.
      Bartolomé Mitre was a military leader, and he opposed the politics of the lawyer Valentín Alsina who was Governor of Buenos Aires from 31 October 1852 to December 7. When Alsina became Governor, he asked Mitre to command the defense of Buenos Aires. The moderate José Mármol had been arrested for criticizing Juan Manuel de Rosas and had gone into exile. Mármol published part of his autobiographical novel Amalia in 1844 and all of it in 1855. He also wrote the plays El Poeta in 1847 and El Cruzado in 1851. That year use of steamships shortened the voyage from England to Argentina from two months to 35 days.
      On 1 May 1852 Juan Bautista Alberdi published in Valparaiso his Bases y puntos de partida para la organización política de la República Argentina, and copies were sent to Urquiza, Mitre, and others. Alberdi supported Urquiza while Domingo Faustino Sarmiento backed the autonomy of Buenos Aires under Mitre. Yet Alberdi and Sarmiento agreed on religious tolerance and secular public schools.
      Provinces sent delegates to a convention at San Nicolás near Santa Fe, and in the Acuerdo San Nicolás agreement they endorsed a liberal constitution urged by intellectuals such as Sarmiento and Alberdi. The convention endorsed free trade, public education, a central government, and a constitution. Buenos Aires had many advantages as an outstanding port, and they wanted to maintain their autonomy. They rejected the San Nicolás Agreement, and in 1853 their delegates withdrew from the constitutional convention organized by Urquiza who was supported by wealthy cattle owners. On May 31 Urquiza became the Provisional Director of the Argentine Confederation. Concepción del Uruguay in Entre Ríos was the new capital.
      In June the opposition formed the Liberal Party at Buenos Aires. Liberals removed Urquiza’s puppet governor Vicente López y Planes on July 26 and then revolted in September and were called setembristas. Sarmiento gained support for them from Argentine exiles in Santiago. They rejected the San Nicolás accord in early 1853, and Buenos Aires was the only providence that did not ratify the 1853 Constitution. Urquiza offered the British favorable terms of trade, and Britain was the first nation to grant diplomatic recognition to the Argentine Confederation. On 5 March 1854 Urquiza became the first President of the new Argentine Confederation.
      Buenos Aires declared independence, and the two states remained separate for six years. Buenos Aires had more trade and revenues while the Confederation struggled with inflated paper money and bankruptcy. Urquiza offered commercial concessions to develop trade using the Parana River to serve Entre Ríos and Rosario which increased their population from 3,000 in the early 1850s to 23,000 by 1869. In 1854 ranchers began using barbed-wire fences. They had 1.1 million people in 1857, the year Buenos Aires began paying off its defaulted loan made in 1824. Sarmiento edited and wrote influential articles in El nacional in 1855-58.
      On 1 April 1859 the former Governor Benavidez of the San Juan Province was assassinated. The Argentine Confederation was nearly bankrupt. On October 23 Urquiza invaded Buenos Aires at Cepeda near Santa Fe with an army of about 14,500 men that included 10,000 horsemen against 9,000 men led by Bartolomé Mitre. At the end of the day Mitre withdrew his army, and they took a ship back to Buenos Aires. Urquiza and the Confederate army camped outside of Buenos Aires during negotiations. Paraguay’s President Francisco Solano López mediated an agreement near San José de Flores on November 11 that reunited Argentina with Buenos Aires having certain privileges.
      The professor of law and philosophy, Santiago Derqui, served President Urquiza for six years as Minister of Justice, Education and Public Instruction. Then on 4 March 1860 Derqui became President until he resigned on 5 November 1861. He accepted the changes made by Buenos Aires and the name República Argentina. Juan Esteban Pedernera was President for 37 days before the presidential office was dissolved.
      Bartolomé Mitre became Governor of Buenos Aires on 3 May 1860. After Buenos Aires got amendments made, they ratified the Constitution of 1853. The other provinces did not want to be dominated by Buenos Aires, and the two armies of Urquiza and Mitre fought again by Pavón creek in Santa Fe Province on 17 September 1861. Mitre’s militia had new rifles and cannons. Each side had about 16,000 men. Urquiza’s army suffered much heavier casualties and had about 1,700 men captured. Urquiza retreated and found so much resistance in Buenos Aires that after his rearguard revolted, he went back to his palace in Entre Ríos. By 1869 Urquiza had accumulated 600,000 cattle, 500,000 sheep, 20,000 horses, and over two million acres of land, and at the age of 88 he was assassinated on 11 April 1870.
      Governor Mitre tried to bring peace to Córdoba and the interior. On 12 October 1862 an electoral college of delegates from provinces elected Mitre the President of a united Argentina. An amended Constitution provided for a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary with a bill of rights that outlawed slavery and the slave trade. The Congress improved education, promoted immigration, and funded railroads by gaining foreign loans. The Constitution banned restraints on trade and authorized a Senate for which only the wealthy were qualified and which had nine-year terms. Catholicism was recognized as the state religion although liberty of conscience was protected. Foreigners were not required to provide loans or serve in the military. Jurist Dalmacio Vélez Sarsfield developed a Commercial Code that passed in 1863.
      Ángel Vicente Peñaloza, who was called “El Chacho,” led gaucho clans in La Rioja province that attacked San Luis in the southeast in 1862. He controlled much of the west and took over Córdoba on 14 June 1863; but two weeks later they were defeated at Pajas Blancas. An army from Santiago del Estero financed by Buenos Aires invaded La Rioja, defeating and dispersing his army and eventually executing El Chacho on November 12.
      The Paraguayan War began with a conflict between Paraguay and Brazil in November 1864. On 14 January 1865 Argentina refused to let Paraguay’s army cross he Corrientes Province to attack Brazil. On April 13 Paraguay’s ships fired on and captured two Argentine navy vessels in the Corrientes port. Paraguayans then invaded that province. On May 1 Argentina joined with Brazil and Uruguay to form the Triple Alliance against Paraguay. Fierce determination by Paraguayan soldiers, officers, and their President Francisco López enabled this war to go on despite heavy losses suffered by Paraguay until López refused to surrender and was killed on 1 March 1870.
      In 1866 ranchers founded the Argentine Rural Society. President Bartolomé Mitre had the experience to direct Argentina’s war and a six-year term under the new Constitution, though the war would carry on for two years after his term. Argentines began the war with the typical enthusiasm, but opposition increased as it dragged on with the military draft, heavy casualties, high taxes, and inflated prices. Many merchants and ranchers became richer. Mitre’s party became known as the Purveyors as exports and government spending increased. The Constitution did not allow a President to succeed himself, and Mitre’s choice of a successor was defeated in the election by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento who became President on 12 October 1868. He was supported by some in Buenos Aires who believed in autonomy.

Argentina & Sarmiento 1868-74

      Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was born on 15 February 1811 in San Juan, Argentina. He was well educated and joined the Unitarian Party. He studied at the College of Moral Sciences in Buenos Aires. The school was closed during the civil war, and in 1827 Sarmiento fought for the Unitarian army against the federalist Quiroga. He was arrested and released. Then he fought for the Unitarian General Paz. In 1831 Sarmiento found refuge in Chile. He studied Chile’s government and wrote on politics. He taught school and founded one in Pocuro. He returned to San Juan with typhoid fever. He recovered and founded the anti-federalist journal El Zonda. He was forced to stop publishing, and he started a high school for girls and a literary society. He joined the poet Esteban Echeverría, Juan Bautista Alberdi, and Bartolomé Mitre in the intellectual movement called the “Generation of 1837.”
     In 1840 Sarmiento was arrested for conspiracy, and he fled again to Chile where he wrote for the newspaper El Mercurio in Valparaíso. In 1842 he was appointed the Director of the first Normal school to train teachers in South America. His essay “The Importance of Education” begins,

The slow progress of human society has recently
created an institution unknown in previous centuries.
Public instruction, whose purpose is
to prepare the new generations, en masse, for the use
of individual intelligence by even a rudimentary
knowledge of the sciences and facts necessary for
the formation of reason, is a purely modern institution.
It was born of the dissensions of Christianity,
and converted into a right by the democratic spirit
of present-day society.
Until the last two centuries, education had been
only for the governing classes, for the priesthood,
and for the aristocracy.1

He founded the El Progreso newspaper, and in 1843 he published My Defense. His most famous book Facundo was serialized in El Progreso in July and published as a book. From 1845 to 1847 he traveled to study education and communication in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, France, Spain, Algeria, Italy, Armenia, Switzerland, England, Cuba, United States, and Canada. He published Viajes por Europa, África, y América in 1849. He started the new periodicals La Tribuna and La Crónica and criticized Argentina’s dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. Chile refused to extradite Sarmiento to Argentina. He published the utopian Argirópolis and Recollections of a Provincial Past (Recuerdos de Provincia).
      In 1855 Sarmiento went to Buenos Aires and became the editor of El Nacional. After being a town councilor in 1856 and 1857 he was in the provincial senate until 1861. He returned to San Juan and was elected governor and served 1862-64. The Statutory Law of Public Education required children to attend primary school, and it included schools for girls. He promoted public buildings, hospitals, agriculture, and mining. In 1865 he resigned so that he could be the Plenipotentiary Minister to the United States. Sarmiento learned that his son Domingo was killed on 22 September 1866 when General Mitre’s forces assaulted the strong fortifications at Curupaití. In that battle Argentina suffered 2,225 casualties and Brazil 2,002 while Paraguay had only 92. Sarmiento became very close friends with Horace Mann’s widow Mary, and they corresponded for the rest of their lives. She translated his masterpiece El Facundo as Life in the Argentine Republic and some of Recuerdos de provincia. He visited Emerson in Concord and the Hispanist George Ticknor. President Mitre’s son Bartolito was Sarmiento’s secretary and helped him learn English. Sarmiento greatly admired American culture and wrote, “The supremacy of law is an elementary requisite of liberty,” and “Education has been considered by many as the true basis of popular liberty.”2 While in America until 1868 he wrote Vida de Lincoln, and Las escuelas base de la prosperidad y de la república en los Estados Unidos, and he translated and edited the Life of Horace Mann.
      President Mitre was away from Buenos Aires for several years commanding the Allied Army in the Paraguay War. Vice President Marcos Paz had been running the administration, and after his death in January 1868 Mitre returned to the capital. On January 11 the San Juan legislature elected Sarmiento to be their national senator. Mitre accepted the resignations of the entire cabinet, and he appointed Sarmiento the Minister of the Interior. Sarmiento declined as he was being considered as a candidate for president. The Club Libertad met in February and chose to support Sarmiento for president and Valentín Alsina for vice president. The University of Michigan invited Sarmiento to receive an honorary degree of doctor of law, and he attended the graduation on June 24. On July 23 he boarded the steamship Merrimac which took him to Bahia, Brazil on August 17, and there he learned that Argentina had elected him president. At Rio de Janeiro he met with Emperor Pedro II and assured him that Argentina would not make a separate peace with Paraguay. At this time Buenos Aires had 18 newspapers. He felt free because he had not made any commitments to anyone.
      President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was inaugurated on 12 October 1868. He was the first who was not a military officer, and he said,

We are going to constitute a pure democracy,
and for that we cannot count on only the teachers
but we must count on the entire youth
that will form a generation to help me in my task.
It is necessary to make the poor gaucho
into a useful man in society.
For that purpose
we must make the entire Republic into a school.3

A few weeks later he spoke at Chivilcoy and said they could use their new land law as a model for “free, industrious, and happy peoples.” He offered a prize to the first person who could find a method to preserve fresh meat. He appointed the jurist Dalmacio Vélez Sarsfield to be Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Avellaneda as Minister of Justice and Public Education, José Benjamín Gorostiaga the Minister of Finance, Mariano Varela as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Col. Martín de Gainza the Minister of War. Mitre declined that position or to go back to being the commander-in-chief of the allied armies in Paraguay. Sarmiento was concerned about the caudillism of Mitre, the Taboada brothers, and Urquiza who turned out to be helpful. Argentina conducted its first census in September 1869 counting 1,877,490 people.
      After a revolution broke out in Corrientes in 1869, on 3 February 1870 Sarmiento went to see Governor Urquiza at San José, Entre Ríos and was grateful for his support. On March 1 Paraguay’s dictator Solano López was surrounded, refused to surrender, and was killed, basically ending the Paraguay War. Ricardo López Jordán led a revolt against Urquiza, and on April 11 murderers killed Urquiza and his family. At a meeting of the cabinet and prominent leaders Mitre, Adolfo Asina, Manuel Quintana, and others agreed that López Jordán must be brought to justice. Sarmiento issued a proclamation on the incident and affirmed the importance of a peaceful Republic. He declared Entre Ríos in a state of siege. Sarmiento led a force of 15,000 men in July, and on October 12 an army led by General Ignacio Rivas defeated López Jordán who tried to negotiate in December. On 26 January 1871 the Corrientes militia defeated the rebels, and their leader López Jordán fled to Rio Grande in Brazil.
      Cholera from the Paraguayan war killed many in Argentina, and starting in January 1871 yellow fever spread to Corrientes and to Buenos Aires. By February about twenty a day were dying. In March the epidemic killed about 4,800. In April there were 7,500 deaths before the cold weather in May reduced the death toll. From 1869 to 1874 imports were much larger than exports every year, and the government revenues were considerably less than expenditures.
      López Jordán led an invasion again on 1 May 1873, and they devastated much of Entre Ríos. On August 22 an assassination attempt on Sarmiento in a carriage by two hired Italians failed as guns misfired. Jordanistas were suspected, and the two Italian brothers were imprisoned. On December 9 an army led by Col. Gainza defeated the rebels again at Don Gonzalo, and López Jordán fled to Uruguay. In 1873 Sarmiento established a national bank.
      Despite all the misery President Sarmiento managed to make many improvements. He increased schools that increased students from 30,000 to 100,000. The Department of Education subsidized provincial schools and added new national schools. He initiated normal schools to train teachers and got teachers from the United States to teach them. He organized the Faculty of Exact Sciences, the School of Mining and Agronomy, the Naval Academy, and the Military Academy. He increased and improved libraries, and he ordered books from Europe. He founded the National Observatory, physics laboratories, museums, night schools for adults, and schools for stenographers, telegraph operators, deaf mutes, and for rural children in the interior. The Interior Minister Vélez Sarsfield revised the commercial code and the military code, and he modernized the curriculum at the law school in Córdoba. They introduced telegraph lines and extended them to Chile and Europe. The mileage of railways was tripled.
      Sarmiento believed in democracy, and he promoted the education of children and women. He had long opposed dictators and criticized the use of interventions and decrees, though in six years he found it necessary to intervene twice and to make laws by three decrees. Mitrists had a majority in the Senate against Sarmiento, and with 9-year terms that lasted for the six-year term. After his presidency Sarmiento served as the director general of the schools, and he began a pedagogical journal, La educación común en la provincial de Buenos Aires. In 1875 San Juan elected him as their national senator. In 1878 he went back to editing El Nacional. In August 1879 he resigned as Senator to be Minister of the Interior briefly. He published Conflicto y armonías de las razas en América in 1883. In 1884 he organized a convention for a project to translate and publish a thousand volumes from Europe and North America. In 1886 he published The Life and Writings of Colonel Don Francisco J. Muñiz, a naturalist. Sarmiento died of a heart attack in September 1888.

Argentina of Roca & PAN 1874-1904

      On 4 January 1870 Bartolomé Mitre had founded the newspaper La Nación in Buenos Aires. France’s defeat in the Prussian War in 1871 damaged its economy and that of its trading partners, shrinking revenues between 1872 and 1874. The National Autonomist Party (Partido Autonomista Nacional) or PAN was organized on 15 March 1874 by uniting the Autonomist Party of Adolfo Alsina and the National Party of Nicolás Avellaneda.
      President Sarmiento’s term ended in 1874, and he was succeeded by Nicolás Avellaneda who had been Minister of Justice and Public Instruction 1868-73. Mitre challenged the legitimacy of his election, and Mitre’s forces were defeated by General Roca and the Army. Mitre was convicted in a military trial, and President Avellaneda commuted his sentence for the sake of peace. He helped immigrants with a law that made it easier for them to get land, and he encouraged them to go to Patagonia. Avellaneda had to deal with the economic crisis. In 1875 foreign workers under the influence of anticlericalism destroyed the Colegio El Salvador, a Jesuit seminary in Buenos Aires.
      In 1875 and 1876 a coalition of Indian tribes made devastating attacks on Azul, Olavarría, and Tres Arroyos in the Buenos Aires province. In 1876 an Indian attack came within 60 leagues of Buenos Aires, and reports estimated that they stole 300,000 cattle and 500 white captives. In 1879 General Julio Roca led a military expedition to conquer the wilderness. They drove out and killed many from the Tehuelche and Araucanian tribes in the area. This was paid for by selling 8.5 million hectares of the land to 381 buyers.
      The Autonomy Party (PAN) nominated Julio Roca for president in 1880 because he was popular for having defeated the Indians. He got many votes in April, and he won in the Electoral College on June 13, overcoming the Bueno Aires nominee Carlos Tejedor. Four days later Buenos Aires revolted and was defeated as 3,000 lives were lost. Following that election the city of Buenos Aires was separated from the province to become the capital of the republic. Although Argentina disbanded the militias in 1881, occasional uprisings continued with civilians. President Roca approved laicist laws to nationalize church functions, and that included lay education in 1883. This nationalizing Catholic schools in 1884 caused the Vatican to break off relations with Argentina. In 1887 a Civil Register was established to index all births, deaths, and marriages. President Roca was criticized for centralizing authority and for one-man rule. During the PAN era 1880-1916 there was much electoral fraud, corruption, and violence.
      In the 1880s Argentina became a leading exporter of wheat, corn, oats, and barley. In the wheat trade Argentina’s annual exports averaged in the period 1870-74 only 77 metric tons while imports were 2,110. In 1890-94 exports were 782,000 metric tons as imports diminished to only 300. Agricultural colonies and small farms increased, and by 1880 Santa Fe had 365 colonies and 20,000 small farms. In the 1880s Argentine farmers imported French vines and developed wineries. By 1890 grape vineyards in Mendoza Province covered 16,000 acres, and they increased to 112,000 acres by 1910. Sugarcane grew from 5,000 acres in 1875 to 135,000 acres in 1895. In 1880 Argentina had only 1,570 miles of railways, and this increased to 5,850 miles by 1889, 10,300 miles by 1900, and 17,350 miles by 1910.
      President Roca endorsed his brother-in-law Miguel Juárez Celman to succeed him, and Celman was elected on 11 April 1886. At his inauguration Celman presented himself as a liberal, and he promoted public works that included the Teatro Colón opera-house, schools, sanitation, and the San Roque Dam. He reformed law courts, established the Property Registry, approved the Civil Marriage Law, and Mining, Criminal, and Commerce codes. He advocated economic privatization, and production of wheat and beef increased greatly. During his presidency the economy grew by 44%. An economic crisis caused the Banco Constructor de La Plata to become bankrupt. The British Barings Bank stopped investing, and Argentina went into default and repudiated some debts.
      Argentina began keeping records on immigration in 1857, and by 1916 they counted 4,758,729 immigrants who had entered the nation. Some immigrants came from Europe for a seasonal harvest and then went home. In 1889 immigration reached an early peak at 260,909, and with only 40,649 emigrating that year, the net gain was the largest between the years 1870 and 1914. In 1889 many strikes demanded a raise in wages to keep up with inflation. In July 1890 the Catholics led by José Manuel Estrada and Pedro Goyena joined a revolutionary coalition that revolted against the liberal regime of Juárez Celman who left the capital and resigned on August 6.
      Leandro Nicéforo Alem was born in Buenos Aires on 11 March 1841. He fought in the civil war battles at Cepeda and Pavón in 1859, and he joined the Army in 1865 during the Paraguay War. In 1871 he was elected a deputy in the Buenos Aires legislature. In 1874 he was elected to Argentina’s Chamber and later became a senator. Alem and his friend Aristóbulo del Valle formed the Republican Party in 1877. On 1 September 1889 Alem organized the political party Civic Union of the Youth. Julio Roca called President Celman “vile and mean,” and Senator Del Valle exposed the clandestine issues of paper money. On 26 July 1890 the Civic Union and others took over most of the Buenos Aires Artillery Park for three days. About 240 people were killed, and over a thousand were wounded. The army forced them to disperse. The former President Roca and Vice President Carlos Pellegrini continued to criticize Celman, and on August 6 the Congress accepted his resignation. The next day Pellegrini became an interim President.
      He managed to clean up the financial situation by restoring the gold standard, and he established the Banco de la Nación Argentina as well as the respected Escuela Superior de Comercio that became part of the University of Buenos Aires. Pellegrini obtained a debt moratorium from the Baring Brothers in January 1891. That month Alem at a Civic Union party convention in Rosario explained the party’s purpose.

The Unión Cívica was not, is not, and cannot be a party such
as those that formerly dominated our political movements;
by its very nature and by the mission it has established,
it must reject and combat all personal agendas,
all the self-interested ideas of cliques,
all secretive and unseemly schemes, all deals
that are calculated to make a mockery of the people’s vote,
thereby cheating the great hopes that Argentines nourished
after all the efforts they undertook to recover their rights
and rescue a humiliated public morality.
The Unión Cívica wants and looks for … a pure, genuine,
free and independent people’s opinion in the Republic,
whose autonomy is one of the first inscriptions on its flag,
at odds with centralizing tendencies
whose effects we have just suffered …
it calls for the cooperation of all the provinces
by means of their free and legitimate deliberation
in order to choose the candidates for higher office
in the nation, ones who deserve their trust
and embody their aspirations in these solemn moments.4

      On 26 June 1891 that party divided into the Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical) or UCR led by Alem and the National Civic Union (Unión Cívica Nacional) or UCN that was led by the former President Bartolomé Mitre.
      On November 1 the Esperanza newspaper La Unión appealed to immigrants,

Our manifesto is directed to the colono who,
abandoning the plough for the moment
in order to remind himself he is a citizen,
expresses in simple language his dislike
of arbitrary behavior and disregard of his citizenship;
it speaks to the hardworking, upright foreigner
who finds himself dispossessed by the arbitrary rule
of special treatment and exemptions protected by the law.5

The Centro Político Extranjero was organized to give voice to the foreign-born. In February 1893 La Razón reported that imprisoned colonos in San Geronimo

were generally disposed to pay the tax as long as
the money was used to pay schoolteachers,
elective justices of the peace,
and local public officials in general;
they asked also for a restoration
of elective municipal government.6

In Santa Fe province the Society of Taxpayers demanded the right of foreigners to vote. In November La Unión published that the foreign delegates declared,

We ask for the municipal vote.
First, because community power is not a political issue,
as some mistakenly believe, but one of self-government,
in essence popular and democratic,
concerned with the welfare, health, safety,
and family organization of every people.
Second, because we are taxpayers
and residents of the municipality.
Third, because, since we take an active part
and have duties in collective life, we should have “rights.”
Fourth, because foreigners have been the founders
of the agricultural colonies and for that very reason
we desire to administer our own interests, sweat, and labor,
all the more so since self-government had been promised
to the founders of the colonias in special contracts,
signed by the national authorities, with full power to do so,
contracts which still are in our hands.7

      The depression got worse as the gold premium went from 151% to 287% in 1892. From 1890 to 1892 railways were extended by 25%. The 1893 wheat harvest failed, and Argentina renegotiated its foreign debt. Finance Minister Juan José Romero deferred interest charges until 1898.
      The British had invested £157 million enabling Argentina to build 5,800 miles of railways by 1890. The British dominated the companies that transported 10 million passengers and 5 million tons of cargo. Argentina’s exports were 7,600 tons in 1850 and 111,000 tons in 1882. That year the first packing plant to prepare and freeze meat for shipment opened in Buenos Aires. In the next seven years frozen-meat shipments averaged 34,016 metric tons, and in the years 1905-09 frozen beef and mutton averaged 266,491 tons per year. In 1900 modernization made chilled beef practical, and shipments began in 1908. In the next 20 years chilled-meat shipments increased to 400,000 metric tons annually. The number of sheep in Argentina multiplied from 7 million in 1852 to 87 million by 1888.
      Argentina’s first national census in 1869 had counted 1,736,923 residents with 177,787 of these in Buenos Aires. The second census in 1895 found 3,956,060 inhabitants, and the third census in 1914 reported a population of 7,885,237 with 1,575,814 in Buenos Aires. From 1871 to 1914 about 5,917,259 immigrants came to Argentina, and an estimated 3,194,875 settled there. After the peak immigration in 1913, the only year in which more people left Argentina than arrived was in 1914 when only 182,659 immigrated while 221,008 emigrated. Cultivated land in Argentina increased from 580,000 hectares in 1872 to 24 million in 1915.
      The Autonomy Party (PAN) dominated elections from 1880 to 1916, and it was also called the “Cattle Party.” After 1890 they were challenged by the Radical Civic Union Party (Unión Cívica Radical) and the Socialist Party. Voters had to tell electoral officials who they were for, and that gave the ruling party control. Usually less than 20% of the men eligible actually voted.
      Luis Sáenz Peña graduated from the University of Buenos Aires, and he became a member of the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires. He also became a bank president, director of the Academy of Jurisprudence, and served on the General Council of Education. In 1892 the Roquismos and Mitrismos combined forces to defeat the Radical Civic Union by electing Luis Sáenz Peña as President with José Evaristo Uriburu as Vice President. Sáenz Peña avoided contracting new debts, and he persuaded bankers to follow the policies of the Finance Minister Juan José Romero. Sáenz Peña promoted public works, and Congress passed the National Charity Lottery in 1893. During the economic crisis several ministers resigned on July 3.
      Hipólito Yrigoyen was born on 12 July 1852, and at the age of 30 he met Spanish Krausists, and he began to study the philosophy of the German Karl Krause who emphasized conscience and the common good. In 1880 Yrigoyen became a professor of history, civics, and philosophy. On 8 August 1893 Hipólito Yrigoyen’s brother, Col. Martín Yrigoyen, led 3,500 civilians, and they overthrew Governor Carlos Costa and took over the city of La Plata. With Hipólito’s followers 4,500 people marched in the streets. Their provisional government lasted nine days until national troops arrived. After this failed uprising Leandro Alem lost many followers. He made many speeches criticizing the concentration of power and the limits on provincial autonomy and political rights. Sáenz Peña appointed Manuel Quintana as Minister of the Interior. On August 25 the provincial council announced they would lay down their arms. Alem wanted to revive the uprising, but his nephew Hipólito Yrigoyen told him that Quintana would send troops to defeat the revolution. By October the revolution was defeated. Hipólito Yrigoyen and other radicals were arrested and sent to Montevideo. The attempted revolution stirred the public and revived interest in electoral reform. Immigrants and junior officers joined, and that frightened the government. On 1 July 1896 Alem shot himself dead, and Hipólito Yrigoyen became the leader of the Radicals.
      In 1895 the political situation became unstable, and Sáenz Peña kept changing his entire cabinet. The discontent spread to the interior provinces. A new Minister of War and the Navy, Aristóbulo del Valle, advised the President to disarm the National Guards. That Radical Revolution could not be contained, and the ill Sáenz Peña resigned on 22 January 1895. Vice President José Evaristo Uriburu became President and served the rest of the term to 12 October 1898. That year Hipólito Yrigoyen persuaded Radicals not to contest elections as a protest against the fraud. He aimed to overthrow the regime and to replace it with democracy. Yrigoyen was a fairly wealthy landowner, and yet he practiced personal austerity and frugality.
      The physician and journalist Juan Bautista Justo founded the Socialist Party on 28 June 1896. He began La Vanguardia newspaper in 1894, and it functioned as the Socialist organ and became a daily newspaper in 1905. He wrote and published several books including Argentine Socialism in 1910. Justo continued to be a socialist leader until his death in 1928.
      In 1898 Julio Roca was elected President again. The Federation of Argentine Workers (Federación Obrera Argentina) or FOA was organized on 2 June 1901, and they began with 10,000 members. Carlos Pellegrini disagreed with Roca on the national debt, and law students at the University of Buenos Aires led by Manuel Gálvez started the literary periodical Ideas. In 1904 President Roca endorsed PAN’s nominee Manuel Quintana, and Pellegrini got José Figueroa Alcorta chosen for vice president.

Argentina of Reform & Yrigoyen 1905-35

      President Manuel Quintana was elected and served until his death on 12 March 1906. He was succeeded by Vice President José Figueroa Alcorta who governed for three years and seven months. President Alcorta used federal interventions to remove Roca’s followers from the provinces and to implement reforms. When Congress complained, he dissolved them and had police keep them away. In 1910 Alcorta supported Roque Sáenz Peña because he had been advocating electoral reform for twenty years.
      In the decade of the 1900s the numbers of the anarchists and socialists increased. The Law of Residence in 1902 and the Law of Social Defense allowed the deporting or imprisoning of suspected anarchists. Socialists generally opposed the violence of anarchists, and they advocated women’s suffrage, legal divorce, the 8-hour workday, progressive income tax, and more spending on primary education. Alfred Palacios in 1904 was the first socialist to be elected to a parliament in the Americas, and he led the Socialists until his death in 1928.
      A socialist revolutionary effort failed in 1905. That year at the 5th Congress of the Federation of Argentine Workers (FOA) the anarchists gained control, and they renamed it the Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (Federación Obrera Regional Argentina) or FORA. In 1906 the former rebels were granted amnesty. Socialists organized the General Workers’ Union (Unión General de Trabajadores) or UGT in 1907. That year nearly 170,000 workers participated in 231 strikes in Buenos Aires. On 14 November 1909 a Ukrainian Jewish anarchist with a bomb killed two men including Ramón Falcón who was Police Chief in Buenos Aires, and this increased anti-Semitism in the city.
      In 1910 anarchists threatened to disrupt the national centennial celebrations. To stop their strike some civilian vigilantes attacked their meeting places, burned their books, and destroyed printing presses. This led to many being imprisoned or banished, and anarchism declined. In the years 1906 to 1913 immigration ranged annually between 257,924 in 1907 and 364,271 in 1913.
      In 1910 Argentina elected Roque Sáenz Peña, son of the former President. Shortly before his inauguration he met with President Figueroa Alcorta, and with the leader of the opposition Hipólito Yrigoyen they agreed to reform elections. In his inaugural address he promised an international policy of “friendship for Europe and fraternity for America.” Later in 1910 Manuel Gálvez published El diario de Gabriel Quiroga criticizing liberal positivism, and he dedicated it to the liberals Mitre and Sarmiento. Gálvez said he “was a Tolstoyan, a Socialist, an anarchist, a Nietzschean, a neo-mystic, and finally a Catholic,” and he wrote,

The present hour demands of us, the Argentines,
all our efforts to achieve the rebirth of the spiritual life
that in our past we lived intensely….
We have abandoned the ideas that once formed
the noblest ornament of the Argentine people,
and we now think of nothing more than increasing
our wealth and speeding the progress of the country.8

      In 1911 the Congress debated and passed the Sáenz Peña Law on electoral reform. On 10 February 1912 President Roque Sáenz Peña approved the forming of the Military Aviation School, and he signed the electoral reform law that made voting secret, universal, and compulsory for men over 18. Soldiers, instead of the corrupt police, supervised the reformed elections. Minority parties gained some political representation in national and provincial elections. In 1913 Gálvez published essays in El solar de la raza. He was concerned about “the ugly materialism that today shames and insults us,” writing,

This materialism is a recent phenomenon that has appeared
with the fever for wealth and has come from Europe.
The immigrant who has made his fortune
has brought with him a new concept of life.
His sole intention is to enrich himself,
and in doing so he has contaminated the Argentines.9

      The Sáenz Peña Law would end the longtime electoral fraud under the Autonomy Party (PAN). The government intervened in the Santa Fe province to enforce the law. In the next four elections the number of those voting tripled and quadrupled raising turnout to 80%. Hipólito Yrigoyen stopped abstaining from elections, and he encouraged his followers to work for electoral supremacy. The Radical Civic Union began appealing to more people. Tenant farmers protested the bad conditions under the contracts with the owners, and the movement spread to the Pampas and ended with a large reduction in rents. President Roque Sáenz Peña contracted syphilis while fighting for Peru in the War of the Pacific (1979-84), and he died on 9 August 1914.
      Farmland had been increasing from 2.4 million acres in 1888 to 4.9 million in 1895, and it would be 24 million by 1914. Argentina’s exports and imports quadrupled from the first half of the 1890s to the first half of the 1910s. The Radical Civic Union gained control of several provinces and put representatives in Congress after 1912. That year Maupas Leopoldo wrote,

If instead of looking at the leaders, we look at the masses,
it is easy to see that the supporters of the conservative
parties are to be found in the rural livestock areas,
dependent upon the rich bourgeoisie.
On the other hand the Radical Party shows most vitality
in the cities and in the agricultural districts,
where the arrival of foreigners has allowed for the formation
of a middle class of small businessmen and farmers,
whose sons offer it important and enthusiastic supporters.10

      During the Great War in 1914-18 the cost of living in Buenos Aires rose by 70%. Argentina’s third national census in 1914 found a population of 7,885,237. By 1914 Buenos Aires had about 214 mutual-aid societies with about 255,000 members, and about half of them were from various mixed-national societies. Syndicalists had won over most workers by 1915. That year Carlos Ibarguren proposed policies for a new Progressive Democratic Party that became the largest conservative faction. He hoped that social reforms would “give us economic independence from the foreigner.”
      Party organization expanded between 1912 and 1916. During the election campaign of 1916 the Radical candidate Hipólito Yrigoyen announced that he would donate his salary to charity. He criticized the political factions of the oligarchy and said,

These men are responsible for the greatest crimes
ever committed in human history….
This is the Argentine Bastille, against which my energies
are pitted in harmony with the soul of the nation….
All we need is clean elections.
This is the indispensable condition
for a decorous return to the exercise of electoral rights….
And once this is done, it will become apparent
what a difference there is between a nation
choked by competing pressures,
and one breathing in the fullness of its being
and spreading its vitality to the common good.11

In the election on April 2 the people cast 747,471 votes. Hipólito Yrigoyen got 340,802 votes or 46% to 150,245 or 20% for the Conservative Ángel Rojas and 135,308 votes or 18% for the Progressive Democrat Lisandro de la Torre who founded that party in 1914. The Radical Civic Union won 26 seats in the Chamber of Deputies followed by the Conservative Concentration with 18, the Democratic Progressives with 7, Dissident Radicals 4, Socialists 3, and Liberals of Corrientes 3. The Radicals also gained a majority in the five provinces of Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Mendoza, Santiago del Estero, and Tucumán.
      During the Great War (World War I) in 1914-18 President Yrigoyen maintained a policy of neutrality. winter unemployment in Argentina increased gradually from 13.4% in 1914 to 19.4% in 1917, and then it went down to 12.0% in 1918 and to 7.9% in 1919. War-time inflation caused the cost of living to go up from 108 in 1914 to 186 in 1919, and then it went down to 150 in 1922 based on the standard of 100 in 1910. Real wages fell from 61 in 1915 to 42 in 1918, and then they rose to 84 in 1922 based on the standard of 100 in 1929.
      Radicals supported workers in urban strife. Yrigoyen’s government intervened in a port strike by the Maritime Workers’ Federation in December 1916. Radicals and Socialists competed for the votes of the workers, and the Radical policy had more sympathy for strikers and used “distributive justice” to achieve “social harmony.” Several union leaders accepted arbitration, and most of the strikers’ demands were met. The arbitration helped workers get better working conditions in 1917 and 1918. In the 1918 Congressional elections Radicals did better than Socialists.
      Conflicts between conservatives and the Radicals disrupted income levels for social classes after the 1916 election. Former Presidents Roca, Pellegrini, and Figueroa Alcorta had used federal intervention to control Congress even though it was considered illegal. The struggling President Yrigoyen did that even more with twenty interventions in his six-year term. Thus by 1918 the Radicals had a majority in the Chamber of Deputies but not in the Senate where members had 9-year terms. On 8 April 1919 Yrigoyen told the British diplomat Alfred Mitchell-Innes,

He had no confidence in the United States
and regarded Wilson as an Imperialist
who aspired to exert authority throughout the Americas….
He regarded England as a power sunk in materialism
and which, having grabbed half the world and being sated,
could now put on a hypocritical mask of generosity.12

      In 1919 the historian and law professor Carlos Ibarguren (1877-1956) gave public lectures in Buenos Aires that were published in 1920. He said,

We are witnessing the collapse of a civilization
and the conclusion of an historical epoch….
The century of omnipotent science, the century
of the bourgeoisie emerging under the flag of democracy,
the century of the financiers and the biologists
is sinking in the midst of the greatest catastrophe
that has ever afflicted mankind.13

He foresaw that the spiritual exaltation experienced by people during the war would lead to “a new age of spirituality,” and he warned,

People act out of instinct
rather than through controlled feelings,
and society is a terrible conflict of discordant interests
where money rules…. Money has been an obsession,
which in fostering the gambling instinct
leads to constant theft, intrigue, and conspiracies….
Society lacks a soul;
its dominant forces are violence
bred by envy and a mass of unbridled appetites.14

      Yrigoyen supported the movement to reform the universities in Córdoba, Buenos Aires, and La Plata which was founded in 1890. The number of students in them went up from some 3,000 in 1900 to about 14,000 in 1918. The reformers began militant strikes in 1918 at the University of Córdoba. They began a new union of students called the Federación Universitaria Argentina. Córdoba was upset for most of the year, and the student strikes spread to the other two universities in 1919. New universities began with the same reforms in Santa Fe in 1919 and at Tucumán in 1921. Francisco Beiró was National Deputy and Interior Minister during Yrigoyen’s first term, and in 1919 in the National Chamber of Deputies he declared,

We do not fail to see that there are conflicts
between capital and labour, but we do not accept that
there is a proletarian or a capitalist class,
even if 95% of the Argentines were to fall into
what in Europe is called the proletariat.
Nor is it right to bring into our new America, here
where new ideals of human solidarity are being formed,
such sentiments of hate
on account of differences of race, religion or class.15

      The metallurgical industry suffered during the war because of a lack of raw materials. In 1918 the desperate workers went on strike, and violence had to be curtailed by police. After strikers killed a policeman, the police retaliated by killing five bystanders two days later. On 9 January 1919 the Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (FORA) called a general strike in Buenos Aires that involved more than 150,000 protesters. The Army was called in to suppress the problems, and in the fighting 700 were killed and about 4,000 were injured. Afterward vigilantes organized the Argentine Patriotic League, and they were supported by the Army and the Navy. For over two years the League was active against “Bolshevik” conspiracies. After the war the meat-export market collapsed, and by 1921 some producers had no market for their herds. In 1921-22 the Army intervened to crush strikes by shepherds and rural workers in Patagonia, leaving 1,500 people dead.
      The economy recovered by 1919, and state spending was increased. President Yrigoyen became more popular, and the conservatives hardened. In January 1920 the government’s La Epoca published,

In assiduous and direct contact with the People
and with the progressive activities of the nation,
President Yrigoyen, the true democrat, has managed to win
something which the Presidents of Class were never able
to win—the love and confidence of the citizenry.16

On 30 September 1920 in his Message to the National Congress Yrigoyen said the country’s social constitution

will be unobtainable until governments appreciate
their inescapable duty to provide the means for justice
to extend its benefits to every social rank….
Democracy does not simply consist in the guarantee
of personal liberty: it also involves the opportunity
of everyone to enjoy a minimum level of welfare.17

      In 1922 Yrigoyen endorsed Marcelo de Alvear as his successor, and the main issues of the campaign were the beef industry, tariff reform, and the national debt. Alvear was elected with 55% of the votes over the conservative Norberto Piñero’s 28%. The Radicals won 49 more seats in the Chamber of Deputies giving them 95 out of 158 seats. British and Americans owned the meat-packing plants, and their fixed prices threatened the ranching industry with bankruptcy. President Alvear opposed Anti-Personalists. When Yrigoyen’s supporters gained control of the precinct committees, their representatives dominated legislatures. To build support they used the issue of the oil industry and its control by Standard Oil of New Jersey. Before leaving office Yrigoyen founded the National Oil Agency (Dirección Nacional de los Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales) or YPF.
      In 1924 a majority of the middle classes abandoned Alvear for Yrigoyen, splitting the Radical Party. In September 1927 the Radicals in the Chamber of Deputies voted to nationalize the oil fields leased by the Standard Oil company. United States officials used the fear of hoof-and-mouth disease to ban Argentine meat exports. Personalist Radicals were then able to put federal jurisdiction over all subsoil minerals, and they extended their monopoly to the refining, subproducts, and distribution. Violence during the election of 1928 in Salta province left 200 people dead. That year the oil issue helped Yrigoyen get re-elected with 61% of the votes over the Antipersonalist Radical Civic Union candidate Leopoldo Melo who got 31%. The election turnout was over 80%, and the Radical Civic Union still had 89 seats in the Chamber. Yrigoyen was 76 years old, and rumors spread that he was senile. He regained his power as his supporters took control of the bureaucracy. In June 1929 he approved 4,514,470 pesos for primary schools in Buenos Aires. The depressive effect of the New York stock market crash reached Argentina in December 1929. Government revenues declined, and in the Congressional elections in March 1930 the yrigoyenistas had 25% less votes than in 1928 and lost their first election since 1924. In September 1930 a military coup d’état removed Yrigoyen.
      In 1930 the population of Argentina was 11.8 million, and it would increase to 15.3 million in 1946. In 1930 the labor movement was unified as the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) combined the Socialist Confederación Obrera Argentina and the syndicalist Unión Sindical Argentina. On 6 September 1930 crowds cheered as General José Félix Uriburu marched to the Presidential Palace where the military rebellion replaced Yrigoyen with a junta that made Uriburu the President of Argentina.
      During the depression the 1930s became the era of conservative oligarchs. From 1929 to 1932 the gross domestic product fell by 14%, and it did not surpass the 1929 level until 1939. President Uriburu made severe cuts in spending and discharged 20,000 government employees in Buenos Aires in 1930 and 1931. He and his associates were leaders in the Patriotic League which had formed in January 1919 and merged with the Argentine Civic Legion in 1931.
      These nationalists did not have a majority, and General Agustín Pedro Justo, the Minister of War under Alvear, emerged as the leader of liberal conservatives. In an election for governor of Buenos Aires in April 1931 the Radicals won. In July a rebellion of military Radicals in Corrientes provoked President Uriburu to annul the April election, punish dissenting soldiers, and round up Radical sympathizers. Radicals were banned from the election on November 8, and their leaders were arrested or exiled. Justo was elected President with 61% of the votes over Lisandro de la Torre. Concordance parties won 50 of 95 seats, and the Civic Alliance parties got 27 seats including 20 Socialists.
      President Agustín Justo was inaugurated on 20 February 1932. The Radicals went back to abstaining from elections until 1935. In 1933 there were attempted coups in Buenos Aires, Corrientes, Entre Ríos, and Misiones. In London Argentina’s Vice President Julio Argentino Roca, Jr., and the president of the British Board of Trade, Sir Walter Runciman, signed a commercial treaty on May 1, and it would be renewed in 1936. President Justo was supported by Federico Pinedo and Antonio de Tomaso from the Concordancia in the city of Buenos Aires, and in 1933 Justo appointed the orthodox Pinedo the Finance Minister. In November he imposed emergency measures to increase revenue including an income tax that previously conservatives had always blocked. Pinedo’s main reform was to establish the Central Bank in 1934, and he used it to manage the economy and consolidate the public debt.
      In 1935 Radical youths started the Fuerza de Orientación Radical de la Juventud Argentina (FORJA), and they called for a free Argentina and opposed imperialism.


1. Sarmiento Anthology, A tr. Stuart Edgar Grummon ed. Allison Williams Bunkley, p. 291.
2. The Life of Sarmiento by Allison Williams Bunkley, p. 431.
3. Ibid., p. 448.
4. Region and Nation: Politics, Economics, and Society in Twentieth-Century Argentina, p. 10.
5. Ibid., p. 5.
6. Ibid., p. 6.
7. Ibid., p. 8.
8. Authoritarian Argentina: The Nationalist Movement, Its History and Its Impact by David Rock, p. 43.
9. Ibid., p. 51.
10. Politics in Argentina 1890-1930: The Rise and Fall of Radicalism by David Rock, p. 50.
11. Ibid., p. 54.
12. Authoritarian Argentina, p. 63.
13. Ibid., p. 69.
14. Ibid.
15. Politics in Argentina 1890-1930, p. 118.
16. Ibid., p. 98.
17. Ibid.

Copyright © 2023 by Sanderson Beck

Latin America & Canada 1850-1935 has been published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Latin America & Canada to 1850

Brazil 1850-1935
Uruguay 1850-1935
Argentina 1850-1935
Paraguay 1850-1935 
Bolivia 1850-1935
Chile 1850-1935
Peru 1850-1935
Ecuador 1850-1935
Colombia 1850-1935
Venezuela & Guianas 1850-1935
Haiti & Dominican Republic 1850-1935
Cuba 1850-1935
Puerto Rico 1850-1935
Panama 1850-1935
Costa Rica 1850-1935
Nicaragua 1850-1935
El Salvador 1850-1935
Honduras 1850-1935
Guatemala 1850-1935
Mexico 1850-1935
Canada 1850-1935

Chronology of Latin America to 1935
Chronology of Canada to 1935
Chronology of North & South America to 1786
Chronology of North & South America 1787-1844
Chronology of North & South America 1845-1896
Chronology of United States to 1896
World Chronology to 1830


BECK index