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University of California Press
The Invention of Argentina / Edition 1

The Invention of Argentina / Edition 1

by Nicolas ShumwayNicolas Shumway
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The nations of Latin America came into being without a strong sense of national purpose and identity. In The Invention of Argentina, Nicholas Shumway offers a cultural history of one nation's efforts to determine its nature, its destiny, and its place among the nations of the world. His analysis is crucial to understanding not only Argentina's development but also current events in the Argentine Republic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520082847
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 03/18/1993
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 991,273
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nicholas Shumway is Associate Professor of Spanish at Yale University and the author of numerous articles on Spanish and Spanish American literature.

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Invention of Argentina

By Nicolas Shumway

University of California Press

Copyright © 1993 Nicolas Shumway
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520082847

Chapter One
Prelude to Nationhood

Argentina's path to nationhood begins with Spanish conquest and colonization. To trace this path, I begin by looking at problems in nation formation throughout the American continent. Later, I examine specific elements of Argentina's prenational experience as they set the stage for subsequent developments.

During the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, no concept engaged the European mind more than the idea of nationhood. With the waning of the Enlightenment and the advent of Romanticism, notions of universal brotherhood gave way to an upsurge of nationalist sentiment in which each country affirmed its ethnic, linguistic, and mythical uniqueness. Folk traditions, peasant life, religious festivals, national histories and heroes, ethnic idiosyncracies, tribal mythologies, and country landscapes soon permeated all the arts, from the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas; to the music of Dvorak, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky; to the paintings of Goya, Turner, and David; to the poetry of Schiller, Burns, and Becquer. National mythologies were resurrected when available, created when not, and spread with evangelical zeal, all with the effect of building a sense of national belongingness anddestiny; these mythologies became the guiding fictions of nations, guiding fictions that encouraged the French to feel French; the English, English; and the Germans, German. When politicians sought to unite people under a common banner or to legitimate a particular government, appeals to the guiding fictions of preexisting peoplehood and national destiny proved enormously useful; indeed, without them, the work of men like Bismarck, Gladstone, and Cavour toward national consolidation would have been more difficult and perhaps impossible.

Although a new country, the United States from the outset also had its guiding fictions, particularly in the Puritan dream of establishing a New Jerusalem in the American wilderness. As Ralph Perry, Sacvan Bercovitch, and others have shown, the name of their dream was "America," a name, although intended for an entire continent, which the Puritans took for their own. Even now, common usage the world over employs the names America and Americans as synonyms for the United States and its citizens, a practice that ignores the fact that all inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere are also Americans living in America. The Puritans defined themselves from the beginning as a nation apart, divinely chosen to exemplary righteousness and prosperity. They viewed themselves as modern Israelites called by God to occupy a promised land; more than a social goal, their work was a holy errand to establish Zion in the New World and be a light unto the iniquitous nations of the Old. The Puritan dream proved a highly adaptable guiding fiction that subsequent generations of Americans transformed into concepts such as manifest destiny and protector of the free world as well as the notion that the United States, more than other nations, should aspire to a higher standard of morality, a standard still invoked by people as diverse as moral majoritarians and civil rights leaders.

Among the Spanish American countries, such guiding fictions for individual nations were harder to come by. Whereas in Europe and to some degree in the United States, myths of peoplehood on which nations could be built were available before the nations themselves were formed, in Spanish America, civil strife following Independence forced nations to emerge in areas that had no guiding fictions for autonomous nationhood. The process of concept preceding political reality found in the United States and much of Europe was in large measure reversed; guiding fictions of national destiny had to be improvised after political independence was already a fact. The Spanish colonies were carefully designed to extend the Spanish Empire, to be culturally, economically, and politically dependent on their mother country. They were not intended to develop a unique and independent sense of nationhood, but tobe extensions of Spain, unquestioning in political loyalty, religious faith, and taxes. Moreover, few, if any, of the Spanish American colonists dreamed of a destiny other than that assigned by Spain.

To ensure Spain's hegemony over her American possessions, the Spanish colonies were governed for nearly 300 years by a highly centralized, albeit cumbersome, bureaucracy in which all important political and ecclesiastical positions were held by appointees from the mother country. Although the colonists and their descendants, known as Creoles (criollos ), often disregarded political decrees from above, they seldom questioned the authority of the crown and its appointees on ideological grounds. Their attitude toward the monarchy is well described in the contradictory slogan, Obedezco mas no cumplo, "I obey but do not comply," which might also be freely rendered as "I recognize the crown's authority, but on a given issue will do whatever I want." Thus the Creoles could and often did act independently of imperial decrees, but theirs was the liberty of tolerated disobedience in a loosely administered society; it was not the liberty of embryonic nations yearning for independence from the Spanish monarchy.

Because of the rigid social, political, and ideological ties between Spain and her New World colonies, ideas of national uniqueness in Spanish America do not begin emerging until the last years of the eighteenth century, just prior to the independence movements of 1810–1826. Although toponyms like Mexico, Peru, and Chile date from the first years of the conquest, such terms before Independence never connoted a unique national destiny and eventual autonomy as was the case with "America" in the United States. Further, since the independence movement in Spanish America stemmed in large measure from the political collapse of the Spanish monarchy and Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian peninsula in 1808, separation from Spain was in a sense imposed by events from without. Nation formation was further complicated by civil wars in post-Independence Spanish America which eventually broke four viceroyalties into eighteen separate republics. As a result, what had been merely geographic areas of the Spanish Empire suddenly had to understand and define their destiny as autonomous units; they had to create guiding fictions of peoplehood and nationness in order to approach the ideological consensus that underlay stable societies in other parts of theworld. Thus were created new countries with new boundaries and freshly minted names like Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina; no one in those areas a century or even a half-century before Independence dreamed that some day they would be new and distinct nations set apart by a unique destiny. Moreover, in none of those areas did a ready-made myth of national identity unite their inhabitants under a common ideology.

Yet, despite the administrative centralization and the lack of pre-Independence national ideologies, individual areas in Spanish America developed, on a popular level at least, a cultural uniqueness that the ruling classes before and after Independence often failed to appreciate. The Spaniards' goals of cultural and political uniformity were undermined to a remarkable degree by the mysterious, brazenly different, endlessly varied world they dared claim as theirs. From the day Columbus first attempted to understand and describe his discoveries and experiences, the unfamiliar lands interjected themselves into his consciousness and discourse, leaving him transformed and in a sense conquered. He and the conquistadors, missionaries, and settlers who followed him inevitably became partial products of the New World. Nature was the first intrusion into Spain's dream of replicating herself in America. The natural forces of exotic landscapes, tangled jungles, formidable mountains, vast pampas, untold natural wealth, and strange wildlife affected the course of conquest and settlement just as surely as any preconceived notion of empire building.

An even more important intrusion than the land in the Spanish dream of self-replication came from the native Americans, particularly the advanced Indian civilizations of Mexico and Peru. Cultural and sexual intermingling between conquerors and native Americans soon created regional cultural identities distinct from Spain as well as from one another. This blending of native and European cultures was encouraged by the Catholic missionaries, who, rather than totally destroying Indian religion, often tried to transform it by assigning Christian meanings to traditional religious symbols and celebrations—a practice motivated in part by the belief among some missionaries that the Indians were degenerate descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. Because of this cultural mixing, the Creoles soon developed a prenational cultural uniqueness reflected in food, music, dress, dialect, folk traditions, andreligious festivals that varied from region to region. Further, given the varying degrees of miscegenation among Spaniards, Africans, and different groups of Indians, each area of the Spanish Empire produced a peculiar racial mix and phenotype, so much so that early in the colonial period Caribbeans were distinguishable from Meso-Americans, and Andeans from inhabitants of the Southern Cone. Even the ruling classes, despite their stubborn claims to racial purity, were more often than not products of some racial blending. White and European became relative terms, better for maintaining power and keeping family secrets than for describing factual genetic heritage.

With rigid government control on the one hand and fecund popular culture on the other, national, or at least regional, awareness among the Creoles developed in two contrary directions. The ruling classes were groomed in an atmosphere where success and refinement were marked by parroting attitudes received from Spain, in being more Spanish than the Spanish. As a result, high culture in colonial times was in large measure imitative and sterile—with, of course, notable exceptions such as the seventeenth-century Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Even after separating from Spain, the Spanish American elite would remain more attuned to the latest fads from Europe than to the popular culture that was uniquely theirs, and regional distinctiveness that could have formed the basis for national identity went largely ignored. With few exceptions, it was not until the twentieth century that Spanish American intellectuals began considering the guiding fictions of national identity, peoplehood, and destiny in terms of their own popular culture.

Where government by the intellectual and citified elite failed, the common people produced their own inchoate systems of government. Region by region among the lower classes, there developed enduring folk traditions, vague but powerful sentiments of class and ethnic solidarity, popular religion and prenational mythologies which created throughout Spanish America a strong sense of peoplehood and localness, or localismo . The political reflection of localism was government by a charismatic individual, or caudillo, rather than an institution, who somehow embodies cultural folk values. In personalist government, the caudillo becomes a visible symbol of authority and protection who on a smaller scale isnot unlike the patriarchal symbols of king and priest with which the popular masses were already familiar. In a choice between abstract theories of government and the caudillo, the masses felt more comfortable with their caudillos, who, however primitive and ruthless their methods, were more sensitive to the fears and desires of the rural masses than the centralist elite. As a result, in the figure of the caudillo, localism combined with personalism . These two impulses would bedevil elitist approaches to government for decades to come. Indeed, much of the civil strife following Independence can be directly traced to conflicts between localist caudillos and the grand, utopian dreams of the city-dwelling elite.

Because of this unusual disjuncture between derivative high culture and luxuriant, albeit chaotic, popular culture, the Spanish American colonies came to the independence movement of 1810 ideologically ill-prepared for the task of nation-building. The more utopian thinkers of the continent dreamed grandly of establishing a Pan-American state that would encompass the entire continent. More practical people like Simón Bolívar hoped for four or five sizable countries based roughly on the boundaries of the Spanish viceroyalties, as he indicates in his celebrated "Letter to a Jamaican Gentleman" (Bolívar Obras completas 1:159–175). Such dreams, however, never materialized: no sooner had the Spanish been defeated than civil wars broke out among the Creoles themselves. Strife among contentious factions in the elite, among rival caudillos, and between opposing provinces engulfed the continent, making institutional government impossible. With no central power, the caudillos were often the only source of order in the embryonic nations, perhaps because their authoritarian, personalist rule embodied folk values while reflecting in miniature the king-centered government of colonial times. But few of the caudillos conceived of nation-building on a grand scale. As a result, Spanish America became increasingly fragmented along both regional and social boundaries. Some of these divisions became permanent: Uruguay and Paraguay separated from Argentina, and what logically would have been one country in Central America became seven. The bickering and threat of anarchy produced a situation in which only strongmen with private armies appeared able to survive. Shortly before dying, Simón Bolívar viewed the mayhem around him and lamented, "We have ploughed the sea."

Faced with the failure of Pan-Americanist visions and the likely possibility of even more splintering, Spanish American thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century devoted much attention to understanding why the first post-Independence governments did not succeed and to creating more realistic plans for the future. That is to say, after the bloody chaos that followed the Wars of Independence, intellectuals throughout the continent set about the crucial task of creating guiding fictions, myths of national identity and peoplehood, that could heal broken countries and perhaps reduce the tendency for further fragmentation.

In the case of Argentina, the country's very name reflects the area's development from colony to country, from imperial territory to nation, for the name Argentina had a slow, uncertain evolution, not unlike that of the country itself. In 1514, one year after Balboa discovered the Pacific, Juan Díaz de Solís was commissioned by the Spanish crown to search the coast of South America for a river passage connecting the two oceans. A year later, Solís entered the immense estuary separating what is now Argentina and Uruguay, only to be killed by Indians who, feigning friendship, wooed him and some of his crew to shore. Later explorers, believing that the estuary led to the silver-rich areas of Upper Peru, now Bolivia, renamed it the River of Silver, "El Río de la Plata." From the Spanish word plata, meaning silver, comes the English corruption, the River Plate. The name Argentina preserves the association with silver in that it derives from argentum, the Latin term for silver (Rosenblat, Argentina, historia de un nombre 13–18). Popularized in a 1602 poem by Martín del Barco Centenera, the term Argentina became an obligatory substitute for rioplatense in poetic usage, and acquired a permanent place in patriotic occasional verse in the neoclassic poetry of Vicente López y Planes, famous for his 1807 "El Triunfo Argentino," a celebration of Buenos Aires' victory over a British invasion. Later, in his "Himno Nacional Argentino," the term received some official standing, although it was not until the constitution of 1826, sixteen years after the country rebelled against Spain, that "República Argentina" actually became the official name of the nation (Rosenblat 50–51).

The late emergence of the country's name derives from a simple fact: until Independence, the Argentine was merely an area of theSpanish Empire, neither a country nor even an idea for a country. Moreover, the Spaniards for 250 years saw no reason to define any of the Southern Cone as a separate political entity, partly because they failed to recognize the area's potential as an autonomous unit. Unlike mineral-rich Mexico and Peru, where the Spaniards built prosperous viceroyalties on the foundations of highly developed Indian civilizations, the Argentine possessed neither gold nor silver, and its mostly nomadic natives preferred exile or death to the virtual serfdom of the Spanish encomienda, a neat arrangement by which Indians were forced to work for Spaniards in exchange for European civilization, Christianity, and "protection." The Spanish also failed to appreciate Argentina's greatest resource, the vast pampas that arguably constitute the richest agricultural area in the world. Indeed, had it not been for the Spanish drive to rule and Catholicize the entire continent, much of Argentina might have been forgotten altogether. The term Argentina, then, labels a paradox: the country was named for silver, a mineral it did not have while what it had in rich abundance—a huge agricultural potential—passed unrecognized for nearly three centuries.

Given Argentina's perceived lack of promise, early Spanish colonization in the Southern Cone was predictably sporadic and weak. Muddy settlements grew along trade routes established for the transport and refining of Bolivian silver. Since Argentine Indians were less sedentary than those of Mexico and Peru, the colonial pattern of building on preexisting civilizations broke down in most of Argentina. The area produced some tradable goods—livestock, raw cotton, and grain—which were exchanged for imports from Spain, mostly household items, clothing, and weapons. Labor was provided by Indians and a few African slaves bought from the Portuguese. Buenos Aires grew more slowly than did other colonial towns, partly because of a chronic shortage of labor and the distance separating the port settlement from the colonial economic centers in Upper Peru. The distance, however, helped give Buenos Aires a special character in that a large portion of its population was not Spanish but Portuguese (Rock, Argentina 4–6, 23–28). Until 1776 the monarchy insisted that Lima, the headquarters of the Viceroyalty of Peru, be the political and economic center of the entire area. Even trade routes between Spain and Buenos Aires had to pass through Lima, following a circuitous path that led overmud-obstructed trails from Buenos Aires through the Andes to Lima to ports on the northern coast of South America and eventually to Spain. The obvious possibility of establishing ports along the Argentine coast was unacceptable to the Spanish and their Buenos Aires intermediaries who were solely interested in maintaining their mercantilist monopoly. Contact between Spain and the colonies was further restricted by the crown's decision to limit trade voyages to the New World to two per year, a choice prompted by the need to ship colonial goods in large armed convoys, or flotas, as a defense against raiders like Sir Francis Drake (Gibson, Spain in America 102). Funneling everything through Lima was also viewed by Spain's Counter-Reformation hierarchy as a way of limiting the spread of heretical ideas to the colonies.

The commercial potential of Buenos Aires, however, was not lost on traders and smugglers, primarily British and Dutch, who regularly violated Spanish mercantilist law by establishing business contacts with the porteños, as people of the port city of Buenos Aires became known. As Germán and Alicia Tjarks have shown, by the late eighteenth century, porteño merchants were selling Bolivian silver, salted meat, cowhide, and handicrafts to non-Spanish traders, making a healthy profit for themselves while evading royal export taxes. Buenos Aires also became an important center of the slave trade as the Portuguese brought in Africans in increasing numbers to meet the labor needs of the growing economy (Rock, Argentina 40–49). Because of these contacts, Buenos Aires prospered during the late 1700s and soon took on a European flavor that both titillated and disturbed conservative Spanish appointees and traditionalist Creoles.

Argentina, then, at the end of the colonial period was mostly empty, with an estimated population of some 500,000 in a land as large as the eastern half of the United States. In principle the region was under Spanish rule, but in practice the distances meant little real contact with the Metropolis. In no sense was the area unified by geography, politics, economics, or a particular vision of national destiny. What cities existed were in reality isolated towns and missions connected by poor or nonexistent roads and dreadfully slow land travel. In the west were the small, dusty settlements of Mendoza and San Juan, both in the foothills of the Andes and more closely linked to Chile than to Buenos Aires. To the northwere Tucumán, Salta, and Jujuy, culturally closer to the Spanish-Indian cultures of Peru than to the rest of what would later become Argentina. Near the middle was Córdoba, a busy center of political conservatism, scholastic education, and religious fervor. In the northeast were Uruguay and Paraguay, soon to separate from the Argentine. Along the Paraná River, which runs north from the River Plate estuary, in a rich agricultural area commonly called the Littoral, were the small settlements of Santa Fe and Paraná. And at the mouth of the great estuary was Buenos Aires, geographically and culturally distant from the rest of Argentina, but destined by its privileged location between the rich pampas and the ocean trade routes to exercise a peculiar hegemony over the interior provinces. Unlike the United States, where easy river travel greatly facilitated contact between coastal and interior cities, Argentine settlements, except those along the Littoral, were connected only by slow overland travel; journeying the some 750 miles between Tucumán and Buenos Aires, for example, took an average of two months. Consequently, Argentine cities and provinces developed in relative isolation, a fact that nourished localist sentiment and loyalties.

Localist sentiment also grew as a result of the colonial political system. Initially, in all of Spanish America there were only two viceroyalties, one headquartered in Mexico City and the other in Lima, Peru. Under each viceroyalty were regional political centers, or audiencias, which mediated affairs between the towns and the viceroy. Reporting to the audiencias from each major settlement was the cabildo, one of the most enduring political institutions of the colonial period. The cabildos were town councils consisting partially of outside appointees but mostly of regidores, or councilors, chosen from native-born or long-term residents deeply rooted in local life. Although Spanish jurists laid out in numbing detail the proper relationships between the crown, the viceroy, the audiencia, and the cabildo, the isolated settlements in the Southern Cone could hardly sustain such organizational complexity. In theory, the cabildos were under the jurisdiction of the audiencia, the viceroy, and eventually the crown; in practice, however, this huge bureaucracy seldom affected the cabildos in outlying areas like the Argentine, and the cabildos became the only real governments, jealously guarding their role as protectors of localist traditions and prerogatives. Since they consisted mainly of wealthy citizens elected byother cabildo members rather than by the general populace, they were not democratic in any strict sense of the term; still, the cabildos undoubtedly understood the concerns of their fellow townspeople to a degree unlikely in an outsider. Moreover, although the cabildos were under the control of the local elites, an old-fashioned noblesse oblige probably made their members more sensitive to the needs of the poor than the dog-eat-dog economics that after Independence would ravish the Argentine interior. Twentieth-century Argentine historians do not agree on the role of the cabildos. "Liberal" historians like José Ingenieros call them "the birthplace of a municipal oligarchical spirit" and the "antithesis" of democracy (Ingenieros, La evolución de las ideas argentinas 1:32–33). In contrast, "revisionist" historians, pro-Hispanic nationalists like Julio Irazusta in the main, argue that the cabildos were essentially democratic institutions that predated Enlightenment political theory (Irazusta, Breve historia 26–27, 51–54).

Given their localist feelings, the cabildos were early recognized as obstacles to centralized rule. For this reason, during the eighteenth century, the reformist Bourbon kings created an intermediate administrative layer, the intendencias, to oversee and limit the power of the cabildos. Again, after the Wars of Independence, the portño leader, Bernardino Rivadavia, dissolved the cabildos of Buenos Aires and Luján in an attempt to limit local authority. Yet, whether the cabildos existed officially or not, the impulse toward local, autonomist government did not die easily. Without the cabildos, local rule fell into the hands of caudillos, local chieftains and petty dictators who, for all their arbitrariness, enjoyed such loyalty from fellow provincials that Argentine historian José Luis Romero refers to their rule as an "inorganic democracy" (Las ideas políticas en Argentina 98–128).

Underpinning the caudillos' rule was another culture, that of the peasants (campesinos ), or gauchos, which developed in the vast plains and hills separating the settlements of Argentina. The exact nature of Argentina's rural population during colonial times has engendered a raucus, interminable debate between "nationalists" who view the campesinos or gauchos as a repository of authentic Argentine values and "liberals" who see them as untutored masses easily manipulated by demagogues. Both positions (studied in detail in later chapters) overlook the complexity of the rural, lowerclass population. The campesinos consisted of several groups, all interrelated and all in a state of flux. Some were nomadic, some were peons in the employ of an estanciero, some were bandits and smugglers, and many were all of these at one time or another. In its purest sense, gaucho referred to the nomadic, often outlaw inhabitants of the great plains of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. In current usage, gaucho usually designates the rural working class in general.

The gauchos (like the rural population generally) stemmed from the three ethnic roots: Spanish, Indian, and African. They roamed freely over the pampas, lived easily off a bountiful land, captured and rode wild horses, drank abundantly, gambled, smuggled, robbed, fought, hunted wild cattle, sold cowhide to purchase what little they needed, ate mostly beef, sang improvised ballads celebrating their heroics and loves, and lived in free unions seldom consecrated by the sacrament of holy matrimony. In short, they were superstitious, filthy, unlettered, and happy. While the gauchos left no records of themselves, many colonial chroniclers refer to them (see Rodríguez Molas, Historia social del gaucho, chaps. 1–3). Of these, one of the most entertaining is by Concolorcorvo, the pseudonym for a Spanish postal inspector, whose description of the gauchos' "crude and course ways" seems vaguely charged with envy (Concolorcorvo, "An Unflattering Glimpse of the Gauchos" 57). So attractive were the gauchos' carefree ways that in 1807, during the British occupation of Buenos Aires, 170 English soldiers deserted to live among them. Complained General Whitelocke, "The more the soldiers became acquainted with the plenty the Country affords and the easy means of acquiring it, the greater . . . the evil" (cited in Ferns, Britain and Argentina in the Nineteenth Century 57).

Such then was Argentina during the last half of the 1700s: a land of isolated settlements, autonomist townsmen, nomad gauchos, relatively docile employees of estancieros, unconquered Indians, minimal economic and political development—and no sense of national destiny. In this context, the foundations of Argentine nationhood were laid on July 4, 1776, when the Spanish monarch, Charles III, finally bowed to century-old economic pressures and created The Viceroyalty of the River Plate with headquarters in Buenos Aires, which by this time had grown from a swampy settlement lost on the edge of the unending pampas to a city of some 25,000 people and a thriving center of trade—much of it illegal. The throne's primary motive in creating the new viceroyalty was to exert, through a policy ironically named libre comercio, or "free trade," greater control on the area's eastward trade, particularly in Bolivian silver bullion that had existed illegally for nearly a half-century. Clever Buenos Aires merchants were quick to establish exclusive contracts with Spanish mercantile monopolies, thus forming the basis for some of Argentina's most enduring private fortunes. In addition to bullion, their primary exports were salted meat and cowhide, a product of prime industrial importance before the discovery of rubber. Libre comercio brought relative prosperity to River Plate traders except during periods of disruption provoked by Spain's repeated conflicts with Great Britain (Rock, Argentina 66–72).

The new viceroyalty included most of what is now Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, and constituted the first step in establishing a new nation—although no one at the time thought in those terms. The king granted to Buenos Aires the authority to collect customs taxes in the new viceroyalty, a privilege the port city would guard jealously, creating between porteños and provincials the same resentments Buenos Aires had previously felt toward Lima. Distrust of the port city grew as Buenos Aires, reflecting its own localism, increasingly aspired to control the interior. Under the new viceroy, the provincial cabildos were increasingly pressured to follow Buenos Aires, often at the expense of local prerogatives. Moreover, Buenos Aires, through control of customs regulations, interjected itself with growing frequency into the financial affairs of the interior. Faced with Buenos Aires' encroachment on local autonomy and usurpation of profits through the customs tax, provincials came to fear the new hegemony from the porteños; their fears would provide the foundation for nearly fifty years of civil wars beginning soon after the Wars of Independence.

Intellectual life in the new viceroyalty, as in the colonies generally, was severely limited by policy as well as by geographic isolation. In the mostly illiterate society, knowing how to read and write was a marketable skill, so much so that "secretaries" for the caudillos often wielded considerable power. The Church controlled all schools, giving students an authoritarian, scholastic educationthat emphasized rote memorization of received truth while attacking or disregarding the empirical and rational epistemologies that had already caused profound changes in Europe. On an unofficial level, however, there was more intellectual freedom than popular notions of Counter-Reformation Catholicism might allow. The higher officers of the Inquisition did issue edict after edict demanding that incoming books, bookstore stocks, and private libraries be regularly scrutinized by the Holy Office. Yet, as Irving A. Leonard reports, the efforts of the inquisitors were frequently honored more in the breach than in the observance thanks to extensive smuggling of heretical works, often with the collaboration of lower Inquisition officials and members of religious communities. Similarly, although Creole writers were forbidden to write or publish except on noncontroversial matters of purely local concern, unapproved editions of local and foreign works appeared regularly during the colonial period (Leonard, Baroque Times in Old Mexico 166–182; Books of the Brave 157–171). After the successful revolutions in the United States and France, prorevolutionary texts, often written by Spanish priests, circulated throughout the colonies, despite vigorous attempts at censorship and refutation by conservative clerics (Ruiz-Guiñazú, Saavedra 121–145).

In Argentina intellectual life was even less developed than in major colonial centers like Mexico City and Lima. In 1776, the year the new viceroyalty was founded, there were only six primary schools in Córdoba and four in Buenos Aires, all associated with the Church. Virtually all women were denied access to schools since reading and writing were seen in a woman as "items that lead only to sin or to the temptation to flee from the vigilance of her parents" (López, Historia de la República Argentina 1:243). The two secondary schools in Buenos Aires, El Colegio de San Carlos and El Colegio del Rey, were staffed mostly by priests limited by both training and inclination. In the words of Manuel Moreno, who attended El Colegio de San Carlos in Buenos Aires during the 1780s, the teacher priests all but starved students while imparting little knowledge worth living. They were, in his words, "intolerant theologians who spend their time rehashing and defending abstract questions about the divine nature, angels, etc., while consuming their lives in discussing opinions of ancient authors who established extravagant and arbitrary systems about things no one is capable ofknowing." In his view, even those few priests who tried to teach natural sciences were severely limited since "they cannot impart to their disciples what they themselves do not know." He further claims that the monastic teaching orders were much more interested in furthering their material well-being than in educating Creole youngsters (Moreno [Manuel], "Vida," in Memorias y Autobiografías 2: 16–22).

Despite these limitations on intellectual life, the ideas of the Enlightenment seeped slowly into Argentina. The Bourbon kings, who ruled Spain from 1700 until the Napoleonic invasion in 1808, instituted reforms in Spanish-American society not unlike those of the enlightened despots in France (see Sánchez [Luis], El pensamiento político ). Foreign thinking in the eighteenth century also influenced a new generation of Spanish rationalists, notably Benito Jerónimo Feijóo, a Benedictine monk, and Gaspar Melchor Jovellanos, a Spanish encyclopedist, whose works were avidly read all through the Hispanic world. In Argentina, the small, literate elite also read Montesquieu, Descartes, Locke, Voltaire, and Rousseau, but as in Spain, enlightened ideas broadened intellectual horizons without provoking outbursts of anticlericalism and subversion (Carbia, La Revolucíon de Mayo y la Iglesia 18–20). Consequently, as Charles Griffin has pointed out, the role of enlightened thought in the independence movement was more one of confirmation than of cause since 300 years of authoritarian rule and scholastic education left an indelible mark on Argentine thinking that would not wash out quickly.

Despite the relative compliance of most Spanish-American intellectuals during the colonial period, in the early 1800s independence from Spain became a popular topic in parlor conversation throughout the colonies and particularly in Buenos Aires, where many porteños had some reason to resent Spain: Creoles were excluded from important positions in both church and government, Charles IV's irresponsibility was an international scandal, and economic restrictions limiting trade with nations other than Spain and the colonies profoundly irritated those porteño merchants not holding contracts with the mercantilist monopolies in Spain. The porteño bourgeoisie was sharply divided between these two groups of "intermediary agents" who benefited from the closed contracts with Spain and those independent merchants who sought tradewith other nations. The intermediaries formed a claque of merchants supportive of any government, regardless of ideology, that defended their financial interests; they were forebears of some of Argentina's wealthiest families, including the Anchorenas, whose surname repeatedly surfaces in Argentine history on the side of conservatism and repression. Their opponents included the young Manuel Belgrano, Juan José Castelli, and Pedro de Cerviño, who first locked horns with conservative porteño business interests over the issue of the commercial monopolies that excluded them. Later, inspired largely by the economic doctrines of Adam Smith, members of this second group would become major figures in the Argentine independence movement and "the love and hope for reform" that dominated early Argentine liberalism (López 1:571). In the 1790s there emerged from this group one of the first tracts on economic theory produced in the River Plate: Nuevo aspecto del comercio del Río de la Plata, written by Belgrano associate Manuel José de Lavardén. A radical statement against Spanish mercantilism, the tract advocates free trade, privatization of public lands, and the formation of a local merchant marine. It also shows how much the economic thought of Adam Smith and François Quesnay, founder of the French physiocrats and father of the term laissez-faire, had influenced the young porteños.

If the liberalism typified by Adam Smith was a major inspiration for Argentine liberals, that inspiration grew in the most unlikely fashion. In 1806, English troops invaded Buenos Aires. Behind the English invasion was more than a desire to add Buenos Aires to the British Commonwealth; since Elizabethan times, the English had done everything possible to break the Spanish trade monopoly, and by 1804, "the subject of how to blow up the Spanish Empire" was discussed at length in the British Cabinet (Ferns 19). Or, as Commodore Sir Home Popham wrote to Viscount Melville in a letter dated October 14, 1804, "The idea of conquering South America is totally out of the question, but the possibility of gaining all its prominent points, alienating it from its present European Connections, fixing on some Military position, and enjoying all its Commercial advantages can be reduced to a fair calculation, if not a certain operation" (letter cited in Ferns 19). The naval officer who first considered the invasion and later transported army troops to Buenos Aires, Popham wanted to liberate Argentina from Spain as afirst step toward opening all of South America to English commercial interests.

Popham's aim, however, was obscured by the overconfidence of the army which seriously underestimated porteño resolve and launched an invasion anyway under the command of General William Carr Beresford. The Spanish-born viceroy, Rafael de Sobremonte, fled to Córdoba with the court treasury, leaving the city's defense in the hands of patriot leaders Santiago Liniers and Juan Martín de Pueyrredón. Beresford's efforts were eventually repelled by porteño patriots who, as Manuel Belgrano put it, wanted "either our old master [Spain] or no master at all" (Belgrano, Autobiografía 33). Following Beresford's defeat, the British sent reinforcements in 1807 under Lieutenant General Whitelocke, who suffered heavy losses largely due to his own incompetence. Later, after meeting with porteño leaders to arrange a surrender, he became convinced that the whole enterprise was a bad idea from the outset and agreed to evacuate the city, a move that later led to his court-martial (Ferns 38–46). Nonetheless, Belgrano and other porteños not dependent on the Spanish commercial monopoly were much impressed with Whitelocke's evident humanity as well as his promises that England would aid in a rebellion against Spain—what Popham had intended in the first place (Belgrano 33). Indeed, as a result of contacts with Whitelocke and other like-minded Englishmen, many porteño liberals came to view England as an ally in the independence struggle rather than a mercantile nation with commercial ambitions of its own. Owing to such sentiment, Beresford escaped imprisonment.

The English invasions, then, produced paradoxical results. On the one hand, Argentines struggling against a common enemy for the first time sensed their potential as a nation. After the invasions this potential was partially realized as the cabildo, in the Viceroy's absence, assumed all governing power under the direction of Santiago Liniers, who had led the resistance against the English. On the other hand, liberal porteños emerged from the conflict believing that Great Britain, the invader, was somehow a true supporter of republican democracy and "a means of obtaining arms against Spain" (Belgrano 35). The defeat of the occupation also caused the English to change their tactics. In March 1807, Viscount Castlereagh was appointed Secretary of State for War; a pragmatistwho "viewed South America as a matter of British economic interest exclusively and not as a sphere where British political influence should be exerted," Castlereagh argued that Great Britain should avoid armed conflict in Spanish America while at the same time appearing as "auxiliaries and protectors" in political and economic affairs, a policy that would underlie Anglo-Argentine relations for the next 126 years (Ferns 48).

Following the English invasions, life in the Argentine would probably have returned to the slow routine of colonial rule, with talk of independence confined to polite conversations among Frenchified intellectuals, had not the Spanish court disintegrated in 1808. That independence resulted largely from the events in Spain and not just from an autonomous movement in the colonies is borne out in the writings of at least two of the period's principal players. Manuel Moreno claims that, although independence from Spain would probably have come as part of the natural course of history, "most of America considered its destiny tied to that of that nation which had conquered her and supplied her with a government and a language. A great revolution could take place . . . once the ties that held the empire together were dissolved" (5–6). He later argues that "without the catastrophe in the Mother Country, Buenos Aires would have remained the same, with little variation" (110). Similarly, Manuel Belgrano contends that after the English invasion, "a year passed, and without our doing anything towards independence, God himself presented us with the opportunity in the events of 1808 in Spain and Bayonne [the city where Charles IV met with Napoleon]. In effect, at that moment ideas about liberty and independence in America came alive, and Americans began talking openly for the first time about their rights" (Belgrano 34).

The melodramatic story behind the fall of the Spanish court explains why even the most devout Argentine royalists questioned Spanish leadership. Although the monarchy had been in serious decline ever since the death of Charles III in 1778 and was much weakened by a series of wars with Great Britain, nothing could match the events of 1808, when Charles IV, the dissolute monarch, Manuel Godoy, his wife's gigolo and lover, and Ferdinand VII, the resentful crown prince, got into a bitter fight for supremacy. After enduring years of intrigue, Charles imprisoned his son Ferdinand on learning that the crown prince was plotting to depose him. A mob,feeling that the crown prince was the country's best hope, stormed the palace, forcing the king to abdicate and Godoy to flee. Both Charles and Ferdinand then begged support from Napoleon, whose forces were already in Spain, ostensibly en route to Portugal. After hearing both sides hurl unspeakable insults at each other, Napoleon saw a good political opportunity and appointed Joseph Bonaparte, his dipsomaniac brother, to be emperor of Spain, providing still another incompetent pretender to the throne. The Spanish Cortes, or parliament, refused Joseph's rule and formed a government in exile in Cádiz, the southern port through which most contact with the colonies was funneled. The Cádiz parliament, knowing that revolutionary sentiment was spreading throughout the American colonies, initially tried to include representatives from the Americas, but quickly abandoned that idea on realizing that proportional representative rule would give the colonists a large majority. Approving and then denying representation from the colonies only fed resentment already rampant throughout Spanish America.

Given the events in Spain, the immediate question for most Argentines was not loyalty to the crown, but which crown to be loyal to. The popular Santiago Liniers, swearing loyalty to the crown prince Ferdinand VII, assumed temporarily the duties of viceroy in place of Sobremonte, now discredited because of his cowardly behavior during the English occupation. Ostensibly because of his French origin at a time when anti-Napoleon sympathies were running high and his limited administrative gifts, Liniers was almost immediately attacked by the Spanish community and liberal Creoles, both based in the Buenos Aires cabildo. How groups as opposite as the Spanish-born royalists and the liberals joined forces against the popular Liniers underlines an essential aspect of many Argentine intellectuals during the independence movement: they profoundly distrusted their own masses, a fear prompted no doubt by the terror that followed the French Revolution. On the dangers of populism, the Spanish royalists and Creole liberals could agree.

Under pressure from the Buenos Aires cabildo, the Cádiz government appointed Baltasar Cisneros to replace Liniers as viceroy of the River Plate; contrary to elitist fears, Liniers graciously relinquished his position and retired to private life. His presence in Argentina, however, continued to haunt liberal porteños since he was later executed on the unfounded charge that he was organizinga popular revolt against the independence movement. The real reasons behind Linier's death were as debated by his contemporaries as they are by today's historians. For example, General Tomás Guido, a hero of Argentine independence, writes in his memoirs that the proindependence liberals felt that "The people . . . are not prepared for a violent change in administration. The proletarian masses, who constitute the greatest part of the province [of Buenos Aires], are a kind of cult around General Liniers, in whom they do not see the odious instrument of Spanish absolutism, but the liberator of Buenos Aires, the hero against the [English] invasion" (Guido, Autobiografía 1:3–4). Manuel Moreno essentially corroborates Guido's view that Liniers was a dangerous populist allied with every reactionary element in porteño society (74–79, 112–123). No less authoritative, but in total contradiction to Guido's and Moreno's view, is the opinion of Cornelio Saavedra, also an independence hero, who passionately argues in his 1829 memoirs that Liniers was one of the first authentic representatives of the popular classes (Saavedra, Autobiografía 1:22–44). Even today, Liniers's significance and the reasons behind his death continue to divide Argentine historians. (Compare, for example, Halperín Donghi, Politics 150–238 and Puiggrós, Los caudillos 2–81.)

Despite his good intentions, Cisneros was unable to ease the growing tensions between Spaniards and Creoles, liberals and traditionalists, and Buenos Aires and the provinces. When news arrived in Buenos Aires that Napoleon's forces had seized control of Seville, and that the Cádiz government was again on the run, Cisneros called a cabildo abierto, or expanded town council meeting, consisting of 225 of the province's principal men, to establish a provisional governing junta, a move that backfired when the Creole-dominated junta refused to elect him president. The Creole leader, Cornelio Saavedra, in one of the most polite revolutionary statements ever, informed the Viceroy that "he who gave Your Excellency your authority no longer exists. Consequently, since you no longer have any authority, you should not depend on the forces under my control to support you" (cited in Ruiz-Guiñazú, Saavedra 181). Later, during the debate with the Viceroy and his supporters, Saavedra proclaimed the cabildo as the Viceroyalty's only ruling body "which receives its authority and mandate from the people" (184).

The political process by which the Primera Juunta was formed would be repeated over and over again during the first ten years of independence. The Buenos Aires cabildo was dominated by wealthy porteños, merchants, and landowners, "decent people (gente decente )" and not "low-class imitators of the upper class (la gente de medio pelo )" as one contemporary wrote in his diary (cited by Sebreli, Apogeo 91–92). As representatives primarily of upper-class concerns, the cabildo repeatedly ousted governments that failed to promote business interests, protect the privileges of Buenos Aires, or keep provincial leaders in their place. As a result, the cabildo was a source of both continuity and disruption that managed to keep some kind of government in power while effectively blocking any real accommodation of provincial or lower-class interests (Halperín Donghi, Politics 337–345).

From the Buenos Aires cabildo emerged the first Argentine governing body independent of Spain, known in history as La Primera Junta . The Junta members gave themselves two main tasks: (1) organize an army to repel the Napoleonic Spanish in the name of Ferdinand, and (2) form a congress with representatives from the different provinces to govern the viceroyalty until order could be restored. On May 25, 1810, porteños of all political stripes swore allegiance to the Primera Junta by assenting to the following oath:

Do you swear before God our Lord and on these Holy Gospels to recognize the Governing Provisional Junta of the River Plate, in name of Don Fernando VII, to defend his august rights, to obey his orders and decrees, to not question directly nor indirectly his authority, and to proclaim his security and respect in public and in private? (Gaceta de Buenos Aires, 7 June 1810; Cited in Moreno [Mariano], Escritos 233)

Although Argentines consider May 25, 1810, their Day of Independence, this oath can be viewed as a declaration of freedom from Spain only in the context of the confused political events of the time. Swearing allegiance to Ferdinand, who did not occupy the throne, allowed people to reject the incompetent Charles IV and the usurper Joseph Bonaparte while affirming loyalty to the institution of monarchy and thereby not offending Creole and Spanish royalists. Indeed, Saavedra in his memoirs insists that "covering the Junta in the mantle of Ferdinand VII was a farce from the outset, made necessary for political reasons" (53). In short, the oathwas more than anything a way of uniting Creoles and Spaniards of all political stripes under one banner; no one objected to swearing allegiance to a nonking.

Since these events occurred in May, the term Mayo came to be synonymous in Argentina with independence and a general support of democracy over monarchy; the revolutionary movement, then, is referred to as Mayo, and its leaders are called the Men of Mayo . The term, however, must be used cautiously since grouping all figures and ideological currents of the revolution under Mayo suggests an ideological consensus that never existed. Furthermore, although many provincials sympathized with the May revolution—once they heard of it—Mayo was primarily a Buenos Aires phenomenon in which porteños declared independence from Napoleonic Spain not just for themselves but for all citizens of the Viceroyalty. From Mayo on, then, porteños began a long tradition of confusing Buenos Aires with the entire country. Moreover, with the Primera Junta began a long series of conflicts between porteños and provincial caudillos that frequently ended in bloodshed and civil war. Typical of Buenos Aires localism is Manuel Moreno, who in his biography of his brother Mariano seldom distinguishes between Buenos Aires and the patria, or fatherland (e.g., 3–4). He paradoxically suggests that while it had been entirely appropriate for all American provinces to rebel against Spain, failure on the part of the provinces to follow Buenos Aires' lead after Independence resulted from "seduction, rebellion and schism" (149). In short, rebellion against Spain was fine, but disagreement with Buenos Aires was another matter. Later, in a flight of wishful thinking characteristic of the porteño elite, he maintains that whenever Buenos Aires sent troops against provincial caudillos the porteños were received by "the people" as brothers since supporters of the caudillos were nothing but "mercenaries" (149–160).

If conflict with the provinces were not enough, the Primera Junta was soon besieged by internal feuding. In structuring the Primera Junta, the Buenos Aires patriots attempted to appoint men who represented several factions within the city's tangled loyalties. Members of the first Junta included Juan José Paso and Mariano Moreno, who had identified closely with the previous cabildo and its anti-Liniers bias, as well as Cornelio Saavedra, a Liniers supporter, who according to his description was chosen as president of the Junta "in order to appease the people" (Saavedra 52–53). Although Saavedra's popularity with his troops and the lower classes was indeed a factor in his selection as president, it was also a liability in his dealings with other Junta members who feared he would launch a coup against the government. Despite these fears, the Primera Junta represented a laudable, albeit brief, moment of attempted consensus among Buenos Aires' feuding elites. Nonetheless, as will be seen in the next chapter, from those divisions sprang a prototype of Argentine politics as well as the first significant creator of Argentine guiding fictions: Mariano Moreno.


Excerpted from Invention of Argentina by Nicolas Shumway Copyright © 1993 by Nicolas Shumway. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents


1. Prelude to Nationhood
2. Mariano Moreno
3· Populism, Federalism, and the Gauchesque
4· The Rivadavians
5· The Generation of 1837, Part One
6. The Generation of 1837, Part Two
7· Alberdi and Sarmiento: The Widening Breach
8. Bartolome Mitre and the Gallery of Argentine Celebrities
9. Roots of Argentine Nationalism, Part One
10. Roots of Argentine Nationalism, Part Two


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