Juan Manuel de Rosas

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Juan Manuel de Rosas
Half-length painted portrait of a man with curly hair, long sideburns and blue eyes who wears a heavily embroidered military tunic with high collar, gold braid epaulettes and a red sash of office
Posthumous portrait of Juan Manuel de Rosas. He is wearing the full dress of a brigadier general.
17th Governor of Buenos Aires Province
In office
7 March 1835 – 3 February 1852
Preceded by Manuel Vicente Maza
Succeeded by Vicente López y Planes
13th Governor of Buenos Aires Province
In office
6 December 1829 – 5 December 1832
Preceded by Juan José Viamonte
Succeeded by Juan Ramón Balcarce
Personal details
Born Juan Manuel José Domingo Ortiz de Rosas
30 March 1793
Buenos Aires, Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata
Died 14 March 1877(1877-03-14) (aged 83)
Southampton, United Kingdom
Resting place La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires
Nationality Argentine
Political party
Spouse(s) Encarnación Ezcurra
Religion Catholicism
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Juan Manuel de Rosas (30 March 1793 – 14 March 1877), nicknamed "Restorer of the Laws",[A] was a politician, army officer and caudillo who ruled Buenos Aires Province and briefly the Argentine Confederation. Although born into a wealthy family, Rosas worked hard and independently amassed a personal fortune, acquiring huge grants of lands in the process. As was common in his era, Rosas formed a private militia, enlisting his workers, and took part in the factious disputes that had led to endless civil wars in his country. Victorious in warfare, and having acquired influence, vast landholdings and a private army loyal exclusively to himself, Rosas became the quintessential caudillo, as provincial warlords in the region were known. He eventually reached the rank of brigadier general, the highest in the Argentine army, and became the indisputable leader of the Federalist Party.

Rosas became governor of the province of Buenos Aires in December 1829 and established a dictatorship backed by state terrorism. In 1831, he signed the Federal Pact, recognizing provincial autonomy and creating the Argentine Confederation. When his term of office ended in 1832, Rosas departed to the frontier to wage war on the indigenous peoples. Rosas was recalled after his supporters launched a coup in Buenos Aires and became governor again. Rosas reestablished his dictatorship, formed the Mazorca (an armed parapolice), increased repression and resorted to terrorism once more, killing thousands in the process. Elections became a farce, and the legislative and judiciary became docile instruments of his will. Rosas created a cult of personality and his regime became totalitarian in nature, with all aspects of society rigidly controlled.

Rosas encountered countless threats during the late 1830s and early 1840s. He fought a war against the Peru–Bolivian Confederation, endured a blockade by France, faced a revolt in his own province and battled a major rebellion that spread to several Argentine provinces that lasted years. Rosas persevered in all conflicts and established his influence in the provinces, exercising effective control over them through direct and indirect means. By 1848, he had extended his power beyond the borders of Buenos Aires and was ruler of all of Argentina. Rosas also attempted to annex the neighboring nations of Uruguay and Paraguay. France and Great Britain jointly retaliated against Argentine expansionism, blockading Buenos Aires for most of the late 1840s. They were unable to halt Rosas, whose prestige was greatly enhanced by his string of successes.

When the Empire of Brazil began aiding Uruguay against Argentina, Rosas declared war in August 1851; starting the Platine War. This conflict had a short duration and ended with the defeat of Rosas and his flight to Britain. Rosas's last years were spent in exile where he lived as tenant farmer until his death in 1877. For a long time, Rosas was perceived as a brutal tyrant by Argentines. There was a small faction that painted Rosas in a more favorable light, however. Since the 1930s, an authoritarian, anti-Semitic, and racist political movement in Argentina called Revisionism tried to rehabilitate Rosas and establish a new dictatorship based on his regime. In 1989, his remains were repatriated by the government in an attempt to promote national unity, hoping that Argentines would forgive both him and especially the 1970s military dictatorship. Nonetheless, Rosas remains a controversial figure in Argentina.

Early life[edit]


Half-length portrait of a boy with light hair and wearing a jacket over a shirt with an enormous, embroidered collar.
Rosas around age 10, c.1803

Juan Manuel José Domingo Ortiz de Rosas[B] was born on 30 March 1793 at his family's town house in Buenos Aires, capital of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.[5] He was the first child of León Ortiz de Rosas and Agustina López de Osornio.[6] León Ortiz was the son of an immigrant from the Spanish Province of Burgos who had an undistinguished military career and married into a wealthy Creole family. The greatest influence on young Juan Manuel de Rosas was his mother Agustina, a strong-willed and domineering woman who derived these character traits from her father, "a tough warrior of the Indian frontier who had died weapons in hand defending his southern estate in 1783."[6]

Rosas was schooled at home, as was then common. Later, at age 8, he was enrolled in the finest private school in Buenos Aires. His education was unremarkable, though befitting a son of a wealthy landowner. According to historian John Lynch, it "was supplemented by his own efforts in the years that followed. Rosas was not entirely unread, though the time, the place, and his own bias limited the choice of authors. He appears to have had a sympathetic, if superficial, acquaintance with minor political thinkers of French absolutism."[5]

In 1806, a British expeditionary force was dispatched to the Río de la Plata. A 13-year-old Rosas served in a force, organized by Viceroy Santiago Liniers to counter the invasion, distributing ammunition to troops. The British were defeated in August 1806. The British returned in 1807, and Rosas was assigned to the Caballería de los Migueletes (militia cavalry), although it is thought that he was barred from active duty during this time due to illness.[5][7]


Painting of a group of colorfully dressed men and women sitting in front of an covered wagon and listening to music with horses and cattle in the open plain in the background
Gauchos resting in the pampas. Oil painting by Johann Moritz Rugendas

After the British invasions had been repelled, Rosas departed Buenos Aires with his parents for his family estancia (ranch). His work on the estancia further shaped his character, grounding him in the Platine region's Hispanic-American social framework. In the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, owners of large landholdings (including the Rosas family) provided food, equipment and protection both for themselves and for families living in areas under their control. Their private defense forces consisted primarily of laborers who were drafted as soldiers. Most of these peons, as such workers were called, were gauchos.[C]

For the landed aristocracy of Spanish descent, the illiterate, mixed-race gauchos comprising the majority of the population were an ungovernable and untrustworthy sort. They were treated with contempt by landowners, yet tolerated because there was no other labor force available. Rosas got along well with the gauchos under his service, despite his harsh and authoritarian comportment. He dressed liked them, joked with them, took part in their horse-play, shared their habits and paid them well. He never allowed them to forget, however, that he was their master, rather than their equal.[9][10] Shaped by the colonial society in which he lived, Rosas was conservative in essence and an advocate of hierarchy and authority.[11] He was, thus, merely a product of his time and not at all unlike the other great landowners in the Río de la Plata region.[12]

Rosas gathered a working knowledge of administration and took charge of his family's estancias beginning in 1811. He was married to Encarnación Ezcurra, the daughter of wealthy Buenos Aires parents, in 1813. He soon afterward sought to forge a career for himself, leaving his parent's estate.[D] He delved into the production of salted meat and began acquiring real property. As the years passed he became an estanciero (rancher) in his own right, accumulating land while establishing a successful partnership with his second cousins, the Anchorenas.[14][15] His hard work and organizational skills in deploying labor were key to his success, rather than the employment of creative approaches to production.[16]

Rise to power[edit]


Painting depicting 2 mounted horsemen wearing tall hats riding toward a group of panicking wild horses
Gauchos hunting feral horses. They served in the private army of Rosas.

The May Revolution of 1810 marked the early stages that would later lead to the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata's independence from Spain. Rosas, like many landowners in the countryside, was suspicious of a movement advanced primarily by merchants and bureaucrats in the city of Buenos Aires. Rosas was specially outraged by the execution of Viceroy Santiago Liniers at the hands of the revolutionaries. Like many landowners, Rosas was nostalgic of the colonial times and saw them as stable, orderly and prosperous times.[17]

When the Congress of Tucumán severed all remaining ties with Spain in July 1816, Rosas and his peers accepted independence as an accomplished fact.[18] With independence came a breakup of the territories which had formed the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Buenos Aires and the other provinces clashed over the power to be turned over to the central government versus the amount of autonomy to be preserved by provincial governments. The Unitarian Party supported Buenos Aires preponderance while the Federalist Party defended provincial autonomy. A decade of strife over the issue destroyed the ties between capital and provinces, with new republics being declared throughout the country. Efforts by the Buenos Aires government to quash these independent states were met by determined local resistance.[19] In 1820 Rosas and his gauchos, all dressed in red which gave them the nickname "Colorados del Monte" ("Reds of the Mount"), enlisted in the army of Buenos Aires as the Fifth Regiment of Militia. They repulsed invading provincial armies, saving Buenos Aires.[20][21]

At the end of the conflict, Rosas returned to his estancias and remained there. He acquired prestige, was given the rank of cavalry colonel and was awarded further landholdings by the government.[22] These additions, together with his successful business and fresh property acquisitions, greatly boosted his wealth. By 1830, he was the 10th largest landowner in the province of Buenos Aires (in which the city of the same name was located), owning 300,000 head of cattle and 420,000 acres (170,000 ha) of land.[23] With his newly gained influence, military background, vast landholdings and a private army of gauchos loyal only to him, Rosas became the quintessential caudillo, as provincial warlords in the region were known.[24]

Governor of Buenos Aires[edit]

Half-length painted portrait depicting a man with dark blond hair wearing a military tunic with gold epaulets, red piping, a red sash and upraised collar bearing calvary insignia
Rosas at age 36, 1829

National unity crumbled under the weight of a continuous round of civil wars, rebellions and coups. The Unitarian–Federalist struggle brought perennial instability while caudillos fought for power, laying waste to the countryside. By 1826, Rosas had built a power base, consisting of relatives, friends and clients, and joined the Federalist Party.[25][26] He remained a stalwart advocate of his native province of Buenos Aires, and political ideology was of little concern to him.[25][27] In 1820, Rosas fought alongside the Unitarians because he saw the Federalist invasion as a menace to Buenos Aires. When the Unitarians sought to appease the Federalists by proposing to grant the other provinces a share in the customs revenues flowing through Buenos Aires, Rosas saw this as a threat to his province's interests.[25] In 1827, four provinces led by Federalist caudillos rebelled against the Unitarian government. Rosas was the driving force behind the Federalist take-over of Buenos Aires and the election of Manuel Dorrego as provincial governor.[25] Rosas was awarded with the post of general commander of the rural militias of the province of Buenos Aires on 14 July, which increased his influence and power.[25]

In December 1828, the Unitarian Juan Lavalle seized and executed Dorrego.[28] With Dorrego gone, Rosas filled the vacant Federalist leadership and rebelled against the Unitarians. He allied with Estanislao López, caudillo and ruler of Santa Fe Province, and they defeated Lavalle at the Battle of Márquez Bridge in April 1829.[29][30] When Rosas entered the city of Buenos Aires in November of that year, he was hailed both as a victorious military leader and as the head of the Federalists.[29] Rosas was considered a handsome man,[31][32] standing 1.77 meters (5 ft 10 in) tall[33] with blond hair and "piercing blue eyes".[34] Charles Darwin, who met him during his circumnavigation aboard HMS Beagle, assessed him as "a man of extraordinary character."[E] British diplomat Henry Southern said that in "appearance Rosas resembles an English gentleman farmer—his manners are courteous without being refined. He is affable and agreeable in conversation, which however nearly always turns on himself, but his tone is pleasant and agreeable enough. His memory is stupendous: and his accuracy in all points of detail never failing."[36]

On 6 December 1829, the House of Representatives of Buenos Aires elected Rosas governor and granted him facultades extraordinarias (extraordinary powers)—in other words, "unbridled dictatorial powers".[37] This act marked the beginning of his regime, described by historians as a dictatorship.[38] He saw himself as a benevolent despot, saying: "For me the ideal of good government would be paternal autocracy, intelligent, disinterested and indefatigable... I have always admired the autocratic dictators who have been the first servants of their people. That is my great title: I have always sought to serve the country."[39][40] He silenced his critics with censorship and banished his enemies.[41] Rosas believed that these measures were necessary, as he later recalled: "When I took over the government I found the government in anarchy, divided into warring factions, reduced to pure chaos, a hell in miniature..."[42]

Desert Campaign[edit]

"Colored engraving depicting 3 uniformed men on horseback on a hilltop with dead bodies strewn about and one uniformed man pointing to the valley below in which half-naked warriors are fleeing before a line of uniformed and mounted troops"
Rosas (center, mounted on a dark horse) leading the war against Indians in the Desert Campaign, 1833

The early administration of Rosas was preoccupied with pressing matters. He had inherited a government saddled by severe deficits, large public debts and currency devaluation.[43] A great drought that began in December 1828, which would last until April 1832, greatly impacted the economy.[44] The Unitarians were still at large, controlling several provinces which had banded together in the Unitarian League. The capture of José María Paz, the main Unitarian leader, in March 1831 resulted in an end to the Unitarian–Federalist civil war and the collapse of the Unitarian League. Rosas was content, for the moment, with granting recognition of provincial autonomy in the Federal Pact.[45][46] In an effort to alleviate the government's financial issues, he improved revenue collection (while not raising taxes) and curtailed expenditures.[47]

By the end of his first term, Rosas was generally credited with having staved off political and financial instability.[45] He still faced increased opposition in the House of Representatives, however. All members of the House were Federalists, as Rosas had restored the legislature that was seated under Dorrego, and which had subsequently been dissolved by Lavalle.[48] A liberal Federalist faction, which accepted dictatorship as a temporary necessity, called for the adoption of a Constitution.[49] Rosas was unwilling to govern constrained by a constitutional framework and only grudgingly relinquished his dictatorial powers. His term of office ended soon after, on 5 December 1832.[45]

While the government in Buenos Aires was distracted with other matters, ranchers had begun moving into territories in the south that were occupied by indigenous peoples. The resulting uncontrolled land grab and conflict with native peoples necessitated a government response.[50] Rosas steadfastly endorsed policies which supported this expansion. During his governorship he had granted lands in the south to war veterans and to ranchers seeking alternative pasture lands during the drought.[51] Although the south was regarded as a virtual desert at the time, it possessed great potential and resources for agricultural development, particularly for ranching operations.[51] The government gave Rosas the command of an army with the directive to subdue the Indian tribes in the coveted territory. Rosas was generous with those Indians who submitted, rewarding them with animals and goods. Although he personally disliked killing Indians, Rosas relentlessly hunted down those who refused to yield.[52] The Desert Campaign lasted from 1833 until 1834, and Rosas successfully subjugated the entire region. The conquest of the south by Rosas opened up many additional possibilities for yet further territorial expansion, and he correctly predicted: "The fine territories, which extend from the Andes to the coast and down to the Magellan Straits are now wide open for our children."[53]

Second governorship[edit]

Absolute power[edit]

"Half length painted portrait of a man with curly auburn hair and sideburns facing left and wearing an elaborate military tunic embroidered in gold with heavy epaulettes, high embroidered collar and a red sash."
Profile view of Rosas at age 42, 1835

While Rosas was away on the Desert Campaign in October 1833, a group of Rosistas (Rosas's supporters) laid siege to Buenos Aires. Inside the city, Rosas's wife, Encarnación, assembled a contingent of associates to aid the besiegers. The Revolution of the Restorers, as the Rosista coup came to be known, forced the provincial governor Juan Ramón Balcarce to resign. In quick succession, Balcarce was followed by two others who presided over weak and ineffective governments. The Rosismo (Rosism) had become a powerful faction within the Federalist Party, and it pressured other factions to accept a return of Rosas, endowed with dictatorial powers, as the only way to restore stability.[54] The House of Representatives yielded, and on 7 March 1835, Rosas was reelected governor and invested with the suma del poder público (sum of public power).[55][56]

A plebscite was held to determine whether the citizens of Buenos Aires supported Rosas's reelection and assumption of dictatorial powers. The result was predictable: 99,9% voted "yes".[57] Under Rosas, the election process had been reduced to a farce. Since 1829, he had installed loyal associates as justices of the peace, powerful officeholders with administrative and judicial functions who were also charged with tax collection, leading militia and presiding over elections.[58] Through the exclusion of voters and intimidation of the opposition, the justices of the peace delivered any result Rosas favored.[59][60] Half of the members of the House of Representatives faced reelection each year, and the opposition quickly vanished due to election-rigging. The legislature became a docile instrument of the will of Rosas. The legislature was stripped of any control over finances and input into legislation brought before it for approval and its rubber stamp was retained largely to provide a democratic veneer and ostensible backing for the governor's dictates.[60][61]

In a country where most of the population was illiterate and uneducated, Rosas argued that rigged elections were the only form compatible with stability.[62] The governor acquired absolute power over the province with the assent and support of most estancieros and businessmen—people who shared his views.[63][64] However, the estancia formed the power base on which Rosas relied. Lynch said that there "was a great deal of group cohesion and solidarity among the landed class. Rosas himself was the center of a vast kinship group based on land. He was surrounded by a closely knit economic and political network linking deputies, law officers, officials, and military who were also landowners and related among themselves or with Rosas."[65]

Totalitarian regime[edit]

Painting depicting a group of men and women bearing banners approaching a man in military uniform who holds a scroll, with a tent and flag in the background
Argentine slaves paying homage to Rosas

Rosas's authority and influence spread far beyond the House of Representatives. His cabinet was composed of powerless figures, and Rosas noted: "Do not imagine that my Ministers are any thing but my Secretaries. I put them in their offices to listen and report, and nothing more."[66] He also exercised tight control over the bureaucracy. His supporters were rewarded with positions within the state apparatus, and anyone he deemed a threat was purged.[67][68] Opposition newspapers were burned in public squares.[69] Rosas created an elaborate cult of personality, where he was shaped as an all-mighty and fatherlike figure who protected the people.[70][71] His portraits were carried in street demonstrations and placed on church altars to be venerated.[72] Rosismo was no longer a mere faction within the Federalist ranks; it had become a political movement. As early as 1829, Rosas confided that he was not a true Federalist: "I tell you I am not a Federalist, and I have never belonged to that party."[44][73] During his governorship, he still claimed to have favored Federalism against Unitarianism, although in practice Federalism had by that time been subsumed under the Rosismo movement and Unitarianism into the anti-Rosismo term.[70]

The Argentine governor established a totalitarian regime, in which the government sought to dictate every aspect of public and private life. It was mandated that the slogan "Death to the Savage Unitarians" be inscribed at the head of all official documents.[74] Anyone on the state payroll—from military officers, priests, to civil servants and teachers—was obliged to wear a red badge with the inscription "Federation or Death".[75] Every male was supposed to have a "federal look", i.e., to sport a large mustache and sideburns. Many resorted to wearing false mustaches.[76][77] The red color—symbol of both the Federalist Party and of Rosismo—became omnipresent in the province of Buenos Aires. Soldiers wore red chiripás (blankets worn as trousers), caps and jackets, and their horses sported red accouterments.[76] Civilians were also to wear the color. A red waistcoat, red badge and red hat band were required for men, while women wore ribbons in that color and children donned school uniforms based upon Rosismo paradigms. Building exteriors and interiors were also decorated in red.[78]

Clergy of the Catholic Church in Buenos Aires willingly backed Rosas and his regime.[79] The Jesuits, the only ones who refused to acquiesce, were expelled from the country.[68][80] The lower social strata in Buenos Aires, which formed the vast majority of its populace, experienced no improvement in the conditions under which they lived. When Rosas slashed expenditures, he cut resources from education, social services, general welfare and public works.[81] None of the lands confiscated from Indians and Unitarians were turned over to rural workers (including gauchos).[82] Neither did blacks see any improvement in their lot. Rosas owned slaves and even helped revive slave trade, prior to its eventual ban.[83] Even though he had done little to nothing to promote their interests, he remained highly popular among blacks and gauchos.[84] Rosas apparently did not hold prejudice along racial lines. He employed blacks, patronized their festivities and attended their candombles.[85] The gauchos admired his strong leadership and willingness to fraternize with them (though only to a certain point).[9]

State terrorism[edit]

Engraving depicting a man wearing an ornate military uniform waist-deep in a pile of human skulls and bones with a disembodied hand holding snakes above his head
An anti-Rosas drawing published in a newspaper in 1841 or 1842

Purges, banishments and censorship were not the only measures Rosas brought to bear against the opposition and anyone else he deemed a threat. He resorted to what historians have considered state terrorism.[86] Terror was a tool used to intimidate dissident voices, to shore up support among his own partisans and to exterminate his foes.[87][88] His targets were denounced as having ties (real or invented) to Unitarians. Those victimized included members of his own government and party who were suspected of being insufficiently loyal. If actual opponents were not at hand, the regime was capable of finding other quarry who could be punished in order to serve as cautionary examples. A climate of fear was created to underpin unquestioning conformity to the leader's dictates.[89]

A judiciary branch still existed in Buenos Aires. Rosas removed any independence the courts might have exercised, either by controlling appointments to judgeships, or by circumventing their authority entirely. He would sit in judgement over cases on his own; issuing fines, sentencing to service in the army, imprisoning or condemning to death.[90][91] Terrorism was orchestrated rather than a product of popular zeal, was targeted for effect rather than indiscriminate. Anarchic demonstrations, vigilantism and disorderliness were antithetical to a regime touting a law and order agenda, and the exercise of terror was firmly in the hands of Rosas. Not even subordinates who carried out his government's oppressive policies had any authority to enforce them as they saw fit or any discretion as to whom would be persecuted. The state's terror was exercised intermittently, systematically and with focus to enforce the regime's will.[88][92] Foreign residents were exempted from abuses, as were people too poor or inconsequential to serve as effective examples. Victims were selected for their usefulness as tools of intimidation.[88]

State terrorism was carried out by the Mazorca, which was an armed parapolice unit of the Sociedad Popular Restauradora political organization. The Sociedad Popular Restauradora and the Mazorca were creations of Rosas, who retained tight control over both.[93] The tactics of the mazorqueros included neighborhood sweeps in which houses would be searched and occupants intimidated. Others who fell into their power were arrested, tortured and killed.[94] Executions were generally by shooting, lance-thrusting or throat-slitting.[95][96] Castration, scalping of beards and cutting out tongues were also used.[97][96] Modern estimates report around 2,000 people were executed from 1829 until 1852.[98]

Struggle for dominance[edit]

Rebellions and foreign threat[edit]

"Half-length painted portrait of a clean-shaven, auburn-haired man with long sideburns and wearing a black poncho with bands embroidered in red and gold"
Rosas in gaucho attire, 1842. Oil painting by Raymond Monvoisin

Throughout the late 1830s and early 1840s, Rosas faced a series of major threats to his power. The Unitarians found an ally in Andrés de Santa Cruz, ruler of the Peru–Bolivian Confederation. Rosas declared war on 19 March 1837, joining the War of the Confederation between Chile and Peru–Bolivia. The Rosista army played a minor role in the conflict, which resulted in the overthrow of Santa Cruz and the dissolution of the Peru–Bolivian Confederation.[99] On 28 March 1838, France declared a blockade of the port of the city of Buenos Aires, eager to extend its influence over the troubled region. Unable to confront the French, Rosas strengthened the repression at home, to forestall potential uprisings against his regime.[100][101]

The blockade caused severe damage to the economy which spread to all the provinces, as they depended on the port of Buenos Aires to export. Despite the 1831 Federal Pact, all provinces had long been discontented with the de facto primacy Buenos Aires province held over them.[100][101] On 28 February 1839, the province of Corrientes revolted and attacked both Buenos Aires and Entre Ríos provinces. Rosas counterattacked and defeated the rebels, killing their leader, the governor of Corrientes.[102] In June, Rosas uncovered a plot by dissident Rosistas to oust him from power in what became known as the Maza conspiracy. Rosas either imprisoned or executed the plotters. Manuel Vicente Maza, president of both the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court, was murdered by Rosas's Mazorca agents within the halls of the parliament on the pretext that his son was involved in the conspiracy.[103] In the countryside, estancieros (including a younger brother of Rosas) revolted, beginning the Rebellion of the South.[104][105] The rebels attempted an alliance with France, but were easily crushed, many losing their lives and properties in the process.[106]

In September 1839, Juan Lavalle returned after ten years in exile. He allied with Corrientes, which revolted once again, and invaded Buenos Aires province at the head of Unitarian troops armed and supplied by the French. Emboldened by Lavalle's actions, the provinces of Tucumán, Salta, La Rioja, Catamarca and Jujuy formed the Coalition of the North and rebelled against Buenos Aires.[107] Great Britain intervened on behalf of Rosas, and France lifted the blockade on 29 October 1840.[108][109] The struggle with his internal enemies was hard-fought. By December 1842, Lavalle had been killed and the rebellious provinces subdued, excepting Corrientes (only defeated in 1847).[110] Terrorism was also employed on the battlefield, as the Rosistas refused to take prisoners. Whoever tried to escape was pursued, had their throats cut and heads put on exhibition.[89]

Ruler of Argentina[edit]

Painting depicting a man in an elaborate military uniform seated before a group of dancers, drummers and other musicians
Rosas (seated, left) watching a Candomble celebration, 1845

Around 1845, Rosas managed to establish absolute dominance, and there was no one left willing to mount a challenge to his authority. He exercised full control over all aspects of society with the solid backing of the army. Rosas had risen from colonel, on 18 December 1829, to brigadier general, the highest army rank.[1] Many years later, he declined to accept the newly created and higher rank of grand marshal (gran mariscal), which had been bestowed on him by the House of Representatives on 12 November 1840.[111] The army was led by loyal officers who shared similar backgrounds and values with Rosas.[112] Confident of his power, Rosas made some concessions by returning confiscated properties to their owners, disbanding the Mazorca and ending torture and political assassinations.[113] The inhabitants of Buenos Aires still dressed and behaved according to the set of rules Rosas had imposed, but the climate of constant and widespread fear had greatly diminished.[114]

When Rosas was elected governor for the first time in 1829, he held no power outside the province of Buenos Aires. There was no national government or national parliament.[115] The former Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata had been succeeded by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, which by 1831, following the Federal Pact (and officially from 22 May 1835), had increasingly been known as the Argentine Confederation, or simply, Argentina.[116] The victory of Rosas over the other Argentine provinces in the early 1840s turned them into satellites of Buenos Aires. He gradually placed in power provincial governors who were either allies or too weak to have any real independence, which allowed him to have a considerable dominance over all provinces.[74][117] By 1848, Rosas began calling his government the "government of the confederacy" and the "general government", which would have been inconceivable a few years before. The next year, with acceptance of the provinces, he named himself "Supreme Head of the Confederacy" and became the indisputable ruler of Argentina.[118][119]

As Rosas aged and his health declined, the problem of his succession became a growing concern among his supporters. His wife Encarnación had died in October 1838 after a long illness. Although devastated by his loss, Rosas exploited her death to raise support for his regime.[120] Not long after and at age 47, he began an affair with his fifteen-year-old maid, María Eugenia Castro, with whom he had five children.[121] From his marriage to Encarnación, Rosas had two children: Juan Bautista Pedro and Manuela Robustiana. Rosas established a hereditary dictatorship, naming his legitimate children as his hand-picked successors, claiming that "[t]hey are both worthy children of my beloved Encarnación, and if, God willing, I die, then you will find that they are capable of succeeding me."[122] It is unknown whether Rosas was a closeted monarchist, as had been many of his fellow countrymen. Later during his exile, Rosas would declare that Princess Alice of the United Kingdom would be the ideal ruler for his country.[123] Nonetheless, in public he claimed that his regime was republican in nature.[124]

Apogee and downfall[edit]

Anglo-French blockade[edit]

Painting depicting a heavy-set man in profile who wears an elaborately embroidered military uniform with sash and large epaulets
Rosas at age 52, 1845

Rosas planned to restore if not all, at least a considerable part of the former borders of the old Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. He never recognized the independence of Paraguay and regarded it a rebel Argentine province bound to be reconquered.[125][126] He sent an army under Manuel Oribe who invaded Uruguay and conquered most of the country, except for its capital Montevideo that endured a long siege starting in 1843.[127] When pressed by the British, Rosas declined to guarantee Uruguayan independence.[128] In South America, all potential foreign threats to Rosas plans of conquest had either collapsed and disappeared, like Gran Colombia and Peru–Bolivian Confederation, or were troubled by internal turmoil, like the Empire of Brazil. To reinforce his claims over Uruguay and Paraguay, and maintain his dominance over the Argentine provinces, Rosas blockaded the port of Montevideo and closed the interior rivers to foreign trade.[129]

The loss of trade was unacceptable to Britan and France. On 17 September 1845 both nations established the Anglo-French blockade of the Río de la Plata and enforced the free navigation in the Río de la Plata Basin (or Platine region).[130] Argentina resisted the pressure and fought back to a standstill. The undeclared war caused more economic harm to France and Britain than to Argentina. The British faced increasing pressure at home once they realized that the loss of trade with Buenos Aires did not compensate free navigation with other ports in the Platine region.[131] Britain ended all hostilities and lifted the blockade on 15 July 1847, followed by France on 12 June 1848.[128] Rosas had successfully resisted the two most powerful nations on Earth and his standing as well of Argentina's were both greatened heightened among Hispanic American nations. The Venezuelan humanist Andrés Bello, summarizing the prevailing opinion, regarded Rosas among "the leading ranks of the great men of America".[132]

Although with his prestige on the rise, Rosas made no serious attempts to further open his regime. Every year he presented his resignation and the pliant House of Representatives predictably declined, claiming that maintaining him in office was vital for the nation's welfare.[133][134] Rosas also allowed exiled Argentines to return to their homeland, but only because he was so confident of his control and that no one was willing to risk defying him.[114] The execution in August 1848 of the pregnant young Camila O'Gorman, charged with a forbidden romance with a priest, caused a backlash throughout the continent. Nonetheless, it served as a clear warning that Rosas had no intention of loosening his grip.[135][136]

Platine War[edit]

Main article: Platine War
Painting depicting carriages approaching a grand white house with a rowboat plying a canal in the foreground
Rosas' residence in Palermo

Rosas failed to realize that discontentment was steadily growing throughout the country. He secluded himself in his country house in Palermo, some miles away from Buenos Aires. There Rosas ruled and lived under heavy protection provided by guards and patrols.[137] He declined to meet with his ministers and relied solely on secretaries who matched his own heavy workload.[138] His daughter Manuela replaced his wife as his right-hand and became the link between Rosas and the outside world.[139][140] The reason for Rosas' increasing isolation was given by a member of his secretariat: "The dictator is not stupid: he knows the people hate him; he goes in constant fear and always has one eye on the chance to rob and abuse them and the other on making a getaway. He has a horse ready saddled at the door of his office day and night".[88]

Meanwhile, Brazil, now in the ascendant under Emperor Dom Pedro II, gave aid to the Uruguayan government that still held out in Montevideo, as well as to the ambitious Justo José de Urquiza, a caudillo in Entre Ríos who rebelled. Once one of Rosas' most trusted lieutenants, Urquiza now claimed to fight for a constitutional regime, but could hardly disguise his ambition to place himself at the head of the national government. In retaliation, Rosas declared war on Brazil on 18 August 1851, beginning the Platine War.[141] The army under Oribe in Uruguay surrendered to Urquiza in October. With arms and financial aid given by Brazil, the caudillo of Entre Ríos then marched through Argentine territory heading to Buenos Aires.[142]

Uncharacteristically, Rosas remained passive throughout the conflict. The Argentine ruler lost heart once he realized that he had fallen into a trap. Even if he defeated Urquiza, his forces would probably be weakened enough to prevent him from challenging the Brazilian army that was ready to invade Argentina.[143][144] With no other alternative, Rosas remarked: "There is no other way; we have to play for the high stakes and go for everything. Here we are, and from here there is no retreat."[145] After an unsuccessful battle against Urquiza on 3 February 1852, Rosas fled to Buenos Aires. Once there, he disguised himself and boarded a ship that took him to Britain to live in exile.[146] Embittered, he remarked: "It is not the people who have overthrown me. It is the monkeys, the Brazilians."[F]

Later years[edit]

Exile and death[edit]

Painted half-length portrait depicting a gray-haired man with a thin face dressed in a plain black coat over a red vest and high-collared white shirt and sitting in front of a half-opened drape revealing an avenue with a building in the distance
An elderly Rosas during his exile

Rosas arrived in Plymouth, Great Britain, on 26 April 1852. The British gave him asylum, paid for his travel and welcomed him with a 21-gun salute. These honors were granted to him because "General Rosas was no common refugee, but one who had shown great distinction and kindness to the British merchants who had traded with his country", explained James Harris, 3rd Earl of Malmesbury, the British Foreign Secretary.[148] Months before his fall, Rosas had prearranged with the British Chargé d'affaires Captain Robert Gore for protection and asylum in the event of defeat.[149] Both his children by Encarnación followed him into exile, although Juan Bautista soon returned with his family to Argentina. His daughter Manuela married the son of an old associate of Rosas, an act which the former dictator never forgave. A domineering parent, Rosas wanted his daughter to remain devoted to him alone. Although he forbade her from writing or visiting, Manuela remained loyal to her father and maintained contact with him.[150]

The new Argentine government confiscated all of Rosas properties and tried him as a criminal, later sentencing him to death.[151] Rosas was appalled that most of his friends, supporters and allies abandoned him and became either silent or openly critical of him.[152] Rosismo had vanished overnight. "The landed class, supporters and beneficiaries of Rosas, now had to make their peace—and their profits—with his successors. Survival, not allegiance, was their politics", argued Lynch.[153] Urquiza, a onetime ally and later an enemy, reconciled with Rosas and sent him financial assistance, hoping for political support in return—although Rosas had scant remaining political capital.[154] Rosas followed Argentina's developments while in exile, always hoping an opportunity to return, but he never again insinuated himself into Argentine affairs.[154]

In exile Rosas was not destitute, but he lived modestly amid financial constraints during the remainder of his life.[155] A very few loyal friends sent him money, but it was never enough.[156] He sold one of his estancias before the confiscation and became a British tenant farmer, employing a housekeeper and two to four laborers, to whom he paid above average wages.[157] Despite constant concern over his shortage of funds, Rosas found joy in farm life, once remarking: "I now consider myself happy on this farm, living in modest circumstances as you see, earning a living the hard way by the sweat of my brow".[158] A contemporary described him in final years: "He was then eighty, a man still handsome and imposing; his manners were most refined, and the modest environment did nothing to lessen his air of a great lord, inherited from his family."[159] After a walk on a cold day, Rosas caught pneumonia and died at 07:00 on the morning of 14 March 1877. Following a private mass attended by his family and a few friends, he was buried in the town cemetery of Southampton.[158]


Behind a black iron fence stands a tall, rectangular stone plinth topped by a bronze equestrian statue
Equestrian statue of Rosas in Buenos Aires, erected in 1999—the first monument raised in his honor

Serious attempts to reassess Rosas's reputation began in the 1880s with the publication of scholarly works by Adolfo Saldías and Ernesto Quesada. The more balanced approach that they and their followers advocated has been called the "New School" (La Nueva Escuela).[160] Later, a more blatant "Revisionist" movement would flourish under the Nacionalismo (Nationalism) in the early 20th century. Nacionalismo was a political movement that appeared in Argentina in the 1920s and reached its apex in the 1930s. It was the Argentine equivalent of the authoritarian ideologies that arose during the same period, such as Nazism, Fascism and Integralism. Argentine Nationalism was an authoritarian,[161] anti-Semitic,[162] racist[163] and misogynistic political movement with support for racially-based pseudo-scientific theories such as eugenics.[164] The Revisionismo (Revisionism) was the historiographical wing of Argentine Nacionalismo.[165] The main goal of Argentine Nacionalismo was to establish a national dictatorship. For the Nacionalismo movement, Rosas and his regime were idealized and portrayed as paragons of governmental virtue.[166] Revisionismo served as a useful tool, as the main purpose of the revisionists within the Nacionalismo agenda was to rehabilitate Rosas's image.[167]

Despite a decades-long struggle, the Revisionismo failed to be taken seriously. According to Michael Goebel, the revisionists had a "lack of interest in scholarly standards" and were known for "their institutional marginality in the intellectual field".[168] They also never succeeded in changing mainstream views regarding Rosas. William Spence Robertson said in 1930: "Among the enigmatical personages of the 'Age of Dictators' in South America none played a more spectacular role than the Argentine dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas, whose gigantic and ominous figure bestrode the Plata River for more than twenty years. So despotic was his power that Argentine writers have themselves styled this age of their history as 'The Tyranny of Rosas'."[169] More than 30 years later, in 1961, William Dusenberry said: "Rosas is a negative memory in Argentina. He left behind him the black legend of Argentine history—a legend which Argentines in general wish to forget. There is no monument to him in the entire nation; no park, plaza, or street bears his name."[170]

In the 1980s, Argentina was a fractured, deeply divided nation, having faced a military dictatorship, severe economic crises and a defeat in the Falklands War. President Carlos Menem decided to repatriate Rosas's remains and take advantage of the occasion to unite the Argentines. Menem believed that if the Argentines could forgive Rosas and his regime, they might do the same regarding the more recent and vividly remembered past.[171] On 30 September 1989, an elaborate and enormous cortege organized by the government was held, after which the remains of the Argentine ruler were interred in his family vault at La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.[172] Closely allied with neorevisionists, Menem (and his fellow Peronist presidential successors Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) have honored Rosas on banknotes, postage stamps and monuments, causing mixed reactions among the public.[173] Rosas remains a controversial figure among Argentines, who "have long been fascinated and outraged" by him.[174]


  1. ^ The full title was "Restorer of the Laws and Institutions of the Province of Buenos Aires". It was given to Rosas by the House of Representatives of Buenos Aires on 18 December 1829.[1] After the Desert Campaign (1833–34) he was called the "Conqueror of the desert" (Conquistador del desierto).[2] As his dictatorship became more repressive, Rosas became known as the "Tiger of Palermo", after his main residence in Palermo, then located outside the town of Buenos Aires.[3]
  2. ^ According to his birth certificate, his given name was "Juan Manuel José Domingo". His surname, as seen on his marriage certificate, was "Ortiz de Rosas".[4]
  3. ^ Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham described them as "herdsmen, who lived on horseback... In their great plains, roamed over by enormous herds of cattle, and countless horses in semi-feral state, each Gaucho lived in his own reed-built rancho [ranch] daubed with mud to make its weathertight often without another neighbor nearer than a league away. His wife and children and possibly two or three other herdsmen, usually unmarried, to help him in the management of the cattle, made up his society. Generally he had some cattle of his own, and possibly a flock of sheep; but the great herds belonged to some proprietor who perhaps lived two or three leagues away."[8]
  4. ^ An anecdote circulated in which Rosas supposedly related how he left his childhood home with no belongings, determined to start a new life, never to return. The story says that he went so far as to change the spelling of his surname at that point. Rosas denied the version of events contained in this tale.[13] Although he was left a portion of his father's estate, he assigned this to his mother. He did not reclaim the inheritance upon his mother's death, and instead split it between her maid, his siblings and charities.[13]
  5. ^ Charles Darwin wrote in his journal in 1833: "He is a man of extraordinary character, and has a most predominant influence in the country, which it seems that he will use to its prosperity and advancement." Later, in 1845, he greatly revised his assertion, saying "This prophecy has turned out entirely and miserably wrong."[35]
  6. ^ This comment was a racial nod to the presence of soldiers of African ancestry within Brazilian ranks.[147]


  1. ^ a b Sala de Representantes de la Provincia de Buenos Aires 1842, p. 3.
  2. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 19.
  3. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 9.
  4. ^ Pradère 1970, pp. 17–19.
  5. ^ a b c Lynch 2001, p. 2.
  6. ^ a b Lynch 2001, p. 1.
  7. ^ Bassi 1942, pp. 38–39.
  8. ^ Graham 1933, pp. 121–122.
  9. ^ a b Lynch 2001, pp. 45–46.
  10. ^ Bassi 1942, pp. 39–41.
  11. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 40.
  12. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 38–39.
  13. ^ a b Lynch 1981, p. 14.
  14. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 2, 8, 26.
  15. ^ Bassi 1942, pp. 39–40.
  16. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 28.
  17. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 3; Shumway 1993, pp. 119.
  18. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 3.
  19. ^ Bethell 1993, p. 18; Lynch 2001, p. 9; Rock 1987, p. 93.
  20. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 9; Rock 1987, pp. 93–94, 104; Szuchman & Brown 1994, p. 214.
  21. ^ Bassi 1942, pp. 43–45.
  22. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 9; Szuchman & Brown 1994, pp. 214–215.
  23. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 26–27; Bethell 1993, p. 24.
  24. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 1, 8, 13, 43–44.
  25. ^ a b c d e Lynch 2001, p. 10.
  26. ^ Bethell 1993, pp. 19–20.
  27. ^ Bethell 1993, pp. 20, 22.
  28. ^ See:
  29. ^ a b Lynch 2001, p. 12.
  30. ^ Rock 1987, p. 103.
  31. ^ Shumway 1993, p. 117.
  32. ^ Geisler 2005, p. 155.
  33. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 125.
  34. ^ See:
  35. ^ Darwin 2008, p. 79.
  36. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 86.
  37. ^ See:
  38. ^ See:
  39. ^ Shumway 1993, p. 119.
  40. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 75, 163.
  41. ^ See:
  42. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 164.
  43. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 22.
  44. ^ a b Lynch 2001, p. 15.
  45. ^ a b c Lynch 2001, p. 16.
  46. ^ Rock 1987, p. 105.
  47. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 16, 22.
  48. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 42–43.
  49. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 49, 159–160, 300.
  50. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 17.
  51. ^ a b Lynch 2001, p. 18.
  52. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 6, 18–20.
  53. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 20.
  54. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 160–162.
  55. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 162.
  56. ^ Rock 1987, p. 106.
  57. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 90.
  58. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 51.
  59. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 49–50.
  60. ^ a b Bethell 1993, p. 26.
  61. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 81.
  62. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 50.
  63. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 38–40, 78.
  64. ^ Shumway 1993, p. 118.
  65. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 38.
  66. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 175.
  67. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 82.
  68. ^ a b Bethell 1993, p. 27.
  69. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 180, 184.
  70. ^ a b Lynch 2001, p. 77.
  71. ^ Shumway 1993, pp. 118–120.
  72. ^ See:
  73. ^ Bassi 1942, p. 150.
  74. ^ a b Lynch 2001, p. 83.
  75. ^ See:
  76. ^ a b Lynch 1981, p. 179.
  77. ^ Bassi 1942, p. 168.
  78. ^ See:
  79. ^ See:
  80. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 85.
  81. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 22, 91.
  82. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 49.
  83. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 53–54.
  84. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 76–77.
  85. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 55–56.
  86. ^ See:
  87. ^ Bethell 1993, p. 29.
  88. ^ a b c d Lynch 2001, p. 96.
  89. ^ a b Lynch 2001, p. 97.
  90. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 81, 97.
  91. ^ Bethell 1993, pp. 26–27.
  92. ^ Bethell 1993, p. 30.
  93. ^ See:
  94. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 101.
  95. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 99.
  96. ^ a b Bassi 1942, pp. 265–266.
  97. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 214.
  98. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 118.
  99. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 201–202.
  100. ^ a b Lynch 1981, p. 202.
  101. ^ a b Bethell 1993, p. 31.
  102. ^ See:
  103. ^ See:
  104. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 206.
  105. ^ Quesada 2001, p. 314.
  106. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 205–207.
  107. ^ See:
  108. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 267–268.
  109. ^ Bethell 1993, pp. 31–33.
  110. ^ See:
  111. ^ Sala de Representantes de la Provincia de Buenos Aires 1842, pp. 169, 179–180.
  112. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 87–88.
  113. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 123.
  114. ^ a b Lynch 2001, pp. 123–124.
  115. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 82, 130.
  116. ^ Trias 1970, p. 120.
  117. ^ Quesada 2001, p. 319.
  118. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 131.
  119. ^ Sagastizábal 2000, p. 100.
  120. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 373.
  121. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 339.
  122. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 169.
  123. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 262.
  124. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 164.
  125. ^ Lynch 2001, p. 140.
  126. ^ Quesada 2001, p. 334.
  127. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 273–275.
  128. ^ a b Lynch 1981, p. 288.
  129. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 270, 273.
  130. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 280.
  131. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 284–288.
  132. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 294–295.
  133. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 128, 130.
  134. ^ Quesada 2001, p. 318–319.
  135. ^ Lynch 2001, pp. 115–116, 124.
  136. ^ Quesada 2001, p. 328.
  137. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 177, 209.
  138. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 297.
  139. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 177.
  140. ^ Quesada 2001, p. 327.
  141. ^ See:
  142. ^ See:
  143. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 318–327.
  144. ^ Bassi 1942, pp. 350–351.
  145. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 330.
  146. ^ See:
  147. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 333.
  148. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 336.
  149. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 337.
  150. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 337–338.
  151. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 339–340.
  152. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 340–341.
  153. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 341.
  154. ^ a b Lynch 1981, p. 342.
  155. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 344–345.
  156. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 344.
  157. ^ Lynch 1981, pp. 343–344, 346–347.
  158. ^ a b Lynch 1981, p. 358.
  159. ^ Lynch 1981, p. 357.
  160. ^ Shumway 2013.
  161. ^ See:
  162. ^ See:
  163. ^ Rock 1995, pp. 103, 106.
  164. ^ Rock 1995, p. 103.
  165. ^ See:
  166. ^ See:
  167. ^ See:
  168. ^ Goebel 2011, pp. 56, 115–116.
  169. ^ Robertson 1930, p. 125.
  170. ^ Dusenberry 1961, p. 514.
  171. ^ Johnson 2004, pp. 118–125.
  172. ^ Johnson 2004, pp. 125–128.
  173. ^ See:
  174. ^ See:


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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Juan José Viamonte
Governor of Buenos Aires Province (Head of State of Argentina)
Succeeded by
Juan Ramón Balcarce
Preceded by
Manuel Vicente Maza
Governor of Buenos Aires Province (Head of State of Argentina)
Succeeded by
Justo José de Urquiza