Argentine Civil Wars

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Argentine Civil Wars
Part of Rise of the Argentine Republic
Guerra Civil.jpg
From top left: Battle of Arroyo Grande, execution of Manuel Dorrego, Battle of Pavón, death of Juan Lavalle, murder of Facundo Quiroga, Battle of Caseros, Battle of Famaillá, Battle of Vuelta de Obligado
Result Sanction of a federal Constitution in 1853
Federalization of Buenos Aires in 1880
Flag of Artigas.svg Federales
Flag of the National Party (Uruguay).svg Blancos
Flag of Unitarian Party (Navy).svg Unitarios
Flag of Colorado Party (Uruguay).svg Colorados
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Artigas.svg José Gervasio Artigas
Flag of Artigas.svg Juan Manuel de Rosas
Flag of Artigas.svg Manuel Dorrego  Executed
Flag of Artigas.svg Justo José de Urquiza  
Flag of Artigas.svg Francisco Ramírez  
Flag of Artigas.svg Facundo Quiroga 
Flag of Artigas.svg Chacho Peñaloza 
Flag of the National Party (Uruguay).svg Manuel Oribe
Flag of Unitarian Party (Navy).svg Bartolomé Mitre
Flag of Unitarian Party (Navy).svg Bernardino Rivadavia
Flag of Unitarian Party (Navy).svg Juan Lavalle 
Flag of Unitarian Party (Navy).svg José María Paz  (POW)
Flag of Unitarian Party (Navy).svg Domingo Faustino Sarmiento
Flag of Colorado Party (Uruguay).svg Fructuoso Rivera

The Argentine Civil Wars were a series of civil wars that took place in Argentina from 1814 to 1880. These conflicts were separate from the Argentine War of Independence (1810–1820), though they first arose during this period.

The main antagonists were, on a geographical level, Buenos Aires Province against the other provinces of modern Argentina, and on a political level, the Federal Party versus the Unitarian Party. The central cause of the conflict was the excessive centralism advanced by Buenos Aires leaders and, for a long period, the monopoly on the use of the Port of Buenos Aires as the sole means for international commerce. Other participants at specific times included Uruguay, which became independent from the United Provinces of Río de la Plata in 1828, and the British and French empires, notably in the French blockade of the Río de la Plata of 1838 and in the Anglo-French blockade of the Río de la Plata that ended in 1850.


Early conflicts against centralized rule[edit]

The Banda Oriental of the liberator José Gervasio Artigas defended the Federal system till all the provinces had equal conditions.

Regionalism had long marked the relationship among the numerous provinces of what today is Argentina, and the wars of independence did not result in national unity. The establishment of the League of the Free Peoples by the Banda Oriental Province, Entre Ríos Province, Corrientes Province, Misiones Province, and Córdoba Province, in June 1814 marked the first formal rupture in the United Provinces of South America that had been created by the 1810 May Revolution.

The Battle of Cepeda (1820) thwarted the goal of Buenos Aires leaders to govern the country under the Argentine Constitution of 1819, and following a series of disorders and a short-lived Constitutional Republic led by Buenos Aires centralist Bernardino Rivadavia in 1826 and 1827, the United Provinces established in 1810 again became divided, and the Province of Buenos Aires would emerge as the most powerful among the numerous semi-independent states

Rosas and the Unitarians[edit]

Buenos Aires Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas secured the Confederation under Federalist rule.
A Rosas-era banner calling for "death to the brutal Unitarians" typified the ongoing conflict.

An understanding was entered into by Buenos Aires Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas (incumbent from 6 December 1829 to 5 December 1832) and other Federalist leaders out of need and a shared enmity toward the still vigorous Unitarian Party, who advocated differing forms of centralized government. The latter's 1830 establishment of the Unitarian League by Córdoba leader José María Paz from nine western and northern provinces thus forced Buenos Aires, Corrientes and Entre Ríos Provinces into the Federal Pact of 1831, following which the Unitarian League was dismantled. The Buenos Aires leader deposed by Rosas in 1829, General Juan Lavalle, also led a series of rebellions with different alliances against Rosas and the Federal Pact until Lavalle's defeat and assassination in 1841.

Since the fall of Rivadavia and the lack of a proper head of state there was a dynamic whereby leaders (caudillos) from the hinterland provinces would delegate certain powers, such as foreign debt payment or the management of international relations to the Buenos Aires leader. In addition, Rosas was granted the sum of public power. These powers also enabled Rosas to participate in the protracted Uruguayan Civil War in favor of Manuel Oribe, though unsuccessfully; Oribe, in turn, led numerous military campaigns on behalf of Rosas, and became an invaluable ally in the struggle against Lavalle and other Unitarians. The Argentine Confederation thus functioned, albeit amid ongoing conflicts, until the 1852 Battle of Caseros, when Rosas was deposed and exiled.

Urquiza and the secession of Buenos Aires[edit]

The central figure in the overthrow of Rosas, Entre Ríos Governor Justo José de Urquiza, failed to secure Buenos Aires' ratification of the 1852 San Nicolás Agreement, and following the Revolution of 11 September 1852, the State of Buenos Aires was declared. The secessionist state rejected the 1853 Constitution of Argentina, and promulgated its own the following year. The most contentious issue remained the Buenos Aires Customs, which remained under the control of the city government and was the chief source of public revenue. Nations with which the Confederation maintained foreign relations, moreover, kept all embassies in Buenos Aires (rather than in the capital, Paraná).

Justo José de Urquiza's 1852 overthrow of Rosas fanned Buenos Aires secessionists
Bartolomé Mitre wrested concessions toward Buenos Aires and became a staunch defender of national unity.

The State of Buenos Aires was also bolstered by its numerous alliances in the hinterland, including that of Santiago del Estero Province (led by Manuel Taboada), as well as among powerful Unitarian Party governors in Salta, Corrientes, Tucumán and San Juan. The 1858 assassination of San Juan's Federalist governor, Nazario Benavídez, by Unitarians inflamed tensions between the Confederation and the State of Buenos Aires, as did a free trade agreement between the chief Confederate port (the Port of Rosario) and the Port of Montevideo, which undermined Buenos Aires trade. The election of the intransigent Valentín Alsina further exacerbated disputes, which culminated in the Battle of Cepeda (1859).

Buenos Aires forces, led by General Bartolomé Mitre, were defeated by those led by the President of Argentina, Justo José de Urquiza. Ordered to subjugate Buenos Aires separatists by force, Urquiza instead invited the defeated to a round of negotiations, and secured the Pact of San José de Flores, which provided for a number of constitutional amendments and led to other concessions, including an extension on the province's customs house concession and measures benefiting the Bank of the Province of Buenos Aires, whose currency was authorized for use as legal tender at the customs house (thereby controlling much of the nation's foreign trade).

Mitre ultimately abrogated the Pact of San José, leading to renewed civil war. These hostilities culminated in the 1861 Battle of Pavón, and to victory on the part of Mitre and Buenos Aires over Urquiza's national forces. President Santiago Derqui, who had been backed by Urquiza, resigned on November 4, 1861. Mitre, who despite victory reaffirmed his commitment to the 1860 constitutional amendments, was elected the republic's first president in 1862.

National unification[edit]

President Mitre instituted a limited suffrage electoral system known as the voto cantado ("intoned vote"), which depended on a pliant electoral college and would be conditioned to prevent the election of secessionists to high office through electoral fraud, if necessary. The 1874 election of Catamarca Province born Nicolás Avellaneda, who had been endorsed by an erstwhile Buenos Aires separatist, Adolfo Alsina, led to renewed fighting when Mitre mutinied a gunboat to prevent the inaugural. He was defeated, however, and only President Avellaneda's commutation spared his life.

Vestigial opposition to the new order continued from Federalists, notably La Rioja leader Chacho Peñaloza, who was killed in 1863 following a long campaign of internecine warfare, and Entre Ríos leader Ricardo López Jordán, whose Jordanist rebellion of 1870 to 1876, starting with the assassination of former Federalist president Justo José de Urquiza, marked the last Federalist revolt. The 1880 election of the leader of Conquest of the Desert, General Julio Roca, led to a final armed insurrection by Buenos Aires Governor Carlos Tejedor. Its quick defeat and a truce brokered by Mitre quieted the last source of open resistance to national unity (Buenos Aires autonomists), and resulted in the Federalization of Buenos Aires, as well as the hegemony of Roca's PAN and pro-modernization Generation of '80 policy makers over national politics until 1916.[citation needed]

Main conflicts[edit]

Cavalry fight in the age of Rosas, c. 1840

See also[edit]


  • Levene, Ricardo. A History of Argentina. University of North Carolina Press, 1937.
  • Luna, Félix. Los caudillos. Buenos Aires: Editorial Peña Lillo, 1971.
  • Historical Dictionary of Argentina. London: Scarecrow Press, 1978.