The Collapse of the Federalists: Rural Revolt in Argentina 1863-1876

DAVID ROCK

Abstract


The lengthy political party conflicts in Argentina following the wars of independence concluded in the early 1870s when the Unitarios, now more commonly known as the Liberals (Liberales), defeated the last of four major rebellions by the Federalists (Federales). Of the four insurrections, the first two --in 1863 and 1866-1867, led by Ángel V. Peñaloza and Felipe Varela-- occurred in the western provinces, and the second two, in 1870 and 1873, under Ricardo López Jordán, in the eastern province of Entre Ríos. The origins of all four movements lay in the country's turbulent political history during the previous fifty years since the outbreak of the wars of independence. In part, the rebellions reflected resentments against the rulers of the province of Buenos Aires for monopolizing the revenues from foreign trade. They became constitutional disputes between the Liberal supporters of national state-building and the Federalist proponents of provincial autonomy. On a local level, they became struggles between town and country, and ethnic and class conflicts between the white Liberal urban elite and the Federalist rural mestizo gauchos. Above all, the rebellions of the 1860s and early 1870s became reactions to the aggressive Liberal movement based in Buenos Aires. In 1861 an English visitor argued that the construction of railroads would spontaneously effect the social and political changes desired by the Liberals. "But the unquiet spirit of these intriguing doctores," as he called the leaders of the Liberals, "is not content to let nature work in her own fashion: they imagine they have a holy mission to redeem the provinces from barbarism and caudillos."

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