Argentine Civil Wars

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
ResultSanction of the Constitution in 1853
Federalization of Buenos Aires in 1880

Flag of Artigas.svg Federales

Supported by:


Flag of Unitarian Party (Navy).svg Unitarians

Supported by:
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland British Empire

Commanders and leaders
Flag of Artigas.svg Juan Manuel de Rosas
Flag of Artigas.svg Manuel Dorrego  
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 conflicts of varying intensity that took place through the territories of Argentina from 1814 to 1853. Initiation concurrently with the Argentine War of Independence (1810–1820), the conflict prevented the formation of a stable governing body until the signing of the Argentine Constitution of 1853, followed by low frequency skirmishes that ended with the Federalization of Buenos Aires. The period saw heavy intervention from the Brazilian Empire that fought against state and provinces in multiple wars. Breakaway nations, former territories of the viceroyalty such as the Banda Oriental, Paraguay and the Alto Peru were involved to varying degrees. Foreign powers such as British and French empires put heavy pressure on the fledging nations at times of international war.

Initially conflict arose from tensions over the organization and powers of the United Provinces of South America. The May 1810 revolution sparked of breakdown of the Viceroyalty's Intendencies (regional administrations) into local Cabildos. These rejected the notion that the central government should be able to instate and remove governors of the new provinces; a general opposition to centralism. Escalation resulted in the dissolution of the Directorship and the congress leaving the Argentine provinces under the leadership of personalist strongmen called Caudillos. fighting sporadic skirmishes until the reestablishment of relative peace after the war between the League of the Interior and the Federal Pact, however, conflicting interests did not permit the creation of a governing body until the Pact's defeat during the Platine War. Later conflicts centered around commercial control of the riverways in the Paraná and Urugay Rivers and the country's only port, which saw the secession of Buenos Aires from the Argentine Confederation, its unification and subsequent de-escalation of hostilities as the battleground moved from mutinies to debates within the political system of the Argentine Republic.


League of the Free Peoples and The Anarchy of the 1820s

The Banda Oriental of the liberator José Gervasio Artigas defended the Federal system until 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 Banda Oriental was invaded in June 1816 by Portuguese Empire, a conflict that tied Artigas' army to the defense of the region. Nonetheless, he ordered an armed response against the Directorship of the United Provinces' declaration of the Argentine Constitution of 1819. The Battle of Cepeda (1820) effectively dissolved the government, leaving caudillos as the highest regional authorities for the remainder of the decade. The Treaty of Pilar and the subsequent refusal of fellow Federal members to aid the occupied Banda Oriental marked the dissolution of the league.

Armed conflict between Littoral governors soared in the beginning of the 1820s. The first war post-dissolution immediately followed the downfall of the Free People's League. Artigas rejected the Pilar treaty and signed the Avalos Treaty with the governments of Corrientes and Misiones. In May 1820 he marched his army towards Concepción del Uruguay in Entre Ríos, but was ultimately defeated at Misiones by September, and exiled to Asunción. The governor of Entre Ríos, Francisco Ramírez effectively occupied the provinces of Corrientes and Misiones. The signing of the Treaty of Benegas was followed by the breakdown of relations between Ramírez and Santa Fe's governor Estanislao López. By 1821 a war between the Buenos Aires-Santa Fe alliance and Corrientes ended in the death of Ramírez and the signing of the Quadrilateral Treaty.

Federal Congress of the United Provinces

Fear of further Portuguese aggression led to the provinces to agree for a federal congress in 1824. In a number of sessions, the congress voted the Ley Fundamental to set the founding stone for the creation of a new government. Subsequent sessions saw reinvigorated support of the Banda Oriental's independence efforts, culminating in the formal reintegration of the province after the Uruguayan declaration of independence at the congress of Florida. The brazilian declaration of war on 10 December 1825 prompted the voting of a presidential law and the election of Bernardino Rivadavia as its first president in order to coordinate the new Argentine army, despite objections of the representatives of Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos and Santa Fe over port rights. Rivadavia and his followers heavily pushed for reforms intended to set up the basis of a federal level government and successfully passed the Argentine Constitution of 1826, denounced by congress representatives as centralist in nature.

Albeit initially successful, the war stagnated and poorly led negotiations in 1827 discredited the central government. Facing opposition on all fronts, Rivadavia resigned and vice-president Vicente López y Planes soon followed his example. Elections for presidency were held in Buenos Aires where the opposition leader Manuel Dorrego won as the only candidate. His peace negotiations with the brazilians were heavily pressured by the British Empire who saw continued war as a threat to its trade networks. Mediated through Britain, the August 1828 Preliminary Peace Convention affirmed the independence of the Banda Oriental, a result not expected by the local population. The ensuing outrage prompted returning officer Juan Lavalle to stage a coup in December 1828, executing Dorrego and dissolving the second republic of the United Provinces. This coup, later followed by his war minister José María Paz's take over of Cordoba province, was repelled in 1829.

Liga del Interior and Pacto Federal

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.

Beginning from 1829, two cliques that came to be named by contemporaries as Federalists and Unitarians took shape. In that year Juan Manuel de Rosas assumed governorship of Buenos Aires after forcing Lavalle's surrender. In Cordoba, José María Paz began a campaign of subjugation against the western provinces. In his writings he denounces provincial governors, specially the those of the littoral, calling them Caudillos. His accusations claim the inner provinces are beset by a mindset stuck in Spanish Colonial rule, making them responsible for the country's disorganized state and ultimately the stagnation of the independence war efforts and the collapse of the Army of the North. His campaign against settlements in western Argentina finds little opposition with the exception of Mendoza's Caudillo Juan Facundo Quiroga, who he defeats in a series of skirmishes. Paz sets his sights on removing Caudillo influence from the cities, ordering a series of purges and expropriations of deposed governors such as the Quiroga family.

On July 5, 1830, the Liga del Interior is formally entreated as a military alliance, albeit in practice Paz had supplanted all local governors with his own followers. In response, on January 4, 1831, the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Corrientes and Entre Ríos establish the Federal Pact, in reference to Artigas' original proposal for a federal system to replace the viceroyalty system. Hostilities between the two alliances began in May that year, ending with the defeat of the Unitarian League at the Battle of La Ciudadela. Juan Lavalle continued the conflict through a series of rebellions with different alliances against Rosas and the Federal Pact until Lavalle's defeat and assassination in 1841.

The Federalist Pact made no attempt at creating a centralized government, provinces such as Corrientes considered the pact dissolved by 1834, having attained its goals. Representation on foreign affairs was assumed by the far larger Buenos Aires province with provincial governors formally delegating to Rosas' government. In addition, Rosas was symbolically 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. Beginning with Rosas' 1835 governorship mandate, this arrangement began to be called the Argentine Confederation. It thus functioned, albeit amid ongoing conflicts, interventionism and rising local and international tensions. The Platine War saw a Brazilian-led alliance of Colorado Uruguayan, dissident Federalist and Paraguayan elements defeating the Argentine-Uruguayan army in 1852 at the Battle of Caseros, when Rosas was deposed and exiled.

Secession of Buenos Aires

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

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.

Main conflicts

Cavalry fight in the age of Rosas, c. 1840

See also


  • 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.

Media files used on this page

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Flag of the United Kingdom, Union Jack or Union Flag in a 1:2 ratio (typical on British warships and also the rank flag of an admiral of the fleet).
Bataille de Caseros.
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Bartolomé Mitre.
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Justo José de Urquiza
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Military flag of the Argentine Confederation, with the national coat of arms on the centre.
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Flag of the First Empire of Brazil, with 19 stars representing the provincies by the time.
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Author/Creator: Guilherme Paula, Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0
Bandera de Uruguay (Rivera)
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Flag of Argentine adopted by the Unitarians exiled at Montevideo. This war used as the merchant flag (civil ensign) until 1852.
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Flag of the Argentine Confederation, represented by Buenos Aires Province.
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Author/Creator: Vectorised by Froztbyte, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Flag of Colorado Party (Spanish: Partido Colorado) from Uruguay - design, 2:3 dimensions, colours and construction details were based primarily on the FOTW templates: Colorado Party, Uruguay (FOTW) and Variant of the flag (FOTW). The sun was constructed in detail after the flag of Uruguay due to the similarity in design, but reflected in the horizontal axis. The size of the sun is 1/3 in width/height to the height of the flag and the center of the sun is positioned in the top left corner of the flag - 1/4 to the height and 1/6 to the width.
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Bandera de Uruguay (Oribe)
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Author/Creator: Samhanin, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
Flag of the State of Buenos Aires
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Bandera de Artigas
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Juan Manuel de Rosas, ruler of Argentina. According to historian Juan A. Pradère, it was painted by Fernando García del Molino (1813–1899). Source: Soares de Sousa (1955), pp.84–85
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The Anglo-French armada forces its way through the Vuelta de Obligado