- In 1800, Argentina was part of the recently created Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Buenos Aires served as the capital of this administrative section of Spanish America that the Crown split off from Viceroyalty of Lima. Its bureaucracy supervised the mining regions of Upper Peru (Bolivia), Paraguay, and the Banda Oriental ( Uruguay ). The expansion of ranching led to the rapid growth of Buenos Aires and its merchant elite in the decades leading up to 1800. Exports generated profits, but the local merchants increasingly resented commercial regulations that limited their ability to trade freely with ships from countries other than Spain. Mariano Moreno, who emerged as a spokesperson for the commercial agents and ranchers of Buenos Aires, expressed these sentiments in his petition of 1810, Representación de los hacendados y labradores.Events had put the viceroyalty’s ties to Spain under strain. In 1806, an invasion force under the leadership of Sir Home Riggs Popham, invaded Argentina after successfully claiming South Africa, the South Georgian Islands, and the Falkland Islands for Great Britain. The Spanish viceroy and his supporters abandoned Buenos Aires and left the town largely defenseless. Initially, the British expeditionary force was allowed to camp in the city. Civic leaders, however, soon recruited a militia and organized a surprise attack against the British forces, which retreated from Buenos Aires to their ships. Reinforcements arrived and a second battle for Buenos Aires took place in 1807. The Argentine militia, reinforced by troops from Paraguay and the interior, defeated the British a second time. This victory gave the citizens of Buenos Aires a sense of autonomy that brought Argentina’s colonial relationship with Spain into question.Napoleon’s invasion of Spain forced the issue more directly. The abdication of King Charles IV and the nomination of Joseph Bonaparte as Spain’s puppet king led city and town councils throughout Spanish America to take up the issue of independence. At first, the citizens of Buenos Aires declared their loyalty to Spain. But in 1810, with French forces still occupying most of Iberia, the city council in Buenos Aires declared itself as the capital of the newly independent United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. Buenos Aires rapidly lost its authority over the interior regions of the viceroyalty. Paraguay defeated an invasion from Buenos Aires in 1811 and declared its own independence. Uruguay initially became a stronghold for Loyalists, but then briefly gained its own independence thanks to a local militia under the command of José Gervasio Artigas in 1812. Spanish troops occupied Upper Peru and threatened an invasion of Argentina in 1814.Political conflicts and military failures plagued Argentina until the government in Buenos Aires gave José de San Martín command of its armies. His invasion of Chile in 1817, followed by his invasion of Peru in 1821, guaranteed Argentina’s independence. The United Provinces soon collapsed and Argentina splintered into a federation of provinces under the rule of local military strongmen, or caudillos. After 1825 the province of Buenos Aires emerged as the leading component of this federation thanks to the policies of dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. Rosas used diplomacy, threats, and occasionally military force to monopolize foreign trade in Argentina for the merchants and ranchers of his province. This led to conflict not only with other caudillos but with Great Britain and France who sent naval detachments to the area during the 1830s and the 1840s in an effort to keep trade with the interior provinces open.Rosas fell from power in 1852. The formation of the Argentine Confederation, which grew much more powerful and centralized after 1860, coincided with Argentina’s export-led development. First wool, then beef, and finally grains helped Argentina’s merchants and landowners form into a rich and powerful elite. This era was also one of informal empire, as a result of the dominance of British capital and companies in the funding and expansion of Argentina’s economic infrastructure. The close linkages that developed between Argentina’s rural industries and the British market helped fund what many viewed as Argentina’s “Golden Age,” from 1880 to 1910.See also <
>; < >; < >; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Gravil, Roger. The Anglo-Argentine Connection, 1900-1939. Boulder: Westview Press, 1985;Lynch, John. Argentine Dictator: Juan Manuel de Rosas. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981;Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986;Sábato, Hilda. Agrarian Capitalism and the World Market: Buenos Aires in the Pastoral Age, 1840-1890. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.DANIEL K. LEWIS
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.