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Rio de la Plata. A century afterwards, in 1773, these colonies were raised to the rank of the vice-royalty of the Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, and the first viceroy, Don Pedro de Cevallos, was appointed.
Unlike what happened in the colonies which subsequently became the United States of America, the Spanish colonies of the New World saw themselves submitted from the very beginning of their existence to a system of personal government, in which the authority of the chief ruler, whether Viceroy, Captain-General, or merely selfappointed leader, was paramount even to the Crown itself. Foreign immigration as well as intercourse, commercial or otherwise, with foreign nations, was forbidden under severe penalties. Thus it happened that when the time came to free themselves from the yoke of Spain, the colonists had to learn the difficult lesson of self-government, while in North America, that lesson was known by heart many years before Washington was born.
In 1806, England, then at war with Spain, decided to take possession of Buenos Aires, and for this purpose, sent to the River Plate a small
of two or three thousand soldiers under the command of Lord Beresford. The city then had some 40,000 inhabitants without military experience, and it was easily taken. It was not, however, easily kept. Two months after entering, Beresford was compelled to evacuate, losing half of his men, who were killed or made prisoners by Gen. Siniers, who organized and commanded the natives. This event was the first step towards independence.
It happened that the Spanish Viceroy, Sobremonte, fled when Beresford attacked Buenos Aires, leaving it at the mercy of the English, and the natives achieved their delivery from the British by their own patriotic efforts. Following this, there occurred another event of still greater importance.
England sent an army of 10,000 men which landed near Buenos Aires in 1808 and proceeded immediately to retake the city. But this time, the natives were prepared, and the 10,000 soldiers were completely routed; their General, Whitelock, capitulating on the day of the attack. The flag of the famous Seventy-first Regiment of the British Army, which gave so much trouble to Napoleon in Egypt, is in the Cathedral of Buenos Aires, with many others.
It was after these stirring events that the first patriots began to whisper about ridding themselves of the Spaniards as they had done of the English, whispers, that grew louder as news was received of the occupation of Spain by the armies of Napoleon, until, on the 25th of May, 1810, the first cry of independence was raised. The people assembled in the public square under the leadership of noted patriots, and demanded and obtained the resignation of the Viceroy, who was replaced by a Junta composed of 9 members, which was to govern in the name of the King of Spain. But the King of Spain was a prisoner of Napoleon, and very soon, the Junta began to govern in its own name, and the struggle for independence began. The members of this Junta were: Cornelio Saavedra, Juan José Castelli, Manuel Belgrano, Miguel Azcúenaga, Manuel Albertí, Domingo Mathew, Juan Sarrea, Juan José Passo, and Mariano Moreno.
The task of achieving independence was not an easy one. Opposite Buenos Aires, in the fortress of Montevideo, was a strong Spanish garrison, which could be conveyed to Buenos Aires to dissolve the Junta. In what is now the Republic of Bolivia, was another Spanish army, and from Chile and Peru could also be sent troops to quell all attempts at insurrection. The Junta found itself in a great dilemma, surrounded by enemies, and with small elements of defence at its disposal.
Happily, the garrison of Montevideo could not abandon that place without running the risk of its being taken by the Portuguese, who were anxious to extend their territory towards the south of what is now the Republic of Brazil. This circumstance permitted the Junta to dispatch several revolutionary expeditions to imbue the people of the interior with the spirit of independence and to give battle to the Spaniards wherever they might be found. 'The first of these expeditions was sent to Paraguay under the command of Gen. Belgrano, one of the most noted generals of the Revolutionary war. He left Buenos Aires on the 22d of October, 1810, five months after the deposition of the viceroy. The Paraguayans did not respond to the cry of liberty with the enthusiasm that was expected, and Belgrano had to return to Buenos Aires after several useless fights. He was then sent to the northern Provinces, and in October of 1812, gave battle to the Spanish general, Pio Tristan, in Las Piedras, province of Saltá. In this expedition he was victorious. Twenty-one days later, Belgrano routed the forces of Tristan in the battle of Tucuman. Tristan managed to reorganize his forces, but was again defeated by Belgrano in February, 1813, in the battle of Saltá.
These and other victories gave the Junta reason to believe that the armies sent to the north would eventually succeed in reducing the power of Spain in Bolivia, but in December, 1813, Belgrano suffered a serious defeat from the Spaniards who were commanded by Gen. Peguela. This battle took place in Alto Peru (now Bolivia).
From 1813 to 1817, several battles were fought between Spaniards and Argentines, nearly all of which resulted in defeats to the latter, who lost all the advantages previously gained by Belgrano. Meanwhile, the Government had made strenuous efforts to take the fortress of Montevideo. They constructed a small navy, which was put under the command of William Brown, who afterwards rose to the rank of Admiral. Attacked by Brown from the sea and by Gen. Cáreos de Alvear by land, Montevideo was at last taken by them on the 20th of June, 1814. This important capture did not fail to inspire the Government and people with that enthusiasm of which they were in so much need, Every eye was turned now to the new general-in-chief of the army, Don José de San Martin, of whom great things were expected.
San Martin, although born on Argentine soil, was educated in Spain, where he had joined the army, and distinguished himself in the campaign against Napoleon. He was a colonel in the Spanish service when he decided to resign, and help his native
country to achieve independence. He perceived immediately that it was necessary to risk all in a definite move, that would surprise as well as crush the Spanish forces. Although the obstacles were almost insurmountable, he conceived the idea of crossing the lofty Andes and giving battle to the Spanish soldiers who kept Chile in bondage, and thus liberating that country and also Peru from the Spanish yoke. This enterprise needed a great general and a great organizer. Fortunately, San Martin was both.
After considerable time spent in recruiting, organizing, and drilling his army (composed, by a great majority, of Gauchos), and after a congress in which the different Provinces were represent had solemnly declared, on the oth of July, 1816, their formal separation and independence from Spain, Gen. San Martin left the city of Mendoza at the head of his small
5,000 soldiers, on his errand of freedom. The turning point of fortune had come for the Argentines. It took San Martin only twenty-five days to cross the Andes with his army and give battle to the Spanish general, Rafael Maroto, whom he defeated. This battle, called the battle of Chacabuco, was fought on the 12th of February, 1817, and is commemorated by the Chilean people as the battle that gave them their independence. In grateful acknowledgment of the services rendered them, two statues have been erected in Santiago, Chile, one of Gen. San Martin and the other in honor of the city of Buenos Aires.
Although San Martin was the liberator of Chile and made his triumphant entrance into Santiago immediately after the battle of Chacabuco, he abstained from interfering with its civil government, leaving that task to the Chileans themselves. During the following year, the important battle of Maipu in Chile was fought, the Spanish General Osorio and his army being completely routed by San Martin. Having no foes to fight on Chilean soil, the victorious general sailed for Peru, the stronghold of Spanish power; there he was also successful, entering Lima on the 9th of July, 1821. Lima has also erected a statue to Gen. San Martin. Although he
was pressed to accept the civil government of Peru, he declined the honor as he had done in Chile.
The achievements of San Martin gave the death blow to the power of Spain in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Thus his name will ever rank with those of Washington and Bolivar—the other two great American liberators. Unlike them, however, he never served in a civil capacity any of the countries he liberated; having, as he often declared, no other ambition than to be successful in the field. He stands, perhaps, as the only great hero who never either desired or accepted civil office.
Following the great revolutionary struggle, Brazil, in 1825, declared war against the Argentine Republic, because the latter would not permit that Empire to annex Uruguay. This war lasted three years. Many battles were fought by land and sea, and it was only terminated by an agreement that Brazil and Argentina should guarantee the independence of Uruguay. During this period, one of the greatest of Argentine statesmen, Bernandino Rivadavia, founder of
many useful institutions, was at the head of the Government
A few years afterwards, came the so-called “night of tyranny, with the government of Don Juan Manuel de Rosas, which lasted from 1829 to 1852, twenty-three years. During this period the blockade of Buenos Aires, first by the French and afterwards by the French and English combined, took place. It was imposed in 1838 and raised in 1848.
Rosas's government was of a despotic character, and many were the attempts made to drive him from power. At last, Gen. Justo José de Urquiza managed to collect a sufficient force to wage successful war against him, and on the 3d of February, 1852, Rosas's army was defeated by Urquiza, at the battle of Caseros, thus putting an end to the most dictatorial government that the Argentine Republic has ever had.
Gen. Urquiza proceeded to organize the country upon a solid