Juan Manuel de Rosas
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0069
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0069
Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas is one of the most controversial figures of Argentine history. A dominant figure while he ruled (1829–1832, 1835–1852), debates about his life and legacy continued to play an important role in the cultural, academic, and political spheres of Argentina after his death and do so up to the early 21st century. Rosas was born into a well-to do family in 1793 in the province of Buenos Aires. He spent much of his upbringing in the countryside learning the business of the growing cattle industry, as well as the ways of gauchos and Indians. By the 1820s, he had earned renown as a rancher and militia commander and became more involved in politics. He eventually associated himself with the Federalist Party, which promoted provincial rights and more traditional social structures against the “Unitarians,” who wanted a more centralized government and a liberalized society, similar to the republics emerging in Europe and North America. Continuing strife between Federalists and Unitarians provoked repeated civil wars. One of those conflicts led to Rosas being named governor of Buenos Aires, where he served from 1829 to 1832, then again from 1835 to 1852. During this time, Rosas also served as the leader of the Argentine Confederation, which gave him authority over foreign relations. In the name of restoring order and stability, and granted extraordinary powers to rule by the Buenos Aires legislature, Rosas put down any opposition to his rule, at times quite brutally. Rosas resisted pressure to create a national constitution, insisting that Argentina was not ready for such an organization. Under his rule, thousands of Argentines fled the country, sometimes of their own accord, but other times because of fear for their lives. Indeed, executions and assassinations did take place, especially during times of civil unrest and rebel activity. From exile, many of these dissidents eviscerated Rosas in newspapers, literature, and political commentaries, and, when possible, they fomented armed uprisings and foreign interventions against the Rosas regime. Foreign powers, especially France, pressured Rosas on issues of free trade and treaty rights, pressure which led to chronic conflicts with France and periodic clashes with England. In the early 1850s, Rosas’ allies from the interior began to turn against him, culminating in his defeat in 1852 by a joint army from the Argentine interior, supplemented by Brazilian troops. Upon his defeat, Rosas immediately boarded a British warship and went into exile in England for the last twenty-five years of his life. His role and significance in Argentine history are continuously debated by those who see him as a brutal throwback to Spanish colonialism and a precursor to future political violence, and those who see him as a great defender of Argentine sovereignty, culture, and national identity.
The historiography of Rosas is extensive (see the bibliography Chiappini 1973). Useful historiographical overviews can be found in Etchepareborda 1970 and Clementi 1970 as well as in Shumway 2004. Pro-Rosas material was published contemporarily by friends of the regime (see Analysis of Rosas by His Contemporaries). Intellectuals exiled during his rule produced vitriolic anti-Rosas literature, and much of that negative perspective became integrated into national histories after Rosas fell from power in 1852. This line of thought is associated with Bartolomé Mitre, first president of the unified republic (1862) and a prolific historian, who saw the history of Rosas as a cautionary tale for the country (see Analysis of Rosas by His Contemporaries). This approach later came to be known as the “liberal” interpretation, or more cynically, the “official history” of Argentina. The multivolume history Saldías 1911 (cited under Political History) challenged the liberal view of Rosas in the 1890s, portraying Rosas in a more positive light. This work signaled a more balanced approach that became a characteristic of the “La Nueva Escuela” (the new school), of the early to mid-20th century, which included writers such as Ernesto Quesada, Emilio Ravignani, and Antonio Dellepiane, a trend continued later by Ricardo Levene and Enrique Barba, who may have had their biases for or against Rosas (frequently against), but who believed in a more rigorous historical method not overtly driven by ideology. Beginning the 1920s and 1930s, nationalist writers, soon to be known as “Revisionists” for their opposition to “official history,” published more and more works that exalted Rosas as a great hero of the nation who defended its sovereignty against foreign powers and who represented the true and authentic Argentina (see Kroeber 1964). In 1938, the Juan Manuel de Rosas Institute of Historical Studies was founded and began publishing pro-Rosas material. These nationalist “Revisionists” were frequently less rigorous in their historical method and thus tended to produce one-sided panegyrics. These trends—the anti-Rosas, new school, and Revisionist—continue in one form or another in the 21st century. Rosas and his legacy are still hotly debated, partly because different groups, such as conservative nationalists, use historical interpretations of Rosas to highlight their take on current issues in Argentina (see Devoto and Pagano 2004). Many historians, including professional academics, have taken it upon themselves to challenge the Revisionists, not only for their frequent right-wing stances, but for the lack of rigor and method in their historical scholarship (see Halperín Donghi 2005). Despite their opposition to what they see as Revisionist excesses, many academic historians are producing scholarship that presents a more complex and fuller picture of Rosas, and by extension, of the role of caudillos (strongmen) in Argentine history (Goldman and Salvatore 1998).
Chiappini, Julio O. Bibliografía sobre Rosas. Rosario, Argentina: Universidad Católica Argentina, 1973.
A fairly comprehensive bibliography of scholarship relating to Rosas as of the early 1970s.
Clementi, Hebe. Rosas en la historia nacional. Buenos Aires, Argentina: La Pléyada, 1970.
A balanced look at the historiography on Rosas, focusing on the two major trends and how the various authors fit in, including the major works of each and their key points. Approach is fairly balanced, letting the authors’ bias speak.
Devoto, Fernando, and Nora Pagano, eds. La historiografía académica y la historiografía militante en Argentina y Uruguay. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Biblos, 2004.
The chapters by Julio Stortini (on the Rosas Institute) and Fernando Devoto (on the left in the historiography) are helpful in explaining in detail the historiographical developments of the mid-20th century, much of which reflects on the treatment of Rosas.
Etchepareborda, Roberto. Rosas: Controvertida historiografía. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Pleamar, 1970.
Etchepareborda examines the major historiographical debates about Rosas and brings various sources to bear on them. The author calls for a more mature approach to history, which in this case focuses on understanding Rosas as a man of his time.
Goldman, Noemí, and Ricardo Salvatore, eds. Caudillismos rioplatenses: Nuevas miradas a un viejo problema. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Eudeba, 1998.
An indispensable collection of academic scholarship that revises traditional views of caudillos in general and of Rosas in particular. The myth of an “institutional vacuum” is challenged, as is the idea that caudillos impeded national organization. Caudillismo was more of a stable system than previously thought. Introduction lays out traditional historiography on caudillos.
Halperín Donghi, Tulio. El revisionismo histórico Argentino como visión decadentista de la historia nacional. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2005.
Three previously published essays on the Revisionist movement and on Rosas historiography by perhaps the best-known historian of his generation; Halperin shows how Revisionism is able to adjust itself to changing circumstances (and how Revisionism more and more abandoned historical method in favor of a “construction of allegories”). The third essay looks at the new directions in Rosas scholarship represented in Myers 1995 (cited under Historiography since the Rosas Repatriation in 1989).
Kroeber, Clifton B. Rosas y la revisión de la historia Argentina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Fondo Editor Argentino, 1964.
A good historiographical analysis of the Revisionists, dividing them into two groups: those writings from the 1880s and those from the 1920s.
Shumway, Jeffrey M. “Juan Manuel de Rosas: Authoritarian Caudillo and Primitive Populist.” History Compass 2.1 (2004).
A brief overview of Rosista historiography, and how Rosas sought to cultivate support among the marginalized classes by respecting Afro-Argentine and gaucho traditions, and negotiating with Indians, although threats of force were always implicit for those who did not cooperate. Rosas’ carrot-and-stick approach has led some to call him a “primitive populist.” Available online for purchase or by subscription.
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