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The Americas

South American States


United Provinces of South America / La Plata
AD 1810 - 1825

The process of building a Spanish empire in South America had been triggered by Christopher Columbus landing in the Bahamas in 1492. Spanish Colonies were quickly established on Hispaniola, Cuba, and then New Spain. The Rio de la Plata (River Plate) estuary became the border between Spain's colony of Peru, of which early Argentina was a part, and the Portuguese colony of Brazil. 'River plate' means 'river of silver' in Spanish. The area was first discovered by Europeans in 1516 when the Spanish navigator, Juan Diaz de Solis, was killed there by the indigenous people.

The viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata had been formed in 1776 out of Peru's southern territories. This promoted the previous regional governorship and gave it independent control of the provinces of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. However, the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars weakened Spanish influence in its American colonies. Firstly Buenos Aires was able to beat off an attempted invasion by Great Britain in 1807, and then the French occupied Spain itself, showing how weak the imperial master had become. Various wars of independence broke out across the Spanish Americas, and the viceroyalty was all but dead by 1810.

A new, republican administration was formed which was free of any direct Spanish control. This was despite there not having been any declaration of independence (unlike in Venezuela), and despite attempts by the self-declared viceroy, Francisco Javier de Elio y Olondriz, to take control in 1811. The United Provinces of South America were far from stable however. All the while the Spanish were fighting to regain their lost territories - with Argentina's own fight against them not ending until 1818 - the former colonial states were also fighting each other.

In 1814, this large political entity was renamed the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, with Buenos Aires as the capital. In the process Paraguay was lost as it established its own independent state, while Chile to the west established its own republic. Buenos Aires itself was now under the control of the 'supreme director', but the post turned out to be something of a poisoned chalice.

With factions on the republican side at each other's throats on a constant basis, there could be little agreement about who would take the office. The second director was removed by a coup, while others were only acting directors or interim directors when some sort of agreement could be reached on a full appointment. Ultimately, the system failed.

Torres del Paine, Chile

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual, C E Bosworth (2004), from Historical Dictionary of Argentina, Ione S Wright and Lisa M Nekhom (1978), from Colonial Latin America, Mark A Burkholder & Lyman L Johnson (Tenth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2018), from Gobernar la Revolución: Poderes en disputa en el Río de la Plata, 1810-1816, Marcela Ternavasio (Buenos Aires, 2007), from Information Please Almanac (Twenty-Sixth Edition, New York, 1972), from Information Please Almanac (Forty-First Edition, Boston, 1988), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Explore Asuncion (Trip Advisor), and Welcome Uruguay.)


Cornelio Judas Tadeo

President of the First Junta, 25 May-18 Dec.

1810 - 1811

Cornelio Judas Tadeo

President of the Second Junta, 18 Dec-26 Aug.


Domingo Matheu Chicola

President of the Second Junta, 26 Aug-23 Sep.

1811 - 1814

The 'First Triumvirate' (or junta) is formed on 23 September 1811. This lasts until 8 October 1812, when the 'Second Triumvirate' replaces it and survives until 31 January 1814.

United Provinces eight reales piece
Shown here are two sides of the eight reales piece which was issued by the United Provinces of South America in 1813, just three years into its short political existence

Then the post of supreme director replaces the triumvirate, with a two-year tenure, a nine-man council to regulate him, and the hope of being more effectively able to oppose the royalists who are still fighting to re-establish Spanish rule.

The directorship is occupied by several incumbents (some of them acting or interim directors) between January 1814 and February 1820, rendering it largely devoid of power. The second director is the nephew of the first, and is removed from office by a coup. The 'Third Triumvirate' takes control as an interim government until the next supreme director can be appointed.

1814 - 1815

Gervasio Antonio de Posadas

Supreme director. Formerly in 'Second Triumvirate'.

1814 - 1817

A fresh Spanish attack on Chile surprises the Chilean forces and sweeps them into Argentina, where they remain for three years while the royalists take control of the country. The Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, has been restored to his throne, largely thanks to the efforts of British and Portuguese forces in Iberia, and the war to regain the colonies is pursued with fresh vigour.

Battle of El Roble
The Battle of El Roble was fought between the Chilean forces and the Royalists on the River on 17 October 1813, ending with the latter being defeated


Carlos María de Alvear

Supreme director (nephew), Jan-15 Apr. Deposed in coup.


Juan José Viamonte

Supreme director (18-20 Apr).

1815 - 1817

The Liga Federal, or Federal League, is formed in eastern Argentina and Uruguay by Jose Gervasio Artigas, a former officer in the Spanish army. The move leads to war between that and the United Provinces for control of southern and eastern South America. The better-armed United Provinces win the main war in 1817, but fighting continues in the countryside.


José Rondeau

Supreme director (20 Apr).

1815 - 1816

Ignacio Álvarez Thomas

Supreme director (20 Apr-Apr 1816).


Antonio González Balcarce

Supreme director (Apr-May, and acting until 12 Jul 1816).


Juan Martín de Pueyrredón

Supreme director (May-9 Jul).


Uruguay is invaded by Portuguese troops from Brazil and is ultimately seized from Spanish control. Brazil's own control of it is fleeting however. It forms part of the United Provinces until 1825, when it frees itself and declares its own independent republic on 9 July 1816.

Slavery in Brazil
By the early seventeenth century, slavery in Brazil was a highly profitable business, having been integral to the initial phases of European settlement

1819 - 1825

Fighting a nationalist war of independence in Peru, the Spanish vice-regents are defeated and agree to leave Peruvian territories. La Plata itself is riven by civil war which leaves no effective central control in place.

In 1820, the centralist Liga Federal is dissolved and the territories which are under its control are absorbed into the new federal United Provinces, all except Uruguay. Buenos Aires takes command of international affairs when the federal reorganisation is confirmed by the Treaty of Pilar on 23 February 1820.

Unfortunately, this results in there being no central authority to manage the federalist state until 1826, with most of the provinces remaining autonomous even after then, despite the creation of the Argentine Confederation.

Argentine Confederation
AD 1825 - 1862
Incorporating the State of Buenos Aires (1852-1859)

The Spanish colonial empire in South America came about after early colonies were established on Hispaniola, Cuba, and then New Spain. The Rio de la Plata (River Plate) estuary became the border between Spain's colony of Peru, of which early Argentina was a part, and the Portuguese colony of Brazil. The viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata was formed in 1776 out of Peru's southern territories. However, the Napoleonic Wars weakened Spanish influence in its American colonies. Buenos Aires was able to throw off Spanish control to create an independent state across much of South America.

The United Provinces of South America was formed in 1810 to administer this large territory from Buenos Aires. This evolved quickly into the United Provinces of La Plata in 1814, but it immediately found itself at war against the rival South American Federal League (based in eastern Argentina). The United Provinces were better armed and won the main war, but fighting continued in the countryside. The Federal League was dissolved in 1820, and its territory except for that of the soon-to-be-formed Uruguay was absorbed by the United Provinces.

A confederation of sorts was finally put into place in 1825 after six years of internal strife: the Argentine Confederation. Despite apparent unity, the provinces of Buenos Aires, Catamarca, Cordoba, Corrientes, Entre Rios, Jujuy, La Rioja, Mendoza, Salta, San Juan, San Luis, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, and Tucuman remained autonomous in all but name during most of the period, between the start of the inevitable civil war to around 1852-1862 and the final end of the confederation (although that name remains valid even today).

Those provinces which were actually linked to the confederation were also all secessionist or independent at one point or another. In the wake of colonial rule, it seemed that everyone thought they could claim a piece of South America for themselves. The confederation's capital was at Paraná, while Buenos Aires was often at odds with and acting as a rival against most of the others. For another two generations, South America continued to be a hotbed of unrest and turmoil following the termination of Spain's direct control of the continent.

During the war against imperial Brazil in 1825-1827, the Cisplatine region between Argentina and Brazil broke away, establishing itself as the independent nation state of Uruguay. Independence also beckoned for Bolivia, in 1825. Lacking a single figure to handle external relations, Juan Manuel de Rosas assumed control of the confederation in 1829 and remained in charge as a virtual dictator (although the use of this term is sometimes disputed). Frequent internecine fighting resulted in shifting powerbases, and a shifting capital city, with an independent 'State of Buenos Aires' even being declared in 1852.

Torres del Paine, Chile

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from A History of Argentina, Ricardo Levene (1937), from History of Argentina: From the original towns to the time of the Kirchners, Norberto Galasso (Vols 1-2, 2011), from Historical Dictionary of Argentina, Ione S Wright and Lisa M Nekhom (1978), from Colonial Latin America, Mark A Burkholder & Lyman L Johnson (Tenth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2018), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), from Index (10 December 2019), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Argentina (Rulers.org).)

1825 - 1826

Juan Gregorio de Las Heras

Governor of Buenos Aires.

1825 - 1827

King John VI of Portugal, under pressure from Britain, recognises the independence of Brazil. War breaks out almost immediately between the Argentine confederation and Brazil. During this the Spanish region of Cisplatine breaks away, establishing itself as the independent nation state of Uruguay.

Montevideo loses its autonomy on 8 March 1826. The national government of the Argentine confederation takes over the direct administration of the province until 17 August 1827, when Montevideo regains its autonomy. On the same day, the national government takes over direct administration of the province of Buenos Aires, ending Gregorio's term as governor there. The national government directly administers Buenos Aires until 13 August 1827.

Shout of Ipiranga, Brazil, 1822
On the banks of the River Ipiranga, Pedro I issued the declaration of the independence of Brazil from Portugal. The event was known as the Grito do Ipiranga, the Shout of Ipiranga

1826 - 1827

Bernardino Rivadavia

President of the Argentine confederation. Unitarian.


Vicente López y Planes

Provisional president (9-17 Aug). Federalist.

1827 - 1852

A long Argentine civil war breaks out, but it is little more than a continuation of the years of strife which preceded the creation of the confederation. During this period, in 1829, Argentina establishes a short-lived colony on the Falkland Islands under Luis Vernet (but only until 1833 at the latest). In the same year, Juan Manuel de Rosas is able to establish himself as  effective dictator in Buenos Aires.

1829 - 1852

Juan Manuel de Rosas

Dictator in Buenos Aires region. Overthrown. Died 1877.


Britain reassumes direct control of the deserted Falkland Islands, and they remain part of the country's overseas territories from this point onwards, based both on this reoccupation and the initial formal claim of ownership of 1765 which had not been opposed by the Spanish authorities of the time. Settlers create a capital at Port Stanley and the islands' population remains almost fully British.

Juan Manuel de Rosas
Juan Manuel de Rosas gained control of Buenos Aires in 1829, also acting as the official governor in 1829-1832 and 1835-1852, with no less than three other incumbents filling that position between his two spells of office

1836 - 1839

The dictator of Peru is defeated and executed by Bolivian forces which invade the country. The subsequent Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation creates tension between it and Chile and this leads to the latter declaring war on 28 December 1836. The Argentine confederation is Chile's ally, and on 9 May 1837 it follows suit. Eventual defeat for Bolivia comes in 1839.

1839 - 1852

The exiled president of Uruguay, Manuel Oribe, forms a government in exile in Montevideo, and war is declared between him and his rivals. The Great War lasts for thirteen years. In 1842 an Argentinean army overruns the country on Oribe's behalf, although the capital remains free.

This is besieged from the start of 1843 and, when access to Paraguay is blocked for Great Britain and France, they declare war on Argentina and blockade its capital, assisted by Brazil. In 1849 and 1850, Argentina agrees a peace deal with each of the two European powers. Argentinean troops are withdrawn from Uruguay, although Oribe's own forces still maintain a loose siege.

In 1851 an Argentinean faction opposes Manuel de Rosas in Argentina, defeats Oribe, and lifts the siege nine years after it had begun. The following year, Rosas himself is overthrown at the Battle of Caseos on 3 February 1852, ending the war.

Battle of Caseros
The Battle of Caseros in February 1852 ended the career of Manuel de Rosas, shortly after Oribe's own defeat, as well as ending the occupation of areas of Uruguay's territory

Having overthrown Manuel de Rosas in 1852 at the end of the Great War, the governor of Entre Ríos, Justo José de Urquiza, fails to persuade Buenos Aires to support the 1852 San Nicolás Agreement. Instead, a stand-alone 'State of Buenos Aires' is declared in opposition to Urquiza (the title is official from 28 May 1854).


Manuel Guillermo Pinto

Provisional governor of rival 'State of Buenos Aires'.


Valentín Alsina

Governor of 'State of Buenos Aires' (Oct-Dec).

1852 - 1853

Manuel Guillermo Pinto

Governor of 'State of Buenos Aires' (Dec-Jun).

1853 - 1857

Pastor Obligado

Governor of 'State of Buenos Aires' (Jul 1853 on).


Urquiza himself, in 1854, is elected president of the Argentine confederation which now has the previously unimportant town of Paraná as its capital. This is located somewhat to the north of Buenos Aires. Between 28 June and 24 July 1853, Buenos Aires is governed by a three-member council of ministers rather than a single governor.

1854 - 1860

Justo José de Urquiza y García

President of the Argentine confederation from Paraná.

1857 - 1859

Valentín Alsina

Rival governor of 'State of Buenos Aires'.

1857 - 1859

In 1857, Valentín Alsina is elected governor of Buenos Aires, which only serves to inflame an already shaky situation. In 1859 the 'Federalist' governor of San Juan, Nazario Benavídez, is assassinated by the 'Liberals'. And then the Port of Montevideo sets up a trade deal to rival that of Buenos Aires and hit its lucrative trade.

Valentín Alsina
Valentín Alsina (1805-1869) became governor for the second time in Buenos Aires, albeit only for the first time since it had officially announced itself as the rival 'State of Buenos Aires' in 1854 in opposition to its parent Argentine confederation

All of this results in the Battle of Cepeda of 1859. Buenos Aires is defeated by the forces of Urquiza. The city's leaders have to agree to the Pact of San José de Flores which largely settles the key sources of conflict, if not the political division.

1859 - 1860

Felipe Llavollol

Rival governor of 'State of Buenos Aires'. Defeated.

1860 - 1862

Santiago Derqui

President of the confederation. Fled due to public unrest.

1860 - 1862

Bartolomé Mitre

Governor of Buenos Aires under Argentine confederation.

1860 - 1861

General Bartolomé Mitre, defeated leader of the Buenos Aires forces in 1859 and governor from 1860, refutes the Pact of San José. The civil war is reignited, leading to the Battle of Pavón in 1861. This time Mitre and Buenos Aires defeat Urquiza's federal forces.

The latest president of the Argentine confederation, Santiago Derqui, resigns on 4 November 1861 due to the unrest caused by his largely agreeing to the terms offered by Buenos Aires. The Argentine confederation is replaced with a new entity (although the title itself remains valid even to this day). In 1862 Mitre is elected the first president of a now-united republic of Argentina.

Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires
The Teatro Colón opera theatre in Buenos Aires first opened its doors in 1908, replacing an 1857 building, and has since been rated as one of the world's best opera houses

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