Bernardino Rivadavia

Bernardino Rivadavia (1780-1845) was a leader in Argentina's efforts to secure independence and after the break with Spain introduced a vast body of reforms to provide a sound basis for the newly independent country.

Bernardino Rivadavia was born a citizen of Spain's colonial empire. Reared and educated in Buenos Aires, capital of the viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, he was an early advocate of independence. In 1810 he joined the meeting of leading citizens which ousted the Spanish viceroy and secured virtual independence.

Newly independent Argentina was groping for stable government, and in 1811 a triumvirate replaced the revolutionary junta. Rivadavia served first as a secretary and then as a full member of the governing body. He was a zealous innovator, introducing all manner of reforms and institutions into the sociopolitical vacuum left by the disintegration of the colonial edifice.

With phenomenal breadth of interest, Rivadavia offered a staggering array of proposals for the developing nation. Greatly concerned with human rights, he supported decrees designed to guarantee civil liberties for all citizens, male and female. Logically, then, he sought to strip both the Roman Catholic Church and the military of the special privileges he felt inappropriate in the envisioned egalitarian society. He realized that a responsive and viable government would protect and encourage national growth, so he implemented electoral and structural reforms, making Buenos Aires a model for other provinces. The average citizen, he believed, needed education in order to operate the hoped-for democracy, so he pressed for educational improvements on all levels. He felt that happiness depended on at least a modicum of material prosperity and insisted on commercial reforms, ranging from freer commerce to the introduction of new mining and agricultural processes. These are but a sampling of the innovations, none of them an unqualified success, which leaped from Rivadavia's fertile mind.

Rivadavia also served his nation in the field of diplomacy, twice traveling to Europe on delicate missions and filling the office of foreign minister. His successes included persuading both Great Britain and the United States to recognize Argentina's independence from Spain. Further, his trips to Europe gave him the chance to savor the concepts of such thinkers as Bentham, Adam Smith, Jovellanos, and Campomanes.

In 1826 a constitutional congress named Rivadavia president of Argentina. Although that body's action was technically without legal sanction, Rivadavia carried out his duties to the fullest extent. But he soon ran into difficulties. An inconclusive war with Brazil drained the government's resources and stirred much resentment. His promulgation of a rather centralist constitution excited the wrath of jealous provincial chieftains. Faced with unrelenting opposition, he resigned in 1827.

Forced into exile by his enemies, Rivadavia wandered in Latin America and Europe for several years. He died in Cadiz, Spain. He left a rich heritage of reforms and institutions which, in more fortuitous times, Argentina would eagerly resurrect.


Further Reading on Bernardino Rivadavia

Hubert Clinton Herring, A History of Latin America: From the Beginnings to the Present (1955; 3d rev. ed. 1968), gives an excellent short sketch of Rivadavia, putting him in proper historical perspective. A section on him is in George Washington University, South American Dictators during the First Century of Independence, edited by Alva Curtis Wilgus (1937). An outstanding account of Rivadavia's political work is in José Luis Romero, A History of Argentine Political Thought (1946; 3d ed. 1959; trans. 1963).