Justo José Urquiza

The Argentine dictator, general, and statesman Justo José Urquiza (1801-1870) was an ardent federalist and all his life fought against the dominance of the province of Buenos Aires at the expense of the interior provinces.

Justo José Urquiza was born on Oct. 18, 1801, in Arroyo de la China, in the province of Entre Rios. His parents were prominent and wealthy provincial landowners. Although much of his early practical education was received at the hands of the gauchos on the family estates, his formal education was as good as that of most political and military figures of his day, for he attended the Jesuit Colegio de San Carlos in Buenos Aires. Before he became embroiled in the political and military conflicts of his time, he amassed a considerable fortune as a merchant.

Urquiza became involved in the civil wars of the 1820s on the side of the provinces and rose rapidly in rank under Governor Echague. By 1842 he had risen to the command of the federalist forces under the dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas and became governor of Entre Rios. At this time he married a girl of Italian parentage and fathered two daughters and four sons.

He defeated the unitarist leader Gen. Paz and extended the domination of the Argentine federalists over much of Uruguay. Long a supporter of Rosas, he ultimately turned against him because of his refusal to set up a constitutional federal government presided over by a congress. After failing in 1846, Urquiza was finally successful in concluding an alliance with Brazil and Uruguay and defeated Rosas at the battle of Caseros on Feb. 3, 1852, which brought about the exile of the dictator.

United Provinces

The Brazilians and Uruguayans withdrew, and a provisional government was set up under Urquiza, who called all governors to a convention at San Nicolás, where a constitution was drawn up. The proposal to place the capital at Santa Fé was unacceptable to Buenos Aires. Urquiza refused to use force against the porteños (Buenos Aires party supporters), put the capital at Paraná, and allowed the province of Buenos Aires to become an independent state.

The provinces, including Buenos Aires, progressed peacefully as independent states under Urquiza's leadership until 1859, when hostilities broke out. The porteños, under Bartolomé Mitre, were defeated, and Buenos Aires returned to the confederation. Urquiza resigned the presidency to become governor of Entre Rios. He was unable to defeat Mitre in 1861, and the seat of government was returned to Buenos Aires. Urquiza refused to join a rebellion against Mitre during the Paraguayan War and maintained peace in his province, which prospered under the stability he provided.

Urquiza soon retired to care for his immense estates, said to contain an area as large as Belgium, with over a million head of livestock. In April 1870 a small force under a petty caudillo, López Jordán, who was angered that Urquiza would not take action against the Buenos Aires government, killed him in cold blood.

Thus died a patriot who had freed Uruguay and the river provinces from the Rosas tyranny, established a federal constitution, opened the rivers to the ships of all nations, encouraged immigration, and achieved peace and prosperity for his province. He had the imagination, which Rosas lacked, to rise above his earlier provincial instincts and work for a constitutional republic. His memory is still revered in Argentina today.

Further Reading on Justo José Urquiza

Most good biographies of Urquiza are in Spanish and have not been translated. In English, possibly the best work is Lewis Bealer's discussion of Urquiza in A. Curtis Wilgus, ed., South American Dictators (1937).