Belgrano, Manuel (1770–1820)

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Belgrano, Manuel (1770–1820)

Manuel Belgrano (b. 3 June 1770; d. 20 June 1820), Argentine independence leader. Born into a wealthy merchant family, Belgrano was educated in his native Buenos Aires and at the University of Salamanca in Spain. He was admitted to the practice of law and in the last years of the colonial regime also belonged to a circle of creole professional men, all influenced by enlightenment thought, who were eager to promote economic development and practical improvements in infrastructure. Becoming secretary of the Buenos Aires Consulado, or merchant guild, he worked to encourage new productive activities and to improve the system of education. He also served in the local militia forces opposing the British invasions of 1806–1807.

Belgrano's initial response to the Spanish imperial crisis of 1808 was to support a project for constitutional monarchy in the American colonies under Princess Carlota Joaquina, sister of King Ferdinand VII, a captive of Napoleon. She was currently in Rio de Janeiro as wife of the Portuguese prince regent. This scheme came to nothing, and following the May Revolution of 1810 Belgrano threw in his lot frankly with the patriot cause. He served on the Buenos Aires junta itself, but in early 1811 set off for Paraguay as commander of an expedition sent to bring that province under control of the new authorities. He was defeated militarily, but soon afterward Paraguayans carried out their own revolution against Spain, for which Belgrano's proselytizing efforts in Paraguay had helped prepare the ground.

In 1811 Belgrano assumed command of patriot forces in the Argentine northwest, facing the royalists in Upper Peru (later Bolivia). He won some victories, but his own invasion of the Bolivian Andes in 1814 ended in defeat. Having yielded his command to José de San Martín, Belgrano traveled to Europe in 1815 as part of a diplomatic mission that hoped to negotiate an agreement with Spain for an independent Argentine monarchy under a prince of the Spanish royal family. The idea was flatly rejected by Spain. On his return to Argentina, Belgrano worked both to obtain a formal declaration of independence (as finally effected on 9 July 1816) and to create a constitutional monarchy under a descendant of the Incas. In his final years, he again served militarily on the northern front while trying to mediate in political quarrels among various bands of patriots.

Among the leaders of Argentine independence, Belgrano is second only to San Martín in the esteem of later generations, although no great military or political triumphs are associated with his name. None of the forms of constitutional monarchy that he backed ever took hold. However, he served his country steadily and disinterestedly, enjoying the respect, if not always winning the agreement, of his fellow revolutionaries.

See alsoArgentina: The Nineteenth Century .


The classic study is Bartolomé Mitre, Historia de Belgrano y de la Independencia Argentina (1857; many later editions). A good modern study, by one of his descendants, is Mario Belgrano, Historia de Belgrano, 2d ed. (1944). In English the highlights of his career are covered in both John Lynch, The Spanish American Revolutions, 1808–1826, 2d ed. (1986), chaps. 2 and 3, and Tulio Halperín-Donghi, Politics, Economics, and Society in Argentina in the Revolutionary Period, translated by Richard Southern (1975).

Additional Bibliography

Cacua Prada, Antonio. El general Manuel Belgrano: Maestro de la libertad argentina. Santa Fé de Bogotá, D.C.: Plaza y Janés, 2000.

García Enciso, Isaías José. Manuela Belgrano: La hija del general. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2003.

                                        David Bushnell