Mitre, Bartolomé (1821–1906)

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Mitre, Bartolomé (1821–1906)

Bartolomé Mitre (b. 26 June 1821; d. 19 January 1906), president of Argentina (1862–1868) and one of the modern nation's founders. Along with Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Mitre best represents the liberal reformism that infused Argentina after the overthrow of Juan Manuel de Rosas in 1852. Mitre acted simultaneously as statesman, soldier, journalist, and historian in order to set in motion and later consolidate the program laid out in the Constitution of 1853–1860.

Exile and Rise to Power

From early on, Mitre was a member of the opposition to Rosas, and in 1837 he and his family were exiled to Montevideo, Uruguay. For the next fifteen years he worked intensively as a soldier and publicist in Montevideo; La Paz, Bolivia; and Santiago, Chile. He served as an artillery officer in the defense of Montevideo against the troops of Manuel Oribe, and it was then that he began his historiographical labors, work he would continue until the end of his days. He spent a brief time in La Paz in order to organize a military academy, and he brought his years of exile to a close as a journalist in Chile.

When the uprising against Rosas began, Mitre participated in the campaign of Justo José de Urquiza, governor of Entre Ríos, which ended 3 February 1852 at the battle of Caseros. From that moment on, Mitre played a decisive role nationally. He disagreed with Urquiza in June 1852 by opposing the ratification of the accord of San Nicolás and by participating in the revolution of 11 September, which separated the province of Buenos Aires from the confederation of governors who supported Urquiza. Against the most extreme localist positions of the porteño (Buenos Aires) leaders, Mitre defended a conception of national liberalism that, after the defeat at Cepeda on 23 October 1859, brought about on 11 November the signing of the Pact of San José de Flores. As a result, Mitre was elected governor of the province of Buenos Aires in 1860, and the National Convention for Constitutional Reform accepted his anticentralist ideas, which resembled the North American constitutional model. Despite this success, during the rule of Urquiza's successor, Santiago Derqui, there arose new complications in San Juan which led to a definitive confrontation, ending in Mitre's victory at the battle of Pavón on 17 September 1861.


In 1861 Mitre's leadership was recognized throughout much of the country. With Urquiza defeated, Mitre's intellectual vision for Argentina joined with his control over military resources and a constitutional organization that was finally recognized by all the provinces. Derqui resigned after Pavón left Mitre to carry out a complete reorganization of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. On 12 October 1862 Mitre assumed the presidency, unanimously elected by the electoral college. That began a regular succession of constitutional presidents every six years in Argentina, interrupted only by the coup d'état of 6 September 1930.

Three major concerns dominated Mitre's presidency. The first was programmatic. By 10 June 1865 (when power was handed to Vice President Marcos Paz because of the war with Paraguay—the War of the Triple Alliance), Mitre's administration had established the basis for the organization of the three components of state power, to which was added a rigorous fiscal policy, with funds from customs at the port of Buenos Aires becoming part of the national treasury. Likewise, Congress passed a commerce code, and civil, penal, and judicial codes were recommended. The grant for the railway from Rosario to Córdoba was authorized and special attention was paid to the development of educational policy. National secondary schools were founded in Buenos Aires, Concepción del Uruguay (previously established by Urquiza), Catamarca, Salta, Tucumán, San Juan, and Mendoza. An exiled French republican, Amédée Jacques, was the first rector of the Buenos Aires school.

The second concern facing Mitre was institutional. With Urquiza withdrawn to the province of Entre Ríos, the national government could not declare the city of Buenos Aires capital of the republic because of the division in that province brought about by the followers of Adolfo Alsina. Thanks to a compromise, the national government resided in Buenos Aires even though the city could not be federalized. Similarly, the rest of the provinces, with the exception of Entre Ríos and Santiago del Estero, were shaken by violent insurrections and by the reappearance of the montoneras. All these rebellions were drastically suppressed through federal intervention by the national government.

The third concern before Mitre was the War of the Triple Alliance. In April 1865, because of the invasion of the province of Corrientes by the troops of Marshal Francisco Solano López during a forced march to Brazil, the Argentine government declared war on Paraguay and a state of siege in all the territory. With the signing of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance with Uruguay and the Brazilian Empire, President Mitre was designated commander in chief of the Allied forces. The war ended with the death of Solano López in 1870. It reduced the population of Paraguay (from 1.1 million to 220,000).

From Opposition to Political Accord

At the end of his term as president, Mitre resolved not to intervene in the designation of his successor. The election of 1868, although divided, turned the office over to Domingo F. Sarmiento, another important member of the group to which Mitre belonged. The following year Mitre was appointed national senator, and in 1870 he founded the newspaper La Nación. During Sarmiento's presidency, relations between the provinces and the national government changed. A new coalition of governors, allied with Adolfo Alsina, defeated Mitre in the presidential election of 1874. Mitre and his party did not accept the victory of Nicolás Avellaneda and revolted. They were defeated that same year by the national army in the battles of La Verde and Santa Rosa.

Mitre was tried and removed from his senatorial office and stripped of his military rank. With this defeat the political center shifted to the interior, although it did so by strengthening the authority of the national government. Halfway through the presidency of Avellaneda, Mitre communicated a policy of conciliation to Alsina, through which his military rank was restored. This underscored the style of compromising with his adversaries that he had exercised earlier with Urquiza.

In the election of 1880, Julio A. Roca ran against Carlos Tejedor, governor of Buenos Aires and one of the most extreme proponents of porteño localism. Mitre had been elected national representative in 1878. In the conflict that arose between Tejedor and Avellaneda when the former rebelled against the national government, Mitre defended Buenos Aires and later negotiated a peace agreement. With the city of Buenos Aires federalized, a strong coalition over which Mitre had no control was consolidated under the leadership of Roca.

The government that came to power in 1880 was shaken by the economic crisis of 1889–1890. Mitre actively participated in opposing Roca's successor, Miguel Juárez Celman, and in forming a new group, the Civic Union, but he traveled to Europe to avoid the civil and military uprising of July 1890. In 1891 the Civic Union announced the presidential ticket of Mitre—Bernardo de Irigoyen, which was supported by Leandro Alem. For his part, Mitre urged an understanding with Roca, which resulted in a Mitre—José Evaristo Uriburu ticket. This caused a split in the Civic Union. Given the lack of consensus, Mitre renounced his candidacy and along with Roca supported the Luis Sáenz Peña—Uriburu ticket in the presidential election of 1892.

Again elected national senator in 1894, Mitre maintained his stance as a nationalist until he retired from public life in 1901, never diminishing his demands for a free vote or his criticisms of electoral corruption. When he died in Buenos Aires in 1906, Carlos Pellegrini affirmed that "Mitre's thoughts and actions are so intimately tied to our national life that his biography will be the history of the politics of the Argentine people during the second half of the nineteenth century."

As Historian

Mitre's work as a historian, publicist, critic, author, and literary translator was far-reaching. He was the founder of the historiography of Argentina's revolution and the nation's subsequent independence. Two great biographies crown this achievement: Historia de Belgrano y de la independencia argentina (1858–1859) and Historia de San Martín y de la emancipación sudamericana (1887). Mitre worked with methods based on documentary criticism and introduced his findings into a historical synthesis that emphasized the roles of individual actors as well as the profound effects of social, economic, and institutional factors. His polemic with Vicente Fidel López, summarized in Comprobaciones históricas (1882), reveals this orientation and the republican philosophy that inspired it.

See alsoArgentina, Constitutions .


Archivo del general Mitre, 28 vols. (1911–1914).

Natalio R. Botana, La libertad política y su historia (1991). Mitre's library of unedited documents and archives are found in what was his home, today the Mitre Museum.

Ramón J. Cárcano, Guerra del Paraguay, 2 vols. (1939–1941). The most recent biography is José S. Campobassi, Mitre y su época (1980).

Guillermo Furlong, "Bartolomé Mitre: El hombre, el soldado, el historiador, el político," in Investigaciones y ensayos, no. 11 (July-December, 1971): 325-523.

Ricardo Levene, "Presidencia de Mitre" in Historia argentina contemporánea: 1862–1930, vol. 1 (1963).

Obras completas de Bartolomé Mitre (1938–1972).

James R. Scobie, The Struggle for Nationhood: Argentina, 1852–1862 (1964).

Additional Bibliography

Gallardo, Jorge Emilio. Indígenas y afroargentinos en el sentir de Mitre. Buenos Aires: Idea Viva, 2002.

Marco, Miguel Angel de. Bartolomé Mitre: Biografía. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 1998.

Pasquali, Patricia. La instauración liberal: Urquiza, Mitre y un estadista olvidado, Nicasio Oroño. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2003.

                                           Natalio R. Botana