Rivadavia, Bernardino (1780–1845)

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Rivadavia, Bernardino (1780–1845)

Bernardino Rivadavia (b. 20 May 1780; d. 2 September 1845), Argentine statesman, liberal, and unitarist. Born in Buenos Aires, son of a wealthy Spanish merchant, Rivadavia was educated at the Real Colegio de San Carlos; subsequently he married the daughter of Viceroy Joaquín del Pino. He served as an officer in the Galician Corps, which fought against the British invaders in 1806–1807. An active supporter of the Revolution of May 1810, Rivadavia thenceforth made his career as a professional politician of independence. After some vacillation, he supported the Liberal side of the independence movement. As secretary of the First Triumvirate (1811–1812), he was the driving force behind its liberal policies in education, civil rights, and the slave trade. He also showed his commitment to strong central government, marginalizing the agents and agencies of provincial representation, and provoking opposition from federalists and the military. The First Triumvirate was overthrown in October 1812, and Argentina entered a period of acute instability, as unitarists and federalists fought for control.

Rivadavia was a distant observer of these events, being absent on a diplomatic mission in Europe from 1814 to 1820. His own interest lay in the transfer of ideas and resources. In London he visited Jeremy Bentham and became one of his leading disciples. Rivadavia saw that utilitarianism offered a new philosophy in the aftermath of independence and could give liberal republicanism a moral legitimacy in the gap left by the Spanish crown and church. Liberal institutions in turn would be the framework of economic growth, in which British capital, shipping, goods, and immigrants would play an indispensable part.

Rivadavia seized his opportunity in July 1821, when he became chief minister in the government of Martín Rodríguez in Buenos Aires and gave an instant display of applied liberalism. Drawing on previous planning, he established the University of Buenos Aires. He curtailed the temporal power of the church, extended religious freedom, abolished the ecclesiastical fuero and the tithe, and suppressed some religious orders. His plan of modernization included the promotion of a mining industry and improvement of transport; the federalization of Buenos Aires and its customhouse; the expansion of agriculture through immigration and land distribution; and a plan of colonization which he promoted in London. Economic development depended on British capital, trade, and markets, and Rivadavia offered his partners generous terms in Argentina. To Argentines themselves, outside the merchant and landed groups, he offered little; vagrants were pursued with ruthless disregard for traditional usages and swept into the army or labor gangs.

Rivadavia sought to extend modernization beyond the province of Buenos Aires and to create a united and centralized Argentina; on 7 February 1826 he was named president of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. But his policy was premature and in many respects ineffective. He alienated traditional interest groups, and these came together under Juan Manuel de Rosas to force his resignation in July 1827. He retired to his country estate and then, in 1829, to Spain. He attempted to return in 1834 but was not permitted to disembark. He died in modest circumstances in Cádiz.

See alsoArgentina, Movements: Unitarists; Río de la Plata, Viceroyalty of; Slavery: Spanish America.


Ricardo Piccirilli, Rivadavia y su tiempo, 2d ed., 3 vols. (1960).

Sergio Bagú, El plan económico del grupo Rivadaviano 1811–1827 (1966).

John Lynch, The Spanish American Revolutions 1808–1826, 2d ed. (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Areces, Nidia R., and Edgardo Ossana. Rivadavia y su tiempo. Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1984.

Gallo, Klaus. The Struggle for an Enlightened Republic: Buenos Aires and Rivadavia. London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2007.

Paz, Carlos. Poder, negocios y corrupción en la época de Rivadavia. Buenos Aires: Ediciones De Alejandría, 2001.

Segreti, Carlos S. A., and Patricia Pasquali. Bernardino Rivadavia: Hombre de Buenos Aires, ciudadano argentino. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2000.

                                             John Lynch