When the Congress of Tucumán convened on March 24, 1816, the independence movement was in crisis. The May Revolution of 1810 had sent the Spanish viceroy packing, but the far-flung populace of the enormous Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata had never reached a consensus on how to administer the vast territory afterwards. In fact, the ouster of the Spanish government had come as a surprise to almost everyone living outside the capital, Buenos Aires.
By 1816, royalist armies from Perú were gaining alarming victories in the north, and the territories of the former viceroyalty had split into two factions: Unitarians and Federalists. And now they were fighting with each other.
The United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, also known as the Unitarians (in blue above), envisioned a strong central government with Buenos Aires as its capital. The Federal League (also known as the League of Free Peoples) favored a loose, decentralized confederation of provinces dominated by wealthy landowners. Think of them as the “states’ righters.” The lands to the south of Buenos Aires were populated by indigenous peoples and as such, weren’t considered for participation in the Congress (because of course they weren’t.)
Neither, for that matter, were the delegates sent by the Federal League allowed to participate. One of the many issues that the Congress would attempt to decide was what form that the new government would take. The Unitarians, who had organized the Congress, knew which way the Federalist representatives would swing, so they just dreamed up some technicalities and turned them away. Easy!
In all, 33 delegates attended the Congress, which began on March 24, and there were endless arguments. On July 9, more than 100 days later, the United Provinces of South America finally got around to declaring independence from Spain, despite the fact that the war of independence had already been raging for six years. Hey, at least it was progress.
Unfortunately, they never did come to a happy settlement on the issue of how to govern. As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes (with just a hint of shade?): “Having formally proclaimed Argentina’s [sic] independence from Spain, the delegates appointed Juan Martín de Pueyrredón as supreme dictator, while they conducted a fruitless search for a monarch.” It’s like, get it together! The Congress was dissolved in 1820 after losing the Battle of Cepeda to the Federal League. It would be a long, slow, and bloody struggle to Argentine unity.
MORE FUN FACTS!
The Congress of Tucumán was preceded by the Assembly of 1813, which did not bother to declare independence, but which did settle a few other important matters, such as:
- Abolished the Spanish Inquisition (which, shockingly, was apparently still a thing).
- The “Freedom of Wombs” law, which was meant to lay the groundwork for the gradual abolition of slavery. It mandated the manumission of children born to slaves once they had reached a certain age (16 for women, 20 for men), or once they got married. Full abolition came about in 1853.
- The National Anthem, which still refers to “the United Provinces of the South.”
- Even today, one of the legal alternative names of the Argentine Republic is still “The United Provinces of South America.”
- Avenida 9 de Julio, so named for obvious reasons, is the widest avenue in the world.
- The list of delegates to the Congress of Tucumán reads like a who’s-who of street names in Palermo. Here are some of them. See if any of these ring a bell:
- Pacheco de Melo
- Medrano (My street!)
- Godoy Cruz
- Thames (I always assumed it was named after the river!)
- Santa María de Oro