It’s Flag Day!
It’s also the anniversary of Manuel Belgrano’s Passage Into Immortality!
“Flag Day” is precisely what it sounds like. This business about Belgrano’s “passage into immortality,” on the other hand, is slightly misleading. Dude’s dead.
On the 20th of June, 1820, Manuel Belgrano—designer of the flag, hero of the Argentine War of Independence, and ten-peso bill guy—died in disgrace and penury. (Why can’t we just celebrate his birthday instead?)
It gets worse:
Near the end of Belgrano’s life, the governor of Tucumán tried to lock him up in something called a shrew’s fiddle (see below), before Belgrano’s personal physician, Dr. Joseph Redhead (yep) interceded to spare him this kinky indignity. The famous general then retreated to his parents’ house in Buenos Aires, dying of dropsy not long after. (“Dropsy” was the olden term for edema, which is when fluids build up where they oughtn’t, turning your extremities to puffy squish.)
Oh, and when his body was exhumed at the turn of the twentieth century for interment in a grander, worthier tomb, someone stole his teeth. Two guys, actually—a tooth apiece. One said he just “wanted to show it to his friends.” I mean, I get it. But if you want to desecrate the corpse of a national hero—and get away with it—you steal a whole foot (or both feet) and tuck the leg bones back into the boots. No one will ever know! (Unless, of course, your sole motive for stealing pieces of a founding father’s skeleton is: “So I can show everyone the skeleton pieces I stole.” Word will get out.)
What else did he do?
Belgrano helped spark the May Revolution when he got his hands on some very dangerous newspapers from Europe: “Napoleon Crapped All Over Spain & Put His Own Brother On The Throne Several Months Ago,” the headlines cried, “So If Anyone Was Thinking About Overthrowing Viceroy Baltasar Cisneros, Now Would Be A Good Time.” Cisneros tried to hoard all the newspapers, but it was windy that day and they blew everywhere, so he resigned.
Belgrano is the 10-peso bill guy. And on the note’s reverse, we got the monument to the flag. (It’s in Rosario and I’m sure it’s amazing.) So if you don’t have an actual Argentine flag handy, just pull a tenner out of your pocket (or, in a pinch, two fives) and wave it around a bit. Just kidding, don’t do that.
I had assumed (perhaps you had, too) that Belgrano (and San Martín and Güemes) fought for a representative, republican form of government that in some wise resembled what we have today. Nope! After the 1816 Declaration of Independence, when the hot topic was: “So, having momentarily gained the upper hand in this bloody war against the monarchists, what sort of government should we throw together, seeing as we don’t really have one at the moment?”, Belgrano’s stance was: “How about another king?”But not just any boring old king! An Inca king, descended from Tupac Amaru, whose powers would be constrained by a constitution. A sleeker, hipper ruler who people could relate to. Güemes and San Martín were on board. It didn’t pan out (long story, believe it or not), and both Güemes and Belgrano would be dead within five years anyway.
Out of the three Argentine Libertadores who have been honored with holidays that commemorate their deaths (San Martín and Güemes being the other two), Belgrano was the crummiest general. He lost more battles than he won (but hey, so did George Washington). His military career ended when his troops mutinied and sent him packing.
There have been so, so, so many flags. Chalk that up to the eight million federations, confederations, viceroyalties, city-states, autonomous provinces, breakaway republics, writhing larval stages, and other proto-Argentine geopolitical permutations that eventually— finally — coalesced in 1861 into something I can properly call “Argentina” (Federal Republic of) without getting yelled at. (Seriously, I’ll give you a couple links at the bottom so you can check them out on your own if you want.)
On February 27, 1812, General Manuel Belgrano unfurled the flag he’d been working on. It looked like this:
The Argentine flag that we see today, flapping majestically from gleaming chrome posts, or just as likely, hanging in dingy tatters from power lines, tree limbs, and a hundred thousand porteño balconies, didn’t come along until 1861.
This is my favorite:
Flag Fact! The study of flags and flag-related what-have-you is called vexillology.
In case you want to know more, here are some links! I’m going to bed.