Manuel Belgrano: Biography, History & Politics (1770-1820)

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Manuel Belgrano: Biography, History & Politics (1770 – 1820)

Manuel José Joaquín del Corazón de Jesús Belgrano y GonzálezCreole patriot who participated in different functions of the River Plate political life and in the independence process of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

Manuel Belgrano
Manuel José Joaquín del Corazón de Jesús Belgrano y González
Birth Buenos Aires, Viceroyalty of Peru, June 3, 1770.
Death Buenos Aires, United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, June 20, 1820.
Occupation Patriot, civil servant, military.

Who was Manuel Belgrano?

Manuel Belgrano was a Creole patriot who participated in different functions of the political life of the River Plate and in the independence process of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata.

He was an enlightened intellectual who had a fundamental performance in the May Revolution of 1810 and in the struggles for independence that followed this event.

He tried to transfer to America the principles of the Rights of Man
promulgated by the French Revolution. To achieve this, he believed that it was essential that Americans have access to free education to build themselves as people who are aware of their rights and their obligations to society.

Manuel Belgrano was the creator of the Argentine Cockade and Flag.

Manuel Belgrano Childhood and Training

Manuel Joaquín del Corazón de Jesús Belgrano was born in Buenos Aires on June 3, 1770. His father, Domingo Belgrano y Peri, was an Italian merchant who, in addition to practicing commerce, held some positions in the public function in Buenos Aires. His economic position allowed him to give his children higher education. Therefore, in 1786, Manuel and his brother Francisco traveled to Spain for university studies.

He studied Law and Political Economy at the Universities of Salamanca and Valladolid.

In the Europe of the time the ideas of the Enlightenment were in force. Manuel Belgrano participated in the academic circles of law and politics where these ideas were discussed. He read the texts of Baron de Montesquieu, Rousseau and Filangieri and adhered to the principles of rationalist and liberal thought.

Before returning to America, he practiced as a lawyer and spent time in Madrid where he met relevant people from the court of Carlos IV who participated in the ideas of enlightened despotism.

Manuel Belgrano: Returning to Argentina

In 1794, Manuel Belgrano returned to South America with an appointment to serve as perpetual secretary of the Consulate. This institution was in charge of administering commercial justice and promoting the agriculture, industry and commerce of the Viceroyalty.

However, his objective of reorganizing and modernizing the trade and economy of the region collided with the conservatism of the governing board of the Consulate, made up of Spanish merchants reluctant to any change.

Despite the fact that his modernization proposals were rejected, the position allowed Belgrano to correspond and learn about the economic and geographical situation of all the regions of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. On the other hand, the memoirs that he wrote to present to the crown are a testimony of his concern for the progress and well-being of the population.

Some of his achievements as secretary of the Consulate were:

  • He modernized agricultural activity by promoting new crops and improving livestock.
  • He modernized textile production processes with the intention that American fabrics could compete with Europeans.
  • He improved the roads and took care of the security of the border areas with the indigenous territory.
  • He proposed the creation of a School of Commerce and managed to create a School of Drawing and a Nautical School that were suppressed when the news reached Spain. He proposed the creation of free schools for poor women and children.
  • It promoted the creation of organs for the dissemination of information among the population: it proposed the creation of the Commercial, Rural, Political, Economic and Historiographic Telegraph of the Río de la Plata; he directed the Weekly of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce and published, at the request of Viceroy Cisneros, the newspaper Correo de Comercio de Buenos Aires.

Manuel Belgrano Military Training

In 1797, he was appointed by Viceroy Melo of Portugal as captain of the urban militias of Buenos Aires. Although he was an intellectual, Belgrano decided to accept the appointment to learn about military strategy.

With that position, he was part of the troops that tried to confront the British during the first English invasion. The poor military preparation of the militias, which forced them to surrender immediately to the invading force, convinced him of the need to expand their military knowledge. During the second invasion, in 1807, he participated in the successful defense of the city as an aide-de-camp.

Manuel Belgrano Political Ideas

Since his return to Buenos Aires, Belgrano suffered the frustration of verifying that his modernization projects were impossible to carry out, not only due to the lack of support from local ruling groups, but also due to the lack of interest of the Spanish court for the welfare of his American subjects.

In this context, he began to meet with other young Creoles in an environment that was nurturing the idea of American emancipation. The legitimacy of the colonial government, the unjust imposition of the commercial monopoly, the scarce stimulus to the economic development of the region and the limited access of the Creoles to the spaces of power due to the oppression of the Spanish were questioned.

Belgrano considered that a first step for emancipation should be the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in the Río de la Plata and proposed the coronation of Carlota Joaquina de Borbón, sister of King Fernando VII of Spain who was with the Portuguese court in Brazil.

Later, when Argentina independence was already being defined, he proposed the establishment of an Inca dynasty. He considered that, in the environment of restoration of the monarchies of Europe, this form of government would facilitate that the new State was recognized by the European powers.

Manuel Belgrano May Revolution and Independence

Belgrano actively participated in the May Revolution of 1810 and was appointed member of the Government Board of the Provinces of Río de la Plata.

In the context of the wars for independence, he had to assume a military role, despite his poor training in this field:

  • He was appointed General in Chief of the military expedition to the Banda Oriental, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos and Paraguay, in 1810. During this expedition he founded the towns of Mandisoví and Curuzú Cuatiá.
  • In 1811, he was appointed colonel of the Patrician Regiment and in 1812, during a mission in Rosario, he proposed the creation of a cockade that was approved by the Triumvirate and adopted as a national symbol on February 18 of that year. He also raised a blue and white flag, although this action was disapproved by the government.
  • In 1812 he was appointed head of the Army of the North. At the command of this army he obtained two important victories in Tucumán and Salta, but was defeated in the battles of Vilcapugio and Ayohuma.

illustration of the Blessing of the Argentine flag

Blessing of the flag, held by Manuel Belgrano, in San Salvador de Jujuy. Oil by Luis de Servi.

Between 1815 and 1816, Belgrano traveled to Europe on diplomatic missions and on his return took command of the army operating in Upper Peru. But his health was very deteriorated and in 1819 he decided to return to Buenos Aires where he died on June 20, 1820.

  • AA.VV. Manuel Belgrano. Collection Great Protagonists of Argentine History, Buenos Aires, Planeta. 1999
  • From Miguel, María Esther. The secret battles of Belgrano. Buenos Aires, Planet. nineteen ninety five.
  • Belgraniano National Institute. Recovered from
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