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Carlos María de Alvear

Carlos María de Alvear (born on October 25, 1789 in Santo Ángel, Misiones – died on November 3, 1852 in New York, United States) was an Argentine soldier and statesman, Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the River Plate (present-day Argentina) in 1815.


His youth

He was born in the northern part of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate to a Spanish nobleman father, Diego de Alvear, and a criollo mother, María Balbastro and baptised Carlos Antonio del Santo Ángel Guardián. His birthplace Santo Ángel was, at that time, part of Misiones Province, but currently belongs to the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.

While travelling in Spain, Alvear's brothers and mother died in an incident that took place on October 5, 1804, when English frigates opened fire on the Spanish ship that was transporting them. This incident was a preamble to the Battle of Trafalgar and the consequent war between both countries. The English took Alvear and his father, together with other survivors, as prisoners to England, where Diego de Alvear would later marry an Irish woman.

Honouring his mother, Carlos de Alvear adopted the name of Carlos María de Alvear. Notwithstanding the fate of his mother and brothers at the hands of the English, 15-year-old Carlos was partially educated in the English culture, adopting, in his adult age, what some would later see as a position partial to English interests.

His career

Alvear was one of the few professional military officers to participate of the Argentine War of Independence on the side of the revolutionaries, having served in the Spanish Army during the Napoleonic Wars. While in Cadiz, he founded the Sociedad de los Caballeros Racionales, a masonic secret society, made up of South Americans. José de San Martín, with whom Alvear would always have a conflictive and contradictory relationship, would later also become a member of this secret society.

He returned to Buenos Aires on board the English frigate George Canning, in which were also travelling San Martín, Juan Matías Zapiola, Francisco Chilavert and other soldiers. Upon his arrival, Alvear was named Lieutenant Coronel of the young Argentine army. He led the action against the Royal army under Gaspar Vigodet in Montevideo, replacing José Rondeau and making Uruguayan patriot leader José Gervasio Artigas an enemy.

Alvear was a leader of the constituent Assembly of the year 1813 and, goaded by political ambition, succeeded in establishing an Unitarian (centralizing) form of government, having his uncle Gervasio Antonio de Posadas named Supreme Director (chief executive.)

In early 1814, Alvear was appointed commander in chief of the forces defending the capital. A few months later, he replaced General Rondeau as commander in chief of the army besieging Montevideo, the last bastion of Spanish power in the River Plate, which was defended by 5,000 troops. In late June 1814, as news that Ferdinand VII had recovered the crown of Spain, Alvear managed to force the surrender of the Spanish troops in Montevideo. It was the biggest victory for the cause of independence since 1810. He was only 25 and the most successful general of the revolution. He returned to Buenos Aires to claim his laurels but a revolt forced him back to the Banda Oriental. After a quick and decisive campaign, his forces defeated the caudillos that opposed the government.

At the end of 1814 Alvear was named commander of the Army of the North, but lack of support from Posadas, as well as his unpopularity among his troops and other disagreements, including a project for a constitutional monarchy that sent Manuel Belgrano to Spain to negotiate, made him return to Buenos Aires. On January 9, 1815, at just 25 years of age, he was chosen to replace Posadas as Supreme Director.

Having neither the support of the troops nor influence on the people of the hinterland provinces, Director Alvear then attempted to come to an alliance with Artigas, to whom he offered the independence of the Banda Oriental (current Uruguay). In exchange, Artigas would withdraw his army from the Argentine Littoral. But Artigas declined the offer and Alvear sent troops to occupy the area.

At this time he was in correspondence with the British ambassador in Rio de Janeiro, in order to ask for a British intervention. Following a mutiny among his troops and under pressure from the Cabildo, Alvear resigned, on April 15, and left the country. He was in exile in Rio de Janeiro until 1818. In May of this year, he moved to Montevideo where he joined his friend Jose Miguel Carrera, also exiled due to political differences with San Martin and O'Higgins.


Diplomatic Missions to England, United States and Bolivia

Alvear returned to Argentina in 1822 thanks to an amnesty law (Ley del olvido). At the end of 1823, Rivadavia named him minister plenipotentiary to the United States. Before going to Washington, Alvear stopped in London and managed to get an interview with George Canning, England's Foreign Secretary. Weeks after this interview, the British cabinet formally recognized the independence of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. In 1825 Alvear was sent by the Buenos Aires government to Bolivia to meet with Simón Bolivar. The real objective of this mission was to seek Bolivar's support in the looming war with the Empire of Brazil, over the question of the Banda Oriental. Alvear also had a project of his own: the creation of big republic in South America comprising Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. He asked Bolivar to be its first president. The Venezuelan leader was sympathetic to this project but dissensions in Colombia forced him to abandon it.

War Against the Empire of Brazil

To neutralize Alvear's political ambitions, newly elected president Bernardino Rivadavia appointed him his Minister of War and Navy in early 1826. In a short period of time and with limited resources, Alvear was able to raise an army of 8.000 men to wage war against the Empire of Brazil. Conflicting claims over the Banda Oriental Uruguay pushed both countries into conflict. Victory seemed unattainable to the Argentines. At the time, Brazil had a population of close to 5 million inhabitants (including 2 million slaves), a standing army of 120.000 men and a naval fleet of almost 80 vessels. In contrast the fledgling Argentine Republic had only 700,000 inhabitants and faced the secession of almost half of its provinces.

Fearing a Brazilian invasion of Argentine territory, in mid 1826, President Rivadavia appointed Alvear as commander in chief of the Argentine army, which was in mutiny. Alvear quickly restored discipline and put the troops in fighting condition. By the end of the year, after only three months on the job, he took the initiative and launched an invasion of the Brazilian province of Rio Grande do Sul. Among Alvear's objectives was to promote a slave rebellion which would force the Emperor to seek an armistice.

During the first months of 1827 Argentina-Brazil War, penetrated Brazilian territory and defeated the Brazilians at Bagé, Ombú, Camacuá and the great Battle of Ituzaingó, probably the most important victory of his career. It was his brilliant and fearless conduct during this campaign, and the memorable victory which ended it, that made controversial Alvear a national hero among Argentine people ever since. However, internal disenssions in Argentine and the signing of what was perceived to be a humiliating peace treaty brought down Rivadavia's presidency. Without any political backing or support from Buenos Aires Alvear tendered his resignation and returned to Buenos Aires. When he arrived in the capital, he realized he had been removed by the new government, which did everything possible to discredit him and Rivadavia.

Alvear and Rosas

In 1829 Rosas appeared in the Argentine political scene, inaugurating a controversial regime that on and off would last almost 23 years. Alvear was one of the leader's of the opposition and in 1832 Rosas very shrewdly appointed him ambassador to the United States, as a way of neutralizing his political ambitions. A change in government the following year allowed Alvear to remain in Buenos Aires. However, when Rosas returned to power in 1835, he again tried to get rid of Alvear, who he suspected of conspiring against his government.

Argentina's First Ambassador to the United States

In early 1837, after discovering evidence that linked Alvear to a new conspiracy, Rosas appointed him Argentina's first minister plenipotentiary to the United States. However, he was only able to depart the following year. Alvear spent the rest of his life as ambassador in the U.S. and died in his house in New York in November 1852. During his residence in the United States, Alvear had the opportunity to meet and interact with important political figures such as Joel Roberts Poinsett, Daniel Webster, John Calhoun and James Buchanan, among others. Alvear's instructions were mostly concerned with obtaining an apology from the United States regarding the conduct of an American warship at the Falkland Islands and to reassert Argentine claims to these islands. The U.S. government reacted with indifference to the Argentine claims. Seeing that nothing more could be expected from Washington, Alvear requested to be transferred to Europe but Rosas refused. As the conflict between Argentina and France, and later England, intensified Alvear tried to get the support of the United States arguing that it was consistent with the Monroe Doctrine. But at the time, the United States was more concerned about the situation in Texas and Oregon and remained neutral in this conflict. Although a political enemy of Rosas, Alvear admired him for the stance the latter took against France and England.

Although he had been life long admirer of the United States, after the annexation of Texas (1845) and the subsequent war with Mexico (1846-1848), Alvear became wary of American intentions towards Spanish America. According to his American biographer Thomas Davis, his diplomatic correspondence, shaped Argentina's traditional distrust to U.S. policies, which Alvear felt included the desire to conquer, or at least dominate, all of Latin America.

Carlos María de Alvear was buried in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

See also


  • Alvear, Carlos Maria de, El general Alvear a propósito de las memorias del general Iriarte, Emece Editores, Buenos Aires, 1986.
  • Carranza, Ángel J., Biografía del General don Carlos María de Alvear, Documento manuscrito, Colección Alvear, AGN, Buenos Aires.
  • Comisión del Segundo Centenario del General Carlos María de Alvear, Emece Editores, Buenos Aires, 1989.
  • Davis, Thomas B.: Carlos de Alvear, Man of Revolution. The Diplomatic Career of Argentina's First Minister to the United States. Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1955
  • Fernandez Lalanne, Pedro, Los Alvear, Emecé Editores, Buenos Aires, 1980.
  • Ocampo, Emilio, Alvear en la Guerra con el Imperio de Brasil, Editorial Claridad, Buenos Aires, 2003.
  • Rodríguez, Gregorio F., Historia de Alvear, Cía. Sudamericana de Billetes de Banco, 2 tomos, Buenos Aires, 1909
  • Rodríguez, Gregorio F., Contribución Histórica y Documental, Buenos Aires, 3 tomos, Talleres “Casa Jacobo Peuser”, 1921.


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