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Biography of Cornelio Saavedra

Leader of Argentina's First Ruling Junta

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Biography of Cornelio Saavedra

Cornelio Saavedra

Painting by B. Marcel, 1860

Cornelio Saavedra (1759-1829) was an Argentine General, Patriot and politician who briefly served as head of a governing council during the early days of Argentine independence. Although his conservatism led to his exile from Argentina for a time, he returned and is today honored as an early pioneer of independence.

Early Life of Cornelio Saavedra

Cornelio was born into a privileged, wealthy creole family with business and agricultural interests in Upper Peru, today Bolivia but then part of the Viceroyalty of the Platte River which consisted of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and parts of Chile, Bolivia and Brazil. In 1767 the family moved to Buenos Aires, where young Cornelio was a distinguished student. He took over management of the family business interests and entered politics, serving as mayor of Buenos Aires and Minister of Agriculture under the Viceroyalty.

The British Invasion

In 1806, Great Britain took advantage of turmoil in Spain and invaded Buenos Aires, capturing the city. Spain, undergoing a political upheaval at home, could not help, so it fell to the people of Buenos Aires to organize their own defense. Creole patriots formed a small army called the Patricios and voted Saavedra as their leader. The British were driven out of Buenos Aires and the Patricios played a very important role. The next year, the British invaded again and once again the Patricios regiment was key to defending the city.

Saavedra's Rise to Power

After the British were gone, Viceroy Santiago de Liniers attempted to disarm and disband the Patricios, but Saavedra did not allow it. The defense of Buenos Aires had been accomplished by the creoles and people of the city, with no help from Spain. This gave the colonists a newfound sense of empowerment that led directly to independence. Suddenly, as commander of the largest functional army in the Platte River region, Saavedra found himself with great influence and prestige.

The Alzaga Rebellion

In 1809, Martin de Alzaga, current mayor and a prominent citizen, tried to dislodge Viceroy Liniers from power. It was not an attempt at revolution: it was simply meant to get rid of Liniers, unpopular because of his French descent and support for creole positions. Saavedra sided with Liniers, saving him from Alzaga’s men. Eventually, what was left of the Spanish government decided a new Viceroy was needed and Liniers was replaced with Balthasar Hidalgo de Cisneros.

Saavedra and the May Revolution

In May of 1810, word reached Buenos Aires that Spain had been invaded and taken over by French armies under Napoleon. This kicked off the May Revolution, in which prominent citizens and officials of Buenos Aires met in a town hall format to discuss what course of action to take. There were some who felt that their loyalty was still to Spain and that they should continue to be ruled by the Viceroy indefinitely, while others favored outright revolution and full independence. Saavedra was by nature conservative and might have favored the pro-Spanish position, but the lack of any coherent governance from Spain convinced him to side with the rebels.

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