From Tucumán With Love: Revolution and Marriage in the Argentine War of Independence

By Alejandro H. Morea

The revolutionary process in Latin America was tied to the crisis of the Spanish monarchy that began in 1808. In the case of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata, the revolution ended with the formation of four new republics: Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The revolution in this region began in May of 1810, and continued until 1820—four years after the United Provinces of Río de la Plata declared independence in 1816. In this time, the revolution would experience advances and setbacks that ultimately shaped the geography of the new republics, and produced important changes in the social order of the post-colonial society. This post seeks to examine these changes by focusing on the lives of military men and women. In particular, it will consider the impact of the war on the place of military men in society, and on marriage practices within the military.

The formation of a provisional governing board, or Junta Provisional de Gobierno, in Buenos Aires in 1810 marked the beginning of the revolutionary process for the Río de la Plata region. The May Revolution (Revolución de Mayo) brought war, and the war, in turn, brought the need to have an army to deal with the fidelists first (these were supporters of the Regency and were against the formation of government in America), and with Spain second. With one of the most important armies of the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata—the Auxiliary Army of Peru—successive governments worked to impose their fragile and provisional authority in the north provinces of the ex-viceroyalty, the Alto Perú, and the silver-producing Potosí.[1]

After British invasions in 1806 and 1807, a number of men in the city of Buenos Aires took up arms to defend the Crown. This would prove a decisive moment at the beginning of the revolution since most of the men who took part of this militia were later chosen to be part of the officer corps of the new armies. Although the rate of militarization had increased during the revolutionary process, and the main arena for this army was Alto Perú and the interior provinces, when analyzing the composition of the officer corps, it is possible to see the continuity of a majority of men who were born in Buenos Aires.[3]

Between 1810 and 1815, the Auxiliary Army of Peru was the most important military force that the revolution had for defeating Spanish power in Peru. In these years, it saw important victories, including the battles of Tucumán or Salta, as well as many defeats, such as Sipe-Sipe or Vilcapugio. But in 1816, the new government decided to change its strategy and adopt the plans of General José de San Martín. Having surveyed past military campaigns, and served as commander in chief of the Peruvian Auxiliary Army for a few months in 1814, San Martín decided that it would be impossible to defeat the Spanish power in South America by the Alto Perú route, so he persuaded the authorities to change strategy.

San Martin’s new programme called for the creation of a new army, that of Los Andes, and the crossing of the Andes to defeat the Spanish in Chile first, and then in Peru. From that moment forward, the Auxiliary Army of Peru would abandon Alto Perú and assume a secondary place in the war against Spain, but it would nevertheless retain an important role in the revolution. After 1816, its principal function was to control the interior of the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata, and to enforce the central government’s authority. To achieve these objectives, the army remained posted in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán.[4]

After the Battle of Tucumán in 1812, this city was where the army prepared for its various military campaigns. This was even more so the case after 1814, when José de San Martín ordered the construction of a headquarter there. Between 1816 and 1820, Tucumán also served as home for the officers and soldiers of the army. For a city of 4,000 inhabitants, the presence of 2,500 soldiers was not insignificant, and affected local life in a variety of ways.[5] We gain a sense of this impact if we analyze local sociability. These men altered the rhythm of the small city, and many of them, in turn, found ways to become part of the city’s life.[6] It was usual to see officers and soldiers participating in gatherings, including ballroom dances and church events. This sociability set up one of the most interesting phenomena of the revolution for Tucumán, namely, the marriage of a great number of officers with the young daughters of local elites. In fact, I have identified 26 marriages between 1816 and 1818, and most of these correspond to marriages between a young lady born in Tucumán and an officer of the Auxiliary Army of Peru, most of whom were born in Buenos Aires.[7]

This kind of marriage was an innovation in the Río de la Plata. In the past, most of the daughters of the elites had preferred to marry men who were linked to commercial activity or to the bureaucrats of the crown. The military, mainly the officers of high rank, were part of the elite of the viceroyalty. Prior to the revolution, young elite men would seek careers as merchants, functionaries, or even priests rather than joining the military, and local elite families preferred non-military men when arranging marriages. So those men who served in the military usually married their comrades in arms’ daughters, but this would change with the revolution.

The revolution caused most of the royal bureaucratic structure to disappear. War now became the largest concern of new authorities and the military became the first class, or first estate, of the state.[8] Essentially, revolution transformed all orders of society in the Río de la Plata, and even if it did not do so with the same force and violence as it did in Haití or France, it nevertheless had important effects. As egalitarian discourse and republicanism prevailed, the old elites came under threat.  As a result, most of the older elites saw the marriage of their daughters with an officer as a way of proving their commitment to the cause of the revolution, and as a way to keep their place among the privileged.[9] For the officers, meanwhile, these marriages offered an opportunity to become part of the local elite, most of whom were born in other parts of the Provincias Unidas. Moreover, once the war and the revolutionary process were over, these men had the opportunity to build political careers thanks to their past as warriors of the revolutionary wars, and to marriage strategies that granted them membership in the elite. So in the years that followed, as they served in the local legislative bodies, they typically either became governors of the different province-states into which the Provincias Unidas had fragmented, or they had the opportunity to become functionaries of the new states.[10] From reinvented marriage practices, the old elites had the opportunity to go through the revolution by maintaining their position, and the officers the possibility of securing for themselves the privileged positions in which the war had placed them. 


Alejandro H. Morea, PhD in History, is a Postdoctoral fellow of CONICET (Argentina), and an assistant professor of Economic and Social History at National University of Mar del Plata, Argentina. His research explores the intersection of war and politics during the revolutionary process in the Rio de la Plata. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @alemoreamdp.

Title image: Coat of arms of Tucumán (Prominently featuring Phrygian cap, Roman and revolutionary symbol of liberty)


[1] Alejandro Morea, «El Ejército Auxiliar del Perú y la revolución en el Río de la Plata», in Belicosas Fronteiras. Contribuições recentes sobre política, economia e escravidão em sociedades americanas (século XIX), ed. Jonas Vargas (Porto Alegre: FI, 2017), pp.67-89.

[2] Alejandro Morea, «Soldados para la Independencia. Algunas notas sobre las características del cuerpo de oficiales del Ejército Auxiliar del Perú», Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [online En línea], 2013.

[3] Alejandro M. Rabinovich, «La militarización del Río de la Plata, 1810-1820: Elementos cuantitativos y conceptuales para un análisis», Boletín del Instituto de Historia Argentina y Americana Dr. Emilio Ravignani, n.o 37 (2012): 11-42.

[4] Alejandro Morea, “El Ejército Auxiliar del Perú y la gobernabilidad del interior” in Prohistoria N° 18 (Dec. 2012).

[5] Ramón Leoni Pinto, Tucumán y la Región Noroeste. Período 1810-1825 (Tucumán: Universidad Nacional de Tucumán-Academia Nacional de la Historia, 2007).

[6] Carole Leal Curiel, «Tertulias de dos ciudades: Modernismo tardío y formas de sociabilidad política en la provincia de Venezuela», in Los espacios públicos en Iberoamérica. Ambigüedades y problemas. Siglos XVIII-XIX, de Francois-Xavier Guerra y Annick Lempérière (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1998), pp. 168-95.

[7] Reconstruction based on information extracted from various biographical dictionaries, marriage applications and specific bibliography: Yaben (1939), Archivo General de la Nación, Sala X, 4-1-3, 4-1-6, 40-8-6 y 9-9-7 and Perrili y Paterlini (2009)

[8] Tulio Halperin Donghi, Revolución y Guerra. Formación de una elite dirigente en la Argentina criolla (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 1972), pp. 214.

[9] Jorge Myers, «Una revolución en las costumbres: las nuevas formas de sociabilidad de la elite porteña, 1800-1860»,in Historia de la vida privada en Argentina, ed. Fernando Devoto y Marta Madero (Buenos Aires: Taurus, 1999), pp. 114-115.

[10] Alejandro Morea, «El legado de la guerra. La carrera política de los oficiales del Ejército Auxiliar del Perú: Abraham González y el gobierno de Tucumán (1816-1821)», Anuario IHES 31 (2016).

3 thoughts on “From Tucumán With Love: Revolution and Marriage in the Argentine War of Independence

  1. Me encantó el post Alejandro. Me pregunto si no habrá pasado lo mismo con oficiales que permanecieron en el Alto Perú, en particular los que fueron con el ejército libertador. También asumo que habrá algo para Salta? Solo trabajas oficiales o también miras soldados? Esta es una región super porosa, donde las relaciones son mucho mas profundas de lo que la historiografía (todavía anclada en el espacio nacional) nos permite ver. De vuelta, muy bueno el post. Gracias!


    1. Hola Silvia! Gracias por leerlo y por comentar el texto. En efecto para otros ejércitos hay más datos e imagino que para la situación se repite en otros espacios. Para algunos tengo datos, para otros no. En mi tesis doctoral hago la comparación con el Ejército de Los Andes gracias a una fuente indirecta y el trabajo de otro historiador y abordo otros espacios que no son el tucumano. Principalmente trabajé con oficiales, pero algo sobre soldados retomé al trabajar las deserciones. Si te interesa te puedo pasar los textos. Igualmente todo lo que publico está en Si trabajas temas similares podríamos intercambiar trabajos


      1. Gracias por tu respuesta 😀 Yo trabajo independencia del Peru y miro las guerrillas y montoneras indigenas así que el análisis es un poco diferente. Igual mi base teórica es Fradkin-Rabinovich así que seguro tenemos muchas coincidencias.Te sigo en y también estoy ahi. Seguimos en contacto!


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