The first volume of this work is a reissue of the author’s Rosas: Aportes para su Historia, 1793-1833 (Buenos Aires, Peuser, 1954), which was reviewed by Alberto Salas in the HAHR, XXXIV (1954), 569. The second volume was published posthumously in 1968. Celesia begins by telling us that he did not set out to write a comprehensive history of Rosas, but merely to analyze in the light of objective historical evidence many contradictory themes abounding in books about the nineteenth-century caudillo.
He questions assertions by Adolfo Saldías, Pedro de Angelis, and other historians, that the 13-year-old Rosas had become a hero in repelling the English invasions from the Río de la Plata in 1806. Though he agrees that Rosas fought against the first invasion in the popular army organized by Santiago Liniers, along with many other boys of his age, he finds no documentary evidence that Rosas either was decorated or promoted to the rank of alférez. As for the second invasion, Rosas was absent from all the encounters for reasons of ill health. After independence, Rosas worked until about 1819 for the government of the Province of Buenos Aires. During this period he concentrated on his own affairs as a landowner, and within that framework he endeavored to secure the frontier against marauding Indians.
After the defeat and subsequent execution of the federalist leader Manuel Dorrego, Rosas gathered a large following of gauchos, soldiers, deserters, and Indians, enlisting the aid of many estancieros and regional caudillos, such as Estanislao López. He regrouped the federalist forces and paved the way for an onslaught against the Unitarians entrenched in the city of Buenos Aires. As part of this master plan Rosas had questionable dealings with the French consul in Buenos Aires, the Viscount of Venancourt. Celesia marshals considerable evidence to show that Rosas secured the foreign diplomat’s aid to overthrow Lavalle’s Unitarian regime.
The second volume traces Rosas’ career from 1833 through his defeat by Urquiza at the Battle of Caseros in 1852, his subsequent exile and death in 1877. Before his demise Rosas had cleverly gathered around him the support of the most prominent landowners such Tomás de Anchorena, Tomás Guido, Manuel Vicente Maza, and Juan Nepomuceno Terrero. His frequent resignations were carefully rigged and culminated in his election as governor of the Province of Buenos Aires in 1835. It was at this point that the dictatorship began in earnest. The destruction of the powerful northern caudillo Juan Facundo Quiroga eliminated Rosas’ greatest competition, after which he assumed absolute powers granted to him by the Sala de Representantes.
The most obvious failing of this valuable work is its essentially negative outlook. It concentrates totally on lining up evidence against Rosas, mentioning few positive aspects of the caudillo’s rule. The author faithfully carries out his campaign to dethrone Rosas from the pedestal upon which some historians have placed him. The work should be read in this context; thus it becomes another valuable contribution to the engaging controversy surrounding that extraordinary Argentine figure. Both volumes contain extensive appendices. Many of the documents included are personal letters, some which can be found in the Argentine National Archives, but most of which are in private collections.