Juan Carlos Nicolau’s third book on early national Argentina may be narrow in scope but it is large in purpose. His two previous studies, Antecedentes para la historia de la industria argentina (Buenos Aires, 1968) and Industria argentina y aduana, 1835-1854 (Buenos Aires, 1975), have directed Nicolau’s inquiries toward the relationship between economics and politics. Dorrego gobernador deals directly with that connection.
Nicolau focuses on provincial finances in Buenos Aires at a time when the Argentine provinces were fighting in Uruguay a costly war against the empire of Brazil. A Brazilian fleet blockaded the port, thus denying customs revenues to the provincial treasury. Public debt rose as the government paid war expenses with generous emissions of paper money. Meanwhile, political factionalism was eroding national authority. The unitario Bernardino Rivadavia renounced the presidency, thereby bequeathing many of the economic problems to his successor in Buenos Aires, the federalista Manuel Dorrego. The new governor proposed a vigorous financial program which sought to reestablish the value of the inflated paper peso, to improve the collection of rural property taxes (contribución directa), to negotiate new public loans, and to levy special wartime customs duties. Dorrego’s financial plan did not succeed, for the debt of the provincial government had risen to thirty-five million paper pesos by the end of 1828.
According to Nicolau’s analysis, two factions emerged in the political debate over Dorrego’s economic proposals. The unitario opposition formed around the board of directors of the Banco Nacional, which was responsible for currency emission. Nicolau contends that this faction represented the import traders allied to foreign merchants. The Anchorena brothers headed a second group consisting of landowners, cattle processors, and domestic traders. These federalistas supported those government proposals which drew on the resources of the National Bank but resisted measures which taxed rural properties. The selfishness of both groups ultimately nullified Dorrego’s program. At war’s end, the isolated governor had to face a rebellion of disgruntled militia officers nearly alone. It cost Dorrego his life.
Nicolaus research among contemporary newspapers and legislative debates and in provincial and bank archives has determined the issues and the protagonists. The task remains to identify clearly each politician according to his predominant business activity. Only in this way, can we be certain that a porteño’s political association corresponded perfectly to his economic interests. Nicolau’s study is a provocative beginning.