Major Events Leading up to Argentina’s Independence in 1816

Argentina’s fight for independence from Spanish colonial rule is an essential chapter in South American history.

The flag of Argentina, known as the “Flag of Belgrano,” consists of three horizontal stripes of light blue and white. It is a simple yet iconic design that has been an important symbol of Argentina’s identity and independence.

Below, World History Edu provides a brief overview of the events leading up to and including Argentina’s declaration of independence:


By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there was significant unrest and dissatisfaction in the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Influences like the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution played a role in shaping the desire for independence.

Enlightenment ideas, with their emphasis on reason, individual rights, and the pursuit of liberty, had a profound impact on the intellectual climate of the time. Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau had advocated for the natural rights of individuals and the principles of self-governance. These ideas resonated with many in the American colonies, and they also found a receptive audience in Spanish America.

Secondly, the successful American Revolution (1775-1783) against British colonial rule served as a powerful example of how a colony could achieve independence from its colonial master. The American Revolution’s ideals of self-determination and representative government inspired independence movements elsewhere, including in Spanish America.

Furthermore, the French Revolution (1789-1799) not only brought radical political changes to France but also ignited discussions about liberty, equality, and fraternity across the Atlantic world. The French Revolution’s influence on revolutionary thought and the appeal of its republican ideals played a role in inspiring aspirations for independence in the Spanish colonies.

Many Spanish colonies were rich in resources, but they were often subject to economic exploitation by Spain. The Spanish crown imposed restrictive trade policies, heavy taxation, and monopolies that benefited Spain at the expense of the colonies. Economic grievances fueled resentment and a desire for more control over their economies.

It was also the case that the Creole population, which consisted of people of European descent born in the Americas, began to assert their distinct identity. They held aspirations for greater political power and control over their own affairs, as they often found themselves marginalized by the Spanish crown in favor of peninsulares (those born in Spain).

Influential leaders and movements emerged across Spanish America, advocating for independence. Figures like Simón Bolívar in South America and Miguel Hidalgo in Mexico rallied support for revolutionary causes. Numerous uprisings and revolts erupted in different regions, each with its unique grievances and goals.

Finally, Spain’s influence in the region had suffered immensely due to external factors, including wars in Europe and competition with other colonial powers. This made it increasingly challenging for Spain to maintain control over its vast American territories.

These influences, along with localized factors and leadership, contributed to the broader movement for independence in Spanish America. Over the course of the early 19th century, many of these colonies would successfully achieve independence, leading to the formation of numerous new nations in the Americas.

Effect of the invasions by the British

In 1806 and 1807, the British Empire tried to invade the Rio de la Plata, where Buenos Aires is located. The local militias successfully repelled these invasions, which boosted the confidence and nationalistic fervor of the region.

The British invasions of the Rio de la Plata were part of the larger Napoleonic Wars, which engulfed Europe in the early 19th century. The British, under the leadership of Sir Home Popham and Sir Samuel Auchmuty, sought to capture the Spanish colonies in South America, including Buenos Aires, in order to disrupt Spanish trade with its American colonies and to expand British influence in the region.

Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the local militias of Buenos Aires, composed of both criollos (American-born Spaniards) and mestizos (people of mixed European and indigenous ancestry), mounted a determined defense against the British forces. This resistance was led by figures like Santiago de Liniers. The successful defense of Buenos Aires in both 1806 and 1807 demonstrated the determination and military prowess of the local population.

The successful repulsion of the British invasions had several profound effects on the region. Firstly, it boosted the confidence of the local population. They had not only defended their city but also their right to self-determination. This sense of accomplishment ignited a growing sense of nationalism among the inhabitants of Buenos Aires and the broader region.

The resistance against the British invasions planted the seed of independence in the minds of many criollos. They began to envision a future in which they could govern themselves independently of Spain. The idea of self-rule gained momentum, leading to political and social movements that ultimately contributed to the wars of independence in the early 19th century.

The Spanish crown’s inability to defend its colonies effectively, as demonstrated during the British invasions, exposed its vulnerabilities. This weakened the authority of Spanish colonial rule in the region, making it more susceptible to challenges from local movements advocating for self-governance.

May Revolution (1810)

The weakening of Spanish royal authority due to Napoleon’s invasion of Spain (and the capture of King Ferdinand VII) played a pivotal role in South American colonies’ quests for independence.

Between May 18 and 25, 1810, a series of confrontations and political maneuvers occurred in Buenos Aires, leading to the removal of the Spanish viceroy and the establishment of a provisional governing junta. This event is known as the May Revolution and is celebrated annually as Argentina’s national day.

Flag of Provincias del Río de la Plata

Declaration of Independence

On July 9, 1816, representatives from various provinces of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata met in Tucumán and formally declared their independence from Spanish rule. This date is now celebrated as Argentina’s Independence Day.

Wars for Independence

Declaring independence was just one step. The Spanish did not simply withdraw. A series of military campaigns ensued, led by revolutionary leaders such as José de San Martín and Manuel Belgrano.

San Martín is particularly noted for leading an army across the Andes to liberate Chile and then move onward to Peru. His continental approach to liberation was instrumental in not just Argentina’s independence but also in the broader liberation of South America from Spanish rule.

Internal Conflicts

Argentina’s path to becoming a cohesive, unified nation after the declaration of independence was not straightforward. The country faced significant internal strife, with federalist and unitarist factions battling over the nature of the new nation.

By the early 1820s, Spanish control had effectively ended in Argentina. However, the larger challenge of building a nation out of the former colony remained, leading to decades of internal conflict and external wars.

Key figures in Argentina’s struggle for independence

These key figures, along with many others, contributed to the complex and multifaceted struggle for Argentine independence. Their leadership, military prowess, and political acumen were essential in achieving the goal of freedom from Spanish colonial rule, leading to the eventual formation of the independent nation of Argentina in 1816.

Manuel Belgrano

Manuel Belgrano holding the flag.

A lawyer, economist, and military leader, Manuel Belgrano is celebrated for his role in Argentina’s early struggle for independence. He created the flag of Argentina (known as the “Flag of Belgrano”) and commanded troops in key battles like the Battle of Tucumán and the Battle of Salta.

Juan Martín de Pueyrredón

Juan Martín de Pueyrredón

Pueyrredón served as the Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata and played a crucial role in maintaining stability and unity during Argentina’s fight for independence. He supported San Martín’s campaigns and promoted the cause of independence.

Mariano Moreno

A lawyer and journalist, Mariano Moreno was one of the intellectual leaders of the Argentine independence movement. He played a key role in drafting the May Revolution of 1810, which marked a significant step toward independence from Spain.

Manuel Dorrego

A political leader and military officer, Manuel Dorrego was a prominent figure during the Argentine War of Independence. He later became governor of Buenos Aires and was known for his efforts to maintain provincial autonomy.

Cornelio Saavedra

As the president of the Primera Junta, the first independent government of Argentina, Cornelio Saavedra was instrumental in the early stages of the independence movement. He played a key role in the May Revolution of 1810.

Juan José Castelli

A lawyer and military leader, Juan José Castelli was one of the leaders of the May Revolution. He was known for his role in the early battles of the independence movement.

National Flag of Argentina

The Argentine flag flying for the first time over a coastal battery on the shores of the Paraná, 27 February 1812

The flag of Argentina, known as the “Flag of Belgrano,” consists of three horizontal stripes of light blue and white. It is a simple yet iconic design that has been an important symbol of Argentina’s identity and independence.

Here are some details about the flag:


  • The flag has three horizontal stripes of equal width.
  • The top and bottom stripes are light blue, and the middle stripe is white.
  • The flag’s proportions are typically 9:14, meaning that the length is nine times the width.


  • The flag’s design was created by General Manuel Belgrano, one of the prominent leaders in Argentina’s struggle for independence, on February 27, 1812. It was first hoisted in the city of Rosario.


  • The light blue and white colors of the flag are said to have been inspired by the sky and clouds, symbolizing the clear skies of Argentina.
  • The flag’s colors are also associated with the Virgin Mary, as Argentina was often referred to as “La Argentina” or “Virreinato del Río de la Plata” during the colonial period.

Flag Day

  • June 20th is celebrated as Flag Day in Argentina to commemorate the first time the flag was raised in Rosario in 1812. It is a national holiday.

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