No. 15.
Mr. Osborn to Mr. Evarts.

No. 241.]

Sir: The situation has not improved since the date of my dispatch numbered 240, but has rather assumed the shape of a quarrel between the national government and the government-—or more properly the governor—of this province.

In relation to the decree issued by Governor Tejedor, mentioned in my last note, calling out the “guardia national,” Ex-President Sarmiento, minister of the interior, passed a note to the governor, a copy of which I inclose herewith, marked A, putting some pertinent questions to him, and disputing his right to interfere with or to call out the national guards without the authority of the national government.

To this note of the minister of the interior the governor replied, and, [Page 29] at the same time, issued an address to the people of Buenos Ayres, copies of which are inclosed, marked B and C.

On the 5th instant, President Avellaneda sent to Congress a message, accompanied by a bill, for consideration in reference to the mobilization of the national guards, a copy of which is also inclosed herewith, marked D.

In the consideration and on the adoption of the proposed law by a majority of the cabinet, a rupture of the cabinet took place, and Dr. Montes de Oca, minister of foreign affairs, and Dr. Leastra, minister of worship, tendered their resignations and retired from the cabinet chamber. Their resignations were at once accepted by the President.

It is probable that the bill will become a law as proposed, and should the governor press his policy, this province will be put under martial law.

Two regiments of the line arrived in this city to-day, and it is said that two steamers loaded with troops are on the way from the province of Santa Fé.

Perhaps the best assurance that peace will be preserved is the fact that the people throughout the republic are seriously alarmed and alive to the situation, and while both sides are getting ready to maintain it, the contest may be fought out with notes between the chiefs, and all end in words.

I have, &c.,


minister sarmiento’s note to the governor.

To His Excellency the Governor of Buenos Ayres:

The President of the republic has been informed of the contents of various decrees published in the papers organizing the national guards of this province on a new footing, on the plea that the executive “finds itself in the necessity of guarding the public peace, and it being opportune to anticipate in case these elements at its disposal should be increased.” The President, therefore, orders me to ask of you information, as soon as possible, regarding the motives you have for anticipating that the public peace may be disturbed, and your reasons for not notifying these motives to the national government in Buenos Ayres, which disposes of forces of the line, besides numerous bodies of officials and police.

The organization of the national guard and their disposal belong to Congress, and only the appointment of their officers and their discipline are under the jurisdiction of the provinces.

The President orders me to notify your excellency that the two battalions you call “volunteers” in one of the decrees, the retired veterans of the Paraguayan war, and many other singularities of that reorganization, are not comprised in the forms received and adopted in the national guard, the qualification of which excludes the word “volunteer,” since this body admits of no separation, and the obligation of enrolling at 18 years of age, in virtue of Argentine citizenship (as there is no provincial), is compulsory.

The national guards that served in the Paraguayan war are exempted by provincial law for all further service for ten years, and this term has not expired yet; besides, there is a national law exempting also those who crushed the September revolution.

But the national government will not allow any distinction between the officers and commanders who have served in the national armies without the due separation of those who have been removed on account of acts or other causes punishable, lest an asylum be given to delinquents.

As the province of Buenos Ayres has been freed of all frontier enemies and its towns are superabundantly guarded, it is hard to believe that there is a danger necessitating the reorganization of the national guards under your excellency’s proposed system.

It is not form me to explain to your excellency the considerations that make it necessary [Page 30] to propose to Congress, which alone has the faculty, the reorganization of the national guards, in conformity with the reforms the experience of late years has taught us in the distribution of the forces of a nation, considering the innovations introduced in the art of war by arms of precision, and the long practice required for their efficacious use.

The national government, with a view to facilitate the work of Congress, is adopting all the measures proposed for a plan of reform in harmony with that necessity.

This reorganization must take place all over the republic, in order to avoid any variety of reform a single province might introduce.

Happily we have no enemies to fear, neither at home nor abroad; so for the moment, things must remain as they are, and no select bodies of volunteers may be created, not being allowed by the law.

Should it be necessary to organize the national guards, with authorization of the national government, your excellency must proceed by means of the lists of review of each body, organized as they are by neighborhoods and quarters; as regards the battalions and squadrons, they must be classified by regiments, according to the partidos, &c. If it were allowed to separate “corps d’élite,” under the pretext of mobilizing the national guards, the better classes would be exempted and the poor and ignorant ones burdened with the service, offering no security whatever to the government.

A door being opened to this distinction between the common mass of the citizens, they would act under the belief that not all were subject to the government, and form free corps, as the word “volunteer indicates, to guard or oppress the rest.

The decrees published under yesterday’s date coincide with the circulars issued a few hours afterwards, and which reached your hands, explaining the policy the President of the republic recommends your excellency to follow in the national elections: and it is quite certain your excellency would not carry out the project of reorganization of the national guards, for fear that it would be believed it tended to secure the vote of the citizens turned into soldiers, with the influence of so large a staff of officers and commanders.

I therefore beg of you to give me information as to the motives you have for supposing an imminent danger, necessitating an increase of the elements you dispose of, besides the numerous civil and rural police forces and the irregular battalion known as guardia provincial. Meanwhile the President of the republic has ordered that, pending the decision of Congress on the reorganization of the national guards in the Republic, the project I refer to be suspended No “corps d’élite” are allowed, as not belonging to the national guards system created by the constitution, since not even troops of the line, bearing the name of volunteers, have the faculty of naming commanders and officers granted in general terms to the provinces.

The 600 men of the capital called out in said decrees must be taken from the body or bodies in which they are enrolled, without distinction or exclusion of persons. The capital has a numerous civil police (unhappily turned into soldiers) to prevent attacks against life and property, besides national forces to protect the dignity of the national government and preserve order should it be threatened by political factions.

Therefore, those non-motived military exercises would turn the capital into a military encampment, disturbing the peace and confidence of the inhabitants by the continual sound of arms.

I must advise your excellency that the interests of the country and the economy of our revenues counsel a reduction in the force of the national troops, limiting them to an indispensable number, to protect our frontiers of little importance and enforce the laws of the nation. But this cannot be proposed to Congress as long as the municipal forces are increased in an exaggerated manner (only intended to capture criminals and protect life and property) and conglomerating armed bodies besides the national guards created by the constitution of the nation.

The fear arises that while the national forces are being reduced the provinces will erect themselves, at the discretion of their governors, into armed states, constituting as many armies as there are provinces, and engendering civil war amongst each other.

Such is the situation created by Buenos Ayres giving the example followed by Santa Fé, Corrientes, and Enter Rios, especially creating battalions of the line under the illegal name of Provincial Guards, which are not municipal, as the local police nor national guards of citizens, as designed by the constitution, nor troops of the line, since the provinces have no right to wage war or keep soldiers and marines.

It is now opportune to draw your attention to the monstrous fact that there are at present quartered in the edifices of the Retiro, which were formerly the old battery (formerly royal, now national), dominating the navigation of the Rio de la Plata, one of these nameless battalions, without banner, and the artillery corps of the national government; they daily run the risk of colliding—handing an unexempled fact to history—of two troops of the line under different authorities fighting as if they belonged to two different nations.

Common sense counsels the separation of these forces, which do not guard the fort, since the place is a fortress, to avoid disagreeable and shameful incidents.

[Page 31]

The government will soon adopt measures to put a stop to all these disorders in the provinces, and ask Congress to legislate in the matter, ordering also the police to depose its military character and become again what it is supposed to be in all civilized nations—guardian of towns, under municipal regime, with no other arms than the ones its station needs. The citizens have not remarked that of late these municipal officials have been transformed into regular troops of the line, subject to military regime and headed by officers of the line, on the same system as that in Russia.

The police of a city is an institution purely civil and local, depending on its municipality, and independent of the political changes as far as removing it from its local jurisdiction. It would certainly be an anomaly if the political power of a state could call out all the police forces of the towns, concentrate them in one point, and put them under the orders of an officer.

Should such a thing occur it would be necesssary to create another municipal force to guard each town, whilst the former body would form troops of the line, since they cannot be called national guards, the only form in which citizens can be armed and militarily organized.

By a deplorable corruption this purely municipal institution has been turned into a military corps, with the appointment, first, of Col. Viejo Bueno; second, by that of a chief of an irregular battallion of the line, Colonel Garmendia, of the national army.

The fidelity of these military men, who with the honors of their rank wear the sword confided to them by the nation, cannot be doubted for the moment, and deliver us from the fear of any such abuse as might arise from the fact of an armed body stationed in front of Congress and not recognizing its supreme authority, as not dependent on it.

The President of the republic will issue the decrees relating to the officers, with military grades and swords accorded by the nation, that they may not join this unnecessary and unauthorized movement of forces, which are not required even in our most distant frontiers, thanks to the gigantic treasures spent by the nation to give security to the province of Buenos Ayres before all others.

God preserve, &c.

[Standard, September 7, 1879.]

the governor’s reply.

To the National Minister of the Interior:

Mr. Minister: This government has received your excellency’s note requesting information relating to the decrees on the organization of the national guards. In issuing those decrees, this government has made use of its rights, and does not believe said decrees liable to the suppression ordered by the national government. The contrary opinion of your excellency can only be explained by confounding organization with mobilization, and ignoring the position this government is in.

National guards are only mobilized for active service in the army, in order to suppress a local disturbance or maintain order in sedition. In the first case the raising of the militia in all the provinces or part of them is authorized by Congress, disposing also of the organization, armament, and discipline of this militia, and the administration and government of that portion of them employed in the service of the “nation,” leaving to the provinces the faculty of appointing their corresponding officers and commanders and establishing the discipline prescribed by Congress.

In the second case, the mobilization of the militia, or part of it, when necessitated for the public peace of the province, without infringing the rights of the national government, corresponds to the legislature of the province, and to the executive oft same, in case of an internal disturbance threatening the peace of the province, with authorization of the legislature, and to the executive alone in the recess, accounting for same in the ensuing sessions (Art. 142, clau. 11, Prov. Con.), and informing the national authorities at once.

The governor is, besides, commander-in-chief of the military forces of the province, excepting those which may have been mobilized for national purposes (clan. 10); he confers commissions on the officers he appoints to organize the militia of the province, and, in virtue of the powers conferred by the clauses referred to (clan. 3), can even commission war vessels and raise armies in case of foreign invasion or other pressing danger which admits of no delay in dealing with it, subsequently accounting for such steps to the federal government (see Art. 108, Nat. Con.). The governor of the province can only be considered the agent of the national government in mobilizing the militia in the cases laid down in clause 24, Art. 67, of the national constitution (clan, 12, Art. 142, Prov. Con.).

[Page 32]

This is the law, and I leave it, without comment, to your excellency’s consideration. But accomplished facts are still more eloquent. Since the national constitution was first framed the provinces have always enjoyed this right, and no national government has ever said a word.

The present cabinet, of which your excellency is now a member, has witnessed similar measures not only without objection, but generously supplying arms and clothing.

In this way the provinces of Santa Fé and Entre Rios, through the officious help of the national government, have armies at command with which they could coerce the nation if, instead of being partisan of the war minister, they happened to be hostile to him. Meanwhile, the city of Buenos Ayres, with 300,000 inhabitants, has only its provincial guards to watch the prisons and its police to guard the city. It has not even one piece of artillery. It has no arms for the national guard, nor can it henceforward procure them without first paying customs duty.

The 400,000 people in the camp districts, with numerous towns and vast plains, have only a rural police of 300 men, and the police of the Juzgados which only does duty in the towns. Such is the position of the province of Buenos Ayres at a moment when disorder is more or less natural in democratic countries, and we have already seen it occur on several occasions; what is worse, we now see it in the guise of a military candidate with the army at his back, with divisions of this same army all over the provinces, with battalions in this city and on the frontiers of this province; with sham fights in the streets, turning the capital, as your excellency so appropriately remarks, into a military encampment calculated to disturb the peace and confidence of the citizens.

In face of this disagreeable state of things and the formidable aspect the electoral struggle is assuming, the Government of Buenos Ayres considers it both its duty and its right to call on the inhabitants to protect their own liberties.

The people of Buenos Ayres, although unarmed, are brave and great, and up to the present have been accustomed to achieve by force of union and public opinion what others can only expect to obtain by the cannon and the Remington. Can anyone affect to doubt that this unity of opinion exists? It would be worse than folly, bad policy, so to doubt. Should Argentine nationality be ever again imperilled the ark of safety will find a haven in this unity.

Mr. Minister, the government of Buenos Ayres considers this note of importance enough to justify it in briefly correcting your excellency in some points, viz:

That the provincial governments do not “report” or “petition” but speak and decide in virtue of attributes which even the national government lacks. (Art. 104, Nat. Con.)

That the government of Buenos Ayres does not consider that the troops of the line now in this city are those to be charged with maintaining order in case of internal disorder, except by special request of the provincial authorities when their own means for doing so are insufficient, otherwise it would be intervention outside the extreme cases provided for by the national constitution.

That the “volunteers,” who have so greatly alarmed your excellency, are not foreigners (as was the case with France in her war with Germany), but citizens who patriotically offer to help the small forces of the province in keeping order, and previously submit to the necessary drill.

That the monstrous fact of the prison guard and the artillery corps being quartered in the same barracks at the Retiro has arisen through the national government having no capital seat of its own, or, at least, buildings of its own in the capital of the province; and if either corps must move out, it should certainly be the artillery, as it can hardly be claimed that the fact of their being quartered there makes the building their own, or converts it into a fort.

That the military organization of the police is necessary in a country where, as yet, the public have not the same respect for such a force as they have in London and Paris, the step being rendered still more expedient by the insolence of the soldiers of the line, and which is winked at by their officers.

That the duty of guarding Congress, like other police duty performed in the name of the national government, and at its request, is so performed merely in deference and without acknowledging any authority but that of the province, although your excellency erroneously thinks otherwise.

  • Santiago Alcorta.
[Page 33]

message of the federal executive—mobilization of the national guard.

[Herald, September 7, 1879.]

To the Honorable Congress of the Nation:

The executive has the honor to submit to your houses the annexed bill, doubly called for by the decrees that the provincial executive of Buenos Ayres has lately issued and published, modifying in an arbitrary manner the system of composition of the national guard, and by the necessity of reforming the improper practices of some of the other provincial governments in connection with the battalions that go by the name of national guard.

The executive begs to earnestly recommend the urgent need of its being sanctioned, with a view to thus calming the alarm that has been produced by said decrees, and to prevent the governor of a province from arrogating faculties to himself which belong exclusively to the nation.

The federal system does not admit of the co-existence in the territory of the republic of other forces than such as meet under the national flag; and, inasmuch as the states or provinces that form the nation cannot make war, their governments cannot have either armament or troops of their own; otherwise there would be as many armies as there are provinces.

The national constitution has created an institution called the national guard, composed of all the citizens, from 18 to 45 years of age, and severely punishing such as should pretend to avoid such duty; but its organization and regulation are reserved to Congress, which has fixed both from the outset, either accepting such as already existed or dictating special laws. The provinces appoint the commanding and other officers, and provide for the discipline.

The republic is on the eve of offering the brightest spectacle of its history, as there are no Indians to cause alarm, and as the people do not want either war or disturbances to affect its tranquillity and stay the development of its prosperity.

The decrees of the governor of Buenos Ayres would subvert everything; but you will not consent to their compassing these fatal consequences.

There will be nothing but respect for the laws, for Congress, for the national authorities, and for the freedom of voting.

The executive, counting on your support, can safely assert that the country will have the glory of carrying out a free election instead of the bloody licentiousness to which it would be carried but for intervention of the national authority.

  • D. F. Sarmiento.


The Senate and House of Representatives, &c.:

  • Article 1. Until such time as Congress shall enact a law for the reorganization and discipline of the national guard, its organization at the time of last enrollment will hold.
  • Art. 2. The national guard cannot be called together by the provincial authorities even for training purposes, except by order of the federal executive.
  • Art. 3. The provincial battalions, whatever name they may go by, will be immediately discharged, and after the promulgation of this law no penalty of any kind can be inflicted on such soldiers as should refuse to continue in the service. But the authorities who should order such penalties, and the persons who should carry out the orders, will be liable for the indemnifications for damages, and a line of $1,000 or one year’s imprisonment.
  • Art. 4. The executive is authorized to summon the national guard when it may deem expedient in order to the carrying out of this law, or any of the existing ones (troops of the line to be preferred), and to incur the expenses that said law may call for.
  • Art 5. After the date of this law, it is forbidden to give a military organization to the agents destined to the special police service of the provinces.
  • Art. 6. The executive will report to Congress on the use it may have made of this law during the first part of the session of next year.

[Page 34]

the governor’s proclamation.

To his Fellow Citizens:

Recent events, exaggerated by political partisans, are made to assume the appearance of the opening of a revolutionary era.

Intemperate documents issued by the national authorities lead to a belief that there is, at the very least, a design to drive the Government of Buenos Ayres to armed resistance, and the very forces raised to preserve order between friends and foes are designated as the means to be employed for such purpose.

Nothing of the kind shall happen. The people themselves rise in revolt when their rights are grotesquely outraged and their patience is exhausted. Those animated by petty ambition to rise also bring about revolt.

The governor of Buenos Ayres has offered to resign if those other governors who are the “natural agents” of a candidate whom the people reject do likewise. He has also offered to resign if the other candidate follow the same course.

Let him be taken at his word and all is over.

But in any case it is my duty to state that revolt will never meet with sanction from the provincial authorities.

The families of the city may sleep in peace and traders carry on their operations with every confidence.

Doubtless between the extreme tendencies of the national government and the exigencies of public opinion it is not easy to maintain a calm spirit, but I will lay myself to the task, and if I fail the fault will not be mine.