Both the neighborhood of Belgrano and the street Avenida Belgrano are named after Manuel José Joaquín del Corazón de Jesús Belgrano (say that five times fast!). He is best known simply as Manuel Belgrano. He’s one of the Founding Fathers of Argentina and was a key player in the Argentine War of Independence (1810-1818) and also designed the national flag.
Belgrano was born in Buenos Aires, but educated in Spain just before the turn of the 19th century, during the time of the Age of Enlightenment. Although his father had wanted him to study commerce, he chose to study law. His time in Europe also coincided with the American and French Revolutions, and his studies brought him into contact with the intellectual elite of Spain. He was introduced to many of the greatest philosophers and thinkers of all time, but he was most interested in the ideas of the public good and popular prosperity.
His return to Argentina was preceded by his election to the post of “perpetual secretary” of the Commerce Consulate of Buenos Aires where he handled commercial and industrial matters in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, which Argentina was a part of at the time. Although he held the position until the beginning of the war in 1810, he found he wasn’t able to make many of the changes that he had hoped to. For example, he managed to build a few educational institutions, but they were shut down by the Spanish government just three years after they opened their doors.
During the Peninsular War between Spain and France, the French occupied Spain and deposed King Ferdinand VII. This led Belgrano to briefly support Ferdinand’s sister, Carlota Joaquina, as the next ruler of Spain, but the project met with a considerable resistance and was soon forgotten. It was also during this time that Belgrano met with other revolutionaries under the guise of developing a newspaper, Correo de Comercio.
In 1810 he resigned from the Consulate and went to live in the country; it was then that his friends contacted him and urged him to join the revolutionary movement. In May of that year, the news of further defeat of the Spanish government reached Argentina’s shores, which led to the great May Revolution and the creation of the Primera Junta, or First Assembly, to which Belgrano was elected as a member.
The Primera Junta appointed him as Chief Commander of an army and it was during this time that he created the Flag of Argentina, shortly after discovering that the patriots and the loyalists had been fighting under the same colors. While the Flag was initially rejected, he saved it for years and it was finally accepted in July of 1816 when the Declaration of Independence from Spain was signed. As Chief Commander, his first mission was an ultimately ill-fated campaign in Paraguay. Some time later appointed the leader of the Army of the North. During that tenure, he led the Jujuy Exodus, evacuating the entire city in order to protect it from an impending royalist attack. One month later, he led his army to victory even though his men were outnumbered two-to-one at the Battle of Tucumán, and forced the royalists into an unconditional surrender at the Battle of Salta, ensuring that the local government controlled the northern territories of what once was the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. He later suffered two devastating defeats at the hands of the royalists and was replaced by José de San Martín.
After a generally unsuccessful trip to Europe aiming to negotiate support for independence, he returned to Argentina and drafted the Inca Plan. His goal was to create a constitutional monarchy ruled by a noble of the Inca civilization, but it was strongly rejected, in particular by the people of Buenos Aires. A Declaration of Independence from Spain was signed on July 9, 1816, with the Inca Plan still being debated. It was ultimately never implemented.
Belgrano took control of the Army of the North once more in August of that year, and remained in control nearly until his death. In 1819 he became very ill, took leave of command, and finally passed away on June 20, 1820, at the age of 50. He is remembered as a great politician, military leader, and the creator of the National Flag of Argentina and his commemorative statue is in front of the Casa Rosada in Plaza de Mayo.