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Saint Martin in the press of his time

During the years of his glorious passage on American soil and bitter exile, pro-and counter-journalism printed the first version of history.

San Martín en la prensa de su época

“So the ability that General  San Martin  has shown in organizing a cavalry corps under a perfect military system, coupled with the prudence that must accompany him to preserve his forces as a treasure, induces us to hope for a happy outcome for the  country.”, maintains the Buenos Aires press under the title “Army of the Andes” while, more than a thousand kilometers away, its launch of the feat .  It was January 1817. And newspapers of ephemeral existence such as  La Prensa Argentina, La Crónica Argentina  and  El Censor  , born in full revolutionary effervescence, reported the general and his acts assiduously despite the limitations of the early nineteenth century.

Let's say that in Buenos Aires of 1810 it seemed that, where there was a printing press, there was a newspaper. Adding that decade, and the next two, it came to account for about one hundred and four graphic media, not bad for a village. All of them inspired by the noble words of  Manuel Belgrano  in the  Post Office of Commerce  of August 11, 1810: “Freedom of the press is the main basis of public enlightenment”. To this end, journalists of the time followed with great attention the novelties and their protagonists because, in addition, following Belgranian thinking about the power of press freedom over the power of shift, “those who command and command will not only try to command well, knowing that anyone has the power to speak and write.”

 Saint Martin on top 

Then  Saint Martin , the most recognized military man in his time for his professional achievements and proverbial austerity, was constantly subject to scrutiny by the people who wanted to know.That preparation in Cuyo  had dozens of articles, a very special one that included the alleged economic difficulties suffered by the governor because he had donated half of his salary. In November 1815, readers of  La Prensa Argentina  could read   San Martín 's statement: “My needs are more than met with half the salary I enjoy; and so on.As my prompt deferential request of yours is a token of appreciation... any procedure in matters of raising my salary in intelligence that would not be admitted for how much it exists on earth”, rejecting an increase voted in the Cabildo.

Despite these lines, and the news coming from the Army that the “general will know how to drive with glory to break the chains of Spanish despotism”, there were several enconos to  San Martin.A few days before the departure, it was spread that I asked for a higher graduation, to which the general promised in the press with the famous “renounce my posts when the Americans have no more enemies. ” 

From  El Censor  the  Liberator  was vigorously defended and an extensive column was topped with “it is disgrace inseparable from virtue to be slandered by maledicence: it is not strange then to have seen more than once the reputation of General  San Martín more than once.: although it is true that in contrast, the healthy, judicious and circumspect world always retains the esteem that privileged souls deserve. ”  It becomes clear then that the attacks on his figure were common currency.

The same newspaper devoted the cover to the victories of Chacabuco and the “Triunfo de los Andes”, offering extensive analysis and well-informed reports of the popular festivities in Santiago. He also disclosed the life pension granted to Mercedes, the daughter of  San Martín , something that the general rejected from the plan. What he could not avoid was the important feast that took place in his presence on April 6, 1817 in the building of the former Royal Consulate, the most elegant building in the city, and which was also documented in the press, with the attendance of the most notable personalities in a long day that began to begin.at three thirty in the afternoon and concluded at ten in the evening. When he said goodbye, I sent a letter to the newspapers with “General  San Martín  has left... with the pain of not having been able to visit all those who congratulated him on his arrival. He hopes that those who honored him will excuse him...”

Buenos Aires readers were anxious about the general's footsteps, as evidenced by the detailed article in  La Estrella del Sud  on the  liberating expedition to Peru , quoted by Armando Alonso Piñeiro, and the measures as Protector of Peru reported by the weekly  El Sentinel.It is to this written medium that the meeting between  San Martín  and  Simón Bolívar  in  Guayaquil  is “serious”, and then the enigmatic sentence “we have seen a printed note announcing the return of Mr.   Saint Martin  is said only that it will have important consequences for the cause of America.” The mystery was already served on a platter in 1822. It is also relevant, and bearing on the Argentinian future, the complete publication of the  Liberator  's farewell to his beloved  Peru  , which in his last sentence ends the immortal sentences: “The presence of a lucky military man (for more detachment it has) is fearful of the States that are again constituted. On the other hand, I am already bored of hearing that I want to become sovereign.” In his homeland on the horizon, after the anarchy of 1820 and the massacres between brothers, with an inevitable war with Brazil for the Oriental Band, the Restorer of Laws, Don   Juan Manuel de Rosas , was seen.We doubt it was an innocent inclusion of a liberal newspaper . 

 Saint Martin in dispute 

The question of the form of government also had more than a decade in the revolutionary press. Only around 1816, with  Tucumán's understandable impulse,  there were several articles in which those journalists, many of them politicians in action, objected to any attempt at monarchical organization, knowing that heroes of Independence, such as  Belgrano or Martin Guemes, even encouraged the restoration of the throne of the Incas.  San Martín , for his part, was also looking for a strong executive in European crowns, especially in his Peruvian mandate. That is why it was not unreasonable that rumors spread in the Buenos Aires press in mid-1830 that the general was operating in favor of a monarchic government in Spain. Nothing more false, as evidenced by the profuse letters to Tomas Guido and his confrontation with the delegate of the United Provinces in London, Manuel Moreno. Most offended San Martín  with whom he presumed had spread the fallacy, who claims to have assumed “neck commitments” in his liberating  passage through Argentina, Chile and Peru,  puts in a handwriting: “He does very well to take these precautions because by this means puts to cover not his honor because, in my healthy opinion, it is unknown to you, but his ribs, because he was well resolved to visit them...” and closes the matter that unfortunately perhaps turned out to be one of the origins of  St. Martin anti-Republican.

Of course, even for those years, there were those who remembered the hero in his right measure as  Sarmiento . The procer of San Juan wrote in exile in the Chilean press the article “Un lieutenant de Artillery”, a vivid account of the battle of Chacabuco and the participation of his countrymen. Thanks to this article, and to the objects sent by a retired man in Santiago Juan Gregorio Las Heras, Sarmiento was able to break the reluctance of  San Martín  and was greeted with kindness in Grand Bourg in 1846. Another chronicler who helped to value the figure of Sanmartinian, and is essential to get to know firsthand the liberator expedition since he was there almost since childhood, is undoubtedly  Gerónimo Espejo .  Sarmiento  called him an “archaeologist and military scholar”. From a long life, with their “Historical Notes” and “Posthumous Notes”, appeared in  Revista Argentina  between 1865 and 1866, they became an inexhaustible source for the first Argentine historians of the general,  Bartolomé Mitre  and  Vicente Fidel López. 

Along the way we have seen how  Saint Martin  was made and undone on paper by his contemporaries. Paper that seems less durable than bronze, but that in its veneers the story was inscribed in ink so that we can continue writing it.

Sources: Alonso Piñeiro, A.  Porteño journalism during the Independence era. Buenos Aires: Academia Nacional de Periodismo. 2008; Pasquali, Fr  San Martín Confidential. Personal correspondence of the Liberator with his friend Tomás Guido (1816-1849).Buenos Aires: Planeta. 2000; De Marco, M. A.   Pioneers, Soldiers and Poets of Argentina. Buenos Aires: Editorial of the Ateneo. 2014 

Publication Date: 15/08/2020

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