The Many South Carolinas in the Americas

The Many South Carolinas in the Americas

In recent years, the transnational turn in Civil War scholarship has finally started to include Latin America. While Mexico with the French-Mexican Conservative Alliance has long attracted a significant amount of scholarship, the rest of Latin America has not. Recent works by Evan Rothera and James Sanders offer glimpses into the Latin American connections and possible comparisons. From a transnational perspective, it is refreshing that both deal with the overlooked subject of Reconstruction.[1] At the same time, like with most global, transnational, and comparative works, we must be cautious and avoid making the United States the center around which Latin American changes revolve, or focusing too heavily on those leaders obsessed with the United States in Latin America. In this brief essay, I suggest an expansion of the already existing Euro-Atlantic world literature to include the entire Atlantic.

We should not forget secessionism when exploring comparisons with Latin America. Around the mid-nineteenth century, states were fragile entities and ill-defined. There was much conflict about the political organization of states, their constitutional framework, questions of who belong to the nation, the uncertainty regarding the power balance between states/provinces and central authority, and between executive and legislative branches of government. While in the United States, we are familiar with how these fragilities and questions eventually escalated the relationship between the United States and South Carolina, I want to suggest that South Carolina was not an isolated case in the Americas. By understanding that dissatisfaction and rebellion were common place as states evolved and matured, we gain a better understanding of the challenges state builders in the Americas faced during the nineteenth century. Secessionism in Peru and Argentina reveal how the United States was part of the American state experiment and not separate from it.

Peru and specifically the southern province of Arequipa illustrate the contested process of state and nation building during the nineteenth century with Arequipa proudly holding on to its separate identity. Created initially by the region’s indigenous people, the Spanish conquerors eventually took over the town of Arequipa. During the wars of independence, the province and city of Arequipa remained largely uninvolved and Spanish occupied until Peruvian independence in 1824. Ironically, it was Arequipa that became the rebellious province during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Historian Thomas Love observed that “Arequipeños’ [have an] inflated, exceptionalist sense of themselves.”[2]Something we could easily say about South Carolinians, Alabamians, or Texans in the antebellum United States.

While the social differences—slavery—between Arequipa and South Carolina are significant, there was much that united the two provinces. Like white South Carolinians, Arequipeños had a reputation of being quarrelsome. Arequipa was at the forefront of the political upheavals that plagued Peru during the 1850s and 1860s. When Domingo Elías challenged the national government of José Rufino Echenique, it was the rebellion in Arequipa province that turned the tide against Echenique. Elías had taken issue with Echenique’s financial policies. He viewed  the payment of War of Independence damages and debts as a form of government corruption. Offering even more possibilities for comparative analysis, Arequipa suffered its own internal civil war during the Liberal Revolution of 1854 with factions loyal to Castilla fighting Echenique’s troops.[3] However, loyalties to one leader or the other could be brief as Arequipeños looked after their interests first.

Final Attack on Arequipa on March 7, 1858. Sala Castilla, Museo Nacional de Historia, Lima.

As the victorious Ramón Castilla settled into the Peruvian presidency, his local opponent Manuel Ignacio de Vivanco return from exile in Chile in 1856. Popularly supported by the population in Arequipa, Vivanco pushed the province into open rebellion against Castilla. Arequipeños’ anger centered on Castilla seemingly having forgotten his heritage now that he was in power and working on the centralization of Peru with the political, economic, and national elite in Lima. After nine months of siege operations, Castilla’s men attacked the capital of Arequipa and emerged victorious. Vivanco again departed into exile, but locals remained loyal to him.[4] Local identities mattered especially when provincial interests clashed with centralization attempts. These events parallel similar struggles in the United States during the 1850s.

Arequipa remained a problem for Peru. In 1865, the province once more rebelled over the peace agreement with Spain following the two years of hostilities between Spain and Peru/Chile. Ironically, Vivanco, Arequipa’s favorite, helped to craft the peace treaty. The rebellion forced the Peruvian government into renegotiations. Two years later, in 1867, the province was once more in rebellion over reforms to bring secularization to Peru.[5] As Peru struggled with questions of centralization, political reform, and defining the national identity of the country, Arequipa resisted changes by violent means, a common occurrence in Latin America and similar to what South Carolinians had done between 1830 and 1870.

In contrast to Peru, Argentina faced a significantly different situation, but one akin to the United States from Independence to the Civil War. Both countries suffered from the ill-defined relationship between states/provinces and the central authorities. For decades after its independence, the country suffered from military conflict as the provinces of Buenos Aires resisted any integration efforts into the Argentinian Confederation. The conflict between Federales (federalists) and Unitarios (centralists) did not end with the new Constitution of 1853 which formally created the Argentinian Confederation.[6]

Just like the U.S. Constitution, after which the Argentinian one was modeled, the new Confederation faced immediate problems and secession. Buenos Aires refused to accept the new constitution and an almost decade long conflict followed. While South Carolina seceded because of the issue of slavery, Buenos Aires’s secession centered on the new constitution’s free trade and free navigation clauses that would have dramatically impacted the commercial elites of Buenos Aires. New Argentinian Confederation President Justo José de Urquiza established his government in Paraná and worked to integrate Buenos Aires. Lacking the financial prosperity of Buenos Aires, the Confederation struggled during its ten-year existence. Conflict between the Confederation and Buenos Aires was continuous but there were also frequent revolutions in the various provinces of the Confederation adding to political instability.[7]

The assassination of the San Juan caudillo (military strong man) Nazario Benavídez in 1859, instigated by Buenos Aires, caused civil war. The Confederation Congress asked Urquiza to return and bring stability. In the meantime, Buenos Aires’ military leader Bartolomé Mitre went on his own campaign and after two years of fighting the two met in battle at Pavón, on September 17, 1861. The victory opened the door for Buenos Aires to dominate the new centralizing republic of Argentina as the Confederation government collapsed—here the rebellious and separatist provinces had won.[8]

Guardia Nacional de Buenos Aires leaving the city for the Battle of Pavón by León Pallière published in Crónica Argentina.

These two brief sketches hardly do justice to the complicated environments faced in both countries. However, Arequipa and Buenos Aires were not isolated. Cauca, Panama, Cartagena, Northern Mexico, and many other provinces in the Americas rebelled in similar fashion as states across the continent experiment with new constitutions and national identities. Where South Carolinians rebelled against what they viewed as an intrusive imperial power ruled by a sectional president, people in provinces across the Americas could relate to these fears. While we could quarrel if the American Civil War was truly a civil war, some of these conflicts in the America, such as the one between Buenos Aires and Argentina were civil wars with the winning side taking over the government of the state. At the same time, conflict over centralization, political power, and national identity were common and there are many fruitful comparisons to explore that promise to illustrate that South Carolina’s or even the U.S. South’s experience in general were not unique occurrences in the Americas during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

[1] Evan C. Rothera, Civil Wars and Reconstructions in the Americas: The United States Mexico and Argentina, 1860-1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022); James E. Sanders, “Hemispheric Reconstructions: Post-Emancipation Social Movements and Capitalist Reaction in Colombia and the United States,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 22 (2023), 41–62.

[2] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 2-3.

[3] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 92-93.

[4] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 93-94.

[5] Thomas F. Love, The Independent Republic of Arequipa: Making Regional Culture in the Andes (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 94-95.

[6] Evan C. Rothera, Civil Wars and Reconstructions in the Americas: The United States Mexico and Argentina, 1860-1880 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2022), 7.

[7] Nicolas Shumway, The Invention of Argentina (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 214-249

[8] Nicolas Shumway, The Invention of Argentina (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 214-249

Niels Eichhorn

holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Arkansas and has taught history courses at Middle Georgia State University and Central Georgia Technical College. He has published Liberty and Slavery: European Separatists, Southern Secession, and the American Civil War (LSU Press, 2019) and Atlantic History in the Nineteenth Century: Migration, Trade, Conflict, and Ideas (Palgrave, 2019). He is currently working with Duncan Campbell on The Civil War in the Age of Nationalism. He has published articles on Civil War diplomacy in Civil War History and American Nineteenth Century History. You can find more information on his personal website, and he can be contacted at

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