As the economic base and political administration crumbled throughout the Viceroyalty following independence, the authority of the cabildos, municipal boards, was replaced by the personalistic power of the caudillo. The caudillo's power resided in his landholdings, the local militia that he often controlled, and loyalty from the lower classes who depended on him for work and protection. Within the United Provinces of Argentina, the federalist leaders, with their belief in local autonomy over centralized power, came to exemplify the Argentine caudillo. Included in this group were Colonel Manuel Dorrego (Buenos Aires), Martín Güemes (Salta), General Angel "El Chacho" Peñalosa (San Juan), Juan Facundo Quiroga (La Rioja), and, of course, Juan Manuel Rosas (Buenos Aires).
Local support for the caudillo revolved around a patron-client relationship. The caudillo provided work and security to many. He often allowed workers to maintain small land and livestock holdings. As anti-vagrancy and passport requirement laws forced gauchos into military service, the caudillo became a haven for this nomad. In return, the gaucho fought in the local militia for his patron and supported his caudillos political agenda beyond his property lines.
Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, the caudillos consolidated political control through the use of force. Often they claimed exceptional authority that gave them legal power over all aspects of the province. This authority was initially given to Juan Manuel Rosas by the Buenos Aires provincial legislature in 1835 to further stabilize the province. Such consolidation of power undermined the state while placing total political power under the control of one person.
While most caudillos could never move beyond their provincial power base, Juan Manuel Rosas harnessed his local resources, i.e. the Argentine army, the support of other large estancieros, and the relatively strong Buenos Aires treasury, to control the entirety of the Argentine from Buenos Aires. Rosas guaranteed regular payment of the Argentine army when he took power, thereby securing a loyal military base. He negotiated pacts with other federalist caudillos to unite against the Unitario forces. His disputes with both England and France proved to increase a sense of nationalism among Argentines. Rosas gave precedence to the salted beef and hide export trade where the greatest economic resources lay. Further, he projected an image as a champion of the poor to gain their support that he fostered through ideological campaigns against the Unitarios using such slogans as "Death to the Savage Unitarios!"
Juan Facundo Quiroga. Manuscript, April 14, 1829.
Father Félix Aldao. Manuscript, November 18, 1831.
Juan Facundo Quiroga. Manuscript letter to his wife Dolores, September 16, 1831.
Registro diplomatico del gobierno de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires: [s.n.], 1835.
Estanislao López. Manuscript Letter, May 12 1838.
Juan José Alvarez. Memoria histórica de la guerra civil en el año de 1822 en la provincia de Entre-Rios y en el gobierno constitucional del General Don Lúcio Mansilla. Paraná, Argentina: Tipografía y Encuadernación "La Velocidad", 1890.