Generation of 80 – Summary, economics, representatives and more

We explain what the generation of 80 was in Argentine history, its relationship with the generation of 37 and its main representatives.

generation of 80
Julio Argentino Roca was the architect of the generation of 80.

What was the Generation of 80?

In history it is known as the Generation of 80 to the conservative elite that ruled Argentina between 1880 and 1916, through the National Autonomist Party, heir to the liberal-leaning Unitary Party. Its architect was President Julio Argentino Roca (1843-1914), a military man in charge of the military campaign against the Patagonian aboriginal peoples known as the Desert Campaign (1878-1885).

Originally, the term “Generación del 80” was coined by the intellectual Ricardo Rojas (1882-1957) in the 1920s, to refer to “Los moderns”, the group of writers and intellectuals that flourished during the conservative government of the late 1920s. XIX and early XX century.

This way of referring to the thinkers of the time was used by other historians and essayists who also incorporated politicians and scientists. Finally, the critic and writer David Viñas (1927-2011) in 1964 defined its meaning in what we understand today, that is, a group of conservative, oligarchic intellectuals and politicians associated with the country‘s livestock sector.

The Generation of 80 was conscious heir to the thought of the Generation of 37, that is, of an intellectual movement of the mid-nineteenth century whose literary works reflected its struggle to abandon the monarchical system and build a liberal democracy. The generation of 37 included authors such as Esteban Echeverría (1805-1851) or Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-1888).

However, the Generation of 80 embraced the positivist ideal of the time, who placed his faith in “order and progress” (according to Auguste Comte’s formula). This means that they were betting on a European education, far from the original American heritages, since gauchos and Indians were seen as barbarians, representatives of backwardness.

However, the Generation of the 80s embraced the liberal ideas of the French Enlightenment, and therefore fought to minimize the power of the Church over the State, through modern marriage laws, the Civil Registry and public, compulsory, free and secular primary education. Its mission, in terms of Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810-1884), was to “civilize the country”, since it had finally been able to consolidate it in a unified way.

For this, this generation opened Argentina’s doors to massive European immigration, in the middle of a stage of economic expansion that made it auspicious. He also carried out, together with the ranchers of the Argentine Rural Society, the organization of the agro-export model that brought an unprecedented economic boom to the nation.

Their methods can be defined as a combination of economic liberalism and political conservatism: despite open opposition from socialist parties, anarchist and trade union movements, the conservative elite ruled for more than 30 continuous years through electoral fraud, fostered by a “chanted” voting system, without official registers, and through the exercise of intimidation and political violence.

These methods guaranteed the Generation of 80 a continuous and increasingly radicalized opposition. Finally his opponents took up arms in the Park Revolution in July 1890, directed by the recently created Unión Cívica of Leandro Alem (1842-1896) and Bartolomé Miter (1821-1906).

The opponents were able to capitalize on the discontent produced during the economic depression of previous years (the so-called “Panic of 1890”), in turn the result of the bursting of the local financial bubble during the government of Miguel Juárez Celman (from 1886 to 1890). Although the insurrection was quelled by conservative forces, Celman’s resignation was forced.

These events forced the conservative government to take timid steps towards social improvements demanded by the middle class and the working class sectors. Thus arose the first labor laws of the time (1907).

But they were insufficient, and in the face of constant strikes, criticism from the press and the modernist wing of the National Autonomist Party itself, it was necessary reformulate the electoral system to implement the secret ballot, universal and mandatory through the Sáenz Peña Law of 1912.

This is how the conservative regime lost power in 1916, in the first elections held with the new suffrage model, granting power to the radical Hipólito Yrigoyen (1852-1933), representative of the Argentine middle classes. Thus, the Generation of 80 came to an end.

Representatives of the Generation of 80

Roque_Sáenz_Peña generation of 80
Roque Sáenz Peña reformed the suffrage system.

Different well-known personalities of Argentine history belonged to the Generation of 80, such as:

  • Julio Argentino Roca (1843-1914), president between 1880 and 1886, and again between 1898 and 1904, he was also the military leader of the “Desert Campaign” against the Patagonian aboriginal peoples before entering politics.
  • Jose Eduardo Wilde (1844-1913), doctor, journalist, writer and diplomat, author of works such as The shirtless, Prometheus & Co. or The first night at the cemetery. He was a professor at the UBA and director of the government health department on several occasions, from where he fought yellow fever in Buenos Aires and the bubonic plague in Asunción, Paraguay.
  • Roque Sáenz Peña (1851-1914), lawyer and politician of the modernist sector of the National Autonomist Party, governed the Argentine nation between 1910 and 1914, dying in the mandate, but managing to reform the suffrage system. He is the son of Luis Sáenz Peña, also president of the country between 1892 and 1895.
  • José Figueroa Alcorta (1860-1931)A lawyer by profession, he was the only politician capable of occupying the head of the three branches of the State: President of the Senate (as Vice President) between 1904 and 1906; president of the nation between 1906 and 1910; and president of the Supreme Court of Justice from 1929 until his death.
  • Carlos Pellegrini (1846-1906), lawyer, journalist, portraitist and translator, he was vice president and then president of the Republic, assuming the latter position after the Revolution of the Park and the deposition of Juárez Celman. His presidency was arduous, between economic crisis and revolutionary chaos, but he managed to clean up the economy and found the Banco de la Nación Argentina (the central bank), achieving economic prosperity in the years to come. For this reason he was nicknamed “the storm pilot.” It was also his doing the elimination of censorship and the state of siege that had been in force since the previous presidency.