James O. Pellicer
Domingo Sarmiento's birthplace, San Juan de Cuyo, typical in its colonial atmosphere, had more churches than public buildings; friars and priests dominated all thought. It was one of the smallest villages in the Argentine territory that acquired independence under the name of the United Provinces of the South. Those of Sarmiento's relatives who were priests took control of his early education in a place where no school yet existed. One of his priest-uncles taught him to read and write and also trained him in the religious duties of a good altar boy.
Designated for the priesthood, the young Sarmiento failed to win a scholarship for entry into the Loreto Seminary. His needy family tried for one of the two presidential scholarships instituted in each province to foster liberal education and the propagation of new ideas in the country. Failing again, he decided to accompany another of his priest-uncles, José de Oro Albarracín, into exile. This priest, together with other clergy, had organized an armed revolution against the provincial governor but, suffering defeat, was deported from San Juan Province to a remote village in a neighboring state. With him went his protégé, the young Sarmiento.
For the next ten years Sarmiento stumbled through odd jobs in various places, including Chile. He struck up friendships with the fortunate young men from his province who had won the presidential scholarships and had completed their studies in Buenos Aires. Through them he came into contact with French thinking: the ideas of Victor Cousin and of the early French socialists, Saint-Simon and Pierre Leroux. Distant South America was invaded by French thought through journals, especially the Revue encyclopédique, which President Bernardino Rivadavia backed in order to reduce the power of priests and Scholastic philosophy throughout the United Provinces.