Few statesmen in Chile had attained the position of first magistrate under more favorable circumstances than had José Joaquín Pérez. He formed his first cabinet with the aid of all parties and of all persons who longed for tranquillity in the republic. That body, therefore, reflected the state of calmness, conciliation, and forgetfulness that followed the ardent agitations of the past. All political groups had representation in it — liberals, conservatives, and nationals — and all praised it.
The personal qualities of the president in themselves constituted a guarantee of peace. He was a man of some sixty years; he had travelled in the United States and Europe and had acquired a superior culture which, with his serene and moderate character, made him an extremely likable person. During the Bulnes administration he had several times been minister and, in the following decade, counselor of state. Although as a politician he had national affiliations, he had not been closely associated with President Montt as an ostensible participant in his government. One of his first acts was to approve the Law of Amnesty in favor of all those exiled for political reasons.
But this condition of harmony and good will was not long maintained. Questions of precedence in the bosom of the cabinet broke the formidable governmental bloc. The national party separated from him, and a group of the most advanced liberals, who desired constitutional reform at all costs, took the same step and from that moment began to call itself the radical party. The Matta and Gallo brothers were its leaders.
The government, then, rested on the same political combination which had so rudely fought President Montt in 1859, the so‑called liberal-conservative fusion; and thus the nationals and radicals, who together represented strong parliamentary forces, remained in opposition. But in the elections of 1864 the complexion of congress was changed by the president, and the governmental alliance gained a considerable majority, to the detriment of the opposing groups. From that moment the opposition parties saw their influence in the government lost, but launched, in turn, a vigorous p306 public campaign. The radicals, especially, began to organize throughout the country in order to spread their doctrines of constitutional reform. This, however, did not harm the government, which viewed the campaign only as a spectator. On the other hand, the inauguration of certain public works, undertaken in the former administration but finished in this, such as the railroad between Santiago and Valparaiso in 1863, gave it prestige at home as well as abroad.
In the midst of the tranquil political situation, a terrible disaster overwhelmed many respectable homes of the capital. On December 8, 1863, occurred the burning of the Compañía, a church situated in the most central part of Santiago. It had been destroyed years before by fire, but this time the disaster caused the death of more than two thousand persons. While the religious ceremony in honor of the Virgin was being celebrated with the greatest solemnity between seven and eight at night, one of the hangings of the church took fire from the flame of a candle that had just been lighted. The fire spread to other and still other hangings until great arch was converted into a furnace. Meanwhile, the multitude which filled the church, principally ladies of the highest society, rushed madly to the doors, trying to escape, a useless attempt. Some fell over others and the exits became a horrible heap, a veritable human wall. Cries and lamentations rent the air and the flames in a few moments burnt all to a crisp. The alarm and despair that possessed the city was indescribable. Every attempt at rescue had been unsuccessful. General opinion has since then opposed rebuilding on the site, and it was converted into a garden (today that of congress) in which was the image of the Virgin Mary as a commemorative monument.
The exceedingly tragic impression which this misfortune caused throughout the entire country was soon to fade because a serious conflict arose in the north between Peru and Spain in 1864 — a conflict in which Chile judged that it ought to intervene in some way or other. Up to that time Spain had not recognized the independence of Peru and, ever since the mother country had suspended hostilities in the war which Peru waged to obtain its emancipation, Spain regarded its relations with its former colony as simply a condition of truce, tacitly agreed to on its part without any pact. From the battle of Ayacucho (1824),º and the capitulation of Callao (1826), the last campaigns in behalf of the independence of Peru, p307 until 1864, the Spanish court thought that the state of truce had been extended, and that it should still treat Peru only as a colony.
The Peruvian government, on its side, assured of independence and lacking revenue, had, unlike Chile, declined to recognize the accounts left unsettled by the colonial viceroys. Availing itself of this situation, Spain1 sent to that country a "commissary," such as it used to send during the colonial period to arrange matters relative to such accounts and other affairs. This extraordinary envoy made the voyage accompanied by a small squadron in which sailed a commission of scientists who were to make certain observations and strengthen relations between the American states of the Pacific and their ancient mother country.
On such a pretext the ships passed by the ports of Chile without arousing any suspicion. When the commissary arrived at his destination, the government of Peru declined to treat with him, declaring that, as a sovereign state such as it was, it would negotiate only with a "plenipotentiary" and that it implied an offense to the dignity of the Peruvian not that a "commissary" should be sent, as if it were still a Spanish colony. Without further parley, the commissary moved his squadron to the Chincha Islands and forcibly occupied them in the name of Her Majesty, Isabella II, queen of Spain at that time, alleging that the right of replevin empowered the former mother country to recover its lost viceroyalty or any part of it.
This act naturally aroused the indignation of Peru because the Chincha Islands produced guano, then the country's principal source of wealth, and because the act of occupation in itself constituted an unqualified abuse of force. New reinforcements, however, arrived from Spain, and the inability of Peru to defend its rights induced the government of that country to treat with Admiral Pareja, the commander of the Spanish ships. But the Peruvian people, led by Colonel Mariano Prado, arose in rebellion and overthrew the government, raised this leader to power, and aroused a national defense against Spain.
Meanwhile, the indignation caused by that act in Peru had spread to all of former Spanish America because it was judged a precedent of fatal consequences for the territorial integrity of the old colonies to permit such aggression from their ancient mother country. And p308 although the words "truce" and "replevin" were revoked by the cabinet of Queen Isabella II, the gravity of the occurrence remained, since the Chincha Islands were retained as a pledge by those occupying them, until Peru agreed to pay what Spain asserted was due it. The sentiment of "American solidarity" that had been manifested with so much force in the struggle for emancipation was revived in all the countries on this continent that spoke the Castilian language, and they tried to ally themselves in order to repel the invader in any possible way.
In Chile, especially, all shades of public opinion cried out against Spain. Meetings were held in different cities, and in Santiago the populace violently attacked the Spanish legation. The government declared contraband of war the coal with which the invading squadron was supplied. These occurrences did not, however, cause an immediate rupture of relations, because official explanations were given the offended plenipotentiary, and a contract was made with him. But by September 17, 1865, when the people were engaged in the traditional ceremonies commemorating national independence, the squadron of Admiral Pareja appeared before Valparaiso. On the following day an ultimatum from him was received at the Moneda. According to that document, Spain refused to recognize the contract made with its representative in Chile, and Pareja demanded that within four days his flag be saluted with twenty-one guns. As the sole response, a declaration of war against Spain was sent the admiral. The declaration was made through a law which the president proposed and congress approved on September 24 by the unanimous vote of all its members in the midst of a delirious, patriotic enthusiasm.
At once all parties suspended their doctrinaire struggles and put themselves at the disposition of the government. The latter attended to the defense of the coast as quickly as possible, made an office and defensive alliance with Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and dispatched agents to Europe and the United States in search of armaments and fighting ships. The agitation throughout the republic was enormous because it lacked sufficient resources to carry on a maritime war against so an enemy. There was only one moderately useful boat, the sloop Esmeralda, which had to take refuge from the squadron of Pareja in the channels of Chiloé.
However, that vessel left its anchorage one day and secretly started north under the direction of its commander, Williams Rebolledo. In front of Papudo Roads he surprised and captured the Spanish schooner Covadonga of the Spanish fleet. When Admiral p309 Pareja learned of this, he quietly committed suicide. His body was cast into the sea. Pareja had blockaded the principal ports of Chile. At his death the blockade was maintained by Commander Méndez Núñez, who succeeded him. Although this commander led his squadron on two expeditions to the south as far as Chiloé to recover the Covadonga and avenge the disaster to his arms, he was not successful.
Spain, tired of this fruitless warfare, ordered Méndez Núñez to retire from the Pacific but, before doing so, to bombard the ports of Valparaiso and Callao in reprisal for the offenses received. Méndez Núñez complied with the command, Valparaiso being the first port bombed. The port, being dismantled at the time, was unable to resist an attack of that kind. Therefore, almost as soon as the Spanish squadron was sighted, the representatives of foreign countries made all sorts of attempts to persuade the commander to forego a destruction as useless as it was unjustified, but they were not heeded.
On the morning of March 31, 1866, the assaulting ships coolly began to cannonade the town. The firing lasted four hours. The customhouses, other public buildings, and commercial centers were the preferred targets for the shot. Some fires occurred and caused destruction of merchandise to the value of fourteen million pesos. Satisfied with its action, the Spanish squadron went on to Callao; but the bombardment of that place, well defended with artillery since colonial times, was not executed with impunity. After a struggle of several hours, the ships of Méndez Núñez suffered serious reverses and retired and returned to Spain. The Pacific was cleared of Spanish vessels.
There was a long delay in making treaties of peace and friendship between the belligerent countries, but the attempt to replevin American territory in the name of a truce by which Spain pretended not to recognize the independence of the old colonies never was renewed. The consequences of this war were in a certain way most salutary for most of the American states. Besides reviving in all of them the same feeling of solidarity that had increased their strength during the struggle for independence, it showed them that by remaining united they would be able to resist effectively any project of conquest devised against them by European countries; and, in the future, it obliged them to be more foresighted in whatever concerned their national security. They ought to live in peace, but prepared for any disagreeable or dangerous emergency that might arise.
p310 Chile acquired many implements of war with which to renew the material equipment of the army, and two new vessels which, together with Esmeralda and Covadonga, constituted four regular units of sea warfare. In addition, the fortifications of Valparaiso were immediately begun and finished in four years. Finally, a political party, the "radical," adopted the idea of American confederation among all the former Spanish colonies, an idea which had interested many statesmen before, and preached it with enthusiasm, although without success.
Hardly had the war ended when President Pérez was reëlected for a new constitutional period with the nationals and radicals in opposition. Like his three predecessors (Prieto, Bulnes, and Montt), he remained at the head of the republic for ten years (1861‑1871). Although the first period of his administration occurred during the conflict with Spain, it was, nevertheless, fruitful in the development of public services in respect to police, roads, postal service, telegraphs, railroads, and education. During the second period, the government continued its effective work in promoting these services.
The telegraph line in the south was extended as far as Lota and from there to Nacimiento, on the Araucanian frontier. The railroad line uniting Santiago with San Fernando was extended as far as Curicó; operations advanced in the next section as far as Talca and then from Chillán to Talcahuano. In the north, the branch from Llay-Llay to San Felipe was also pushed forward; and, in the mining regions of the transverse valleys, railroads under private initiative were being similarly extended. Postal service gained in speed, and roads connecting the different regions of the republic from one end to the other increased in comfort and security in proportion as special attention was given to the rural police who protected the country and guarded the travelers from banditry.
Persistent attention was also given to public education during this administration. New public liceos arose in the provincial capitals which up to that time had not had them. The last founded were those of Los Angeles and Ancud. A reform in secondary education was inaugurated at the same time, beginning with the National Institute. This institution continued to take on greater vitality under the careful and invigorating direction of Diego Barros Arana, named for the post of rector in 1863.
The reforms consisted in requiring in the curriculum of the p311 humanities the study of physics, chemistry, physical geography, cosmography, botany, and zoology — all branches that were usually grouped under the general designation of natural sciences; in the development of historical studies, especially on America; and in the specialization of instructors, who from being teachers of entire courses became teachers of specific branches. Although the introduction of these studies into the fields of secondary education was not new — for they dated from the Bulnes administration — still, because of lack of suitable teachers and the slight value attributed to them by parents, and for other reasons, about twenty years had passed before they could really be established under regular conditions. The zeal and energy of Barros Arana were necessary to bring about a serious and orderly consideration of such studies. From that time on the rest of the liceos began to apply the programs of the Institute.
There was also a development in primary instruction that corresponded to that in secondary instruction, although to a more limited extent, and an evident improvement in higher and professional branches. The university was likewise endowed with more ample means than the law for its erection had contemplated, and it made considerable gain in the importance of its studies and in the selection of its faculty.
The accomplishment of this work, of interest to all, depended upon the increasing growth in public revenue, which nearly doubled itself every ten years. At the end of Pérez' administration, it amounted to about twelve million pesos. This naturally showed a flattering economic condition among the common mass of the population, to which the development of agriculture, mining, lumbering in the forests of the south, and commerce contributed. It was necessary to make over the laws that governed the last-named branch, which were almost entirely of Spanish origin, and in 1865 the Código de comercioº (Code of Commerce)2 was definitely promulgated, to go into force from 1867 on. Although it had been in preparation for some time, it appeared exactly ten years after the Civil Code.
Another manifestation of the economic movement of that time was the first national exposition of agriculture in 1869, in which acquaintance was made with numerous agricultural machines and systems of breeding for the advance of cattle raising. In fact, from p312 that time alone dates the general use of machinery in exploiting the soil.
Parallel to this unfolding wealth was the incorporation of new territories into the civilized life of the country. Colonization was extended from the regions of Llanquihue and Valdivia to those of Araucania. It was carried on not only with foreign elements but also with national, by means of concessions or sales of tracts of land located within those territories which had been Indian domains but which were passing little by little into the control of the republic.
Araucania continued to survive through all this troublesome time. In the beginning of Pérez' administration there appeared among the natives a French adventurer, who, after carrying on commerce with them, gathered them together, treated them kindly in a parley, and proclaimed himself their king. This French king of Araucania whose purpose, as he assured them, was to free his subjects from the tyranny of the government of Chile, set up his throne there under the name of Orelie Antoine I.3 The self-made monarch did not, of course, continue many weeks in power because he was taken prisoner by the forces that guarded the frontiers, brought at once to judgment, declared insane, and expelled from the country.
An act of this kind, although ridiculous, made the government see the danger of delay in thoroughly incorporating the Araucanian territory with the republic. At this time was definitely put into practice the method of subduing the natives which certain colonial governors had tried to employ since the seventeenth century, and which had been started afresh at the end of Montt's decade. It consisted in surrounding the Araucanian frontier with forts, in having cities founded under the shelter of those forts, and in slowly advancing into the interior. In 1868 a new native uprising occurred which made clear the problem of Arauco. This insurrection lasted for three years. It was, however, only one more episode in the age-long struggle of the Araucanians to maintain their independence and the possession of their soil.
The political movement of the country, which was relatively quiet during the first period of Pérez' administration, took on the character p313 of active controversy during the second period. The parties opposed to the government had sacrificed their aspirations while the conflict with Spain lasted in order for the moment to lend their coöperation to national defense. Now, with the war ended, they returned to their fierce campaign of publicity and propaganda. Already in 1865 the more advanced groups had obtained a law explaining or interpreting the article of the constitution by which the Catholic religion was established as the religion of the State. By this law it was declared that non-Catholics could exercise their worship in private houses and keep up private schools for the education of their children, in conformity with their beliefs. With this action, the liberty of worship was established. Almost at the same time the law of "civil responsibility" was abolished. It had been issued at the end of Montt's administration against authors of uprisings and popular revolts. It will be recalled how bitterly this law had been resisted.
But these victories of the liberal elements of the country did not in any way satisfy such advanced groups as the radicals and young nationals. These groups were, indeed, the ones which had a great desire to reform many features of the constitution in order to weaken executive power. They founded the clubs of reform and thus kept alive and in permanent activity the enthusiasm for political doctrines in Santiago and some provincial capitals. The congress of 1867 had approved in general some proposals of reform which comprised almost the entire constitution, but upon which the congress of 1870 had to pass judgment.
Of all the reforms sought later by the advanced parties, the only one realized by the end of Pérez' administration was that prohibiting the president of the republic from being reëlected immediately after concluding his constitutional period of five years. From the operation of the constitution of 1833 until that time, 1871, the right of reëlection had always been exercised to such an extent that in forty years there had been only four supreme executives. In 1871, then, a law was enacted to the effect that any citizen who had been president of the republic for a constitutional period could be reëlected only after another period of five years had intervened. It was the first reform introduced into the text of the celebrated code suggested thirty-eight years before. The liberal-conservative coalition of the government was tenaciously opposed to other reforms. On the other hand, the executive did not abuse his constitutional privileges. Pérez governed without the need of extraordinary powers or "states of siege."
p314 The one who was opposed to such methods and who exercised the most influence in his office was Manuel Antonio Tocornal, the leader of the conservative party of that period and of the coalition in power. He was minister of the interior for two years and president of the house of deputies for several years. An honorable politician, orator, and writer by profession, he largely directed the administration of Pérez, during whose term he died (1867), after twenty-five years of public life.
The contest over the election of a successor to Pérez was most active. The liberal-conservative bloc of the government, on one side, and the national-radical opposition on the other offered their respective candidates and worked ardently for them. The logical and inevitable candidate of the liberal-conservative coalition would have been Manuel Antonio Tocornal, but with his death the personality of Federico Errázuriz Zañartu came to the front almost unexpectedly. He had been among the liberals of 1848 and among the revolutionists of 1851 and had marshaled the coalition ranks of the Pérez administration, during which he had been intendant of Santiago and minister on more than one occasion. He was the candidate of the government and inevitably triumphed at the polls, in accordance with the electoral and political practices still prevailing. Nevertheless, he had a competitor. The opposition of independent nationals, radicals, and liberals raised the candidacy of the wealthy industrialist and financier, José Tomás Urmeneta, but he was far outdistanced at the polls. Likewise the candidacy of Errázuriz, as well as that of Urmeneta, had been proclaimed through "limited conventions," the greater of which did not reach one hundred persons, but among these three were departmental delegates throughout the country. The proceeding was going to take root, although on very broad democratic conditions.
When Federico Errázuriz Zañartu arose to power in 1871, he was forty-six years old, a descendant of one of the most aristocratic families. His family had been of the greatest political importance in Chile from colonial times. Enterprising, active, at times irregular, he had left traces of his character both on the municipality and intendancy of Santiago and on congress and the ministries that he served. From his very youth he had attracted attention for his ardent liberalism, as an associate of Lastarria in the agitations that preceded the revolution of 1851, during which he p315 was exiled to Peru. But the principal reward of his public life had been gained in the ministry of war during the unfortunate days of the conflict with Spain. He had then devoted all his faculties to the service of national defense.
Once in the presidency, he showed the same energetic qualities that had previously distinguished him. The extension of the railroads from Curicó to Talca, from Talca to Chillán, from Chillán to Talcahuano and Angol, on the Araucanian frontier, was his constant interest. The boulevard of Valparaiso, the congressional palace, the Quinta Normal School of Agriculture with its exposition palace of 1875, the university buildings, all of which he saw completed, as well as many other constructions, were public works consistently promoted by his government.
Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, appointed intendant of Santiago, coöperated in these efforts by directing the modernization of the city. The hill of Santa Lucía, converted into a promenade, and Cousiño Park, ceded to the public by its proprietor, were turned over to the city. There were new streets and recently planted plazas. Urban tramways, drawn by animals, began to unite the widely separated extremes of the capital, thanks to the establishment of a private corporation aided by the State. With the impetus given by all those enterprises, Santiago continued to make progress as a modern city, and a more enterprising one.
Santiago. Flower market, center foreground; church at the right; Cerro of Santa Lucía, center; Cerro of San Cristóbal, left background. The National Library is directly in front of Santa Lucía.
Courtesy Grace Line.
Furthermore, with the entry of foreign capital and the contracting of English loans by the government for public works, business increased considerably. This was also evident in the exploitation of the mines of Caracoles, recently discovered in 1870, near Antofagasta (from which, for some years, poured a veritable stream of silver), and in the equally profitable exploitation of the nitrate plants of Tarapacá (Peruvian at that time), and of the guano deposits of Antofagasta, in Bolivian territory — enterprises undertaken by Chilean capitalists and workmen.
What better characterized the administration of Errázuriz Zañartu was not so much its earnest efforts in the field of public works or its feverish economic enterprises, but the fierce political struggle which took place during this period. Then began agitation in behalf of freedom of instruction. The conservative elements, which formed part of the government coalition, were not in accord with the prevailing trend of public education because, to their way of thinking, the preference given to natural sciences in public schools was contrary to religious belief and injurious to private morality. Moreover, there would no longer be a chance to p316 monopolize the professional positions in the gift of the university since free competition of professional men would bring out the most competent. Intrinsically these ideas were tending to favor private seminaries, which had recently been founded and which belonged almost entirely to religious bodies. But if one considered the question from a higher point of view, he would be assured that, on that very account, it was advisable to allow freedom in the subjects studied so that everyone might receive the degree that was most in accord with his wishes.
Inspired with these ideas and with the determination to realize them, at least in part, the minister of public education, Abdón Cifuentes, a respected member of the conservative party, issued a famous decree at the beginning of 1872, by which he exempted professors of public schools from giving examinations to students of private seminaries, as was done at that time, and authorized the directors of the latter establishments to hold the examinations and confer certificates that would be valid in the university. It allowed them, moreover, to reduce studies to the curricula considered desirable, within the minimum required in the university program.
This decree produced immediate confusion. Veritable auctions for examination tickets were established, and the case is reported of young men who passed all the humanities of the entire law course in only one year, naturally without knowing anything of the studies for which they showed certificates — certificates bought, as if at a public market, for three or five pesos each. Such degradation of education and of professional dignity produced an immediate reaction. The minister resigned the following year (1873), the decree was annulled, and conditions reverted to their former state. By another decree, however, it was declared, a short time later, that teaching of religion was not obligatory in the public schools, and students whose parents asked for the privilege could be exempted from it. Meanwhile Barros Arana, supporter and instigator of scientific studies, had been obliged to abandon his post as rector of the National Institute. Although exonerated by the minister, he was not reappointed.
On the other hand, so‑called theological questions which were being discussed at that time and which were making the government coalition futile induced the president of the republic to remove the conservatives from the Moneda, to constitute a ministry, based upon an entirely liberal parliamentary majority. Thus it came about that the powerful coalition which had been in control of the government for ten years was definitely broken in 1873, and the p317 conservative party was thrust from power, not to recover it for twenty years.
The so‑called theological questions were the following: the suppression of "ecclesiastical privilege" or the right of the clergy to be judged by their own tribunals, distinct from those for ordinary inhabitants in the national territory; the "secularizing" of the cemeteries, that is to say, the establishing of religious neutrality of these places in the same way that the dead belonging to any religion could be interred in them; "civil marriage," the celebration of marriage in the presence of public officials by a special contract, leaving the wedded parties at liberty to celebrate it religiously also, if their belief thus counseled them; and, ultimately, the "separation of Church and State," thereby converting the former into a society or private institution.
The liberal and national parties had not uniformly agreed on all these reforms. Only the radical party favored them without reserve, but it was not strong enough to enact them. The conservative party resisted them tenaciously; and the clergy, who looked upon them as a menace to faith and morality and a blow to their influence, spoke in the pulpits, in the press, in the home, wherever they could obtain a hearing, in opposition to everything they considered a sin against the conscience of the great majority of the population. The political struggle degenerated, therefore, into a religious struggle, and the conservative party was transformed into a clerical or "ultramontane" group, as its adversaries branded it, opposed to the other extreme party, the radical, or "red," as it was nicknamed.
An almost unlimited freedom of the press began to be the rule at that time. This freedom, acquired under the law enacted in 1872 to correct certain abuses of the press, contributed to foster the heated conflict. It was an especially benevolent law which, by retaining the old-time jury chosen by lot in order to judge such cases, and by reducing penalties to fines more or less slight in case of guilt, made the daily press a tremendous power.
The liberal-radical bloc finally triumphed, but only in part. In the Penal Code promulgated in 1874, it succeeded in introducing numerous statutes that punished priests for specified crimes; and, in the organic law of tribunals, promulgated the following year, it obtained the abolition of the ecclesiastical privilege for all civil and criminal causes. In the question of cemeteries, it only succeeded for the time being in having a section of the Catholic cemeteries themselves opened for the burial of dissenters. Meanwhile the p318 clergy, directed by Archbishop Valdivieso, continued to protest; and, when the articles of the Penal Code affecting ecclesiastics were debated in congress, the metropolitan see threatened solemn excommunication against the parliamentarians who fostered them, which was not enough, however, to keep the legislators from approving them. On the other hand, nothing could then be done in respect to civil marriage and the separation of Church and State.
In the no-less-difficult field of constitutional balance between the powers of congress and of the president of the republic, the struggle was also earnest and active. The precaution which the reform clubs had been making for a considerable time to broaden the powers of congress and to limit those of the executive now began to have the desired effect. In accordance with this purpose, many articles of the State constitution were revised in 1874. Inconsistencies were established between certain public employments and legislative functions; the extraordinary powers of the president were restricted; the house of deputies placed seven of its members on the "conservative committee," which represented congress during the recess, and the powers of that committee were broadened. The personnel of the council of state was similarly modified. Into it were introduced representatives from the two houses to constitute a majority, and with that change the advisory body, whose members had previously been selected by the president, came to have a more popular origin. In short, more effective measures were passed to insure the responsibility of ministers to congress.
The electoral system was reformed. Control of elections was taken from the municipalities, which then depended directly on the executive, and was transferred to "Boards [juntas] of the larger taxpayers." In place of the "general ticket" (lista completa) which was formerly used in electing members of congress, according to which each of the opposing parties voted for a number of electors equal to that of the representatives to be chosen in the respective jurisdictions, the "cumulative vote" was introduced, but only for the election of deputies. For senators the general ticket was retained; and for the municipal elections, the electors were permitted to vote for two tickets, one with two thirds, and the other with one third of the number to be chosen.
The cumulative vote was invoked to produce a considerable modification in the composition of the house. It represented an attempt to give to minority parties the representation that corresponded to each, according to the number of its qualified citizens. If, for example, a precinct of a thousand electors voted for three deputies p319 on a general ticket, 501 of them were enough to elect the three deputies and the other 499 were left without any representative. With the cumulative vote, each voter had as many votes at his disposal as deputies to be elected in the precinct, votes which he could use in favor of one or more candidates.
None of those reforms disturbed the continuity of the government. The cabinet, controlled by the minister of the interior, Eulogio Altamirano, an emphatic liberal politician and vigorous parliamentary orator, remained in office during the five years of this administration. Consequently Altamirano was his most efficient collaborator.º
The government of Errázuriz Zañartu was in its last stages in 1876. Except for the ardent political struggles, nothing had disturbed its tranquillity, neither revolutions nor external wars; but the country had passed through a most severe economic crisis. The public debt, which the last loans had increased, drew from the treasury much of its income, through interest charges and amortization. The mines of Caracoles gave out, as did many other mines, and numerous corporations formed for their exploitation went into bankruptcy. The nitrate plants of Tarapacá were recovered by the government of Peru, and the guano deposits of Antofagasta were burdened in various ways by the government of Bolivia. Consequently, the Chilean interests invested in one or the other suffered enormous losses. Capital fled, or hid itself. The rate of bank discounts rose. Commerce partly closed its doors. Fortunes irrevocably invested in costly buildings or employed in improvident luxury remained only as a memento of vanished wealth.
When Federico Errázuriz Zañartu gave up his office to his successor, Aníbal Pinto, the business crisis was passing through its sharpest period. The latter, elected as the official candidate, was in the very prime of life (fifty years old). Through family antecedents — he was the son of General Francisco Antonio Pinto — he belonged to the oldest historical liberal party, and because of his moderation he counted on the sympathy of all parties. Although a man of a solid reputation acquired during his long sojourn in Europe as a secretary of legation, he did not have a long political record or a colorful one. He had served the intendencia of Concepción for ten years, under the Pérez administration, and had acted as a member of several congresses; but he derived his prestige rather from his exquisite p320 culture and recognized talent. During the greater part of the preceding administration he had served as minister of war and navy and it was precisely this office that enabled him to aspire to the presidency of the republic.
His candidacy was somewhat unusual in that it was presented and furthered by a full convention of a thousand individuals. A new practice in the republican organism of the country, it was uniformly continued from that time on in each presidential election. In that convention, Pinto contended for leadership with Miguel Luis Amunátegui, famous historian and teacher who represented in politics the tendencies of a very temperate and tolerant liberalism. And then, at the polls although counting on the aid of official intervention he had to overcome another of the most illustrious historians and Chilean publicists, Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna. The popularity of the latter had made it possible for him to organize in a short time a political group, called "liberal-democratic," which almost wholly disappeared the day following his defeat.
Perhaps no other president of Chile was destined to become more conscious of his responsibility in office than Aníbal Pinto. When he came into power, he had to meet the acute economic crisis that had arisen during the former administration; and, when the half of his term was hardly finished, he entered upon the greatest of all the conflicts that had threatened the republic. Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia, the three neighboring states, involved Chile in difficult discussions, which they were unable to solve in a fitting manner.
The government tried to check the economic crisis in matters affecting the treasury by creating new levies to increase its income and by adopting the greatest possible economies in order to cut down expenditures. Among these economies were such measures as the suppression of the bonus of 25 per cent on the salary of public employees which the former administration had granted in a moment of generosity, and the reduction of the army and the disarmament of several war vessels.
But if the fiscal assets were largely put in order by methods of this kind, private fortunes continued to feel the pressure of the economic crisis that shortly degenerated into a monetary panic. The circulating medium became scarce because of the exportation of gold and silver coins apparently necessary to cover commercial obligations in Europe. Interest on money increased, and international exchange became lower. In consequence, the cost of living rose to unprecedented heights. On the other hand, real estate and p321 state bonds, together with banking credit, depreciated. There came a day when the banks could not convert their bills into specie. The government was intimately tied up with the banks because it had taken great quantities of their bills as loans in order to meet its obligations, so it then came to their assistance and succeeding in passing a law for the inconvertibility of bank bills in 1878, by which a set rate was given in all these transactions. By their value in exchange very soon diminished to 25 per cent of their normal value. From that time began the regime of paper money in Chile with its resultant inflation.4
Notwithstanding the grave and uncertain situation and international alarms, the government continued to enact highly important laws, such as the one that established the incompatibility of judicial with parliamentary and administrative offices, for the purpose of separating political from judicial affairs; the one that suppressed the tobacco monopoly, an old form of taxation that limited the cultivation of this plant in the country and gave rise to much contraband trade; and the one that reorganized secondary and superior instruction in 1879. There still remained to be solved the international questions to which, beginning with 1879, all the attention of the government was to be devoted.
Chile had already carried on a half century of orderly constitutional life and it had maintained uninterrupted cordial relations with foreign countries except at long intervals. Only two conflicts had occurred during that time; that of 1836 with Bolivia and Peru, which had become allies under the leadership of General Santa Cruz; and that of 1865 with Spain.
The United States of North America had celebrated treaties of friendship, trade, and navigation with Chile under favorable reciprocal conditions, and so had several other nations of America and of Europe, among the latter being France, Belgium, England, and Germany. Postal treaties and pacts of other kinds had also been negotiated with almost all the countries of the world. The external credit of the republic could not be bettered and was superior to that of the other states formerly established by Spain in America.
Diplomacy in Chile had very little to do that was disagreeable. Although certain claims made by citizens of foreign nations were p322 pressed in Chile by their respective representatives, these were always satisfactorily settled.5 But the foreign policy of Chile was, above all, American. It worked toward the "united solidarity" of all the republics of the continent, with no other object than to defend them from any aggression that threatened the independence or territorial integrity of any one of them. Because of the Peruvian-Spanish conflict and the resultant war that included Chile, the government made a beginning toward a realization of that ideal by making an offensive and defensive pact with Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador in 1865. But from then on no advance could be made toward this ideal. On the contrary, Chile soon found itself involved in serious external complications. In order to give them due attention, it was necessary to create the ministry of foreign relations, by segregating it from the ministry of the interior in 1871. From that date cabinets were composed of five ministers.
Those complications arose from questions of boundaries, a situation that characterizes the reciprocal relations of all Ibero-American republics. The problem of frontiers has really been common to these republics. On separating from the mother country, they adopted the same boundaries for their respective territories as they had had when colonies. This is what has been called the uti possidetis of 1810, the year of the emancipation revolution. Those colonial boundaries were vague and undetermined because they passed through regions little known or absolutely unknown, in which the only population, if any, was a few savage nomad tribes. When these regions began to be populated and exploited, the question of sovereignty arose in them. It was necessary to mark the frontiers in order to know to which state the wealth of its soil belonged. Although Chile was bounded only by Argentina and Bolivia, it had to carry on boundary disputes with both of these republics.
The dispute with Argentina began first. In 1847, its government protested to that of Chile about the recent founding of the colony of Punta Arenas and the act of taking possession of the Strait of Magellan, effected four years previously. In the opinion of the Argentina government, Patagonia and the strait belonged to Argentina. From that time it carried on a series of diplomatic negotiations, at times interrupted and again renewed, without coming to any agreement. Thus more than thirty years passed. But in 1878 these negotiations were cut off and an armed break seemed imminent. The fleets of Chile and of Argentina were ordered to the strait. p323 Soon, however, a calmer spirit prevailed. A war between the two countries was considered fratricidal. They had made the memorable campaign of independence together. They had mutually aided each other in their subsequent difficulties. The negotiations were reopened, and in 1881 a boundary treaty was signed that for the moment solved all difficulties. Chile remained in possession of the strait; and Argentina, of eastern Patagonia. The dividing line on all the common frontier was to pass over the highest peaks of the cordillera of the Andes which divided the waters. Any cases of disagreement among the experts charged with the demarcation were to be referred to an arbiter named by common consent.6
While this settlement was being concluded, the dispute with Bolivia arose. Years before, some Chilean explorers, crossing the desolate desert of Atacama, had discovered on the shore near Mejillones rich deposits of guano, the exceedingly fertile excrement of sea birds. After exploitation was begun, Bolivia claimed the territory where the deposits lay. The diplomatic debate with Chile over this claim began at once and became a very heated one. Chile recognized Bolivian sovereignty and fixed its northern limit on the twenty-fourth parallel of south latitude. Moreover, it was agreed that the product of guano deposits already discovered or to be discovered between the twenty-third and twenty-fifth parallels and the amount of customs taxes received on the exportation of minerals from that zone should be divided equally between the two countries.
Shortly after, other Chilean explorers found deposits of nitrate in the vicinity of Antofagasta, and others, later, found the Caracoles mines in the same region. The explorers petitioned for and obtained from the Bolivian government the right to exploit such wealth; but under very burdensome conditions which, nevertheless, they fulfilled faithfully. To that region, then, went Chilean laborers and capital. They founded the port and city of Antofagasta; they later caused Calama, Mejillones, Cobija, Tocopilla, and other cities to prosper. They performed enormous tasks in opening roads, creating watering places, and making the desert habitable. The first railroad in Bolivia was the one the miners constructed from Antofagasta into the interior.
Bolivia did not seem pleased to have the Chileans populate their desert and make it productive. A people still uncultured, shut in by almost impassable mountains and plains, Bolivians despised the p324 foreigner, whoever he might be, just because he was one. Therefore they hated both Chile and the Chileans of the plain (pampa). The Bolivian government never concerned itself about complying with the Treaty of 1866. Chile did not collect one cent of the duties from Mejillones and Antofagasta. And, not content with this violation, the Bolivian government committed hostilities in various ways, above all by imposing very heavy taxes on the producers of guano and nitrate. New diplomatic negotiations followed new Chilean demands. Finally, in 1874, Chile was persuaded to make one more concession. In a treaty signed that year, it gave up to Bolivia all its rights north of the twenty-fourth parallel upon the one condition that the industrialists of the desert should not be burdened with new taxes.
The intervention of Peru also greatly influenced the attitude of Bolivia. Notwithstanding its enormous wealth, Peru always appeared to have no revenues because it flung away all its assets in wild revolutionary enterprises. At the end of each of these, the victorious group, now become the government, had to remunerate its followers by keeping up an incredible number of civil employees and military chieftains. Peru's financial stringency reached such a point that it had to declare itself bankrupt and suspend payment of the interest on the public debt. It was then that it decided to lay hands on the nitrate deposits of Tarapacá. These, like those of Antofagasta, were being exploited by Chileans. Foreseeing that, if it despoiled these industrialists, Chile would make war against it, Peru decided to come to an understanding with Bolivia. In 1873, therefore, it signed a treaty of offensive and defensive alliance with that country, a treaty that was kept most secret.7 From that moment Peru dared attempt anything. Its government passed a law granting a monopoly of the nitrates of Tarapacá to the State. Henceforth, the producers were to hand over all the nitrates they extracted to the Peruvian government at a price the latter itself fixed, a price that would inevitably ruin them. Having obtained this result, Peru issued a new law for the expropriation of nitrates. The proprietors must sell them to the State with all the equipment for exploitation. But the State did not have the means to pay for them. It advertised a loan in Europe that was not covered. Then it agreed to pay on time. The ruined nitrate producers could only yield. In 1875 they delivered their holdings, their machinery, their buildings — everything. Peru never paid what was due them; but the government of Chile, contrary to the prophecies of Peruvian statesmen, p325 did not formulate any claim for that spoliation, since Peru, as sovereign of Tarapacá, could issue for that region those laws which might be most agreeable to the government.
Thus came the year 1878. The secret alliance of Peru and Bolivia continued unaltered. After one revolution — like so many others — an adventurous general called Hilarión Daza seized the government of Bolivia. Urged on by the Peruvian government, he resolved to give a finishing stroke to the Chilean nitrate industry. He would do in Antofagasta what had been done in Tarapacá.
Disregarding entirely the Treaty of 1874, the dictator Daza levied a new and heavy tax on the Chilean Nitrate Company of Antofagasta. That act brought to a climax measures of hostility which for a long time the Bolivian officials of the coast region had been adopting against the Chileans. It was useless for the Chilean government, in behalf of the company, to bring the Treaty of 1874 to the attention of Daza; useless also for it to propose arbitration as a means of settling the question. The dictator wished to drive the Chileans out of the desert and "regain possession of the nitrate plants," according to the language of his advisers.
As was hoped, the company refused to pay. Daza then resolved to embargoº all its goods and sell them at public auction. The embargo was actually begun, work was suspended, and a date set for the auction. In this manner the policy of conciliation, of harmony, of almost unlimited compliance which Chile was practicing toward its sister republics of America suddenly came to a violent end. Its legitimate economic expansion was being checked in a shameful and humiliating manner. It was being cast out of those inhospitable deserts conquered by the brawn of its nationals at the cost of great hardship; and at the same time its most solemn treaties were being violated. To resist these wrongs there was no longer any recourse but war.
In the middle of February, 1879, and on the very day appointed for the auction of the nitrate plants, two hundred Chilean soldiers under the command of Colonel Emilio Sotomayor landed at Antofagasta, took possession of the city without any resistance, and hoisted the flag of Chile on the public buildings. The entire population, filled with great enthusiasm, gathered to acclaim these men as liberators. There were no Bolivians present except administrative employees and a small garrison. All were allowed to leave without hindrance. The occupation of Antofagasta, thus accomplished, marked the beginning of a war which was to keep the whole American continent in suspense.
1 For a brief account that presents this intervention of Spain on the west coast of South America in as favorable a light as possible, see Espasa, Enciclopedia, XLIII, 129.
2 The law for the promulgation of this code is dated November 23, 1865. See Ricardo Anguita, Leyes promulgadas en Chile, II, 208.
3 The Chilean authorities at first took this adventurer, Tounens by name, as a joke, but his activity soon caused them to apprehend him by strategy. See Hancock, A History of Chile, p239.
4 For a study of the rôle of paper money in Chile, see Fetter, Monetary Inflation in Chile.
5 A perusal of Evans' Chile and its Relations with the United States would seem to confirm this statement, especially with respect to Great Britain.
6 See Paul D. Dickens, "Argentine Arbitration and Mediation," in Hisp. Amer. Hist. Rev. (November, 1931), XI, 469‑472.
7 For the text of this treaty see William Jefferson Dennis (ed.), Documentary History of the Tacna-Arica Dispute, pp56‑59.
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