In fact, the War of the Pacific had ended with the occupation of the capital of Peru in January, 1881. Chile remained in possession of the rich nitrate and copper lands, whose development had given rise to the conflict. The production of those territories and the abundant incomes which thereby accrued to many private individuals, and more fully to the State at the same time opened up in the country a period of economic development whose swift progress was evident and was felt among all social classes. This period lasted ten years, until the unhappy revolution of 1891 interrupted it. But the national drive which it signified did not immediately cease. The political events of those years could not resist the influence of that powerful expansion.
Chilean nitrate prepared for export.
Courtesy Grace Line.
In March, 1881, General Baquedano returned from Lima. His reception in Santiago was quite an apotheosis; and as had happened forty years before with General Bulnes, there was a strong current of opinion in the country which desire to reward the skillful and valorous leader with the first magistracy of the republic. General Baquedano ought to have succeeded President Pinto that same year, but the liberal majority of the government did not accept his candidacy and he forthwith gave up the contest. The general was a conservative, and, moreover, it was felt that his presidency would signify the return to a regime of force which liberalism was unwilling to admit.
Another candidate then arose, aided by the main part of the dominant parties (liberal, national, and radical) and by President Pinto himself. This aspirant was Domingo Santa María, who, counting on official aid, was elected without competition and began his term of five years on September 18, 1881. Santa María had spent more than thirty years in public life and had been one of the revolutionists who had opposed Montt's administration. Having been exiled for that reason, he travelled to Europe and on his return again entered politics. He was deputy, senator, and minister. During a great part of the War of the Pacific he was at the head of the ministries of foreign relations and of the interior. When he became president, his partisans considered him an experienced and energetic statesman.
p337 The government of Santa María had to devote much time to the settlement of the war. It was a tiresome diplomatic task. While the Chilean forces occupied Lima and fought the leaders in the Peruvian mountains, Piérola, Cáceres, and others, the United States government showed evident intentions of intervening against Chile. Argentina, at the instigation of Peru, tried to insure the meeting of an American congress at Panama (previously projected by Colombia) for the purpose of having the right of conquest condemned therein, or rather, the annexation of territory as compensation for war. On the other hand, the European powers annoyed the Chilean government with a multitude of claims for damages their citizens were said to have suffered in consequence of hostilities.
Many a grave question strained all the nerves of Chilean diplomacy. It finally succeeded in causing the United States to relinquish thoughts of intervention;1 it also brought about the failure of the congress of Panama; and as for the claims, it formed treaties with European powers by which the pretensions of the claimants were submitted to arbitration. Thus all dangers were dissipated, the treaties of 1883 and of 1884 could be signed, and with these acts the conflict of the three republics ended.
At the same time the definite submission of the Araucanians was brought about. During the War of the Pacific, the troops that guarded the Araucanian frontier were greatly depleted, for entire companies were drawn away and transferred to Peru. Taking advantage of this situation, the natives rose in arms in 1880 and in their surprise attacks (malones) raided all the neighboring territory. The garrisons of some forts had to retreat, and territory of the Traiguén, formerly occupied, saw its security endangered.
But when Lima was taken, the first of the returning troops were sent to put down that rebellion. Colonel Gregorio Urrutia, in command of the army of the frontier, gained control in two years of the lines of the Curacautín and of the Upper Biobío on the slopes of the Andes. New communities like Temuco, Carahue, and Nueva Imperial arose under the protection of the military operations, and new of foreigners and nationalists furthered the occupation of the territories incorporated in the republic. The locomotive also shortly crossed these regions; the first lines over which it ran were those from Angol to Traiguén and from Collipulli to Victoria. The last remains of the brave Araucanian race thus were reduced to a small amount of territory and subjected to a protectorate under laws enacted by the national government (1883).
p338 Great relief was felt in the country over the conclusion of this struggle and especially over the settlement of the war against Peru and Bolivia. Chile came to exercise supremacyº in South America and increased its territory by more than a third. A new era of peace and labor was opened. The exploitation and exportation of nitrates, borates, and iodine, continuing to increase in Tarapacá and Antofagasta, went on constantly adding to private wealth and especially to the public revenues in a startling and unparalleled manner. From fifteen million before the war, the revenues grew five years later to more than thirty-six million and continued to increase in similar proportion.
A ship of the Chilean desert with its crew of nitrate workers.
Courtesy Grace Line.
With these abundant receipts, pensions were paid to the families of those who had died in the war and compensation offered to those disabled in the same conflict; the wages of public employees were increased and new administrative positions were created; various public works were continued, and others begun; foreign immigration was encouraged; and, finally, effective assistance was given to the development of agriculture and mining by opening new roads, constructing bridges, and establishing technical instruction under European teachers.
Those revenues served for everything except for redeeming paper money. And such redemption was, notwithstanding, a duty, because Chile the currency had been issued by the State and under its guarantee, as an extraordinary measure during the economic crisis marking the beginning of Pinto's administration and the end of the international crisis. It came about, then, that the paper peso depreciated to the value of twenty-five pennies while the gold and silver coin was worth forty-eight pennies or, at least, thirty-nine. Trade, which had to pay its European creditors in specie, exported metallic currency. This resulted in the shipping out of silver and gold and the triumph of the paper-money regime. But as this became worth about half as much as the former money, the merchants raised prices in even greater proportion. The cost of living suddenly increased, and transactions subject to fluctuations of international exchange were rendered unstable and insecure. The mass of consumers suffered the consequences of this depreciation in the purchasing power of the national coinage and did not fail to raise protests.
More engrossing to the government than the economic and social problem arising from the paper-money regime was the election of a new archbishop. In 1878 Rafael Valentín Valdivieso, head of the p339 Chilean Church for thirty years, died in Santiago. No priest ever left in the country better memories for virtue and charity. His whole life had been a constant struggle not only in behalf of his faith but, more than that, in behalf of the poor to whom he always gave what he had, even sacrificing for them every comfort and pleasure.
But this humble and kindly man became harsh and unyielding when he thought the prerogatives of his Church were attacked. More than once, therefore, he saw himself enveloped in bitter conflicts with the civil authority, whose right of "ecclesiastical patronage" he accepted only under protest on every occasion when it was exercised. For this reason the government at his death desired to fill his place with a priest who would be a pledge of harmony between Church and State. It actually elected Canon Francisco de Paula Taforó, also an eminent churchman of blameless life but possessed of outstanding liberal ideas, and proposed him to the pope for appointment. The clergy of Santiago and the conservative party were alarmed; they opposed the selection and succeeded in having the pope withhold the nomination.
Once in power, Santa María asked the Vatican to hasten the affair; but the Vatican gave itself time to consider it and meanwhile sent Monseñor Celestino del Frate2 as "apostolic delegate" to settle difficulties with Chile. Del Frate, learning in Santiago the previous history of the affair, advised His Holinessthat the nomination of the prebendary Taforó ought to be rejected. The relations of the government and the delegate became strained, and the latter soon received his passport. Del Frate left the country, after having insisted in a note directed to the minister of religion that he did not recognize the right of patronage exercised by the government of Chile (1883).
This insinuation made against a liberal government accused of being antireligious was somewhat dogmatic, as well as being very imprudent. It is not strange, therefore, that it was taken as a provocation. Congress, which also was liberal and almost entirely attached to the government, at once undertook to busy itself in the discussion of the so‑called "theological reforms" which had so stirred opinion during the administration of Errázuriz Zañartu. Although it debated much concerning the separation of Church and State, it reached no agreement in respect to the status to Church when it should once become free; and this and other differences caused the failure of the separatist project. On the other p340 hand a law was passed creating secular cemeteries; that is, common cemeteries for individuals of any religious belief whatever; and by this law public and municipal cemeteries were of that type. As the clergy protested with passionate violence against the passage of the law, the president issued a decree prohibiting the establishment of private cemeteries of a religious character.
Laws concerning civil marriage and civil registry were also approved and passed. By these the clergy lost its ancient right of legally establishing the family. Since that time this has become a function of the State, with the Church absolutely cut off from its former practices. So great was the opposition made everywhere by the clergy against these laws, stigmatizing them as "sacrilegious," that the country seemed on the verge of a revolution. The year of these reforms, 1884, was also the year of the law of personal rights, which limited to certain determined cases the right of the judicial and administrative authorities to arrest private persons.
This was not all that was done by the reform spirit animating the Santa María administration. It also fought, as for some time liberalism had been fighting, to restrict the powers of the president of the republic. One law provided that every constitutional reform which the president of the republic might reject or veto should be passed, however, if congress insisted upon it, by a two-thirds vote of each house. Another law (1885), that of home rule (régimen interior), deprived the intendants and governors of many of their prerogatives; and, finally, a reform of the election law extended suffrage to every [male] Chilean twenty-five years old who could read and write, without the necessity of having the income required by the Constitution of 1833 as a condition for exercising this right. This was universal suffrage in full measure.a
The government of Santa María was not, however, one of political liberty; far from it, indeed, for no president exercised to the same extent as he did the right of intervening in elections — the basis for all the other powers. In this way he made congresses and excluded his adversaries from the ballot box by all kinds of violence. The congress of 1885 had special interest because on its composition depended the election of the next president. This time, official intervention went to deplorable extremes, occasioning bloody disturbances. But although the government obtained an overwhelming majority, the disorganization now affecting the liberal groups immediately transformed the legislative assembly into a veritable camp. Many of the older liberals broke with their party and acted independently, thus swelling the ranks of the opposition. They were p341 called "the unattached." Many radicals did the same with respect to their party; and thus was constituted a formidable opposing coalition composed of radicals and dissenting liberals, who united with the conservatives.
The motive provoking the want of harmony in the bosom of liberalism was none other than the discord into which their groups were thrown over the presidential candidate to succeed Santa María. The parties of the government (national, liberal, and non-dissenting radical) had as their candidate, José Manuel Balmaceda, who was also the candidate of the chief of state.
This politician at forty-five years of age had spent twenty years in public life. He had been an excellent student in the seminary at Santiago and had even shown a predilection for the priesthood; but, on leaving the hall of learning, literary and scientific reading drew him away from his faith. In the silence of the country, where he spent some time in agricultural pursuits, the rebellion of his spirit seemed to be strengthened, and, on entering politics, he became a liberal and a reformer. Rich, distinguished, tall in stature, he succeeded without the professional title that was almost necessary for those who aspired to leadership. He had a facility for words, and was graceful in delivery and brilliant in expression. During the administration of Errázuriz and Pinto, he was frequently heard in the house of deputies, in reform clubs, and in public assemblies. And finally, during the Santa María administration, he was minister of interior and an important, if not a principal, factor in the theological and constitutional reforms accomplished during that period.
When Balmaceda became official candidate for the presidency of the republic, the unattached liberals and conservatives opposed him stubbornly in the legislature. They tried to overthrow the cabinet that had been appointed to intervene in the presidential election, but did not succeed. Then they adopted an extreme measure. The term of the tax bill was to expire on January 5, 1886. In order to be able to make collections, the new bill had to be enacted on that day. If it were not, the government would lack funds to carry on the administration. The numerous minority, composed of influential men, unceasingly obstructed the passage of that bill in the house of deputies. January 5 arrived, and the bill could not be passed. The ministry would have to fall and the candidacy of Balmaceda would be withdrawn. The majority then convened the house in permanent session. Pedro Montt presided over that assembly. At daybreak on January 9, 1886, Montt declared the p342 debate closed on the tax bill, in the midst of the most heated protests of the opposition, which tried to keep up its objection. Put to a vote, the bill was naturally approved. With this action of the majority, the ministry was saved and also the Balmaceda candidacy. The electoral struggle assumed a violent character. Again blood ran, but all resistance was useless. The intervening governmental force brought victory to the candidate whom it supported.
The government of José Manuel Balmaceda was characterized from the beginning by extraordinary political and administrative activity. His first cabinet, headed by Eusebio Lillo, was formed of persons acceptable to the opposition minority. It was the purpose of the president to unite anew all liberal groups or, as he said, "to reconcile the great liberal family," leaving only the conservatives in opposition. It did not last, however, more than two months. It was then replaced by a ministry of reconciliation, as it was called, because in it were included two men of the liberal national opposition. But neither did this cabinet maintain itself in power very long, and after its fall there followed an unavoidable ministerial rotation, aided by the most confused political disorganization. Nevertheless, the president desired to carry on the government in peace with all factions, and even tried to cajole the conservatives by settling the archiepiscopal controversy that had originated in the former administration in accordance with the wishes of the papal court. With the naming of Mariano Casanova as archbishop of Santiago in 1887, harmonious relations with the pope were restored.
Meanwhile the public revenue kept increasing rapidly and afforded a relief never before attained by the national treasury. It rose from thirty-seven millions in 1886 to fifty-eight and a half million in 1890. The active exploitation and exportation of nitrates in Tarapacá and Antofagasta now began to bring into the State many millions of pesos annually through the operation of the customs tax which was levied on its exportation. This tax, together with the other duties levied on trade which increased with unusual rapidity (for annual imports increased from forty-four million pesos in 1886 to sixty-eight million in 1890), fostered by the prosperity of all the productive resources of the country, permitted the government to make considerable disbursements in undertakings and services of social importance, the necessity of which began to be manifest.
p343 During this time great public works were continued or begun which were to give luster to the Balmaceda administration and to remain as testimony of its industrious and enterprising spirit. The mere enumeration of them is a long task in itself: more than a thousand kilometers of railroads; many safe bridges over rivers in the central zone; extensive wagon roads repaired or newly surveyed; the service of telegraph lines and the installation of running water in many cities; many large, commodious buildings for intendencias, government offices, jails, hospitals, and primary schools; the canalization of the Mapocho River in all its course through the city of Santiago; the construction of wharves in different ports and of the great breakwater at Talcahuano; and many other betterments. It was a veritable orgy of material progress and even a new department of state had to be created to look after it — the ministry of public works in 1887, which now made a sixth ministry.
On the other hand, public instruction also obtained favorable attention. Higher studies were revised, especially the courses in medicine. The Pedagogic Institute (Instituto pedagógico) was founded in 1889 for the purpose of forming a corps of teachers of secondary education. A new system called "concentric" was installed in this institution. New lycées for boys and girls and the first lycées for girls were founded. The National Dormitory (Internado nacional)b with room for about a thousand students was built as a complement to the National Institute. Primary education was again regulated, standardized, and extended by the founding of hundreds of schools. In intellectual as well as in material effort, then, the administration of Balmaceda set itself to realize works that were enduring and of positive value for the country.
In a different department of governmental activity, that of financial administration, important reforms were also introduced. The taxing system was modified in an effort to make it more nearly equal for different social classes; and along with the ancient alcabala other imposts of minor importance were suppressed. Furthermore, there was created the tribunal of accounts, an office to inspect the expenditure of funds of the State. Part of the public debt was canceled; but paper money was not redeemed.
The army and navy also were considerably improved. The land forces renewed their equipment, changing it entirely for the more modern type in use in Europe; and, to increase the fleet, the construction of two new cruisers and two torpedo boats was ordered. Finally, colonization in the south and immigration were amply furthered by the State.
p344 The republic seemed on the way to safe and rapid growth. However, a great calamity came upon the country during that period (1886‑1887). This was the cholera, an epidemic that caused enormous damage and innumerable deaths; but at least it obliged the country to reform completely its charitable and health services.
On the other hand, the laboring class in the cities, now partly conscious of its right to a freer and more cultured life, began to organize itself into societies and to show discontent by provoking the first strikes ever known in Chile. This agitation, among other causes, was brought about by the lowering of international exchange, which, lessening the value of paper money, cut down the day's wage, raised the price of food, and encouraged the immigration of foreigners, who, entering into competition with Chilean workmen, prevented the raising of wages. These movements were the origin and reason for the existence of the democratic party, a small but unruly group founded in 1887, which from that time on began to take part in electoral and political struggles under the intelligent and firm direction of Malaquías Concha, a lawyer of note, who founded and aided it for many years, until it became an important factor in the government. The seed then sown has borne even more fruit since his day.
Internal policy was complicated by all this. The old parties, more disordered than ever, broken up into different groups and almost dissolved, failed to come to an understanding with the executive. Ministries came and went. One after another, combinations were formed today only to fall tomorrow. As before, the president was the most powerful elector of congress. Although official intervention in elections during this period did not reach the frequently bloody character of the preceding period, it was not for that reason less effective. However, the president perceived that those who were friendly to him during the period of their candidacy became hostile to him when once elected. But above all else he wished to show himself liberal, and so he assisted and even took the lead in electoral reforms that congress was forced to sanction. A law was enacted declaring that the "majority" age for exercising the electoral right should be twenty-one years instead of twenty-five as fixed by the constitution; the position of "substitute deputy," created by the former law, was suppressed and the "cumulative vote" was extended to all elections. It will be remembered that in the constitutional reforms of 1874 senators were excluded from that type of election.
p345 Those reforms, which broadened the right of suffrage, which offered to minorities an expeditious means of strengthening their representation in both branches of congress by the use of the cumulative vote, and which tended to democratize the government still more, were not put in force under the presidency of Balmaceda because, on nearing the end of his term, the extraordinary controversy concerning internal policy which arose did not permit him to develop any initiative but fatally brought him to revolution and civil war.
During the year 1890 president Balmaceda found himself involved in the gravest constitutional conflict that up to that time had ever existed in the republic. The opposition had come to be a majority in congress. The political camps were marked off with great precision. On the side of the government there was only a narrow liberal nucleus, and on the side of the opposition, a real amalgamation of parties — unattached liberals, nationals, radicals, and conservatives. This majority criticised governmental acts with uncontrollable persistence. An abundance of paper money had introduced prodigality in administrative affairs, as shown in useless employees, exaggerated cost of public works, and pensions dispensed abroad. Here the opposition had its chance to lash the president.
The official candidate to succeed Balmaceda was now under discussion and for this honor Enrique Salvador Sanfuentes, then minister of the interior, had been designated. Parliamentary opposition was used at that point to break down the cabinet and the candidacy. The president, already greatly annoyed, maintained that congress had no more right to impose on him a minister of its choice than to prescribe for him the clothes he ought to wear and the food he ought to eat. The parliamentary majority then denied him authorization to collect the taxes. It was the same weapon that had been wielded against Santa María, with the difference, certainly essential, that on that occasion it was the minority that wielded it. The president finally gave way and named a new cabinet to the satisfaction of the majority. The tax measure was adopted.
But then came still more serious events. The "cabinet of conciliation" fell, and the president substituted for it another from the minority led by Claudio Vicuña. Congress had now closed its session; it could not, therefore, censure the act. But the appropriation bill for 1891 had not been discussed or approved. For this purpose the president ought to have convened congress in extraordinary p346 session, but he did not do so. Thus January 1, 1891, arrived. The president issued a manifesto to the country declaring that the same appropriation bill would be in force for that year as for the previous year. The constitutional conflict came to an end. The president concluded by violating the constitution and assuming actual dictatorship.
In the face of such an attitude, congress answered immediately with revolution. At daybreak on January 7, 1891, the vessels of the national fleet anchored in Valparaiso Bay raised anchor and went northward to open the insurrection against the executive. The naval captain, Jorge Montt, was in command of the vessels with the title of commander of the fleet by appointment of the vice-presidentc of the senate, Waldo Silva, and the president of the house of deputies, Ramón Barros Luco. At the same time there was published an act signed by a majority of the members of congress by which President Balmaceda was deposed for having violated the constitution of the republic. News of these events circulated throughout the country with the speed and force of lightning. The country was in full civil war. Of the fleet, Balmaceda had left only a few transports, but the army, which was determined to support the dictatorship without reflection, remained loyal to him.
The revolutionists established their government at Iquique. It was directed by a junta which was composed of Montt, Silva, and Barros. After several encounters they took possession of the provinces of Tacna, Tarapacá, Antofagasta, and Atacama, and organized an army, employing the most modern weapons that they could get in Europe and using funds obtained principally from the nitrate revenues. As the population of those provinces showed themselves almost entirely favorable to congress, it was not necessary to carry on cruel persecutions against them after the authorities were deposed and the garrisons conquered.
Balmaceda, in turn, augmented his army with prodigious activity. His agents formed levies of countrymen who were taken away from their work by force. He declared the whole country in a state of siege, deposed the revolutionary congress, decreed new elections, and constituted a new congress. He brought together a convention which named Claudio Vicuña as candidate after the presidency of the republic. Vicuña was elected in June without opposition. He issued paper money and made requisitions of crops and animals from the farms of his enemies. On the other hand, he deprived of office all public officials who opposed him, imprisoned all men that seemed p347 dangerous, closed the opposition presses, and established a diligent espionage over all prominent homes.
The military operations were long and bloody, as were also the naval operations. Among these, the sinking of the cruiser Blanco Encalada,º the flagship of the constitutional fleet, was to be deplored. During the revolution there arrived from England the torpedo boats, Condell and Lynch, the construction of which had been previously ordered. Put at the service of the dictatorship, they waylaid the Blanco Encalada, anchored in Caldera, and a torpedo from the Lynch sank it.
The revolution lasted more than seven months and its end was not yet in sight. Meanwhile, the great majority of the country declared themselves opposed to Balmaceda. Everywhere conspiracies were formed against him and guerrilla bands organized. The jails overflowed with political prisoners, and in them torture was a common means of drawing out confessions in regard to revolutionary secrets. Indignation reached its height when a party of young men of wealthy families were surprised while organizing a guerrilla band in Lo Cañas, a farm near Santiago belonging to the conservative leader, Carlos Walker Martínez. Troops attacked them unexpectedly and many were killed. The prisoners were executed on the spot.
Finally, in the middle of August the revolutionary army, composed of ten thousand men, landed at Quinteros, a little north of Valparaiso, under the command of Colonel Estanislao del Canto. Balmaceda now had forty thousand soldiers but could send only a fourth of that number against the enemy. The battle occurred at Concón, near the mouth of the Aconcagua River. The army of the dictator was routed. The prisoners took arms on the side of the conquerors on August 21, 1891. Seven days later a new battle took place at Placilla, near Valparaiso, which was a fresh victory for the revolutionists and this time definitive. The two battles cost the contenders a loss of eight thousand men, including killed and wounded. Among the first was the illustrious commander of the army, General Orozimbo Barboza.
Midday of August 28 had hardly passed when result of the battle at Placilla, which occurred that morning, was known in Valparaiso and in Santiago. Valparaiso surrendered to the emissaries of the revolution; but it was the victim of a frightful pillage, inflicted by the rabble round about. The capital had no better fate. The houses of men well known to be in sympathy with the dictatorship p348 and also many places of private business were destroyed the following morning in broad daylight. The same thing also occurred in adjacent suburbs.
But the pillage in Santiago was inexcusable. Balmaceda had abdicated power early on the morning of the twenty-ninth in favor of General Manuel Baquedano, a neutral in the contest, and had placed a whole military division at his orders to guard the inhabitants. The general intervened too tardily, however, in repressing the excesses.
Some days later, Jorge Montt and the other members of the junta of government arrived to install themselves in the capital. The revolution of 1891 was over. It had cost the nation ten thousand lives and more than a hundred million pesos; and it had cost private persons enormous sacrifices and losses. In return, the country gained a new political rule, that of parliamentarism, by which the executive power was made subject to congress. One could not make sure that this result was sufficient compensation.
Meanwhile, after his abdication, President Balmaceda had taken refuge in the Argentine legation. From here he could look upon the glorification of his adversaries and the manifestations of wrath and vengeance against his person and his friends. Nervous and disquieted, he awaited in his hiding place the day which should end the period of his presidency. He could have fled, putting the ranges of the Andes between himself and his avengers. In Argentina he could have found refuge, as so many of his partisans already had done; but he considered flight unworthy. He thought for a moment of giving himself up to his enemies and awaiting the hour to defend himself; but he feared he would not be respected by those who should judge him.
He formed then an irrevocable resolution — suicide. September 18, 1891 arrived, the legal end of his period. He wrote several letters to members of his family and to his most intimate friends. He also wrote a kind of manifesto, his political testament, in which he explained and tried to justify his acts. On the next day he arose early and dressed himself in severe black; then lying on his bed, he took a revolver, pressed the barrel to his right temple, and fired the shot which instantly killed him.
1 See Evans, Chile and its Relations with the United States, pp112‑118.
2 For an unfriendly view of the attitude of the Santa María government toward this mission, see Carlos Walker Martínez, Historia de la administración de Santa María, Vol. I, chap. vii.
a Women obtained the right to vote in 1934, long after Galdames published the first edition of this book, and only about a year before his seventh updated edition.
b A very peculiar translation; better would be: National Boarding School.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 7 Nov 09