The Liberal Era, 1861-91

The Liberal Era, 1861-91

Following Pérez's peaceful ten-year administration, Chilean presidents were prohibited from running for election to a second consecutive term by an 1871 amendment to the constitution. Pérez was succeeded as president by Federico Errázuriz Zañartu (1871-76), Aníbal Pinto Garmendia (1876-81), and Domingo Santa María González (1881-86), the latter two serving during the War of the Pacific (1879-83). All formed coalition governments in which the president juggled a complicated array of party components.

The Liberal Party (Partido Liberal--PL), the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador--PC), and the National Party (Partido Nacional--PN) were formed in 1857. Once the Liberal Party replaced the Conservative Party as the dominant party, the Liberal Party was in turn challenged from the left by the more fervent reformists of the Radical Party (Partido Radical--PR). A spin-off from the Liberal Party, the Radical Party was founded in 1861. Reformists of the Democrat Party (Partido Demócrata), which in turn splintered from the Radical Party in 1887, also challenged the Liberal Party. The National Party also vied with the Conservatives and Liberals to represent upper-class interests. Derived from the Montt presidency, the National Party took a less proclerical, more centrist position than that of the Conservatives. Party competition escalated after the electoral reform of 1874 extended the franchise to all literate adult males, effectively removing property qualifications.

Like Montt, most Liberal chief executives were centrists who introduced change gradually. Their administrations continued to make incremental cuts in church privileges but tried not to inflame that issue. Secularization gradually gained ground in education, and Santa María transferred from the church to the state the management birth, marriage, and death records.

Even during internal and external conflicts, Chile continued to prosper. When Spain attempted to reconquer Peru, Chile engaged in a coastal war (1864-66) with the Spaniards, whose warships shelled Valparaíso. Once again, Chile asserted its sway over the west coast of South America. Farming, mining, and commerce grew steadily until the world depression of the 1870s, when Chile again turned to a war against its Andean neighbors.

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