Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

according to the rites of the Roman Catholic religion, and all registers of births and deaths were kept by the parish priests. Civil employees were now appointed under the new laws to attend to this work. Formerly the cemeteries were entirely under the control of the Church, and, with the exception of a few places specially created for the purpose, were reserved solely for the burial of Roman Catholics. Under the new regime these cemeteries were made common to the dead of all religions. Under President Perez, in 1865, a clause in the law of constitution had been introduced permitting the exercise of all creeds of religion, and this was now put into practice, all restrictions being removed. On several occasions, notably in 1882 and 1885, President Santa Maria used his influence in the elections of senators and deputies to congress for the purpose of creating a substantial majority in his favour. He was induced to take this course in consequence of the violent opposition raised in the chambers by the liberal policy he pursued in connexion with Church matters. This intervention caused great irritation amongst the Conservatives and dissentient Liberals, and the political situation on more than one occasion became so strained as to bring the country to the verge of armed revolution. No outbreak, however, took place, and in 1886 the five years of office for which President Santa Maria had been elected came to an end, and another Liberal, Señor José Manuel Balmaceda, then succeeded to power.

The election of Balmaceda was bitterly opposed by the Conservatives and dissentient Liberals, but was finally successfully carried by the official influence exercised by President Santa Maria. On assuming office President Balmaceda Balmaceda elected president.endeavoured to bring about a reconciliation of all sections of the Liberal party in congress and so form a solid majority to support the administration, and to this end he nominated as ministers representatives of the different political groups. Six months later the cabinet was reorganized, and two most bitter opponents to the recent election of President Balmaceda were accorded portfolios. Believing that he had now secured the support of the majority in congress on behalf of any measures he decided to put forward, the new president initiated a policy of heavy expenditure on public works, the building of schools, and the strengthening of the naval and military forces of the republic. Contracts were given out to the value of £6,000,000 for the construction of railways in the southern districts; some 10,000,000 dollars were expended in the erection of schools and colleges; three cruisers and two sea-going torpedo boats were added to the squadron; the construction of the naval port at Talcahuano was actively pushed forward; new armament was purchased for the infantry and artillery branches of the army, and heavy guns were acquired for the purpose of permanently and strongly fortifying the neighbourhoods of Valparaiso, Talcahuano and Iquique. In itself this policy was not unreasonable, and in many ways extremely beneficial for the country. Unfortunately corruption crept into the expenditure of the large sums necessary to carry out this programme. Contracts were given by favour and not by merit, and the progress made in the construction of the new public works was far from satisfactory. The opposition in congress to President Balmaceda began to increase rapidly towards the close of 1887, and further gained ground in 1888. In order to ensure a majority favourable to his views, the president threw the whole weight of his official influence into the elections for senators and deputies in 1888; but many of the members returned to the chambers through this official influence joined the opposition shortly after taking their seats. In 1889 congress became distinctly hostile to the administration of President Balmaceda, and the political situation became grave, and at times threatened to involve the country in civil war. According to usage and custom in Chile, a ministry does not remain in office unless supported by a majority in the chambers. Balmaceda now found himself in the impossible position of being unable to appoint any ministry that could control a majority in the senate and chamber of deputies and at the same time be in accordance with his own views of the administration of public affairs. At this juncture the president assumed that the constitution gave him the power of nominating and maintaining in office any ministers he might consider fitting persons for the purpose, and that congress had no right of interference in the matter. The chambers were now only waiting for a suitable opportunity to assert their authority. In 1890 it was stated that President Balmaceda had determined to nominate and cause to be elected as his successor at the expiration of his term of office in 1891 one of his own personal friends. This question of the election of another president brought matters to a head, and congress refused to vote supplies to carry on the government. To avoid trouble Balmaceda entered into a compromise with congress, and agreed to nominate a ministry to their liking on condition that the supplies for 1890 were voted. This cabinet, however, was of short duration, and resigned when the ministers understood the full amount of friction between the president and congress. Balmaceda then nominated a ministry not in accord with the views of congress under Señor Claudio Vicuña, whom it was no secret that Balmaceda intended to be his successor in the presidential chair, and, to prevent any expression of opinion upon his conduct in the matter, he refrained from summoning an extraordinary session of the legislature for the discussion of the estimates of revenue and expenditure for 1891. When the 1st of January 1891 arrived, the president published a decree in the Diario Oficial to the effect that the budget of 1890 would be considered the official budget for 1891. This act was illegal and beyond the attributes of the executive power. As a protest against the action of President Revolution of 1891.Balmaceda, the vice-president of the senate, Señor Waldo Silva, and the president of the chamber of deputies, Señor Ramon Barros Luco, issued a proclamation appointing Captain Jorje Montt in command of the squadron, and stating that the navy could not recognize the authority of Balmaceda so long as he did not administer public affairs in accordance with the constitutional law of Chile. The majority of the members of the chambers sided with this movement, and on the 7th of January Señores Waldo Silva, Barros Luco and a number of senators and deputies embarked on board the Chilean warship “Blanco Encalada,” accompanied by the “Esmeralda” and “O’Higgins” and other vessels, sailing out of Valparaiso harbour and proceeding northwards to Tarapaca to organize armed resistance against the president (see Chilean Civil War). It was not alone this action of Balmaceda in connexion with congress that brought about the revolution. He had alienated the sympathy of the aristocratic classes of Chile by his personal vanity and ambition. The oligarchy composed of the great landowners have always been an important factor in the political life of the republic; when President Balmaceda found that he was not a persona grata to this circle he determined to endeavour to govern without their support, and to bring into the administration a set of men who had no traditions and with whom his personality would be all-powerful. The Clerical influence was also thrown against him in consequence of his radical ideas in respect of Church matters.

Immediately on the outbreak of the revolution President Balmaceda published a decree declaring Montt and his companions to be traitors, and without delay organized an army of some 40,000 men for the suppression of the insurrectionary movement. While both sides were preparing for extremities, Balmaceda administered the government under dictatorial powers with a congress of his own nomination. In June 1891 he ordered the presidential election to be held, and Señor Claudio Vicuña was duly declared chosen as president of the republic for the term commencing in September 1891. The resources of Balmaceda were running short on account of the heavy military expenses, and he determined to dispose of the reserve of silver bullion accumulated in the vaults of the Casa de Moneda in accordance with the terms of the law for the conversion of the note issue. The silver was conveyed abroad in a British man-of-war, and disposed of partly for the purchase of a fast steamer to be fitted as an auxiliary cruiser and partly in payment for other kinds of war material.