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History of Chile during the Parliamentary Era (1891–1925)

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Title: History of Chile during the Parliamentary Era (1891–1925)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of Chile, Chile, Economy of Chile, Index of Chile-related articles, Parliamentary Republic
Collection: 19Th Century in Chile, 20Th Century in Chile, History of Chile
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

History of Chile during the Parliamentary Era (1891–1925)

Republic of Chile
República de Chile

Flag Coat of arms
Himno Nacional de Chile
Capital Santiago
Languages Spanish
Religion Roman Catholicism (official religion) until 1925
Government Parliamentary Republic
 •  1891–1896 Jorge Montt first
 •  1925 - 1925 Arturo Alessandri Palma last
 •  Civil War September 18, 1891
 •  Constitution of 1925 September 18, 1925
Currency Chilean peso
Former National Congress in Santiago de Chile, ex-seat of the parliamentary power.

The Parliamentary Era in Chile began in 1891, at the end of the Civil War, and spanned until 1925 and the establishment of the 1925 Constitution. Also called "pseudo-parliamentary" period or "Parliamentary Republic", this period was thus named because it established a quasi-parliamentary system based on the interpretation of the 1833 Constitution following the defeat of President José Manuel Balmaceda during the Civil War. As opposed to a "true parliamentary" system, the executive was subject to the legislative but checks and balances of executive over the legislature were weakened. The President remained the head of state but its powers and control of the government were reduced. The Parliamentary Republic lasted until the 1925 Constitution drafted by President Arturo Alessandri and his minister José Maza. The new Constitution created a presidential system, which lasted, with several modifications, until the 1973 coup d'état.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chile temporarily resolved its border disputes with Argentina with the Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina, the Puna de Atacama Lawsuit of 1899 and the Cordillera of the Andes Boundary Case, 1902.


  • Parliamentarism 1
  • Political structure and electoral practices 2
  • Social groups 3
  • The economy of saltpeter 4
  • Presidents of the Parliamentary Republic 5
  • See also 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • Sources 8


The pseudo-parliamentary system was established in Chile following José Manuel Balmaceda's defeat in the 1891 Chilean Civil War. Whereas in a complete parliamentary system the chief of government is designed by the parliamentary majority, and usually belongs to it, the function of chief of government was hereby unofficially assumed by the Minister of Interior. The National Congress indirectly controlled his nomination and the rest of the cabinet through the vote of the periodical laws (leyes periódicas), that is the budget, the military credits, etc. Others means of control included the refusal, by any one of the two Chambers (Senate or Chamber of Deputies) to vote a motion of confidence or the refusal to vote laws of lesser importance proposed by the executive.

While the Parliament may withdraw his confidence to the Prime minister in a standard parliamentary system, the head of government is normally granted the power of dissolution of parliament, leading to the calling of new elections in order to have the sovereign people arbitrate between the legislative and the executive. However, in the Chilean system, the President of the Republic did not dispose of this power of dissolution, thus restricting his margins of decision.

The system of parties was very fluid, functioning on the basis of groups depending on individual personalities or caudillos who held the control of the parties and could form or dissolve cabinets. Furthermore, there was no established voting discipline in the parties. The custom was soon established for the President to nominate "universal cabinets" which included ministers from all parties. The stability of these cabinets was therefore dependent on the political intrigues in the National Congress.

universal direct suffrage.

Political structure and electoral practices

The main parties between 1891 and 1925 included, from right to left, the Conservative Party, close to the Roman Catholic Church; various liberal groups in the center belonging to the National Party (aka Monttvarista after Manuel Montt and Antonio Varas), the Liberal Party, the Liberal Democratic Party (or Balmacedista); and on the left the Radical Party and the Democrat Party. At the end of the 1910s, the Socialist Workers Party, associated with the labour movement, began to gain some importance.

These parties allied themselves either in the Coalition, grouping the Conservative Party and the liberals, or in the Liberal Alliance, composed by the liberals and the Radical Party.

As opposed to the municipalities of Chile, held by various local caudillos. Bribes, electoral fraud, stealing of ballot boxes were frequent in rural zones.

Social groups

Three main social classes composed the Parliamentary Republic: the oligarchy, the middle classes and the working classes.

The aristocracy was formed by the landlords, politics, saltpeter entrepreneurs (many of whom were foreigners), bankers, physicians, intellectuals, etc. They were used to live in neoclassic palaces or mansions, following European fashion, etc. The oligarchy, however, was internally divided on some points, explaining the many parties and the two main shifting alliances, with the liberals joining either the Conservative Party or the Radical Party.

The working classes were formed by saltpeter workers, industrial workers and workers in public works, as well as landless peasants. The first lived in the North, in huts made of Calamina, where differences in temperature between day and night spanned 30 degrees Celsius. Others workers lived in conventillos (dormitories) or in round quarters (rooms without windows or lighting). Peasants lived in ranches. All worked without contract between 12 to 16 hours daily without Sunday sabbath. Some were paid by company scrips.

The economy of saltpeter

Saltpeter was the main resource of Chile and all of the economy revolved around it. A third of the profits of saltpeter were taken by foreigners, another third by the state, which obtained it by taxing exports, and the last third was used to re-invest in the saltpeter mines. The state used the revenue received by saltpeter to build infrastructures (roads, railroads, ports, etc.).

Presidents of the Parliamentary Republic

The charge of Vice-President was exercised as an interim by the Minister of Interior if the President died.

See also


  • Castedo, Leopoldo (1999) Chile: Vida y muerte de la República Parlamentaria (De Balmaceda a Alessandri)
  • Donoso, Ricardo Alessandri, agitador y demoledor. Cincuenta años de historia política de Chile.
  • Edwards, Alberto (1976) La fornda aristocrática. Historia de Chile.
  • Eyzaguirre, Jaime Chile durante el gobienro de Errázuriz Echaurren 1896-1901.
  • Heise, Julio (1974) Historia de Chile. El periodo parlamentario 1861-1925
  • Vial, Gonzalo (1981) Historia de Chile (1891).


The original version of this article draws heavily on the corresponding article in the Spanish-language WorldHeritage, which was accessed in the version of 4 May 2007.

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