After the declaration of independence, the republic faced diverse difficulties of consolidation. Institutions became strong with the passage of time; years of anarchy were followed by conservative and liberal governments that would alternate in power. The military conflicts with Peru and Bolivia, along with the 1891 civil war, were particularly critical moments.
It was one thing to declare independence, but another to consolidate it. Power struggles, conspiracies, and political deaths prompted Bernardo O’Higgins to resign in 1823 and be exiled to Peru.
General Ramón Freire then took charge of the country and had to face a severe economic crisis and the resistance of royalists who had become strong in Chiloé and wanted to continue as part of Spain.
Governments came and went amidst disputes between liberals and conservatives until the latter finally imposed themselves under the leadership of the Chilean politician Diego Portales. The government was shored up around the figure of a president who concentrates the most power and allows the country to become politically stable.
The state under Portales
Diego Portales had a determinant influence in getting the National Congress to declare war on the Peru-Bolivia confederation in 1836. The rivalry between the Chilean port of Valparaiso and the Peruvian one of Callao, the debts incurred with Chile during the campaign for Peruvian independence and Bolivia’s military support for Ramón Freire, who was plotting an uprising against the conservative government, are some of the main reasons for the declaration of war.
Chile won and caused the division of Peru and Bolivia. However, no small number of Chilean officers was against the war and conspired against Portales, who was assassinated by members of the military in 1837.
Four decades later, tension between Chile and Bolivia for control over mining territories and saltpeter exploitation led to the War of the Pacific in 1879, which also involved Peru. The conflict lasted until 1884 and concluded with the conquest of new lands for Chile.
1891 civil war
The liberal government of Jose Manuel Balmaceda came to power in 1886. Saltpeter generated revenues that allowed the economy, education, and health to be modernized. Investment in public works was increased, the railway network is expanded, and Easter Island was incorporated into national territory.
The national development project led to a complex confrontation between the government and Congress, a conflict that leads to the 1891 civil war, the overthrowing of the government and the suicide of President Balmaceda.