No. 29.
Mr. Williamson to Mr. Fish.

No. 8.]

Sir: My official residence for the past six years in Peru and Chili gave me ample opportunity to observe the laws and customs of the people. I have the honor, therefore, to submit to the Department a brief review of the political parties in Chili from the year 1851 to the present time.

During the last two months have been held throughout Chili the elections for the several municipalities of the various departments of the republic, of senators and representatives, and on the 25th ultimo that of President, this last resulting in the choice of Señor Don Anibal Pinto chief magistrate for the constitutional period of five years from the 18th of next September.

With this single announcement in former years, indeed during the entire history of Spanish America, this dispatch might have closed, so notorious being the fact that heretofore the masses had little, if any, participation in the choice of their rulers, that the interest of such events was purely local, and, unless to fill a paragraph, scarcely chronicled in a foreign periodical.

I am, therefore, probably the first to place on record in the Department the testimony that Chili has now taken a stride far in advance of her sister states, and if the promise of progress in self-government now evinced by the people be realized, she will soon have little to envy in the political states of older nations.

I may be pardoned in giving a very brief retrospect of her history, which will at least serve as a frame for the more pleasing picture she now presents us.

Until 1851 the Presidents of Chili were either fortunate generals or statesmen of no extraordinary ability, governed by their chief ministers, who invariably succeeded them, and by cliques of the conservative and ultramontane parties, then the dominant ones of the country.

In 1851 General Bulnes, wishing to force upon the nation his minister, Don Manuel Moutt, plunged the country into the most sanguinary civil war ever known in South America, terminating, in the battle of Longomilla, in the fulfillment of Bulnes’s wishes and the presidency of his favorite; but the party which opposed this choice, and which had been slowly and steadily increasing, though a minority, was a dangerous one, comprising the youth and talent of Chili.

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Montt, gifted with great ability and vast tenacity of purpose, earnestly seconded by his minister, Varas, able as himself, and by a Congress of his own election, did all in his power during two successive administrations to crush out the growing and fast-strengthening liberal party. Public meetings were disbanded by armed force, and the prominent men attending those meetings exiled, either forcibly or self-imposed. The colleges and the capitals, the lecture-rooms and saloons, of the United States and Europe were for years frequented by the most talented of young Chilian lawyers and others respected here for their wealth or social position, all of whom returned with hatred more intense toward the existing state of things, and with an enlarged liberal political experience, and a still greater indifference to the church teachings and traditions in which they had been educated.

The tension exerted by the church party was too great for even Montt. Trivial causes burst the bonds that united them. His administration was compelled to act on the defensive, and the fire, long smoldering, at last broke out in flame to gladden the hearts of all lovers of liberal institutions, and never again to be extinguished in Chili.

The opposition continued to increase, and when Montt’s term of office expired neither he nor his party dared brave public indignation to the extent of transmitting the government to his minister, identified as he was with his chief in every act of his administration; and Perez, nominated as his successor by some fifty self-named electors, was chosen with but slight opposition.

The latter proved false to those who elevated him, and during the ten years of his two administrations Chili can scarcely be said to have been governed, unless the aphorism of Lord Bacon be true, that “the best government is that which governs least.”

During these ten years of rest, however, Chili was schooling herself for her future destinies.

The apathy of the Perez administration became distasteful to the people. Even Spain came and battered down part of Valparaiso without a protest scarcely from the government.

For the first time great public meetings were convened in the plazas and elsewhere; rival newspapers were spread broadcast over the country; the shackles which until now had trammeled the press were gone, and it became then, almost what it is now, simply licentious.

Parties long disunited began to coalesce. The Montt party, long under the ban, fraternized with its former victims, the radicals, and conjointly their candidate was nominated for 1872.

The ultramontane party was still gathering strength, while the conservatives, their necessary and natural allies, retained their great prestige. The one possessed talent and that unflagging energy which has always, here as elsewhere, characterized it. The others monopolized the wealth of the country. These two parties united upon the favorite of the government, and the result could hardly be doubtful. The canvass was an earnest one. The church party dreamed of a millennium, and the opposition foresaw a repetition of the decade of Montt.

Don Federico Errázuriz was elected by an immense majority. The church seemed to think that a new Messiah had been born to it, and Chili for a moment held her breath and looked tremblingly toward the future. It was only for a moment.

Up to this period, the Department will have observed that Chili, governed exclusively by the church and conservatives, with a brief interval during the administration of Montt, had advanced but little in the way of self-government.

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Don Federico Errázuriz, the present President, a man of extraordinary ability, fearless and energetic beyond all his contemporaries, had scarcely assumed the reins of government when, whether from conviction or policy, he gave ample evidence that those who had elected him had been deceived. One by one reforms, at his instigation, were being presented to Congress. His minister of justice, the friend of the ultramontanes, was forced to resign, and at the close of the second year of his administration the country discovered, to its utter astonishment, that the President was far in advance of all reformers, and was virtually the chief of the liberal party.

Reform followed reform. Again party lines were broken up. The church found itself not only in opposition, but, if we believe its organs, persecuted. The radicals were voting with the government. The climax came in the attempted abolition of the fifth article of the constitution, which makes the Roman Catholic religion the exclusive one. The grave-yards were the first time opened to the Protestant as to the Catholic, and the Protestant might marry a Catholic without his wife being looked upon as a concubine or his children as illegitimate.

The accumulated vote was adopted, thus favoring minorities, and the qualification for voters was changed from owning property worth two hundred dollars to that of being able to read and write. The term of electing a President of the republic was reduced to a single term of five years. Abroad Chili maintained intact her well-sustained credit, and finally, one year ago, when it became necessary to determine upon the future President, the radicals found that their platform was identical with the policy, now well proven, of the present administration.

The church party, still a unit, was of itself unable to elect a few representatives without the aid of the malcontents who were opposed to the present government; its leaders, therefore, united their strength on Señor Vecuña Mackenna, the most voluminous writer in Chili, and of indefatigable energy, and nominated him as their candidate for President of the republic.

The government convened a convention, composed of a thousand distinguished citizens, and, notwithstanding that all the influence of the President and his cabinet was thrown into the balance in favor of Don Anibal Pinto, this gentleman was nominated only by a majority of sixty.

For fourteen months, until the 25th ultimo, the canvass was unparalleled in the history of South America; almost daily meetings were held by one or the other party. It is impossible to deny that the government has used its vast power to influence the election, but never before in Chili has more ample liberty been given to an opposition.

The result was as already stated—Pinto was elected; but the experience of the political canvass just closed will not be lost. Chili has advanced very many years, and I am satisfied that the next President will be as fairly and honestly elected as has been the Chief Magistrate of our own country. This is saying much for Chili, for one must remember the origin and the influence brought to bear during long years against everything like progress, or even a fair expression of public opinion.

The newly-elected President is a man of refined education, high social position, and his antecedents are a guarantee that the honor of Chili, her progress and her welfare, will be safe in his hands. His tendencies are unquestionably anti church or ultramontane, and no doubt during his administration the union of church and state will be dissolved.

I have, &c.,