Discussion of the Chilean revolution of 1891 has been in progress for almost three-quarters of a century, yet, despite this considerable period of investigation and interpretation, the origins, character and consequences of the revolution and the figure of José Manuel Balmaceda, protagonist of the revolutionary drama, are still subjects of much dispute among historians.2 This article is in part a study of the historiography of the revolution and in part a contribution to it: it assumes a knowledge of the main outlines of events in Chile during Balmaceda’s presidency, 1886-1891, and of the subsequent history of the republic.

Historians differ primarily on the question of responsibility for the revolution, but whereas the great majority see the struggle between Balmaceda and his Congress as a battle of political principles in which the contestants were activated by genuine conviction, others, who see the springs of political action primarily in social and economic circumstances, consider the basic issues in the conflict to have been about the economic organization and development of the republic. It is, therefore, possible and, indeed, convenient to speak of a dichotomy in the historiography of the revolution between “constitutional” historians on the one hand and “economic” historians on the other. These terms are not always mutually exclusive, but while the “constitutional” historian may not altogether ignore social and economic factors in the genesis of the revolution he does consider them relatively unimportant, whereas the “economic” historian may grant some validity to constitutional factors while still regarding them largely as a veneer.

For many reasons, the sources on the constitutional side bulk larger than on the social and economic. In the first place, social and economic issues in the Chile of 1891 had not yet provided scope for the organization of political parties along those lines, and it was not until the twentieth century, particularly with the growth of an industrial working class, that Chile’s political form really began to reflect changes in her social structure.3 Secondly, many interpretations of the revolution are part of the biography of the Chilean aristocracy, that unique social body which largely controlled the national life; it was natural, therefore, as the antagonists of 1891 were members of a homogeneous class proud of its political self-consciousness, that ideological differences should be stressed by historians, many of whom examined the same evidence afresh and came to individual conclusions. Again, contemporary propaganda at the outset of the revolution was primarily constitutional in tone: Balmaceda appealed to the written constitution, the Congressionalists to unwritten practice, and both sought support and sympathy by claiming to be the true representative of the nation’s wishes.4 Indeed, to argue in such terms was a prime duty of the Congressional agents abroad during 1891, and one basis of the widespread international interest in the conflict was precisely the belief that the civil war was a genuine struggle of constitutional ideas.5 This belief was fostered by the similarity of approach of both sides in justifying their conduct which may be illustrated by two contemporary pamphlets, indicating the position adopted by Congress and Balmaceda, the Legislative and Executive powers respectively, to defend their alleged prerogatives.

The Congressional view was summarized by Pedro Montt in the pamphlet he wrote in the United States.6 He based his argument on the assumption that as Congressional approval was necessary for the passage of essential laws, “no minister can carry on the government or exercise its functions without the . . . confidence of the legislative body.”7 This essential element of a parliamentary system, Montt continued, had been accepted even by Balmaceda, but the latter had broken with the practice in order to engineer the election of his chosen successor. Moreover, Congress had the power to remove the president if he were “unfit to discharge the duties of his office by reason of infirmity, absence or other grave cause.” In Balmaceda’s case, the “grave cause” was his openly unconstitutional act in declaring as laws the Appropriations and Forces Bills for 1891 which Congress had declined to pass in 1890.8 Montt asserted, in fact, that owing to the growth of unwritten precedent, a parliamentary system had developed in Chile which Balmaceda, for ulterior reasons, refused to acknowledge, he was, therefore, the real revolutionary and Congress the defender of the constitutional status quo.9

Typical of the Balmacedist counter-argument on constitutional lines was the pamphlet of Eulogio Allendes which was published in English during the civil war.10 He interpreted the events of 1890 and 1891 in terms of Chile’s written constitution, seeking thus to justify Balmaceda’s final and admittedly unconstitutional act. “The Constitution,” he said, “in none of its provisions empowers the House of Representatives to suspend the collection of taxes.”11 Balmaceda, then, faced with a recalcitrant Congress refusing to perform its constitutional duty, was forced to arrogate to himself powers not strictly his to maintain government. Furthermore, Congress itself had acted unconstitutionally long before Balmaceda in that, having been called in Extraordinary Session in 1890 for the exclusive purpose of passing specified and essential laws, it had exceeded this mandate and passed votes of censure against Balmaceda’s ministers. But the real crux of the question, said Allendes, was the presidential succession and control of the electoral machinery, and the revolution had really arisen from the desire for power of the Congressional opposition.

Historiographically, both of these ex parte pamphlets are significant for their emphasis on constitutional and political matters, and neither dilates upon economic and social factors in the genesis of the revolution.12 Much other contemporary material bears the same stamp. The Congressional records for 1890, the year of crisis before the revolution, testify to the seriousness of the constitutional differences between president and Congress, and little space is devoted to economic issues.13 Finally, though perhaps most significant of all, in both his Manifesto to the Nation of January 1, 1891, and in his Political Testament of September 18, 1891, written shortly before his suicide, Balmaceda himself expressly stated that the issues involved in the war were political and constitutional, and in neither of these magisterial documents did he so much as mention social and economic factors.14

Not surprisingly, therefore, much of the history of the revolution is written in terms of constitutional ideas and political maneuvers, and when Balmaceda, in one of his final letters, entrusted to Julio Bañados Espinosa the task of justifying his conduct to posterity, he unwittingly ensured that much of the revolution’s historiography would follow primarily constitutional lines.15

The work of Bañados is the first important study of Balmaceda, not least because the author was in a unique position to write it.16 Despite its partisanship it is detailed and erudite and, as a discussion of the constitutional issues of the revolution, it has not been superseded.17 Bañados claims that the apparent causes of the revolution—Balmaceda’s alleged denial of free elections, parliamentary rights, and individual liberties—were mere pretexts for Congressional action; the real causes were “political ambition in some and interest in others,” for the history of the Balmaceda administration was “a struggle between men and circles to obtain predominance in the Government and to decide the candidature for the Presidency of the Republic in the election of 1891.”18 He refutes Congressional arguments based on the written constitution of Chile, the opinions of eminent jurists, and the example of other states with similar systems.19 Bañados, however, also makes a number of allegations about the influence of foreign capital in Chile, asking rhetorically what influence the nitrate concessionaires had in the revolution.20 He also hints darkly at the link between the opposition to Balmaceda and the principal nitrate capitalist, John Thomas North.21 But he does not answer the tantalizing questions he poses, pleading the lack of such exact documentary evidence as would allow him to give other compromising details.22 It is noteworthy, however, that these questions and innuendo occupy a very small space in his book and, indeed, he devotes a mere twenty of his fifteen hundred pages to foreign interests in Chile, the emphasis throughout being on the personal ambitions of Chilean politicians.

In reply to Bañados, the great Brazilian, Joaquím Nabuco, published in the Jornal de Comércio of Rio de Janeiro a series of articles which subsequently appeared as a book.23 To Nabuco Balmaceda was an aspiring tyrant corrupted by power and the revolution “a matter of conscience not for the Dictator but for Congress.”24 For Balmaceda was the real revolutionary with his idea of a so-called “popular representative system” as opposed to the parliamentary regimen in Chile, itself the best form of government.25 Nabuco stressed Balmaceda’s increasing personalism throughout 1890, argued that his action in usurping the exclusive powers of Congress over supplies contained the seeds of dictatorship, and concluded that the fundamental cause of conflict was Balmaceda’s quarrel with the oligarchy to which he belonged.

But the most avowedly constitutional interpretation appeared long after the political passions of the 1890’s had died away: the study of Ricardo Salas Edwards is notable for its impartiality, seeking to justify Congress and to vindicate Balmaceda, each according to their lights, and seeing the revolution as inevitable.26 Thus, neither side was directly culpable, for “the heterogeneous opposition . . . was not fighting for a caudillo, neither was Balmaceda struggling to retain . . . power . . . both . . . claimed that they were the true and only defenders of traditional constitutional practice.”27 The revolution was a clash between opposing interpretations of the written constitution and of practices of government which had grown up in the nineteenth century. Salas Edwards also refutes the view that the revolution was suborned by financial interests and he denies that it was also a simple struggle for power by a class which believed in its hereditary right to rule, but he does not investigate either assertion very thoroughly.

Similar arguments were adduced by Joaquín Rodríguez Bravo, whose book presents the revolution as the result of Balmaceda’s failure to appreciate the strength and feeling of Congressional opinion, genuinely seeking to alter the autocratic nature of Chilean government.28 Other accounts of the revolution follow similar lines and some, interesting from the narrative rather than the historiographical point of view, are memoirs of individuals who took part in the events of 1891. Many were young men at the time and to them, in retrospect, the revolution appears as a great adventure, an honorable battle of principles, but they add little to the interpretive study of that event.29

Little positive advance in the constitutional interpretation was made until Yrarrázaval’s careful study of Balmaceda took a significant stage further the argument on precedent and the constitution so warmly debated by previous writers.30 His basic contention was that

the primary aim of the opposition parties, temporarily united against Balmaceda—with some acting from lofty and disinterested motives and others . . . moved by opportunism—was to put an end to the traditional interference of authority in elections.31

With this thesis as his guide, Yrarrázaval, in subsequent articles, categorically refuted the view that both foreign nitrate capitalists and native bankers had been so antagonized by Balmaceda’s economic policies that they took up arms against him.32

Any discussion of the Chilean revolution of 1891 must include the voluminous and controversial history of Francisco A. Encina.33 For him, the origins of the revolution stretch far back into Chile’s past, but the immediate cause of crisis lay also in the character of Balmaceda. Encina argued that, throughout the nineteenth century, the autocratic structure of government was gradually weakened and the process was marked by an idealization of electoral liberty, by a doctrinaire attitude to politics and by conflicts on religious issues. Reform of the constitution of 1833 and an end to interference in elections became invested by the Congressional opposition with the ideal character of a universal panacea but, unfortunately, this movement of opinion and ideas reached its apogee under Balmaceda, a man who never realized the character or strength of the forces against him, who, fixing his eyes on the goal of Chile’s material greatness, moved in a utopia unrestricted by realities, and whose character, complex and grandiose in the extreme, brought to a head the conflict between the political tendencies of the aristocracy and the established system of government. Balmaceda’s errors crystallized the problem: on the one hand stood the Congressional majority, now seeking to bend him to its will and implant electoral liberty and parliamentary government, on the other the President and his supporters, convinced that the opposition was activated solely by sordid ambitions and selfish desires, fighting to preserve and perpetuate a system of government long since doomed.34 For Encina also, the revolution was not inspired by economic forces; in its origins it was “political and sentimental and not one of interests.”35 Any belief in the influence of North’s gold and the antagonism of bankers and landowners to Balmaceda as motivating forces in the revolution is completely misleading and utterly wrong.36

Encina’s interpretation, it might be noted in passing, has something in common with that of Alberto Edwards Vives who put forward the thesis that “the political history of independent Chile is that of an aristocratic fronde almost always opposed to the authority of the Government and at times in open rebellion against it.”37 To Edwards, the revolution was a purely aristocratic, reactionary revolution, with its origins in the fact that the Constitution of 1833 depended upon a social class whose inherent characteristics—independence, love of power and a spirit of rebellious pride—were fundamentally opposed to the juridical organization of government.

Apart from the avowedly partisan work of Bañados, and allowing for differences of emphasis on personal and political factors, all the above interpretations of the revolution share the characteristic of either ignoring or refuting the belief that economic interests, both national and foreign, played a part in the genesis of the crisis. The “economic” aspect of its historiography derives from the conscious dissatisfaction of some historians with these views in the light of what they hold to be unequivocal material to suggest that economic and social factors were not only prominent in 1891 but may even have been paramount. This reaction to the “traditional” view has more than intrinsic interest in that its emergence is closely bound up with twentieth-century developments in both Chile and the outside world. First, Chile’s changing social and economic character under Alessandri and the Popular Front threw new emphasis on the revolution of 1891, for the striking contrast between the nineteenth- and twentieth-century history of Chile has caused some historians to regard the revolution as the real turning-point if not, indeed, the great tragedy of the republic. The tendency to speculate on the possible consequences of a Balmacedist victory has proved irresistible, and today Balmaceda is often regarded as a great national hero who was brought down by a nefarious combination of selfish and unpatriotic Chilean economic interests and acquisitive foreign capitalists, particularly British, both of whom felt threatened by Balmaceda.38 In a wider context, few historians today would deny the significance of economic and social factors in historical development while not necessarily espousing the Marxist historicist thesis. But the latter has had a profound effect where it is easy, often at a superficial level, to fit a country’s history into such an ideological framework, and Chile can be made to conform to this kind of treatment.39 Again, to a Marxist, it can appear that individuals are so unaware of the true motivation of their actions that the influences which move them are largely different from the reasons they would consciously formulate.40 This convenient, because unprovable, doctrine, if applied to the revolution of 1891, leads to the view that simply because the social and economic interests at stake are less apparent than the clash of personalities and the conflict of political ideas, this is insufficient ground for believing they are less important.

In fact, however, some facets of the Chilean revolution of 1891 seem to establish a priori reasons for investigating social and economic issues, though here a few examples must suffice. In March, 1891, Patrick Egan, the American Minister to Chile, reported home that John Thomas North had alone contributed £100,000 to the revolutionary cause.41 Earlier the British Minister had written:

It is at present the policy of the Government to ascribe the revolutionary movement to the desire of the Opposition to secure the riches of the province of Tarapacá (the nitrate region), and the Government newspapers are full of abuse of Colonel North and of rich individual Chileans who are alleged to have corrupted Chile by having developed the resources of Tarapacá.42

The special correspondent of The Times of London, Maurice Hervey, made scarcely-veiled references to North when he wrote from Chile:

Without quoting names, some of which are as well known upon the London Stock Exchange as the cardinal points of the compass, . . . the instigators, the wire-pullers, the financial supporters of the so-called revolution were, and are, the English or Anglo-Chilean owners of the vast nitrate deposits of Tarapacá.43

And he repeated these allegations in his subsequent account of his adventures in Chile in 1891.44 Balmaceda’s government itself put out propaganda on similar lines, arguing that the Chilean aristocracy, bankers, and foreign capitalists had plunged the country into bloody civil war.45 These views were reiterated in the Balmacedist Congress: on April 28, 1891, Bañados asked:

What part have the nitrate potentates played in our parliamentary struggles . . . over the last five years? Are not the President and his party the victims of the zeal with which they have defended the interests of the state in the northernmost parts of the country?

But I leave the answer to the conscience of my honourable colleagues . . . and of all thinking Chileans.46

And on May 2 the Deputy Acario Cotapos declared:

I have witnessed the spectacle of an eminent lawyer . . . becoming the leader of revolution . . . consorting with a detestable figure, with a millionaire, Mr. North, whose ambition knows no bounds and who, in order to satisfy it, had no scruples in allying with another millionaire in our own country to bring about our downfall.47

These random examples of contemporary statements implying the operation of economic factors in the genesis of the revolution can be multiplied, and they have been much used by later historians who are not satisfied with the “constitutional” interpretation. But the “economic” historiography of the revolution was really launched by Joaquín Villarino in his study of the Balmaceda administration.48 He asserted that the revolution, besides being a clash of ideas, was also a conflict of an economic and social kind with a sinister part being played by “the English nitrate entrepreneurs . . . with their lawyers and their deputies bought with high salaries.”49 Balmaceda had offended the landowners, affronted the clergy, disturbed the bankers, and worried the nitrate capitalists, particularly North, who had been thwarted in his desire to make a kind of “South American India” of Tarapacá.50 Similar assertions, especially about the corrupting influence of foreign gold, were made by a more prominent Balmacedist, José Miguel Valdes Carrera, a former Finance Minister, who, in a pamphlet written in exile, alleged that North and others had spent large sums of money in Chile to bribe public men to defend foreign interests at the expense of those of the state.51

These Balmacedist apologias were the starting-point of an “economic” interpretation of the revolution, though, in fact, this aspect of the historiography did not have the continuity of the “constitutional” view. Perhaps naturally, considerable attention has been paid by later writers to the alleged role of foreign nitrate capitalists in 1891 and, in this connection, it is interesting to note that the Chilean Radical Party declared in 1936 “that the enslaving of Chile to the foreign conquerors has only been made possible because of the treachery of a reactionary oligarchy, sold out to the gold of London and New York . . .,”52 a declaration remarkably similar in spirit, if not exactly in circumstance, to the Balmacedist propaganda during 1891. But substantive evidence is lacking and, consequently, some writers assert much but prove little. Thus, H. B. Williams claims that Chilean politicans could not accept Balmaceda’s policies for the nitrate industry because they derived such benefits from foreign nitrate companies, but he offers no substantiation.53 E. Freí Montalva points out that Balmacedist propaganda was on economic as much as constitutional lines, but does not dispute the validity of it.54

By far the most convincing theses on economic lines are those of the late Osgood Hardy and the Chilean historian, Hernán Ramírez Necochea. Hardy held that there was enough evidence to show that “British nitrate interests played a significant part in inspiring the Congresionalistas to rebel against the Balmacedistas.”55 After an excellent survey of the growth of the British nitrate industry and North’s key role in it, he went on to argue that Balmaceda had a policy for nitrates inimical of North’s interests, and concluded that the latter and others helped to finance the revolution which replaced Balmaceda by those more favorable to the nitrate capitalists.

Unlike Hardy, who used mostly secondary sources, Ramírez brought in new material to support his case. The main argument of his first study of the subject was admirably expressed in the foreword by Guillermo Feliú Cruz, who stated that

a coalition of bankers and landowners, mine-owners and industrialists, opposed to the financial and economic policy of Balmaceda which was rooted in nationalism, opposition to laissez-faire and in favour of the definite intervention of the state in the economic organization of the Republic, proposed—at the same time as defending the rights of the Constitution—to consign these ideas of Balmaceda to oblivion. . ..56

The author was, however, less concerned with Chilean nationals than with what he calls “English imperialism” in Chile, incarnated in John Thomas North, and here he traced in detail the network of personal and professional relationships built up between foreign capitalists and leading Chilean political and forensic figures.57 Ramírez then analyzed Balmaceda’s policies and concluded, with the support of a wide range of contemporary and later comments, that “the political parties were dominated by all the social and economic elements to which Balmaceda’s Government and policy were opposed.”58 The civil war of 1891 was no more than a violent reaction by these elements to Balmaceda’s economic policy. This is the most sustained and convincing attempt to explain the revolution essentially in social and economic terms.

The development of a modern “economic” interpretation of the revolution has been valuable, for it has focussed attention on factors hitherto largely neglected, and it has broken away from the somewhat sterile controversy between the Congressionalist and Balmacedist viewpoints in terms of the constitution. The purely “constitutional” argument was never entirely convincing, for the appeal of the antagonists and their apologists to principles, real or imagined, may well have obscured the fact that behind such an appeal were often less ideal motives and more personal interests than the desire for constitutional change. It is often easy for those who do not enjoy political power to confuse a well-founded theory of its limitation with mere objections to its exercise by their opponents. Thus the Congressionalist claim that Balmaceda thwarted cabinet responsibility was false, as that practice had never been established. In 1892 the British Minister pointed out that, before Balmaceda, the regimen had never been called parliamentary, a term implying cabinet responsibility to the legislature; it was the Congress which first raised this issue, not so much to secure desirable reforms as to obtain control of the government. “The Chilean Revolution,” he went on, “may be described as an interested movement of political parties for obtaining power. The question of principle found but little space in the struggle. . ..”59 This was, of course, the Balmacedist view, but it ignored an equally vital point in arguing that Congress forced Balmaceda to act unconstitutionally by failing to pass the essential laws for 1891. For, if the Constitution of 1833 ever intended to give Congress any control over the executive, it did so in the supervisory mandate over appropriations. In fact, the simple explanation may be that the Chilean founding fathers did not, perhaps could not, envisage the possibility of serious conflict between the branches of government, as each represented the aristocracy.

To return, however, to the contribution of such writers as Hardy and Ramírez to the historiography of the revolution, it is important to recognize that, whatever their value, they are a reaction to views long held, and it is characteristic of such reactions that often no clear distinction is drawn between probabilities and possibilities. Simply because an interpretation is new is no criterion of its superior validity to the old. The remainder of this article, therefore, will attempt to put the economic interpretation of the revolution into perspective before finally considering whether some synthesis of the two aspects of its historiography is not now possible.

In the first place, the reliability of two key contemporary observers in 1891 on the role of British nitrate interests may be questioned, as both of them, Patrick Egan and Maurice Hervey, have been quoted approvingly by a number of historians.60 Egan’s remarks must be set against his background and his purpose in Chile. His earlier relations with the British can hardly be called cordial, for he was a former Treasurer of the Irish Land League and a defendant of Charles Stuart Parnell at his trial in 1880. This connection had brought him into the news again shortly before his appointment to Santiago when, in 1888-1889, The Times accused Parnell of complicity in the notorious Phoenix Park murders of 1882.61 Secretary of State James G. Blaine appointed Egan to Chile partly to flatter Irish voters, but also because Egan probably seemed eminently suitable to forward Blaine’s ideas for a more dynamic commercial policy in an area where British interests predominated.62 During 1891 Egan’s sympathy for Balmaceda was used by the latter to put pressure on Great Britain, though the American minister was almost alone among the diplomatic corps in leaning towards the president. The occasion arose when Balmaceda decreed the Congressional-held northern ports closed to shipping in April, 1891, but both the British and German ministers refused to accept this “paper” blockade which Balmaceda could not enforce.63 Egan, however, undertook to induce his government to recognize it.64 The attitude of the European diplomats was particularly galling to the Chilean government since it rendered ineffective its attempt to deprive the Congressionalists of revenue from nitrate shipments and of supplies, and the British minister often found himself under pressure. Thus, in May, 1891, Foreign Minister Ricardo Cruzat pointedly told him that the United States “had always shown readiness to assist the Chilean Government in all ways in their efforts to suppress the . . . revolution,” and he added that Chile might well look to that country “for protection and assistance against the demands and pretentions [sic] of European powers.”65 Kennedy believed Cruzat was bluffing, though Egan certainly thought his country would benefit from his attitude.66 How far Egan’s attitude was prompted solely by considerations of national interest is conjectural, but it seems reasonable to question, in the light of it, his past history, and the purposes for which he had been appointed, whether he may really be considered an impartial witness, especially when his statements about North’s alleged complicity in the revolution derived from Balmacedist sources.

Stronger doubts are permissible about Hervey. He was appointed special correspondent of The Times with orders “to report faithfully, and without unfair bias in favour or against any particular interest or view.”67 He reached Chile in March and stayed there four months, during which, according to Kennedy:

He appeared to avoid his countrymen and also all those who were not partisans of the President . . . he identified himself too closely with the cause of the President . . . and accepted as Gospel truths statements which certainly are arguable.68

Now, Hervey’s first dramatic report was written in Santiago on March 19.69 We have his own testimony that he left Buenos Aires on March 5, reached Mendoza three days later and crossed the Andes on March 10-11, so that, whatever his precise timetable thereafter, he cannot have been in Santiago much more than a week before he was emphatically convinced of the truth about the revolution.70 His later and more sensational reports drew a strong protest from the leading British commercial houses in Chile.71 Only one, Antony Gibbs & Sons, had nitrate interests, and this was the very firm which had attacked North’s Nitrate Railway Company in representations to the Foreign Office in 1890.72 The head of another, Williamson, Balfour & Co., also wrote to The Times in March, pointing out Hervey’s lack of knowledge of Chile and suggesting that he seemed to be “under the influence of the President and his associates.”73 This writer, Stephen Williamson, had no regard for North, for in a letter to his manager at Valparaiso in 1889 he described North as a “regular charlatan,” said that the nitrate interests had so abused their privileges in Chile that some check should be placed on them, and recommended expropriation of the Nitrate Railway.74 To the present writer, there is some significance in the fact that British interests in Chile who had no brief for the parvenu North should, nevertheless, come to the latter’s defence against Hervey, who, incidentally, told his paper that Williamson had been “bought by the Nitrate interest.”75 Hervey was recalled in April, 1891, because his reports were so at variance with all other sources of information.76 He was subsequently given leave to stay in Chile to make a trip with the Balmacedist torpedo-boats, but was finally recalled on May 28 and requested to bring back proofs of his allegations against British capitalists.77 Though, in his book, Hervey cited verbatim most of the telegrams he received from The Times in 1891, of the last he noted that he was requested to “start at once for London with certain documentary evidence,” but did not mention nitrates or British capitalists in this context at all.78 Dismissed by The Times in August, shortly after his return, Hervey then wrote the book which has exercised considerable influence on the “economic” historians of the revolution.79

This caveat against two oft-quoted contemporary witnesses on economic issues in the revolution applies also in part to later writers who have used them, notably Hardy and Ramírez. Villarino and other contemporary Balmacedists who argued on economic lines are not in the same category, their work being largely a continuation of the wartime diatribes of the government, polemical in tone, apologist in intent, and singularly lacking in proof. It is, however, some measure of their contribution that Hardy and Ramírez deserve serious consideration, though both can be challenged on grounds of detail and interpretation.

Hardy begs the question at the outset in speaking of “the causative effect of the Atacama Desert’s nitrates” in the genesis of the revolution.80 But he seems to the present writer to go further in unwarranted assumption in dealing with Balmaceda’s alleged economic nationalism and North’s antagonism to it as factors in the revolution. His evidence is, first, the cancellation of the Nitrate Railway concession in January, 1886, which was the subject of a protracted lawsuit;81 secondly, Balmaceda’s speeches during 1889, and, thirdly, the meetings that year between the president and North which Hardy construes as having been distinctly unhappy for the latter. Considering this “evidence,” it should be noted that Hardy’s treatment of the Nitrate Railway issue is inaccurate in detail. He says:

In 1885, immediately after his election, Chile’s chief executive had stated that Tarapacá should have competing railroads, and the following year, on January 29, 1886, the Chilean Minister of Justice announced the cancellation of the concessions upon which North’s Tarapacá railroad rested.82

Actually, Balmaceda was not elected president until six months later, and he was not even in the ministry under Santa María when the concession was annulled.83 Moreover, North did not become involved with the Railway Company until 1887 and Chairman of its Board until 1889.84 And, while Hardy is right in claiming the issue to be a bone of contention between Balmaceda and North, he over-personalizes it, as opposition to the Railway’s monopoly owed as much to other British nitrate interests as it did to the government.85 More important, Hardy’s interpretation of Balmaceda’s speeches on the nitrate industry suggests that he did not consider them as a whole. Thus, of the most famous speech at Iquique on March 9, 1889, he says that Balmaceda “outlined in clear terms his attitude towards the nitrate problem,” which he summarizes under three headings: nationalization of the industry, prohibition of any monopoly which might limit production to raise prices, and expropriation of the Tarapacá railroads.86 But Balmaceda explicitly rejected nationalization, saying that “an industrial monopoly of nitrate is not an undertaking for the State, whose fundamental mission is to guarantee the rights of property and liberty. . .,” though he added that the state should conserve forever enough nitrate grounds to frustrate “an industrial dictatorship.”87 As to the railway, Balmaceda hoped that all the lines in Tarapacá would become national property, with the qualification that “the railway question ought to be equitably arranged without injuring lawful private interests or harming the convenience and rights of the State.”88 And, in fact, the government’s method of solving the Nitrate Railway question was to award a concession for a competing line to the Agua Santa Company in which the controlling interest was held by the British firm of Campbell, Outram and Co.89 This obeyed political as well as economic objectives in that several Chilean politicians, interested in the Agua Santa Company, gave their support to Balmaceda, probably in return for the concession, when he was in acute political difficulties in 1890. One of them, Lauro Barros, became Minister of Finance in Balmaceda’s “personal” ministry of October, composed when Balmaceda’s differences with Congress had reached a nadir from which they never recovered.90 Furthermore, by this action, the government ignored the advice of the Deputy Luis Martiano Rodríguez, an adviser of the Nitrate Railway Company, who, in Congress, had urged that the competing line should be built by the state itself rather than by a private firm.91

If Hardy’s interpretation of this issue is somewhat misleading, a similar criticism may be made of his treatment of other matters. For example, he says that

Balmaceda did not change one whit from the views expressed in his Iquique speech. When North tried to “reach” the President through a third party and privately proposed the sale of government-owned nitrate fields he was informed: ‘The State must conserve forever sufficient nitrate fields to maintain through its influence, production and sale. . ..’92

Here he follows Salas Edwards, but omits to point out that this statement was part of the Iquique speech, made on a public platform nine days before North set foot in Chile to begin his celebrated tour of 1889.93

A close consideration, however, of Balmaceda’s speeches and actions on nitrates suggests an alternative picture to that of the economic nationalist threatening foreign interests. It is true that in 1887 he had said that the Government would study what practicable measures could be taken “to nationalize Chilean interests which are, at present, chiefly of benefit to foreigners.”94 Again, in November, 1888, he asked:

Why does the credit and the capital which are brought into play . . . in our great cities, hold back and leave the foreigner to establish banks at Iquique, and abandon to strangers the exploiting of the nitrate works of Tarapacá? . . . the foreigner explores these riches, and takes the profit of native wealth . . . to give to other lands and unknown people the treasures of our soil, our own property and the riches we require.95

Such speeches, including the one at Iquique, excited some attention, if not apprehension, in foreign business circles.96 Yet Balmaceda’s government did little or nothing to carry out his implied threats, and, while there is certainly a paucity of evidence to show that he had a consistent policy on nitrates, there is some to suggest that such policy as he did have was limited in its objectives and obeyed transitory motives.

On June 8, 1888, Balmaceda sought Congressional approval for the auction of some state nitrate grounds. In the debate which followed, the Senators for Tarapacá and Talca, Luis Aldunate and Luis Pereira, opposed open auction in view of the powerful competition of foreign capital, and Aldunate pleaded eloquently for nationalization of the nitrate industry.97 For the government, however, the Minister of Finance, Enrique Sanfuentes, who was subsequently to play the part of Lord Bute to Balmaceda’s George III, stressed the advantages of laissez faire over state control: “to us,” he said on August 1, “falls the honour of defending commercial liberty with all its inestimable benefits,” and he added “let us stimulate private interests so that they make their logical contribution to the development of the nitrate industry.”98 This speech was reminiscent of those made during 1882 in defence of the government decision to return the industry to private hands after the War of the Pacific, a decision for which, as Aldunate pointed out and Sanfuentes acknowledged, Balmaceda, then Minister of the Interior, bore some responsibility.99 The project then remained in abeyance until, in his message to Congress on June 1, 1889, three months after his visit to Iquique, Balmaceda resuscitated it, now with some amendments, proposing the reservation of some nitrate grounds solely to Chileans and not transferable to foreigners.100 But, in fact, the president submitted no concrete proposals to Congress on the lines thus adumbrated and, while it may be argued that political preoccupations prevented this, it is suggested rather that the apparent expressions of “economic nationalism” by Balmaceda in 1889 obeyed other objectives, both economic and political.

In the first place, the late 1880’s saw such a saturation of the world nitrate market that there were fears of an utter collapse unless remedial measures were taken.101 This had happened before, after the War of the Pacific, and nitrate producers then agreed to restrict output until the market improved, as happened in 1887.102 But in the next two years nitrate production rose dramatically, largely the result of the flotation of new companies by North and his friends, and, by 1889, the circumstances surrounding the formation of a restrictive combine were about to be repeated. But the times had changed. The Chilean government’s dependence on the revenue from nitrate shipments had increased vastly under Balmaceda, whose large and expensive program of public works was the keystone of his internal policy. He could scarcely view with equanimity the prospect of unilateral action by foreigners which might well jeopardize that program.103 It was in these economic circumstances that the speech at Iquique and the presidential message were given, and it may, therefore, be legitimate to suggest that one of their purposes was as a warning to nitrate interests which were already contemplating a restrictive combine; in that event, a studied vagueness, inducing hesitancy, would be more useful than explicit condemnation. At the same time, even when Balmaceda seemed to suggest preferential treatment for Chileans in nitrate matters, a few months later he sought Congressional approval to spend $150,000 on advertizing the fertilizer abroad, a move which suggests his recognition that the basic problem of the industry was the disequilibrium between world supply and demand.104

The political climate of 1889 is equally instructive. Balmaceda’s visit to Iquique was the first made by a president to the areas obtained by Chile in a victorious war, in which he himself had played a major role on the diplomatic front.105 The event was still fresh in the minds of his countrymen, and it was natural that he should address them in nationalistic tones, particularly as the town still had a large non-Chilean population.106 More relevantly, the visit took place three years after Balmaceda’s accession to the presidency, three years of personal disillusionment at the failure to maintain the coalition of Liberal groups in Congress and government, and a period which saw no fewer than six ministries in power. As early as December, 1886, the British minister had put his finger on the erratic pulse of Chilean political life:

The President, as the natural consequence of his election, is hampered by personal engagements to individual partisans, and, in his inability to free himself from these entanglements, will probably be compelled to perpetuate the blunders and abuses of Don Domingo Santa María, govern personally with . . . what can only be called hack administrations, and with all this disadvantage, undertake the same eternal conflict with public opinion that embittered the days of his predecessor.107

This prophetic utterance was borne out as Balmaceda progressively lost the support of various political groups for a variety of reasons and, with them, majority support in Congress. By 1889 he had decided to depend entirely on the Liberal Party, a party strong in numbers but weak in talent, with many professional politicians but few public figures. It was at this time, his position in Santiago gravely weakened, that Balmaceda made his progress to the north, and it is suggested that one reason for this and for the kind of speeches he made was the political objective of increasing his popularity in the country and, simultaneously, seeking to divert the country’s attention from the serious political difficulties in which he found himself.

There is one other reason why Hardy’s interpretation is not convincing, apart from this suggested alternative. This turns on his view that the meetings between Balmaceda and North in 1889 left the latter “with the knowledge that the foundations of his kingdom were not entirely secure,” for this is largely subjective since firsthand sources are strictly limited. William Howard Russell, who was present in 1889, reported that

the President declared that he was desirous of giving every facility to the introduction of foreign capital . . . the gist of the interview was that he had not the smallest intention of making war on vested interests. . .. Colonel North was much gratified by the assurances . . . the interview was . . . most satisfactory to him.108

Hardy, however, doubts the validity of this, preferring to accept the view of Hernández Cornejo, who was not present, and arguing that North “must have been chagrined at President Balmaceda’s refusal to accept the Colonel’s personal gift of some horses.” But Hernández does not cite his source, and on the meeting his precise words are: “it is said that Balmaceda received the Nitrate King coldly.”109 This is not a trivial point as it is on such minor details that Hardy’s ease is constructed, and it is, therefore, justifiable to criticize minutely both the sources he uses and the way he uses them, without detracting in any way from the important service he has performed by raising the economic issue in the revolution of 1891.

The work of Ramírez Necochea is much more detailed and, at first sight, convincing. His study of the development of the nitrate industry is well-documented and sound, apart from its Marxist overtones; his survey of Balmaceda’s policies is full of interesting facts, and his material on the relations between Chilean public men and foreign capitalists shows in detail what relationships existed. But his thesis seems to the present writer rather to strain the evidence to fit the case, and to ignore or minimize the value of material which might prove embarrassing to it. A few examples will illustrate these points, though it is not proposed to deal with his treatment of Balmaceda’s alleged nitrate policy, which largely follows Hardy in giving Balmaceda credit for a cohesive policy he did not possess.

A major argument advanced by Ramírez for the view that economic interests were dominant in the revolution turns on the links between Chilean public figures and foreign nitrate capitalists, and he has shown incontestably that many of the former, some of whom played a significant role in 1891, were employed by the latter as legal advisers in Chile.110 “Some,” he says, “were seduced by foreign gold to put their prestige and influence at the service of the leading nitrate entrepreneurs.”111 He asserts that foreign capital was menaced by Balmaceda and argues that after the latter’s defeat, the nitrate industry was denationalized so that by 1898 the industry was completely dominated by foreigners.112 The patent inference is that the relationships between Chileans and foreigners was a major factor in the genesis of the revolution, and that the nitrate capitalists reaped their reward for services rendered after the revolution. It is a plausible and neat interpretation, cogently argued, but, while the present writer accepts completely the fact of the relationship described, he questions the conclusion that such ties were necessarily nefarious, and he believes that it is pure speculation to consider them as major factors in the genesis of the revolution.

Ramírez examines the Nitrate Railways Corruption Case of 1896-1898 which was reported in the Chilean press and which he holds to be significant proof of his thesis.113 Briefly, in 1896-1897, shareholders in the Nitrate Railways Company forced the Directors to submit to a detailed examination of the Company’s activities in Chile since 1882.114 Among other things, the enquiry revealed that the Company had paid lawyers and public men in Chile some £93,000 from 1887 to 1895 in defence of its interests.115 Robert Harvey, North’s close associate in nitrates from the early days, was startlingly frank about his attitude to the question:

The course of justice is not based on that high standard of purity that it is in this country. I do not say that money is absolutely required to bribe the Judges, but I think that very many impecunious members of the Senate derived some benefit from some of this money in order to give their votes, and to keep the Government from absolutely declining to listen to any of our protests and appeals.116

No doubt both Harvey and North, who dominated the Company’s Board until his death in 1896, believed this was so, but the reports of the enquiry created a furore in Chile and “great public indignation.”117 The Chilean Legation in London issued a statement refuting the evidence heard at the enquiry, and pointed out that no Chileans had been named but simply referred to by initials.118 But to anyone acquainted with the Company, the Mr. Z. most often mentioned was easily identified as Julio Zegers, the Company’s counsel in Chile for ten years and a prominent lawyer-politician. Zegers himself petitioned the Comisión Conservadora of the Chilean Congress for a full investigation, but one was never held, and he lived out his life in the shadow of public scandal.119

At first glance this case might seem to show conclusively that Chilean public men were corrupted by foreign gold to act in ways inimical to their country’s interest, but it is not quite so simple. First, the amount spent by the Company in Chile was spread over eight years, during which the Company was involved in the costly and protracted lawsuit to preserve its monopoly in Tarapacá.120 Secondly, a considerable proportion of the money was spent after 1891, when Balmaceda’s successors showed they were determined to liquidate the monopoly, contrary to the Company’s expectations, a fact which Ramírez singularly ignores.121 Thirdly, the Company’s more honest advisers recommended the Directors to recognize the inevitable long before the revolution. One of them, Mr. E. Manby, told the enquiry that Enrique MacIver, one of their lawyers, “averred that Congress and people would never tolerate a Bill prolonging or confirming our monopolies” as early as 1889.122 There were two basic reasons why so much was spent in the Company’s supposed interest: North’s dominant personality, liberality, and wrong-headed optimism, and Zegers’ insistence that all might be saved even when the monopoly was clearly doomed. The Company’s manager in Chile, Mr. Rowland, advised in December, 1890, that Zegers was not trustworthy, but, despite this, the latter continually applied for and received, on North’s recommendation, large sums of money as late as 1893 onwards. A reading of this evidence, therefore, far from supporting the view that Chilean lawyers were “seduced by foreign gold,” rather raises the suspicion that British capitalists were being heavily “blackmailed” by Chilean lawyers, and it certainly leaves open to doubt the notion that relationships between British nitrate interests and Chilean forensic figures were important factors in the genesis of the revolution.

Other information came out of the case which Ramírez does not mention but which is very relevant.123 Manby, who had seen Balmaceda with North in 1889, mentioned the Patillos Railway in his evidence. This was a line from the Lagunas nitrate grounds to the port of Patillos, some forty miles south of Iquique, a line on which both the government and the Peruvian firm of Montero, the original owners of the Nitrate Railway, had claims. The Nitrate Railways Company had bought half the Montero shares in the Patillos line in order to keep it closed and their railway monopoly inviolate, but there was always a danger that the government would press its claim, open the line, and threaten the Company’s privileges.124 Manby said that in 1889 Balmaceda raised the matter of his government’s claim, “and he said it amounted to 150,000 1. [sic] and he would be glad to enter into some arrangement with the Nitrate Railways Company about it. . .,” adding later that “something ought to be done, that it was our interest to acquire the railway,” and North said he would look into the matter.125 Robert Harvey’s testimony on this issue was that, though the government made no claim on the line, “negotiations were going on when Balmaceda was President through Colonel North’s friends, to see what he would take, and he said he would take 100,000 1. in bonds bearing 5 per cent.”126 If, as seems likely, Harvey was no less frank here than he had been earlier, Balmaceda was either trying to come to an arrangement with the leading nitrate capitalist over his monopoly transport position in Tarapacá, or deliberately misleading North to part with a large sum of money to no purpose. Either picture contrasts strangely with that of the economic nationalist fighting a nefarious combination of corrupt native politicians and lawyers and unscrupulous British capitalists, and it also lends more credence to the view that when North’s monopoly was breached by the Agua Santa concession in 1890, political reasons then played a large part.127 This aspect of the Nitrate Railways case illustrates the danger of relying too heavily upon a purely economic interpretation of Balmaceda’s presidency.

Two other examples show how misleading this approach can be. As has been noted, Ramírez argues that Balmaceda’s policies were opposed by a Congress representing social and economic interests threatened by him. It should be noted that Balmaceda retained little support from members of Congress in 1891 and in 1890 89 of 126 congressmen signed the document deposing him.128 While material for a detailed investigation of the economic interests of his supporters is lacking to the present writer, a cursory glance at the membership of the rump Congress of 1891 shows that it included landowners like Ricardo Cruzat, Alejandro Maturana, Alfredo and Ruperto Ovalle, also the owners of rich silver mines, Santiago Pérez Eastman and Ignacio Silva Ureta. All these might be called millionaires, and so might Víctor Echaurrén, Manuel García de la Huerta, Juan Mackenna, and others.129 The question is how far the economic and social interests of these Balmacedists differed from those of the Congressionalists against whom the government thundered during 1891. Much more detailed investigation is necessary on this issue before it can be concluded that the interests of the aristocracy were threatened by Balmaceda or that the revolution divided Chilean politicians along social and economic lines. The present writer believes that economic factors were much less significant than Ramírez suggests and that personal and political allegiances within the governing class were the principal determinants of conduct.130

Finally, although it is logically necessary for Ramírez to assert that the results of the revolution were favorable to the interests which allegedly suborned and supported it, not least the nitrate capitalists, in neither of his books on the revolution does he deal in detail with the period after 1891. Had he done so he would have found convincing evidence that under President Jorge Montt, 1891-1896, the Chilean government pursued nitrate policies which, following Ramírez, one can only describe as Balmacedist. Apart from the Nitrate Railways ease, already mentioned, the nitrate industry itself provides eloquent testimony that Balmaceda’s successors were as conscious as he had been of the industry’s importance. During 1891 nitrate producers had taken advantage of Chilean preoccupations to form a combine to restrict output.131 This was a blow to Chile’s revenues, and the Minister of Finance had declared in Congress that

the influence which . . . producers of nitrate may have upon the public revenue will be absolutely null if the Government so wills it. [It] will depend upon the law, and not upon the actions of persons within or without the country.132

In 1893 criticism of the nitrate combination grew in volume and intensity, and heavy attacks were made in Congress and the press against it and against the Nitrate Railways Company, still trying to preserve its monopoly. The British Minister in Santiago reported that the Chilean Government is exasperated and determined to liquidate the situation by effecting the reduction of rates of transport, by increasing the output of Nitrate by Chilean Companies, and by upsetting the combination. . ..133

Later, he pointed out that

the British Commercial Community of Valparaiso condemned generally the proceedings of the Nitrate group . . . and Chileans of position asserted that the National Conscience was aroused and that the National dignity required that a check should be placed on the system . . . by which the interest of Chile in . . . Tarapacá had been reduced to the mere collection of the export duty, and the future of the chief source of Chilean State Revenue had been imperilled.134

In 1894, when the nitrate combination collapsed, a number of state nitrate fields were auctioned off and Chilean investors spent one-third of the capital involved. This development pleased the British minister, who thought that this would provide “a satisfactory guarantee against vexatious state interference” and also blunt criticism of the degree of British control over the industry.135 Chileans were elated at this turn of events and so was the government.136 During the post-revolutionary period, therefore, the evidence suggests not that the Congressionalist victors of 1891 paid court to the foreign nitrate interests, but rather the contrary, and, finally on this issue, though Ramírez is right to point out that by 1898 there was a foreign hegemony over nitrates, this was not a consequence of the revolution. In 1884, British capital invested in nitrates represented 34 per cent of the total, having stood at 13 per cent in 1878;137 in 1895 it stood at almost 60 per cent, and in 1902 at between 40 and 50 per cent.138 To support Ramírez the rise from 34 to 60 per cent between 1884 and 1895 should have taken place largely after 1891, but, in fact, it was between 1884 and 1889 that the most dramatic increase in British capital investment in nitrates took place, much of it grossly inflated.139 The foreign hegemony dates from the presidencies of Santa María and Balmaceda.140

More space would permit the citation of other aspects of the thesis put forward by Ramírez which show similar traits of suggestio falsi, for example his treatment of Balmaceda and banking interests.141 But perhaps the above is sufficient to east some doubts on a total acceptance of his economic interpretation. It seems to the present writer that the only reasonable verdict possible at present on such questions as the collusion of British nitrate interests and antagonism between Balmaceda and his Congress on economic grounds as motivating forces in the revolution is “not proven.” However important new lines of approach may be, historical interpretation demands rigorous attention to detail and a willingness to modify a priori assumptions where the evidence conflicts with them.

Finally, is a synthesis of the “constitutional” and “economic” interpretations of the revolution now possible? The answer must be a qualified ‘no,’ for a number of prerequisites are still lacking. We need a series of studies on such issues as the social structure of Chile in the nineteenth century, most imperatively a detailed investigation on biographical lines of the aristocracy and its economic interests such as land, banking, and mining; the role of professional men—lawyers, journalists and commercial figures—and their political outlook and affiliations; the precise part played by foreign capital in Chilean development, and Chile’s place in a wider world economy, and, not least, a whole range of regional studies which might well throw light on much more than regional issues. The raison d’être of such studies would obviously not be limited to adding to our knowledge of the revolution of 1891, but they would manifestly contribute to our interpretation of it, and that event has some ground for being considered as the critical one in the modern history of the republic, in which many tendencies and developments of the nineteenth century reached their climax and from which flowed consequences still felt in the national life. For these reasons, it is hoped that it will continue to engage the attention of historians in the future as much as it has done in the past.142


This article is based upon the author’s unpublished doctoral thesis at the University of London, “The Chilean Revolution of 1891: A Study in the Domestic and International History of Chile,” 1955. See the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, XXXI (May, 1958), 104-107.


Cf., for example, H. Ramírez Necochea, La guerra civil de 1891: Antecedentes económicos (Santiago, 1951), and F. A. Encina, Historia de Chile (20 vols., 2nd ed., Santiago, 1940-1952), XIX-XX.


J. R. Stevenson, The Chilean Popular Front (Philadelphia, 1942), pp. 22-29.


See Balmaceda’s Manifesto of 1 January 1891, in C. Rojas Arancibia, Memorandum de la revolución de 1891. Datos para la historia (Santiago, 1892), pp. 7-25, and the Congressional act of deposition of the President in the same volume of documents, pp. 25-30.


See A. Matte and A. Ross, Memoria presentada a la Excelentísima Junta de Gobierno (Paris, 1892), pp. 19-27. The authors were the Congressional agents in Europe in 1891. A Fagalde, La prensa estranjera y la dictadura chilena (Santiago, 1891), a collection of articles from the foreign press, well illustrates how the latter saw the revolution as a political struggle.


Exposition of the illegal acts of ex-President Balmaceda which caused the Civil War in Chile (Washington, 1891). Montt was a Congressional agent in the United States.


Montt, Exposition, p. 4.


Ibid., pp. 13-14.


It is interesting to note that in March, 1891, in an interview with Balmaceda’s Minister of the Interior, Domingo Godoy, the British minister to Chile, J. G. Kennedy, referred to Balmaceda’s proposals for constitutional reform by strengthening the Executive as “revolutionary”: Godoy replied “Yes, we are the revolutionists and the others are mutineers.” Kennedy to Lord Salisbury, March 14, 1891, Public Record Office, London, Foreign Office Archives, Chile (cited hereinafter as F.O.16), Vol. 264, No. 24. Diplomatic.


The Revolution of 1891 in Chile (Valparaiso, 1891).


Ibid., p. 8.


Allendes, however, says to the Congressionalists “Your strength was, is and always will be in your class. The country at large neither know you nor your politics.” Op. cit., p. 30. How far the Balmacedists came from a different class is discussed below.


See the Boletín de las Sesiones Ordinarias de la Cámara de Diputados de 1890 (Santiago, 1890), the Boletín . . . de la Cámara de Senadores and the Boletín . . . de la Comisión Conservadora, same date, passim.


The Political Testament is given in J. Bañados Espinosa, Balmaceda, su gobierno y la revolución de 1891 (2 vols., Paris, 1894), II, 644-655.


Ibid., between pp. 642 and 643, reproduces the letter in facsimile.


Orator, jurist, publicist and politician, Bañados is described by one writer as Balmaceda’s “inspiration and alter ego.” V. Figueroa, Diccionario histórico y biográfico de Chile (5 vols. in 4, Santiago, 1926-1935), II, 100.


His own interest in constitutional law is revealed in his Gobierno parlamentario y sistema representativo (Valparaiso, 1888), and his Letras y política (Valparaiso, 1888).


Bañados, Balmaceda, II, 72.


Ibid., pp. 55-72.


Ibid., II, 73.


Ibid., I, 318. For North, see O. Hardy, “British Nitrates and the Balmaceda Revolution,” Pacific Historical Review, XVII (1948), 171-180, Ramírez, Balmaceda y la contrarrevolución de 1891 (Santiago, 1958), pp. 41-65, and the present writer’s “John Thomas North, the Nitrate King,” History Today, XII (1962), 467-475.


Bañados, Balmaceda, II, 73.


Balmaceda (Rio, 1895). References here are to the Santiago edition, 1914.


Ibid., p. 82.


Ibid., p. 42.


Balmaceda y el parlamentarismo en Chile (2 vols., Santiago, 1914 & 1925).


Ibid., I, 6-7.


Balmaceda y el conflicto entre el congreso y el ejecutivo (2 vols., Santiago, 1921 & 1926).


For example, R. Cox Méndez, Recuerdos de 1891 (Santiago, 1944), and V. Eastman, Balmaceda, presidente de Chile, 1886-1891 y el conflicto con el Congreso Nacional (Latacunga, 1935).


J. M. Yrarrázaval Larraín, El Presidente Balmaceda (2 vols., Santiago, 1940).


Ibid., II, 345.


“La Administración Balmaceda y el Salitre de Tarapacá,” Boletín de la Academia Chilena de la Historia, No. 47 (1952), 47-74, and “El Gobierno y los Bancos durante la Administración Balmaceda” in ibid., No. 48 (1953), 5-26.


Historia de Chile, XIX-XX, passim. For a stimulating and important review of the whole work see C. C. Griffin, “Francisco Encina and Revisionism in Chilean History,” HAHR, XXXVII (1957), 1-28.


Encina, Historia, particularly XIX, 462-489, XX, 38-47.


Ibid., XIX, 396.


Ibid., XX, 47-48.


La fronda aristocrática en Chile (2nd ed., Santiago, 1936), p. 11.


A typical and recent example is Julio César Jobet, “El Nacionalismo Creador de José Manuel Balmaceda,” Combate (Costa Rica), No. 23 (July-August, 1962), 57-67.


See, for example, H. Ramírez Necochea, Historia del imperialismo en Chile (Santiago, 1960), passim.


See M. Dobb, “Historical Materialism and the Economic Factor,” History, (London), XXXVI (1951), 1-11. This argument is used by Ramírez, in his Antecedentes económicos de la independencia de Chile (Santiago, 1959).


Egan to James G. Blaine, Santiago, March 14, 1891, in Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1891 (Department of State, Washington, 1892), pp. 106-7.


Kennedy to Salisbury, Santiago, February 23, 1891. F.O. 16/264, No. 17. Diplomatic. Confidential.


The Times, May 19, 1891.


Dark Days in Chile (London, 1891-1892), pp. 105-109, 208, 250.


See F. Velasco, La revolución de 1891: Memorias (Santiago, 1914), pp. 162-163 for an article in La Nación of February 1, 1891, on the alleged economic causes of the revolution.


Boletín . . . de la Cámara de Diputados de 1891 (Santiago, 1891), p. 30.


Ibid., p. 53.


Balmaceda, el último de los presidentes constitucionales de Chile (2nd ed., Barcelona, 1893).


Ibid., p. 212.


Ibid., pp. 213-233.


La condenación del ministerio Vicuña. El Ministro de Hacienda y sus detractores (Paris, 1893).


Stevenson, Popular Front, p. 68.


José Manuel Balmaceda (Santiago, 1949), p. 63.


In A. Edwards and E. Freí Montalva, Historia de los partidos políticos chilenos (Santiago, 1949), p. 130.


Hardy, “British Nitrates,” p. 166.


Ramírez, Guerra civil, pp. 4-5. His later book, Balmaceda. . ., written after the author had worked on British sources, postulates the same argument. The contention (p. 11) that this work is “más rico en contenido, más amplio en perspectivas” than the earlier book is true, but largely in the sense that British material which seems to support his argument is included, whereas that which does not is omitted. Cross-references are made hereinafter only where there is any meaningful addition to the earlier work.


It is not, perhaps, irrelevant to note, in view of his condemnatory tone here, that Ramírez dedicated his Historic del movimiento obrero en Chile (Santiago, 1956) to “la valiente e insobornable vanguardia del proletariado chileno” (My italic).


Ramírez, Guerra civil, p. 215.


Memorandum on the Chilean Revolution of 1891, enc. in Kennedy to Sir Thomas Sanderson, Burton, England, September 24, 1892. F.O. 16/280. Sanderson was Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.


Eg. Ramírez, Guerra civil, p. 211; J. R. Brown, “The Chilean Nitrate Railways Controversy,” HAHR, XXXVIII (1958), 474-75; Hardy, “British Nitrates,” p. 167; and L. W. Bealer, “Balmaceda, Liberal Dictator of Chile,” in A. C. Wilgus (ed.), South American Dictators (Washington, 1937), p. 205.


See The History of The Times, The Twentieth Century Test, 1884-1912 (London, 1947), pp. 43-89.


See Hardy, “Was Patrick Egan a ‘Blundering Minister’?,” HAHR, VIII (1928), 65-81; H. C. Evans, Chile and its Relations with the United States (Durham, N. C., 1927), p. 136; and, on Blaine, the important article and notes of R. H. Bastert, “A New Approach to the Origins of Blaine’s Pan American Policy,” HAHR, XXXIX (1959), 375-412.


Baron von Gütschmidt to Count von Caprivi, Santiago, April 26, 1891. Die vörgänge in Chile (Berlin, 1892), p. 116. This is the German White Book of Official Correspondence on the revolution. Gütschmidt was German Minister to Chile, Caprivi head of the Chancellery.


Kennedy to Salisbury, Viña del Mar, April 14, 1891. F.O. 16/264. No. 33. cf. Egan to Blaine, Santiago, April 14, 1891. Foreign Relations, p. 110.


Kennedy to Salisbury, Santiago, May 21, 1891. F.O. 16/265. No. 48.


Egan to Blaine, April 23, 1891. Foreign Relations, p. 111.


Moberley Bell to Hervey, January 29, 1891. Printing House Square, London, Archives of The Times (cited hereinafter as AT), Letter Book 3. No. 10. Copy. Bell was manager of the paper.


Kennedy to Salisbury, August 17, 1891. F.O. 16/265. No. 85.


The Times, March 23, 1891.


Dark Days in Chile, pp. 21-64.


Antony Gibbs & Sons, Graham Rowe & Co. and others to Kennedy, Valparaiso, July 27, 1891. Copy enc. in Kennedy to Salisbury, August 17, 1891. F.O. 16/265. No. 85. Kennedy added: “Mr. Hervey would have acted more prudently if he had not taken for granted statements respecting British Subjects, which are merely factors in the policy pursued by the President against his opponents.”


Brown, “Nitrate Railways,” p. 476.


Stephen Williamson to The Times, Liverpool, March 24, 1891. Roman House, London, Records of Balfour, Williamson & Co. Ltd., Letter Book 3. Copy.


Idem to W. R. Henderson, February 21, 1889, in ibid. Copy


Idem to idem, May 28, 1891, in ibid. Copy. In a copy of Velasco’s Revolución in the possession of Dr. V. G. Kiernan of the University of Edinburgh, in the margin of p. 244 referring to Hervey is a note in Henderson’s hand: “Bribed by Balmaceda.”


Bell to Hervey, April 8, 1891. AT. Letter Book 3. No. 404. Telegraphic.


Idem to idem, May 28, 1891, in ibid. No. 646. Telegraphic.


Dark Days, p. 243.


Little is known of Hervey thereafter except as a writer of romances.


Hardy, “British Nitrates,” p. 165.


See Brown, “Nitrate Railways,” pp. 465-481.


Hardy, “British Nitrates,” p. 175.


Yrarrázaval, Balmaceda, II, 297-305.


Nitrate Railways Company Lists of Shareholders, London, P.R.O., British Company Records, File No. 17229.


Brown, “Nitrate Railways,” p. 481.


Hardy, “British Nitrates,” p. 178.


The South American Journal, London, May 4, 1889. Hardy's source was R. Hernández Cornejo, El salitre (Valparaiso, 1930), pp. 131-133.


South American Journal, loc. cit. It should be noted that Balmaceda invariably included such qualifications in his speeches, and the interpretation of them partly depends upon the stress allowed to this. Omission of the qualifications, however, or citation of the rest in italics can produce a misleading impression.


Yrarrázaval, “Balmaceda y el salitre,” pp. 69-70. cf. Brown, “Nitrate Railways,” pp. 472-473, who does not mention this.


Yrarrázaval, p. 70.


Boletín de las Sesiones Estraordinarias de . . . Diputados de 1889-1890 (Santiago, 1890), pp. 740-744. See also Yrarrázaval, p. 69.


Hardy, “British Nitrates,” p. 178.


Salas Edwards, Balmaceda y el parlamentarismo, I, 153. cf. W. H. Russell, A Visit to Chile and the Nitrate Fields of Tarapacá (London, 1890), p. 33.


Discurso de su Excelencia el Presidente de la República al apertura del Congreso Nacional de 1887 (Santiago, 1887), p. 9. Cf. on this, Ramírez, Balmaceda, note on p. 91, and Yrarrázaval, “Balmaceda y el salitre,” pp. 53-54.


Consul-General Newman to Salisbury, Valparaiso, January 19, 1889. Report on the Nitrate Industry of Chile in 1888. Miscellaneous Series of Trade Reports No. 31. Accounts and Papers, LXXVII (1889).


Russell, Visit to Chile, pp. 42-43.


Boletin de las sesiones ordinarias . . . de Senadores de 1888 (Santiago, 1888), pp. 190-191, 219-226, 241-245.


Ibid., pp. 239-240.


Ibid., p. 242.


Discurso . . . de 1889 (Santiago, 1889), pp. 8-10. See also The Economist, London, July 27, 1889.


Ibid., January 12, 1889.


See W. M. F. Castle, Sketch of the City of Iquique, Chile, during Fifty Years (Plymouth, 1887), pp. 48-53, for an account of the formation of the combination, and E. Semper and E. Michells, La industria del salitre en Chile (translated into Spanish and augmented by O. Gandarillas and G. Salas, Santiago, 1908), pp. 140-142, for its progress.


Newman to Salisbury, January 19, 1889. Report on the Nitrate Industry. loc. cit. See also The Economist, September 14, 1889.


Yrarrázaval, “Balmaceda y el salitre,” pp. 55-56.


See R. N. Burr, The Stillborn Panama Congress (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1962), passim. Balmaceda had described Chile’s conquest of Tarapacá as part of his country’s “civilising mission.” Diario Oficial of Santiago, December 25, 1881, enc. in Minister Pakenham to Lord Grenville, December 27, 1881, FO. 16/213. No. 91.


Castle, Iquique, p. 6, put the alien population at a third in 1887.


Minister Fraser to Salisbury, December 1, 1886. FO. 16/243. No. 104.


Russell, Visit to Chile, p. 82. Russell has often been described as North’s propagandist, the implication being that he is unreliable. Hardy, “British Nitrates,” note on p. 176, says he received £15,000 for the trip but does not give his source. The South American Journal, February 9, 1889, understood he was to receive £3,000. Russell naturally makes no reference to the matter, but his biographer asserts that he only accompanied North on the explicit understanding that he should express his own opinions in the book he would write, to which North agreed. See J. B. Atkins, The Life of Sir William Howard Russell (2 vols., London, 1911), II, 326-328.


Hernández, El salitre, p. 135.


Ramírez, Guerra civil, pp. 110-129.


Ibid., p. 108.


Ibid., pp. 214-220. Cf. Balmaceda, p. 21, where Ramírez advances his date for foreign dominance of the industry to 1890. Hardy, “British Nitrates,” p. 180, also uses the post hoc ergo propter hoc argument to explain British dominance of nitrates in the late 1890’s.


Ramírez, Guerra civil, p. 110 et seq., and Balmaceda, p. 73 et seq.


See The Railway Times, London, July, 1887-March, 1898, passim. The editor of that journal, Mr. Herbert Allen, a shareholder in the Nitrate Railways Company, was the prime mover in the enquiry.


The Railway Times, January 1, 1898.




Chargé d’Affaires Gosling to Salisbury, February 20, 1898. FO. 16/346. No. 11.


The Railway Times, January 15, 1898.


See Figueroa, Diccionario histórico, IV & V, 1128.


See Brown, “Nitrate Railways,” passim.


Ibid., pp. 475-481. See also The Railway Times, January 5, 1898.


Ibid., January 15, 1898.


It is possible, however, that Chilean press reprints of articles from The Railway Times, on which Ramírez seems to rely, did not include this information. If not, the omission itself is interesting.


The Railway Times, January 8, 1898.






See above.


See Rojas Arancibia, Memorandum de la revolución, pp. 25-30.


Details from Figueroa, Diccionario histórico.


How strong such factors were is indicated by P. S. Reinsch, “Parliamentary Government in Chile,” American Political Science Review, III (1908-1909), 507-538.


Semper and Michells, Industria del salitre, p. 142.


The Economist, September 3, 1892.


Kennedy to Mr. Manby, June 12, 1893. Copy. Ene. 4 in Kennedy to Lord Rosebery, June 15, 1893. FO. 16/288. No. 38. In a previous letter to Manby, dated June 6, Kennedy reported that hostility to the Nitrate Railway was “more general and intense than at any time” in his recollection, significant words for one who had to urge the Company’s ease with Balmaceda’s government. Enc. 3. in ibid.


Kennedy to Rosebery, September 15, 1893. FO. 16/288. No. 63.


Report on the present financial position of Chile. Enc. in Kennedy to the Earl of Kimberley, November 8, 1894. FO. 16/289. No. 53.


Ibid. See also The Economist, August 11, 1894.


Semper and Michells, Industria del salitre, p. 139.


Hernández, El salitre, p. 146.


See J. F. Rippy, “Economic Enterprises of the Nitrate King and his Associates in Chile,” Pacific Historical Review, XVII (1948), 457-460.


The argument of Ramírez, Balmaceda, p. 89 et. seq. that Balmaceda's “policy” on nitrates developed precisely as the danger of British dominance of the industry developed in the late 1880’s does not alter the fact, and, in any event, what is challenged here is his treatment of post-revolutionary events.


Ramírez, Guerra civil, pp. 163-176, 212-213, 219, and F. W. Fetter, Monetary Inflation in Chile (Princeton, N. J., 1931), passim., and Yrarrázaval, “El Gobierno y los Bancos,” pp. 5-26.


Since this article was written, Professor F. B. Pike’s important essay, “Aspects of Class Relations in Chile, 1850-1960,” HAHR, XLIII (1963), 14-33, has appeared. This is precisely the kind of investigation the writer had in mind to fill the lacunae in our comprehension of Chilean history. In addition, the same author’s major study, Chile and the United States, 1880-1962 (University of Notre Dame Press, Indiana, 1963), appeared too late for consideration here. See particularly pp. 36-46, and the notes on pp. 318-322, which include a valuable bibliography.

Author notes


The author is Education Officer in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.