Domingo Santa María

Domingo Santa María
10th President of Chile
In office
September 18, 1881  September 18, 1886
Preceded by Aníbal Pinto
Succeeded by José Manuel Balmaceda
Personal details
Born (1825-08-04)August 4, 1825
Santiago, Chile
Died July 18, 1889(1889-07-18) (aged 63)
Santiago, Chile
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Emilia Márquez de la Plata

Domingo Santa María González (August 4, 1825 July 18, 1889) was a Chilean political figure. He served as the president of Chile between 1881 and 1886.

Early life

He was born in Santiago de Chile, the son of Luis José Santa María González and Ana Josefa González Morandé. He completed his early studies in the Instituto Nacional, and graduated as a lawyer from the Universidad de Chile in 1847. Soon after, he became a clerk at the Justice Ministry, where he rose to become Official Mayor. At the same time, he became the secretary of the Sociedad del Orden (Society for Public Order), a liberal club opposed to the conservative party.

Political career

At the age of 23, he became Intendant of Colchagua. His active intervention in rigging elections in favor of the conservatives made him into the principal target of the opposition. Two years later, he was asked to resign by his superiors. His refusal sparked his destitution by Manuel Montt. At that point, he joined Montt's opposition and joined the liberal party, participating actively in the 1851 revolution. In 1856, during the clash between the government and the church due to the "verger problem" he joined the opposition to the church, a position that would eventually carry to the extreme during his administration.

In 1858, he was elected to the lower house of congress and a year later, he was forced into exile in Europe as a result of the 1859 revolution. After his return, he remained aloof from politics. He became an attorney of the Appellate Court of Santiago. During the Chincha Islands War, he became a champion for Americanism and his articles made him a public figure. After the war, he returned to politics as member of the lower house, raising to become vice-president of the chamber. He was also a diplomat and was named full member of the Appellate Court and a State Counsellor. In March 1879, he was elected senator. When the War of the Pacific broke out, he was named Minister of Foreign Affairs and soon after, Minister of the Interior. From that position, he had almost total control over the direction of the war and as such became one of the main people responsible for the victory.


At this point in Santa María's career, he became the natural heir to President Pinto. Although General Manuel Baquedano was also touted as a candidate, Baquedano's resignation left Santa María as the consensus candidate. He was elected president in 1881.

During his administration, he continued the War of the Pacific to its end. He managed the capture of Lima and forced Peru to sign the Treaty of Ancon (October 29, 1883), putting an end to war. He also wrote the peace treaty with Bolivia in 1884, basis for the future peace Treaty of 1904.

In the domestic front, his main fight was against the power of the Catholic Church. He forced through congress the laws of civil marriage, civil registry and public cemeteries, all of which were functions formerly in the hands of the Church. His actions led to a break in diplomatic relations with Rome. He also put an end to the Pacification of the Araucanía, incorporating the area into the territory of Chile. He centralized the railroads into a state holding, inaugurated the first telephonic line between Santiago and Concepcion, and introduced the first public electric lighting.

Santa María's presidency was also marked by increased electoral fraud and intervention in favor of the government liberals. In the parliamentary election of 1881, the conservatives refused to participate, except for Carlos Walker Martínez who was a candidate for deputy. The government went out of its way to prevent Walker's election and in a district with 20,000 voters there were 34,000 votes. The opposition did manage to elect a few anti-government liberals and radicals. In 1885, the electoral fight was much more violent and the conservatives were determined to oppose fraud. Fights between government supporters and detractors left many dead or wounded and there were numerous reports of votes being stolen by government officials. Santa María, far from denying he participated in fraud, openly admitted it. "I have been called authoritarian. [...] Giving away the votes to unworthy people, to the irrational passions of the parties, and even with universal suffrage, is suicide for a ruler, and I will not commit suicide before a chimera. I can see this well and I will impose myself to govern as well as I can and I will support as many liberal laws as are presented to prepare the ground for a future democracy. Hear me well: future democracy," he once said. On another occasion, he simply admitted, "I have been called an interventor [of elections]. I am. I belong to the old guard and if I participate in intervention it is because I want an effective, disciplied Parliament that collaborates with the government's work for the common good. I have experience and know where I'm going. I cannot let the theorists undo what Portales, Bulnes, Montt, and Errázuriz have done."

Later life

He assured the election of his protégé and political heir, José Manuel Balmaceda. After he stepped down, he continued his work as President of the Senate. He died of a heart attack on July 18, 1889.

Political offices
Preceded by
Aníbal Pinto
President of Chile
Succeeded by
José Manuel Balmaceda
Preceded by
Antonio Varas
President of the Senate of Chile
Succeeded by
Adolfo Eastman
Government offices
Preceded by
José Victorino Lastarria
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Alejandro Reyes
Preceded by
Alejandro Fierro
Minister of Foreign Affairs
and Colonization

Succeeded by
Miguel Luis Amunátegui
Preceded by
Antonio Varas
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Manuel Recabarren
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