Alessandripalma, Arturo (1868–1950)

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Alessandripalma, Arturo (1868–1950)

Arturo Alessandri Palma (b. 20 December 1868; d. 24 August 1950), president of Chile (1920–1925 and 1932–1938). Educated at the University of Chile as a lawyer, he entered politics as a candidate of the Liberal Party (PL). A bombastic orator and tireless campaigner, he served in the Chamber of Deputies, in the Senate, and as a cabinet minister. Running on a reformist ticket, he was elected president in 1920. Alessandri had the bad luck to become president when Chile was suffering from a massive economic dislocation caused by the postwar collapse of the nitrate market.

Alessandri hoped to introduce numerous economic and social reforms, but his political opposition refused to pass his legislative program. Caught between widespread social unrest and an entrenched parliamentary opposition, Alessandri's reforms languished. The president found an unexpected ally in disaffected field-grade army officers who, distressed by their own wretched economic situation and the nation's suffering, intimidated the legislature into passing the reform package.

While initially pleased with his newfound support, Alessandri discovered that the officer corps was demanding that the legislature resign. Aware that he could not control them, Alessandri quit in January 1925, and a conservative military junta began to rule. When it became clear that the junta would attempt to elect a conservative to the presidency, junior army officers seized power and requested Alessandri to return. Upon doing so in March, Alessandri, ruling under the newly written Constitution of 1925, managed to pass certain reformist legislation. He resigned a second time in October, when he realized that he could not control the minister of war, Carlos Ibáñez Del Campo, who would seize power in 1927.

Alessandri went into exile, joining the various plots to overthrow Ibáñez. After the dictator's fall, in 1931, Alessandri returned to Chile, where he unsuccessfully ran against Juan Esteban Montero Rodríguez for the presidency. In 1932, following the collapse of the Montero administration and the Socialist Republic, Alessandri became president for a second term.

Due to widespread unrest and the collapse of the economy, Alessandri's second term of office was only slightly less turbulent than his first administration. He nonetheless managed to govern the nation, stimulating the economy by encouraging the creation of national industries and supporting the construction of public and private housing. His brutal suppression of an abortive Nazi coup in 1938 alienated many people, contributing to the defeat of Gustavo Ross Santa María, Alessandri's candidate for the presidency.

An energetic and dynamic individual, Alessandri remained active in Chile's political life, serving as president of the Senate. A forceful leader, he may best be remembered as the man who appealed to the lower classes and who, using the powers provided by the 1925 Constitution, restored order to Chile and led it out of the Great Depression.

See alsoChile, Political Parties: Liberal Party; Chile, Constitutions.


Ricardo Donoso Novoa, Alessandri, agitador y demoledor. Cincuenta años de historia política de Chile, 2 vols. (1952–1954).

Arturo Alessandri Palma, Recuerdos de gobierno, 3 vols. (1967).

Robert J. Alexander, Arturo Alessandri. A Biography, 2 vols. (1977).

Paul W. Drake, Socialism and Populism in Chile, 1932–1952 (1978).

Bill Albert, South America and the First World War: The Impact of the War on Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Chile (1988), pp. 286-287, 311-312.

Additional Bibliography

Pinto Vallejos, Julio, and Verónica Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate. Revolución proletaria o querida chusma?: Socialismo y Alessandrismo en la pugna por la politización pampina (1911–1932). Santiago: LOM Ediciones, 2001.

                                     William F. Sater