Montt Torres, Manuel (1809–1880)

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Montt Torres, Manuel (1809–1880)

Manuel Montt Torres (b. 5 September 1809; d. 21 September 1880), president of Chile (1851–1861) and key political figure of his period. The relative poverty of his upper-class family meant that he had to make his own way in life. He became deputy rector of Santiago's prestigious Instituto Nacional in 1832 and rector in 1835, also serving as senior official in the Ministry of the Interior. He was minister of the interior in 1840–1841 and again in 1845–1846, winning a deserved reputation for toughness toward opposition. His reputation was undoubtedly enhanced by his own austere and rather inflexible character—although his numerous enemies always acknowledged his intelligence and administrative talent.

Montt's presidential candidacy for the ruling Conservative party provoked political agitation on a scale unseen in Chile since 1830. His election was marked by the outbreak of civil war, the most serious feature of which was a menacing revolt in the southern provinces. The government won, but Montt's repeated use of emergency powers thereafter gradually alienated many of his Conservative supporters. His administration, much of which coincided with a commercial boom, was noted for its industriousness. During Montt's two terms, Chile's first railroads were built, gaslights appeared in the streets of Santiago, banking developed, the mail system was modernized, and the number of schools greatly increased. Material progress, however, did little to reconcile the Liberal opposition. With the Question of the Sacristan in 1856, it became impossible for Montt to contain political tensions. A large section of his Conservative party now defected, joining forces with the Liberals in the Liberal-Conservative Fusion (1858). Montt's own reduced following formed the new National Party.

In 1858 political agitation once again intensified. In the end, as usual, Montt imposed emergency powers. This was followed early in 1859 by rebellion in the northern provinces and rural guerrilla attacks in the Central Valley. The guerrillas were soon crushed, but in the north, where the rich miner Pedro León Gallo (1830–1877) improvised an army of a thousand soldiers, the outcome was only decided four months later at the battle of Cerro Grande (29 April 1859). Military victory was followed by political stalemate. Montt could not secure the presidential succession for his closest associate, Antonio Varas (1817–1886: minister of the interior, 1850–1856 and 1860–1861). The man selected, the easygoing patrician José Joaquín Pérez (1800–1889), soon called the Fusion into government (1862), thus displacing the Nationals (or Montt-Varistas, as these were now nicknamed).

Montt's main job after his decade of power was as president of the Supreme Court. His enemies tried, in vain, to impeach him in 1868–1869, proving that the strong passions Montt had aroused in the 1840s and 1850s were still very much alive. Montt also represented Chile at the American Congress held in Lima in 1864–1865, and did so with great dignity.

See alsoChile, Political Parties: Conservative Party .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alberto Edwards, El gobierno de don Manuel Montt, 1851–1861 (1933).

Januario Espinosa, Don Manuel Montt (1944).

Additional Bibliography

Bravo Lira, Bernardino. El Absolutismo ilustrado en Hispanoamérica: Chile (1760–1860) de Carlos III a Portales y Montt. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1994.

Guzmán Traverso, Andrés. "Manuel Montt Torres, un presidente con vocación de educador." Revista Pensamiento Educativo 34 (Junio 2004): 50-75.

                                      Simon Collier