José Manuel Balmaceda (1838-1891), president of the republic of Chile, was born in Santiago in 1838. His parents were wealthy, and in his early days he was chiefly concerned in industrial and agricultural enterprise. In 1865 he was one of the representatives of the Chilean government at the general South American congress at Lima, and after his return obtained great distinction as an orator in the national assembly. After discharging some diplomatic missions abroad, he became successively minister of foreign affairs and of the interior under the presidency of Señor Santa Maria, and in the latter capacity carried compulsory civil marriage and several other laws highly obnoxious to the clergy. In 1886 he was elected president; but, in spite of his great capacity, his imperious temper little fitted him for the post. He was soon irreconcilably at variance with the majority of the national representatives, and on the 1st of January 1891 he sought to terminate an intolerable situation by refusing to convoke the assembly and ordering the continued collection of the taxes on his own authority.
This led to the Chilean Civil War of 1891, which ended in the overthrow of Balmaceda, who committed suicide on the 18th of September, the anniversary of his elevation to the presidency.