Before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th cent., the Araucanians had long been in control of the land in the southern part of the region; in the north, the inhabitants were ruled by the Inca empire. Diego de Almagro, who was sent by Francisco Pizarro from Peru to explore the southern region, led a party of men through the Andes into the central lowlands of Chile but was unsuccessful (1536) in establishing a foothold there. In 1540, Pedro de Valdivia marched into Chile and, despite stout resistance from the Araucanians, founded Santiago (1541) and later established La Serena, Concepción, and Valdivia. After an initial period of incessant warfare with the natives, the Spanish succeeded in subjugating the indigenous population.
Although Chile was unattractive to the Spanish because of its isolation from Peru to the north and its lack of precious metals (copper was discovered much later), the Spanish developed a pastoral society there based on large ranches and haciendas worked by indigenous people; the yields were shipped to Peru. During the long colonial era, the mestizos became a tenant farmer class, called inquilinos; although technically free, most were in practice bound to the soil.
During most of the colonial period Chile was a captaincy general dependent upon the viceroyalty of Peru, but in 1778 it became a separate division virtually independent of Peru. Territorial limits were ill-defined and were the cause, after independence, of long-drawn-out boundary disputes with Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. The movement toward independence began in 1810 under the leadership of Juan Martínez de Rozas and Bernardo O'Higgins. The first phase (1810-14) ended in defeat at Rancagua, largely because of the rivalry of O'Higgins with José Miguel Carrera and his brothers. In 1817, José de San Martín, with incredible hardship, brought an army over the Andes from Argentina to Chile. The following year he won the decisive battle of Maipú over the Spaniards.
The New Nation
O'Higgins, who had been chosen supreme director, formally proclaimed Chile's independence Feb. 12, 1818, at Talca and established a military autocracy that characterized the republic's politics until 1833; O'Higgins ruled Chile from 1818 until 1823, when strong opposition to his policies forced him to resign. During this time the British expatriot Lord Cochrane, commanding the Chilean navy, cleared (1819-20) the coast of Spanish shipping, and in 1826 the remaining royalists were driven from Chiloé island, their last foothold on Chilean soil. The colonial aristocracy and the clergy had been discredited because of royalist leanings. The army, plus a few intellectuals, established a government devoid of democratic forms. Yet with the centralistic constitution of 1833, fashioned largely by Diego Portales on Chile's particular needs, a foundation was laid for the gradual emergence of parliamentary government and a long period of stability.
During the administrations of Manuel Bulnes (1841-51) and Manuel Montt (1851-61) the country experienced governmental reform and material progress. The war of 1866 between Peru and Spain involved Chile and led the republic to fortify its coast and build a navy. Chileans obtained the right to work the nitrate fields in the Atacama, which then belonged to Bolivia. Trouble over the concessions led in 1879 to open war (see Pacific, War of the). Chile was the victor and added valuable territories taken from Bolivia and Peru; a long-standing quarrel also ensued, the Tacna-Arica Controversy, which was finally settled in 1929. Chile also became involved in serious border troubles with Argentina; it was as a sign and symbol of the end of this trouble that the Christ of the Andes was dedicated in 1904. With the exploitation of nitrate and copper by foreign interests, chiefly the United States, prosperity continued.
The Transandine Railway was completed in 1910, and many more railroads were...