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History, Constitutional Changes

Rafael Nunez, New Granada, Thousand Days, strong central government, sovereign states

In 1849 the Liberals succeeded in electing Jose Hilario Lopez. Slavery was abolished in New Granada in 1851 and 1852. A new constitution, adopted in 1853, provided for trial by jury, freedom of the press, and other civil rights. Church and state were separated. In 1855 an amendment to the constitution reduced the power of the central government and turned the provinces into federal states with a high degree of internal self-rule. The name of the republic was changed to Granadine Confederation.

Civil war broke out in 1861 between Liberal elements, favoring greater sovereignty for the states within the republic, and Conservative elements, fighting for a strong central government. Following the victory of the Liberals, the government in 1863 adopted a new constitution that provided for an even more decentralized union of sovereign states named the United States of Colombia. The Liberals continued to dominate the political scene for the next 17 years.

The Liberals inadvertently brought their control to an end in 1880 by installing Rafael Nunez, a gifted lawyer and poet, as president. Long known as an extreme Liberal, he had become steadily more conservative before becoming president. Nunez instituted a new constitution in 1886 that established a number of Conservative policies. The new constitution abolished the sovereign states created by the constitution of 1863 and set up the present centralized government of the country. Catholicism was made the official state religion, although freedom of worship was guaranteed. The present name of the country, the Republic of Colombia, was adopted.

Although the constitution barred Nunez from succeeding himself as president, he remained the undisputed ruler of Colombia, serving as president on a number of occasions and at other times installing handpicked successors in office. His presidency began a period of Conservative rule during which the Conservatives controlled the military, manipulated election results, and censored the press.

When Nunez died in 1894, conflict again broke out between the Liberal and Conservative factions. Between 1899 and 1902, the country descended into civil war. This war, known as the War of a Thousand Days, claimed 60,000 to 130,000 lives.

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