The political revolt brought little social change, however, and 19th century Chilean society preserved the essence of the stratified colonial social structure, which was greatly influenced by family politics and the Roman Catholic Church. A strong presidency eventually emerged, but wealthy landowners remained powerful.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the government in Santiago consolidated its position in the south by persistently suppressing the Mapuche during the Occupation of the Araucanía. In 1881, it signed a treaty with Argentina confirming Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan, but conceding all of oriental Patagonia, and a considerable fraction of the territory it had during colonial times. As a result of the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia (1879-1883), Chile expanded its territory northward by almost one-third and acquired valuable nitrate deposits, the exploitation of which led to an era of national affluence.
In the 1870s, the church influence started to diminish slightly with the passing of several laws that took some old roles of the church into the State’s hands such as the registry of births and marriages.
In 1886, José Manuel Balmaceda was elected president. His economic policies visibly changed the existing liberal policies. He began to violate the constitution and slowly began to establish a dictatorship. Congress decided to depose Balmaceda, who refused to step down. Jorge Montt, among others, directed an armed conflict against Balmaceda, which soon extended into the Chilean Civil War of 1891. Defeated, Balmaceda fled to Argentina’s embassy, where he committed suicide. Jorge Montt became the new president.