Arturo Fortunato Alessandri Palma (December 20, 1868 – August 24, 1950) was a Chilean political figure and reformer, who served twice as the President of Chile, first between 1920 and 1924, and then again in 1925, and finally from 1930 until 1936.
He was son of Pedro Alessandri Vargas, son of an Italian immigrant, and Susana Palma Guzmán. His father was dedicated to the agricultural labor of the estate in which he lived. At the age of 12 he entered the Sacred Hearts High School, run by French priests, where his brothers were studying and his father had studied.
He began a law career in the University of Chile at the age of 20, graduating in 1893. In 1891, while studying, he participated in the newspaper "La Justicia", which was in opposition to the President of the time, José Manuel Balmaceda. After graduating as a lawyer, he married Rosa Ester Rodríguez Velasco, with whom he had 9 children.
He began his political life in 1897, entering the Liberal Party, and assuming as the representative of Curicó, where he would be re-elected for almost 20 years. In 1915, already showing his first presidential aspirations, he challenged the senator of the province of Tarapacá, Arturo del Río. Alessandri won a disputed and violent election, from where he earned the nickname of León de Tarapacá (english: Lion of Tarapacá), due to his charisma, his popularity with the people and his abilities of speech.
In 1920 he ran for President of the Republic for the Liberal Alliance, defeating by a narrow margin his opponent of the Coalition (now named the National Union since it incorporated the Conservative Party) Luis Barros Borgoño. With his speeches favoring the working class, he caused great fear in the more conservative sectors of Chilean society, which saw its interests in jeopardy. Since the opposition controlled the National Congress, Alessandri favored strengthening the executive power, which lacked political weight before the Congress (Parliamentary Era).
During most of 1924, Chile had been politically paralyzed by a conflict between the President and the conservatively controlled Congress, who refused to enact the laws that he submitted. On September 3, 1924 a group of 56 military officers protested for their low salaries, in the incident known as the saber-rattling (ruido de sables). The next day the same group of young military officers led by Colonel Marmaduque Grove and Major Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, created the "military committee" to defend themselves from the government. On September 5, the "military committee" demanded of President Alessandri the dismissal of three of his ministers, including the Minister of War; the enactment of a labor code, the passage of an income tax law, and the improvement of the military salaries. Alessandri had no option but to appoint General Luis Altamirano, the Army Inspector General, as head of a new cabinet. On September 8, General Altamirano appeared in front of Congress to demand the passage of eight laws, including Alessandri's labor code. Congress didn't dare to protest, and the laws were passed in a matter of hours.
At that point, Alessandri felt that he had become just a pawn of the military and on September 9, he resigned, and requested asylum at the US Embassy. Congress refused to accept his resignation, and instead granted him a six-month constitutional leave of absence. He left the country immediately for Italy. On September 11, a military Junta — the September Junta — was established to rule the country in his absence.
The September Junta was not homogeneous, and quickly a progressive wing, headed by Marmaduque Grove and Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, developed contacts with the Comité Obrero Nacional and others labour organizations who advocated for Alessandri's return. This led to a coup in January 1925, directed by Colonel Grove who handed out the power to General Pedro Dartnell as interim president while waiting for Alessandri's return. Dartnell formed the January Junta, before retroceding the power to Alessandri on March 20, 1925.
Alessandri had a new Constitution drafted, and approved by plebiscite by 134,421 voters on August 30. The Constitution, which was promulgated on September 18, 1925, renforced presidential powers over the legislative. Furthermore, Alessandri created a Central Bank, initiating the first rupture with classical liberalism's laissez faire policies.