Although divided, the PL soon achieved electoral victories. In the election of 1853, General José María Obando, who had led the revolutionary forces in the 1840 civil war and who was supported by the draconianos and the army, was elected and inaugurated as president. Congress remained in the hands of the golgotas. In May of the same year, Congress adopted the constitution of 1853, which had been written under López. A liberal document, it had significant provisions defining the separation of church and state and freedom of worship and establishing male suffrage. The new constitution also mandated the direct election of the president, members of Congress, magistrates, and governors, and it granted extensive autonomy to the departments.
Despite the victory that the constitution represented for the Liberals, tensions grew between golgota and draconiano forces. When the draconianos found Obando to be compromising with the golgotas, General José María Melo led a coup d'état in April 1854, declared himself dictator, and dissolved Congress. Melo's rule, the only military dictatorship in the nineteenth century, lasted only eight months because he proved unable to consolidate the interests of the draconianos; he was deposed by an alliance of golgotas and Conservatives.
In 1857 PC candidate Mariano Ospina Rodríguez was elected president. The next year, his administration adopted a new constitution, which renamed the country the Grenadine Confederation, replaced the vice president with three designates elected by Congress, and set the presidential term at four years. With the draconiano faction disappearing as a political force, the golgotas took over the PL in opposition to the Conservative Ospina. General Mosquera, the former president and the governor of the department of Cauca, emerged as the most important Liberal figure. A strong advocate of federalism, Mosquera threatened the secession of Cauca in the face of the centralization undertaken by the Conservatives. Mosquera, the golgotas, and their supporters declared a civil war in 1860, resulting in an almost complete obstruction of government.
Because civil disorder prevented elections from being held as scheduled in 1861, Bartolomé Calvo, a Conservative in line for the presidency, assumed the office. In July 1861, Mosquera captured Bogotá, deposed Calvo, and took the title of provisional president of the United States of New Granada and supreme commander of war. A congress of plenipotentiaries chosen by the civil and military leaders of each department met in the capital in September 1861 in response to a call by the provisional government. Meanwhile, the war continued until Mosquera defeated the Conservatives and finally subdued the opposition in Antioquia in October 1862.
Shortly after taking power, Mosquera put the church under secular control and expropriated church lands. The property was not redistributed to the landless, however, but was sold to merchants and landholders in an effort to improve the national fiscal situation, which had been ruined by the war. As a result, the amount of land held under latifundios increased.
In February 1863, a Liberal-only government convention met in Rionegro and enacted the constitution of 1863, which was to last until 1886. The Rionegro constitution renamed the nation the United States of Colombia. All powers not given to the central government were reserved for the states, including the right to engage in the commerce of arms and ammunition. The constitution contained fully defined individual liberties and guarantees as nearly absolute as possible, leaving the federal authority with little room to regulate society. The constitution also guaranteed Colombians the right to profess any religion.
The Rionegro constitution brought little peace to the country. After its enactment and before the next constitutional change, Liberals and Conservatives engaged in some forty local conflicts and several major military struggles. Contention persisted, moreover, between the moderate Liberals in the executive branch and the radical Liberals in the legislature; the latter went so far as to enact a measure prohibiting the central authority from suppressing a revolt against the government of any state or in any way interfering in state affairs. In 1867 the radical Liberals also executed a coup against Mosquera, leading to his imprisonment, trial before the Senate, and exile from the country.
With the fall of Mosquera and the entrenchment of radical Liberals in power, Conservatives found it increasingly difficult to accept the Rionegro constitution. Eventually Conservatives in Tolima and Antioquia took up arms, initiating another civil conflict in 1876. The Liberal national government put down the rebellion, but only with difficulty.
Golgotas controlled the presidency until 1884 and defended the Rionegro constitution's provisions for federalism, absolute liberties, separation of church and state, and the nonintervention of the state in the economy. Their economic policies emphasized the construction of lines of communication, especially railroads and improved roads. These projects did not unify the country and increase internal trade but instead linked the interior with export centers, connecting important cities with river and maritime ports. By allowing easier access to imports, the projects thus favored the merchant class over the national industrialists.
Under the golgota policy of completely free trade, exports became a major element of the country's economy. Three main agricultural exports--tobacco, quinine, and coffee--developed, especially after 1850 when international markets were more favorable and accessible. Nonetheless, all three crops suffered from cyclical periods of high and low demand. By the 1880s, it was clear that tobacco and quinine would not be reliable exports in the long term because of stiff international competition. Coffee also faced competition but nevertheless succeeded in dominating the economy after the 1870s. The coffee merchants used their profits as middlemen to invest in domestic industries, producing goods such as textiles for domestic consumption, particularly in the Medellín area. The emergence of coffee as an important export crop and the investment of profits from the coffee trade into domestic industry were significant steps in the economic development of the country.
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