16 julio, 2024

Conservative hegemony: concept, causes, characteristics, consequences

what was the conservative hegemony?

The conservative hegemony It was a period in the history of Colombia in which the Conservative Party remained in power without interruption for 44 years. This stage began in 1886 and ended in 1930, when the liberals regained power.

Clashes between political factions had been constant in Colombian history since its independence. In 1863, the radical liberals promulgated the Constitution of Rionegro, with which they established a federal republic. Despite some achievements in the field of freedoms, at the end of the 1970s the country was going through a major crisis.

Rafael Núñez, a liberal in his beginnings, promoted a movement that he called Regeneration. His intention was to repeal the reforms decreed by the Liberal Party and recover administrative centralism. When he reached the presidency, supported by the conservatives, Núñez promulgated a new constitution, a circumstance that began the conservative hegemony.

During the four decades of conservative governments, Colombia went through difficult moments such as the War of a Thousand Days or the separation from Panama. On the positive side, already in the 20th century the country experienced a great economic improvement, which served to improve its infrastructure.


Colombia, with its various names, had never achieved political stability since its proclamation as an independent country. This instability had been caused, among other things, by the confrontation between the federalists (normally liberal) and the centralists (mainly conservative).

One of the frequent civil confrontations ended up taking Tomás Cipriano Mosquera to the presidency. A supporter of federalism, he renamed the country the United States of Colombia.

Radical Olympus

When the civil war ended, in 1863, the radical liberals promulgated the Constitution of Rionegro, which marked the beginning of the period called Radical Olympus.

This stage lasted until 1886 and was characterized by the liberals’ attempt to transform the country. In addition to the implementation of federalism, the leaders promoted economic liberalism and measures that sought to modernize Colombia and leave behind the colonial structures.

The Regeneration

The political and economic model imposed by the Radical Olympus began to crumble in the 1870s. Colombia was going through a major economic crisis, due to the weakness of the private sector, the decline in exports (except in the case of coffee) and the lack of industry

In this context, a faction of the liberals gave their support to Rafael Núñez for the presidential elections of 1876. Although he lost to Aquileo Parra, Núñez established himself as the leader of the independent liberals and began to demand structural reforms based on what he called Regeneration .

Among the changes that Núñez called for was the end of federalism and for the central government to intervene in the economy. For him, the state should promote industry, build more infrastructure and encourage foreign investment.

In 1878, Núñez was elected to the Senate, already as a candidate for the Conservative Party. Likewise, he held the presidency of Congress until 1880. That same year, Núñez prevailed in the new elections for the presidency of the Republic.

Constitution of 1886

Rafael Núñez won the 1884 elections again, although illness delayed his incorporation into office. The following year, an internal confrontation in the State of Santander was used by radical liberals to start an uprising that spread throughout the country and led to a civil war.

The radical liberals had the ultimate goal of overthrowing Núñez. His attempt was unsuccessful and the conservatives were the winners of the contest. After this, Núñez himself announced that the Rionegro Constitution was no longer valid.

On September 10, 1885, the Colombian president convened a Constituent Assembly. The result was a new Magna Carta, approved in 1886, which ended with the centralism and liberal principles of the previous one.


The first president of the conservative hegemony was José María Serrano, who took office in 1886. However, the country’s strong man was Rafael Núñez.

Economic problems

The liberal government had tried to improve the economy through a system based on liberalism. However, the results were not as expected, especially after 1870.

The lack of a strong private sector and less state participation in the economy led to the impoverishment of the country. The already weak internal market shrank further.

opposition to federalism

The confrontation between federalists and centralists was constant from the very declaration of independence. The Rionegro Constitution organized the country as a federal state, with broad powers for the provinces.

During the time the country was called the United States of Colombia, instability was constant. In addition, the electoral system, with voting on different dates depending on the state, caused problems when it came to forming the governing bodies.

Núñez affirmed that this federalism was ruining the country and turned its elimination into one of the bases of the Regeneration.

Relations with the Church

The Catholic Church in Colombia had a power inherited from the colonial era. The liberals, especially their radical faction, tried to reduce their political and social influence. For this they decreed the effective separation between the State and the Church, in addition to promoting secular education.

The conservatives, for their part, maintained historical ties with the ecclesiastical institution and were against it losing its power. For Núñez, for example, positioning himself against the Church meant not respecting the vast majority of the people, deeply Catholic.

Characteristics of conservative hegemony

The Constitution of 1886 reflected all the characteristics of the conservative hegemony. This Magna Carta, based on Regeneration, reorganized the country as a centralist state, with a President who accumulated legislative power and control of public order.

Return to colonial traditions

The social base that supported the conservative hegemony was made up, mainly, of the upper classes: landowners, clergy, the military and oligarchs. All of them agreed on the desire to maintain the structures inherited from the colonial era, both in politics and in the economy.

This led, for example, to the fact that the land ownership structure remained unchanged, as well as the rejection of the abolition of slavery.

Closeness to the Church

The alliance between the conservatives and the Church led the government to negotiate a concordat with the Vatican that gave enormous powers to the clergy.

During the conservative hegemony, Catholicism became the official religion of Colombia. The Church achieved the transfer of the administration of the educational system, which meant that it was responsible for ensuring that education was in accordance with religious mora.


The Conservative Party tried to limit the free market policy that the Liberals had imposed. However, the first years of that period were not good for the Colombian economy, especially due to events such as the Thousand Days War or the separation of Panama.

On the other hand, Colombia also benefited from the boom in coffee exports, which became the country’s main source of foreign currency.

The contracting of the Kemmerer Mission served to modernize the Colombian economic structures. Likewise, the country began to industrialize. Despite all of the above, at the end of the 1920s, a new crisis hit the nation.

Political and union repression

The conservatives also repealed part of the laws promulgated by the liberals in the area of ​​individual liberties. Thus, censorship became common again in the country, many journalists were imprisoned and many newspapers closed.

Likewise, the conservative hegemony made sure that the liberals could not access relevant positions. To this we must add that many opponents were sent to prison or exile.

The industrialization of the country, already in the 20th century, caused the appearance of union organizations that tried to improve the rights of workers. The confrontation between the conservative governments, defenders of the companies, and the workers’ movements was a constant for years.

The unleashed repression had its high point in the so-called massacre of the banana plantations. Thousands of United Fruit Company workers were killed during a strike called to request labor improvements.


The conservative hegemony had important consequences for Colombia. Some of them, such as the formation of stable, positive public institutions. Others, such as censorship or union repression, are negative.

Expansion of coffee cultivation

The conservative governments modernized the coffee industry until making this product the base of their exports. To do this, they helped big businessmen to improve production.

The result was a significant increase in revenue thanks to the grain export tax. That money, despite accusations of corruption, was partly used to improve infrastructure.

transport development

At the beginning of the 20th century, the governments of the conservative hegemony expanded the railway networks throughout Colombia.

In 1919, commercial aviation began to operate in the country. The person responsible was a company with German participation.

industry development

The conservatives also promoted the industrialization of the country to try that agriculture was not the only important economic activity. At first, they had to import machinery from abroad, although little by little this was changing. A good part of those industries were in foreign hands.

On the negative, this industrialization caused the migration of many former agricultural workers to the cities. The working and living conditions were very negative, with many pockets of poverty. The unions’ attempt to improve this situation was violently repressed by the government.

war of a thousand days

The Liberals, removed from power by the Conservatives, staged several armed uprisings in the provinces. In 1899, one of them ended up leading to a bloody civil war.

It is estimated that some one hundred thousand people died during the conflict and the country was totally devastated.


The presidents during this period were José María Campo Serrano, Eliseo Payán, Rafael Núñez, Carlos Holguín Mallarino, Miguel Antonio Caro, Manuel Antonio Sanclemente, José Manuel Marroquín, Rafael Reyes, Ramón González Valencia, Carlos Eugenio Restrepo, José Vicente Concha, Marco Fidel Suárez, Jorge Holguín Mallarino, Pedro Nel Ospina and Miguel Abadía Méndez

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