Adolfo Ballivián

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Adolfo Ballivián

Adolfo Ballivián Coll (November 15, 1831 – February 14, 1874) was constitutional president of Bolivia between 1873 and 1874.

Born in La Paz, Adolfo Ballivián was the son of former Bolivian President and war hero José Ballivián. Widely traveled, he was a member of the armed forces, orator, composer, writer, and congressman. Having joined the army at the age of 16, he combatted under the command of his father against insurgent forces. Nonetheless, he was forced to flee Bolivia and lived abroad since 1847, when his father was toppled from power and exiled, first to Chile and then to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While traveling in Valparaíso, Chile, he met and married Carmen Grimwood Allende, of Quillota, Chile. Following his father's unexpected death in Brazil in 1855, Ballivián Coll returned to his native land. At first he attempted to rejoin the army and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Discouraged from continuing a military career (many mistrusted him for his obvious charisma, education, and potential to become a rival in an era of military supremacy in politics), he was persuaded to run for Congress instead. There he first shone as a brilliant orator and gifted defender of constitutionalism and the rule of law. He also became a part-time journalist.

Adolfo Ballivián chose to absent himself again when in 1872 the president, General Agustín Morales, began to quarrel with the legislative and the media and hinted that he (Morales) may arrogate to himself supreme dictatorial powers. Ballivián was still in Europe when Congress and the Constitutionalist forces invoked his name as their official candidate in the 1873 elections, called hastily upon the assassination of President Morales. To his surprise, he was elected president overwhelmingly in what were possibly the cleanest elections up to that point in Bolivian history. Returning to Bolivia, he was sworn in and presented with the presidential sash by his predecessor, Tomás Frías Ametller, on May 9, 1873. At that point Ballivián became the youngest Bolivian president to date, having followed precisely the oldest (Frías).

The young chief executive benefited from a short "honeymoon" period and then faced the customary obdurate, obstructionist opposition of factionalist politicians. It did not help that his short term in office coincided with a global fall in the price of silver, hitherto Bolivia's most important export alongside tin. It was in this context that Congress denied Ballivián's urgent request to buy new warships from Europe in order to re-equip the fledgeling, almost non-existent Bolivian Navy, in view of mounting challenges to Bolivian sovereignty in the Pacific by Chile. This congressional denial would be rued by Bolivians in subsequent years, when war finally erupted. Still, Ballivián managed to rule in a rational and enlightened manner, above all adhering to democratic precepts, evincing a strict respect for the rule of law, and allowing full personal freedoms and the operation of an unfettered press.

Tragically, President Adolfo Ballivián was stricken with stomach cancer within months of coming to power, and died at the age of 43 on February 14, 1874. He was constitutionally succeeded by Dr. Tomás Frías, the same man who had transferred power to him only 9 months earlier.

Grimwood, the paternal surname of Adolfo Ballivián's wife, and maternal surname of their children, is often misspelled Greenwood in genealogical resources such as FamilySearch.org

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Political offices
Preceded by
Tomás Frías
President of Bolivia
1873–1874
Succeeded by
Tomás Frías