South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

Simon Bolivar—
the Washington of the South

Simon Bolivar, who united the inspiration of the cause of liberty in the South to the perseverance that fulfils great designs, was cradled in the Andes. This genius, who, with an army unschooled in the arts of arms, liberated his own country, and who stands next to Washington in the glories of the liberties of the West, was born in Caracas, Venezuela, July 24, 1783. While there is some uncertainty as to the exact date of his birth, the above is probably correct. His father was a wealthy land-owner in Peru. The child seems to have early shown that brightness of intellect that made his life a success. He was, however, destined to be left alone in the world. His father died in 1786, and his mother lived long enough to direct only his early education.

The child was placed in the care of the most competent and inspiring instructors. Don Simon Rodriguez, who is said to have been "a kind of Diogenes," was his first instructor. He was followed in the work by accomplished ecclesiastics. At the age of fifteen, on the death of his mother, Don Carlos Palacios, the Marquis Palacios, his uncle, became his guardian. The family was wealthy and noble, and the boy was sent to Spain to complete his education. He spent several years in studying law in Madrid, and in traveling in Europe. He was particularly attracted to those countries of the South from which the great immigration to South America is now tending. He was introduced at the court of Spain by his maternal uncle, Don Esteben, who had the favor of the king. Bolivar thus relates an experience of this period:

"The Prince of Asturias, Ferdinand, invited me, on one occasion, to play rockets. In doing so I struck him on the head with a shuttlecock. Ferdinand got angry; but his mother was present, and obliged him to continue the game because, having invited a young gentleman to play with him, he had put himself on the same level. Who would have announced to Ferdinand VII. that this accident was only an omen, and that I should one day wrench from his crown his most precious jewel!"

Bolivar then went to Paris, and there witnessed the closing scenes of that great spasm of social forces, the French Revolution. Returning to Madrid, he married, at the age of nineteen, a most beautiful and accomplished daughter, then sixteen years old, of a family of rank. He embarked for America, with the intention of caring for his estates; but his beautiful young wife died of yellow fever. He again returned to Paris to soothe his grief, and there remained for five years.

The death of his wife had wrought a change in him. He now desired to wed his life to a cause. "I loved my wife much," he said, "and at her death I took an oath never to marry. I have kept my word. If I had not been bereaved, perhaps my life would have been different. I would not have been general of liberators. I would not have made my second voyage to Europe. I would not have had the ideas which I gained by my travels, nor would I have had the experience, or made the study of the world, of mankind and of things, which has been of so much service to me during the course of my political career. The death of my wife placed me early in the way of patriotic effort, and caused me to follow the chariot of Mars rather than the plow of Ceres."



In 1805 he went to Italy, accompanied by his friend and preceptor Don Simon Rodriguez. Napoleon at that time was summoning his conquered empires to rise against Great Britain. The world, as it were, stood in awe of the victorious Corsican. Bolivar crossed the Alps on foot, visited Chambery, reputed to be once the home of Rousseau, and was present at the coronation of Napoleon as King of Italy. He saw Napoleon place the iron crown of the Lombards on his own head, with the imperious declaration: "God has given it to me!" He also saw the grand review of the Army of the Alps by Napoleon. Bolivar then visited Florence, Venice and Rome.

At Rome he was a dreamer. The time was drawing near for him to leave beautiful Italy and the purple city of the Tiber. "Let us go to Monte Aventino [the Sacred Mount]," he said, one morning, to Rodriguez. They went. Ascending the hill, the city of the living and the dead, the seven hills, the Tiber and the Campagna were before their eyes. They stood upon the Sacred Mount, and they spoke of another sacred mount that rose over Caracas, awaiting heroes such as gave the Roman republic its glory. Bolivar was agitated. He read, as it were, the book of the world. He talked of the liberty of the land of the Andes, and then he held out his hand to Rodriguez. "Let us here make an oath," said he. "Let us here, on this sacred hill, pledge our lives to the liberties of our own country." Rodriguez's heart responded to that of Bolivar. Then and there they pledged themselves to the cause of South American independence. With that resolution the republics of the Sun were born.

From Rome Bolivar went to Hamburg, and sailed for home. On his return to his native country in 1809, he passed through the United States, and studied its institutions.

In that sublime resolution on Monte Aventino were the battle of Boyaca, the emancipation of New Granada, Venezuela and Ecuador, the restoration of liberty to Peru, and freedom for the whole of northern South America. That resolution was to guide his feet to the land of Washington from that of Cincinnatus. It was to cause him to enter Caracas in triumph, amid strewing of flowers and pealing of bells. It was to send him into self-exile. It was to lead him, in defiance of nature, to dare the Cordilleras, and snows, storms and perils, and live where animals perished. It would rob him of fortune, and cause his name to become a mockery in his mother-land. It would carry him on its refluent wave to Peru. It would cause him there to be hailed almost as a god—to pass under triumphal arches, amid singing priests, dancing Indians and prostrate people, while the thunder of cannon shook the peaks of the high Andes, and the bells of the cities rang aloud with joy. It would force him into exile again at last, and cause him to die of a broken heart.

But that would not be the end. Caracas, that dressed in festal white for his triumphs, would receive him in robes of black for his burial, and entomb him in glory, and set his statue among the heroes of the world.

In that vow on the Sacred Mount there was begun a new era in the world.

He was now alone in the world, without father, mother, wife or child. He was something of a philosopher. Fresh from the dramatic efforts of the French people to establish a system of republican government, he saw in the young republic of the United States the model for the future of his native land, and for all the Spanish American states of the viceroy. The people of his own country, awakened in part by the suggestions of Miranda, were alive to the cause of liberty. He went to Caracas and joined the revolutionary movements. He took part in the uprising of the people in April, 1810. He received an officer's commission from the Council of State (the junta), and was authorized, with Luis Lepez Mendes, to go to Great Britain to purchase arms for the protection of the revolutionary government. He returned with a cargo of arms in 1811.

Bolivar brought Miranda with him. The events that followed the association of Bolivar and Miranda are among the most affecting and inexplicable in human history. Bolivar had been advised by the supreme junta of Caracas not to bring the schemes of Miranda into the new movement, nor to consult with him about it. But he found Miranda in London, a lonely old man, a patriot with his own dream of the liberty of Venezuela. Bolivar could not refrain from seeking to cheer Miranda's heart by informing him of the progress of events It was the seed sown by Miranda that was growing. Bolivar generously went to him, invited him to return to Venezuela, and offered him the hospitality of his own house. Bolivar did not do secretly what he held to be an act of justice to a brother patriot. His own return to Caracas would be hailed as a triumph. He would enter the city amid acclamations. He determined that Miranda should ride beside him on the occasion. The people rejoiced when they saw Miranda. It thrilled them to see the old, virtuous, self-sacrificing patriot riding beside young Simon Bolivar.

Ovations to Miranda followed the chief's return. He was looked upon now as a genius, schooled in all the arts of war. His unsuccessful effort in 1806 was now regarded as a splendid achievement. The event of the 19th of April had glorified it. It was, in the light of this event, a trumpet-call to liberty, a summons to victory.

Another great movement for South America was now at hand. The people were gathering in electoral colleges to elect representatives to a congress in Caracas. This congress would deal with the question of independence. The electoral college of Caracas was the first assembly to exercise the principles of executive government in the Andes. To this congress Miranda was elected a deputy by the Pao of Barcelona. He was made lieutenant-general of the Army of the Provinces. He was now at the height of his influence, everywhere hailed as the apostle of liberty, as the man who had perceived the future in a vision. His position at this time shows how perilous is great opportunity.

Events are hurrying. The day of independence is at hand. Caracas stands white in the high plateau of the Andes, amid her green mountain wall of cacti, the peaks gleaming above her, the purple waters shining beneath her. The venerable Miranda is her hero, and young Bolivar among her men of promise. The independence which would make Venezuela a sister of the great republic of the North was the desire of all hearts, the vision of all eyes.

At this happy period, who could have looked upon the city and have forecast the events of the year to follow?

The grand event that led to South American independence took place in Caracas on April 19, 1810. That day was the beginning of Andean liberty. At this period of transition, when there was no general government on the Peninsula, but conflicting authorities, whom should the American colonies obey—Charles, Ferdinand, the royal juntas or the new regime? Why should they not elect juntas of their own, to do their will, and thus be independent? The junta could elect the rulers whom the people favored.

In electing such a junta Caracas led the way. Napoleon was indeed to place Ferdinand on the throne of Spain again, and the latter was to rule over Spain and her provinces with an autocratic will; but after the election of the junta at Caracas, a decree had gone forth by which absolutism in the Andes would never be permanently re-established.

The proclamation of the independence of Caracas through the junta was brought about by a series of dramatic events. Liberty was in the air, but Emparan, the captain-general of the country, governed the people in the name of the crown of Spain. Three parties arose in Venezuela: those who adhered to the fortunes of King Ferdinand; the imperialists, or Bonapartists; and those who would establish an independent government, corresponding in spirit to the Sons of Liberty in the early days of the American Revolution. These sons of independence we may term the patriots. Of them Don Simon Bolivar was a leader.



On April 18, 1810, Wednesday of Holy Week, there arrived at Caracas commissioners to announce that a regency had been formed at Cadiz, to which the Venezuelans were counseled to be loyal. Don Simon Bolivar spoke the word which turned this event into an inspiration to the patriotic cause. "This power," he said, "which fluctuates in such a manner on the Peninsula, and does not secure itself, invites us to establish the junta of Caracas, and be governed by ourselves."  He had sounded the trumpet-note of liberty on the Andes. On the morning of April 19, 1810, the corporation of the city assembled in the church, according to the custom, to assist in the celebration of Holy Thursday. They invited the governor, Emparan, to meet with them. Emparan was by nature a tyrant. He declared that he governed Caracas by the power of his own will. He ignored the counsels of the corporation. Emparan met the corporation on that holy day. He there heard broached the suggestion of a junta of Caracas. In the suggestion he perceived independence and the end of his own power. He was filled with rage. "I will talk with you after the divine offices in the church," said he to the city council, haughtily. He left the council-hall and went out. Whither had he gone? Would he order their arrest? They awaited the event with suspense and apprehension. What would this last royal governor of Spain do? Return to the council? That would be to break with Spain. Order the arrest of the patriots? That would leave him between two hostile powers. Either event might end his own power. It was an hour of suspense, an hour of, human destiny. The governor represented the regency; the city council represented self-government; and a Napoleon was on the throne of Spain. But it was the hour of opportunity, and the patriots so regarded it. At the door of the cathedral were the grenadiers. The patriots stayed in their chamber awaiting events. Emparan entered the cathedral. A patriot met him there. "Return to the council," said the latter, laying his hand on his arm. Emparan obeyed the touch. He reentered the council-room. The council had resolved on independence, and he was no longer governor. Spain in America was tottering to its fall. The forming of a supreme junta was now proposed to him. He perceived his loss of power, and made no opposition. Encouraged by his silence, the corporation was about to make him the president of the junta when a thrilling incident occurred. There was in Caracas an ardent patriot by the name of Jose Cortes Madariga, a native of Chili, and a deacon of the cathedral. He was at confession when he was told what was happening. As if inspired by Providence, he rushed from the church to the council-room, and presented himself like a prophet before the patriots. He said: "I appear before you as a deputy of the clergy. Beware what you do at this hour. You are blind if you again put yourself at the mercy of the representative of Spain. Imperil not your fair prospect of sovereignty—of self-government for a people who should be free." He pictured the condition of political affairs in the Spanish peninsula, and then, with a godlike resolution, added: "I demand the deposition of your governor, in the name of the public good. Yes, I demand it in the name of justice, of my country, and of liberty!"

The words that he spoke were decisive; they were an unwritten law. Emparan fled to the balcony, and summoned the people to hear him speak. Madariga followed him. "Venezuelans," said the governor, "are you content with my administration?" Madariga, standing behind him, made signs to the people to answer "No." A shout rose: "No; we want you not!" The last royal governor saw his doom. "Then I do not want you!" he said. The revolution in spirit was accomplished.

That day the junta of Caracas was proclaimed. It was an independent power. It might choose its own rulers. It voted not to recognize the regency of Cadiz, and announced that Venezuela, in virtue of its natural and political rights, would proceed to the formation of a government of its own, and would exercise authority in the name of Ferdinand VII.

The council decreed the banishment of Emparan, but voted to pay his expenses to the United States. Not a gun had been fired. The revolution was an accomplished fact.