Simon Bolivar


Simon Bolivar was the central figure in the liberation of the northern regions of South America. The independent republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Bolivia all regard him as a founding father. Ironically, his vision for a liberated South America was not independent republics, but rather, a South American federation that he patterned after the United States of America. Because of regional politics, however, this was never a realistic option. Although Bolivar himself was a patriot of noble intentions, many of the other "patriot" leaders of the age were mere warlords who fought primarily for their own aggrandizement.

Bolivar was born to an aristocratic family that had been settled in Venezuela for over 200 years. He went to Spain to complete his education and there married a beautiful bride with whom he was much smitten. She died after only a year, however, and he never remarried. In later life he credited this tragedy for his zeal for revolutionary activities. In the next few years, Bolivar became a follower of Napoleon and the republican principles he embodied. However, when Napoleon appointed his brother as king of Spain, Bolivar became disillusioned and returned to Venezuela to work for South American Independence.

The patriot leader at that time was Miranda, a Venezuelan who had been active in both the American and French Revolutions. He had attempted a revolution in 1806 but it failed, and as a result, he lived in exile. Miranda's revolutionary fervor remained and in 1811 he returned and Venezuela declared its independence. This revolution was also short lived, and Miranda was arrested by the Spanish.

At this point Bolivar rose as the new patriot leader. He had some successes over the next year, but just as many setbacks, and by 1815 took refuge in Haiti. Two years later he returned to South American and resumed his revolutionary activities. The turning point of his career was the winter march over the Andes followed by a great victory at Boyaca. This put him within striking distance of Bogota, the capital of modern day Columbia, and caused a great sensation both within and outside South America. From this point on, Bolivar became a romantic hero of legendary proportions, and his charismatic leadership did much to disguise the underlying political turmoil of the situation.

The main problem Bolivar faced was that few of his generals shared his vision of a continental republic, guided by liberal principles. They desired to expel the Spaniards, but were more interested in carving up the country for their personal benefit, than instituting a limited federal government. Bolivar was, in essense a dictator, but even so, was not powerful enough to impose his republican vision. With Colombia (then called New Granada) as his base, he suceeded in driving the Royalists out of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru but even with all of this territory nominally under his control, he failed to institute the political reforms he so desired. A constitutional congress called in 1828 failed to produce any results, and shortly after, he suffered an assassination attempt. The more he pressed his generals to surrender powers to civil authority, the more they incited local rebellions until the became de facto rulers of individual states. In 1830, with failing health, he resigned his authority. He intended to go into exile in Europe, but died before leaving Venezuela.

Key events during the life of Simon Bolivar:

Born in Caracas Venezuela to an aristocrat family.
Traveled to Spain to complete his education.
Fell in love and married, but his young wife lived only one year.
Miranda initiates a failed attempt at a revolution and goes into exile.
Returned to Venezuela when Napoleon made Joseph Bonaparte King of Spain.
Sent on a diplomatic mission to Britain by his patriot associates.
Miranda invited back to from exile; Independence declared.
Earthquake in Caracas. Independence movement collapses. Miranda imprisoned.
Bolivar enters Caracus in triumph after a series of patriot victories.
Bolivar driven into exile by Royalist offensive.
All of New Granada and Venezuela back in Royalist hands. Bolivar in exile in Haiti.
Bolivar returns; coordinates guerilla activity.
Crosses the Andes in winter and defeats the Royalists at the Battle of Boyaca.
Patriot victory at the Battle of Carabobo wins the independence of Colombia.
Meeting with San Martin in Guayaquil regarding Peru. San Martin defers to Bolivar.
Battle of Ayacucho deals a decisive blow to the Royalist cause in Peru.
Called a constitutional convention in 1828, but failed to achieve results.
Suffered a failed assassination attempt.
Resigned presidency and died of tuberculosis.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Spanish-American Colonies  in  A Child's History of Spain  by  John Bonner
Bolivar  in  Stories of South America  by  E. C. Brooks
San Martin Meets Bolivar  in  Stories of South America  by  E. C. Brooks
Simon Bolivar—The Liberator  in  South America  by  Hezekiah Butterworth
Bolivar and the Conquest of New Granada  in  Historical Tales: Spanish American  by  Charles Morris
Bolivar and the Republics in  Don Jose de San Martin  by  Anna Schoellkopf
Heroes of Independence  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B. Synge
Boyaca  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood

Image Links

Simon Bolivar
 in Stories of South America

Bolivar's Entrance into Caracas
 in South America

Bolivar on Monte Sacro
 in South America

Bolivar at the earthquake in Caracas
 in South America
Simon Bolivar
Simon Bolivar
 in Back Matter

Simon Bolivar
 in Don Jose de San Martin

Simon Bolivar
 in Simon Bolivar

Short Biography
Jose de San Martin Won independence from Spain for Argentina, then crossed the Andes and helped free Chili.
Miranda Early leader of South American Independence. Led a failed revolution in Venezuela in 1813. Died in prison.
Jose Antonio Paez A cavalry leader during War of Independence who rose from humble origins to be President (really dictator) of Venezuela.
Bernardo O'Higgins Military commander who together with San Martin freed Chile from Spanish rule. First 'Supreme Director' of Chile.
Jose Boves Leader of a ferocious band of llaneros who fought for the Royalists.
Ferdinand VII Bourbon king, restored to the throne of France after the Napoleonic Wars, refused to work with liberal constitution.
Manual Piar Mulatto General who continued to fight for independence after the patriot losses of 1815, and eventually broke with Bolivar.
Antonio Jose de Sucre South American patriot. Friend and trusted general of Simon Bolivar. Hero of the Battles of Pinchincha and Junin.