At the age of 23, Simón Bolívar ( July 24 ,1783 – December 17, 1830) vowed to free South America from Imperial Spain . Bolívar was a criollo or creole (born in the New World to Spanish parents) . Pressure for independence came mainly from criollos who resented the social and political dominance of the peninsulares
( those born in Spain ) and had access to education and inspired by the French and American Revolutions . As a military leader, Bolívar led his racially mixed armies to defeat the Spanish in Venezuela in 1817, in the republic of Colombia in 1819 and Peru in 1824 and after twenty years of ceaseless activity and covering thousands of miles ended three centuries of despotic, exploitive Spanish rule. All three provinces elected him president . However, despite being reviled in the countries he liberated at the end of his life he has been transformed over time into the greatest figure in South American history.
Trailer for The Liberator, coming out in 2014 starring Edgar Ramirez
Simon Bolívar (1969) starring Maximilian Schell as Bolívar .
The Revolutionary Simon Bolívar : Host Elaine Reyes speaks to Marie Arana of the Library of Congress, and author
of the book "Bolivar: American Liberator," about the historical importance of Simon Bolivar: Latin America's most revered revolutionary.
He was not able to realize his political dream of a confederated Spanish America as envisioned in the Congress of Panama with a common military, a mutual defense treaties, and a supranational parliamentary assembly. However, the Spanish would not return, and South Americans were free to rule themselves . It seems strange that Bolivar, who was always alluding to the heterogeneous character of the peoples of the Spanish colonies, should have failed to see the great differences between the Venezuelans, the Granadians, the Ecuadorians, and the Peruvians, and the impracticability of a federation of all these countries and their growing nationalism . The only way he could have created a South American superstate would have been through a temporary authoritarian regime until the people were more politically mature, yet was not willing to go as far as Napoleon for such a goal .
The one man who possibly could of formed a Commonwealth of Spanish nations was the Spanish monarch Ferdinand VII of Spain (October 14, 1784 – September, 29 1833 whom Bolívar had met and played a game of badminton with) but these hopes were dashed when he dissolved the Cortes (Spanish congress) and arrogantly abrogated the constitution in 1814 . By this act destroyed the last hope of keeping South America in at least an economic union
with an allegiance to a single sovereign .
Bolívar not only had to drive out the Spaniards with very insufficient means, but, when he had destroyed the old government, he was faced by the task of reconstructing an administration for peoples whose past had fitted them for nothing but despotic rule. He was perpetually reforming or reconstructing the administration, but nothing stable ever came of it. All who might have been able to help him had necessarily disappeared with the rule which they represented. The Spaniards alone were acquainted with the machinery of their government, such as it was, and, from the very nature of the case, it was impossible for them to serve on under the revolutionary government.
No misfortune, however great, seemed to daunt Bolivar in his early days. It is hardly possible to conceive any situation more desperate than his position after his defeat at La Puerta in 1814 or the earthquake of 1812 which shattered the infant First Republic and the epic march through the Andes in 1819 to Bogota . Yet he never for a moment lost hope, or the confidence of eventual success. It was only after he left Peru that despair of his countrymen, and of the future of South America, settled on his spirit like a gloomy cloud. He saw all his visions of a great confederacy melting away ; his back was hardly turned when both Peruvians and Bolivians rejected his favourite Bolivian constitution, which they had accepted when he was still amongst them to enforce his wishes.
In the drafting of constitutions Bolivar displayed a curious energy, and, all things considered, it is wonderful that he, devoid as he was of legal education, should have been able to turn out two such productions as the Constitutions of Cucuta and of Bolivia, which were apparently entirely his own handiwork. The latter was a somewhat strange piece of patchwork, made up from the British Constitution, tempered by that of the United States, and with an admixture of ancient Greek and Roman ideas. The whole thing, with its Presidency for life and its hereditary Senate, certainly smacked more of a constitutional monarchy than of a republic.
As an adult his stature he was small ; he was said to be about 5 feet 6 inches, though some accounts represent him as still smaller. He had a narrow chest and a spare body, with slender limbs, and hands and feet so small as to be the envy of many women. His complexion was sallow, the skin somewhat rough. His high forehead was curiously seamed, even in his youth, by wrinkles. His hair was very black, with thick eyebrows, surmounting very black and piercing eyes.
He was hospitable and fond of entertaining, though himself very simple in his food, so much so that he would often dine alone and only join a banquet towards the end, when, as a proposer of toasts, he was unsurpassed. He drank with the greatest moderation, and did not smoke at all, which was particularly remarkable in a country where almost everybody else lived with a cigar between his lips. Few men ever had greater opportunities of enriching themselves ; still fewer more honestly refused to take advantage of their opportunities. He was from a prosperous family, yet he yet lost it all following his dream of independence and only had a pension when he died . Simón Bolívar had no direct descendants, the Bolívar line lives on through his sister Juana Maria .
Timeline of Simon Bolivar
July 24, 1783
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios was born in Caracas, Venezuela of a wealthy Creole family.
Simón Bolívar birthplace - Casa Natal de Bolivar
At the age of 14, Bolívar enters the military academy of the Milicias de Veraguas and rises to the rank of lieutenant as a cavalry officer.
Bolívar's father dies .
Bolívar's mother dies .
Bolívar goes to Spain to study and learn manners and refinement in the royal court .
May 26, 1802
Marries María Teresa Rodríguez del Toro y Alaysa . Returns to Caracas in June with his wife .
María dies of yellow fever . A widower at 20, Bolivar vows never to marry again. Returns to Spain. Due to growing distrust of foreigners in Spain, Bolívar leaves for France, home of his revolutionary hero Napoleon . Returns to Europe, sees Napoleon crowned emperor on Dec 2, who he becomes to regard as a tyrant . Bolívar never returns to Spain .
Bolívar makes vow on Aventine Hill in Rome to dedicate his life to liberate his country. " I will not rest in body and soul till I have broken the chains of Spain ."
Bolívar returns to Venezuela and becomes well known as a revolutionary . Makes a stopover in the United States to see his dream of democracy in action . Visits Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington and leaves from Charleston .
Napoleon invades Spain and makes his brother king of Spain . France claims right to rule Spanish colonies . Spanish officials take orders from new French government in Madrid . More and more people agitate for an independent government, civil war ignites .
Overthrow of Spanish colonial government in Venezuela on April 19, 1810 ( Bolivar does not take an active part), junta claims loyalty to Ferdinand VII and begins to reorganize government into a representative republic like the United States . Bolívar sent to England to seek recognition and support . The British, still allied with Spain, decline . Bolívar meets famous exiled revolutionary Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) in England and asks him to return to Venezuela with him . He agrees and is greeted as a hero in Caracas on Dec 12, 1810 . Bolívar starts underground party called the Patriotic Society urging Venezuela's independence . Miranda placed in command of military forces .
Francisco de Miranda
July 5, Venezuela declares independence from Spain of Ferdinand VII and the French puppet government in Spain . Spanish admiral Juan Domingo Monteverde (1773-1832) sent with troops to restore the colonial government . Miranda and Monteverde fight a vicious civil war . Brother Juan Vicente died in a shipwreck .
Juan Domingo Monteverde
Bolívar conducts first military campaign . The First Republic of Venezuela falls when Spanish forces enter Caracas on July 28 . March 26, 1812 large earthquake strikes Venezuela, more than 10,000 killed in Caracas alone . Some see it as vengeance from God for revolting against the king . Bolivar declares " If nature is against us, we shall fight against her and force he to obey us ." Miranda appoints Bolivar commander of the fort at Puerto Cabello, an important seaport, which falls to Monteverde . Bolívar escapes but feels betrayed by Miranda, perhaps fearing Bolivar's growing popularity, who offered no aid . July 12, Miranda surrenders to Monteverde . Miranda imprisoned, Bolívar granted exile and goes to Curacao . Despite promises of no reprisals, Monteverde arrests anyone suspected of being a rebel, members of the new republic congress sent to prison in Spain . Property of Creoles such as Bolivar's seized .
Bolívar journeys to Cartagena, New Granada (Columbia) and is made a colonel . Publishes Cartagena Manifesto urging the people of New Granada to unite against the Spanish . Wins victories on Magdalena River . Clears province of Santa Marta of Spanish forces . Promoted to brigadier general . Plans invasion of Venezuela .
Bolivar returns from exile in New Granada and recaptures Caracas . Bolivar declares Second Republic Venezuela Aug 6 . Bolivar issues "Decree of War to the Death" (Decreto de Guerra a Muerte) allowing violence and even murder against Spanish citizens in retaliation for the Spanish Army's use of atrocities against those who supported the First Republic of Venezuela (unless they supported his forces) .Bolívar enters Caracas on August 6, 1813 to cheering crowds . given the title of "El Libertador." Monteverde retreats to Puerto Cabello . Illaneros (people of the plains of southern Venezuela) horsemen led by the Spanish renegade José Tomás Boves (who was tortured by the First Republicans of Venezuela) threaten Bolívar .
José Tomás Boves
Napoleon abdicates and goes into exile on Elba on April 11. Ferdinand VII regains Spanish throne. Bolívar defeated at the Battle of La Puerta by Boves Bolivar flees to Cartagena . Boves enteres and loots Cartagena, but is killed at the Battle of Urica in Dec 1814 .
Bolívar sails to Jamaica to gain British support,but is rebuffed . Ferdinand declares he will regain control of Spain's American colonies . Ferdinand sends his best general Don Pablo Morillo with an army of 10,000 to Venezuela . Spanish forces enter Cartagena in Dec, retaking New Granada .By Sept Morillo retakes most of Venezuela and had laid siege to Cartagena . Cartagena citizens send a delegation to Jamaica and Bolivar leaves Jamaica on Dec 18, 1815 . Finding that Cartagena has fallen, Bolivar sails to Haiti with a small force . The president of Haiti aids Bolivar who offers to abolish slavery in Spanish colonial lands . Bolívar leaves Haiti on April 10, 1816 .
Bolívar returns to Venezuela with expeditionary force on May 2, 1816 . Expedition fails and Bolívar returns to Haiti . Sails again for Venezuela on Dec 21, 1816 and establishes a strong position on the Orinoco River .
Congress of Angosture called in Jan to draw up new constitution . Bolívar elected president of the Third republic of Venezuela on Feb 15.
Large numbers of soldiers unemployed after the Napoleonic Wars recruited to join Bolivar's forces, give stability and strength to his armies .
Between 1810 and 1825, 7,000 English, Scottish and Irish mercenaries sailed to Gran Colombia to fight against Spanish colonial rule under the rebel forces of Simon Bolivar.
Bolivar begins epic march through jungles and Andes mountains with 2,000 men to join up with Gen Santander of New Granada . Defeats Spanish force at Boyaca on August 7 . Venezuela and New Granada join Gran Colombia on Dec 17 . Jan 1820 Ferdinand weakened by uprisinging in Spain, forced to establish a congress (cortes) and a constitution that limited his powers . Morillo agress to an armistice . Dec 16,Morillo returns to Spain . Gen Del la Torre put in charge of Spanish forces .
Battle of Carabobo ends Spanish occupation of New Granada on June 24 .
Bolívar returns to Caracas and is declared president of Gran Colombia (a state covering much of modern Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, northern Peru, and northwest of Brazil) on June 26 .
Quito (Ecuador) falls to Bolívar after the Battle of Bombona and becomes part of Gran Colombia on April 22 . Bolivar meets San Martin at Guayaquil on July 26 . Bolívar meets Doña Manuela Sáenz .
Defeats Spanish at Battle of Junin (Peru) on August 6 . Defections from the Peruvian royalist troops to the Bolívar increases considerably . Last major Spanish Army in South America defeated at the Battle of Ayacucho (Peru) on Dec 12 . Bolívar named dictator of Bolivia . Great Britain and the United State recognize Gran Columbia .
Bolívar calls Congress of Panama .
Arguments among republics on type of government, to prevent a break up of Gran Columbia Bolívar declares himself dictator on 27 August 1828 through the Decree of Dictatorship, which he hopes will be a temporary measure . Increased disaffection leads to an Assassination attempt on Bolívar in Bogota by mutinous officers on Sept 25 . Bolívar's mistress Doña Manuela Sáenz helps him escape . Uprisings occurred in New Granada, Venezuela, and Ecuador during the next two years .
Gran Columbia dissolves as Ecuador and Venezuela secede. Bolívar resigns presidency of April 27 declaring "All who served the Revolution have plowed the sea ." Bolívar leaves Bogota on May 8, intending to go to exile in Europe . Bolívar dies of tuberculosis near Santa Marta, Columbia at the age of 47 . Buried in the cathedral of Santa Marta.
Bolívar's remains moved to Caracas,where a monument was set up for his interment in the National Pantheon of Venezuela .
National Pantheon of Venezuela
Thrilling, authoritative and revelatory, here at last is a biography of Bolivar, the maker of South America, that catches the sheer extraordinary unique adventure and titanic scale of his life with accessible narrative and scholarly judgment.
Bolívar Museum in Caracas
John Lynch draws on extensive research on the man and his era to tell Bolívar's story, to understand his life in the context of his own society and times, and to explore his remarkable and enduring legacy
Between 1810 and 1825, seven thousand British, Scottish, and Irish mercenaries traveled to Gran Colombia to fight against Spanish colonial rule under the rebel forces of Simon Bolivar. Their motives were mixed. Some traveled for money, others for honor. Adventuring Through Spanish Colonies explores the lives of these men
Listen to free audiobooks on Simon Bolivar
from Historical Tales, Vol III: Spanish American, by Charles Morris
Other Spanish American and Mexican history links:
The War Of the Triple Alliance ( also known as the Paraguayan War ) from 1864 - 1870 is little known outside South America, despite being the bloodiest war in South American history
1879-1883 Chile vs Peru and Bolivia
The pirate Jean Laffite sailed under letters of marque from Gran Colombia
© Thomas Zimmerman 2014