Birth Date: July 24, 1783
Death Date: December 17, 1830
South American revolutionary leader, general, and liberator. Born into a wealthy family in Caracus, Venezuela, on July 24, 1783, Simón Bolívar was orphaned at age six and raised by an uncle and educated by tutors. Bolívar traveled to Spain in 1799 to complete his education and there married a young Spanish noblewoman in 1802. The next year he returned with his wife to Venezuela, where she died of yellow fever. Bolívar traveled to Spain in 1804. After visiting France, he returned to Venezuela in 1807.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s removal of the Bourbons from the Spanish throne in 1808 brought upheaval to the Spanish colonies in Latin America, and Bolívar joined the Latin American movement seeking independence. Dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Britain by the Venezuelan Junta in 1810, he was unable to secure assistance and returned to Venezuela in March 1811 with Francesco Miranda, who had led an unsuccessful revolution in Venezuela in 1806. Bolívar joined the army of the new republic (declared on July 5, 1811) and commanded the fortress of Porto Cabello. But when Miranda was forced to surrender to the Spanish in July, Bolívar fled to Cartagena de Indias.
Securing a military command in New Grenada (now Colombia), Bolívar led an invasion of Venezuela in May 1813 and defeated the Spanish in six hard-fought battles, known as the Campaña Admirable. He entered Mérida on May 23 and was proclaimed El Liberador. Bolívar took Caracas (August 6) and was confirmed as El Liberador.
Civil war soon broke out. Bolívar won a series of battles but was defeated at La Puerta (June 15, 1814) and forced to flee to New Grenada. Gaining control of forces there, he liberated Bogotá only to be defeated by Spanish troops at Santa Maria and forced into exile in Jamaica in 1815. There he requested and received assistance from Haitian leader Alexandre Pétion in return for a promise to free the slaves.
Returning to Venezuela in December 1816, Bolívar fought a series of battles but was again defeated at La Puerta (March 15, 1818). Withdrawing into the Orinoco region, he raised a new force. Joined by several thousand British and Irish volunteers who were veterans of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) and linking up with other revolutionary forces, Bolívar crossed the Andes by the Pisba Pass and caught Spanish forces by surprise, winning the important Battle of Boyacá (June 11, 1819) and taking Bogatá (August 10).
On the creation in September 1821 of Gran Colombia, a federation comprising much of present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, Bolívar became its president. Victories over the Spanish in the Battle of Carabobo (June 25, 1821) and the Battle of Pichincha (May 24, 1822) consolidated his authority in Venezuela and Ecuador.
In September 1823 Bolívar arrived in Lima to raise a new army. In the Battle of Junín (August 6, 1824) he defeated Royalist forces and then departed to liberate Upper Peru, which was renamed Bolivia by its people. Bolívar wrote the new state’s constitution, which provided for a republican form of government with a strong presidency. Bolívar’s subsequent efforts to bring about Latin American unity were unsuccessful. Disheartened by the secession of Venezuela from the Gran Colombia in 1829, Bolívar, now in failing health, resigned his presidency on April 27, 1830. Intending to travel to Europe, he died near Santa Marta, Colombia, of tuberculosis on December 17, 1830.
Tenacious, bold, and resourceful, Bolívar was a great motivator of men. He was a staunch republican who favored limited government, property rights, and the rule of law. Not a brilliant tactician as a general, he was more important as an inspirational leader. Credited with having led the fight for the independence of the present nations of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Bolivia, Bolívar was disappointed in his efforts to achieve continental unity. He is today regarded as one of Latin America’s greatest heroes.
See also San Martín, José Francisco de
A founding father of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Born and educated in Caracas, Venezuela, after travelling in Europe he played...
The national cult of Simon Bolívar (see “Bolívar, Simon”) is a salient component of popular and elite culture in Venezuela and Colombia, where...
(1783-1830) Known as “the Liberator” for his role in the independence struggles of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru,...