Simon Bolivar Research Paper

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Simon Bolivar’s aristocratic background, education, and his and Grand Tour experience in 1799 resulted in his exposure to European revolutionaries in the early days of the Napoleonic era; in 1805 he made an oath to free South America from Spanish rule. He achieved his goal twenty-one years later, after failed attempts, exile, and a decade of war, thereby earning his title of “Liberator.”

Simon Bolivar, the future Liberator of South America, was born to an aristocratic Creole family with extensive property surrounding Caracas in 1783. His parents had dramatic personalities (his father was a notorious womanizer and his mother managed the family estates aggressively), but Bolivar was orphaned at a young age, and the person who had the greatest impact on him as a child was a slave woman named Hipolita, by whom he was raised in his uncle’s house and for whom he retained fond feelings throughout his life. He was a handsome, active boy, doted upon by his sisters and other female relatives. Young Simon was not a diligent student; he preferred an athletic life in the wild outdoors to time spent in a library with his tutors. Nevertheless, he was clever and received the best education that his family’s wealth could provide and his disinclination to study would allow.

Bolivar’s most influential teacher was Simon Rodriguez, an unorthodox freethinker who later became famous for his translation of Chateaubriand’s Atala and for teaching anatomy to his students in the nude. In 1799, Rodriguez took his impressionable young charge to Europe for the typical gentleman’s Grand Tour to complete his education. In Madrid, he was invited to play badminton with the future King Ferdinand VII; recalling the accident in which he accidentally knocked off his opponent’s hat, Bolivar later mused, “who would have prophesied . . . that this was a sign that one day I might tear the costliest jewel from his crown?” (Worcester 1977, 8). Teacher and student moved on to Paris where they spent much time in the salon of the infamous Fanny du Villars. It was the early Napoleonic era and when Bolivar and Rodriguez met with naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland, they spent much time discussing the destinies of great men and the revolutions they make. In 1805, at Monte Sacro in Rome, Bolivar took a symbolic oath that he would liberate his countrymen from the Spanish yoke.

In 1806, Bolivar returned to Venezuela via the United States. He traveled with his new wife, a beautiful young Spanish girl named Maria Teresa Rodriguez del Toro. By all accounts he was devoted to her and was devastated when she died of typhus shortly after her arrival in Caracas. Although he had many subsequent relationships with women, Bolivar never married again and left no children. Instead, he turned his attention to local politics and accepted a position as the lieutenant chief justice of the Yare Valley. In 1810, when a constitutional crisis opened the possibility for Spanish-American cabildos (town councils) to seize temporary powers to rule in the king’s name, Bolivar sensed that his historical moment had arrived. He went to London as a member of the three-person delegation hoping to secure British military protection for the Caracas junta and perhaps some sort of political recognition as well. Those goals may have proved too optimistic, but the brief time Bolivar spent in London initiated a devotion to British-style aristocratic reformism and constitutional monarchy that lasted for the rest of his life.

Bolivar was twenty-seven years old when he returned to Caracas in September 1810. He was a charismatic figure whose intellectual training and vast fortune ensured that his voice would be heard in the deliberations over the momentous decisions facing his country. In the beginning, Bolivar was willing to serve as a commander under the more experienced General Francisco de Miranda when the inevitable Spanish royalist counterattack began; by 1812, however, Bolivar had started to doubt the older man’s competence. In a highly controversial episode, Bolivar’s garrison surrendered to the royalist Monteverde’s forces and Miranda was taken captive. Bolivar’s detractors see this a betrayal of both the Republic and a personal betrayal; Bolivar himself saw it as a patriotic act that saved his countrymen further bloodshed from Miranda’s disastrous leadership. With the First Venezuelan Republic (1811–1812) in ruins, Bolivar and the rest of the patriotic leadership fled to exile in New Granada and islands in the British Caribbean with rulers sympathetic to his cause.

In 1812, Bolivar wrote his first significant political treatise, the Cartagena Manifesto. In 1813, he declared “war to the death” against the Spanish presence in South America, wholly dedicating his life and energies to the cause; he declared the Second Republic and took the title of Libertador (Liberator) for himself. What followed was a decade-long brutal civil war that pitted members of important families—including Bolivar’s own—against each other. In 1816, Bolivar wrote another famous tract, known as the Jamaica Letter, while he was trying to gather men and material for an expedition to Venezuela. He sailed past Haiti, where he received further assistance from the mulatto leader Alexander Petion in exchange for a promise to abolish slavery in the future Venezuelan republic. Bolivar’s multinational forces eventually included a large group of British soldiers, known as the Irish and British Legions, and a homegrown band of fierce plainsmen known as the llaneros under the command of Jose Antonio Paez.

Bolivar’s forces invaded the mainland in 1817 and made slow but steady advances. By 1819, they had secured a large part of the Orinoco delta and had set up a patriot headquarters at Angostura. Under Bolivar’s watchful gaze, his partisans called a congress to declare the Third Republic, write a constitution, and declare the Liberator to be the first president. The Angostura constitution provided for separation of powers and many other liberal measures influenced by the United States, Britain, the Cadiz Constitution of 1812, and the Greek and Roman classical heritage. Now confirmed as a legitimate head of state, Bolivar pressed onward to two decisive victories over the royalists at Boyaca (1820) and Carabobo (1821). Shortly thereafter, the independence of northern South America was guaranteed in a formal capitulation and the Congress of Cucuta created the Republic of Gran Colombia. Always restless, Bolivar could not bring himself to stay in one place and govern while Spanish forces remained on the continent; he left Gran Colombia in the care of his vice president, Francisco de Paula Santander, and headed westward to join in the liberation of Peru. After their fateful meeting at Guayaquil in 1822, Bolivar’s only hemispheric rival, Argentine general Jose de San Martin, went into self-imposed exile and the Liberator emerged as the towering hero of the continental independence movement. By 1826, the last remaining royal strongholds fell and the grateful former Peruvian province adopted a new name, Bolivia, in honor of its liberator.

Simon Bolivar had accomplished his life’s goal. He enjoyed unimaginable popularity as the Liberator of a continent, but the territories quickly proved ungovernable. Racial tensions worsened when the patriots did not emancipate the slaves immediately as they had promised. Regional jealousies quickly surfaced and there was growing hostility between those who favored a decentralized federal system and those like Bolivar who increasingly wanted a strong centralized authority to deal with the unrest. His enemies quickly depicted him as a closet monarchist, intent on securing an American crown for himself. In the late 1820s, he survived a series of assassination attempts, one time by jumping out of a window while his would-be murderers were at the door.

He grew increasingly pessimistic and planned to leave for England. Before he could depart, however, an exhausted Bolivar succumbed to tuberculosis in December 1830. His legacy is vast. Not only did Bolivar inspire the independence movements of northern South America and use his considerable military skills to defeat the Spanish forces throughout the region, he conceived of a continental system that was the forerunner of modern Pan-Americanism. He has achieved iconic status throughout the Americas, and has lent his name to two South American republics (Bolivia and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) and one national currency.


  1. Brading, D. (1991). The first America: The Spanish monarchy, Creole patriots and the liberal state 1492–1867. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Bushnell, D. (2003). Simon Bolivar: Liberation and disappointment. New York: Longman.
  3. Collier, S. (1983). Nationality, nationalism and supranationalism in the writings of Simon Bolivar. Hispanic American Historical Review, 63(1), 37–64.
  4. Cussen, A. (1992). Bello and Bolivar: Poetry and politics in the Spanish American revolution. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Lynch, J. (1983). Bolivar and the Caudillos. Hispanic American Historical Review, 63(1), 3–35.
  6. Lynch, J. (1986). The Spanish American revolutions 1808–1826. New York: Norton.
  7. Lynch, J. (Ed.). (1994). The Latin American revolutions: Old and new world origins. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
  8. Madariaga, S. (1952). Bolivar. London: Hollis & Carter.
  9. Masur, G. (1969). Simon Bolivar. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  10. Slatta, R., & De Grummond, J. L. (2003). Simon Bolivar’s quest for glory. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.
  11. Worcester, D. (1977). Bolivar. Boston: Little, Brown.

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