Simón Bolívar – The Liberator

Simón Bolívar is the most famous of all the Latin American revolutionary figures, the George Washington of a half dozen South American nations. This outline looks closely at the life of Bolívar, from his birth in Venezuela in 1783 to his first forays into politics and war in 1810. The classic example of the Creole leader of independence, Bolívar was raised in an affluent Venezuelan family and educated by a series of private tutors. One of those tutors, Simón Rodríguez, was a classic Enlightenment intellectual who would play a crucial role in Bolívar’s intellectual formation—in Venezuela and Europe. After a life in the pursuit of pleasure, Bolívar met and married the great love of his life at the age of 21, only to experience the tragic death of his beautiful young wife within months. Bolívar returned to Europe, eventually committing his life to the liberation of his fellow Americans.

Simón Bolívar is the most famous of all the Latin American revolutionary figures, the George Washington of a half dozen South American nations.

A. Much like Washington, Bolívar rose to the occasion, a classic example of the historical dictum that the man and the hour meet.

    1. This lecture looks closely at the life of Bolívar, from his birth in Venezuela in 1783 to his first forays into politics and war in 1810.
    2. In an era of Creole revolutionaries, Bolívar was the classic Creole leader.
    3. Much like Miranda’s, Bolívar’s early life would not have inspired much confidence in his ability to lead men and create nations.
    4. True to the spirit of his age, Bolívar was an idealist and a romantic.

B. The comparison with George Washington, however, has its limitations.

    1. Washington rose to prominence for his steady and sober personality and leadership style.
    2. Washington was not known for his military brilliance on the battlefield.
    3. Once in power, Bolívar was never able to provide the stability that Washington brought to the early republic in the United States.

Simón Bolívar was born on July 24, 1783, into an elite Venezuelan family that could trace its local roots back to the conquest of the 16th century.

A. Like Miranda, Bolívar spent much of his youth experiencing the privileges of the wealthy.

    1. The Caracas of his youth was the third largest city in South America, with some 40,000 inhabitants.
    2. Bolívar was educated by a series of tutors, in particular, Simón Rodríguez.
    3. While Bolívar was between the ages of 9 and 14, Rodríguez took his young charge to the remote countryside and educated him in a mix of what one writer has described as cowboy life and Enlightenment philosophy.
    4. The teenage Bolívar was then enlisted in a militia unit to provide him with some discipline and direction.

B. In 1799, at the age of 16, Bolívar was sent to Spain to complete his education and make his fortune.

    1. Bolívar’s cousin, Esteban Palacios, had close connections to the Spanish Court, and the young Simón may have even played with the crown prince and future king, Fernando VII.
    2. Although we do not know much about his movements, in 1801 and 1802, he lived in France and had the opportunity to observe Napoleon’s regime up close.
    3. Bolívar fell madly in love with María Teresa Rodríguez y Alaiza, and they married in May 1802.
    4. They set up their home at an estate at San Mateo outside Caracas in mid-1802, yet tragically, María Teresa died of a fever within two months.
    5. The grieving Bolívar returned to Europe and a period of intense debauchery.
    6. In Paris, he was reunited with his old tutor, Simón Rodríguez, and Bolívar committed his life to the liberation of the Spanish American colonies.

The first uprising in Venezuela turned into a fiasco for both Bolívar and Miranda.

A. In 1810, Venezuelan Creoles organized their own junta and sent a delegation to London seeking British support.

    1. After receiving a cold shoulder from the British, Bolívar persuaded the charismatic Miranda to return to lead the struggle in Venezuela.
    2. On July 5, 1811, the Venezuelan congress declared the colony independent from Spain.
    3. After some initial military success with Miranda as commander-in- chief, the rebels faced serious setbacks.
    4. Powerful earthquakes in March 1812 killed some 20,000 and were seen by many as a sign from God that the rebellion was illegitimate.

B. In a series of twists befitting a Greek drama, Bolívar now turned on Miranda.

    1. The 61-year-old leader signed a humiliating surrender and prepared to flee to London.
    2. Bolívar arrested Miranda and handed him over to Spanish authorities, then fled to Curaçao.
    3. The Spanish shipped their old enemy back to the infamous La Carraca prison in Cadiz.
    4. His powerful English friends could not secure his release, and Miranda spent the last four years of his life as a prisoner, dying on July 14, 1816, the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille.
    5. The Precursor perished, betrayed by his heir to the leadership of the liberation of Spanish South America.

Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas


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