In order to understand the value and significance of the life of Simon Bolivar, it's important to understand both his early and adult life. His Jamaican Letter, why he was called The Great Liberator, and his historic significance -- that has been compared with the significance of George Washington -- all matter. Bolivar was a military leader, but also a political leader. The combination opened up many different options for him, allowing him to focus on several different aspects of serving his country and advancing the values he felt were important. During Latin America's struggle to become independent from the Spanish Empire, Bolivar played a crucial role (Arana, 2013; Bushnell, 1970). That struggle was ultimately successful, further endearing Bolivar to the people of his country and to history in general. Because of his work to make life better for his country from both military and political standpoints, he is considered today to be one of the most influential politicians in all the history of the Americas (Harvey, 2000). His triumph of the Spanish Monarchy was not the only reason he was considered so valuable, however.
Bolivar also helped found a union of independent nations, which was the first of its kind in Hispanic-America (Marx, 1858). It is now know as Gran Columbia (Arana, 2013). He served as its president for more than 10 years, and has been lauded as a visionary, revolutionary, liberator, and hero (Bushnell & Fornoff, 2003). All of those words appear to fit Bolivar well, because he provided so much to a vast number of people during his lifetime. Despite being only 47 years old when he died, Bolivar's life and legacy have made a lasting impression on Hispanic-America and the rest of the world (Bushnell & Macaulay, 1994; Harvey, 2000). He led a number of countries during his life, leaving his mark on each one. These included Venezuela, Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, and Peru (Lynch, 1983). All were freed from Spanish rule during his time leading them, and it is believed he was instrumental in laying the foundations of democracy for a number of countries in what is now Latin America (Bushnell & Fornoff, 2003; Bushnell & Macaulay, 1994).
Simon Bolivar, officially named Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, was born in July of 1783 (O'Leary, 1970). There is an argument as to where his birth took place, however, because there are two different, alleged locations where Bolivar was born. Some believe he was born at a residence in San Mateo, but it is officially stated that he was born in a house in Caracas (Lynch, 1986). He had a brother and two older sisters, as well as another sister who died at birth (Lynch, 1986). Because of difficult circumstances, Bolivar's parents were forced to give him up and entrust his care to Dona Ines Manceba de Miyares and a family slave (Mijares, 1983; O'Leary, 1970). He returned to live with his parents after two years, but the separation and circumstances surrounding it would have a strong effect on Bolivar throughout his entire life. His father also died before Bolivar turned three, so he was without a strong male role model and had to grieve that particular loss, as well (Arana, 2013). Those early experiences shaped much of what he fought for and believed in as he got older and came into power.
Because Bolivar's father passed away in his sleep, there was no warning and no opportunity to say goodbye. Before Bolivar turned nine years old, his mother also died (Arana, 2013). He was placed in the custody of Miguel Jose Sanz, but there was too much conflict and difficulty with that relationship (Arana, 2013). It failed to work out, and Bolivar was sent back home. Many renowned professors worked with Bolivar to help him get a good education. They came to his home and provided private lessons. One of those men, Don Simon Rodriguez, later became a good friend to Bolivar and taught him more than just what could be learned from books (Lynch, 1983). Through his friendship with Rodriguez, Bolivar learned about youth, most of his care has provided by the family nurse, a slave woman.
Bolivar's adult life actually began rather early. When he was 14 he entered a military academy (Arana, 2013). During an age when most people would be still thought of as children, Bolivar was learning to be a man. Years earlier, his father had directed that academy as a colonel (Lynch, 1986). Bolivar learned about military strategy, and also discovered he had a particular passion for and interest in armaments (Lynch, 1986). The strategy he learned during his time in the academy would be very useful to him later, as he focused on freeing the people of various countries from Spanish rule. Another defining moment in Bolivar's young adult life was the witnessing of the coronation of Napoleon in Paris (Bushnell & Fornoff, 2003). He wanted to have that same kind of glory by helping the people of his native land and doing something profound and important for them. This desire to be more than just another person, and to make something of himself that went beyond what most would ever do, helped to fuel Bolivar's continuing focus on military and political values and ideals that would shape a number of nations.
Bolivar's private life was mostly uneventful. He married once, but she died a few months later of yellow fever (Bushnell & Macaulay, 1994). They had no children. Bolivar traveled a lot to a number of different countries, exploring the world and learning all he could about how it worked. His brother and sisters had children, and that provided Bolivar with some extended family to talk to and spend time with, but much of his time was spent alone (Harvey, 2000; Mijares, 1983). In later years he had a lover who helped him with many of the liberations of various nations and also saved him from an attempted assassination (Bushnell & Fornoff, 2003). As risky and dangerous as his career sometimes was, he died not from battle or a military uprising, but from tuberculosis at the age of 47 (Arana, 2013). While his life was relatively short by today's standards, he offered a great deal of value to the countries he helped free from Spanish rule and was remembered fondly by most of those who knew him. His name has gone down in history for his desire to provide a better life for such a large number of people who wanted to escape oppressive Spanish rule.
The Great Liberator
The biggest role Simon Bolivar played in his lifetime was that of a liberator. His military career began with a command in Columbia in 1813 (Bushnell & Macaulay, 1994). It was the beginning of a campaign where he was actually proclaimed The Liberator. While there were many battles fought throughout the campaign and also into other campaigns, the Liberator title was something Bolivar would have from the beginning and keep until the end of his career (Bushnell & Fornoff, 2003). Everywhere he went, he used his military strategy and deep dedication to the people to focus on ways to win battles, come to agreements, and move things forward. Most of what Bolivar did happened fast, as well. He did not waste time with lengthy negotiations or excessive planning. Instead, he focused on what he needed to do in order to take back a city or a region. Once he had done that, he focused on the next one and the next one after that. Before long, he had liberated an entire country from the Spanish Monarchy, but that was not without setbacks.
He could have stopped when he liberated a country, and he would have been applauded and appreciated. However, Bolivar was not interested in stopping. He wanted freedom for all the nations who were oppressively ruled by the Spanish and was not going to give up until that took place. Things were not always easy for The Liberator, though. There were attempts made on his life, and there were times when he had to flee to another city or even another nation in order to be protected (Lynch, 1983). Once such flight took him to Jamaica, but there was no help for him there (Bushnell & Fornoff, 2003). He quickly left and made his way to Haiti, where he was given protection and friendship (Bushnell & Fornoff, 2003; Bushnell & Macaulay, 1994). After regrouping in Haiti and enlisting vital support from the military there, Bolivar continued his liberation efforts by heading to Venezuela (Bushnell & Macaulay, 1994). While he had some success there, he was not able to completely liberate the country at that time -- it would have to wait.
The liberation of Venezuela would come, but first Bolivar turned his attention…
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