As it is with most who achieve greatness, Simon Bolivar’s life was marked by soaring successes and heavy losses. According to biographer Scott S. Smith, Bolivar is one of the most powerful figures in the world’s political history, yet his name, barely known outside of the six nations he liberated, is still celebrated and beloved.
After the deaths of his wealthy parents in childhood, an uncle raised Simon and exposed him to the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau. The influence of enlightened thinking produced a bold and opinionated youth, who by age 16 publicly proclaimed his support of the French Revolution and American Independence. At age 19, he married the daughter of a nobleman, only to lose her to yellow fever the following year. Driven by his grief, he left his home in Caracas and traveled to France where he immersed himself in intellectual and political studies. Spurred by a remark from the great naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, Simon discovered his life mission. "I believe that your country is ready for its independence. But I can not see the man who is to achieve it," von Humboldt declared. Simon vowed to be that man.
By 1810, the City Council of Caracas boldly deposed its viceroy and dispatched Simon to Europe to request protection from the British to prevent the French from attempting to seize Venezuela. Although help was not forthcoming, Simon recruited Francisco de Miranda, an experienced revolutionary, to head the independence movement. The result was a 14-year civil war between loyalists and revolutionaries. Early in the conflict, Bolivar established himself as a great orator and leader. In 1811, he freed his slaves and later called for the abolition of slavery across the entire Western Hemisphere.
Bolivar rose quickly through the military ranks and his fame grew as he earned a reputation as a dedicated warrior and inspirational communicator. In 1812, he wrote the first of his many eloquent political manifestos, articulating his belief that Venezuela should be liberated as the first step in creating an entire continent of independent states.
The fight for the independence of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Panama (a department of Colombia) involved 696 battles, many led by Simon Bolivar. He was at the height of his power when he convened a congress of Latin American republics in Panama in 1826. At that congress, he spoke of his vision of a league of the fledgling Central and South American nations, a notion far ahead of its time. Soon thereafter, resentment of Bolivar’s authoritarian approach caused his influence to wane. Following an assassination attempt and in failing health, Bolivar resigned all his positions and died shortly thereafter on December 17, 1830 at the age of 47. A leader, a hero, and the father of South American independence, Bolivar changed the direction and future of his entire continent.