Simon Bolivar

The Spanish colonies of South America remained for three centuries in quiet submission to the mother country, if we except the desperate attempt of the Peruvian Indians, under Tupac Amaru, to throw off the yoke of their oppressors. Never were despotism, avarice and slavish obsequiousness to power, more thoroughly displayed than in Spanish America, under the government of the viceroys and captains-general, who, with all the principal officers of the viceroyal court, were sent to America from Madrid, and who, without being under any efficient responsibility, administered their authority with every species of tyranny and venality. Justice was bought and sold, and the most important legal decisions were made in favor of the highest bidder. The mercantile policy of the parent country was equally despotic and rapacious. The establishment of manufactures was not permitted, while cargoes of Spanish commodities, the refuse of the shops, were forced, in barter for silver and gold, upon a half-civilized people, who neither wanted nor could possibly use them. Foreign commerce was interdicted on pain of death; all social improvement was suppressed; and to prevent the inhabitants from knowing the extent of their degradation, all intercourse whatever was strictly forbidden with any country or people, besides Spain and Spaniards, and allowed even with them under many restrictions. Superstition and ignorance were upheld as the surest support of the colonial system; so that, previous to 1810, the whole continent, from Lima to Monte Video, contained but one wretched printing-press, and that in the bands of the monks, who consigned to the dungeons of the Inquisition every man who possessed a prohibited book.

The example of the revolt of the British North American colonies had a slow effect in propagating revolutionary ideas in the south; and the usurpation of the crown of Spain by Napoleon precipitated those movements which resulted, after a bloody struggle, in wresting from the dominion of Spain the whole of her continental possessions in America. In this momentous contest, Simon Bolivar bore the most conspicuous part, and his life comprises the substance of the history of the country in which his military exploits were performed during its most eventful period.

This celebrated man was born in the city of Caraccas, in July, 1783. He belonged to a family of distinction, and was one of the few natives of the Spanish colonies who were permitted to visit Europe. After finishing his studies at Madrid, he went to France, and during his stay at Paris rendered himself an acceptable guest in its social circles, by the amenity of his manners, and his other personal recommendations. In the midst, however, of all the seductions of that gay capital, his sanguine temper and ardent imagination anticipated the task which the future fortunes of his country might impose upon him, and even in his twenty-third year he is said to have contemplated the establishment of her independence. While at Paris his favorite occupation was the study of those branches of science which contribute to the formation of the character of a warrior and statesman. Humboldt and Bonpland were his intimate friends, and accompanied him in his excursions in France; nor did he think his travels finished till he had visited England, Italy, and a part of Germany. On his return to Madrid, he was married, and shortly afterwards returned to America, where he arrived in 1810, at the very moment when his countrymen were about to unfurl the standard of independence. On his passage homeward, he visited the United States, where he gathered some political knowledge which subsequent events rendered highly useful to him.

The revolution began in Venezuela on Good Friday, April 19, 1810, when, by a popular movement, the captain-general of Caraccas was arrest ed and deposed, and a congress convened to organize a new government. The talents and acquirements of Bolivar pointed him out as the best qualified person to be placed at the helm but he disapproved of the system adopted by the congress, and refused a diplomatic mission to England. He even declined any connection with the government, though he continued a staunch friend to the cause of independence. But at length he consented to proceed to England, where he solicited the British cabinet in vain to espouse the cause of the revolution. Finding them resolved to maintain a strict neutrality, he returned to Caraccas after a short stay. In the mean time, the declaration of independence was boldly maintained by military force. Miranda was appointed commander-in-chief. Bolivar took the post of colonel in the army, and governor of Puerto Cabello, the strongest place in Venezuela.

Success attended the arms of the patriots till 1812, when a remarkable event caused them the most serious reverses. In March of that year a violent earthquake devastated the whole province, and among other places totally destroyed the city of Caraccas, with all its magazines and munitions of war. This dreadful calamity, in which twenty thousand persons perished, happened, by a most remarkable coincidence, on the anniversary of the very day in which the revolution had broken out, two years before. The priesthood, who, as a body, were devoted to the royal interest, eagerly seized upon this circumstance. In their hands, the earthquake became the token of the Divine wrath against the revolutionary party. The superstitious multitude were easily deluded and terrified with such representations and denunciations. Priests, monks, and friars, were stationed in the streets, vociferating in the midst of credulous throngs of people trembling with fear, while the royalist commanders improved the occasion by over running one district after another. Bolivar was compelled to evacuate Puerto Cabello. Miranda's conduct having become suspicious, he was ar rested by the patriot leaders and delivered up to the Spanish commander, who sent him to Spain, where he died in a dungeon. Bolivar is supposed to have had a share in this transaction, in consequence of which he has been severely censured. There were some circumstances, however, which appeared to justify a suspicion that Miranda was engaged in a hostile plot with the British cabinet.

Bolivar was now entrusted with the command of an army of six thousand men, which he led across the mountains to the further extremity of New Granada. In the hostilities of this period, deeds of the most revolting ferocity were perpetrated by the royalist troops, and the whole country was reduced to a frightful state of misery. On the most trivial pretexts, old men, women and children, were arrested and massacred as rebels. Friars and military butchers reigned triumphant. One of the Spanish officers, named Suasola, cut off the ears of a great number of patriots, and had them stuck in the caps of his soldiers for cockades. Bolivar, who had hitherto conducted the war with great forbearance, was inflamed with indignation at these cruelties he swore to avenge his countrymen, and declared that every royalist who fell into his hands should be consigned to the vengeance of his soldiery. But this spirit of inexorable justice and retaliation ill accorded with Bolivar's character, and it was exercised only on one occasion, when eight hundred Spaniards were shot. Afterwards it was formally announced by Bolivar, that no Spaniard shall be put to death except in battle. The war of death shall cease.'

The royalists, who, by the practice of the most bloody and ferocious atrocities, had gained possession of nearly the whole country, now began to give way before the arms of Bolivar. Passing from one victory to another, he drove the enemy from every post, and on the 4th of August, 1814, made his triumphant entry into the renovated city of Caraccas. The enthusiasm and joy of the people exceeded all bounds, and this was certainly the most brilliant day in his whole career. Greeted by the acclamations of thousands of the inhabitants, artillery, bells and music, the Liberator was drawn into the city in a triumphal car by twelve beautiful young ladies, of the first families of the capital, dressed in white, and adorned with the patriot colors, while others crowned him with laurel, and strewed his way with flowers. All the prisons were thrown open, and hundreds who had been suffering for political opinions came forth, pale and emaciated, to thank him for their liberation. The royalists throughout the province capitulated, and the triumph of the patriots was complete.

Bolivar was now constituted dictator, and entrusted with unlimited power. This measure was prompted by the sentiments of enthusiasm and gratitude during the first moments of exultation in the people but, as is the case in all infant republics, they soon began to give manifestations of a jealousy for that liberty which had cost them such sacrifices. The power of the dictator, who delegated his authority to his inferior officers, by whom it was frequently abused, redoubled their apprehensions. Suspicions arose, that the primary object of Bolivar was his own aggrandisement. In consequence of this, on the 2d of January 1814, he made a formal tender of his resignation. This lulled the suspicions of the people, and the royalists having begun to rally and arm their negro slaves, he was solicited to retain the dictatorship. The war was now renewed, and many battles were fought. On the 14th of June, 1814, Bolivar was defeated at La Puerta, with the loss of fifteen hundred men and again, on the 17th of August, near his own estate of San Mateo, where the negro leader Boves, with a squadron of cavalry named the infernal division,' with black crape on their lances, rushing with hideous shouts from an ambush, scattered his remaining forces, and would have made him a prisoner but for the fleetness of his horse. His cousin, Ribas, was taken and shot, and his head set upon the wall of Caraccas. Bolivar's beautiful family mansion was burned to the ground, and he was compelled, in September, to leave the royalists again in complete possession of all Venezuela, while thousands of the patriot army deserted to their ranks.

In spite of these reverses, we find him, in December of the same year, at the head of two thousand men, marching upon the city of Bogota, which he stormed and captured. But other circumstances having caused him to despair of any permanent success against the Spaniards at that time, he left the country in May 1815, and retired to Jamaica. The war in Europe being brought to a close, the Spanish government were enabled to send an army of twelve thousand men, under General Morillo, to Venezuela and New Granada. This commander overran both provinces, and executed two thousand of the inhabitants. While Bolivar resided at Kingston, in Jamaica, he employed himself in writing a defense of his conduct in the civil war of New Granada, and issued several spirited exhortations to the patriots, for which his assassination was attempted by the royalist party. A Spaniard, stimulated by a bribe of fifty thousand dollars and a promise of perfect absolution by the church, ventured upon this undertaking. He obtained admission into Bolivar's apartment, and stabbed to the heart his secretary, who, by chance, was lying in the general's hammock.

From Jamaica, Bolivar proceeded to Hayti, where he raised a force of blacks and patriot emigrants, with which he landed in Cumana, in July, 1816. But, at Ocumare, he was surrounded by the royalists, defeated with great slaughter, and again expelled from the country. A few months afterwards, he landed once more upon the continent, and, after a battle of three days, completely routed the army of Morillo. This success reinstated him in the office of captain-general, and supreme head, and he followed up this advantage by other victories over the royalists. On the 15th of February, 1819, the congress of the Venezuelan republic was installed at Angostura, when Bolivar submitted the plan of a republican constitution, and formally laid down his authority. A strong representation of the exigencies of the times was again pressed upon him and became his inducement to resume it. In the following summer he undertook an expedition across the Cordilleras. Fatigue and privations of every kind were endured with exemplary fortitude in the advance of the army through this wild, precipitous and barren region, where they lost their artillery and most of their equipments. On the heights of Tunja, they found a Spanish army of three thousand five hundred men, whom they instantly attacked and defeated. This, and a subsequent victory at Boyaca, compelled the Spanish commander-in-chief, Barreyro, to surrender the remnant of his army. Samano, the Spanish viceroy, fled from Bogota, leaving in the treasury a million of dollars behind him; and the deliverance of New Granada was complete.

The immediate consequence of this success was the union of the two provinces of Venezuela and New Granada, under the title of the Republic of Columbia, and Bolivar was appointed president, in 1819. It would much exceed our limits to relate all the military events which followed till the final expulsion of the Spanish armies from the country. Peru had now revolted, and solicited the aid of the Columbians. Bolivar marched an army into that country in 1822, drove the royalists from Lima, and was appointed dictator by the Peruvian congress. On the 6th of August, 1824, he gained the important victory of Junin, and the Peruvian congress shortly after tendered him a present of a million of dollars, which he refused. The royalists being again defeated at Ayacucho, by General Sucre, on the 9th of December, 1824, the war of Spanish American independence was finally closed, after one hundred thousand lives had been sacrificed. Bolivar resigned the dictatorship of Peru in the following February, and in his tour through the country, witnessed one uninterrupted scene of triumph and extravagant exultation, - of dinners, balls, bull-fights, illuminations, triumphal arches and processions. A sumptuous banquet was given on the summit of the famous mountain of Potosi, and the Liberator, in the enthusiasm excited by the excessive adulation which he received, exclaimed on that occasion, The value of all the riches that are buried in the Andes beneath my feet is nothing compared to the glory of having borne the standard of independence from the sultry banks of the Oronoco, to fix it on the frozen peak of this mountain, whose wealth has excited the envy and astonishment of the world.'

A new republic, formed out of the conquered provinces, was now constituted, and named, from the Liberator, Bolivia. From this republic he received a gift of a million of dollars, on condition that the money should be appropriated to the liberation of negro slaves in that territory. At the request of the congress, he framed a scheme of government, known as the Bolivian code.' This was adopted both in Bolivia and by the congress of Lima, where Bolivar was made president. On the 22d of June, 1826, a scheme projected by him for a grand congress of the Spanish American republics, was carried into effect, and this meeting, consisting of deputies from Columbia, Mexico, Guatimala, Peru and Bolivia, was convened at Panama. The main object of this congress was to establish an annual convention of state representatives, to discuss diplomatic affairs, decide international disputes, promote liberal principles, and insure a union of strength in repelling any foreign attack. This was a noble idea, but too vast an undertaking for the means of performance which actually existed within the control of the Liberator, and it led to no great practical results.

On the return of Bolivar to Columbia he found two thirds of the republic in a state of insurrection. Great dissatisfaction existed in Venezuela with the central government, and the inhabitants, headed by Paez, a mulatto general, rose and declared themselves in favor of a federal system. Bolivar, having reached Bogota, the capital, assumed extraordinary powers, being authorized to take that step by the constitution, in its provisions for cases of rebellion. He then proceeded to Venezuela; but, instead of punishing the insurgents, he announced a general amnesty, and confirmed Paez in the general command which he had assumed. This led to strong suspicions that the insurrection had been instigated by Bolivar, in order to afford a pretext for assuming the dictatorship, and that he and Paez had acted with a collusive understanding. The truth, on this subject, has never yet been clearly revealed. The presence of Bolivar quieted the commotion, as, in spite of the suspicions which rested upon him, his popularity was still very great. He addressed a letter to the senate of Columbia, disclaiming all ambitious designs, and offering his resignation. This proposal caused violent debates in the congress, and many members voted to accept it; but a majority were in favor of continuing him in office.

At a congress held at Ocana, in March, 1828, Bolivar assumed more of an anti-republican tone, and recommended strengthening the executive power. Many of his adherents, in which the soldiery were included, seconded his views, and declared that the people were not prepared to appreciate the excellence of institutions purely republican; a fact of which there can be little doubt. They carried this doctrine, however, to an unwarrantable extreme, by insisting that the president should be intrusted with absolute discretionary power. This proposition was indignantly rejected by a majority of the congress, and the partisans of Bolivar vacated their seats; in consequence of which, that body was left without a quorum, and dissolved. The city of Bogota then took the matter into its own hands, and conferred upon Bolivar the title of Supreme Chief of Columbia, with absolute power to regulate all the affairs of government. His immediate concurrence in this illegal and revolutionary measure has been deemed a sufficient proof that it was brought about by his instigation. On the 20th of June, 1829, he entered that city in magnificent state, and assumed his authority. These proceedings could not but lead to violent measures. An attempt was soon made to assassinate the dictator. Several persons broke into his chamber at midnight, and shot two officers of the staff, who were with him; Bolivar himself only escaped by leaping out of the window and lying concealed under a bridge. Santander, the vice-president, and several officers of the army, were tried and convicted of being implicated in this conspiracy. The former was sentenced to death, but Bolivar was satisfied with banishing him from Columbia.

The whole country became rent with factions, commotions and rebellion. The popularity of the Liberator was gone, and his authority was disclaimed in almost every quarter. The events which ensued do not require to be specified here, as they are nothing more than a repetition of what had been acted over many times before. At length Bolivar, finding his influence at an end, and his health and spirits broken, determined to withdraw from public life, take leave of the country, and retire to Europe. At a general convention at Bogota, in January, 1830, he resigned his authority for the last time, and rejected many entreaties to resume it. He withdrew to the neighborhood of Carthagena, where he spent nearly two years in retirement, when, finding his end approaching, he issued his farewell address to the people Of Columbia, in the following words: - Columbians, - I have unceasingly and disinterestedly exerted my energies for your welfare. I have abandoned my fortune and my personal tranquillity in your cause. I am the victim of my persecutors, who have now conducted me to my grave: but I pardon them. Columbians, I leave you. My last prayers are offered up for the tranquillity of my country; and if my death will contribute to this desirable end, by extinguishing your factions, I shall descend with feelings of contentment into the tomb that is soon to receive me.' A week afterwards, he breathed his last, at San Pedro, near Carthagena, on the 17th of December, 1831, at the age of forty-eight.

His death appears to have afflicted his countrymen with the deepest sorrow and remorse. In an instant they forgot the jealousies and suspicions which had filled their breasts, with regard to their great chief, and, by a sudden revulsion of feeling, they indulged in the most bitter self-reproach at the reflection, that the man who had devoted his fortune and his life to the liberation and welfare of his country, had sunk under their ungenerous reproaches, and died of a broken heart, the victim of national ingratitude. Almost every town in Columbia paid honors to his memory by orations, funeral processions, and other demonstrations of grief and respect.

The fortunes of this eminent man were most singular. During one period his was regarded as one of the greatest characters of modern times. At the present moment he is almost forgotten; and another generation may witness the revival of his fame. In the early part of his career he was believed to be a disinterested patriot; at the close he had totally lost the confidence of his countrymen, and he died tainted with the suspicion of intriguing with the French government to subjugate the country by European arms and establish a monarchy. There are some acts of his life which have an equivocal character; but, judging of his whole conduct from. such evidence as is within our reach, we are compelled to pronounce his acquittal of the charge of entertaining designs hostile to the liberties of his country. Bolivar is not to be judged by the standard which we apply to the character and merits of Washington. The cool-tempered, orderly, intelligent, and well educated North Americans, who achieved their independence with a moderation, sobriety and self-restraint, which drew forth the applause and admiration of the world, were a very different race from the heterogeneous population of Columbia, ignorant, insubordinate, superstitious, fanatical, ferocious, little advanced in civilization, and subject to all the sudden impulses of a rash and fiery southern temper. It was impossible to govern such men, amid the turbulence of jealous factions, by the weak instrument of a written constitution.

The proofs of Bolivar's disinterestedness are very strong. He sacrificed a large fortune in the cause of his country; and had many opportunities of acquiring enormous wealth, all of which he neglected. As a military commander, he is entitled to high praise. Though often defeated, his perseverance and fortitude, in rising superior to every obstacle, are everywhere conspicuous. The difficulties of marshalling, disciplining, and leading an army to battle during the revolution of Columbia, are hardly to be conceived. Bolivar's troops often consisted chiefly of desperate adventurers, eager only for pay and plunder; ragged Creoles, Indians, naked negroes, and cavalry of half-savage Llaneros mounted on wild horses. Whole regiments often deserted from one side to the other, and back again, according to the chance of success.

The fatigues, cares and anxieties to which he was constantly exposed during a most eventful career of nearly twenty years, were strongly marked in his countenance, and at forty-five he had the appearance of a man of sixty. He was capable of enduring the most severe labor; was a remarkably bold horseman, and was fond of dancing in his spurs. He was abstemious in personal matters, but hospitable and highly munificent in giving entertainments. His manners were easy and dignified, and he was gifted with an extraordinary faculty of prompt repartee in conversation. In one instance, he was known to give seventeen unpremeditated answers in succession, each of which, if prepared by deliberate study, would have been admired for its happy adaptation to the subject and the occasion. In proposing a toast, in returning thanks, or in speaking impromptu on any casual subject, he never was surpassed.