Simón Bolívar, who later became known as the Liberator, was born to a wealthy, upper-class Venezuelan family in 1783. Although he had more than enough money to ensure what should have been a positive, bright upbringing, Bolívar’s childhood was far from perfect. His father died when he was just three years old. Six years later, his mother passed away, leaving him in the care of his uncle. Bolívar’s uncle became the administrator of his inheritance and arranged for him to have several well-educated tutors. Many of these tutors would have a lasting impact on him and the philosophies he’d carry through his life. He was educated in classical schools of thought and began to learn about the newer and rapidly evolving ones. One of his tutors, Simón Rodriguez, opened the door to the Enlightenment movement and in particular, the philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Bolívar’s uncle sent him to study abroad in Spain and Europe when he was sixteen. Like with most ideal European study abroad trips, Bolívar found love in Spain. Three years after arriving, he married María Teresa del Toro y Alayza, the daughter of a Spanish noble, and returned home. However, his brief time of happiness was short lived. His wife died of yellow fever before their first anniversary. Although Bolívar was unfortunately familiar with death, the loss still hit him hard and left him changed.
He returned to Europe and watched the rise of Napoleon. For a while, Bolívar admired him. However, when Bolívar returned to Venezuela, he effectively ended his friendship with Napoleon after Napoleon made Joseph Bonaparte the King of Spain and by extension, its colonies. This included Bolívar’s home of Venezuela and prompted him to join the resistance.
In 1810, the Caracas junta declared its independence, and Bolívar was once again shipped off to Europe, both because of his diplomatic skills and apparent ease while traveling long distances. He arrived in England and remained there for a year before once more making the long voyage back to Venezuela. His homecoming was less than welcoming, and rumors spread that he and his fellow independence leader, Francisco de Miranda, were growing apart. Miranda’s subsequent arrest and Bolívar’s quick escape to Cartagena de Indias didn’t help these allegations. Even with the rumors, Bolívar took advantage of the situation. During his time away, he wrote the Manifiesto de Cartagena. In it, Bolívar continued to push for independence from Spain. His reputation grew during this time, aided by his philosophies and Miranda’s absence.
After a new Spanish king overthrew the new Venezuelan republic, Bolívar took charge within the military of New Granada and led an invasion into Venezuela. He earned his title, El Libertador, through numerous campaigns to liberate his home. Unfortunately, Bolívar and his forces weren’t able to hold the capital of Caracas long, and his troops were pushed out of the city. Rather than allowing himself to be defeated, Bolívar gathered his allies from across South America and even Great Britain to finally, and decisively, drive out the Spanish and Royalist forces.
Following further liberations of the region, Bolívar and his allies created the Republic of Gran Colombia. Bolívar became president with Francisco de Paula Santander, a fellow military and political leader, as his vice president. His government and time as president were far from peaceful. The region was rife with unrest from the fragile state that the extended battles had left it in. Reigning over the vast Gran Colombia wasn’t an easy task, and it became more difficult after the Peruvian Congress named Bolívar dictator of Peru. Power is fickle, difficult to hold on to, and even harder to control. Regional uprisings and dissent put Bolívar on edge. To solidify his dream of a unified Gran Colombia, Bolívar called for a constitutional convention in 1828. Unfortunately, the delegates disagreed with his proposed vision of a centralist model of government complete with a "lifetime president" who could choose his successor—within reason, of course. Although he ultimately believed in a limited government, Bolívar worried about the fragility of Gran Colombia. He felt that Gran Colombia had to grow before he could apply his true ideals to it.
To try to save face with his government and the people, Bolívar declared himself dictator—which he assured everyone was a temporary measure. This act went over spectacularly with his political opponents and lead to an assassination attempt that he narrowly escaped.
After two more years serving as the "president," Bolívar resigned. He packed up his belongings, hoping to once again journey to Europe. However, Bolívar never boarded the boat. He contracted tuberculosis, which ultimately led to his death on December 17, 1830. Before his death, Bolívar asked his aide-de-camp, General Daniel Florencio O’Leary, to dispose of all of his writings. Like his delegates during the constitutional convention, O’Leary disagreed with this order and did not burn Bolívar’s substantial works. After more than a decade following his passing, Bolívar was buried in his hometown of Caracas. A monument was erected there to celebrate him and his accomplishments.