Simon Bolivar: Biography, Facts & Accomplishments

Simon Bolivar: Biography, Facts & Accomplishments
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  • 0:01 They Named a Country After Him
  • 0:44 Life Before the Revolution
  • 2:05 Viva La Revolucion
  • 5:21 Legacy & Accomplishments
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the life and legacy of the Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar, and test your understanding of South American independence movements in the 19th century after completing this lesson.

They Named a Country After Him

Not many people get to have a country named after them. But then again, not many people could have done everything that Simón Bolívar did. Bolívar was a revolutionary leader in the independence wars of South America and strove to liberate colonies from the Spanish Empire.

He led Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru to their independence and even briefly united them as a single nation called Gran Colombia. Bolívar is credited with bringing democracy to these nations and was so committed to the ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy that a nation was created and named after him. Ever heard of Bolivia?

Life Before the Revolution

Simón José Antonio de la Santísma Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco was born July 24, 1783 in Caracas and was given a very Latin American name (that was also really long). Caracas was located in a large colony of the Spanish Empire called New Granada, in the part today called Venezuela.

Bolivar's family was rich from owning gold and copper mines, and young Bolívar grew up in privilege. In 1799, following the death of his parents, Simón moved to Spain to continue his education and military training, where he met and married María Teresa Rodríguez el Toro y Alaysa. She died of yellow fever a year later in 1803.

Bolívar was in Paris to witness the coronation of Napoleon, which inspired him to see his own country celebrate such a triumphant victory. When Napoleon made Joseph Bonaparte the king of Spain, Bolívar decided that it was time for Venezuela to become independent and joined the resistance in Caracas. The timing was right; other Spanish colonies like Mexico had just begun their fights for independence, as well.

Viva la Revolucion

In 1807, Simón Bolívar returned to Venezuela. Three years later a coup overthrew the colonial governors and set up a Junta, a governing council of military leaders, to run the newly independent nation of Venezuela. The Junta sent a commission, which included Bolívar, to Britain to seek official recognition of their new government.

While there, Bolívar and others met the famous Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda and asked him to return home to lead the country. This sparked a civil war between forces that wanted independence and those that wanted to remain loyal to Spain. The loyalists were winning the war, and Bolívar left for Tunja (in modern-day Colombia), where he became a commander in their army.

In May, 1813, his forces invaded Venezuela. The people called his fight la compana admirable, or 'the admirable campaign,' and called Bolívar El Libertador, 'the liberator.' In August, Bolívar's troops took control of Caracas, and he declared that Venezuela was an independent nation once more. However, civil war broke out in the unstable republic in 1814 and he fled to Jamaica. There, he wrote his Letter from Jamaica, which outlined his vision for independent South American nations that included governments with a parliament and a life-long president.

Bolívar returned to Venezuela in 1816 with Haitian soldiers and began fighting against the Spanish forces that again controlled most of South America. The provisional congress elected Bolívar president of Venezuela, and he decided to fight for the independence of all New Granada, not just Venezuela.

In August, 1819, Bolívar's troops defeated the Spanish and loyalists in Colombia, and congress passed a law to officially create the nation of Gran Colombia, with Bolívar as president. The new president launched independence campaigns for Venezuela and Ecuador. By 1821, Gran Colombia included Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, and northern Peru.

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