Simon Bolivar, byname The Liberator or Spanish El Libertador, liberalized so many countries and one country chose to be called Bolivia, a variation on the Liberator’s name.
The son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent, Bolivar was born to wealth and position. His father died when the boy was three years old, and his mother died six years later, after which his uncle administered his inheritance and provided him with tutors. One of those tutors, Simon Rodriguez, was to have a deep and lasting effect on him. Rodriguez, a disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, introduced Bolivar to the world of 18th-century liberal thought.
At the age of 16, Bolivar was sent to Europe to complete his education. For three years he lived in Spain, and in 1801 he married the daughter of a Spanish nobleman, with whom he returned to Caracas. The young bride died of yellow fever less than a year after their marriage. Bolivar believed that her tragic death was the reason that he took up a political career while still a young man.
In 1807 he returned to Venezuela by way of the United States, visiting the eastern cities.
When Napoleon Bonaparte overran Spain, the restive colonies of Spanish America seized the opportunity to revolt. Venezuela was the first to declare its independence, in 1811. Although that initial revolt failed, for the next 19 years Bolívar continued to lead the fight to free northern South America. His small, poorly equipped forces won amazing victories and met overwhelming defeats. At one time he might be a conquering hero, at another, a fugitive in exile. At the height of his power, between 1825 and 1828, he was president or protector of Gran Colombia (now Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador), Peru, and the newly formed Bolivia.
The spirit of disunion and opposition, however, was strong. Bitter and broken in health, he died at a friend’s estate in Colombia on December 17, 1830. Seven months after he resigned his offices. Bolivar was a sincere patriot, devoted to the cause of liberty and equality. Years before slavery was officially abolished in Venezuela, Bolivar liberated his own slaves.