Who was he: Simón Bolivar was one of the most influential politicians in history and to many Latin Americans, he still is. In 1825 he was named the first president of then newly established Republic of Bolivia, and led the drive to establish Gran Colombia. Although he decreed himself dictator at times, he believed government's role is to assure that the rights of individuals are maintained at all costs.
Background: Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco was born into a military family in what is now Caracas, Venezuela. His family enjoyed great prestige within the controlling Spanish government, as his father was a colonel in the Venezuelan army. Bolivar's parents died when he was very young and he was sent to live with his uncle, who made sure that his education included an influence of the ideas introduced during the Enlightenment period. He would eventually become a political and military leader for the region of Latin America and the liberation of at least six countries or territories.
Bolivar studied in Europe during his adolescent years, a devoted student who developed a firm belief in individual and national libertarianism. He was a fan of the French Revolution and the United States' political movement, though he thought his native country would not be able to replicate the North American version of republicanism because the attitudes of the people and the access to land created different social dynamics. In many ways, he is similar to George Washington in historic legacy for his entire region of the world. He actually witnessed the coronation of Napoleon, which he thought would be a fitting template for the liberation of Latin America from Spanish domination.
One of Bolivar's primary tutors was philosopher and educator Simon Rodriguez, who trained him in all things military and political. Rodriguez helped shape Bolivar's governmental approach. Bolivar was privately trained by several of the great teachers of the era but his relationship with Rodriguez would be the defining influence in his campaigns to liberate the region. Bolivar returned to Venezuela in 1807 to implement his military and political campaigns to liberate and restore the country of Venezuela to independence.
By 1814 his military plans were operational and he would eventually establish the new nation of Gran Colombia in 1821 after a series of battles, all of which he did not win. Gran Colombia of the time included modern countries of Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama and Colombia, as well as portions of Peru and Brazil. There were multiple assassination attempts on Bolivar during and after the campaigns, one of which was stopped by his mistress Manuela Sáenz in 1828 directly after he had decreed himself dictator. In August of 1825, the Republic of Bolivia had been established by the Congress of Upper Peru, named directly after Bolivar. He was named the first president.
Bolivar's agenda was to establish independent countries in the whole region now known as Latin America. According to Bolivar, the purpose of the government was assuring that the rights of individuals would be maintained at all costs. The revolutionary idea made sense during the liberation efforts, but governing a huge republic proved to be a difficult task. Bolivar's management style was not exactly popular with the people of the countries. He often ruled by decree, claiming to be dictator whenever the proclamation was politically expedient. Gran Colombia's size enhanced the difficulty in stopping the mobilization of locals who felt disconnected.
Attempts had been made by representatives to write a new constitution in 1828, but Bolivar wanted a clause included that would make him president for life with the power to select the next president. Insertion of this clause was counter to the idea of a republic and created a major split among representatives. The pro-Bolivar representatives left the Congress without writing a constitution of any type, opening the way for Bolivar's proclamation.
Before his death in 1830 from tuberculosis, Bolivar had written the Bolivian constitution personally, which was much different from his original concept of democratic states for his native region. The constitution included a lifetime presidency and national representatives would be determined by family and rank within the family, very similar to the British model, without establishment of an "official" monarchy.
Bolivar also attempted to have his personal political writings and letters from Manuela Sáenz destroyed shortly before his death, essentially trying to eliminate his younger revolutionary political positions. The request was not carried out and many of his personal effects had already been sent back to Europe where he intended to retire. The result was the advancement of his political positions which have influenced libertarian political thinking since his lifetime.
Bolivar's legacy is still immense in Latin America, though most of it is related to his title of El Libertador. One minor detail not often mentioned is that Bolivar was a 33rd Degree Honorary Inspector General of the Freemasons from his home chapter in Cadiz, Spain, where his family had been high-ranking aristocracy.