South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Last Days of Simon Bolivar


In the year 1826 there assembled at Panama an international congress that was a prophecy of the future, a political prevision. It was convened by Simon Bolivar, liberator, conqueror, protector, president, then at the height of his political power. In Bolivar's opinion the time had come for all American republics to form one congress for the protection of the liberties and peace of the republics of the western world.

The congress was in a sense a failure, but it was a suggestion. The twentieth century was in it. The International American Conference of 1890 was an outcome of it.

The nature and purpose of this congress were expressed by Mr. Conas, of the republics of Central America, in these words: "Europe has formed a continental system, and holds a congress whenever questions affecting its interests are to be discussed. America should have a similar system."

The Congress of Panama in 1826 was first planned by Bolivar to secure the union of the Spanish-American republics against Spain. The Monroe Doctrine had placed the United States in an unequivocal position in such matters. The Northern republic was included in the invitation of the Liberator to unite in the congress.

In a paper written in 1815, in exile, called his "Prophetic Letter," Bolivar thus expresses his hopes: "How grand would it be if the Isthmus of Panama could be to us what Corinth was to the Greeks! God grant that we may some day have the fortune of convening there an august congress of the representatives of the republics, kingdoms and empires to discuss the all-important interests of peace and war with the nations of the world!"

He was then President of Colombia. He caused invitations to such a congress to be issued to the governments of the Spanish-American states, and subsequently to the United States. Said Bolivar: "The states from Panama to Guatemala may form a union. The magnificent position of America, situated between the two oceans, will in due time make it the emporium of the universe. Its canals will shorten the distance which separates the nations of the earth."

The general assembly of American republics met at Panama on June 22, 1826. Colombia, Central America, Peru and Mexico were represented at the first meeting. Great Britain sent agents to study the proceedings. The assembly held ten meetings. The result is described in the following resolution which was passed:

"The republics of Colombia, Central America, Peru and the Mexican states do mutually ally and confederate themselves in peace and war in a perpetual compact, the object of which shall be to maintain the sovereignty and independence of the confederated powers against foreign subjection, and to secure the enjoyment of unalterable peace."

A long series of resolutions was adopted. The outcome of the congress, however, did not meet the expectations of Bolivar.

Let us now turn to the last sad years of this brilliant man.

"The fate of the emancipators of South America," says General Mitre, "is tragical. The first revolutionists of La Paz and of Quito died on the scaffold. Miranda, the apostle of liberty, betrayed by his own people to his enemies, died, alone and naked, in a dungeon. Moreno, the priest of the Argentine revolution, and the teacher of the democratic idea, died at sea, and found a grave in the ocean. Hidalgo, the first popular leader of Mexico, was executed as a criminal. Belgrano, the first champion of Argentine independence, who saved the revolution at Tucuman and Salta, died obscurely, while civil war raged round him. O'Higgins, the hero of Chili, died in exile, as Carrera, his rival, had done before him. Iturbide, the real liberator of Mexico, fell a victim to his own ambition. Montufar, the leader of the revolution in Quito, and his comrade Villavicencio, the promoter of that of Cartagena, were strangled. The first presidents of New Granada, Lozano and Torres, fell sacrifices to the restoration of colonial terrorism. Piar, who found the true base for the insurrection in Colombia, was shot by Bolivar, to whom he had shown the way to victory. Rivadavia, the civil genius of South America, who gave form to her representative institutions, died in exile. Sucre, the conqueror of Ayacucho, was murdered by his own men on a lonely road. Bolivar and San Martin died in banishment."

In January, 1830, Bolivar, accused by his enemies of personal ambition, resigned the presidency for the fifth time. He was reelected. In Colombia there was a powerful disunion party which he endeavored to overcome. Its principles set at naught the visions and high ambitions of his thrilling life. The disunionists were powerful in the Colombian Congress. They voted to accept his proffered resignation, and to bestow upon him a pension of three thousand dollars a year on the condition that he should reside abroad. The resolution broke his heart. The unity of Colombia and South America seemed to be shattered by it. He sent his final resignation to Congress on April 27, 1830. He left Bogota and went to Caracas on May 9, with the intention of embarking from Cartagena for England, to go into exile there. Grief and disappointment wore upon him. His health failed. The sword had been too sharp for the scabbard. He went to Santa Marta to visit the bishop there, who was his friend. At Cartagena he had heard of the unhappy death of Sucre. The friends of Bolivar called upon him to put himself at the head of a new movement and restore the union of Colombia. But his malady was fatal. At Santa Marta he breathed the fresh sea-air, and recalled the events of his life from the oath at Rome to the triumphal arches of Potosi. At the quinta  of San Pedro, seven miles from Santa Marta, came the last pathetic scene. Seated in an arm-chair, and waiting to receive the last rites of the church, he dictated an address to the Colombian people, in which he said: "My wishes are for the happiness of the people. If my death should unite them I will go to the tomb content—yes, to the tomb! The people send me there, but I forgive them."

So died Simon Bolivar, on December 17, 1830, at the age of forty-seven years. He had an ardent nature. Only a great soul could have accomplished what he did. He has been criticized, and not without cause, but he must be numbered among the heroes of civilization, liberty and progress.

Bolivar may not have been a Washington, but the struggles of his soul to fulfil what is noblest in life appear in his letters and proclamations, in the surrender of his private fortune to the public good, and in the peril to which he exposed his life. He must have a low vision indeed who can only seek in such a life incidents for criticism and detraction. A work written by an officer whom Bolivar had offended and dismissed represents the Liberator as given over to his passions, as living constantly in the practice of dissimulation, as vainglorious, and as seeking the supreme power. Against such accusations are these facts, namely, on the death of his beloved wife the Liberator resolved never to marry again, so that he might devote all his thought to the cause of South American liberty; again and again he placed his resignation of the highest trusts into the hands of the representatives of the people; he declared that if his death would better serve the cause of liberty and unity he was willing to die. It is said that San Martin was less an individual than a mission, and Bolivar was more a cause than a general.

Three notable declarations of Bolivar, all made in his youth, reveal perfectly his character and life: That spoken on Monte Sacro, Rome: "I pledge my life to liberty!" Another spoken at Caracas at the time of the earthquake: "If nature herself opposes us, we will compel her to obey." A third one spoken at Cartagena: "I disregard rank and distinction, because I aspire to a more honorable destiny—to shed my blood for the liberty of my country!"