|The Growth of the British Empire|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book V of the Story of the World Series. Treats the revolutions in South America and Mexico, the Boer War in South Africa, and the exploration of Central Africa, the Greek and Italian wars for independence, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the opening of trade with Japan and China, and the rebellion in India. Ages 13-18 |
THE HEROES OF INDEPENDENCE
"The time is ripe, is rotten-ripe, for change,
Then let it come."
WHILE San Martin, O'Higgins, and Cochrane were working to free the southern provinces of South America from the yoke
of Spain, Bolivar was at work with the master-spirit, Miranda, in the north.
When little more than a boy, young Bolivar had stood with his tutor amid the ruins of Rome—the
 city of the Cæsars. In a moment of enthusiasm, he had seized his tutor's hands and sworn to liberate his
native land. Did the dream of his life also come to him here,—that of ruling over a united South American
republic? He went to London, became an enthusiastic disciple of Miranda, renewed the oath made on the sacred
hill of Rome, and returned to South America with Miranda to fulfil his promise.
So successful were the liberators, that in the summer of 1811, Venezuela was ready to declare her independence,
as the first republic in South America. All was going well, when the terrible earthquake of 1812 devastated the
capital, Caracas. For many weeks, not a single drop of rain had fallen, and a day had been set apart for all
the people to pray in the churches, as with one voice, for the much-needed rain. The sky was cloudless, the
heat intense. It was four o'clock in the afternoon—the churches were crowded. Suddenly a tremendous roar
was heard from the neighbouring hills, the ground rocked violently to and fro, and in a few minutes five large
towns, including Caracas, were in ruins, under which lay buried some 20,000 people.
The first republic of Venezuela had found its grave. Panic spread among the revolutionists. Miranda, loaded
with chains, was sent to Spain, to languish in a dungeon at Cadiz till he died. Bolivar had to flee. But he was
 determined to reconquer Venezuela. He collected an army, and in a short time gained for himself a place, among
the most famous leaders of his time. With 600 men, in ninety days, he fought six battles; he defeated 4500 men,
captured fifty Spanish guns, and restored the republic in Venezuela.
He entered Caracas in triumph, amid the ringing of bells and the roar of cannon. People shouted for their
"Liberator"; his path was strewn with flowers; beautiful maidens in white led his horse, and decked his brow
with a laurel crown. And Bolivar delighted in this display. There was nothing very heroic in his appearance at
this time. Short and rugged, with an olive skin and black deep-set eyes, he wore his black curling hair tied
behind, after the fashion of the age. Such was the Dictator of Venezuela in 1813.
But fortune now deserted the revolutionists. The Spaniards collected in force and defeated them. Bolivar was
obliged to flee to Jamaica. He spent his exile planning a new war of independence. One night, he narrowly
escaped death. The Spaniards had hired a man to kill him, and it was only owing to the fact that his secretary
was sleeping in his hammock, that the secretary was slain and not Bolivar.
A few years later, he landed once more in South America to renew the struggle. In none of the colonies was
fighting so stubborn, so heroic, so full of tragedy, as in Venezuela. Twice conquered,
 she rose a third time against her oppressors, ever encouraged by Bolivar. For a time, the Liberator was met by
nothing but defeat. His courage was magnificent.
"The day of America has come!" he cried. "Before the sun has again run his annual course, Liberty will have
dawned throughout your land."
The next step was perhaps his greatest. He crossed the Andes and captured the capital of New Granada, changing
the whole aspect of affairs at one supreme stroke. It was even a more wonderful feat than that of San Martin.
It was June 1819. To tell the story of his passage would be but to repeat that of San Martin. There was the
same intense cold, the same awful dangers to be faced, but without the careful preparation made at Mendoza. The
men under Bolivar were ill-clad, and over one hundred died, while struggling manfully over the snow-covered
summits of the Andes. It was a mere skeleton army that descended from the heights into the beautiful valley,
where lay the capital of New Granada. The Spaniards were completely taken by surprise and defeated. And Bolivar
marched triumphantly into the city, crowned with laurels. The dream of his life was now accomplished. Venezuela
and New Granada were thrown into a huge province called Columbia, under the presidency of Bolivar. To the
Columbians he cried in his joy: "From the banks of the Orinoco to the Andes of Peru, the liberating
 army, marching from one triumph to another, has covered with its protecting arms the whole of Columbia."
Soon he had annexed the neighbouring province, whose capital was Quito.
Both San Martin and Bolivar were now advancing on Peru, "the last battlefield in America," as Bolivar said. The
moment had come, when the two liberators must meet, to discuss the future of the revolution. San Martin hoped
they would be able to work together for the good of their country. But their aims were different. San Martin
had no personal ambition: he only wished to see South America freed from the yoke of Spain. Bolivar wished to
be President of a united country, and that country one of the largest in the world. The two men met. It was
July 1822. They embraced one another warmly, and held a long private interview. It was followed by a banquet
and a ball. Bolivar proposed the first toast: "To the two greatest men of South America—General San
Martin and myself."
The ball followed. In the middle of it San Martin crept away. He had seen clearly that he and Bolivar could
never act together. In a spirit of generosity, unsurpassed in history, he left to Bolivar the completion of his
life's work. To him should be "the glory of finishing the war for the independence of South America."
"There is no room in Peru for both Bolivar and
 myself," he said afterwards to his faithful friend Guido. "He will come to Peru. Let him come, so that America
Then he embraced Guido and rode away into the darkness, never to return. He died in voluntary exile in 1850.
The coast was now clear, and Bolivar soon became absolute master of Peru. He thought that all America was his.
With the splendid forces of the Argentina army left him by San Martin, he passed from strength to strength. A
new Republic was named after him—Bolivia. But his supreme power in 1828 roused the suspicions of the people.
They dreaded a second Cæsar—a second Napoleon.
A conspiracy to slay him failed, but it forced Bolivar to resign. He died in exile in 1830.
Such is the story of the two men who helped to free South America from Spain. Statues at Caracas and Lima were
raised to commemorate the splendid work of Bolivar, but the work of the man, who was ready to sacrifice all,
for the good of his country, needs no monuments—for history does not forget such as these.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics