Simón Bolívar

South American military and political leader, protagonist of the Spanish-American emancipation against the Spanish Empire (1783-1830)

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios y Blanco (24 July 178317 December 1830) was a South American revolutionary leader.


If my death contributes to the end of partisanship and the consolidation of the Union, I shall be lowered in peace into my grave.
The three biggest fools in the world have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and... me.
All who have served the Revolution have plowed the sea.
  • A state too expensive in itself, or by virtue of its dependencies, ultimately falls into decay; its free government is transformed into a tyranny; it disregards the principles which it should preserve, and finally degenerates into despotism. The distinguishing characteristic of small republics is stability: the character of large republics is mutability.
    • Letter from Jamaica (Summer 1815)
  • Among the popular and representative systems of government I do not approve of the federal system: it is too perfect; and it requires virtues and political talents much superior to our own.
    • Letter from Jamaica (Summer 1815)
  • The United States appear to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.
    • Statement of 1829, as quoted in The Great Fear : The Reconquest of Latin America by Latin Americans (1963) by John Gerassi
    • Variant translations:
    • [The United States] appears destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom.
      • As quoted in Simón Bolívar : Essays on the Life and Legacy of the Liberator (2008) by David Bushnell and Lester D. Langley, p. 135
    • The United States seems destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.
      • As quoted in Latin American Evangelical Theology in the 1970's : The Golden Decade (2009) by J. D. S. Salinas and Daniel Salinas, p. 38
  • Colombians! My last wish is for the happiness of the patria. If my death contributes to the end of partisanship and the consolidation of the union, I shall be lowered in peace into my grave.
    • Final proclamation to the people of Colombia (8 December 1830), as quoted in Man of Glory : Simón Bolívar (1939) by Thomas Rourke
    • Variant translations: If my death contributes to the end of the parties and the consolidation of the Union, I shall go quietly to my grave.
    • Colombians! my last wishes are for the welfare of the fatherland. If my death contributes to the cessation of party strife, and to the consolidation of the Union, I shall descend in peace to the grave.
    • For my enemies I have only forgiveness. If my death shall contribute to the cessation of factions and the consolidation of the Union, I can go tranquilly to my grave.
  • The three greatest fools of History have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote . . . and me!
    • Words reportedly said to his physician in his final days, but not his last words, as quoted in Our Lord Don Quixote : The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho, with Related Essays (1967) by Miguel de Unamuno, as translated by Anthony Kerrigan, p. 386
    • The exact word used by Bolívar in Spanish is majadero.
    • Variant translations or versions:
    • The three greatest fools of history have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote — and I!
      • As quoted in Simón Bolívar and Spanish American Independence, 1783-1830 (1968) by John J. Johnson and Doris M. Ladd, p. 115
    • The three greatest idiots in history, have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and myself.
      • As quoted in Nineteenth-century Gallery : Portraits of Power and Rebellion (1970) by Stanley Edward Ayling, p. 122
    • In the course of history, there have been three radicals: Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and... me.
    • The three biggest fools in the world have been Jesus Christ, Don Quixote, and... me.
    • Jesus Christ, Don Quixote and I: three greatest fools of history.
    • We have sewn the sea — Jesus Christ, Don Quixote and me: the three great fools of history...
    • I’ve been plowing in the sea. Jesus Christ, Don Quixote and I — the three great mavericks of history.
  • Do not compare your material forces with those of the enemy. Spirit cannot be compared with matter. You are human beings, they are beasts. You are free, they are slaves. Fight, and you shall win. For God grants victory to perseverance.
    • As quoted in Simón Bolívar (1969) by Gerhard Masur
  • Damn it, how will I ever get out of this labyrinth?
    • A statement made in the last months of his life, occasionally said to be his last words, and portrayed as such in The General in His Labyrinth (1990) by Gabriel García Márquez, as translated by Edith Grossman, p. 267.
  • All who have served the Revolution have plowed the sea.
    • Statement written in his final days, as quoted in Simón Bolívar : A Story of Courage (1941) by Elizabeth Dey Jenkinson Waugh, p. 320; These are sometimes said to have been repeated many times while he was dying, and to be his last words.
    • Variant translations or reports:
    • America is ungovernable; those who served the revolution have plowed the sea.
      • As quoted in Man, State, and Society in Latin American History (1972) by Sheldon B. Liss and Peggy K. Liss, p. 133
    • Those who have served the cause of the revolution have plowed the sea.
    • We have plowed the sea.
    • I plowed furrows in the ocean.
    • I have plowed the sea. Our America will fall into the hands of vulgar tyrants.

Cartagena Manifesto (15 December 1812)

  • The most grievous error committed by Venezuela in making her start on the political stage was, as none can deny, her fatal adoption of the system of tolerance—a system long condemned as weak and inadequate by every man of common sense, yet tenaciously maintained with an unparalleled blindness to the very end.

Decree of War to the Death (1813)

  • Venezuelans! An army of brothers, sent by the Supreme Congress of New Granada, has come to liberate you, and is now amongst you after having expelled the oppressors from the provinces of Mérida and Trujillo. We have been sent to destroy the Spaniards, to protect Americans and to re-establish the republican governments which made up the Venezuelan Confederation. The states which we have liberated are once again ruled by their old constitutions and leaders, and they fully enjoy their liberty and independence. Our sole mission is to break the chains of servitude which still oppress some of our peoples. We have no intention of passing laws or exercising power, even though the laws of war might authorize us to do so.

Second Republic of Venezuela (1814)

  • Flee the country where a lone man holds all power: It is a nation of slaves. - Speech spoken in Caracas on 1814, January 2nd.
    • Though there might be some published translation of such a statement, it resembles the remark of Maximilien Robespierre, as quoted in Robespierre‎ (1935) by James Matthew Thompson, p. 135: "There is one thing more despicable than a tyrant — it is a nation of slaves."
      • Original quote in Spanish: Huid del país donde uno solo ejerza todos los poderes: es un país de esclavos. Sources: Archivo del Libertador, document N° 565; Pérez Vila, Manuel (compilator, 2009), Simón Bolívar. Doctrina del Libertador, p. 45, ISBN 978-980-276-474-7.

The Angostura Address (1819)

Speech to the Congress of Angostura (15 February 1819) - Online text
  • We have been ruled more by deceit than by force, and we have been degraded more by vice than by superstition. Slavery is the daughter of darkness: an ignorant people is a blind instrument of its own destruction. Ambition and intrigue abuses the credulity and experience of men lacking all political, economic, and civic knowledge; they adopt pure illusion as reality; they take license for liberty, treachery for patriotism, and vengeance for justice. If a people, perverted by their training, succeed in achieving their liberty, they will soon lose it, for it would be of no avail to endeavor to explain to them that happiness consists in the practice of virtue; that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of tyrants, because, as the laws are more inflexible, every one should submit to their beneficent austerity; that proper morals, and not force, are the bases of law; and that to practice justice is to practice liberty.
    • Variant translation: Slavery is the daughter of darkness; an ignorant people is the blind instrument of its own destruction; ambition and intrigue take advantage of the credulity and inexperience of men who have no political, economic or civil knowledge. They mistake pure illusion for reality, license for freedom, treason for patriotism, vengeance for justice.
      • As translated by Frederick H. Fornoff in El Libertador : Writings Of Simon Bolivar (2003) edited by David Bushnell
  • Let the entire system of government be strengthened, and let the balance of power be drawn up in such a manner that it will be permanent and incapable of decay because of its own tenuity. Precisely because no form of government is so weak as the democratic, its framework must be firmer, and its institutions must be studied to determine their degree of stability … unless this is done, we will have to reckon with an ungovernable, tumultuous, and anarchic society, not with a social order where happiness, peace, and justice prevail.
  • Let us give to our republic a fourth power with authority over the youth, the hearts of men, public spirit, habits, and republican morality. Let us establish this Areopagus to watch over the education of the children, to supervise national education, to purify whatever may be corrupt in the republic, to denounce ingratitude, coldness in the country's service, egotism, sloth, idleness, and to pass judgment upon the first signs of corruption and pernicious example.
    • As quoted in Rise of the Spanish-American Republics as Told in the Lives of their Liberators (1918) by William Spence Robertson, p. 239
  • The continuation of authority in the same person has frequently proved the undoing of democratic governments. Repeated elections are essential to the system of popular governments, because there is nothing so dangerous as to suffer Power to be vested for a long time in one citizen. The people become accustomed to obeying him, and he becomes accustomed to commanding, hence the origin of usurpation and tyranny.
    • As quoted in The World’s Great Speeches, Lewis Copeland and Lawrence Lamm, edit., Dover Publications Inc. (1958) p. 386
  • A perverted people, should it attaint its liberty, is bound to lose this very soon, because it would be useless to try to impress upon such people that happiness lies in the practice of righteousness; that the reign of law is more powerful than the reign of tyrants, who are more inflexible, and all ought to submit to the wholesome severity of the law; that good morals, and not force, are the pillars of the law and that the exercise of justice is the exercise of liberty.
    • As quoted in The World’s Great Speeches, Lewis Copeland and Lawrence Lamm, edit., Dover Publications Inc. (1958) p. 388
  • Liberty, says Rousseau, is a succulent food, but difficult to digest. Our feeble fellow citizens will have to strengthen their mind much before they will be ready to assimilate such wholesome nourishment.
    • As quoted in The World’s Great Speeches, Lewis Copeland and Lawrence Lamm, edit., Dover Publications Inc. (1958) p. 388
  • When I contemplate this immense reunited country, my soul mounts to that height demanded by the colossal perspective of a picture so wonderful. My imagination takes flight toward future ages and admiringly observes from them the prosperity, the splendor, and the life which will exist within this vast territory. I am carried away; and I seem to behold it in the heart of the universe, stretching along its extensive coasts between two oceans which nature has separated; but which our fatherland has united by long and wide canals. I see it serve as the bond, as the center, as the emporium of the human race. I see it sending to the ends of the earth the treasures of gold and silver which its mountains contain. I see it, through the healing virtue of its plants, dispensing health and life to afflicted men of the Old World. I see it disclosing its precious secrets to the sages who know that the store of knowledge is more valuable than the store of riches which nature has so prodigally bestowed upon us. I see it seated upon the throne of liberty, the scepter of justice in its hand, crowned by glory, showing to the Old World the majesty of the New World.
    • Close of the address, as quoted in Rise of the Spanish-American Republics as Told in the Lives of their Liberators (1918) by William Spence Robertson, p. 239

Letter near the end of his life (November 9, 1830)


As you know, I have led for twenty years and have obtained only a few certain results:

  1. America is ungovernable by us.
  2. He who serves a revolution plows in the sea.
  3. The only thing one can do in America is emigrate.
  4. This country [Colombia] will fall unfailingly into the hands of the unbridled crowd and then pass almost imperceptibly to tyrants of all colors and races.
  5. Devoured by all crimes and extinguished by ferocity, the Europeans will not deign to conquer us.
  6. If it were possible for one part of the world to return to primitive chaos, this would be the last period of America.


  • Unlimited freedom, absolute democracy, are reefs upon which all the republics have come to grief.
    • Quoted in Jacques Bainville, Dictators (1937), p. 139
  • It must never be forgotten that the excellence of a government consists, not in its theoretic perfection, but in the degree to which it is adapted to the nature and character of the people for whom it is set up.
    • Quoted in Jacques Bainville, Dictators (1937), pp. 139-140
  • It is not right to leave everything to the chances and hazards of an election. The masses are more prone to error than those who have been trained and tempered by education.
    • Quoted in Jacques Bainville, Dictators (1937), p. 140
  • The shouts of human-kind on the battlefield, or in the tumult of assemblies are protests to heaven against inconsistent legislators who have thought it possible to experiment with chimerical constitutions without suffering the consequences
    • Quoted in Jacques Bainville, Dictators (1937), p. 140
  • Absolute democratic government is as much a tyranny as despotism.
    • Quoted in Jacques Bainville, Dictators (1937), p. 140
  • The most accomplished nation in the world, ancient or modern, was unable to resist the violence of the storms inherent in pure theories. If a European country like France, ever sovereign and independent, was not able to support the burden of unrestricted liberty, how can anyone expect Colombia to realize the delirious hallucinations of Robespierre and Marat. Could anyone even dream of such a piece of political moonshine? Legislators, see to it that the inexorable verdict of posterity does not liken you to the monsters of France!
    • Quoted in Jacques Bainville, Dictators (1937), p. 140

Quotes about Bolívar

  • To-day we are beginning to realise that the Colombian dictator was above all things a positivist, a realist. He wrote some trenchant things about codes "drawn up by gentle visionaries who, dreaming of republics away up in the clouds, have sought to attain to political perfection by taking it for granted that human nature is indefinitely perfectible". Despite his republican utterances, he was an uncompromising opponent of democracy, which he defined as "a state of things so incapable of resistance that the slightest difficulty is enough to throw it into confusion and bring it to naught".
  • And so Bolivar, being a realist in politics, was always moved to indignation when he saw the States of South America adopting cut and dried constitutions, based on abstract theory, and not created expressly to suit them. What he would have liked to see put into practice was what Latin-American writers have called the Bolivarian theory, that is to say the principle of "sociocratic heredity" on the Comtean or pre-Comtean pattern. He would have desired, taking his cue no doubt from the example of the Antonines at Rome, that, at the head of each of the Republics he had created, there should be a Life-President, who should appoint his own successor. In this manner he thought to combine absolutism and continuity, the apanage of hereditary monarchies, while discarding the hereditary principle.
  • Both San Martín‬ and Bolívar have been accused by their enemies of plotting to make themselves kings, but most scholars agree today that there is no basis for either accusation. Bolívar, with his sense of drama, felt that to make himself monarch would mean a refutation of his entire past career. Such an attempt would render him ridiculous at the bar of history, and although he intended to keep political control in his hands, it was the control exercised by the power of a political chief, a kind of super-boss.
    • Margaret Hayne Harrison, in ‪Captain of the Andes : The Life of José de San Martín, Liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru (1943)‬, p. 199
  • Bolívar, the hero who brought glory to the nation. Bolívar, the military and political genius, the Liberator, the Father of His Country. Today, the main square of almost every city and town in Venezuela is named Plaza Bolívar. And each one has a statue of the Liberator. Some show him standing, some on horseback. In the city named for him, Bolívar City, which is the capital of Bolívar state, there is of course a Plaza Bolívar, with a Bolívar statue: on a high marble pedestal the Liberator appears in the guise of a Roman emperor or senator, his cape wrapped around him to look like a toga, a sword in his right hand, a law scroll in his left. All this fed what became a state religion: Bolívar as civic god. Venezuelan historians refer to it as Bolívar worship.
    • William Neuman, Things Are Never So Bad That They Can't Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela (2022)
  • In his eventful forty-seven years Bolívar said enough, wrote enough, gave enough speeches, corresponded widely enough, and changed his thinking often enough, that today you can find material in the vast Bolivarian catalog to support virtually any ideology, position, or cause. Bolívar ruled as a dictator—so Venezuelan dictators held him up as an example of how the country needed to be ruled by a firm hand. Bolívar said that elections were essential—so democrats embraced him. Bolívar warned that elections would lead to anarchy—so conservatives revered him. Outside Venezuela, both Mussolini and Franco saw Bolívar as a fascist precursor. Marx called him “the dastardly, most miserable, and meanest of blackguards.” Cuban communists honored him. Chávez hailed Bolívar as a socialist. Chávez once ordered Bolívar’s remains, entombed in the National Pantheon in Caracas, to be exhumed. He then commissioned a computer-generated portrait of the Liberator, based on digital projections from the great man’s skull. It looked a lot like the portraits of Bolívar painted by his contemporaries, but Chávez said that for the first time, modern Venezuelans were seeing Bolívar’s “true face.” This was a quaint notion. The true face of Bolívar is what you want it to be. He was a democrat. He was an autocrat. He was an egalitarian. He was an elitist. He was an abolitionist. He was a slaveholder. He was a cruel tyrant. He was a tolerant humanist. In fact, he was all those things at one time or another.
    • William Neuman, Things Are Never So Bad That They Can't Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela (2022)
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