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Simón Bolívar Admired the Works of the Very Enlightenment Thinkers Themselves

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Simón Bolívar was a Latin American revolutionary who freed 6 countries from the Spanish’s deathly grip (Lynch, xi). The title of “the Liberator” was given to Bolívar by the people of Colombia after liberating and declaring the country as a republic (“Simón”). Besides his liberations of various countries, Simón and his army also accomplished other military feats, including a victory in Boyacá after a march up the 11,000 foot Andes Mountains (“Simón”). Prior to his part in the Latin American revolution, Simón Bolívar admired the works of the very Enlightenment thinkers themselves, such as John Locke, Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Berman). These Enlightenment philosophies include natural rights, a social contract, and non-absolute monarchy or a democracy/republic. Simón Bolívar best exemplified the values and ideals of the Enlightenment, shown by his support of a republic-style government, and his promotion of natural rights for all.

Unlike Napoleon Bonaparte, who was complacent with being dictator, Bolívar preferred a republic government. For instance, when Simón assisted in the liberation of Colombia and Peru from Spain, he was granted the role of president. However, Bolívar returned power back to the people within a matter of 3 years, because he did not want to be an absolute ruler (Bermúdez). In fact, in his Address at the Congress of Angostura, Bolívar stated giving “Venezuela such an executive power in the person of a president chosen by the people or their representatives” would result in “a great step toward national happiness” (Bolívar, “Address”). Thus, Simón Bolívar believed in the power of the people to elect the leader rather than divine right. He even outlined his desire for a republic in Colombia. In his 1815 Letter to Jamaica, Simón proposed that “Its government might follow the English pattern, except that in place of a king, there will be an executive who will be elected” (Bolívar, “Letter”). Evidently, the Liberator once again vouched for a representative democracy where the sovereignty was within the people, and the highest ruler was voted upon. In fact, Bolívar even goes on in the letter to explain a “second representative body” (Bolívar, “Letter”). This extra branch in government communicates the same ideology as Enlightenment thinker Montesquieu’s system of checks and balances. Therefore, Simón Bolívar’s idea of the most effective government (and implementation of a republic in Colombia) is most consistent with those of the Enlightenment.

Bolívar also believed in natural rights for everyone, dissimilar to Robespierre who terrorized all of France and slaughtered anyone who got in his way. One example of his promotion of equal rights was in 1816 when Simón was approached by Haitian president Alexandre Pétion and “ordered the abolition of slavery” (Berman). Slavery was a way of life for a majority of Europe and its colonies. Consequently, the fact that Bolívar made efforts to put an end to slavery reflected the strong desire he had to make civil rights available to all. Bolívar further expressed his disapproval of governmental permittance of slavery when he said: “A people is therefore enslaved when the government…infringes on and usurps the rights of the citizen” (Bolívar, “Letter”). He clearly believes that a government which allows for slavery is enslaving the citizens themselves and is a negligence to the social contract agreed upon between the government and the people. He also describes slavery, in his Address at the Congress of Angostura, as “the daughter of darkness” (Bolívar, “Address”). This is an indication of the fact that Bolívar thinks slavery will destroy the progress that Latin America has made in providing natural rights and drag the countries back into a “darkness.” Moreover, the Liberator, once in command of multiple countries, directly requested “to have no rights beyond those of a simple citizen” (Bermúdez). As shown by this aspiration, Simón did not want to rule with absolute power and instead preferred to be equal to his subjects. He even outlined in his constitution “the sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers, civil rights, a ban on slavery, and the abolition of the monarchy and of privileges” amongst the 191 articles of the constitution (Bermúdez and Bolívar, “Constitution”). Accordingly, Bolívar planned for plentiful natural, inalienable rights in his constitution, just as Enlightenment philosopher John Locke had argued.

Historians have asserted that Simón Bolívar was a dictator, as seen by his “hereditary senate” and “president for life” manifestos (Bermúdez). Admittedly, this was a fairly radical idea. Marquis de Lafayette, a key military figure of the American Revolution, even wrote a letter to Bolívar in hopes of changing his mind about the president for life ideology (Berman). In 1828, there was also an attempted assassination plot of Bolívar as a result of the proposed hereditary senate in the constitution, which threatened the democracy that the citizens were promised (“Simón”). However, conveyed in his Address at the Congress of Angostura, Bolívar explains that hereditary senate was actually in the best interest of Colombia as a country. For example, he said that a hereditary senate is “devoted to the government because of a natural interest in its own preservation” (Bolívar, “Address”). This is quite logical in the fact that the motivations of an inherited position would be consistent with those of the preceding heir. Thus, interests in money and power would not exist; rather, the success of the country would be the goal. He even proceeds to justify that “a hereditary senate would always oppose any attempt on the part of the people to infringe upon the jurisdiction and authority of their magistrates” (Bolívar, “Address”).

Once again, this shows that a hereditary senate would share the same interests as the people, and therefore would not aim to corrupt their legal system. Also, because the senate will have consistent ideas with the people, Bolívar described it as a “counterweight” between the government and its citizens (Bolívar, “Address”). The hereditary senate could then communicate the desires of the people to higher branches of power, such as to the President. As for the “president for life” ideology, Bolívar explained that a “firm hand” was necessary “to manage all the racial divisions in this heterogeneous society” (Berman). The society he was referring to was all of Latin America, including Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador. Without a force, such as a president, to unite these smaller nations, Latin America can have the possibility of civil war between each country and collapse as a result. Therefore, although historians regard Simón Bolívar as a dictator, hereditary senate and president for life manifestos were what was required to maintain a peaceful and stable South America.

Simón Bolívar best exemplified the values and ideals of the Enlightenment because of his support of a republic government and advancement of natural rights for citizens of Latin America. This was demonstrated by the Liberator’s consistency with Montesquieu’s idea of checks and balances within a republic democracy and John Locke’s argument of natural inalienable rights. Historians have made a claim that Bolívar ran a dictatorship over the countries he commanded. Meanwhile, without his “president for life” manifesto and “hereditary senate,” would South America have succumbed to Spanish forces and be under Spanish control as of today?

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