Simon Bolivar was the founder of Gran Colombia, the first confederation of South American territories free of Spanish rule.
Born to a wealthy Venezuelan family in 1783, Bolivar enjoyed a privileged upbringing. He was educated by private tutors in the classical thought of the Romans and Greeks as well as in the more contemporary Enlightenment ideals. He studied both in Venezuela and Spain and traveled across Europe to expand his studies. While in France, Bolivar attended the coronation of Napoleon as the Emperor of France, an act the young Venezuelan saw as distasteful and an abandonment of the republican ideals the French Revolution had attempted to instill.
When he returned home in 1807, Bolivar found that the meddling of Napoleon came with him. Napoleon had deposed the Spanish monarchy, and placed his own brother on the seat of the Spanish throne. This placed Joseph Napoleon in charge of the affairs of all citizens of Spain and the Spanish colonies, including Venezuela. Banding together, Bolivar and other concerned members of Venezuelan society declared their territories independent from Spain in 1810. his new Venezuelan republic would last only a year before it was overthrown by forces loyal to the new Spanish king. However, Bolivar and his soldiers successfully retook the Venezuelan capital of Caracas two years later in 1813, an act that would earn the young general the title of "The Liberator." While the title would last, Bolivar's hold on the capital would not, and his army was once again driven out of the city.
Gathering allies from Haiti, Great Britain and Colombia, Bolivar once again struck against the Royalist forces. Meeting on the field of battle in Boyaca, Colombia, Bolivar and his forces decisively defeated the Royalists in 1819, allowing the republican forces to assume control of the governments of Colombia and Venezuela. In 1821, Bolivar and his compatriots formally declared the creation of the independent state of Gran Colombia.
Bolivar was yet again successful when his aid was requested by Jose de San Martin -- known as the Liberator of Peru -- to help drive the remaining Spanish forces from Peru. His victories had allowed large parts of modern Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru to become free and united under the helm of Gran Colombia.
But despite all his military successes, triumph on the political battlefield eluded Bolivar. The many disparate political groups of South America all sought a significant degree of independent power in the nascent Colombian government, whereas Bolivar believed that only a centralized government with a powerful executive could succeed.
In an effort to force through his policies, Bolivar was declared dictator by the new nation of Peru in 1828, but it was a failed gesture. The infighting was too much for Bolivar and in 1830 he left politics and entered a state of self-imposed exile. An unexpected illness claimed The Liberator the very same year.