Calling all history geeks! Last month, the History Channel debuted a new miniseries called “Sons of Liberty”. While meant to be taken more for its entertainment value than its precise historical accuracy (no, Sam Adams was not a brooding, roof-jumping bachelor), I’m confident that “Sons of Liberty” inspired many to learn more about our Founding Fathers.
As a former collegiate history major, I love any opportunity to learn more about my favorite subject, and I started to wonder about historical individuals around the world who contributed to their nation’s revolutionary history.
Of course, no rebel leader can be without critiques and controversies. And every historical story has multiple sides. But it’s still fascinating to take a look at other “Sons of Liberty” in other nations. What’s even better about these revolutionaries is that there are plenty of monuments to visit while you’re abroad!
France – Napoleon Bonaparte
Possibly one of the most celebrated and vilified figures of French history is Napoleon Bonaparte. Many know him for his ill-advised attempts to take over Russia, or perhaps his short stature and (rumored) consequential inferiority complex. But his military prowess and political sense allowed him to quickly rise in the ranks during the tail end of the French Revolution, catapulting him to become the head of the nation.
Although his autocratic rule may have signaled a shift away from some of the democratic principles of French revolutionaries, Napoleon spearheaded some significant political and social reforms that our own Sons of Liberty would be quite proud of. His institution of the Napoleonic Code allowed freedom of religion, instituted a merit-based government, and disallowed legal privileges that were provided only to those of certain classes. He also abolished slavery and serfdom, ensuring freedom for every French man and woman.
There are many monuments throughout France made to honor Napoleon, but the next time you’re in Paris, be sure to see this one at the Les Invalides, a former military hospital (now a museum) and final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Haiti – Toussaint L’Ouverture
One of the leaders of the only successful slave revolt in modern history, Toussaint L’Ouverture is one of the most notable figures in Haitian history. He was born into slavery but gained his freedom at the age of 33. Inspired by the French Revolution in the late 1780s, L’Ouverture and other free blacks in the French colony of Haiti demanded equal treatment under the law. Claiming that they too were protected under the Declaration of the Rights of Man, L’Ouverture helped lead an organized slave insurgency, partnering with the Spanish to combat French control of Haiti.
In 1794, the French revolutionary government abolished slavery throughout the empire, granting freedom to all slaves on the island of Haiti. L’Ouverture then joined this new republican French government in resisting the colonial encroachment of Spanish and British in the region. His military success allowed L’Ouverture to successfully appoint himself as governor of the self-proclaimed autonomous region. He is also known for having drafted a constitution, cementing the abolition of slavery in Haiti and racial restrictions on employment.
However, his success was rather short-lived, as French forces under Napoleon captured L’Ouverture in 1802. He was imprisoned and died of pneumonia in 1803.
Today, his image lives on in various cities around the world, who pay homage to his contributions in combating slavery in Haiti.
Latin America – Simon Bolivar
Known as “El Libertador”, Simon Bolivar was one of the best-known leaders to guide Venezuela and other Spanish-held nations towards colonial independence in the 19th century. Inspired by writings of Enlightenment thinkers and in collaboration with other Latin American leaders, Bolivar led the charge against Spanish imperial rule, declaring that all colonies had the right to be independent nations.
Sometimes referred to as the “Venezuelan George Washington”, Bolivar’s greatest campaign took place in the summer of 1819 when he invaded New Granada (see map below), a Spanish-held colony that included modern-day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and parts of Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Guyana.
With an unlikely underdog victory, Bolivar’s success at the Battle of Boyaca freed Colombia from the clutches of the Spanish crown and sent Bolivar’s military on to subsequent victories at ending Spanish rule in the region. Hence his title, “El Libertador”.
Monuments dedicated to Simon Bolivar can be found all over the world. The most famous is in his home nation of Venezuela.
Who are some other Sons (and Daughters) of Liberty that contributed to the growth of freedoms throughout the world?