After defeating the Spanish at the Battles of Boyaca and Carabobo, Venezuelan military and political leader Simón Bolívar established the Republic of Gran Colombia on this day in 1821.
The state was officially organised at the Congress of Cúcuta and was a federation covering much of present day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador, with Bolívar as the founding President and Francisco de Paula Santander as vice president.
The state’s name can be traced back to a Spanish version of the name of Christopher Columbus, a name often used for American territories under Spanish rule in the New World.
The state of Gran Colombia was an experiment in an American Revolution-style federation by Bolivar, to free the people of northern South America from Spanish rule. Based in Bogotá, Gran Colombia’s central government consisted of a presidency, a bicameral congress, and a high court.
Unfortunately Bolivar’s dream of a unified federation independent from Spanish rule was a short-lived experiment marked by conflict between those who supported a centralised government with a strong leader and federalists who supported a decentralised form of government.
The tensions were suppressed in the early 1820s as revolutionaries channeled their energies into the war against Spain. But when the Spanish American War largely came to an end in the mid-1820s, regionalist sentiments arose once again. Ecuador had political and economic grievances. Venezuela’s liberals expressed strong federalist sentiments and tried to secede from Gran Colombia. It was the beginning of Gran Colombia’s unraveling.
In an effort to save his fledgling federation, Bolivar gathered a new constitutional assembly in 1828. In the Convention of Ocaña, Bolivar offered reforms and proposed a new constitution. His reforms proved unpopular, Bolivar’s opponents insisted on a federalist constitution, and the convention fell apart when Bolivar’s supporters walked out rather than sign a federalist constitution.
As a last-ditch effort, Bolivar appointed himself dictator to salvage his state, then in 1830, when collapse seemed inevitable, resigned as president. Internal discord among the states reached a boiling point, and the federation finally dissolved in late 1830 when Venezuela and Ecuador split off. It was formally abolished in 1831.
Venezuela, Ecuador and New Granada came to exist as independent states, and the latter eventually became Colombia and Panama.
Bolivar died, along with his visionary mission, in December 1830, in the north Colombian city of Santa Marta.