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Biography of Jose de San Martin

Liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru


Biography of Jose de San Martin

Jose de San Martin in 1848

Photographer Unknown

Meeting of the Liberators

Meanwhile, Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre were sweeping down out of the north, chasing the Spanish out of northern South America. San Martín and Bolívar met in Guayaquil in July of 1822 to decide how to proceed. Both men came away with a negative impression of the other. San Martín decided to step down and allow Bolívar the glory of crushing the final Spanish resistance in the mountains. His decision was most likely made because he knew that they would not get along and one of them would have to step aside, which Bolívar would never do.


San Martín returned to Peru, where he had become a controversial figure. Some adored him and wanted him to become King of Peru, while others detested him and wanted him out of the nation completely. The staid soldier soon tired of the endless bickering and backstabbing of government life and abruptly retired. By September of 1822 he was out of Peru and back in Chile. When he heard that his beloved wife Remedios was ill, he hastened back to Argentina but she died before he reached her side. San Martín soon decided that he was better off elsewhere, and took his young Daughter Mercedes to Europe. They settled in France.

In 1829, Argentina called him back to help settle a dispute with Brazil which eventually would lead to the establishment of the nation of Uruguay. He returned, but by the time he reached Argentina the tumultuous government had once again changed and he was not welcome. He spent two months in Montevideo before returning once again to France. There he led a quiet life before passing away in 1850.

Personal Life of José de San Martín

San Martín was a consummate military professional, who lived a Spartan life. He had little tolerance for dances, festivals and showy parades, even when they were in his honor (unlike Bolívar, who loved such pomp and pageantry). He was loyal to his beloved wife during most of his campaigns, only taking a clandestine lover at the end of his fighting in Lima.

His early wounds pained him greatly, and San Martin took a great deal of laudanum to relieve his suffering. Although it occasionally clouded his mind, it did not keep him from winning great battles. He enjoyed cigars and an occasional glass of wine.

He refused almost all of the honors and rewards that grateful people of South America tried to give him, including rank, positions, land and money.

Legacy of José de San Martín

San Martín had asked in his will that his heart be buried in Buenos Aires: in 1878 his remains were brought to the Buenos Aires Cathedral, where they still rest in a stately tomb.

San Martín is the greatest national hero of Argentina and he is considered a great hero by Chile and Peru as well. In Argentina, there are statues, streets, parks and schools named after him wherever you go.

As a liberator, his glory is as great or nearly as great as that of Simón Bolívar. Like Bolívar, he was a visionary able to see beyond the confining borders of his own homeland and visualize a continent free of foreign rule. Also like Bolívar, he was constantly stymied by the petty ambitions of the lesser men who surrounded him.

He differs from Bolívar chiefly in his actions after independence: while Bolívar exhausted the last of his energies fighting to unite South America into one great nation, San Martín quickly tired of backstabbing politicians and retired to a quiet life in exile. The history of South America might have been very different had San Martín remained involved in politics: he believed that the people of Latin America needed a firm hand to lead them and was a proponent of establishing a monarchy, preferably led by some European Prince, in the lands he liberated.

San Martín was criticized during his life for cowardice for failing to chase nearby Spanish armies or for waiting for days in order to meet them on ground of his choosing. History has borne out his decisions and today his military choices are held up as examples of martial prudence rather than cowardice. His life was full of courageous decisions, from deserting the Spanish army to fight for Argentina to crossing the Andes to free Chile and Peru, which were not his homeland.

San Martín was an outstanding general, courageous leader and visionary politician and is very deserving of his heroic status in the nations he liberated.


Harvey, Robert. Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2000.

Lynch, John. The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826 New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986.

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