…never had I entertained any ambition other than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous.
-José de San Martín, July 22, 1820
San Martín did both.
One of the greatest heroes of Pan-American history, San Martín was an exceptionally rare kind in that, after achieving what he had set out to accomplish–namely the liberation of most of South America–he held true to his word. He relinquished all power and returned home following a fateful and mysterious meeting with fellow libertador Simón Bolívar.
Both men had hopes for a united South America, and both were disillusioned by the continual conflicts that thwarted their idealistic vision.
Upon vanquishing the Spanish army from Argentina, San Martín had hardly set foot outside his newly independent homeland when internal divisions led that nation to civil war. San Martín’s powerful army and his own fame could have swayed the civil war, but he chose to fight the Spanish in Chile and Peru rather than return to Argentina with his army to take sides and shed the blood of his countrymen.
He was proclaimed Protector of Peru, a title he relinquished after his meeting with Bolívar, along with command of his army. He then returned briefly to his farm in Mendoza, Argentina. After the death of his wife, San Martín placed himself in voluntary exile in Europe, moving to France with his daughter Mercedes. He would spend the rest of his life in France, a nation he had once fought against as a youth in service to Spain.
Today San Martín is revered as the national hero of Argentina.