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William Walker - American Adventurer

In: Historical Events

Submitted By GoKings57
Words 3633
Pages 15
William Walker - American Adventurer

Prepared for

Dr. Angelo Montante
University of La Verne
Point Mugu, CA 93042

Prepared By

Verna Tipton
History 311
University of La Verne

December 7, 1998

Table of Contents

I. Introduction Pages 1-2

II. His Life Pages 3-10

III. Conclusion Pages 11-12

IV. Bibliography

Introduction “…that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” (Monroe, P. 1) The Monroe Doctrine stated that the United States would not tolerate European interference in the affairs of state of governments in the Western Hemisphere, and marked the beginning of American imperialism. What the Monroe Doctrine didn’t talk about, however, was the interference of American governments in the affairs of their neighbors. An early example of indifference to this type of interference was when Texas waged war to secede from Mexico. Many Texans were U.S. citizens who had settled in the vast Texas plains. Following the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, Texas was granted sovereignty by the Mexican government, and immediately recognized by the American government. For several years, soldiers from the Republic of Texas, under orders from successive Texan Presidents Lamar and Houston, made forays into Mexico, seeking to expand their territorial gains. Conversely, in 1842, Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna swore to recapture Texas and plant Mexico’s “eagle standards on the banks of the Sabine.” (Stevens, P. 1) Santa Anna ordered his troops to make various raids on Texas soil. In neither of these instances did the United States government attempt to intervene. “…..in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our

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manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions…” (O’Sullivan, P. 1) In 1844, John L. O’Sullivan used the term “manifest destiny” to describe America’s inherent “right” to expand westward, creating a nation that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts. Thousands of Americans heeded his call, moving west and fulfilling this destiny. A requirement to fulfill it was the colonization of the Mexican territories that would become New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California. This colonization eventually led to the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. After defeating Mexico, the United States turned its attention towards Central America. Although the British had a firm foothold there, southern Democrats encouraged expansionism, as they viewed Nicaragua as an area for the expansion of slavery. Business interests in America saw an ideal place to build a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as a source of valuable new materials and markets. Then-President Polk tried unsuccessfully to unite the Central American republics to fight England. Britain and America continued to spar diplomatically until 1850, when the U.S. and Britain signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, agreeing to cooperate on any canal built in Central America. The Clayton-Bulwer treaty didn’t signal the end of American interference in Central America, though. Many people felt that the “manifest destiny” espoused by O’Sullivan included colonization of Central America. One of the people who felt that the United States should include the five countries of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador was William Walker, a lawyer, doctor and soldier of fortune from Tennessee.

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The Adventurer Born in 1824 in Tennessee, William Walker was something of a child prodigy, graduating from Nashville University at the age of fourteen. Being raised in Nashville served as the basis for the strong sympathy Walker held for Southern ideals later in his life. Walker then traveled to Europe and attended universities in Edinburgh, Gottingen, Heidelberg and Paris. By his twenty-first birthday in 1845, Walker had also earned degrees in law and medicine, and was considered a skilled surgeon. His time in Europe exposed him to the various revolutions of 1848, and the revolutionary ideas of Massini, Garibaldi, Marx, Feuerbach and Blanc influenced his later filibustering schemes. Upon his return to the United States, he practiced medicine for a short time in Philadelphia, but quickly grew weary of being a doctor. He then went to New Orleans to study law, and hung his shingle in 1845. Not long after this, he became a journalist, purchasing half interest in the New Orleans Crescent newspaper, where he wrote impassioned columns in defense of slavery and on colonizing Central America. In short order his newspaper folded, his sweetheart died of yellow fever and Walker became cynical and sullen. He moved to San Francisco in 1850, where he performed a brief stint as a newspaperman, before ending up in Marysville, where he practiced law. It was here that he began his career as an adventurer. In the 1850’s, at the height of the California gold rush, there was no shortage of people willing to finance expeditions into Mexico and Central America. Walker, an advocate of slavery, looked upon the French designs on Mexico with apprehension, as many pro-slavery people held

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the American conquest of Mexico as a matter of manifest destiny, and felt that French interference would serve as a serious obstacle. In the summer of 1853, Walker traveled to Guaymas and sought a grant from Mexico to establish a militarized frontier colony to serve as a bulwark against the natives. The Mexican government, still smarting from its defeat at the hands of the Americans in 1848, was rightfully suspicious of Walker and denied his request. Walker returned to San Francisco, opened a recruiting office and proceeded to raise an armed force for his conquest of the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California. Using funds raised by selling post-conquest land grants and the promise that the new lands would eventually apply for admission to the Union, Walker was able to recruit enough soldiers to mount his offensive. Chartering the brig “Arrow”, he prepared to set sail for La Paz, only to be arrested by General Hitchcock, commander of the U.S. forces on the Pacific Coast. Sympathetic federal officials in San Francisco soon released Walker. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis replaced Hitchcock with General James Wool, who was under orders not to interfere with Walker’s plans. Walker set sail on a new vessel, the “Caroline”, and with forty-eight mercenaries, landed at La Paz on October 16, 1853. Quickly reinforced by two hundred additional men, he wasted no time in taking possession of the countryside and proclaiming the independence of the Republic of Lower California. Walker extended the laws of Louisiana over his new republic, thus allowing slavery. After his troops and Mexican soldiers skirmished near his headquarters in La Paz, Walker moved his government to Ensenada, where he abolished the Republic of Lower California and established the Republic of Sonora. This new republic, consisting of the former

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Mexican states of Sonora and Lower California, was again under the laws of Louisiana. Walker named himself President of the new republic, and appointed his partners Watkins as Vice-President and Emory as Secretary of State. The news of Walker’s exploits quickly reached San Francisco, where they were regarded as a great victory, garnering a number of accolades from periodicals of the time. Judge Lott wrote in the Pioneer that, “the term filibuster no longer means a pirate. It means the encompassing of the weak by the strong. The term filibuster is now identical with the pioneer of progress.” (Juda, P. 3) The expedition’s popularity skyrocketed, and hundreds of men flocked to join Walker. Enlistment offices were opened, the Sonora Company’s bonds were openly sold, and the flag of the new republic was flown at the corner of Kearny and Sacramento Streets in San Francisco. While Walker waited for his new recruits, his supply ship sailed away with the majority of his supplies. Upon the arrival of two hundred new soldiers, he was forced to send them through neighboring towns and villages to forage for supplies. A battle was fought with the locals at Guilla, as they did not want to give up their cattle and supplies to the American mercenaries. Walker began to drill his troops in preparation for a march on the city of Sonora, but discontent had broken out amongst the new recruits. Disease and desertion took their toll on the numbers of Walker’s soldiers, until his force numbered less than one hundred. With this small band, he began his march on the city of Sonora, but by the time the group reached the Colorado River, only 35 men remained in the party. Realizing he did not have the forces

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necessary to hold the country, Walker temporarily shelved his dreams of conquest and returned to San Francisco. Although treated as a hero by the populace, he was forced to surrender himself to General Wool upon his return. Tried for violation of the U.S. neutrality laws, Walker’s previous experience as a lawyer came in handy. His skillful self-defense resulted in an acquittal for him, and he returned to his law practice for a short time. Civilian life held no excitement for him, and Walker soon returned to his adventurous ways. During the Nicaraguan Civil War of 1854-55, the leader of the Leonese faction requested Walker’s assistance in defeating the Granada faction. Financed and supported by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Nicaragua Transit Company, Walker handpicked a force of fifty-six mercenaries, many of them veterans of the Mexican War and various expeditionary actions. Walker, who envisioned himself as the “gray-eyed man of destiny” so prevalent in Nicaraguan folk history, again attempted to create an American colony in Central America. Although the U.S. Marshals tried to prevent his departure, the federal officials in San Francisco still held Walker in high esteem. General Wool, empowered by the President to prevent all filibustering activity, not only knew about Walker’s plan, but wished him success in his endeavors. Accompanied by the “Fifty-Six Immortals” as they were called in the stateside press, Walker set sail on the brig “Vespa” on May 4, 1855. Upon landing in Nicaragua, the mercenaries were joined by 175 local rebels of the Leonese faction. Walker’s forces were defeated in their first battle at Rivas, but they regrouped and routed the enemy at Granada.

6 After the Leonese victory, Walker was given the rank of Generalissimo, and he soon declared himself President. His exploits again garnered him much praise in the stateside press, leading to diplomatic recognition of his government by the administration of President Franklin Pierce. Slavery advocates began a propaganda campaign, raising recruits and money for Walker’s endeavor. An army of over 1200 men was openly recruited in San Francisco, New York and New Orleans, and by the summer of 1856, he controlled all of Nicaragua. With all power centered in his hands, Walker’s true colors began to show. While he professed that “it is the aim of myself and those under my command to establish the government on a basis at once firm and liberal, to secure the rights of the people while we maintain law and order,” but his actions tell a different story. (DeBow, P. 149) He rewrote Nicaraguan law from top to bottom, and in doing so, created many unpopular policies and sowed the seeds of rebellion in his newly conquered land. He legalized slavery in an effort to cull favor with wealthy patrons in the American South, and beefed up the tax laws, forcing many poor people further into poverty. In an attempt to make it easier for Anglos to dominate Nicaragua, he instituted land “reform”, requiring all land to be registered. For the majority of local landowners, no paperwork had ever been completed on their property, and many of them lost their land to Walker and his cronies. His biggest mistake, however, was revoking the franchise of Vanderbilt’s Nicaragua Transit Company, and awarded a twenty-five year franchise to Edmond Randolf, Vanderbilt’s competitor. Another mistake by Walker was the attempted invasion of Costa Rica. In an effort to expand their territorial gains, 300 men under the command of Col. Schlessinger began a march

7 into the Costa Rican countryside. On March 20, 1856, a force of 2500 Costa Rican soldiers defeated Walker’s soldiers in a 14-minute battle at Guanacaste. After being chased back across the border into Nicaragua, Walker’s soldiers were defeated again on April 11, in a bloody battle at Rivas. Over half of the attacking Costa Ricans, whose forces were supplemented by Nicaraguan rebels, were killed by the troops under Schlessinger, but a suicide mission by two Costa Ricans to set fire to the fort Walker’s men took cover in led to the defeat and retreat of Schlessinger’s command. Vanderbilt, upset by Walker’s betrayal, used these mistakes against Walker. Revolts were financed and fomented by Vanderbilt, and Walker’s stranglehold on Nicaragua was steadily chipped away at. While his early exploits earned him many allies in American power circles, when he turned to them for help in maintaining his control of Nicaragua, he found that his pleas fell on deaf ears. Nobody wanted to upset Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose wealth and power in America were immense. Walker tried to use sensationalism and bootlicking to convince the Congress to assist him when he stated that “they may kill every American now in Nicaragua… I know that the honor and the interests of the great country which, despite of the foreign service I am engaged in, I still love to call my own, are involved in the present struggle.” (DeBow, P. 150) However, even those Southern Democrats who had so loudly trumpeted Walker’s achievements were unable to garner support for his cause. Walker’s ability to receive regular reinforcements and supplies was diminished, and his lines of communication to influential Americans withered.

8 Costa Rica formally declared war against Walker’s Nicaragua, and in concert with troops from Honduras and Guatemala, and with the aid of Nicaraguan rebels financed by Vanderbilt, Walker was finally driven from power. After a series of military reversals, Walker and his troops found themselves surrounded in the town of Rivas. With no reinforcements available, and unable to receive supplies, Walker sought protection from his enemies through Capt. Davis of the United States Navy. Upon his return to New Orleans in May of 1857, Walker was hailed as a conquering hero. A patriotic rally was held for Walker and the Fifty-Six Immortals, who, resplendent in their full uniforms, were honored by a cheering crowd of thousands. However, a falling out between Walker and his troops soon occurred, with Walker being called “cruel, indifferent and neglectful.” This did nothing to dissuade Walker from attempting to mount another expedition into Nicaragua. After raising a force of approximately 150 men, Walker again sailed for Nicaragua on November 14, 1857. Landing at Punta Arenas, Walker declared himself the Commander of the Nicaraguan Army and began a new war against those who had recently deposed him. Unfortunately for Walker, the U.S. government had other ideas about the rightful government of Nicaragua, and the Caribbean Squadron of the U.S. Navy, commanded by Commodore Paulding, was ordered into the area to find and bring back Walker. On December 8, Walker surrendered to Paulding, and was brought back to New Orleans to stand trial for violation of U.S. neutrality laws. President Buchanan, having gone so far as to denounce Walker’s adventures as blatant filibustering, was adamant that Walker be found guilty. However, Walker’s previous career as a

9 lawyer served him well again, and his skillful defense of himself so overwhelmed the jury that they were unable to render a verdict against him and he was set free. Again, an unperturbed Walker refused to settle into civilian life. He set about recruiting a force for another expedition, and attempted to lead them into Nicaragua by sneaking through Honduras. Before long, troops began to desert, and a number of them sacked the British Customs House in Honduras. British Marines gave chase and captured Walker and his remaining seventy men. The troops were sent back to the United States, where the majority of them joined other expeditions to Central and South America. William Walker, however, after being promised protection by British Captain Saloman, was turned over to the Honduran government. After being convicted by a military tribunal and sentenced to death, William Walker was held incommunicado for three days in a rat-infested jail. On September 12, 1860, William Walker was led into a village square, where, squinting against the mid-day tropical sun, he faced a Honduran firing squad. With one volley of the firing squad, one of the most infamous adventurers in American history was dead at the age of thirty-six.

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Conclusion William Walker’s death at the hands of a firing squad did little to dissuade Americans from adventures in Central America. Quite the opposite happened, in fact. American business interests continued to pour money into Central American mining companies and into banana and coffee plantations. Cornelius Vanderbilt consolidated his hold on Nicaraguan transportation after the overthrow of Walker. In Honduras, where Walker was executed, U.S. interests owned over 1 million acres of the most fertile land in the country, creating the term “banana republic”. The U.S. government began responding to requests for protection by American business interests, by intervening with military forces in all the countries of Central America, an intervention that continues today. Walker’s exploits, besides furthering the cause of American interests in the region, garnered the U.S. government and businesses a distrust by the Central American peoples that lasts to this day. During Walker’s life, Americans viewed him in black and white – either they adored him and romanticized his exploits, or they reviled him and sought to paint him as a greedy, self-serving megalomaniac. There was no gray area when it came to William Walker. One magazine editor, in recounting Walker’s adventures, stated “Walker’s last effort was against Honduras. It was a more miserable failure than any of his former enterprises; and there are few persons who do not think that he richly deserved his fate.” (Editor, Ladies Repository, P. 697) Another author opined that “it was the fortune of this writer…to have been intimately associated with General Walker…has rejoiced at all the successes he has achieved, has deeply regretted his

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errors, and now mourns his untimely end. A braver spirit never winged its flight from tenement of clay.” (DeBow, P. 206) However, in later years, those who sought to stigmatize Walker were more popular than those who saw him in a noble light. Joaquin Miller, a soldier who served under Walker and later received some renown as a poet wrote of visiting Walker’s grave, and captured the general feeling towards Walker by his fellow Americans:
“He lies low in the leveled sand,
Unsheltered from the tropic sun,
And now of all he knew not one,
Will speak him fair in that far land.” Right or wrong, egotist or not, William Walker sincerely believed in what he was doing. As he wrote to Senator Weller in 1857, “We may perish in the work we have undertaken, and our cause may be for a time lost, but if we fall, we feel it is in the path of honor. And what is life, or what is success, in comparison with the consciousness of having performed a duty, and of having co-operated, no matter how slightly, in the cause of improvement and progess?” (DeBow, P. 150-151)

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Bibliography

Buschini, J., “U.S. Intervention in Latin America”, Small Planet. Available online at www.smplanet.com/imperialism/teddy.htm.

Editor, “The Walker Expedition of 1856”, DeBow’s Review, Vol. 2, Issue 24, Pp. 146-151. J. D. B. DeBow, New Orleans, 1858. Available online at moa.umdl.umich.edu/cgi-bin/moa/sgml/ moa-idx?notisid=ACG1336-1307DEBO.

Editor, “The War in Nicaragua by Gen. William Walker”, DeBow’s Review, Vol. 30, Issue 2, Pp. 203-206. J. D. B. DeBow, New Orleans, 1861. Available online at moa.umdl.umich.edu/ cgi-bin/moa/sgml/moa-idx?notisid=ACG1336-1313DEBO.

Editor, “Editor’s Repository”, The Ladies’ Repository, Vol. 20, Issue 11, Pg. 697. Methodist Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, 1860. Available online at moa.umdl.umich.edu/cgi-bin/moa/sgml/ moa-idx?notisid=ACG2248-1495LADI-.

Editor, “General Walker’s Policy in Central America - The Question of Civilization and Labor”, DeBow’s Review, Vol. 28, Issue 2, Pp. 154-173. J. D. B. DeBow, New Orleans, 1860. Available online at moa.umdl.umich.edu/cgi-bin/moa/sgml/moa-idx?notisid=ACG1336-1311DEBO.

Editor, “The New California Poet”, Appleton’s Journal, Vol. 6, Issue 132, Pp. 416-417. D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1871. Available online at moa.umdl.umich.edu/cgi-bin/mos/sgml/ moa-idx?notisid-ACW8433-1332APPL.

Juda, Fanny, excerpted from “California Filibusters: A History of their Expeditions into Hispanic America”, The Grizzly Bear Vol. XXI, No. 4, Whole No. 142. Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, California, February 1919. Available online at www.sfmuseum.org/hist1/ walker.html.

Monroe, James, excerpted from “7th Annual Message to Congress”. James M. Monroe, December 2, 1823. Available online at www.grolier.com.

New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., “William Walker”, Great Characters of New Orleans. Available online at www.neworleansonline.com/gcno-walker.htm.

Bibliography (cont.)

O’Sullivan, John, “Our Manifest Destiny”, United States Magazine and Democratic Review. Available online at www.grolier.com.

Smith, Michael, “Torch of Freedom”, Complete Costa Rica. Available online at www.cocori.com/ library/crinfo/juansa.htm.

Stevens, Peter, “The Black Bean Lottery”, What If.... . Available online at www.thehistory.net/ AmericanHistory/articles/1997/1097_text.htm

Central American History, Website, www.23peaks.com/curriculum/highsch.htm…...

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