Historical records matching "General" William Walker, President of Nicaragua
About "General" William Walker, President of Nicaragua
William Walker (May 8, 1824– September 12, 1860) was an American physician, lawyer, journalist and adventurer, who organized several private military expeditions into Latin America, with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as "filibustering." Walker became president of the Republic of Nicaragua in 1856 and ruled until 1857, when he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies. He was executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.
Of Scottish descent, Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1824. His mother was Mary Norvell, the daughter of Lt. Lipscomb Norvell, a Revolutionary War officer who could trace his lineage back to the founding of Williamsburg. One of his maternal uncles was John Norvell, a U.S. Senator from Michigan and founder of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
William Walker graduated summa cum laude from the University of Nashville at the early age of fourteen. He then traveled throughout Europe for two years, studying medicine at the universities of Edinburgh, Heidelberg, Göttingen, and Paris. The revolutions of 1848 took place during Walker's stay in Europe; the political minds that dominated the time, which include Garibaldi, Marx, Mazzini, Feuerbach, and Blanc, undoubtedly influenced his filibustering aspirations. At the age of 19, he received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and practiced briefly in Philadelphia before moving to New Orleans to study law.
After a short stint as a lawyer, Walker became co-owner and editor of the newspaper New Orleans Crescent. In 1849, he moved to San Francisco, California, where he worked as a journalist and fought three duels, in two of which he was wounded. Around that time, Walker somehow conceived the project of privately conquering vast regions of Latin America, where he would create states ruled by white English speakers. Such campaigns were then known as filibustering or freebooting.
Expedition to Mexico
In the summer of 1853, Walker traveled to Guaymas, seeking a grant from the government of Mexico to create a colony that would serve as a fortified frontier, protecting U.S. soil from attack by Indians. Mexico refused, and Walker returned to San Francisco determined to obtain his colony, regardless of Mexico's position. He began recruiting from amongst American supporters of slavery and the Manifest Destiny Doctrine, mostly inhabitants of Kentucky and Tennessee. His intentions then changed from forming a buffer colony to establishing an independent Republic of Sonora, which might eventually take its place as a part of the American Union (as had been the case previously with the Republic of Texas). He funded his project by "selling scripts which were redeemable in lands of Sonora."
On October 15, 1853, Walker set out with 45 men to conquer the Mexican territories of Baja California and Sonora. He succeeded in capturing La Paz, the capital of sparsely populated Baja California, which he declared the capital of a new Republic of Lower California, with himself as president and his partner, Watkins, as vice president; he then put the region under the laws of the American state of Louisiana, which made slavery legal. He moved his headquarters to Ensenada to maintain a more secure position of operations. Although he never gained control of Sonora, less than three months later, he pronounced Baja California part of the larger Republic of Sonora.
Lack of supplies and unexpectedly strong resistance by the Mexican government quickly forced Walker to retreat. Back in California, he was put on trial for conducting an illegal war, in violation of the Neutrality Act of 1794. In the era of Manifest Destiny, his filibustering project was popular in the southern and western United States and the jury took eight minutes to acquit him.
Conquest of Nicaragua
Since there was no inter-oceanic route joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the time, and the transcontinental railway had not been completed, a major trade route between New York City and San Francisco ran through southern Nicaragua, in Central America. Ships from New York would enter the San Juan River from the Atlantic and sail across Lake Nicaragua. People and goods would then be transported by stagecoach over a narrow strip of land near the city of Rivas, before reaching the Pacific and being shipped to San Francisco. The commercial exploitation of this route had been granted by Nicaragua to the Accessory Transit Company, controlled by Wall Street tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt (see also Nicaragua Canal). In 1854, a civil war erupted in Nicaragua between the Legitimist party (also called the Conservative party), based in the city of Granada, and the Democratic party (also called the Liberal party), based in León. The Democratic party sought military support from Walker who, to circumvent U.S. neutrality laws, obtained a contract from Democratic president President Castellón to bring as many as three hundred "colonists" to Nicaragua. These mercenaries received the right to bear arms in the service of the Democratic government. Walker sailed from San Francisco on May 3, 1855, with approximately 60 men. Upon landing, the force was reinforced by 170 locals and about 100 Americans, including the well-known explorer and journalist Charles Wilkins Webber and the English adventurer Charles Frederick Henningsen, a veteran of the First Carlist War, the Hungarian Revolution, and the war in Circassia.
With Castellón's consent, Walker attacked the Legitimists in the town of Rivas, near the trans-isthmian route. He was driven off, but not without inflicting heavy casualties. On September 4, during the Battle of La Virgen, Walker defeated the Legitimist army. On October 13, he conquered the Legitimist capital of Granada and took effective control of the country. Initially, as commander of the army, Walker ruled Nicaragua through puppet President Patricio Rivas. U.S. President Franklin Pierce recognized Walker's regime as the legitimate government of Nicaragua on May 20, 1856.
Meanwhile, C.K. Garrison and Charles Morgan, subordinates of Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company, provided financial and logistic assistance to the filibusters in exchange for Walker, as ruler of Nicaragua, seizing the Company's property (on the pretext of a charter violation) and turning it over to Garrison and Morgan. Outraged, Vanderbilt successfully pressured the U.S. government to withdraw its recognition of Walker's regime.
Walker had also scared his neighbors and potential American and European investors with talk of further military conquests in Central America. Juan Rafael Mora, President of Costa Rica, rejected Walker's diplomatic overtures and instead declared war on his regime, the Campaign of 1856–1857. Walker sent Colonel Schlessinger to invade Costa Rica in a preemptive action, but his forces were defeated at the Battle of Santa Rosa in March 1856. In April 1856, Costa Rican troops penetrated into Nicaraguan territory and inflicted a defeat on Walker's men at the Second Battle of Rivas, in which Juan Santamaría, later to be recognized as one of Costa Rica's national heroes, played a key role.
Walker set himself up as President of Nicaragua, after conducting a fraudulent election. He was inaugurated on July 12, 1856, and soon launched an Americanization program, reinstating slavery, declaring English an official language and reorganizing currency and fiscal policy to encourage immigration from the United States. Realizing that his position was becoming precarious, he sought support from the Southerners in the U.S. by recasting his campaign as a fight to spread the institution of black slavery, which many American Southern businessmen saw as the basis of their agrarian economy. With this in mind, Walker revoked Nicaragua's emancipation edict of 1824. This move did increase Walker's popularity in the South and attracted the attention of Pierre Soulé, an influential New Orleans politician, who campaigned to raise support for Walker's war. Nevertheless, Walker's army, weakened by an epidemic of cholera and massive defections, was no match for the Central American coalition.
On May 1, 1857, Walker surrendered to Commander Charles Henry Davis of the United States Navy under the pressure of the Central American armies, and was repatriated. Upon disembarking in New York City, he was greeted as a hero, but he alienated public opinion when he blamed his defeat on the U.S. Navy. Within six months, he set off on another expedition, but he was arrested by the U.S. Navy Home Squadron under the command of Commodore Hiram Paulding and once again returned to the U.S. amid considerable public controversy over the legality of the Navy's actions.
Death in Honduras
After writing an account of his Central American campaign (published in 1860 as War in Nicaragua), Walker once again returned to the region. British colonists in Roatán, in the Bay Islands, fearing that the government of Honduras would move to assert its control over them, approached Walker with an offer to help him in establishing a separate, English-speaking government over the islands. Walker disembarked in the port city of Trujillo, but soon fell into the custody of Captain Salmon of the British Royal Navy. The British government controlled the neighboring regions of British Honduras (now Belize) and the Mosquito Coast (now part of Nicaragua) and had considerable strategic and economic interest in the construction of an inter-oceanic canal through Central America. It therefore regarded Walker as a menace to its own affairs in the region.
Rather than return him to the U.S., Capt. Salmon delivered Walker to the Honduran authorities, who executed him near the site of the present-day hospital by firing squad on September 12, 1860. Walker was 36 years old. He is buried in the Cementerio Viejo, in Trujillo.
Influence and reputation William Walker convinced many Southerners of the desirability of creating a slave-holding empire in tropical Latin America. In 1861, when U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden proposed that the 36°30' parallel north be declared as a line of demarcation between free and slave territories, some Republicans denounced such an arrangement, saying that it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and State owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego."
Before the end of the American Civil War, Walker's memory enjoyed great popularity in the southern and western United States, where he was known as "General Walker" and as the "grey-eyed man of destiny." Northerners, on the other hand, generally regarded him as a pirate. Despite his intelligence and personal charm, Walker consistently proved to be a limited military and political leader. Unlike men of similar ambition, such as Cecil Rhodes, Walker's grandiose scheming ultimately failed.
In Central American countries, the successful military campaign of 1856-1857 against William Walker became a source of national pride and identity, and it was later promoted by local historians and politicians as substitute for the war of independence that Central America had not experienced. April 11 is a Costa Rican national holiday in memory of Walker's defeat at Rivas. Juan Santamaría, who played a key role in that battle, is honored as the Costa Rican national hero.
Although Walker is far better known today in Central America than he is the United States, he does have a number of interesting ties to Nashville, Tennessee, the city of his birth. Locally, Walker is remembered as the only native Nashvillian ever to become a head of state, and a historical marker commemorates his birthplace, downtown not far from Second Avenue.
Walker's campaign has inspired two films, both of which take considerable liberties with his story: Burn! (1969) starring Marlon Brando, and Walker (1987) starring Ed Harris. Walker's name is used for the main character in Burn!, though the character is not meant to represent the historical William Walker and is portrayed as British. On the other hand, Alex Cox's Walker incorporates many of the signposts of William Walker's life and exploits, from his original excursions into northern Mexico to his trial and acquittal on breaking the neutrality act to the triumph of his assault on Nicaragua and his execution.
By coincidence, the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador from 1988 to 1992 was named William G. Walker, a fact that led to derision among some Central Americans.
In his science-fiction/time travel trilogy, which begins with Island in the Sea of Time, writer S. M. Stirling gave the name William Walker to the main antagonist of the series, a U. S. Coast Guard lieutenant who goes renegade and uses technological advantages to carve his own empire out of Bronze Age Europe and the Middle East.
In the role-playing game GURPS' book Alternate Earths, one of the alternate Earths mentioned has its point of divergence in the moment where Walker decided to revoke Vanderbilt's Transit Company's charter. In this alternate Earth, Walker decides to support it, and as a result he remains as the president of Nicaragua, conquers most of Central America and supports the Confederacy in the American Civil War, which ends with the victory of the South and the official division of the United States of America into two different countries.
Walker, William. The War in Nicaragua. New York: S.H. Goetzel, 1860.