William Walker, part I
William Walker occupies an odd niche in American history. He is the only American citizen to be elected and serve as president of a foreign country, yet he is almost unknown in the United States. He is famous (or infamous) in Central America. Had his grandiose plan succeeded, slavery might still be legal in the United States.
Born in Tennessee in May 1824, Walker graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors) from Nashville College at 14. Five years later, he was awarded an M.D. by the University of Pennsylvania. Two years later, he was editing a newspaper in New Orleans while studying law. One of his reporters was a young poet named Walt Whitman.
Now a doctor/lawyer/editor, Walker moved to San Francisco in late 1849. Here he conceived his master plan to take over much of Latin America and add it to the United States. Mexico was still prostrate from her humiliating defeat in the Mexican-American War, 1846-48. Mexico was to be his first victim.
Walker recruited and trained an army of 170 men. Their real strength was three field artillery pieces he obtained. In October 1853 they sailed for Baja California. They easily captured the provincial capitol, La Paz. Walker proclaimed himself president of the independent Republic of Lower California. He might have gotten away with this. Mexico City and federal power is a long way from La Paz, but Walker was too greedy. Three months later, he abolished the Republic of Lower California and proclaimed a new, larger Republic of Sonora. The Mexican government had to react to this second land grab. Walker&
s army was defeated, and he escaped to the US, surrendering to the Americans at San Diego. Despite this, newspapers praise him as &
General Walker, the grey-eyed man of destiny.&
Walker was tried for violating the neutrality act. It took the jury eight minutes to find him &
The freebooter was back in business. Civil war was raging in Nicaragua between the conservative government and liberal rebels. Walker offered his services to the rebels and in May 1855 set sail for Nicaragua. Combining his forces with those of General Patricio Rivas, they overthrew the government, and Rivas became the new president.
However, Walker was the real power, as commander of the Nicaraguan army. His ambitions were nourished when President Franklin Pierce recognized the Rivas regime as the legitimate government. This cleared the way for Walker to recruit more American and European soldiers of fortune for his army. By May 1856, he commanded 1,200 combat-ready soldiers.
Walker doublecrossed his puppet president, Rivas, and ran in an uncontested election for the office of Chief Executive. In July 1856, he was elected president of Nicaragua. The next step in his master plan was to have Nicaragua annexed by the United States as a new state. The other four (Panama is still part of Columbia at the time) Central American states would be added later. Ten new senators would upset the delicate north-south balance in the U.S. Senate.
To curry favor with the 30 Senators from slave states, who would have to vote on a treaty of annexation, Walker revokes a Nicaraguan government decree of 1824 renouncing slavery. Slavery will again be legal under President Walker. His second decree is to make English the official language, paving the way for statehood.
There is no space for a recipe this week. The saga of William Walker will continue in the next issue.