In the 19th Century, a U.S. Millionaire Invaded Countries and Founded Two Republics on His Own

  • William Walker made his fortune by conquering territories in Central America, where he established his own republics and imposed laws.

  • Although his colonial “adventures” were private ventures, he had the approval of the U.S.

William Walker, the last filibuster
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The millionaires of today are focused on their very own space race to “save humanity” from itself. But in the 19th century, some of them concentrated all that energy on conquering territories independently, using the power of private armies and ruling their colonies like ancient feudal lords. This was the case of William Walker, considered the “last great filibuster,” an independent mercenary who conquered territories in Mexico and Nicaragua.

Tennessees Central American dictator. Walker’s story is full of ambition, power, and an acquired Latin American identity. Born in Tennessee in 1824, he was the son of a businessman who was very influential in local politics.

Walker studied medicine, journalism, and law. However, he abandoned these professions to become a filibuster, a kind of private mercenary who fomented revolutions not authorized by any country to steal territories and their resources.

Manifest destiny, a carte blanche for colonialists to privatize territories. To understand the context around invading foreign countries, first, you have to understand the concept behind the doctrine of manifest destiny, one of the founding pillars of the United States.

This 19th-century doctrine justified the territorial expansion of the U.S. throughout North America based on the belief that it was a “chosen” nation with a divine right to expand its civilization. The idea was associated with the acquisition of territories like Texas and California as well as some wars, such as the one between Mexico and Spain. The doctrine also promoted the idea that expansion was self-evident, predestined, and enabled by God. This ideology influenced the country's policies of interventionism and expansionism, culminating in former President Thomas Jefferson’s famous phrase: “America has a hemisphere to itself.”

Conquering Mexico on his own. In 1853, at the age of 29, Walker recruited 32 American slave mercenaries and, like the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, ventured out to take over the southern borders of the U.S. in search of power and wealth. The incursion was successful, and Walker's forces conquered the cities of La Paz and Ensenada in Mexico. Walker also proclaimed himself president of the Republic of Sonora, where he hastily enacted a new law allowing slavery to quickly obtain benefits from his conquest. But his regime was short-lived, as Mexican resistance and lack of supplies forced him to withdraw five months later.

Fishing in troubled waters. Far from being discouraged by the failure of his first foray into private colonialism, Walker allied himself with the Democratic Party of Nicaragua. This party was involved in a territorial dispute with the Legitimist Party to control the Central American country.

Sensing an opportunity to profit from the conflict, Walker offered himself to the local bourgeoisie to help them achieve their military goals while increasing his economic interests. After winning the Battle of Granada with an army of mercenaries called “The Immortals,” he was symbolically elected president and imposed American policies and customs.

Make Nicaragua great again. Walker began to spread his colonialist policies in the region, establishing a government by decree where he (again) reinstated slavery, made English the official language, and encouraged the arrival of North Americans, in addition to changing the Nicaraguan constitution and the country's flag.

He decreed that all the goods of the “enemies of the state” would be confiscated for the benefit of the republic and distributed by a board that was particularly generous to the interests of Walker and the U.S.

The “seed” of the Panama Canal. Given the strategic nature of the area, Walker's conquest didn't go unnoticed by the U.S., which quickly recognized the legitimacy of the new republic created by him.

The U.S. was interested in controlling this area because it wanted to create an inter-oceanic trade route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Immediately, the U.S. built Via del Transito, connecting the two oceans through the San Juan River in the southern part of the country.

The return of the hero. Under pressure from commercial interests and neighboring countries, Walker's government was eventually overthrown. As such, he had to return to his native Tennessee, where he was hailed as a victorious hero.

His exile would not last long. Three years later, Walker returned to his old ways with plans to take over Honduras, but this coup lasted less than the previous one. British troops in the area captured Walker and quickly turned him over to local authorities in Trujillo, where he was quickly tried and sentenced to death.

Image | Wikimedia Commons (Mathew Benjamin Brady, Nicaragua-CIA_WFB_Map.p), Pexels (aboodi vesakaran)

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