Walker, William

Walker, William,

1824–60, American filibuster in Nicaragua, b. Nashville, Tenn. Walker, a qualified doctor, a lawyer, and a journalist by the time he was 24, sought a more adventurous career. After a short stay in San Francisco, his filibustering expeditions began with an invasion of Lower California (1853–54) intended to wrest the region together with Sonora from Mexico. The invasion failed miserably. He was tried for violating neutrality laws but was acquitted by a sympathetic jury. In June, 1855, Walker set out on another filibustering expedition, this time to Nicaragua, at the invitation of one of the country's revolutionary factions. His capture of Granada brought an end to the fighting, and, after obtaining recognition (May, 1856) from the United States for the new government, Walker declared himself president of Nicaragua in July, 1856. An alliance of hostile Central American states and the enmity of his former friend Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose Accessory Transit Company controlled Walker's supply lines, led to his defeat and surrender to the U.S. navy in May, 1857. Considered a hero by many Americans, Walker was again acquitted of violating neutrality, but he then alienated U.S. public opinion by blaming his defeat on the U.S. navy. From the Islas de la Bahía of Honduras, Walker made a final abortive attempt (1860) to conquer Central America but was forced to surrender to the British navy. He was turned over to Honduras and was shot by a firing squad Sept. 12, 1860.


See his own book, War in Nicaragua (1860, repr. 1971); W. O. Scroggs, Filibusters and Financiers (1916, repr. 1969); L. Greene, The Filibuster (1937, repr. 1974); biography by A. H. Carr (1963).

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Walker, William

(1824–60) adventurer, filibuster; born in Nashville, Tenn. With degrees in medicine and law, he failed to find success practicing law. In 1853 he gained notoriety by attempting to seize and govern the Mexican province of Lower California. In 1855 he led a small band of mercenaries to Nicaragua, and after overthrowing the government, he briefly served as president (1856–57). With visions of uniting all the Central American republics under his control, he announced plans to build a canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, but he was ousted in 1857 by agents of Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose commercial interests he had opposed; an attempt to return to Nicaragua later that year was foiled. In 1860, he landed in Honduras with yet another scheme to seize power; but he was arrested, and after a Honduran court martial, was shot by a firing squad.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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