In the Nineteenth Century, the United States prided itself on being the land of “Go-Getters.”[1]  A vast continent packed with natural resources awaited exploitation.  At the same time, American entrepreneurs felt a grievous need for labor to transform those riches into “riches.”  Partly the country satisfied that need through massive immigration.  Partly the country satisfied the need by technical innovation to substitute machines for men.  Partly, the “professional” standards were lower then.  People—men mostly—could try their hand at whatever caught their fancy.

Yet, with all the problems of using what the United States already possessed, there were people who wanted to expand the “Empire of Liberty” still more.  As the term “Manifest Destiny” began to buzz about, people began to ask in which directions that destiny lay.  For most, it meant expansion westward to the Pacific Ocean.  For others though, such notions reeked of reticence, even cowardice.  Everywhere one looked to the South of the United States one saw the same conditions: vast natural wealth going to waste, the “rule of ignorance and superstition” (a common term for the Catholic Church); and the brutal oppression of the many by the self-enriching few.  These were the hall-marks of mid-century Mexico, Spanish-ruled Cuba, and—worst of all—Central America.  By 1836, Texas had gained independence from Mexico; by 1848, California.  The Mexican-American War had ended with a definitive boundary between the two countries.  Still, why stop there?  Why not add southern lands or Pacific islands?

At the same time, the issue of slavery began to tear savagely at America.  All the political compromises banned slavery “north of” some line.  What if the United States—or some one acting on behalf of the United States—conquered foreign lands where slavery already existed or had recently existed?  The sectional “balance” might be restored in an enlarged United States.

It is against this background that we might see the career of William Walker (1824-186o).[2]  The Southern-born Walker tried to set-up an independent state of Sonora and Baja California (1853-1854).  He next invaded Nicaragua, where he made himself President (1855-1857).  In Nicaragua, Walker reinstated slavery, made English an official language, and encouraged immigration from the United States.  Kind of like Texas in the 1820s-1830s.  In the end, an army of understandably-nervous Central American oligarchs drove out Walker.  So, no Santa Ana.  In 1860 Walker took another swing at Central America by trying to invade Honduras.  He wound up having a last smoke in front of a pock-marked adobe wall as a dozen sweating soldiers fiddled with their weapons.

As a thought experiment, consider what would have happened if Walker had succeeded in adding Nicaragua and Honduras and a chunk (or all) of Mexico to the Estados Unidos.  Perhaps the Americans would have wiped out the “colonial legacy” from Spain.

Perhaps the new territory would have ended up like Texas and California.  Leaving aside the Democrat-Republican split, they are both big states with diverse populations, and are states with lots of natural resources and lots of industry.  Same might have happened to Central America if it had become part of the United States.  Perhaps everyone would have been better off?

[1] Not to be confused with the drag performer Carmen Geddit.

[2] Scott Martelle, William Walker’s Wars (2019).

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