Who Is This Guy and Why Did He Inspire A Holiday In Costa Rica?

On this Date In History: American William Walker was a doctor, lawyer, newspaperman and hypnotist in the middle of the 19th Century. But he became better known as a filibuster, which is from the Dutch word that means freebooter or soldier of fortune. He was a little guy as he weighed all of about 120 pounds but he had big ambitions. On This Date in 1856, at the age of 31 he became the only American born citizen to become President of another country….supposedly. At least that is what my source claims. I would suggest that Sam Houston as President of the Republic of Texas was first. Anyway, this guy convinced the head of the Democrat party in Nicaragua to invite him and some “settlers” to come to Nicaragua. In reality, they were a bunch of mercenaries hired to help that party win a civil war that was going on. The ruse of being settlers was set up to avoid entanglement in US neutrality laws. So, he and his band of merry men helped defeat the opposition and he set up a phony election that made him president. He only served two years because he irked the wrong guy.

One of the things he was doing was trying to conquer neighboring countries by hiring more mercenaries and also get support from the slave holding South in the United States by rescinding Nicaragua’s long standing Emancipation order. Well, none of that sat well with Americans in the North and particularly Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who had a company that ferried freight and passengers across that part of Central America before the canal was built. He even had designs of building a canal across Nicaragua and Walker was in the way. So, he got together a bunch of guys in neighboring Costa Rica and even got help from the British and American Navies. That was the end of Walker who lost a key battle on April 11, 1857 and surrendered on May 1st of that year. He was sent back to the United States where he wrote a book about his adventures. He tried to return and when he did, he was captured again in Honduras by the British Navy who turned him over to local Hondurans who promptly had Walker executed by firing squad at the age of 36 on September 12, 1860.

While we don’t think about William Walker much, his defeat and failure marked a turn around in Central America as it was seen as a pseudo war of independence. His name is one hated as it is held up as a symbol of “Yankee imperialism.” In Costa Rica, there is a national holiday commemorating Walker’s defeat on April 11. So, for all his trouble…he got a day in Costa Rica for his failure. Take a lesson from this. Don’t try to take over a country. Leave that to the professionals.


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