Romantic On The Loose


For Walker had stepped in beyond his depth. It was one thing to overthrow a Nicaraguan government which was disliked by most of its citizens, but by now he had the enmity of extremely powerful interests. The British government strongly opposed him, as did the governments of France and Spain, not to mention the governments of the other Central American republics and an influential bloc of Nicaraguans. Implacable Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose trans-Nicaraguan transportation system was being deranged, very much wanted him out of there. In the long run he could survive only if the government of the United States supported him. And this in the end the government refused to do—partly because the business struck Washington as pretty risky, and partly because it was beginning to look as if Walker might actually stand as a barrier to American territorial expansion in the Caribbean.

Then, at last, the ultra-slavery men of the cotton states offered their aid. They had dreamed of a slave-state empire embracing practically everything from Cuba to Panama. Here, apparently, was the man who could win it for them. If he would forget about bringing a better life to the peons and come out instead for slavery, they could provide recruits, arms, money—and, in the course of time, an independent Southern Confederacy which would expand to the southward and in which he would become a key figure.

By now Walker was in despair. In the face of the rising pressures he could not stay in Nicaragua; he let his ideals go, embracing the cause of expansionist slavery, and became that saddest of figures, the romantic who gives up the essence of his dream in order to seize what looks like the main chance. He went back to the United States, threw himself into the arms of the fire-eaters, raised a new expedition, went down to try the conquest of Honduras—and, in 1860, was beaten, and went to his execution before the rifles of a Honduran firing squad. The fire-eaters had promised him much more than they could deliver, and to get it he had given up much more than he could afford to lose.

His country promptly forgot him, of course. He could remain forgotten, except that he does stand as a symbol of the iSso’s. Trying to do good, he at last did evil; attempting to take a fighter’s way out of perplexity, he succeeded in the end only in making his own problem, as he helped to make America’s, insoluble.