On May 3, 1855, William Walker, a Tennessee-born lawyer and mercenary, set sail from San Francisco with a small army of 60 men. His goal was to create an Americanized colony in Nicaragua under his personal leadership. Walker was the perhaps the most well-known of a group of American men known as filibusters – individuals who undertook unauthorized military expeditions against foreign lands. This practice was particularly prevalent in the pre-Civil War era of American history, that is, the period during which the national dream of manifest destiny was at its peak.
In the 1850s, Nicaragua was undergoing a revolution and Walker saw an opportunity. He set sail from San Francisco, avoiding federal authorities who had attempted to keep him from sailing, since the invasion of a foreign country by an American civilian violated American neutrality laws. Upon arrival in Nicaragua, Walker and his men succeeded in winning several military engagements which led to Walker’s installment as Nicaragua’s president in 1856. His rule, effectively a dictatorship, lasted approximately one year when he deposed. After some time fighting the new Nicaraguan government, the former “president” was captured by government forces. On September 12, 1860, William Walker was executed by firing squad.
In October of that year, the New York Times ran the following passage: