Saturday, November 18, 2017

Empire by Invitation

Michel Gobat's Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America (Harvard, 2018) lies a bit outside the typical scope of titles reviewed here on CWBA, but its topic is relevant give how much slavery's expansion figured into U.S. sectional troubles during the antebellum period. I am mentioning the book here primarily due to how much I was taken aback by what I read in the description. I'm sure that if we took a reader poll, William Walker would sit at or near the top of any list of America's most notorious filibusters. I'm by no means deeply versed in Walker and his exploits, but I've read countless books that touch upon his Caribbean venture at some level, and I don't think I've come across any other scholar that would label Walker and his followers as "liberals and democracy promoters." The idea that Walker enjoyed wide support among Nicaraguan democracy reformers likely makes readers of today greatly uncomfortable given our modern education system's general portrayal of U.S. imperialism.

From the description: "In the 1850s Walker and a small group of U.S. expansionists migrated to Nicaragua determined to forge a tropical “empire of liberty.” His quest to free Central American masses from allegedly despotic elites initially enjoyed strong local support from liberal Nicaraguans who hoped U.S.-style democracy and progress would spread across the land. As Walker’s group of “filibusters” proceeded to help Nicaraguans battle the ruling conservatives, their seizure of power electrified the U.S. public and attracted some 12,000 colonists, including moral reformers. But what began with promises of liberation devolved into a reign of terror. After two years, Walker was driven out."

Going on: "Nicaraguans’ initial embrace of Walker complicates assumptions about U.S. imperialism. Empire by Invitation refuses to place Walker among American slaveholders who sought to extend human bondage southward. Instead, Walker and his followers, most of whom were Northerners, must be understood as liberals and democracy promoters." Citing "(t)heir ambition ... to establish a democratic state by force," Gobat draws parallels between Walker and twentieth-century "liberal-internationalist and neoconservative foreign policy circles." The book also describes how Walker's attempt at nation-building in the heart of Central America "inspired a global anti-U.S. backlash" and "precipitated a hemispheric alliance against the United States" that "gave birth to the idea of Latin America."

1 comment:

  1. Walker is one of the most hated figures in Central American history.


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