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Capsule Review

Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America

In This Review

Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America
Empire by Invitation: William Walker and Manifest Destiny in Central America
By Michel Gobat
Harvard University Press, 2018, 384 pp. Purchase

This account of the life and times of the American adventurer William Walker, who briefly seized the presidency of Nicaragua in the 1850s, defies the conventional wisdom, which holds that Walker was bent on adding new slave states to the United States. Gobat paints him instead as a private standard-bearer of American democracy, entrepreneurialism, and technological progress. Far from being an aberrant mercenary, Gobat suggests, Walker marched in step with the idea of manifest destiny and the Monroe Doctrine, which, taken together, legitimized U.S. military intervention in the Caribbean. Walker’s escapades followed the U.S. occupation of Mexican territo- ries and the subsequent California gold rush and anticipated U.S. efforts in the twentieth century to project power in Latin America and around the globe. But his was not just a story of U.S. imperialism. One of the sides in Nicaragua’s civil war contracted with Walker and his mercenaries to advance their cause and in the hope that the United States would select their country to build a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the event, Walker behaved miserably, wantonly razing the old colonial city of Granada. Meanwhile, the canal was eventually dug—in Panama. Gobat concludes that U.S. liberal imperialism represented an “extraordinary threat and promise . . . to peoples outside the United States.”

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