Simanaitis Says

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IN THESE times of less than cooperative members in the U.S. Congress, we’re all more familiar with the term “filibuster,” of endless oration to delay action. However, this particular meaning of the word is the second one cited in Merriam-Webster. The first and original English usage is a lot more interesting than some political blowhard blowing especially long.

M-W’s first meaning for filibuster is “an irregular military adventurer; specifically: an American engaged in fomenting insurrections in Latin America in the mid-19th century.”

And, wouldn’t you know, we encountered such a guy here at SimanaitisSays only yesterday in the person of filibuster William Walker..

More on Walker today and also in Part 2 tomorrow, but first the etymology of his filibuster moniker: The word comes from Spanish filibustero, which in turn traces back to Dutch vrijbuiter, literally a “free boot.” Thus, as well, the English “freebooter,” a sea-going plunderer, a pirate, a privateer. Generally, privateers were independent contractors acting for one country against others. Pirates were equal-opportunity plunderers.

William Walker was known as “King of the 19th Century Filibusters,” “the Yankee Imperialist,” and, not incidentally, 1st President of the Republic of Lower California, November 3, 1853–January 21, 1854; 1st President of the Republic of Sonora, January 21, 1854–May 8, 1854; and President of the Republic of Nicaragua, July 12, 1856–May 1, 1857.

That none of these presidential terms lasted longer than nine months is part of the tale.

William Walker, 1824–1860, American physician, lawyer, journalist, and filibuster.

Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee; his father, a Scottish immigrant; his mother, daughter of an American Revolutionary War officer. William was graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee in 1838; he was 14 at the time. By age 19, he earned an M.D.

Walker was something of a duelist, albeit not a very effective one. Against notorious gunman William Hicks Graham on January 12, 1851, Walker never got off a single shot and was hit twice. He was wounded in another duel.

It was about this time that Walker conceived the idea of taking over regions of Central America. Manifest Destiny (U.S. expansion throughout the Americas) and slavery were parts of this strategy, known at the time as “filibustering.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll learn about this art of filibustering and William Walker’s adventures in Baja California and Central America. There are also cameo roles by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the U.S. Navy, and Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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