The Nicaraguan Response to Paulding

Hiram Paulding, Walker's captor

Hiram Paulding, Walker’s captor

Hiram Paulding, Commodore of the Home Squadron, violated the sovereignty of Nicaragua. He launched a military expedition on Nicaraguan soil and seized from it William Walker and other assorted filibusters. What did Nicaragua say to that? On December 30, 1857, the Nicaraguan minister sent a letter to Secretary of State Lewis Cass with his nation’s answer to the Walker-Paulding affair. It came to Congress with the materials Buchanan sent and on January 21, Wisconsin Senator James Doolittle read a portion of it into the record:

The undersigned, in the name of the three Governments which he represents, returns thanks to the Government of the United States for having taken away the adventurer William walker, and his invading hand, from the point of which they had taken possession on the coast of Nicaragua; thus freeing those friendly countries from the evils with which they would have been visited, had these disturbers of the peace of nations been allowed the possibility of increasing their forces by new recruits. Those who, in the service which the Government of the United States has rendered to its friend, the Republic of Nicaragua, would seek fo a warrant to say that the Nicaraguan territory has been violated will hardly find it, from the moment that the world will have learned that the Government of Nicaragua, far from complaining of a violation of her territory, looks upon that act as an assistance, directed in her behalf of its inviolability, which was wounded, in effect, by certain adventurers from the United States; and that it considers such assistance, extended by this Government, as a consequence of the measures which, by his note of the 14th of September last, the undersigned had asked this Government to adopt, giving orders to the Navy o the United States to capture the violators of the laws of neutrality.

Nicaragua thanked the worried parties for their concerns over its sovereignty, but essentially invited Paulding and the Navy in to take care of Walker. They had Nicaraguan permission to come and leave to operate. However, the Nicaraguans must have had in mind that a future administration could drum up a pretext to defend Nicaraguan sovereignty and launch an invasion on its back. The note continued:

The point from which Commodore Paulding forced away those bandits, the violators of the laws of all nations, and, as such, justly assimilated, by the law of nations, to pirates and foes of mankind, is an almost desert one, on which there exist no Nicaraguan authorities that could have managed the apprehension of those felons. Nicaragua, therefore, considers that the proceedings of Commodore Paulding against Walker and his horde were entirely justifiable; for, as a man-of-war of any nation may take up pirates from a desert island, or one so thinly peopled that they can assert their dominion over it, although that island might belong to another sovereign nation, just so can bandits be apprehended, as enemies of the human race, by armed vessels of a friendly nation, on a point of a foreign coast, which may be placed under circumstances like to those of the island mentioned by way of illustration.

William Walker, the gray-eyed man of destiny

William Walker, the gray-eyed man of destiny

The filibusters, as the name indicates, amounted to pirates and what passed for international law in the 1800s certainly authorized action like Paulding’s against them. But the particular circumstances justified Paulding’s seizure. Nicaragua invited the US to stop Walker, not to stop by whenever it liked.

The letter also references a separate difficulty: Nicaragua claimed, but did not actually control, much of its east coast. The British claimed protectorate over it due in part to the number of recently freed slaves from the British West Indies who settled there. The Americans and Nicaraguans did not recognize the Mosquito Coast protectorate, but nor did the Nicaraguans rush to put their military where it might clash with the British. American intervention against a foe of the British faction in Nicaragua’s internal struggles amounted to the perfect solution. Paulding did not threaten the United Kingdom’s protectorate, removed a foe to British interests, and defended Nicaraguan sovereignty against that same foe. Everybody won, except William Walker and his supporters.

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