Brown on Walker, Part Two

Albert Gallatin Brown (D-MS)

Albert Gallatin Brown (D-MS)

Not content to dispute William Walker’s arrest on the grounds that he broke no law, Mississippi’s Albert Gallatin Brown continued on to blast Paulding for violating Nicaraguan sovereignty, acknowledging and dismissing the fact that he did so at the request of that country, which saw his actions as no violation at all:

It is no excuse, to me, to say that Nicaragua does not complain. That suggestion opens up a wide field for investigation. I might reply that Walker has been invited to that country to take part in a civil war, that the party with whom he acted had triumphed, that he was lawfully elected President of the Republic of Nicaragua, that his Government de facto had been recognized by the United States; and that, by the interference of another naval officer, he had been brought out of the country. True, it was said then that it was a matter of grace to him. How that was, I am not now going to inquire. But he was claiming to be the rightful President of the Republic of Nicaragua. Patriotic men -not lawless and piratical, as is now charged, but patriotic men- in the southern and southwestern States, in the western and northern states, said: “We will join you, and go and help you snatch back again the rights which have been lawlessly taken from you.” I might go into all that, and show that Walker, the recognized de facto President of Nicaragua, was but pursuing, as he had a legal right to do, the recovery of that which had been lawlessly taken from him when he was thus arrested.

Brown dismissed the entire case against filibustering. Filibustering did not break the law, so long as the filibusters took even the slightest precautions. Filibustering did not count as piracy, and so Paulding could not claim the customary universal jurisdiction over Walker and his men. The Nicaraguans could not forgive Paulding’s transgression of their territory, as Walker constituted the only authority capable of that. Furthermore, Walker’s expedition only sought to restore the power wrongly taken from him by force. That Walker gained the same power by force hardly mattered.

To finish off, Brown inverted the case against filibustering on the grounds of keeping the peace:

If it is right to invade Nicaragua, which is a weak state, it is right to invade New Granada. How shall we appear before the world, on the one side, in bringing New Granada only one year ago down into the very dust to indemnify us for an assault made by a lawless mob against American citizens passing over that isthmus, and on the other, excusing or justifying the invasion of Nicaragua committed by this armed force? If it is right to invade New Granada, it is right to invade Brazil. There is hardly a nation or State south of the United States that is self-sustaining, much less one that can resist a serious invasion by the people of the United States, or by such emigrants as might arm themselves and go abroad for that purpose.

If it is right for us to invade these States, or suffer our citizens to do so, then it is right for the States which join us to invade us also.

To stop a filibuster amounted to the same as permitting him. Tolerating a filibuster boiled down to endorsing it. Making the Caribbean safe from filibusters meant filibustering the lot and we should expect invasions in return. Those lines must have strained even a veteran politician’s capacity for mental gymnastics. But ultimately, whatever road he took to reach it, Brown came to the conclusion that filibusters ought to operate with every feature of impunity save the name and a few empty fig leaves.

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