Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Kyle Volk

Commitee Members

Jody Pavilack, Eric Schluessel


Filibuters, Transpotation, United States Empire, Central America, William Walker, Vanderbilt


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Diplomatic History | Latin American History | Military History | United States History


In the mid-nineteenth century, U.S. policymakers designed foreign policy to enhance the reach of American commerce and create a commercial empire in and through Latin America. To create this empire U.S policymakers wanted to construct a canal through Central America, which they envisioned as a joint enterprise between American businesses and the federal government. In 1849, Cornelius Vanderbilt and his associates reserved a charter from the Nicaraguan government to build and operate a canal and transit route through their county. Yet competition between varied business interests prompted the U.S. destruction of the Nicaraguan port city of San Juan del Norte and the rise of filibuster William Walker.

This thesis argues that the 1854 bombardment of San Juan and the 1857 and 1858 arrests of Walker defined the Monroe Doctrine and constituted a vital turning point in the United States’ position in Central America. To grow the reach of U.S. merchants, Monroe had proclaimed the Western Hemisphere under the protection of the United States. But the doctrine left unclear how the U.S. would impose its control over the region. The events in Nicaragua set the course for how the United States would achieve a commercial empire in the following decades. Critical to these developments was the changing role of American businessmen in foreign policy and commercial growth. Before these events, policymakers had encouraged businessmen to take the lead, but the problems in Nicaragua caused policymakers to place military force at the forefront of expansion.



© Copyright 2017 Jonathan D. Del Buono