Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Deanne Nuwer

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Heather Stur

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Matthew Casey

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Max Grivno

Committee Member 4 Department


Committee Member 5

Douglas Bristol, Jr.

Committee Member 5 Department



For a brief period of time, between 1855 and 1857, William Walker successfully portrayed himself to American audiences as the regenerator of Nicaragua. Though he arrived in Nicaragua in June 1855, with only fifty-eight men, his image as a regenerator attracted several-thousand men and women to join him in his mission to stabilize the region. Walker relied on both his medical studies as well as his experience in journalism to craft a message of regeneration that placated the anxieties that many Americans felt about the instability of the Caribbean. People supported Walker because he provided a strategy of regeneration that placed Anglo-Americans as the medical and racial stewards of a war-torn region. American faith in his ability to regenerate the region propelled him to the presidency of Nicaragua in July 1856.

However, a prolonged war against an ever-growing international coalition of Central Americans diminished his ability to maintain both the territory and resources necessary to keep Nicaragua sanitary and stable. By February 1857, most Americans abandoned any sentiments of support that they once held for Walker. Lacking support, Walker retreated to the Gulf South as a defeated regenerator. Nevertheless, the continued public discourse concerning Walker as a regenerator continued. Such debates allowed Walker to amass enough followers to launch three more expeditions into Nicaragua before finally being captured and executed in Honduras in September 1860.

Though William Walker did not ultimately succeed as a regenerator, American progressives, such as Theodore Roosevelt, revived his focus on medical and racial stabilization through their own policies in the Caribbean, starting in the 1890s. They did so precisely because they shared the same anxieties about disease and political disorder that originally compelled thousands of Americans to intervene in Nicaragua during the 1850s. The continuity existing between these groups of imperialists suggested that the regenerators, despite their temporary failures, succeeded in nurturing ideas about why Americans needed to intervene in the Greater Caribbean.