H105, American History I

William Walker, The War in Nicaragua (1860).

Chapter 8, The Walker Administration

The policy of the Walker government was, of course, the same as that of Rivas, so far as the introduction of the white race into Nicaragua was concerned.  But the administration of Rivas was, from its nature, transitional.  It sought to increase the American element without inquiring what place the new people were to occupy in the old society.  Rivas and his cabinet felt that Nicaraguan society required reorganization, but they knew not how it was to be accomplished, nor would they have adopted the means necessary for the end even if the proper measures had been pointed out to them.  Hence, when the reorganization, not merely of the State, but of the family and of labor, became necessary, another executive than Rivas was not a matter of choice.  Not merely the secondary form of the crystal was to be modified, but the primary form was to be radically changed, and for this a new force was to be brought into play.  It may be that the reorganization in Nicaragua was attempted too soon; but those who have read the foregoing pages may judge whether or not the Americans were driven forward by the force of events.  Sooner or later the struggle between the old and the new forms of society must inevitably have occurred.

The difference in language between the members of the old society and that portion of the white race, necessarily dominant in the new, while it was a cause keeping the elements apart, afforded also a means of regulating the relations between the several races meeting on the same soil.  In order that the laws of the Republic might be thoroughly published; it was decreed that they should be published in English as well as in Spanish.  The result of this was apparent to every one; but the object of another clause in the same decree, “That all documents connected with public affairs shall be of equal value whether written in English or Spanish,” was not noticed except by the careful observer.  By this clause, the proceedings of all the courts, and the record of all the deeds in the State, might be made in English.  It was not necessary to decree that all such records should be in English — the mere permission was sufficient to accomplish the object.  Lawyers will readily see what an advantage such a clause gave to those speaking both English and Spanish, over those acquainted only with the latter language.

The decree concerning the use of the two languages tended to make the ownership of the lands of the State fall into the hands of those speaking English.  But in addition to this, a decree was published declaring the property of all enemies of the State forfeited to the Republic, and a Board of Commissioners was named “to take possession of, direct, determine upon, and sell all such confiscated or forfeited properties.”  The Board was given the ordinary power of courts for citation, for examining witnesses, and for enforcing obedience to its orders.  All property declared confiscated was to be sold soon after the rendition of the judgment, and military scrip was to be received in payment at the sale of such property, thus giving those who had been in the military service of the State an opportunity to secure their pay out of the estates of the persons engaged in the war against them.

The land titles in Nicaragua were in a very unsettled condition, and the same system prevailed there as in other Spanish American States.  The limits of grants were indeterminate, and there was, of course, no registry law.  Accordingly, in order to fix the number of outstanding grants from the Republic, a decree was published requiring all claims to land to be recorded within six months, and it was further decreed that after a certain date no conveyance or mortgage should be valid against third parties, unless duly recorded in the district where the land lay.  This was a substitution of the English and American system for the rules of the Roman and Continental law.  The recording of titles is undoubtedly for the public advantage, and those possessed of good titles to land in Nicaragua would in virtue of this decree have held their possessions by a tenure more certain than ever.  But the system was fatal to the bad or uncertain titles.  It also gave an advantage to those familiar with the habit of registry.

The general tendency of these several decrees was the same; they were intended to place a large proportion of the land of the country in the hands of the white race.  The military force of the State might, for a time, secure the Americans in the government of the Republic, but in order that their possession of government might be permanent, it was requisite for them to hold the land....