Annexation of Santo Domingo

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Annexation of Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo City Taylor 1871.tif
Santo Domingo City
Watercolor by James E. Taylor 1871
Date 1869 (1869) – 1871 (1871)
Location Washington, D.C.
Participants United States, Dominican Republic
Outcome Treaty defeated in the U.S. Senate - June 30, 1870

The Annexation of Santo Domingo was an attempted treaty during later Reconstruction, initiated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869, to annex “Santo Domingo” (as the Dominican Republic was then commonly known) as a U.S. territory, with the promise of eventual statehood. President Grant advocated the Monroe Doctrine and believed that the annexed territory (on the island of Hispaniola) would serve as a safe haven for African Americans from the Southern United States, who were suffering violent persecution by the Ku Klux Klan. Grant also believed that the acquisition of Santo Domingo would help bring about the end of slavery in those parts of the Americas that still practised it, such as Brazil. A further motive was Dominican agricultural and mineral resources would benefit the U.S. economy. A U.S. naval port in the Dominican Republic would also serve as protection for a projected canal across the Isthmus of Darien.

In 1869, Grant commissioned Orville E. Babcock and Rufus Ingalls to negotiate the treaty of annexation with Dominican president Buenaventura Báez. The annexation process drew controversy: opponents Senator Charles Sumner and Senator Carl Schurz believed the treaty was made only to enrich private interests and to politically protect Báez. Grant had authorized the U.S. Navy to protect the Dominican Republic from invasion by neighbouring Haiti while the treaty annexation process took place in the U.S. Senate. The movement for annexation appeared to have been widely supported by the inhabitants of the Dominican Republic, according to the plebiscite ordered by Báez, who believed the Dominican Republic had better odds of survival as a U.S. protectorate and could sell a much wider range of goods to the U.S. than could be sold in European markets. The country's unstable history was one of invasion, colonization, and civil strife.

A treaty was drafted by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish that included the annexation of the country itself and the purchase of Samana Bay for two million American dollars. Also included and supported by Grant was the provision that the Dominican Republic could apply for statehood into the United States. When debated in the Senate, Sumner staunchly opposed the treaty, believing the annexation process was corrupt and that the Dominican Republic was politically unstable, having a history of revolution. Sumner believed that Báez was a corrupt despot and that the use of the U.S. Navy by Grant during the treaty negotiation to protect Santo Domingo was illegal. Sumner also favored African American countries' autonomy in the Caribbean. Schurz opposed acquisition because he did not favor miscegenated people becoming U.S. citizens.[1] The treaty ultimately failed to pass the Senate in a deadlock tie vote. In order to vindicate the failed treaty annexation, Grant sent a committee, authorized by Congress, including African American Frederick Douglass, that investigated and produced a report favourable to annexation of the Dominican Republic into the United States.

The Dominican Republic annexation treaty ultimately failed due to political turmoil and misunderstanding between Grant and Congress. In addition, the defeat of the treaty in the Senate ultimately contributed to the division of the Republican party into two opposing factions during the election of 1872: the Radical Republicans (composed of Grant and his loyalists) and the Liberal Republicans (composed of Schurz, Sumner, Horace Greeley as presidential candidate, and other opponents of Grant).

Annexation proposal[edit]

President Ulysses S. Grant

In April 1869, Joseph W. Fabens, a New England businessman representing the Dominican Republic, asked President Ulysses S. Grant's Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, that the Dominican Republic, then known as Santo Domingo, be annexed to the United States and able to apply for statehood.[2] Previously in 1867, during President Andrew Johnson's Administration, the Dominican government, under threat of Haitian invasion, had asked to be annexed by the United States, however, Congress was unwilling to comply.[3] President Grant, initially, did not have any interest in annexing the Dominican Republic.[2] However, when Grant learned the U.S. Navy had interest in acquiring Samaná Bay, as coaling station for the U.S. Navy, he became interested in acquiring the Dominican Republic.[2] When President Grant asked Sec. Fish to make an inquiry into the island, Fish appointed, Benjamin P. Hunt, having diplomatic authority, to look into the Dominican Republic's debt and whether the people actually desired to join the United States. Hunt, however, fell ill and could not make the journey.[2] President Grant then sent his Presidential aid, Brevet Brigadier General Orville E. Babcock to gather information on the Dominican Republic.[4] Rather than official diplomatic authority, President Grant personally gave Babcock special agent status with a personal introduction letter for Dominican Republic President Buenaventura Báez.[5]

In addition to the coaling station at Samaná Bay, President Grant viewed that the Dominican Republic had immense resources and would give thousands of jobs to emigrant African American laborers; in addition to benefitting product exportation from Northern farms and manufacturers.[6] According to Grant, an American Dominican Republic would result in Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Cuba having to abolish slavery.[6] Grant viewed that if southern blacks emigrated to the Dominican Republic, violent groups in the south, such as the Ku Klux Klan, would have to curb their use of violence toward blacks in order for black laborers to return to the U.S. President Grant, however, was cautious in directly advocating African American emigration to the Dominican Republic.[6] [7] President Grant stated to Congress that he was obligated as President to maintain the Monroe Doctrine. [7]

Annexation treaty created[edit]

In September 1869, Babcock returned to Washington D.C. with a draft protocol treaty of Dominican Republic annexation.[5] President Grant's Cabinet was stunned, not knowing that Babcock had planned to draw up an annexation treaty. Grant presented Babcock's informal treaty for his Cabinet to read, however, no Cabinet member offered any discussion on the treaty. Grant then asked Sec. Fish to draw up a formal diplomatic treaty, since Babcock did not have diplomatic authority.[5] Having not been consulted on the Dominican treaty process, Sec. Fish was ready to resign from the Cabinet, however, President Grant intervened having told Fish he would have complete control of the State Department, except for the Dominican Republic annexation treaty. Sec. Fish and Grant privately agreed that Fish would remain on the Cabinet and support Dominican annexation while President Grant would not support Cuban belligerence during the Ten Years War. On October 19, 1869, Sec. Fish drew up a formal treaty; the United States would annex the Dominican Republic, pay $1,500,000 on the Dominican national debt, offer the Dominican Republic the right to U.S. statehood, and the U.S. would rent Samaná Bay at $150,000 per annum for 50 years.[5] According to Grant's biographer, Jean Edward Smith, President Grant initially erred by not gaining U.S. public support and keeping the treaty process secret from the U.S. Senate.[5]

Grant visited Sumner[edit]

Senator Charles Sumner

On January 2, 1870 prior to the formal treaty being submitted to the Senate, President Grant made an unprecedented visit to Senator Charles Sumner at his home in Washington, D.C.[8] Grant specifically informed Sumner of the Dominican Republic annexation treaty hoping for Sen. Sumner's support.[9] Sen. Sumner was the powerful Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his support for the Dominican Republic treaty was crucial for passage in the Senate.[10] The dialogue between the two men has been the subject of debate and controversy since the meeting.[9] Different sources vary as to what exactly Sumner had said, however, Grant optimistically had walked away having believed Sumner had supported his treaty. Sumner stated that he only told Grant that he was a "Republican and an Administration man".[9][11]

Treaty submitted and failure[edit]

On January 10, 1870 President Grant formally submitted Sec. Fish's Dominican Republic annexation treaty to the U.S. Senate.[12] The treaty was stalled in the Senate until Sen. Sumner's Foreign Relations Committee started hearings in mid February, 1870.[12] Sec. Fish noted that the Senate was reluctant to pass any measures initiated by the Executive Branch.[12] Sen. Sumner allowed the treaty to be debated openly on the Committee without giving his own opinion. However, on March 15, Senator Sumner's Foreign Relations Committee in a closed session voted to oppose the treaty 5 to 2.[12] On March 24, in another closed session, Sen. Sumner came out strongly against the treaty. Sen. Sumner opposed the treaty believing annexation would be expensive, launch an American empire in the Caribbean, and would diminish independent African republics in the Western Hemisphere.[12] Grant met with many Senators on Capitol Hill hoping to rally support for the Treaty, however, to no avail.[13] Grant refused the suggestion that the treaty drop the Dominican statehood clause.[14] Finally on June 30, 1870 the Senate defeated the Dominican Republic Annexation treaty by a vote of 28 to 28.[14] Eighteen Senators had joined Sen. Sumner to defeat the Dominican annexation treaty.[14]

Aftermath and repercussions[edit]

President Grant was livid at the treaty's failure to pass the Senate and blamed Sen. Sumner's opposition for the defeat; Grant having believed Sumner had originally agreed to support the treaty at their January 2, 1870 meeting.[15] Grant then retaliated by firing U.S. Ambassador to Britain, John Lothrop Motley, Sen. Sumner's close friend.[16] Then in March 1871, President Grant having influence in the Senate got his allied Senators to remove Sumner as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.[17] President Grant was able to get Congress to allow an investigation Commission to be sent and make an objective assessment as to whether annexation would be beneficial to both the United States and the Dominican Republic. The Commission, sent in 1871, included civil rights activist Fredrick Douglass and reported favorably on the annexation of the Dominican Republic to the United States.[18] The Commission, however, failed to generate enough enthusiasm in the Senate to overcome opposition to Dominican Republic annexation.[17]


  1. ^ Mejías-López (2009), The Inverted Conquest, p. 132.
  2. ^ a b c d Smith, p. 500
  3. ^ Smith, p. 449
  4. ^ Smith, pp. 500-501
  5. ^ a b c d e Smith, p. 501
  6. ^ a b c McFeely, p. 350
  7. ^ a b Ulysses S. Grant (April 5, 1871), Special Message
  8. ^ Smith, pp. 502-503
  9. ^ a b c Smith, p. 503
  10. ^ Smith, p. 502
  11. ^ Hidalgo, Dennis (1997). "Charles Sumner and the Annexation of the Dominican Republic". Itinerario 21: 51–65. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Smith, p. 504
  13. ^ Smith, pp. 504-505
  14. ^ a b c Smith, p. 505
  15. ^ McFeely, pp. 341, 344
  16. ^ McFeely, pp. 345-346
  17. ^ a b McFeely, p. 352
  18. ^ McFeely, pp. 350, 352


  • McFeely, William S. Grant: A Biography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.
  • Smith, Jean Edward. Grant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

External links[edit]