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Born in Santiago de los Caballeros, he served in many offices, including Senator, member of the House of Representatives, Customs Inspector of Puerto Plata, and member of the Provincial Deputation of Santiago.
He opposed the Republic’s reannexation by Spain, and as a result, was exiled; he returned to his country in 1863. He served as Vice President in 1864.
With the support of Gregorio Luperón, Espaillat won election as president on March 24, 1876. Espaillat was a political and economic liberal who wished to broaden the personal freedoms of the Dominican people and improve the country's economy by taking from the producers of the society in order to pay for his ideas. However, he was forced to resign (on December 20, 1876) before he could set in motion any plan of action, due to rebellions in the south and east.