Beginning right after its independence in 1821, the Dominican Republic became the object of foreign designs to annex its territory or parts of it. Annexation could be accomplished peacefully, by purchase, or aggressively, by force or coercion. Annexation could be total, as in acquiring the entire nation, or partial, as was the case with efforts to negotiate a purchase or long-term leases of the Samaná Bay and Peninsula. Annexation was such a critical and persistent matter that it became one of the main points of contention dividing domestic caudillos (strongmen) and political parties. During that time, nations ranging from Haiti to Spain to the United States made efforts to annex the Dominican Republic, often in alliance with domestic political caudillos who had annexationist motives of their own. In the United States, discussions about Dominican annexation were intimately tied to race and slavery issues, national politics, and geopolitical considerations focusing on the Caribbean. Reflective of a profoundly divided United States along issues of geography, race, and slavery, pro-annexation voices presented the Dominican population as mostly white and capable of “republican citizenship,” whereas opponents characterized it as a hopeless country of mulattos and blacks. At the heart of the debate was the issue of balance of power between states that opposed the expansion of slavery and those that favored it. Opponents feared the acquisition of a country made up of free blacks. Some voices, mostly northeastern, pushed to acquire the Bay and Peninsula of Samaná for navigation and strategic purposes and to secure access to coalmines and other primary materials. American diplomats, investors, and speculators began paying close attention to the Dominican Republic in 1854, when William Cazneau became US envoy to Santo Domingo and was instructed to secure land concessions in Samaná. This overture failed because of combined opposition from Spain, Great Britain, France, and the Dominican opposition. US expansionism recoiled during the Civil War. With the aid of Dominican President Pedro Santana, Spain annexed all Dominican territory in 1861. This was in violation of the Monroe Doctrine, but the United States, then ravaged by the Civil War, was unable to enforce its unilateral policy of no new colonies in the Americas. Spain’s actions during annexation alienated virtually all sectors of society, including nationalist intellectuals, local clergy, peasants, and even Santana’s partisans. Although protests began immediately, an all-out rebellion—the Restoration War—began in 1863 and lasted until 1865 when the Queen of Spain annulled the annexation decree. The most serious and feasible attempt to annex the Dominican Republic occurred in 1868 to 1871, when President Ulysses S. Grant spearheaded negotiations with the administration of President Buenaventura Báez that produced a treaty of annexation. Led by Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, opponents waged an intensive campaign, in which they marshaled arguments about race and climate. A modest body of scholarship has tackled the subject from different perspectives. Although some works have analyzed internal Dominican issues, others have paid attention to a broader Atlantic context in which the European naval powers and the United States contended for influence and control over the Dominican Republic. The examination of the republic has also been the subject of studies that focus on the interconnections between annexationism, race issues, and Reconstruction in the South.
General Histories of the Dominican Republic
A handful of general histories cover the sweep of Dominican history. In the journal Latin American Research Review, Calder 1985 offers a fine historiographical discussion about these general histories. The most comprehensive and most widely used is Moya Pons 2010, based on the author’s Spanish-language Manual de historia dominicana, first published in 1977, which includes a useful annotated bibliography with particular sections devoted to the subject of annexation. Another Dominican historian, Roberto Cassá authored a two-volume history of the Dominican Republic from a Marxist perspective (Cassá 2003–2004). Among the other extant English-language general histories, two stand out—Bell 1981 and Wiarda and Kryzanek 1982. Whereas Bell offers a more negative and pessimistic view of the Dominican Republic, Wiarda and Kryzanek are more generous, highlighting its enormous potential and positive prospects. The book’s subtitle (A Caribbean Crucible) refers to one of its overarching theses—that the Dominican Republic is a crucible (microcosm) typical for Latin America in general.
Bell, Ian. The Dominican Republic. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1981.
In this general history authored by a former British ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Bell dedicates the first half to surveying Dominican history from the pre-Columbian era to the late 1970s. The second half covers contemporary issues and presents a critical view of the Dominican Republic’s economic, social, and political circumstances.
Calder, Bruce. “Review: The Dominican Republic: Surveying a Century of Development and Change.” Latin American Research Review 20.2 (1985): 253–261.
This review essay focuses on the works of Harry Hoetink, Ian Bell, Howard Wiarda, and Michael Kryzanek. It also provides information on earlier general histories written by Dominican authors.
Cassá, Roberto. Historia social y económica de la República Dominicana. 2 vols. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Editorial Alfa y Omega, 2003–2004.
This two-volume work offers a Marxist interpretation of Dominican history, with particular interest in economic and social topics.
Moya Pons, Frank. The Dominican Republic: A National History. 3d ed. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2010.
This survey, authored by the Dominican Republic’s most renowned historian, is the best and most comprehensive general history of the nation. It includes extensive coverage of the various attempts to annex the nation during the 19th century and a useful annotated bibliography.
Wiarda, Howard J., and Michael J. Kryzanek. The Dominican Republic: A Caribbean Crucible. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1982.
This brief (143 pages) general history offers a broad overview of the Dominican Republic. The authors, both political scientists, are sympathetic to the Dominican Republic and represent the nation as modern and valuable. It offers a brief discussion on US annexationist attempts.
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