When the Dominican Republic almost became an American territory

Samana, in the Domincan Republic in the Caribbean, today is a stop for cruise ships due to its protected waters and tropical climate. But few of the cruisers enjoying the beaches and sipping rum punch realize that in 1867, Samana almost became a U.S. Navy base, and the entire Dominican Republic almost became an American protectorate.

Gran Bahia Principe Cayacoa: the beach

Beach at Samana Bay

The story begins with an idea that seems to have originated with President Ulysses S. Grant. He set in motion a plan to annex the Dominican Republic, (then called Santo Domingo) partly to obtain the use  of Samana as a naval base, partly as a place to send freed slaves from the south, partly to exert pressure on Cuba for emancipation, and partly as a check on any further European colonial expansion, especially with the possibility of a future canal to the Pacific across Nicaragua.  Grant even contemplated eventual statehood. He probably got the idea from the Dominicans themselves, who asked Spain to recolonize them as a way of paying their debts and protecting against invasion by neighboring Haiti. This was in 1861, and since our Civil War had just started, the United States was in no position to intervene. Spain obliged with the Dominican request, and occupied Santo Domingo, but left in 1865, leaving the U.S. unhappy about this violation of the Monroe Doctrine.

Grant’s proposal was surprisingly popular among the Dominicans, who saw the U.S. paying off their debts, providing an expanded market for their goods, and insuring no more Haitian invasions. The Dominican Republic was like an orphan that had a chance to be adopted by the richest family in town.

But the deal fell through. So if the U.S. President wanted it and the Dominicans wanted it, what happened?


Santo Domingo capitol…1800s

The U.S. Congress happened. The Dominican deal required a treaty, and a treaty required a two-thirds majority. The Congress was split on the deal, and the treaty could not be ratified. Some of the objections were sound, such as the unstable nature of Santo Domingo and the creation of an American empire in the Caribbean, and some, such as the fear that Haiti would wind up as part of the deal, were perhaps overstated, but the needed votes just weren’t there. Grant was bitterly disappointed, but had to go along.

So the Dominican Republic struggled along as an independent nation and the cruise ships have an undeveloped port to enjoy. The proposed canal was, of course, built in Panama.


Santo Domingo today..Notice the complete lack of statues of U.S. Grant.


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One Response to When the Dominican Republic almost became an American territory

  1. Thanks for this history lesson because I never heard of this before

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