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The Dominican Republic Once Agreed to Join the U.S.

October 15, 2014

Few in the English-speaking world realize that the Dominican Republic once agreed to join the United States. In 1869, DR President Buenaventura Báez signed an annexation treaty with U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. The Caribbean nation, which shares an island with Haiti, would have become a U.S. territory, with the right eventually to apply for statehood.

Buenaventura Báez, five times President of the Domincan Republic

Buenaventura Báez, five times President of the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic wanted access to broader markets, cash to pay some heavy debts, and stability. The U.S. actually wasn’t its first choice to fill these needs, or even its second. In 1821, it had tried to join Gran Colombia, the South American super-nation, only to be foiled by the Haitians, who invaded and took over in 1822. And during 1840’s, after the DR broke free from Haiti, President Báez (not yet in office) tried to give his country to France, which declined. Báez had more success with the Spanish, who accepted the DR back into their empire in 1861 (having lost it decades before). But the Spanish pulled out in 1865, fed up with a civil war against local opponents of annexation.

President Báez ran a referendum in 1870 to prove his people wanted to join the U.S. Sixteen thousand voted “yes” and eleven voted “no.” Those numbers would have made this the greatest landslide in referendum history, if the vote hadn’t been bogus.

In an 1870 vote, the U.S. Senate split 28-28 on annexation, falling far short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty. So it all came to nothing. Among other issues, the senators feared the DR was a bad buy, since it had a history of revolution and unstable governments. (President Báez himself had twice been deposed.)

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© 2014, 2017 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

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