9. The Gate to the Caribbean Sea
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199 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 9 THE GATE TO THE CARIBBEAN SEA In the $ODEDPD claims and the Cuban insurrection, the Grant administration confronted problems spurred by unavoidable circumstances that by their nature demanded a response. On another foreign policy question , Grant enunciated a more pointed strategic vision: acquisition of the Caribbean island nation of the Dominican Republic, commonly referred to in this era as Santo Domingo. For no other initiative did Grant exhibit more fervent advocacy, and in no other instance did he encounter more LQÁDPHGRSSRVLWLRQ:KDWFRXOGKDYHEHHQDUDWLRQDOFRQVLGHUDWLRQRI WKHQDWLRQ·VLQWHUHVWGHJHQHUDWHGLQWRDSHUVRQDOFRQÁLFWEHWZHHQWKH president and Charles Sumner—a titanic struggle that ended in the defeat of Grant’s dream and contributed to the dissolution of Sumner’s XVHIXOQHVVLQWKH6HQDWH$VWKHGUDPDXQIROGHGGXULQJWKHÀUVW\HDU and a half of the term, it revealed an extraordinary cast of characters— some tainted, others suspect, and a few simply bizarre. Whether rightly or not, Santo Domingo cast a shadow over Grant’s administration that persists to this day. Santo Domingo occupied the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Antilles. Its 21,000 square miles made it larger than eight states in the Union. The country’s rich soil could SRWHQWLDOO\\LHOGODUJHTXDQWLWLHVRIWREDFFRFRͿHHVXJDUFDFDRDQG other commodities for export. Its dense forests held large stands of mahogany , satinwood, and other timbers. Estimates placed the country’s CHAPTER 9 200 population at between 100,000 and 300,000, with the actual number probably closer to the former. The populace included a small group of whites largely of Spanish descent, while the vast majority of inhabitants were black or mixed race.1 2VWHQVLEO\DUHSXEOLF6DQWR'RPLQJRKDGVXͿHUHGGHFDGHVRISRlitical instability. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, the country soon came under the dominance of Haiti, which shared the island with Santo Domingo and had ousted its French masters in 1804. Not until 1844 did the Dominicans defeat the Haitian occupation and create a truly independent nation. But even then the country remained vulnerable to invasion or raids from Haiti and was riven by factions at home, some of which drew on the assistance of Haitian allies. ContinXHG ÀJKWLQJDQGVKDPHOHFWLRQVOHGWRUHYROYLQJGRRUJRYHUQPHQWV,Q 1861 Spain retook the country, but in the face of determined Dominican resistance, the Spanish withdrew again in 1865. In the latest upheaval LQHDUO\WKHJRYHUQPHQWRI3UHVLGHQW-RVp&DEUDOIHOOWRWKHIRUFHV of Buenaventura Báez. Báez had held the presidency three times before, DQGKLVJULSRQWKHR΀FHZDVKDUGO\OHVVWHQXRXVQRZIRU&DEUDODQG his allies continued an armed opposition. With the treasury empty and HQHPLHVLQWKHÀHOGWKH%iH]JRYHUQPHQWJUDYLWDWHGWRZDUGVHHNLQJ outside help in the form of a protectorate or outright annexation, with connection to the United States the most attractive prospect.2 The idea of forging such a link had arisen long before the Grant administration . Several times during the 1840s and 1850s the United States KDGGLVSDWFKHGR΀FHUVWRWKH&DULEEHDQQDWLRQWRLQYHVWLJDWHLWVHFRnomic and strategic potential. Of particular interest was the capacious Bay of Samaná, which overlooked the Atlantic Ocean from a commanding position on the island’s eastern coast. In 1854 US Army engineer Captain George McClellan had enthusiastically endorsed the creation of a US naval station. His recommendation did not bear fruit, but feelers for “a more intimate connection” with Santo Domingo resumed after the second ouster of the Spanish. Andrew Johnson’s expansionist secretary of state William Seward opened negotiations with the Cabral government for a lease of the bay, which made some progress until Cabral lost power to Báez in 1868. The notion that Samaná Bay might go begging caused some Americans to fear a European intrusion in the hemisphere. In May 1868 Charles Sumner expressed his apprehension to Seward about a possible “movement on the part of the North German Confederation to obtain a naval station in the West Indies.”3 The Báez government was hardly up and running when it moved THE GATE TO THE CARIBBEAN SEA 201 to restart negotiations with the United States. It soon found an eager ally in J. Somers Smith, the American commercial agent (the State Department ’s principal representative in Santo Domingo), who asked Seward for authority to negotiate an agreement regarding Samaná. The Dominican government...