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Charles Sumner and the Annexation of the Dominican Republic

  • Dennis Hidalgo


During his first term in the White House, President Ulysses Grant attempted to annex the Dominican Republic to the United States. Support for the proposed treaty came from both countries. The United States pressed the annexation plans motivated by the prospects of acquiring hegemony in the Caribbean, by the likelihood of increasing its commercial avenues, by the possibility of establishing a black state, by opportunistic entrepreneurs, and by the idea of the Manifest Destiny Doctrine intermingled with the Monroe Doctrine. On the other hand, the Dominican government supported annexation with the intention of annihilating a rebellion backed by the Haitian government, and by the desire to satisfy personal financial interest among the government elite. Moreover, the typical colonial structure of the country assisted the government's efforts toward annexation.



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1 Explicitly evoking the Monroe Doctrine, Grant stated: ‘In view of the facts which had been laid before me, and with an earnest desire to maintain the Monroe Doctrine, I believe that I would be derelict in my duty if I did not take the inhabitants of the Republic of San Domingo, in regard to annexation’. See Grant, Ulysses, ‘President's Message’, The New York Times, 1 April 1871, 1.

2 Schurz, Carl, Charles Sumner: An Essay (Edited by Hogue, Arthur Reed, Urbana 1951) 118. See also, Blue, Frederick J., Charles Sumner and the Conscience of the North (Arlington Heights 1994) 190.

3 The New York Times, 16 March 1869.

4 The New York Times, 18 March 1871.

5 Storey, Moorfield, Charles Sumner (Boston and New York 1900) 386.

6 ‘Alabama Claims’ was a series of demands for compensation made by the United States over the United Kingdom after the American Civil War. The demands were for indemnity for damages produced on United States property by the Confederate Steamship Alabama, which was built at Birkenhead, England. This ship put to sea and captured or destroyed more than sixty United States ships before the British government issued an order calling for its detention. The United States warship Kearsarge engaged it in battle outside the port Cherbourg, France, and sank it on 19 June 1864. The controversy over the Alabama claims lasted until 1885. The main arguments for compensations was the alleged failure of the British government to deter the building of the Alabama and other Confederate ships, and the equipping of Confederate ships at British ports. A court of mediators was appointed by representatives of the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland and Brazil, and they convened in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1871 to 1872. After much discussion the tribunal was able to settle the claims. According to the court of methators, Great Britain should pay the United States an indemnity of $15.5 million.

7 United States Congress, The Congressional Globe, 21 December 1870, 231.

8 The New York Times, 28 March 1871.

11 The London Times referred to his removal in this way: “As I have already indicated, this as much as any personal quarrel, or the San Domingo dispute, prompted the movement for getting rid of Sumner. He is an impracticable sentimentalist, who would have kept Anglo-American relations in discord for years to come’. ‘The United States’, Times, 30 March 1871.

12 Tansill, Charles C., The United States and Santo Domingo, 1798–1873 (Gloucester 1938) 341. Probably Tansill is the author that overplayed this antagonistic relationship the most. It might seem confusing when he also mentioned in page 341 that Sumner opposition was not as vital as many scholars thought But moved by downplaying the importance of Sumner on opposing the treaty he overemphasized the personal conflicts. However, he also mentioned the arguments that Sumner used to oppose the treaty.

13 Donald, David, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (New York 1970) 451. The reader might find Donald's statement contradictory after reading page 445, on which he remarked: ‘It would, however, be easy to overestimate the influence of these personal grievances in causing the intra-party warfare that ensued between Grant and Sumner’. Although Donald admitted the temptation, he based most of his explanation for Sumner's opposition on his acrimonious relationship with Grant.

14 Storey, Charles Sumner, 363.

15 Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 446–451.

16 On many occasions he displayed a fresh ignorance about who chaired particular committees in Congress. When he went to visit Sumner at his home, he told Sumner twice that if he was in charge of the Judiciary Committee. See Tansill, The United States and Santo Domingo, 385.

17 Blue, Charles Sumner and the Conscience of the North, 192.

18 Douglass, Frederick, Life and Time of Frederick Douglass (New York 1963) 408.

19 Douglass, Frederick, ‘Washington’, The New York Times, 30 March 1871, 4.

20 Tansill says ‘Sumner's hostility to Grant was so deep-seated that there was no possibility of a compromise’, Tansill, The United States and Santo Domingo, 343.

21 Pons, Frank Moya, Manual de Historia Dominicana (Santo Domingo 1981) 376. Although Sumner was against the immorality in the treaty he never tried to accuse the President of immorality. In fact, he tried to present him as ignorant of the wrong doing behind the treaty. Donald explained that Sumner was accustomed to see the President as a vacuum in the White House. Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 461.

22 Welles, Sumner.Naboth's Vineyard (1966) 394.

23 Peukert, Julio K., ‘Anhelo de Dependencia’, Jahrbuch fur Gesehichte von Staat, Wirtschaftund Lateinamerikas 23 (1986) 314.

24 Trying to describe Sumner's sense of morality Bill Ledbetter talked about his relationship with Northern Transcendentalists. ‘Although Transcendentalists appreciated his intellect, it was Sumner's strong sense of morality that impressed them most deeply.’ Ledbetter, Bill, ‘Charles Sumner: Political Activist for the New England Transcendentalists’, The Historian (Fall 1987) 237

25 Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 442.

26 He continues, ‘If a commodore leaves his quarter-deck, goes ashore, and, with his guns commanding a town, threatens to blow it down, is not this an act of war?’. The Congressional Globe, 21 December 1870, 229. Sumner was referring to this when the United States Navy threatened to retaliate if the Haitians attack the Dominican Republic.

28 I found this speech in several places. Probably the most available source is in ‘Sumner and San Domingo’, New York Times, 28 March 1871, 2.

29 Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man, 442–443. Donald made a good job reconstructing Sumner's speech from different newspapers since the session was in close meetings and there was no official record of the speech.

30 United States Congress, The Congressional Globe, 21 December 1870, 231.

31 This could include the Indians, the Mestizos, and the Mulattos.

32 Sumner, Charles, Violations of International and Usurpation of War Powers, 27 March 1871, 24. Speech of Charles Sumner on his St Domingo resolution, delivered in the Senate of the United States.

34 Morrill, Justin H., ‘San Domingo’, The New York Times, 8 April 1871, 6.

35 United States Congress, Congressional Globe, 29 March 1871, 430. Is also cited on the The New York Times, 30 March 1871, 3. I found Cox's citation on Tansill, 434, quote 89.

36 Sumner continues citing Tocqueville: ‘There will then arrive a time when there will be seen in North America one hundred and fifty millions of men, equal together, who will all belong to the same family, who will have the same point of departure, the same civilization, the same language, the same religion, the same habits, the same manners, and over which thought will circulate in the same form and paint itself in the same colors. All else is doubtful, but this is certain. Here is a fact entirely new in the world, of which imagination can hardly seize the extent’. Then Sumner concluded the section on Tocqueville by saying that ‘No American can fail to be strengthened in the future of the Republic by the testimony of De Tocqueville. Honor and gratitude to his memory!’, Sumner, Charles, Prophetic Voices Concerning America (Boston 1874) 163, 164.

37 Stanton, William, The Leopard's Spots (Chicago 1960) 118, 146.

38 Ibid., 106.

39 Blue, Charles Sumner and the Conscience of the North, 207.

40 Storey, Charles Sumner, 399.


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