|Dominican Republic Table of Contents
Although they shared the island of Hispaniola, the colonies of Saint-Domingue and Santo Domingo followed disparate paths. Cultural differences explained the contrast to some extent, but the primary divergence was economic. Saint-Domingue was the most productive agricultural colony in the Western Hemisphere, and its output contributed heavily to the economy of France. By contrast, Santo Domingo was a small colony with little impact on the economy of Spain. Prosperous French plantation owners sought to maximize their gain through increased production for a growing world market. Thus, they imported great numbers of slaves from Africa and drove this captive work force ruthlessly.
Although by the end of the eighteenth century economic conditions were improving, landowners in Santo Domingo did not enjoy the same level of wealth attained by their French counterparts in Saint-Domingue. The absence of market-driven pressure to increase production enabled the domestic labor force to practice subsistence agriculture and to export at low levels. For this reason, Santo Domingo imported far fewer slaves than did Saint-Domingue. Spanish law also allowed a slave to purchase his freedom and that of his family for a relatively small sum. This contributed to the higher proportion of freedmen in the Spanish colony; by the turn of the century, freedmen actually constituted the majority of the population. Also in contrast to conditions in the French colony, this population profile contributed to a somewhat more egalitarian society, plagued much less by the schisms of race.
Stimulated to some degree by a revolution against the monarchy that was well underway in France, the inevitable explosion took place in Saint-Domingue in August 1791. The initial reaction of many Spanish colonists to news of the slaughter of Frenchmen by armies of rebellious black slaves was to flee Hispaniola entirely. Spain, however, saw in the unrest an opportunity to seize all, or part, of the western third of the island through an alliance of convenience with the British. These intentions, however, did not survive encounters in the field with forces led by the former slave, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture. In recognition of his leadership against the Spanish (under whose banner he had begun his military career), the British, and rebellious royalists and mulattoes, Toussaint was named governor general of Saint-Domingue by the French Republic in 1796. By the next year, Spain had surrendered the entire island to his rule. This action reflected not only Spain's growing disengagement from its colony, but also its setbacks in Europe and its relative decline as a world power.
Although France nominally enjoyed sovereignty over the entire island of Hispaniola, it was prevented from establishing an effective presence or administration in the east by continuing conflict between the indigenous forces led by Toussaint--and later by Jean-Jacques Dessalines--and an expeditionary force dispatched to Hispaniola by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1802 in an effort to bring the island more firmly under French control. Upon defeating the French, Dessalines and his followers established the independent nation of Haiti in January 1804. A small French presence, however, remained in the former Spanish colony. Dessalines attempted to take the city of Santo Domingo in March 1805, but he turned back after receiving reports of the approach of a French naval squadron.
By 1808 a number of émigré Spanish landowners had returned to Santo Domingo. These royalists had no intention of living under French rule, however, and they sought foreign assistance for a rebellion that would restore Spanish sovereignty. Help came from the Haitians, who provided arms, and from the British, who occupied Samaná and blockaded the port of Santo Domingo. The remaining French representatives fled the island in July 1809.
The 1809 restoration of Spanish rule ushered in an era referred to by some historians as España Boba (Foolish Spain). Under the despotic rule of Ferdinand VII, the colony's economy deteriorated severely. Some Dominicans began to wonder if their interests would not best be served by the sort of independence movement that was sweeping the South American colonies. In keeping with this sentiment, Spanish lieutenant governor José Núñez de Cáceres announced the colony's independence as the state of Spanish Haiti on November 30, 1821. Cáceres requested admission to the Republic of Gran Colombia (consisting of what later became Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela), recently proclaimed established by Simón Bolívar and his followers. While the request was in transit, however, the president of Haiti, Jean-Pierre Boyer, decided to invade Santo Domingo and to reunite the island under the Haitian flag.
The twenty-two years of Haitian occupation witnessed a steady economic decline and a growing resentment of Haiti among Dominicans. The agricultural pattern in the former Spanish colony came to resemble the one prevailing in all of Haiti at the time-- that is, mainly subsistence cultivation with little or no production of export crops. Boyer attempted to enforce in the new territory the Rural Code (Code Rural) he had decreed in an effort to improve productivity among the Haitian yeomanry, but the Dominicans proved no more willing to adhere to its provisions than the Haitians had been. Increasing numbers of Dominican landowners chose to flee the island rather than to live under Haitian rule; in many cases, Haitian administrators encouraged such emigration, confiscated the holdings of the émigrés, and redistributed them to Haitian officials. Aside from such bureaucratic machinations, most of the Dominicans' resentment of Haitian rule developed because Boyer, the ruler of an impoverished country, did not (or could not) provision his army. The occupying Haitian forces lived off the land in Santo Domingo, commandeering or confiscating what they needed to perform their duties or to fill their stomachs. Dominicans saw this as tribute demanded by petty conquerors, or as simple theft. Racial animosities also affected attitudes on both sides; black Haitian troops reacted with reflexive resentment against lighter-skinned Dominicans, while Dominicans came to associate the Haitians' dark skin with the oppression and the abuses of occupation.
Religious and cultural life also suffered under the Haitian occupation. The Haitians, who associated the Roman Catholic Church with the French colonists who had so cruelly exploited and abused them before independence, confiscated all church property in the east, deported all foreign clergy, and severed the ties of the remaining clergy to the Vatican. For Dominicans, who were much more strongly Roman Catholic and less oriented toward folk religion than the Haitians, such actions seemed insulting and nihilistic. In addition, upper-class Haitians considered French culture superior to Spanish culture, while Haitian soldiers and others from the lower class simply disregarded Hispanic mores and customs.
The emigration of upper-class Dominicans served to forestall rebellion and to prolong the period of Haitian occupation because most Dominicans reflexively looked to the upper class for leadership. Scattered unrest and isolated confrontations between Haitians and Dominicans undoubtedly occurred; it was not until 1838, however, that any significant organized movement against Haitian domination began. Crucial to these stirrings was a twenty-year-old Dominican, of a prominent Santo Domingo family, who had returned home five years earlier after seven years of study in Europe. The young student's name was Juan Pablo Duarte.
Dominican history can in many ways be encompassed by a series of biographies. The personality and attributes of Duarte, however, ran counter to those of most of the country's caudillos. Duarte was an idealist, an ascetic, a genuine nationalist, a man of principle, and a romantic in a romantic age. Although he played no significant part in its rule, he is considered the father of his country. He certainly provided the inspiration and impetus for the achievement of independence from Haiti. Shocked, when he returned from Europe, by the deteriorated condition of Santo Domingo, the young student resolved to establish a resistance movement that would eventually throw off the Haitian yoke. He dubbed his movement La Trinitaria (The Trinity) because its original nine members had organized themselves into cells of three; the cells went on to recruit as separate organizations, maintaining strict secrecy, with little or no direct contact among themselves in order to minimize the possibility of detection or betrayal to the Haitian authorities. Young recruits flocked to Duarte's banner (almost literally, for it was Duarte who designed the modern Dominican flag) as a result of the pent- up resentment under Haitian rule. Despite its elaborate codes and clandestine procedures, La Trinitaria was eventually betrayed to the Haitians. It survived largely intact, however, emerging under the new designation, La Filantrópica, to continue its work of anti-Haitian agitation.
Despite their numbers and their base of popular support, the Trinitarios (as the rebels still referred to themselves) required a political disruption in Haiti proper to boost their movement toward its ultimate success. The overthrow of Boyer in the Revolution of 1843 provided a catalyst for the Dominican rebels. Charles Rivière-Hérard replaced Boyer as president of Haiti. Like most Haitian leaders, he required a transition period in which to deal with competitors and to solidify his rule. Rivière-Herard apparently identified one disaffected Haitian faction in the administration of the eastern territory; his crackdown on this group extended to the Trinitarios as well, because apparently there had been some fruitless contacts between the Dominicans and some liberal Haitians. The increased pressure induced Duarte to leave the country temporarily in search of support in other Latin American states, mainly Colombia and Venezuela. In December 1843, a group of Duarte's followers urged him to return to Santo Domingo. They feared that their plans for an insurrection might be betrayed to the Haitians and had therefore resolved to carry them through quickly. Duarte sailed as far north from Caracas as the island of Curaçao, where he fell victim to a violent illness. When he had not arrived home by February 1844, the rebels, under the leadership of Francisco del Rosario Sánchez and Ramón Mella, agreed to launch their uprising without him.
On February 27, 1844--thereafter celebrated as Dominican Independence Day--the rebels seized the Ozama fortress in the capital. The Haitian garrison, taken by surprise and apparently betrayed by at least one of its sentries, retired in disarray. Within two days, all Haitian officials had left Santo Domingo. Mella headed the provisional governing junta of the new Dominican Republic. Duarte, finally recovered, returned to his country on March 14. The following day he entered the capital amidst great adulation and celebration. As is so often the case in such circumstances, the optimism generated by revolutionary triumph would eventually give way to the disillusion caused by the struggle for power.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress