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We Dream Together
Dominican Independence, Haiti, and the Fight for Caribbean Freedom
By Anne Eller
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
Life by Steam
THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC'S FIRST REPUBLIC, 1844–1861
"The people are miserable: — true, but not as much as in the Haitian time," a journalist in Santo Domingo argued in late summer 1846, two years after Separation. "Paper money has no value: — it has more than that of the Haitians," the author persisted. In the Dominican capital, columnists condemned Haitian politics in order to externalize political scrutiny and to deny the dire, authoritarian political drama that was unfolding in Santo Domingo at the same time. They allowed themselves considerable hyperbole. "We have a liberal Constitution and an honorable and patriotic leader who executes it punctually," one writer boasted, hopefully. He claimed that the newly separated east would have reduced military forces and civil rights for all citizens. Instead, repression and insecurity mounted. "The public is groaning in misery," another admitted. Soldiers mocked the new Dominican motto ("God, Country, Liberty"), changing it to "God, Country, Slavery, and Lean Meat." Residents of the capital marked the anniversary of the constitution signing with "embarrassing coldness and indifference," and one man compared the new republic to someone slowly dying of fever.
Over a series of months between 1843 and 1845, as President Jean-Pierre Boyer's power collapsed, Haiti fractured into two administrations. In chaotic and depressed circumstances, the men who held on to the reins of power in the east, the newly independent Dominican Republic, were largely the same southern elite who had worked with the Unification regime. The first Dominican president, Pedro Santana, rose to power at the head of an army of loyal followers from his home province, and his prestige made him a "true feudal seigneur," contemporaries observed. Buenaventura Báez, the man who emerged to be Santana's primary political rival, was a large landowner. Well traveled and wealthy, Báez was a high-level politician who easily weathered the changes in flag. Separation came easily, but consolidating a new state proved difficult. In the Dominican capital, a tiny electorate rallied around the administration, but censorship, exile, and executions cooled the atmosphere. Alternating terms in power, Santana and Báez controlled the administration with heavy hands. Both invoked a war powers clause of the constitution, Article 210, for autocratic license. They used the clause domestically, restricting freedom of the press, relentlessly pursuing critics, and trading off power in a continuous pattern of usurpation, corruption, and revenge. Reformers had little recourse but to complain about "the plague of parties."
Most Dominicans, meanwhile, lived far from the capital, independent and dispersed. No export bonanza or internal migration brought them in closer contact, nor could authorities in Santo Domingo generate resources with which to expand their administration. Internal travel was treacherous, and small boats, yolas or balandras, were the only practicable way to reach other coastal towns. After decades of flag changes and rural independence, power had devolved "from one to many": to regional military networks, family units, religious brotherhoods, tobacco, wood, and cattle trade, and, only lastly, to the nominative southern administration. As Separation unfolded, the idea of a new republic did not extend beyond a handful of towns. Residents might have considered themselves at various points "Haitian-Spanish," "Dominican-Spanish," or even "not Spanish nor French nor Haitian"; more likely still, they embraced local identities that were more salient. Residents of the north coast were deeply tied with Cap-Haïtien, surrounding islands, and the Atlantic. In the Cibao, politicians wealthy from tobacco trade pulled away from the capital. They wanted a federalization of power, or to relocate the government totally. In the center of the island, the unpopularity of Haiti's emperor stymied solidarities for a time, but residents were hardly faithful. In the new state, domestic flashpoints became more critical with each passing year.
This chapter details how citizens made their lives between foreign powers and political revolution. Even in the capital, few people thought autonomy was possible. British, French, U.S., and Spanish authorities intervened constantly in Dominican affairs. They jockeyed for competing concessions, supported various protectorate, citizenship, or colonization schemes, manipulated treaty negotiations, meddled in domestic political struggles, demanded indemnities, sent warships as implied menace, and generally intervened aggressively for their own interests, all while withholding recognition.
As capital city figures made increasing bargains with these powers, residents engaged in active debates about identity and citizenship. Feeling anxiety over the future, Dominicans in multiple sites responded to these developments with steady vigilance, frequent protests, and warnings of slavery. From rural, center-island spaces, where decades of trade, travel, and political connection tied them to Haiti, military men occasionally drew a handful of local residents into intrigues to reunite the island. As years passed, the very fragility of the Dominican administration, wracked with political competition, economic crises, and growing imperial aggression, made these pacts more urgent. The grip of the capital was loosening.
Reform and Separation, 1843–1846
Unification of the whole island, which began in early 1822, lasted under the rule of President Boyer for two decades. After abolition in Unification's first days, many lived life much as before. In towns, the administration had an uneven impact. The government employed several hundred officials in the Dominican capital and dozens in other towns. Much of the quotidian administration continued in Spanish. Prominent Dominicans like Manuel Joaquín Delmonte earnestly and unctuously praised the regime. "Let us all toast to the day that the knot that binds us gets tighter," he urged, from a Masonic lodge called "Perfect Harmony" in Azua. Black regiments in and around the capital, which predated Unification, enjoyed larger ranks and status. Black Dominicans forged "the tightest of bonds" with arriving Haitian soldiers and administrators, one traveler remarked. In the Cibao valley, Dominican tobacco merchants and others benefited from stability and government support. In rural areas, the reach of the state was minimal. As years passed, however, and as outside observers heaped noisy judgment on Boyer's regime, fissures grew. Boyer's autocratic style, the political and economic burden of a so-called indemnity debt to France, regional divisions, and a plurality of other grievances rankled an increasing number of political opponents. Dominican periodicals later blamed a parasitic administration and a bloated administrative and military class. Boyer's aides had sheltered him from rumblings of discontent for years, the journalists argued. By the early 1840s, a significant group in the Dominican capital had begun to support separation, Delmonte and other former Unification supporters included. In the west, anti-Boyer voices grew louder simultaneously.
A natural disaster accelerated the fracture, heralding a providential reckoning. A massive earthquake struck the heart of Haiti on 7 May 1842. It seemed like the apocalypse. In towns across the island, "not one stone was left on top of the other," an observer wrote in horror. The calamity destroyed homes, churches, and businesses and left thousands more on the brink of collapse. Visible devastation surrounded the living. On the northern coast, from Port-de-Paix to Monte Cristi, a wall of seawater flooded over residents. Rivers overflowed, and the deluge covered whole fields. Violent aftershocks "frightened and made the people more desperate." The island's capital, Port-au-Prince, burned day and night on end. "I will tell you the horror, the death, the tears, the endless havoc into which the miserable nation of Haiti has sunk," an eastern poet wrote. "What confusion! What horror! What fright!" He wrote of religious fear and of the "reckless pride" of his compatriots, swallowed up in a horrible din. A hurricane followed that summer. Port-au-Prince burned again in the beginning of the new year.
Boyer's regime, already on the precipice of collapse, quickly crumbled. Political "excitement ... spread like a contagion to every nook," observers reflected. Earnest island liberals, Dominican separatists and annexationists, ambitious military figures of varying allegiances, prominent southern Haitian families, and growing rural opposition in the western south all vied for power. A handful of Dominican nationalists had recently returned to Santo Domingo from San Juan, inspired by liberal discontent and pro-independence murmurings in the late 1830s. They joined a secret society in the capital, the Trinitarios, whose members were a small group of urban elite with insular family and geographic ties. Their critiques were moderate but increasingly nationalist in elocution. Other plans proliferated, including renegotiating the terms of Unification. Dominican commentators remembered the possibilities of the moment acutely. "It seems to me that Boyer knew best the true path of happiness for all Haitians," one Dominican wrote, decades later. "He was only wrong about one thing: not having founded the union of the two pueblos on a more equal and advantageous base, for example a confederation," he concluded.
From different sites, anti-Boyerists tried to salvage a federation. In Les Cayes, Haitian and Dominican reformers formed the Society of the Rights of Man and Citizen, demanding wide-ranging government changes. At a constitutional convention in Port-au-Prince, Puerto Plata deputy Federico Peralta y Rodríguez spoke frankly of "atrocious oppression ... and total ruin" of many prominent families — his frankness already revolutionary — but also expressed enthusiasm for proposed reforms, "so liberal and democratic" as they were. He and others hoped for serious constitutional changes. Reformers tried to save the union, drafting a Haitian-Dominican Constitution that was unmistakably liberal, according much more power to the legislative branch, abolishing presidency-for-life, and reducing the army. They hoped to maintain and strengthen island unity, proposing a trilingual national school (English, Spanish, and French). In Santo Domingo, meanwhile, Haitian opposition leaders Alcius Ponthieux and General Étienne Desgrotte plotted together with Dominican Trinitaria members to take the fort of the capital in the spring of 1843, but no mobilization materialized. In solidarity, whole regiments deserted Boyer's unpopular campaign against the southwestern conspiracy. Boyer fled for Jamaica in February 1843, ending more than two decades of rule.
As months passed, however, political turmoil increased. General Charles Rivière-Hérard increasingly presided over the reform convention and maneuvered to impose his authority, proclaiming himself president. He received, and then imprisoned, Trinitario emissary Ramón Mella, as he moved to squash other reforms. Southern Haitian peasants protested his betrayal and mobilized independently; the movement became known as the Piquet Rebellion. A popular song rebuked the presidential usurper:
President Rivière was cross-eyed!
He thought he was the king!
He thought he was the king!
He thought he was the king!
Dominican commentators expressed dismay. An editorial critiqued Rivière's January 1844 Constitution and scolded him for his excesses, calling him a "dictator who only use[d] the liberal title of president."[Without our cooperation] the revolution would not have been more than a crazy plan," another disillusioned Dominican columnist reflected. "And what was our prize ...? What were the considerations, the improvements, the guarantees, for our unalienable rights? Dark dungeons in Port-au-Prince!"
French interference loomed as many Dominican politicians grew divided between separation or a French protectorate. From Port-au-Prince, a prominent southern Dominican, Buenaventura Báez, tried to sabotage other movements. He warned Rivière of Dominican opposition and furiously tried to conspire for a French protectorate instead, continuing to do so after he became the mayor of the Dominican town of Azua. "Frenchified" Dominicans (los afrancesados) in Azua boasted their own flag: red and white vertical stripes, with a small tricolor in the top-left corner. The strongest clarion call for total separation from Haiti was actually Azuans' demand for French annexation; authors of a separation statement from the Dominican capital simply called for provincial autonomy. Meanwhile, prominent rancher Pedro Santana led a military mobilization for separation from further east, marshaling a loyal band of peons and peasants from his home province, Seybo. He wrote confidentially that he feared many Dominicans opposed separation, and may have even briefly lent his own allegiance to the French cause.
French officials collaborated and encouraged Dominican protectorate plans, but they insisted that residents of the east continue to pay Haiti's indemnity. In a menacing and opportunistic stance, they lobbied for cession of the Samaná peninsula in exchange. Diplomats felt confident that the plan could be secured in a matter of weeks. Both Unification and protectorate advocates faltered; the indemnity was a major sticking point, even for reform proponents. Cap separatists made a last-minute call to make a new North Haiti–Dominican union — they freed all Dominican prisoners in the town, designed a new red and blue flag with a star at the center, and sent overtures proposing a federative alliance to central and northern Dominican towns — but eastern observers worried that a clash with France was imminent. Unity seemed too costly.
Quietly, secession proceeded in the Dominican capital and spread piecemeal to other towns. With most western troops already departed, a group of Dominicans proclaimed Separation in Santo Domingo, fairly uneventfully, on 27 February 1844. A number of Haitian residents in the town openly supported the movement, and a handful of Dominican residents left for Saint Thomas to avoid taking sides. Official secession occurred the next day, with a cordial withdrawal accord for property guarantees, respect, dignity, and "frankness and loyalty" on all sides. In March, the leading men of several towns in the Cibao valley and elsewhere declared themselves in favor of an eastern republic. As news reached Haiti, President Rivière called for a mobilization. Trying to reach the Dominican capital, he occupied Azua, where Santana defeated him. Dominicans quickly defeated his auxiliary in Santiago, too, and a series of small skirmishes in border towns came to little that spring. Some central towns changed hands several times, but the encounters often involved only small groups of soldiers. Southern Haitian peasants, still in a democratic mobilization of their own, observed Rivière's defeat by Dominicans with satisfaction. "The Spaniards chased him, he ran like a dog after fresh carrion!," one song rebuked him. Losing everywhere, Rivière was unseated by May 1844. He, too, left for Jamaica.
As Pablo Mella observes, traditional accounts maintain a conspiracy of silence about Dominican racism and class divisions, framing the uncertainty of 1844 as mere conflict between "liberal" and "conservative" factions. Among the tiny formal political class there did exist a plurality of positions, of course, and regional elites in the Cibao also hoped for power. Much more salient, however, were the divides between the tiny elite who were assuming power and most Dominicans. These were the men in the capital whom most dubbed "white Spaniards," whom many residents considered almost a foreign group. Defiantly, the Separation junta held whites-only meetings, and government emissaries bragged to foreign authorities that it had been whites who had led Separation. At one meeting, liberal Juan Pablo Duarte proposed an amendment arguing, "The unity of race ... is one of the fundamental principles of our political adhesion," but to his alarm, other attendees tore up the proposal. At the head of the military forces, Santana aligned himself with these prominent whites, who appealed abroad for recognition, annexation, and white immigration simultaneously. Santana's collusion with these elites disgusted and worried prominent military officers of color in the capital, even those who had previously supported him. Town residents were abuzz that the group was considering reinstating slavery, either in a new Gran Colombia-like federation, like the pro-slavery separation movement of 1821, or through a French protectorate. A colonel of the African Battalion, Santiago Basora, blocked the entry of separatist forces to the capital. General José Joaquín Puello, a prominent officer from the Unification period, joined Duarte and others in spreading the alarm among soldiers and concerned citizens.
Excerpted from We Dream Together by Anne Eller. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsTimeline ix
Introduction. Roots and Branches of the Tree of Liberty 1
1. Life by Steam: The Dominican Republic's First Republic, 1844–1861 21
2. Soon It Will Be Mexico's Turn: Caribbean Empire and Dominican Annexation 59
3. The White Race Is Destined to Occupy This Island: Annexation and the Question of Free Labor 87
4. The Haitians or the Whites? Colonization and Resistance, 1861–1863 117
5. You Promised to Die of Hunger: Resistance, Slavery, and All-Out War 144
6. The Lava Spread Everywhere: Rural Revolution, the Provisional Government, and Haiti 178
7. Nothing Remains Anymore: The Last Days of Spanish Rule 207
Epilogue. Between Fear and Hope 229
What People are Saying About This
"Rooted in deep archival research, exhibiting a wonderful analytic and stylistic sensibility, and narrating a story that is largely overlooked, We Dream Together makes a signal contribution to Caribbean studies and the broader history of struggles for independence and emancipation in the Americas. This is the book that tells the story of the Dominican Republic's independence."
"Anne Eller’s pathbreaking study provides the first social history of the Restoration War, an uprising that ended the Spanish annexation of the Dominican Republic in 1865. In the first transnational study of the period, Eller highlights how Haitians and Dominicans found common cause in the struggle against racism and imperial aggression, and how the Dominican struggle against slavery and for sovereignty was a truly Caribbean affair."