Buenaventura Baez

This is part of the 5 Cool History Facts About The D.R. on our show Repeating The Past. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, do check it out first!

By 1861 the Dominican Republic was broke. So Dominican president Buenaventura Baez saw only one way out: selling off pieces of the country. So he offered US president Ulysses S. Grant the Samana Peninsula, for a whopping $1.1 million dollars. Well, by 1870 standards. Today that would be… $21.5 million dollars.

Why Samana? Because 50 years earlier Samana had become a safe haven for African Americans that had left the US after freeing themselves from slavery. They even had their own language and society over there, so since it basically already was in some ways part of the US, why not finish the deal.

US president Ulysses S. Grant liked the idea, but had a different offer: why not go all the way and sell me the whole country and Ill make it a new US state? He offered to buy the entire country for a mind-blowing $1.5 million US and would lease Samana for $147,229.91 for 99 years.

Why would Grant do that?

hispmap_big_flagWell, he saw various reasons. Samana Bay would be an ideal coaling station for the US Navy since they needed some kind of military base in the Caribbean. Plus the DR had a lot of resources that would give thousands of jobs to emigrant African American laborers and having more African Americans leaving the South of the US — where a lot of people were still bitter about losing the war — might discourage white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, from violence against African Americans because they would loose cheap labour.

Grant was still actively fighting slavery and annexing the DR could possibly encourage countries like Brazil and Puerto Rico and Cuba to also abolish slavery. So it looked like a sweet deal for everyone around!

But he had to be quiet about it, he thought. After all, if the British heard of this too soon, they may want to take over the DR themselves and not to mention Spain. You don’t’ want to go to war with Spain. Yet. And then there was of course the Monroe Doctrine to consider. So Grant and his people quietly signed the treaty with the DR and presented it to the senate. Kind of on the side.

The reaction was: wait, you what? What’re you crazy? Just like that?

And the annexation was rejected.

It’s possible that if he had had the support of the public, he may have gotten his Caribbean state. But because he did it all quiet like, he failed. Of course, the US got it’s’ Caribbean state a few years later: Puerto Rico. And the military base they wanted? Guantanamo.

Also, here is the other thing. Nobody had asked the Dominicans because Baez had kept it pretty secret himself. And despite being broke, the Dominicans did NOT want to give up their hard-earned independence. Again.