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Unification of Hispaniola

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Title: Unification of Hispaniola  
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Subject: Dominican Republic, Kingdom of Haiti, Afro-Dominican (Dominican Republic), Dominican Republic–Haiti relations, José Núñez de Cáceres
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Unification of Hispaniola

Department of Ozama and Cibao
Départements de l'Ozama et du Cibao
Departamento del Ozama y del Cibao
Haitian Territory



Flag Coat of arms
Capital Port-au-Prince
Languages French
Haitian Creole
Government Republic
 •  1822-1843 Jean-Pierre Boyer
 •  1843-1844 Charles Rivière-Hérard
 •  1822-1843 Gen. Borgella
 •  1843-1844 Gen. Carrié
 •  Haitian occupation February 9, 1822
 •  Independence February 27, 1844
Area 76,480 km² (29,529 sq mi)
Currency Haitian gourde
Today part of  Haiti
 Dominican Republic

The Unification of Hispaniola by Haiti lasted twenty-two years, from February 9, 1822 to February 27, 1844.[1][2] The term is a pro-Haitian euphemism for was in fact a textbook military invasion. This unification ended the first brief period of independence in history of the Dominican Republic, which had been known as the Republic of Spanish Haiti.

The occupation is recalled by some as a period of strict military rule, though the reality was far more complex. It led to large-scale land expropriations and failed efforts to force production of export crops, impose military services, restrict the use of the Spanish language, and suppress traditional customs. The twenty-two year unification reinforced the Dominican people’s view of themselves as different from the Haitians in race, language, religion and domestic customs.[3]


By the late 18th century, the island of Hispaniola had been divided into two European colonies: Saint-Domingue, in the west, governed by France; and Santo Domingo, governed by Spain, occupying the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola.

First unification under the French

During the second half of the eighteenth century the French side of the island quickly developed into the most prosperous plantation colony of the New World. French Saint-Domingue was dubbed the Pearl of the Antilles, as a result of the sugar plantations worked by African slaves; sugar had become an indispensable commodity in Europe.[4] By the Peace of Basel of 22 July 1795, Spain ceded its two-third of the island to France in exchange for the return of the province of Guipuzcoa occupied by the French since 1793. Although Hispaniola was now unified under a single administration, it proved difficult for the French to consolidate their rule since their part of the island had been experiencing uprisings by elite mulattos and black freedman since 1791, and in 1804 the leader of the Haitian revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared Haiti's independence. Independence did not come easily, given the fact that Haiti had been France's most profitable colony.

By 1795, the eastern side, what was once the headquarters of Spanish colonial power in the New World had long fallen into decline. The economy was stalled, the land largely unexploited and used for sustenance farming and cattle ranching, and the population was much lower than in Haiti. The accounts by the Dominican essayist and politician José Núñez de Cáceres cite the Spanish colony's population at around 80,000, mainly composed of European descendants, mulattos, freedmen, and a few black slaves. Haiti, on the other hand, was nearing a million former slaves.

While the French had lost their former colony of Saint-Dominque by 1804, the French commander of the former Spanish side had been able to repulse the attacks of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, but in 1808 the people revolted and the following year, with the help of a British squadron, ended French control of the city of Santo Domingo. Spanish rule was reestablished.[5] However, this short period under which the whole of Hispaniola was de jure under French rule was to be the chief justification of the freed Haitians in their quest to reunite the island under their rule.

Independence from Spain

On November 9, 1821 the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo was toppled by a group led by José Núñez de Cáceres, the colony's former administrator,[6][7] and the rebels proclaimed independence from the Spanish crown on December 1, 1821.[8] The new nation was known as Republic of Spanish Haiti (Spanish: República del Haití Español), as Haiti had been the indigenous name of the island.[7] On December 1, 1821 a constitutive act was ordered to petition the union of Spanish Haiti with Gran Colombia.

Prelude to the unification

Épinal print showing Mackau forcing Boyer to agree to pay 150 million francs to compensate French planters.

A group of Dominican politicians and military officers favored uniting the newly independent nation with Haiti, as they sought for political stability under Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer, and were attracted to Haiti's perceived wealth and power at the time. A large faction based in the northern Cibao region were opposed to the union with Gran Colombia and also sided with Haiti. Boyer, on the other hand, had several objectives in the island that he proclaimed to be "one and indivisible": to maintain Haitian independence against potential French or Spanish attack or reconquest and to maintain the freedom of its former slaves.[8][9][10][11]

While appeasing the Dominican frontier officers, Jean-Pierre Boyer was already in negotiations with France to prevent an attack by fourteen French warships stationed near Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. The Dominicans were unaware that Boyer made a concession to the French, and agreed to pay France 150 million gold francs destined to compensated the former French slave owners. Thus, the Haitians would essentially be forced into paying to maintain their freedom from the French.[12]

The Dominican nationalists who were against the unification of the island were at a serious disadvantage if they were to maintain their nation's sovereignty. At the time, they had an untrained infantry force. The population was eight to ten times less than Haiti’s, and the economy was stalled. Haiti, on the other hand, had formidable armed forces, both in skill and sheer size, which had been hardened in nearly ten years of repelling French Napoleonic soldiers, and British soldiers, along with the local colonialists, and military insurgents within the country. The racial massacres perpetrated in the later days of the French–Haitian conflict only added to the determination of Haitians to never lose a battle.


Map of the island of Haiti (1839)

After promising his full support to several Dominican frontier governors and securing their allegiance, Boyer ceremoniously entered the country with around 10,000 soldiers in February 1822, encountering little to no opposition. On February 9, 1822, Boyer formally entered the capital city, Santo Domingo after its ephemeral independence, where he was met with enthusiasm and received by Núñez de Cáceres who offered to him the keys of the Palace; Boyer rejected the offer saying: "I have not come into this city as a conqueror but by the will of its inhabitants".[11] The island was thus united from "Cape Tiburon to Cape Samana in possession of one government."[8]


In order to raise funds for the huge indemnity of 150 million francs that Haiti agreed to pay the former French colonists, and which was subsequently lowered to 60 million francs, the Haitian government imposed heavy taxes on the Dominicans. Since Haiti was unable to adequately provision its army, the occupying forces largely survived by commandeering or confiscating food and supplies at gunpoint. Attempts to redistribute land conflicted with the system of communal land tenure (terrenos comuneros), which had arisen with the ranching economy, and some people resented being forced to grow cash crops under Boyer and Joseph Inginac's Code Rural.[13] In the rural and rugged mountainous areas, the Haitian administration was usually too inefficient to enforce its own laws. It was in the city of Santo Domingo that the effects of the occupation were most acutely felt, and it was there that the movement for independence originated.

Haiti's constitution also forbade white elites from owning land, and the major landowning families were forcibly deprived of their properties. Many emigrated to Cuba, Puerto Rico (these two being Spanish possessions at the time) or Gran Colombia, usually with the encouragement of Haitian officials, who acquired their lands. The Haitians, who associated the Roman Catholic Church with the French slave-masters who had exploited them before independence, confiscated all church property, deported all foreign clergy, and severed the ties of the remaining clergy to the Vatican. Santo Domingo's university, the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, lacking both students and teachers had to close down, and thus the country suffered from a massive case of human capital flight.

Although the occupation instated a constitution modeled after the United States Constitution throughout the island, and lead to the abolition of slavery as an institution in what became known as the Dominican Republic,[14][15] forms of slavery persisted in Haitian society.[16] Several resolutions and written dispositions were expressly aimed at converting average Dominicans into second-class citizens as Boyer had done with the Haitian peasantry under the aforementioned Code Rural:[17] restrictions of movement, prohibition to run for public office, night curfews, inability to travel in groups, banning of civilian organizations, and the indefinite closure of the state university (on the alleged grounds of its being a subversive organization) all led to the creation of movements advocating a forceful separation from Haiti with no compromises.


La Trinitaria meeting.

In 1838 a group of educated nationalists, among them, Juan Pablo Duarte, Matías Ramón Mella, and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez founded a secret society called La Trinitaria to gain independence from Haiti. In 1843 they allied with a Haitian movement that overthrew Boyer in Haiti. After they revealed themselves as revolutionaries working for Dominican independence, the new Haitian president, Charles Rivière-Hérard, exiled or imprisoned the leading Trinitarios. At the same time, Buenaventura Báez, an Azua mahogany exporter and deputy in the Haitian National Assembly, was negotiating with the French Consul-General for the establishment of a French protectorate.

In an uprising timed to preempt Báez, on February 27, 1844, the Trinitarios declared independence from Haiti, backed by Pedro Santana, a wealthy cattle-rancher from El Seibo who commanded a private army of peons who worked on his estates. This marked the beginning of the Dominican War of Independence.

Territory disputes

Neighboring towns and cities like Hincha (now Hinche), Juana Méndez (now Ouanaminthe), San Rafael de La Angostura (now Saint-Raphaël), San Miguel de la Atalaya (now Saint-Michel-de-l’Atalaye), and Las Caobas (now Lascahobas), among others, remained isolated with little communication with the Dominican capital whilst there were a growing Haitian influence as the gourde circulated and in addition to the Spanish language, Haitian Creole was also spoken; eventually becoming Haitian territories, however these cities would often be disputed between the two countries.[18]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ World Leaders Index
  3. ^ Moya Pons, Frank Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish-speaking Caribbean in the 19th Century. Baltimore; Johns Hopkins University Press 1985
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ a b c
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^
  13. ^ Terrenos comuneros arose because of “scarce population, low value of the land, the absence of officials qualified to survey the lands, and the difficulty of dividing up the ranch in such a way that each would receive a share of the grasslands, forests, streams, palm groves, and small agricultural plots that, only when combined, made possible the exploitation of the ranch.” (Hoetink, The Dominican People: Notes for a Historical Sociology transl. Stephen Ault Pg. 83 (Johns Hopkins Press: Baltimore, 1982)
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^

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