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Fidel Tavárez

“The Moral Miasma of the Tropics”: American Imperialism and the Failed Annexation of the Dominican Republic, 1869-1871

[13/07/2011]

Résumés

Historians of American foreign relations have rarely paid attention to conceptual contestability in accounting for political disputes over territorial expansion; often, concepts and ideologies are treated as mere self-interested rhetoric. This essay examines an episode in the history of 19th century American imperial history from the perspective of an intellectual history keenly aware of meaning and intention. It argues that the political conflict surrounding the ratification of the Santo Domingo Annexation Treaty was defined by two contending conceptions regarding the influence that climate had on human morals. While some politicians argued that the tropics degenerated the Anglo-Saxon race, others dismissed this idea entirely. Moreover, the manifest concern with how territorial expansion affected the inner workings of the republic, suggests that this episode must be understood as part of the long republican tradition of the West. Lastly, although this paper primarily focuses on conceptual contestability, by combining some of the methodological insights of Reinhart Koselleck, Quentin Skinner and J.G.A Pocock, it also proposes a way of reconciling the history of economic structures with the contextual history of political thought.

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Notes de l’auteur

I want to give special thanks to Professor Gregory P. Downs, who provided me with a great deal of feedback, challenge, insight and encouragement throughout the process of writing this article. His consistent support throughout my studies at the City College of New York made my immersion in 19th century American history all the more enjoyable. I also want to thank Professor Susan Besse, Michael Hattem and Will Hickox who commented on drafts of this paper.

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 Machiavelli painted this picture in his Discourses on Livy. For an analysis of Machiavelli’s dilemm (...)

1Regarding the expansion of a republic, Machiavelli had construed a dilemma. While the expansion of a republic leads to greatness, eventually the pursuit of greatness erodes the liberty of citizens, who would then become consumed with ambition; liberty would disappear because the commitment to a robust civic culture that initially brought the republic to greatness would dwindle into the pursuit of luxury and self-enrichment1. Over the course of the early modern period many sought to solve this dilemma either by accepting its tenets and bringing new elements to the picture, or by seeking to contest the tension between greatness and liberty altogether. And yet despite these efforts to solve Machiavelli’s problem the picture continued to frame how theorists and politicians talked about territorial expansion. The question of expansion remained a problem that affected the inner workings of the republic itself. In one regard then, the initial intellectual work required to answer the question of territorial expansion had already been done for American politicians of the 19th century. In another, however, it was unfinished, for Americans had to adapt this framework to specific contexts.

  • 2 The United States had previously attempted to relocate blacks to Liberia and Haiti to solve the rac (...)
  • 3 I adopt the phrase “intellectual origins” from David Armitage, who uses the term not to connote beg (...)

2In this essay I will explore how American politicians and legislators dealt with Machiavelli’s dilemma when the Santo Domingo Annexation Treaty came up for debate in Congress between 1869 and 1871. The said treaty would have incorporated the Dominican Republic to the Union and its inhabitants would have become citizens of the United States. Among the main supporters of this treaty was President Ulysses Grant, who argued that the acquisition of Santo Domingo not only would have provided the United States with tremendous economic and strategic benefits, but would have also ameliorated the racial problem in the United States; Grant believed that Santo Domingo could function as a safe-haven for blacks who felt discriminated in the American mainland2. Not everybody shared Grant’s conviction about the benefits of incorporating a tropical territory to the Union. Senators Carl Schurz and Charles Sumner despised the idea of incorporating the tropics and in the end thwarted Grant’s plans. Despite the failure of the annexation plan, this episode of American history constitutes a fertile ground for investigating what kinds of dilemmas the United States faced when debating about expanding its territory. What follows is a discussion of the “intellectual origins” of American territorial expansion, with a particular focus on the case of Santo Domingo3.

  • 4 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 33 (1871).
  • 5 Ibid.
  • 6 Ibid.
  • 7 An exception to this is the work of Robert J. Mayhew, who has studied the connection between geogra (...)
  • 8 An interesting example of how moralistic idioms of the climate infiltrated politics in early Americ (...)

3During the Congressional debates of 11 January 1871 Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri gave one of the most powerful indictments against the ratification of the Santo Domingo Annexation Treaty. Schurz opposed the treaty primarily because he deemed the tropical climate of Santo Domingo incommensurate with American vigor and democratic institutions. In reference to the North-American mainland, Schurz asserted, “[h]ere the genius of our race is fed by the very air we breathe”4. When Senator Schurz alluded to the northern air, he meant it quite literally. In his view, the temperate climate of the North provided Anglo-Saxons with vigor. “Here on our northern ground, we stand in our strength,” he continued5. In opposition to annexing the Dominican Republic, Schurz subsequently enjoined the Senate to “beware of every addition in that quarter where the very sun hatches out the serpent’s eggs of danger to our republican institutions”6. According to Schurz, the tropics would powerfully and negatively affect the morals and democratic institutions of the United States. While historians of science have studied how these kinds of ideas about the climate functioned in scientific circles, it remains to be adequately explored how they infiltrated political discourse in the 19th century7. It will be one of my chief concerns in this essay to trace how some of these ideas infiltrated political discourse during the debates for the ratification of the Santo Domingo Annexation Treaty8.

  • 9 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 33 (1871).
  • 10 I find it useful to think about the “tropics” not just as a physical objective entity, but also as (...)

4This concern with the effects of climate was more than a simple rhetorical move, especially since Schurz opposed the annexation of Santo Domingo despite acknowledging that in the tropics nature was “bountiful.” Schurz and his fellow Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts carried on the most arduous opposition to the annexation treaty primarily on these grounds. Americans would not stop at Santo Domingo, but would continue annexing all the tropics and incorporating tropical peoples who had been driven to shiftlessness by the rays of the sun. Even in reference to the American south, Schurz asserted that “our country extends at present to a region which is already in some degree infected by the moral miasma of the tropics”9. Senator Schurz posited that in the long run the acquisition of territory in the tropics would cause a descent to tyranny and the collapse of the United States10.

  • 11 U.S. Senate Journal 41st Cong., 3d sess., 5 December 1870.
  • 12 The underlying assumption behind Grant’s convictions was the idea that humans could conquer nature (...)

5For President Grant the picture looked different and more salutary indeed. Santo Domingo possessed “the richest soil, best and most capacious harbors, most salubrious climate, and the most valuable products,” implicitly signaling its appropriateness and availability for Americans to exploit11. Because Grant and his supporters in Congress did not posit that climate determined the nature of government institutions and the nature of people’s willingness to work, the acquisition of the Dominican Republic could only offer tremendous revenue opportunities to the United States12. Not only would annexation expand American markets, but it would also furnish the most fertile land for the cultivation of commodities.

  • 13 U.S. Senate Journal 41st Cong., 3d sess., 5 December 1870.
  • 14 Ibid.

6Nonetheless, Grant shared with Schurz a belief in American superiority in the Western Hemisphere. Grant argued that “the acquisition of San Domingo is in adherence to the Monroe Doctrine… it is asserting our just claim to a controlling influence over the great commercial traffic soon to flow from the east to west by the way of Isthmus of Darien”13. He later concluded his annual message to Congress on 5 December, 1870 stating that the acquisition of Santo Domingo was “a rapid stride toward that greatness which the intelligence, industry, and enterprise of the citizens of the United States entitle this country to assume among nations”14. Grant legitimated his expansion plans by appealing to American exceptionalism. If both camps believed in the superiority of the citizens of the United States and the Anglo-Saxon race, how and why is it that they came to such diverging conclusions? To answer this question requires a departure from approaches that use normative categories to explain American foreign policy. An inquiry into the forms of legitimation used by the historical characters themselves promises a more historically accurate picture. Sumner and Schurz, recognized that nature was “bountiful” in Santo Domingo, but for them this translated into shiftlessness. For Grant, the bountiful nature of Santo Domingo could potentially increase American productivity and extend its markets. By closely scrutinizing the language of the contending parties, one can see how different commitments about the effects of climate allowed both parties to come to different conclusions regarding the benefits of Santo Domingo.

  • 15 Nicholas Guyatt, “America’s Conservatory: Race, Reconstruction, and the Santo Domingo Debate,” The (...)
  • 16 See Armitage, “Empire and Liberty: A Republican Dilemma,” in Republicanism...; Paul A. Rahe, Montes (...)
  • 17 In fact, Schurz was an advocate of the incorporation of Alaska. Unlike Santo Domingo, Alaska was in (...)

7On another level, there is no question that racial politics played a major role in the unfolding of this debate. But, if indeed this episode was an extension of a homegrown Reconstruction debate regarding the place of blacks in the United States as Nicholas Guyatt has argued15, it also brought to the fore an old debate regarding the expansion of a republic. Should the Republic choose greatness over liberty, or is liberty more important than anything else? Machiavelli, Montesquieu, James Harrington and John Milton, to name a few, had all provided solutions to this problem16. On one hand, Machiavelli believed greatness was the lesser evil, for a non-expansive republic that privileged the liberty of its citizens was bound to perish by the aggression of conquering-states. In contrast, an expansive republic like Rome would achieve historical greatness despite its eventual collapse. On the other hand, Harrington argued that Machiavelli had set-up a false dilemma. A republic did not have to choose between greatness and liberty, but could achieve both; the key was moderation and virtue. Schurz was not opposed to expansion entirely, but the tropics would erode the austere republican citizen of the temperate climate17. Grant agreed with Machiavelli in that greatness represented a more worthy pursuit. This republican legacy suggests that ideological conventions played a more decisive role in American territorial expansion than historians have acknowledged.

A Methodological Problem: Accounting for Conceptual Contestability

  • 18 Walter Nugent, Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
  • 19 Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco Scarano, Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern Americ (...)

8Historians of American Foreign Relations and imperialism have failed to study territorial expansion from the perspective of an intellectual history keenly aware of meaning and intention. According to this historiography, whatever justifications Americans employed to justify expansion were mere rhetoric that veiled their interest in exploiting foreign territories and peoples. This conviction has driven historians to search for the logic behind American expansion and imperialism as a whole. Some have argued the United States has since its inception entertained the idea of becoming an imperial power, but wasn’t always as effective in doing so. Only after accumulating experience did American “imperial habits” become effective18. Others have argued instead that American exceptionalism provided the impetus for expansion. Under the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny and White’s Man’s Burden, Americans sought to expand and control other territories to concretize their civilizing mission and gain economic advantages19. But, this historiography takes economic benefits as a given, as something that is self-evident trans-historically. In other words, they take for granted that an abundance of natural resources automatically translates into recognition of potential economic and political benefits. This was not the case in the case of Santo Domingo. Whether the tropics and its natural resources could benefit the American republic was one of the major ideological fault lines between the contending parties of the Santo Domingo Treaty.

  • 20 Eric T. Love, Race Over Empire: Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900, Chapel Hill, The University (...)
  • 21 He asserts that the annexation of Hawaii and the 1898 imperial moment only occurred because skillfu (...)
  • 22 Love, Op. Cit., p. xii.
  • 23 Ibid.
  • 24 For Instance, what united all “racists” was their belief in white/European superiority. But, If Eur (...)
  • 25 It is indeed curious that he adopts racism as an analytical category considering that he critiques (...)

9Other historians have critiqued this historiography by discrediting the notion that American exceptionalism provided the impetus for territorial expansion. Eric T. Love has forcefully has put forward this position by reversing the insights of the previous historiography20. Love argues that imperialist politicians did not use “racial rhetoric” and American exceptionalism to justify their expansion schemes21. “Instead, they reacted with silences, disingenuous evasions, denials that race had anything to do with their expansionist projects.” “No pragmatic politician or party would fix nonwhites at the center of its imperial policies.”22 The more serious problem with Love’s argument is not that he reverses the previous historiography to the other extreme, but more fundamentally his willingness to introduce categories which could not have been available to the characters he studies. Racism is such a category, which he defines “as exclusionary relations of power based on race”23. At no point does he stop to interrogate what race meant to these characters, and whether the definitions of the contending parties had different semantic alignments24. In introducing analytical categories exogenous to the context he studies, Love uses his own univocal definition of racism to explain American imperial policy in the 19th century as a whole25.

10This resort to analytical categories, hence, leaves Love at a street with no end when explaining President Grant’s desire for annexing Santo Domingo. For Love, Grant’s behavior was an “aberration” consequence of American investor’s entrepreneurial minds, who managed to lure the President. But if President Grant was seduced by the economic benefits of Santo Domingo it was because the Dominican racial composition and climate was not a hindrance. In seeing Grant’s desire for annexation as an aberration, Love conveniently justifies his broader argument that racism prevented the United Sates from expanding. Although Love’s argument somewhat explains the ideals of Senator Schurz, who did not believe Dominicans could be incorporated to the union, the weakness of his argument is that whatever does not fit the equation is subsequently categorized as an aberration.

  • 26 Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An interpretation of America Expansion, 1860-1898, Ithaca, NY, Corn (...)
  • 27 LaFeber, The New Empire, p. 7.
  • 28 Ibid, p. 8.

11An older historiography concerned more with economic developments and American industrialization in explaining the United State’s turn to imperialism is the work of Walter LaFeber. According to LaFeber, during this period “instead of searching for farming, mineral, or grazing lands, Americans sought foreign markets for agricultural staples or industrial goods”26. In other words, the increasing productivity during the American industrial revolution caused the United States to seek for markets outside its own borders. “These two facts—that by 1860 the industrial economy was already moving ahead rapidly and that the Civil War marked the transference of power from planters to industrialists and financiers—do much to explain the dynamics of the new empire”27. Industrial development had increased productivity so much that the local American markets could not maintain pace28. These structural transformations caused by a rapid industrialization certainly explain why by the end of the 19th century, at the time of Spanish-American war, most American politicians no longer saw the tropics as potentially threatening to American republican institutions, but ultimately leaves unanswered why the treaty for the annexation of the Dominican Republic was defeated in congress in 1870.

  • 29 Ibid, Preface, p. vii.

12If by taking this broad approach we learn much about slow transformations in the economy and society, we loose a sense of historical contingency. In other words, often broad approaches like these assume that first the United States was progressing towards some inevitable imperial end, and second that this transformation was a natural and uncontested consequence of industrialization. This is precisely the kind of assumptions LaFeber makes when he writes that “the overseas empire that Americans controlled in 1900 was not a break in their history, but a natural culmination”29. This paper will show that this transformation was not at all a “natural culmination.” Territorial expansion was a highly contested issue, and it was certainly not obvious or natural to contemporaries of the latter half of the 19th century that the United States would later become an imperial power.

  • 30 Skinner, for instance, reproached the practice of reducing intellectual history to timeless problem (...)
  • 31 For a collection of Skinner’s methodological oeuvre see Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics: Regar (...)

13This paper aims to redress the limitations of the existent historiography through a synchronic study of a “moment” in the United States’imperial history. A moment, as understood here, promises to show the contested nature of territorial expansion. For all its difference, the existent historiography gives a level of coherence to “American policy,” which is not sustainable after looking at the political debates that pervaded any given policy. These characterizations obtain their heuristic capacity at the expense of obscuring a more complicated and messy political process, which cannot always be reduced to coherence or structural transformations. The Cambridge school’s contextual approach poses an important methodological insight for accounting for contingency and conceptual contestability. One main contribution of Quentin Skinner and J.G.A Pocock has been to alert historians to approach the past as a foreign country. The task of reproducing foreign contexts then is one of meticulously studying what kinds of problems political thinkers sought to solve when making statements outlining or demanding political action30. To the extent possible, Skinner believes that intellectual historians must endeavor to explain how particular enunciations were “rational” (though I would prefer to use the word legitimate) to the historical characters who pronounced them, rather than seeking to expose their falsity or irrationality31.

  • 32 Some scholars have critiqued Pocock’s structural approach by pin pointing that his neat political l (...)
  • 33 For a collection of Pocock’s methodological essays see J.G.A. Pocock, Political Thought and History (...)

14While Skinner provided a framework for historically reconstructing problems, one of Pocock’s contributions was to provide a method for studying political conflict through the study of the solutions historical figures provided for these problems. In his vast historical production, Pocock consistently talks about political languages, paradigms and discourses. What Pocock is hinting at here is particular semantic fields or ways of talking and thinking about politics that can coexist in a given context and that function as frameworks for conceptualizing solutions to political problems32. If indeed a shared set of problems are the premise for a coherent political debate, Pocock’s insights demonstrate that solutions can be proposed from different semantic fields and vantage points; here rests an important way of accounting for conceptual contestability33.

  • 34 Although Pocock and Skinner do not think their methodological commitments are reconcilable with Kos (...)
  • 35 See Reinhart Koselleck, trans. Keith Tribe, “Begriffsgeschichte and Social History,” in Futures Pas (...)
  • 36 Taking into account Koselleck’s insights, there is no need to construe an unnecessary dichotomy bet (...)

15Nonetheless, it is no surprise that carefully constructed structural accounts can yield powerful insights about dominant positions and long term transformations. Thus, Reinhart Koselleck’s insights can complement the Cambridge School’s contextual approach by bringing conceptual transformation into the picture34. Koselleck has sought for non-reductive ways of combining the insights of social and intellectual history35. Central to his project is a radical historicization of the categories by which people understand the world around them. Thus, his proposals are fundamentally against a “scientific” social history that understands historical change by pre-established categories. For Koselleck, social history must in some respect also be conceptual history. Koselleck does not dismiss social, political and economic structure in his methodology, but for him, concepts not only influence the nature of the particular structure of a context but they function as a vehicle for understanding them36. In what follows we shall see first, a synchronic study the case of Santo Domingo and second, a conclusion with a diachronic optic that gives some tentative suggestions about the relationship between structural and conceptual change in the history of American imperialism.

Annexation Precedents

  • 37 Charles S. Campbell, The Transformation of American Foreign Relations, 1865-1900, New York, Harper (...)
  • 38 Luis Martinez-Fernandez, Torn Between Empires: Economy, Society, and Patterns of Political Thought (...)
  • 39 William Javier Nelson, Almost a Territory, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1990, p. 49.
  • 40 In 1861 President Pedro Santana annexed the Dominican Republic to Spain because according to him th (...)
  • 41 For a detailed study of this episode and the issue of annexing the Dominican Republic in general se (...)

16The American desire to acquire Santo Domingo dates back to 1854, when the American agent William L. Cazneau drafted a treaty for the cessation of the Bay of Samaná, which was to serve as an American Naval station. The treaty nearly succeeded, but was met with some resistance from anti-expansionists37. Owning land in Santo Domingo, Cazneau did not entirely abandon his project, but by 1860 it became apparent to him that the Dominican president Pedro Santana was shifting his attention towards Spain38. He was not mistaken as Santana annexed the Dominican Republic to Spain in 1861. But Cazneau and his business associate Joseph W. Fabens continued to devise new ways of making their business schemes work in the Dominican Republic. In 1862 these entrepreneurs formed the American West India Company, with the purpose of luring American Settlers to relocate to Santo Domingo39. Nonetheless, the Civil War significantly shifted the United States attention to internal affairs, and it was not until 1866, after the Civil War and the Dominican Restoration war had ended, that Secretary of State William H. Seward rekindled his interest in Santo Domingo and visited the island40. Seward began the negotiations with President José María Cabral but could not manage to consolidate support for annexation. Negotiations resumed once again in 1868, when Buenaventura Baez, now the president in the Dominican Republic, expressed his interest not only in annexing the bay of Samaná but the whole country41.

  • 42 Frank Moya Pons, The Dominican Republic: A National History, New Jersey, Markus Weiner Publishers, (...)

17Since its independence from Haiti in 1844, the Dominican Republic suffered from ubiquitous political and economic instability. With presidents lasting very little, the country was constantly subjected to bitter political battles. But, the unstable situation of the Dominican Republic was exacerbated when in 1861 president Pedro Santana annexed the republic to Spain. Fearful of the consequences of a Spanish recolonization, peasants, intellectuals and sections of the elite alike took arms and fiercely fought against the Spanish empire in a war known as the Restoration. Spain had hoped to consolidate the hegemony they once had over the Spanish speaking Caribbean, but the inhabitants of Santo Domingo stood their ground and defeated the Spanish armies. Nonetheless, despite the triumph of the Dominican Republic in obtaining its independence in 1865, the fragile political condition continued unabated. In fact, given that the war against Spain was conducted using guerilla tactics, in 1865 the territory was dominated by several dozen military leaders, all of whom claimed their “prerogative” for leading the country42. Fragmentation was especially acute between the political leaders of the north, who exported tobacco and the leaders of the south, who had large cattle ranches. From 1865 to 1869, when the annexation treaty was redacted, the presidency of the Dominican Republic oscillated between General José María Cabral and Buenaventura Báez.

  • 43 Ibid, p. 224.
  • 44 Ibid, p. 225.
  • 45 Ibid, p. 227.

18In the economy the prospects seemed even worse given the virtual collapse of agricultural production during the years of Spanish rule. In the same token, the Dominican state also lacked infrastructure for generating income, which the government needed primarily for military equipment to combat the opposition. Thus, in November 1866 General Cabral secretly began negotiating a treaty for selling the bay of Samaná to the United States43. But Cabral could not maintain power and Báez assumed the presidency on 2 May 186844. Not withstanding, Báez also realized that he needed capital if he was to stay in power. A few days after assuming the presidency he contacted the American Secretary of State William Seward and confessed that he was willing to sell the bay of Samaná for a million dollars in gold and one hundred thousand dollars in arms and munitions45. But, despite Seward’s and President Andrew Johnson’s support for the purchase of Samaná, the process was too slow for Báez, who needed the money quickly to combat his opponents. In desperate need of money, President Báez negotiated a high interest rate loan of approximately two million dollars with an English adventurer named Edward Hartmont. Unfortunately for Báez, Hartmont was only able to procure a small portion of the accorded amount.

Debating the Annexation of Santo Domingo

  • 46 Previously on 17 May 1869, President Grant had also sent war vessel to obtain political, commercial (...)
  • 47 Love , Op. Cit. p. 38.
  • 48 Moya Pons, Op. Cit., p. 229 and Love, Op. Cit., p. 37.

19Although the money obtained from Harmont’s loan was enough for Báez to temporarily combat the opposition, he soon realized that he needed a more substantial amount of money. In 1869 he contacted President Ulysses Grant informing him that he was willing to annex the entire island to the United States. Consequently, President Grant sent his fellow military veteran of the Civil War General Orville Babcock in order to commence the negotiations46. Concerned with the racial composition of the Dominican Republic, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish ordered Babcock to collect surveys and statistics of the amount of whites, and mulattoes that lived in Santo Domingo47. After a series of meetings with the Dominican president, Babcock returned to Washington on September 1869 with a preliminary sketch of an annexation treaty48.

20The Treaty was signed on November 1869, after Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, transformed Babcock’s preliminary sketch into a formal treaty. The said treaty stipulated that the Dominican Republic would give up its sovereignty in exchange for $1.5 million and the payment of the nation’s foreign debt. Moreover, the Treaty also affirmed that if congress were to reject the treaty, the United States could, not withstanding, proceed to purchase the bay of Samaná alone. Had it been approved, the treaty would have also incorporated Dominicans as American citizens, and Santo Domingo may have been admitted into the union.

  • 49 Ulysses S. Grant, John Y. Simon ed., The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant , Vol. 20, Carbondale and Edwar (...)
  • 50 At first President Grant was hesitant about advocating for an extension of the treaty because Senat (...)

21On 10 January 1870, the treaty was submitted for evaluation to the Foreign Relations Committee where it sat ignored until 15 March 1870. Senator Charles Sumner, who at the time led the committee, appears to have purposely delayed the evaluation. But, on 15 March Sumner condemned the treaty and advised the Senate against ratification. On 14 March 1870, a day before Senator Sumner condemned the treaty, President Grant unsuccessfully tried to persuade the senate with a notice reminding senators of the benefits that awaited the United States would it approve the treaty49. The debates about the annexation were resumed in the Senate on 24 March 1870, but they reached no agreement and the treaty expired on 29 March. The Grant administration refused to give-up, and secretary of state Hamilton Fish managed to sign and extension of the treaty50. The senate vote was finally cast on 30 June; it ended in a tie and the treaty felt short of the two thirds needed for ratification.

  • 51 Nelson, Op. Cit., p. 96.
  • 52 Very little is recoverable from these debates in late June 1870 because for reasons not entirely cl (...)

22Although this treaty had become one of the preeminent issues of the Grant administration, its ratification was barely discussed in congress. This lack of concern for the treaty was perhaps due to Senator Sumner’s efforts to thwart Grant’s endeavors. Though Grant submitted the treaty for ratification on January 1870, as the chief of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Sumner did not give any recommendation to congress until 16 March 187051. The Committee on Foreign Relations issued a recommendation against the ratification of the treaty just thirteen days before the treaty expired on 29 March. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish managed to get an extension on the treaty, but even then it was only discussed in late June shortly before it was defeated on 30 June52.

  • 53 Grant, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, vol. 20, p. 188.
  • 54 Ibid, p. 311-2.

23President Grant had still not given up his hopes. Upon witnessing the rejection of the annexation treaty, Grant decided to pursue the purchase of the bay of Samaná instead. On 7 July, Grant sent a letter to the Dominican President Baez expressing regrets for the rejection of the treaty and asking for a renewal treaty for the “occupancy of the Bay of Samana”53. Months after the treaty was defeated, President Grant continued to insist on the Annexation of Santo Domingo. On 17 October President Grant wrote to President Baez once again expressing that his “interest in extending the authority of the United States over the Territory, and people of San Domingo is unabated”54. Perhaps, Grant was waiting for the Congressional elections of November 1870 to conclude.

  • 55 Grant, Op.Cit, vol. 21, p. 39.
  • 56 See footnotes quoting Hamilton Fish’s diary in, Grant, Op. Cit., p. 44-5.

24On 5 December 1870 during his annual address President Grant still had hopes of acquiring Santo Domingo, or at the very least the bay of Samaná. In a draft of his annual address, Grant recommended for a commission to be sent to the Dominican Republic to inquire about the status Santo Domingo in regards to annexation and the potential benefits that the territory could provide to the United State. In the Draft, Grant wrote, “so convinced am I of the advantages to flow from the acquisition of San Domingo, and the great disadvantages, I might almost say calamity, to flow from non acquisition, that I believe the subject has only to be investigated to be approved”55. Ultimately, this recommendation did not make it to the official annual message, perhaps because Secretary of State Hamilton Fish told the President that he had the constitutional right to appoint such commission and that he only had to ask congress for the expenses of such commission.56

  • 57 Ibid, p. 51.
  • 58 Ibid.
  • 59 Ibid, p. 52.

25In his official annual message of December 5, President Grant vehemently rearticulated the reasons for which the annexation of Santo Domingo would be favorable to the United States. For Grant, not only had the Dominican people willingly agreed to annex their territory, but Santo Domingo possessed “one the richest territories under the sun, capable of supporting a population of ten millions of people, in luxury”57. Not only did Santo Domingo posses the “most salubrious climate,” but it also commanded “the entrance to the Caribbean sea and the isthmus transit of commerce”58. For President Grant, there was nothing to loose and much to gain from the acquisition of Santo Domingo; it would certainly expand American markets and increase productivity. Annexation would not only give the people Santo Domingo “remunerative wages,” but also “Porto Rico and Cuba will have to abolish slavery, as a measure of self-preservation, to retain their laborers”59.

  • 60 Charles Sumner, George Frisbie Hoar ed., Charles Sumner: His Complete Works, New York, Negro Univer (...)
  • 61 See Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3rd sess., p. 226-231, as cited in Pinkett, Op. Cit. p. 39-40

26Also in December of 1870 Senator Sumner gave one of the most powerful condemnations of the President’s pursuits, critiquing Grants use of the American Navy for the protection of Buenaventura Báez’s regime60. More importantly for this essay, Sumner argued that leaving the Dominican people to govern themselves was in accordance with natural law. Sumner asserted that Santo Domingo “is theirs [of the people of Santo Domingo] by right of possession, by their sweat and blood mingling with the soil, by tropical position, by its burning sun, and by the unalterable laws of climate.” The independence of Santo Domingo “is as sacred to them [Dominicans] as is ours to us, and it is placed under the safeguard of natural laws which we cannot violate with impunity”61. Sumner’s conception of natural law carried climactic deterministic undertones that were later exalted by Senator Schurz.

Debating in Congress

  • 62 Letter to Hamilton Fish, Grant, Op. Cit., 85.
  • 63 Letter to Buenaventura Baez in, Grant, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, vol. 21, 132-3. Ironically, (...)

27Early in 1871 secretary of state Hamilton Fish drafted a resolution for a Santo Domingo commission that was to investigate the state of the Caribbean country. President Grant intended to present the resolution to both, the House of Representatives and the Senate concurrently62. The resolution was approved on 10 January 1871 by the House of Representatives, and on 15 January President informed President Báez that he had appointed three men to visit the Dominican Republic in accordance with resolution approved by both houses of Congress.63 Congressional debates took place on January 10and 11, and then again on March 27, 28th, and 29th. Some of the most acrimonious debates occurred on January 1871, where Senator Carl Schurz became one of the most ardent critics of the annexation of Santo Domingo. Throughout the course of these debates Schurz was to expound clearly his ideas about the negative influence about tropical climate of Santo Domingo.

  • 64 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 25 (1871).
  • 65 Ibid.
  • 66 Ibid.
  • 67 Ibid.

28During the debates of January 11, Senator Schurz passionately opposed the resolution for sending commissioners to Santo Domingo to investigate the state of that republic. Senator Schurz articulated one the most arduous and sharp criticisms against the Annexation Treaty. Some of the senators on Grant’s side at several points attempted to intervene and defend the annexation, but Schurz virtually monopolized the floor. Schurz began his critique by posing the question: “who needs that information?”64 Schurz continued by asserting that the information was certainly not for the senators who supported the treaty as they had made their minds up already, and even less for the president “for he has told us in his message that it was that it was an act of folly to reject the annexation of San Domingo, and that it would be a great calamity to this country if that act should be repeated”65. Schurz continued by asking “is it unreasonable, when making up a bill of the subjects which are to be inquired into, that the desires of those who stand in need of that information should be consulted?”66 According to Schurz, the resolution was unreasonable because those who most needed the information had not been consulted. For instance, Schurz wanted to know whether it was true that the American Navy had upheld the government of President Baez. For Schurz the only way to prove this was by withdrawing the American Navy from Santo Domingo. If the Dominican people rebelled once the American naval power had been removed, then this would prove that they did not want to be annexed to the United States all along67. With these denunciations Schurz established that he was firmly opposed to sending commissioners to Santo Domingo.

  • 68 Ibid, p. 26.
  • 69 Ibid.

29Nonetheless, the more interesting remarks deal with his concern with the nefarious climate of the tropics. For Schurz, the commissioners must not solely be sent for a few weeks “for they are to be sent off at once, and to return before the hot season commences, so that they may have no unpleasant experiences of the climate of that island”68. Schurz continued by asserting that “if that commission were to inquire conscientiously into all the subjects enumerated in the joint resolution it would require at least from three to five years to arrive at a result of real value”69. In other words, Schurz advocated for a longer investigation particularly because he wanted to see the effects of the tropical weather. Schurz was convinced that the tropical climate had a negative effect on people.

  • 70 It is important to not also that the strong positivist convictions of many historians of American f (...)
  • 71 For an enlightening account of the role of moralistic idioms of climate in Western thought see of D (...)
  • 72 Livingstone, “The Moral Discourse of Climate: Historical Considerations on Race, Place, and Virtue, (...)
  • 73 “The moral economy of climate” did not always manifest itself in the same way. For instance, while (...)

30From our present perspective climactic determinism might seem odd; it certainly is difficult to think that a politician in 19th-century United States would really believe in such a theory. Perhaps this explains why historians of American foreign relations have seldom paid attention to the role of “scientific” beliefs in politics70. But upon examining the works of some of the major political theorists of Western thought like Aristotle, Emmanuel Kant, David Hume, Montesquieu, Hegel, John Locke and many more, it becomes clear that for much of Western history there has been a propensity for using “moralistic idioms” about the climate, to use David N. Livingstone’s words71. As Dr. Livingstone has proven in his studies of geographical thought, this “moral economy of climate” persisted in scientific circles well into the 20th century72. What was typical about this climactic moral discourse was that it saw no problem with explaining differences in human qualities and characteristics by resorting to geographical and climactic zones73. As a result, geography and climate on the one hand, and phenotype and mental capacities/propensities on the other, were thought to be directly proportional. These climactic beliefs were not just silly concoctions, but essential parts of the legitimating arsenal of American politicians and legislators.

  • 74 Ibid, p. 27.
  • 75 Ibid.

31Schurz dared other Senators to show him “a single instance of the successful establishment and peaceable maintenance for a respectable period of republican institutions, based upon popular self-government, under a tropical sun”74. Schurz subsequently summarized his argument when he affirmed that “you cannot show me a single tropical country on the face of the globe where labor, if left free, did not run into shiftlessness, and where attempts were not made to establish or revive something akin to slavery”75. Here Schurz identified his two major problems with tropical climate: first, it leads to shiftlessness and vagrancy, and second, this shiftlessness causes governments to implement slavery.

  • 76 Ibid, p. 26.
  • 77 Ibid.

32Deeply concerned about the racial make-up of the tropics, Senator Schurz asserted that “the question before us is one of the most momentous problems that has ever occupied the attention of the congress.” The problem was not strictly about the annexation of Santo Domingo, but about “whether we should incorporate American tropics in our political system”76. Schurz was deeply worried about incorporating Santo Domingo, because the result of such annexation would be a domino effect and the Anglo-Saxon race “will not stop until we have everything down to isthmus of Darien77.

  • 78 Ibid, p. 27.
  • 79 Ibid.
  • 80 “Schurz was and had been for long time firmly opposed to slavery. In 1860 he asserted “Slaveholders (...)
  • 81 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 27 (1871).
  • 82 Ibid.

33To support his argument about the negative influence of tropical climate on people, Schurz utilized the example of Haiti. “There was Toussaint L’Ouverture, the great emancipator of the island of San Domingo” he asserted78. According to Schurz, this great emancipator abolished slavery, yet even then could not avoid implementing forced labor laws. “He [Toussaint] issued ordinances and laws and instructions which commanded every possessor of a landed estate to see to it that the laborers who had been working on that estate were kept to work, if need be, by force…”79. Schurz did not condone this practice, but he believed that in tropical climates such measures of forced labor were inevitable80. “Even the Anglo-Saxon race has not been able to escape the government of those laws, in spite of its native vigor,” he continued81. According to Schurz, the problem with the tropics is that “wherever nature is so bountiful as to render constant labor superfluous, there man has, as far as out observations go, always degenerated… the tropical sun inflames the imagination to inordinate activity and develops the government of the passions”82. For Schurz, the tropics did not provide people with enough struggle to make them efficient and hard-working.

  • 83 Ibid.
  • 84 Ibid.
  • 85 Ibid.
  • 86 Ibid.

34Schurz believed that struggle was a prerequisite for a hard-working character and in turn democratic and free government institutions. “In the temperate zone man finds himself confronted by a nature not bountiful enough to yield him sustenance without struggle, but fully bountiful enough to amply reward any strong and well directed effort”83. With the constant obstacles for survival in the north, Schurz believed that men of temperate climates developed strong bodies and above all “inventive faculties”84. As opposed to tropical climates, in temperate climates “the exigencies of life render it necessary that the different elements and forms of society should cooperate together for common interests”85. According to this view, in temperate climates cooperation and strong social institutions are a requirement for survival. But yet more importantly, in temperate climates “the opinion of the few must, in the management of common affairs and for the good of society, yield to the opinion of the many, and constitutional government… is the natural result”86. Here Schurz’s climatic determinism becomes apparent; in the temperate zones, strong societal institutions and hence constitutional government are an inevitable prerequisite for survival, whereas in tropical zones people can survive without any cooperation or constitutional government because nature is bountiful.

  • 87 Ibid.
  • 88 Ibid.

35The Tropics hence, posed a threat to the innovative and hard-working nature of Anglo-Saxons since “even the Anglo-Saxon race has not been able to escape the government of those laws, in spite of its native vigor”87. Whereas, Grant saw massive opportunities for economic development in Santo Domingo, Schurz posited that in the long run the effects of the annexation would be the reverse; it would be the economic degeneration of the United States since “wherever nature is so bountiful as to render constant labor superfluous, there man has as far as our observations go, always degenerated”88. Schurz then gives a list of different countries of the tropics and their failed attempts of progress.

  • 89 Ibid.
  • 90 Ibid.
  • 91 Ibid, p. 29.

36In a counterintuitive passage Schurz affirms that even the southern portion of the United States has had to deal with the perilous tropical climate. “In the North the dignity of labor asserted itself, with its instincts and impulses of enterprise, of enlightenment, of education, of social and political equality, of a progressive civilization, of free government, the south developed the rule by force”89. Schurz proceeded to proclaim that “the civil war was not a mere historical accident, but a conflict between two different currents of civilization developed under different natural influences”90. Institutions of slavery “are rather symptoms than causes”91. With these words Schurz confirmed his propensity for resorting to moralistic idioms when talking about the climate. Climate and “currents of civilization,” are thus rendered directly proportional.

  • 92 Ibid.
  • 93 Ibid, p. 30.
  • 94 Ibid, p. 31.

37There is no doubt that he thought the different “races” were marked by distinct essential qualities. As opposed to Grant who posited that the Dominican people need the help and guidance of the United States, Schurz thought that Dominicans were rather hopeless. “You cannot exterminate them all,” he remarked. “You must try to incorporate them with out political system”92. The people of the tropics had nothing in common with Anglo-Saxons; they did not even posses “a code of morals.” Schurz reached the climax of his condemnation when he referred to the racial degeneration that the acquisition of the tropics would have entailed. “The Anglo-Saxon will lose more than the Africo-Indo-Latin mixture will gain. This will be assimilation indeed, but it will be assimilation downward”93. Schurz continued monopolizing the debate with his long and vivacious remarks. Senators Oliver P. Morton (Indiana) and Willard Warner (Alabama) tried to counteract Schurz’s climatic deterministic arguments by pointing out that Great Britain managed to obtain significant profit from India despite this territory’s tropical climate. But, Schurz responded with his previous assertion; the tropics cause degeneracy. In India, Schurz stated with sarcasm, Great Britain “has not failed in starting and carrying on a rapacious tyranny”94.

38In a worldview where democracy, morality, hard-working character, and inventive faculty are the inevitable consequence of the temperate zones, then nothing can be more perfidious than a climate which produces opposite effects, such as the tropics. In essence, Schurz believed that American political and economic greatness depended on Anglo-Saxons living in their “natural” habitat, the northern temperate territories. Expanding to the tropics would ultimately degenerate Anglo-Saxon vigor and incessant drive towards democratic institutions. The result would be the implementation of tyranny in the tropical islands.

  • 95 Van Gelderen and Skinner, eds. Republicanism: A shared European Heritage, 2 Vols., Cambridge, Cambr (...)

39Behind Schurz’s fierce attacks of the tropical climate underlay a set of traditional republican anxieties. The republican theory of government, dating back to antiquity and reignited during the renaissance and the early modern period, defended the liberty of citizens who participate in the process of making laws to avoid the arbitrary particular will of tyrants. The rule of law was sacred for this theory of government because a citizen was not free from the law but by the law. Moreover, to prevent the republic from loosing its liberty, citizens could not be dependent on the will of others. Hence, a fair level of equality was often one of its main tenets. Although the pursuit of wealth and power were not always in contradiction with republican government, it was indeed in tension. The pursuit of individual wealth tended to deemphasize the active citizen who endeavors to preserve the common good. An unmediated desire for personal wealth threatened to make some citizens dependent on others, and as a consequence generate tyranny (a government without liberty governed by the arbitrary will of a single or few individuals)95.

  • 96 Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Har (...)
  • 97 Some historians argue that republicanism became a sort of paradigm that encompassed everything yet (...)

40Schurz’s argument could be narrated in a typically republican fashion. A republican government requires the commitment of austere citizens, who live in the temperate climate where nature is not bountiful. In the north of the United States, citizens have to struggle and cooperate with each other to survive. In turn, this fosters a robust civic culture that privileges the common good rather than the individual, and as consequence ensures republican liberty. But, the republic has to consistently confront the danger of corruption. The expansion of the republic’s territory is one such danger, for it can foment individual ambition and self-enrichment. If President Grant were to succeed in annexing Santo Domingo, republican liberty would be lost, individuals would be lured by luxury and power, and the republic would not be able to contain its desire for expansion and greatness. Tyranny would ensue, and like Rome the republic would collapse. There is no doubt that Schurz was deliberately defending a version of classical republicanism to oppose the Annexation treaty. This suggests that despite recent rebuttals of the American republican synthesis generated by an earlier generation of scholars96, republicanism continued to exercise a powerful influence 19th century American politics97.

  • 98 While many southerners believed that it was just and even generous to enslave non Anglo-Saxons of o (...)
  • 99 For a thorough description of the changes that occurred in the political and social organization of (...)
  • 100 Guyatt, Op. Cit., p. 975-977.

41His defense of traditional republican principles not withstanding, Schurz’s condemnation of expansion must be contextualized in the Reconstruction debate for constructing a unified nation. It is clear that antebellum debates surrounding American territorial expansion were centered on the issue of slavery, including whether it was justifiable to expand the institution of slavery to newly acquired territories98. But, the Civil War and the abolition of slavery significantly transformed the course of territorial expansion disputes. With slavery legally condemned, the debates about American expansion shifted to whether any given territory could provide economic benefits without threatening national cohesion99. Climate and race became central concerns in determining the benefits of acquiring foreign territories. Put in Skinnerean terms, the question which President Grant and Senator Schurz confronted was whether a multiracial republic spanning large territories and distinct climates could maintain liberty and national cohesion. Guyatt is right in pointing out that the Santo Domingo debate was an extension of a Reconstruction homegrown debate regarding black inclusion100. But, I would add that it was also a debate about the workings of the republic and the maintenance of liberty. Schurz argued that blacks could be incorporated, but only in temperate climates. In contrast, Grant argued that the Union could be maintained only if sectional strife was reduced and economic prosperity accomplished. A territory in the Caribbean would both foster cohesion by giving blacks the opportunity to flee discrimination, and contribute to the economic development of the nation.

  • 101 Ibid, p. 18.

42In contrast to Schurz, supporters of the treaty defended the greatness that would come from expanding and the legitimacy of America’s civilizing mission. Previously on the joint resolution was presented to the House of Representatives on 10 January 1871, William L. Stoughton (Michigan) did not withhold the opportunity to commend the treaty, for its alleged “judicious application of the Monroe Doctrine,” and because it was “sanctioned by the practice of the Government for the last seventy years”101. Stoughton proceeded to juxtapose the prospective annexation of Santo Domingo to the incorporation of Lousianna, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, California, and Alaska. The representative of Michigan appealed to widespread notion that American expansion was legitimate as long as it was a contiguous territory. The island of Santo Domingo is “lying contiguous to our coast,” Stoughton suggested. By equating Santo Domingo to Alaska, Stoughton, much like Grant did not resort to moralistic idioms when talking about the climate. Indeed, Machiavelli had set a precedent regarding the greatness of expanding, but these supporters seemed to have expounded a liberal argument of commerce, security and civilization.

  • 102 Ibid.

43The Representative from Michigan most certainly was aware of the racial composition of the Dominican Republic but he nevertheless refrained from offering racial considerations. The only thing the representative had to say about the Dominican people, was that “if the people of San Domingo are desirous of annexation upon fair and reasonable terms, and if no causes exist rendering annexation unjust or inexpedient,” the annexation would “furnish the people of that republic with what they greatly need and desire, a good stable Government, and secure their future tranquility and happiness”102. What is at work here is a paternalism predicated on the need for the culturally “advanced” American to help and guide less developed people.

  • 103 U.S. Congress Senate Executive Journal 41st Cong., 3rd sess., 31 May 1870.
  • 104 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3rd sess., app.: 26 (1871).

44Stoughton’s remarks were compatible with Grant’s line of thinking. On 31 May 1870, President Grant had asserted that “the cheap rate at which her citizens can be furnished with food… will make it necessary that the contiguous island should have the same advantages in order to compete in the production of sugar, coffee, tobacco, tropical fruits, etc.”103. But, Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri would later suggest the opposite. For Senator Schurz, the Caribbean islands were foreign waters; Santo Domingo was “a strip of territory on our frontier”104. Schurz implied that Santo Domingo was in the “frontier,” emphasizing its separation and hostility.

  • 105 Ibid, p. 28.
  • 106 Ibid.

45For the senators who were on Grant’s side and favored the annexation treaty, the problem with Schurz’s argument was precisely his climatic determinism. Senator William Stewart (Nevada) for instance, asserted “I should like to inquire of the senator from Missouri if there was any better condition of government in California than in any other part of Mexico while it was a portion of Mexico; and if change of allegiance has not entirely changed the condition of the people greatly for the better?”105 Senator Stewart continued saying that he would “prove to the senator that it was not a question of climate that affected their condition, because there was an illustration where they [Mexicans] had the finest climate in the world.” Senator Stewart argued that while Mexicans had a fine climate in California, they had not established democratic institutions. Only when the Unites States annexed California did that territory prosper in democratic institutions. “Might not that occur in San Domingo, or in Sonora; or in Sinalon if we were to annex it?” Senator Stewart affirmed106.

  • 107 Ibid, p. 31.
  • 108 While Schurz’s use of “Anglo-Saxons” had essentialist overtones, Senator Morton’s use mainly referr (...)

46At another instance Senator Morton (Indiana), brought up the case of India to counteract Schurz’s climatic determinism. “I might refer him to the possessions that England has in India, and from which she has drawn countless millions, I might say billions of wealth, for the last one hundred and twenty five years.”107 “The Anglo-Saxon race have not failed in India.” “The vigor of the Anglo-Saxon race in that country is such that a few thousand or a few hundred thousand govern two hundred and fifty millions of native Hindoos.”108 In contrast to climatic determinists, Senator Morton did not espouse that climate had anything to with economic development, morality, hard-working character and democratic institutions

  • 109 Congressional Globe, 42nd Cong., 1st sess., app.: 40-67 (1871).

47Despite President Grant’s effort, his plans to annex the Dominican Republic were not achieved. This conflict over Santo Domingo ultimately stained President Grant’s reputation. By March 1871, when Santo Domingo was brought up for debate again in the Senate, the topic was no longer about sending a commission or about ratifying a treaty, but about Grant’s purported unconstitutional use of the American navy. Senator Sumner accused President Grant of using American naval power to maintain Dominican president Buenaventura Baez in power against the will of the Dominican people. Grant insisted that he had merely sent American naval ships to the Dominican Republic to protect against attacks from Haitian aggressors and that he did not interfere with the internal political affairs of that country109. Nonetheless, the issue of Santo Domingo continued to be a matter of debate well into 1874, years after the Treaty was defeated in Congress. Thus, at stake in Santo Domingo was not merely an opportunity for profit, but an intellectual dispute about the political form and destiny of the republic.

Conclusion: A Diachronic Experiment

  • 110 Quoted in Livingstone, “Race, Space and Moral Climatology: Notes toward a Genealogy.”
  • 111 In contrast to Schurz, for instance, Gourrou believed that temperate soils were richer and more sta (...)
  • 112 For a discussion of Dr. Sambon’s ideas see Livingstone, “Tropical Climate and the Moral Hygiene: th (...)

48Although at the turn of 19th century the resort to climactic determinism significantly diminished in political discourse, it certainly continued to thrive in scientific circles, even if not univocally. As late as 1947, French geographer Pierre Gourou, wrote that “in physical and mental activity… man is restricted in the tropics by serious maladies whose existence is entirely due to the hot, damp climate”110. Certainly not all of Gourou’s ideas coincided with Schurz’s, but what is important to note is their resort to a “moral economy of the climate”111. Despite this persistence of moralistic idioms of the climate in scientific discourse, it certainly did not go unchallenged. In the 1890s Dr. Louis Westenra Sambon declared in the Royal Geographical society of London that the problem of the tropics was not one of climate, but of hygiene. Dr. Sambon even pointed out that in many European urban centers life was more threatening than in the tropics. Behind this conviction underlay Sambon’s desire to convince his European audience that the cause of disease, whether in the tropics or anywhere else, was due to parasites rather than climate112. In Sambon’s view, the tropics had not to be feared provided that appropriate hygienic measures were taken.

  • 113 See David N. Livingstone, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and the Culture of American Science, Tuscaloos (...)

49Nonetheless, the support for American territorial expansion towards the end of the 19th century cannot only be explained by the dwindling influence of moralistic idioms about the climate in Western thought. Even among those scientists who condoned the moral economy of the climate, acclimatization now seemed more like a possibility. One of the most important scholars of geography at Harvard, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, began to place emphasis on the eugenic and Lamarckian conviction of hereditary biological and cultural traits of human development in the 1890s. In other words, what determined civilization, morals and mental capabilities was not just the climate, but now an array of mutually reactive factors. For Shaler, while climate could influence human characteristics, so could human biological, cultural and intellectual inheritances modify the environment113. The relationship between climate and human characteristics was not as unidirectional as it had been for Senator Schurz.

  • 114 The relationship and development of these factors poses a fertile ground from which to study Americ (...)

50In political discourse, the frontier no longer seemed like a threatening conceptual space, as it was for Schurz. The constant threat and encounter with the frontier was now the source of Anglo-Saxon inventiveness, creativity and democratic institutions according to Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis. It is plausible, then, to infer that the development of different branches of scientific knowledge, the rapid industrialization of the United States, and the virtual disappearance of climatic determinism from political language, together provided a context more amenable to American expansion in the tropics towards the end of the 19th century114. It is more than coincidence that by late 19th century the United States was seriously considering expanding to Hawaii and later to the Philippines and Puerto Rico.

51If the craft of the historian consists primarily in studying events of change, in this essay I did quite the opposite: I studied a non-event. That is, an event that was imagined, debated about, planned for and envisioned, but not carried out. The value of this study is not identifying a “turning point,” but instead viewing the nature of the debates that were aimed at producing some sort of change. As the episode of American history studied here conveys, territorial expansion to Santo Domingo was an issue of whether the tropics were conducive to economic benefits and institutional stability. As this study conveys, economic opportunity, racism or any number of other analytical and trans-historical categories should not alone be the focus of the history of American foreign relations. Notions of economic opportunity and racism are both powerfully shaped by people’s assumptions regarding humans and the different “races.” It is because of this that I have become strongly convinced that historians of American foreign policy should begin to write histories attentive to meaning and intention; the task should be to adequately reconstruct contexts by investigating what kinds of problems politicians confronted when proposing any particular solution.

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Notes

1 Machiavelli painted this picture in his Discourses on Livy. For an analysis of Machiavelli’s dilemma see David Armitage, “Empire and Liberty: A Republican Dilemma,” in Republicanism: A Shared European History, vol. II, eds., Martin Van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 29-46.

2 The United States had previously attempted to relocate blacks to Liberia and Haiti to solve the racial problem.

3 I adopt the phrase “intellectual origins” from David Armitage, who uses the term not to connote beginnings, but rather ideological conventions and debates. See Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

4 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 33 (1871).

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 An exception to this is the work of Robert J. Mayhew, who has studied the connection between geography and politics in Britain from 1650-1850. In his book, Mayhew argues that before the nineteenth century writings in geography were not meant to elucidate “scientific” knowledge in terms of how well data was gathered and how trustworthy data helped people make predictions. Instead, he proposes that geography was embedded in a culture of civic humanism that subordinated many forms of knowledge to the political, a realm akin to what we would call today “high” politics. Thus, geography was a means to an end that functioned as a tool for political disputes. It is no surprise to see that geography books included sections on history, laws and constitutions of particular places along with topographical and environmental descriptions. See Robert J. Mayhew, Enlightenment Geography: The Political Languages of British Geography, 1650-1850, Great Britain, Macmillan Press Ltd, 2000. But, Mayhew’s book is concerned with something different than I am here.

8 An interesting example of how moralistic idioms of the climate infiltrated politics in early America can be found in David N. Livingstone, “’Risen into Empire’ Moral Geographies of the American Republic,” in Geography and Revolution, eds., David N. Livingstone and Chales W. J. Withers, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005, pp. 304-335. Nevertheless, in this essay Livingstone is not interested in the contested nature of moralistic idioms about the climate, but rather on how these helped forge an American national identity in the early republic. Moreover, he also does not focus on how these ideas influenced debates about territorial expansion.

9 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 33 (1871).

10 I find it useful to think about the “tropics” not just as a physical objective entity, but also as a conceptual space. For instance, influenced by the work of Edward Said, David Arnold asserts that “calling a part of the globe ‘the tropics’ (or by some equivalent term, such as ‘the equatorial region’ or ‘torrid zone’) became, over the centuries, a Western way of defining something culturally alien, as well as environmentally, from Europe (especially northern Europe) and other parts of the temperate zone.” See Davis Arnold, “Inventing Tropicality,” in The Problem of Nature: Environment, Culture and European Expansion, Cambridge, MA, Blackwell Publishers, 1996, p. 142. For an insightful collection of essays that document multiple ways in which the tropical domain was conceptualized see Felix Driver and Luciana Martins, eds., Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005.

11 U.S. Senate Journal 41st Cong., 3d sess., 5 December 1870.

12 The underlying assumption behind Grant’s convictions was the idea that humans could conquer nature and adapt to all sorts of environments. President Abraham Lincoln also agreed with the ideals of Grant, and accused climactic determinism of being a “lullaby argument.” It is important to note, however, that Lincoln used this argument to warn that slavery could potentially be expanded to the northern temperate zone and that the only way of barring it was to make slavery illegal and immoral in the minds of all men. Cited in Kagan, op. cit., 235.

13 U.S. Senate Journal 41st Cong., 3d sess., 5 December 1870.

14 Ibid.

15 Nicholas Guyatt, “America’s Conservatory: Race, Reconstruction, and the Santo Domingo Debate,” The Journal of American History, March 2011 (vol. 97), no. 4, pp. 974-1000.

16 See Armitage, “Empire and Liberty: A Republican Dilemma,” in Republicanism...; Paul A. Rahe, Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2009, 27-42; Armitage, “John Milton: Poet Against Empire,” in Milton and Republicanism, eds. Armitage, Armand Himy and Quentin Skinner, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

17 In fact, Schurz was an advocate of the incorporation of Alaska. Unlike Santo Domingo, Alaska was in the temperate zone.

18 Walter Nugent, Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

19 Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco Scarano, Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009; George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008; Michael Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1988; Michael Adas, Dominance by Design, Technological Imperatives and America’s Civilizing Mission, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.

20 Eric T. Love, Race Over Empire: Racism and U.S. Imperialism, 1865-1900, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Pres, 2004, p. xi.

21 He asserts that the annexation of Hawaii and the 1898 imperial moment only occurred because skillful politicians managed to hide the racial question. According to him, only when Hawaii was construed as a white republic did American politicians and legislators accept incorporating it to the Union.

22 Love, Op. Cit., p. xii.

23 Ibid.

24 For Instance, what united all “racists” was their belief in white/European superiority. But, If Europeans (prioritizing Nordic Teutons or Anglo-Saxons) were the dominant group, then “racists” rationalized that there was some intrinsic reason for their superiority. But, what that reason was, and how it came about is where monogenists, polygenists, Darwinists and creationists disagreed. In the American context, it seems important not to overemphasize the role of Darwinism. As Stephen Jay Gould asserts, American scientists endeavored to “emancipate” themselves from European science. In this manner, polygenism became the quintessential American theory. In their quest for attaining respect and recognition, the “American School,” as polygenism came to be identified, endeavored to expand and give empirical validity to the theory of multiple creations. Nonetheless, the other ideologies of human origins continued to thrive, especially in the non-scientific circles. Christians, for instance, had a hard time adopting polygenism since it “contradicted the doctrine of a single Adam and contravened the literal truth of scripture.” See Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1981, p. 70. Moreover, for non-Christian monogenists, Darwinism offered confirmation of a single origin of humanity. But, Darwinism could also be accommodated to polygenism as Darwin posited that humans came to existance so long ago that the different races had followed vastly divergent trajectories over millions of years. Therefore, the level of fluidity among these different theories of human origins makes it difficult to identify neatly who was a monogenist, a polygenist, a Darwinist or a creationist. See George W. Stocking, Race, Culture, and Revolution, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1982, and Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

25 It is indeed curious that he adopts racism as an analytical category considering that he critiques the previous historiography’s use of the analytical category of racial ideology. According to Love, racial ideology is an ambivalent category because both imperialists and anti-imperialists used it to put forward their arguments. Racism, he argues, promises to solve this ambivalence. See Love, Op. Cit., 11.

26 Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An interpretation of America Expansion, 1860-1898, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1963, p. 1, and The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: The American Search for Opportunity, 1865-1913, Vol. II, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993.For a more recent interpretation along these lines see Matthew Frye Jacobson, “Annexing the Other: The World’s Peoples as Auxiliary Consumers and Imported Workers, 1876-1917,” in Race, Nation and Empire in American History, eds., James T. Campbell, Mathew Pratt Guterl, and Robert G. Lee, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2007, and Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917, New York, Hill and Wang, 2000. Jacobson points out that throughout the later half of the nineteenth century politicians constantly talked about American overproduction. Hence, many proposed that an expansion of American markets was necessary to avoid the constant crisis of overproduction.

27 LaFeber, The New Empire, p. 7.

28 Ibid, p. 8.

29 Ibid, Preface, p. vii.

30 Skinner, for instance, reproached the practice of reducing intellectual history to timeless problems to which canonical authors proposed solutions. Moreover, Skinner condemned the formalist practice of examining which canonical authors produced better and more thorough solutions to timeless problems.

31 For a collection of Skinner’s methodological oeuvre see Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics: Regarding Method, Vol. 1, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Particularly relevant in this context is his essay “Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas.”

32 Some scholars have critiqued Pocock’s structural approach by pin pointing that his neat political languages are over-intellectualized abstractions than cannot withstand the empirical test. Despite these limitations, Pocok’s insights are worth considering, albeit in a new light. See D.N. DeLuna, The Political Imagination in History: Essays Concerning J.G.A Pocock, Baltimore, Owlworks, 2006.

33 For a collection of Pocock’s methodological essays see J.G.A. Pocock, Political Thought and History: Essays on Theory and Method, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

34 Although Pocock and Skinner do not think their methodological commitments are reconcilable with Koselleck’s conceptual history, scholar’s like Melvin Richter and Kari Palonen have suggested ways in which these two projects can potentially complement each other. See Melvin Richter, The History of Political and Social Concepts: A Critical Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995. Of particular relevance is chapter 6 entitled “Pocock, Skinner, and Begriffsgeschichte.” See also Kari Palonen, Quentin Skinner: History, Politics, Rhetoric, Cambridge, UK, Polity Press 2003.

35 See Reinhart Koselleck, trans. Keith Tribe, “Begriffsgeschichte and Social History,” in Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 1985.

36 Taking into account Koselleck’s insights, there is no need to construe an unnecessary dichotomy between economic and ideological causes. If instead we see economic/political interests and ideological commitments as powerfully implicated with each other, then perhaps we do not need to argue for the primacy of any one of them. As a result we do not need to fall in the trap of asserting that historical actors had an economic or political “hidden agenda” when expounding their ideological commitments.

37 Charles S. Campbell, The Transformation of American Foreign Relations, 1865-1900, New York, Harper & Row Publishers, 1976, p. 13.

38 Luis Martinez-Fernandez, Torn Between Empires: Economy, Society, and Patterns of Political Thought in the Hispanic Caribbean, 1840-1878, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1994, p. 213.

39 William Javier Nelson, Almost a Territory, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1990, p. 49.

40 In 1861 President Pedro Santana annexed the Dominican Republic to Spain because according to him the young nation-state would never be secure without the backing of a more stable and advanced state. Nevertheless, sectors of the elites, the middle classes and the peasantry organized a nationalist movement against the annexation that culminated with the independence of the Dominican Republic once again in 1865. This war for independence is known as the Guerra de Restauración.

41 For a detailed study of this episode and the issue of annexing the Dominican Republic in general see Harold T. Pinkett, “Efforts to Annex Santo Domingo to the United States, 1866-1871,” The Journal of Negro History, 1941 (vol. 26), n° 1, p. 12-45.

42 Frank Moya Pons, The Dominican Republic: A National History, New Jersey, Markus Weiner Publishers, 1998, p. 220.

43 Ibid, p. 224.

44 Ibid, p. 225.

45 Ibid, p. 227.

46 Previously on 17 May 1869, President Grant had also sent war vessel to obtain political, commercial and financial information about Santo Domingo. Grant was later attacked for sending war vessels and General Babcock to collect information without congressional approval. Subsequent critics, Senator Sumner among them, asserted that it was unconstitutional to grant Navy vessels and General Babcock diplomatic authority. See Pinkett, Op. Cit., p 23-5.

47 Love , Op. Cit. p. 38.

48 Moya Pons, Op. Cit., p. 229 and Love, Op. Cit., p. 37.

49 Ulysses S. Grant, John Y. Simon ed., The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant , Vol. 20, Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL, Southern Illinois University Press, 1995, p. 121.

50 At first President Grant was hesitant about advocating for an extension of the treaty because Senator Sumner was the first one to propose such extension. Grant feared that Sumner had proposed the extension in order to secure the defeat of the treaty. But, President Grant changed his mind as the Senate debates regarding the annexation treaty reached a standstill. See a letter sent to secretary of state Hamilton Fish on 22 March in Grant, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, vol. 20, p. 123-4.

51 Nelson, Op. Cit., p. 96.

52 Very little is recoverable from these debates in late June 1870 because for reasons not entirely clear the Congressional Globe does not have records of these debates. Nonetheless, some of the highlights of the debate were recorded in the Executive Journal. For instance, Senator Sumner and Senator Howard amended the wording of certain sections of the treaty, primarily because they wanted to clarify that the United States would not be responsible for any further debt acquired by the Dominican government. In the end these amendments had no significance as the treaty was rejected even after these modifications were made. See U.S. Congress. Senate Executive Journal, 40th Cong. (30 June 1870), p. 500-502,

53 Grant, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, vol. 20, p. 188.

54 Ibid, p. 311-2.

55 Grant, Op.Cit, vol. 21, p. 39.

56 See footnotes quoting Hamilton Fish’s diary in, Grant, Op. Cit., p. 44-5.

57 Ibid, p. 51.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid, p. 52.

60 Charles Sumner, George Frisbie Hoar ed., Charles Sumner: His Complete Works, New York, Negro Universities Press, 1969, 255-299.

61 See Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3rd sess., p. 226-231, as cited in Pinkett, Op. Cit. p. 39-40

62 Letter to Hamilton Fish, Grant, Op. Cit., 85.

63 Letter to Buenaventura Baez in, Grant, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, vol. 21, 132-3. Ironically, the black leader and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was included among these men. What is most surprising is that Douglass had previously been a firm supporter of Sumner, who he considered a defender of black men. In this occasion Douglass supported Grant’s annexation plans, because he believed that the people of Santo Domingo needed the guidance of a more civilized nation like the United States. For him, annexation was not a threat to black people of the tropical island, but a measure that would benefit them. For an interesting discussion of Douglass’ rhetoric see Merline Pitre, “Frederick Douglass and the Annexation of Santo Domingo,” The Journal of Negro History, 1977 (vol. 62), no. 4, p. 390-400.

64 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 25 (1871).

65 Ibid.

66 Ibid.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid, p. 26.

69 Ibid.

70 It is important to not also that the strong positivist convictions of many historians of American foreign relations also tends to reduce these kinds of beliefs to mere political rhetoric intended to satisfy some more pristine political or economic interest.

71 For an enlightening account of the role of moralistic idioms of climate in Western thought see of David N. Livingstone, “Race, Space and Moral Climatology: Notes toward a Genealogy,” Journal of Historical Geography, 2002 (Vol. 28), no. 2, p. 159-180.

72 Livingstone, “The Moral Discourse of Climate: Historical Considerations on Race, Place, and Virtue,” Journal of Historical Geography, 1992 (vol. 17), p. 413-434.

73 “The moral economy of climate” did not always manifest itself in the same way. For instance, while many saw positive benefits with tropical climate others believed that it was fundamentally damaging to the morals, civilization and democratic institutions of peoples of the temperate climates. In short, the moral discourse of the climate could both support and hinder imperial expansion in different contexts. For Senator Schurz the tropics were damaging, but for and alternative and fascinating account on how imperial scientists began conservationist schemes in the tropics to recreate Eden see Richard H. Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

74 Ibid, p. 27.

75 Ibid.

76 Ibid, p. 26.

77 Ibid.

78 Ibid, p. 27.

79 Ibid.

80 “Schurz was and had been for long time firmly opposed to slavery. In 1860 he asserted “Slaveholders of America, I appeal to you. Are you really in earnest when you speak of performing slavery? Shall it never cease? Never? Stop and consider where you are and in what days you live. (…) This is the world of the nineteenth century (…) You stand against a hopeful world, alone against a great century, fighting your hopeless fight (…) against the onward march of civilization.” Cited in Kagan, Op. Cit., p. 224.

81 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3d sess., app.: 27 (1871).

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid.

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid.

86 Ibid.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid.

89 Ibid.

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid, p. 29.

92 Ibid.

93 Ibid, p. 30.

94 Ibid, p. 31.

95 Van Gelderen and Skinner, eds. Republicanism: A shared European Heritage, 2 Vols., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002; Maurizio Viroli, trans. Anthony Shugaar, Republicanism, New York, Hill and Wang, 2002; Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.

96 Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992; Gordon S. Woods, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1998; Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975.

97 Some historians argue that republicanism became a sort of paradigm that encompassed everything yet explained almost nothing the historiography of the 1980s. See Daniel T. Rodgers, “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept,” Journal of American History, 1992 (vol. 79), n° 1, p. 11-38. Others argue that after the period of the Atlantic Revolutions, republicanism was re-imagined in new ways to fit a modern context and slowly gave way to liberalism. See Andreas Kalyvas and Ira Katznelson, Liberal Beginings: Making a Republic for the Moderns,Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008. In the context of England see Vickie B. Sullivan, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the Formation of Liberal Republicanism in England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. In the context of France see Andrew Jainchill, Reimagining Politics after the Terror: The Republican Origins of French Liberalism, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2008.

98 While many southerners believed that it was just and even generous to enslave non Anglo-Saxons of other territories, many northern politicians condemned expansion on these terms and labeled slavery a barbaric institution of the past. For instance, during the 1850s Cuba gathered much attention from southern plantation owners who believed that it was just for them to prevent a slave uprising in Cuba that could turn into a second Haiti and destroy the institution of slavery. In contrast, northern expansionists overwhelmingly privileged expansion for trade, primarily westward to build a transcontinental railroad. See chapters 7 and 8 of Robert Kagan, Op. Cit, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

99 For a thorough description of the changes that occurred in the political and social organization of the United States during Reconstruction see Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. Foner sees the period of Reconstruction as an experiment with racial democracy that allowed for blacks to actively participate in a new form of politics generated by the emancipation proclamation. But, just as it was a time of political participation for blacks, it was also a time that generated fierce opposition to the project of radical Republicans. Although Foner does not spend much time discussing how reconstruction shifted the nature of debates concerning territorial expansion, upon examining the rhetoric of the politicians in this study, it becomes clear that the exportation of slavery was no longer an issue in Congress. In fact, one can reasonably argue that slavery became a non-question.

100 Guyatt, Op. Cit., p. 975-977.

101 Ibid, p. 18.

102 Ibid.

103 U.S. Congress Senate Executive Journal 41st Cong., 3rd sess., 31 May 1870.

104 Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 3rd sess., app.: 26 (1871).

105 Ibid, p. 28.

106 Ibid.

107 Ibid, p. 31.

108 While Schurz’s use of “Anglo-Saxons” had essentialist overtones, Senator Morton’s use mainly referred to cultural and civilizational traits that in theory could be taught to the peoples of the tropics.

109 Congressional Globe, 42nd Cong., 1st sess., app.: 40-67 (1871).

110 Quoted in Livingstone, “Race, Space and Moral Climatology: Notes toward a Genealogy.”

111 In contrast to Schurz, for instance, Gourrou believed that temperate soils were richer and more stable. Schurz in fact believed quite the opposite. For Schurz, the less bountiful nature of the temperate climate and its instability provided Nordic peoples with enough struggle to continue pursuing its development and perfection.

112 For a discussion of Dr. Sambon’s ideas see Livingstone, “Tropical Climate and the Moral Hygiene: the Anatomy of a Victorian Debate,” The British Journal for the History of Science, 1999 (vol. 32), n° 1, p. 93-110.

113 See David N. Livingstone, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and the Culture of American Science, Tuscaloosa, Al, The University of Alabama Press, 1987, p. 134-8, 158-191.

114 The relationship and development of these factors poses a fertile ground from which to study American territorial expansion towards the end of the nineteenth century.

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Fidel Tavárez, « “The Moral Miasma of the Tropics”: American Imperialism and the Failed Annexation of the Dominican Republic, 1869-1871 », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Débats, mis en ligne le 13 juillet 2011, consulté le 25 août 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/61771 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.61771

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Fidel Tavárez

Princeton University (Latin American History Doctoral Student). ftavarez@princeton.edu

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