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The goal was to annex "Santo Domingo" (as the Dominican Republic was known at the time) as a United States territory, with the promise of eventual statehood. The President feared some European power would take the island in violation of the Monroe Doctrine. He privately thought annexation would be a safety valve for emancipated Blacks who were suffering American persecution, but he did not include this in his official messages. The annexation was also an example U.S. 19th century Latin American politics.
Grant speculated that the acquisition of Santo Domingo would help bring about the end of slavery in Cuba and elsewhere. Beginning in 1869, Grant commissioned his private secretary Orville E. Babcock and Rufus Ingalls to negotiate the treaty of annexation with Dominican president Buenaventura Báez. The annexation process drew controversy: opponents Senator Charles Sumner and Senator Carl Schurz denounced the treaty, alleging it was made only to enrich private American and island interests and to politically protect Báez. Grant had authorized the US Navy to protect the Dominican Republic from invasion by neighboring Haiti while the treaty annexation US Senate process took place.
The movement for annexation appeared to have been widely supported by the citizens of the Dominican Republic, according to the plebiscite ordered by Báez, who believed the Dominican Republic had better odds of survival as a US protectorate and could sell a much wider range of goods to America than could be sold in European markets. The Dominican Republic’s unstable history was one of invasion, colonization, and civil strife. A treaty was drafted by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish that included the annexation of the country itself and the purchase of Samaná Bay for two million American dollars. Also included and supported by Grant was the provision that the Dominican Republic could apply for statehood.
When debated in the Senate, Sumner said that the annexationists wanted the whole island and would also absorb the independent Black nation of Haiti. Schurz opposed acquisition because he did not favor mixed race people becoming US citizens. The treaty ultimately failed to reach the two-thirds vote needed (the vote was a tie). In order to vindicate the failed treaty annexation, Grant sent a committee, authorized by Congress and including African American Frederick Douglass, that investigated and produced a report favorable to annexation of the Dominican Republic into the United States.
The annexation treaty failed because there was little support for it outside Grant's circle. The defeat of the treaty in the Senate directly contributed to the division of the Republican party into two opposing factions during the presidential election of 1872: the Radical Republicans (composed of Grant and his loyalists) and the Liberal Republicans (composed of Schurz, Sumner, Horace Greeley as presidential candidate, and other opponents of Grant).