History Timeline 1930's

Photo above: A workman on the construction crew of the Empire State Building. Courtesy Federal Works Agency, WPA/National Archives. Right: Unemployed workers in Chicago in line at food kitchen run by Al Capone. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons via National Archives, U.S. Information Agency.

Great Depression

U.S. Timeline - The 1930s

The Great Depression

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  • Timeline

  • 1934 - Detail

    August 15, 1934 - The United States pulls its troops from Haiti.

    Occupation of Haiti

    Today, the fact that the United States had occupied the nation of Haiti for nearly twenty years has become lost, to most, in the archives of history. In fact, the start of its occupation on July 28, 1915, as World War I was starting its struggles with the sinking of the Lusitania by Germany only two months before, was even a bit lost to history at the time of its initiation. Of course, that was not true, in any way, to the citizens who were being occupied or the men and women engaged for one nation on the island of Hispaniola.

    There had been rabid opposition to the occuption since it began. Groups in the United States, such as the NAACP, and groups in Haiti, L'Union Patriotique among the educated elite, saw the occupation in racial terms. Others, since the end of World War I, had proposed self determination among participant nations in that conflict, but somehow tolerated the occupation of essentially a neighbor. The years leading into the 1930's had seen many changes in the world landscape, and more than a few inside Haiti. For the world, the supposed non-threat of Germany and treaties with Japan and Italy in disarmament were proving inaccurate and a growing threat reemerging. Inside Haiti, Louis Borno had taken control of the government in 1922, and ruling with High Commissioner John Russell of the United States, began to make headway toward stability. Roads were contructed, the economy expanded, telephone lines installed, and port facilities enlarged.

    The impact of the Great Depression harmed the economy and halted the progress of the 1920's. Protests increased; the exclusion of Haitians in high levels of the government caused continued concerns. By 1930, a new government formed behind former occupation critic Stenio Vincent. With increased pressure to end the occupation, President Herbert Hoover made plans to intitiate a withdraw, which began in 1932. A disengagement agreement was formed under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who argued for a good neighbor policy, in August 1933. On August 15, 1934, the last U.S. Marines left their base in Haiti and returned to the United States.

    How the Occupation Began

    Haiti had been unstable for years, with political turmoil, including assasination and coups the norm during the period from 1911-1915 when six presidents had power for a short period of time in the nation of three million. Even before that period of instability, the nation had been in turmoil. Preparation for self-governorship after their independence from France on January 1, 1804 had been insufficient. By 1915, the nation had been troubled for over one hundred years with fourteen constitutions and twenty-six heads of state. Perhaps the more difficult and vexing situation, however, concerned the influence of Imperial Germany in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean nations. A small faction of wealthy Germans, although only two hundred in total number, controlled much of the economic power of Haiti, up to eighty percent of its international trade with control of the ports and railroads. They also financed the revolutions, married into the Haitian political structure, and sent intelligence back home.

    So, understandably, the United States did not like any of that. They set about to make changes. On December 17, 1914, the National City Bank of New York took control of the Haitian gold reserves, $500,000, transferring them to its New York City vault under U.S. military custody. When another coup occurred, installing Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam as dictator in February 1915, and his subsequent execution of over one hundred and fifty political prisoners, the public became enraged. Dictator Sam was hung by a mob on July 29, 1915, and the United States under orders from President Woodrow Wilson, on that same day, sent three hundred and thirty Marines into Port-au-Prince to take control. He would protect U.S. interests, including those of the Haitian American Sugar Company, and by September 16, 1915, a treaty had been signed, later ratified by the United States Senate and signed by the President. It would be known as the Haitian-American Convention, which gave effective control of the nation to the United States for ten years, with possible extension, depending on the circumstances.

    This was not the first time the idea of occupation, or even annexation of Haiti, had come into the lexicon of the United States President. Fifty years earlier, in 1868, the annexation of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the entire island of Hispaniola, had been suggested by President Andrew Johnson to provide an economic and defense posture for the United States in the West Indies.

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    Haitian American Treaty

    Administration of Haiti: Finances and Economic Development

    Treaty Signed at Port-au-Prince September 16, 1915

    Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of Haiti.

    Preamble - The United States and the Republic of Haiti desiring to confirm and strengthen the amity existing between them by the most cordial cooperation in measures for their common advantage;

    And the Republic of Haiti desiring to remedy the present condition of its revenues and finances, to maintain the tranquillity of the Republic, to carry out plans for the economic development and prosperity of the Republic and its people;

    And the United States being in full sympathy with all of these aims and objects and desiring to contribute in all proper ways to their accomplishment;

    The United States and the Republic of Haiti have resolved to conclude a Convention with these objects in view, and have appointed for that purpose, Plenipotentiaries, The President of the United States, Robert Beale Davis, Junior, Charge' de'Affairs of the United States; And the President of the Republic of Haiti, Louis Borno, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Public Instruction, who, having exhibited to each other their respective powers, which are seen to be full in good and true form, have agreed as follows:

    Article I - The Government of the United States will, by its good offices, aid the Haitian Government in the proper and efficient development of its agricultural, mineral and commercial resources and in the establishment of the finances of Haiti on a firm and solid basis.

    Article II - The President of Haiti shall appoint, upon nomination by the President of the United States, a General Receiver and such aids and employees as may be necessary, who shall collect, receive and apply all custom duties on imports and exports accruing at the several custom houses and ports of entry of the Republic of Haiti.

    The President of Haiti shall appoint, upon nomination by the President of the United States, a Financial Adviser, who shall be an officer attached to the Ministry of Finance, to give effect to whose proposals and labors the Minister will lend efficient aid. The Financial Adviser shall devise an adequate system of public accounting, aid in increasing the revenues and adjusting them to the expenses, inquire into the validity of the debts of the Republic, enlighten the Governments with reference to all eventual debts, recommend improved methods of collecting and applying the revenues, and make such other recommendations to the Minister of Finance as may be deemed necessary for the welfare and prosperity of Haiti.

    Article III - The Governmemt of the Republic of Haiti will provide by law or appropriate decrees for the payment of all custom duties to the General Receiver, and will extend to the Receivership, and to the Financial Adviser, all needed aid and full protection in the execution of the powers conferred and duties imposed herein; and the United States on its part will extend like aid and protection.

    Article IV - Upon the appointment of the Financial Adviser, the Government of the Republic of Haiti, in cooperation with the Financial Adviser, shall collate, classify, arrange and make full statement of all the debts of the Republic, the amounts, character, maturity and condition thereof, and the interest accruing and the sinking fund requisite to their final discharge.

    Article V - All sums collected and received by the General Receiver shall be applied, first, to the payment of the salaries and allowances of the General Receiver, his assistants and employees and expenses of the Receivership, including the salary and expenses of the Financial Adviser, which salaries will be determined by previous agreeement; second, to the interest and sinking fund of the public debt of the Republic of Haiti; and, third, to the maintenance of the constabulary conferred to in Article X, and then to the remainder of the Haitian Government for purposes of current expenses.

    In making these applications the General Receiver will proceed to pay salaries and allowances monthly and expenses as they arise, and on the first day of each calendar month, will set aside in a separate fund the quantum of the collection and receipts of the previous month.

    Article VI - The expenses of the Receivership, including salaries and allowances of the General Receiver, his assistants and employees, and the salary and expenses of the Financial Adviser, shall not exceed five per centum of the collections and receipts from customs duties, unless by agreement by the two Governments.

    Article VII - The General Receiver shall make monthly reports of all collections, receipts and disbursements to the appropriate officer of the Republic of Haiti and to the Department of State of the United States, which reports shall be open to inspection and verification at all times by the appropriate authorities of each of the said Governments.

    Article VIII - The Republic of Haiti shall not increase its public debt except by previous agreement with the President of the United States, and shall not contract any debt or assume any financial obligation unless the ordinary revenues of the Republic available for that purpose, after defraying the expenses of the Government, shall be adequate to pay the interest and provide the sinking fund for the final discharge of such debt.

    Article IX - The Republic of Haiti will not without previous agreement with the President of the United States, modify the customs duties in a manner to reduce the revenues therefrom; and in order that the revenues of the Republic may be adequate to meet the public debt and the expenses of the Government, to preserve tranquillity and to promote material prosperity, the Republic of Haiti will cooperate with the Financial Adviser in his recommendations for improvement in the methods of collecting and disbursing the revenues and for new sources of needed income.

    Article X - The Haitian Government obligates itself, for the preservation of domestic peace, the security of individual rights and full observance of the provisions of this treaty, to create without delay an efficient constabulary, urban and rural, composed of native Haitians. This constabulary shall be organized and officered by Americans, appointed by the President of Haiti, upon nomination by the President of the United States. The Haitian Government shall clothe these officers with the proper and necessary authority and uphold them in the perfomance of their functions. These officers will be replaced by Haitians as they, by examination, conducted under direction of a board to be selected by the senior American officer of this constabulary and in the presence of a representative of the Haitian Government, are found to be qualified to assume such duties. The constabulary herein provided for, shall, under the direction of the Haitian Government, have supervision and control of arms and ammunition, military supplies, and traffic therein, throughout the country. The high contracting parties agree that the stipulations in this Article are necessary to prevent factional strife and disturbances.

    Article XI - The Government of Haiti agrees not to surrender any of the territory of the Republic of Haiti by sale, lease, or otherwise, or jurisdiction over such territory, to any foreign government or power, not to enter into any treaty or contract with any foreign power or powers that will impair or tend to impair the independence of Haiti.

    Article XII - The Haitian Government agrees to execute with the United States a protocol for the settlement, by arbitration or otherwise, of all pending pecuniary claims of foreign corporations, companies, citizens or subjects against Haiti.

    Article XIII - The Republic of Haiti, being desirous to further the development of its natural resources, agrees to undertake and execute such measures as in the opinion of the high contracting parties may be necessary for the sanitation and public improvement of the Republic, under the supervision and direction of an engineer or engineers, to be appointed by the President of Haiti upon nomination by the President of the United States, and authorized for that purpose by the Government of Haiti.

    Article XIV - The high contracting parties shall have authority to take such steps as may be necessary to insure the complete attainment of any of the objects comprehended in this treaty; and, should the necessity occur, the United States will lend an efficient aid for the preservation of Haitian Independence and the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property and individual liberty.

    Article XV - The present treaty shall be approved and ratified by the high contracting parties in conformity with their respective laws, and the ratifications thereof shall be exchanged in the City of Washington as soon as may be possible.

    Article XVI - The present treaty shall remain in full force for the term of ten years to be counted from the day of exchange of ratifications, and further for another term of ten years if, for special reasons presented by either of the high contracting parties, the purpose of this treaty has not been fully accomplished.

    In faith whereof, the respective Plenipotentiaries have signed the present Convention in duplicate, in the English and French languages, and have thereunto affixed their seals.

    Done at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the 16th of September in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and fifteen.

    Robert Beale Davis, Jr., Charge' de Affaires of the United States.

    Louis Borno, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Public Instruction.

    Photo above: Marine base at Cap-Haitien in the 1920's, Unknown Source. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Photo Below: President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Stenio Vincent, President of the Republic of Haiti during 1934 meeting at the White House, 1934, Harris and Ewing. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info Source: "American Marines in Haiti," 1915-1922, William H. Posner, the Americas, 1964, Cambridge University Press; "The seizure of Haiti by the United States a report on the military occupation of the Republic of Haiti and the history of the treaty forced upon her ..(signed by 22 lawyers agst. Occupation)," 1922, Courtesy Yale Law School; U.S. Department of State; Hathitrust.org; Harvard University; Archive.org; Wikipedia Commons.

    President Roosevelt and President Vincent of Haiti

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