Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican Republic

Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican Republic

Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican Republic

Dollar Diplomacy by Force: Nation-Building and Resistance in the Dominican Republic


In the early twentieth century, the United States set out to guarantee economic and political stability in the Caribbean without intrusive and controversial military interventions--and ended up achieving exactly the opposite. Using military and government records from the United States and the Dominican Republic, this work investigates the extent to which early twentieth-century U.S. involvement in the Dominican Republic fundamentally changed both Dominican history and the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Successive U.S. interventions based on a policy of "dollar diplomacy" led to military occupation and contributed to a drastic shifting of the Dominican social order, as well as centralized state military power, which Rafael Trujillo leveraged in his 1920s rise to dictatorship. Ultimately, this book demonstrates that the overthrow of the social order resulted not from military planning but from the interplay between uncoordinated interventions in Dominican society and Dominican responses.

Telling a neglected story of occupation and resistance, Ellen D. Tillman documents the troubled efforts of the U.S. government to break down the Dominican Republic and remake it from the ground up, providing fresh insight into the motivations and limitations of occupation.


In May of 1916, U.S. marines occupied Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. Their stated pretext was the Dominican government’s repeated failure to uphold a customs agreement signed with the United States in 1907. In the midst of political confusion surrounding the invasion, as the Dominican provisional government refused to relinquish control of its military, U.S. marines began to occupy the country. The original idea of the policy of dollar diplomacy, as expressed by both Theodore Roosevelt’s and William Howard Taft’s administrations, had been to replace “dollars for bullets,” as Taft was to put it—to guarantee economic and political stability in the Caribbean region without the need for intrusive, and by 1905 highly controversial, military interventions. Yet the result was the exact opposite: on 29 November, U.S. Navy Captain Harry S. Knapp read his formal proclamation for U.S. military occupation of the Dominican Republic.

A new military government wielded power. Its first measures sought to bring order through the exertion of military control and included the disbanding of all Dominican armed and police forces, the disarmament of the population, and strict censorship of the press. As World War I concerns diverted the U.S. government’s attention toward the wider Atlantic and Europe, it left the occupation’s administration for years under control of the U.S. Navy and marines. Officers expected to improve Dominican society by building infrastructure and creating a new Dominican army modeled on the U.S. Marine Corps, but also planned in terms of larger strategic interests. Connected as it was to Washingtonbased foreign policies, the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924 was, at its core, a military experiment.

The Dominican “experiment” in dollar diplomacy also became an experiment, in the final accounting, in military exportation of U.S.-style government institutions. It was unique among contemporary U.S. occupations in the ways that U.S. government decisions made amid the lack of a treaty gave unprecedented and unequaled command of internal occupation decisions to the U.S. Navy Department during the height of direct U.S. influence. U.S. officers were well aware of this as they pushed . . .

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