United States Occupation of Haiti 1915-1934

Caroline Snell, Sarah Hegarty, Isabel Spence, Rachel Marolda


Haiti is a country in the Caribbean and shares its island location on Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Haiti was sectioned off to the French after the Treaty of Ryswick of 1697. The French called it Saint-Domingue. The native people led a revolution and were the first independent Latin American country. However, the country did not have a stable history and from 1911 to 1915 there were six different Presidents of Haiti. America took note of the cacos guerrilla warfare groups who were leading the uprisings that changed the leaders in power. At the time, Haiti also had a strong economic connection with Germany, which had invested in transportation in Port-au-Prince.

How Occupation Began

America’s occupation of Haiti in 1915 through 1934 was a complicated and thorough effort to calm a country full of revolts and troubled pasts. Haiti had struggles severely in the times leading up to the occupation. For five years prior to the arrival of US Troops, there had been a total of six Presidents of Haiti; all of whom were killed, overthrown, or forced into exile. In February of 1915 Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam began a five month dictatorship over the debt-ridden country. In July, in fear of a revolt, Sam ordered the deaths of over 150 political prisoners. In retaliation, a mob overthrew their leader and lynched Sam in public in Port-au-Prince. Fearing more revolts, a continued lack of authority, and the potential of Rosalvo Bobo (an anti-American with the support of the Cacos) claiming the Presidency, the American government felt it best and necessary to intervene.
Helping Haiti establish a stable government was not the only reason behind the US Occupation. America saw Haiti’s location in the Caribbean ideal for economic growth and advantages. The United States was also heavily interested in gaining Haiti’s control over the Windward Passage to the Panama Canal with the potential placement of a future naval base.

For a brief over-view and some film of the US occupation, start watching at 4:00.

1915 Occupation

The Connecticut leaving

Soldiers marching from League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia heading for the Connecticut, the ship which took them to Haiti.
Rear Admiral Caperton, brought the first 50 Marines to Haiti.

On July 28, 1915, roughly 330 US Marines on board the ship Connecticut arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the goals to protect the “American and foreign" interests abroad as well as to re-establish peace and order. On November 11, 1915 the Haitian President Sudre Dartiguenave signed a treaty formally recognizing and accepting the occupation. Less than a week later, the U.S. Marines captured the Cacos (Haitian rebels) Fort Riviere. Opposition to the American Marines was evident almost immediately after the initial invasion. In response the American and Haitian leaders began a campaign to defeat the rebellious militia. The campaign was run by the Haitian Gendarmerie; a U.S. police force of nearly three thousand men began patrolling and securing the areas while reporting back to the government. Many Haitians saw the occupation as an imperial power once gain inserting themselves far beyond their boundaries. Led by Charlemagne Peralte and Benoit Batraville, 40,000 Haitians attacked and defeated the local gendarmerie in the North to take control of the Northern Mountainous regions of Haiti, known as the 1918 Rebellion. The occupation would continue on after the end World War I, despite the embarrassment it caused Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and the eventual scrutiny of a Congressional inquiry in 1922.
In 1915, the American Army invaded the Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

1918 Rebellion
In 1918, the US Marines searched for Haitian Bandits hired to get rid of the controlling United States. Here are some men, not Marines, helping to search for bandits.

In 1918, after three years of control by American Marines, the cacos had had enough. The occupation by the United States had several effects on Haiti, one of the most drastic being the Caco War. After refusing the United States order to build a road, a rebellion broke out pinning the Haitian peasants against the strength of the United States Marines. The penalty for such a rebellion was the loss of 2,000 Haitian lives. In order to have a chance of fighting back, the Haitian peasants hired loosely knit bandit organizations, which also helped in controlling political elections and personal vendettas. Though what the US believed the Haitians needed more than anything was a controlling presence, that control was what offended most people. At the time of the occupation, the US was still segregated and extremely racist, creating tension between the black Haitians, the mulatto elite, and the white northerners who controlled them. This demoralizing act led to anger and annoyance toward the oppressor.

1922-1930: Continuation of Occupation

In 1922 Louis Borno, an admirer of Mussolini, replaced Dartiguenave as the new Haitian president, the former being forced out of office for refusing the approval of a debt consolidation loan. Borno would rule without a legislature (it was dissolved in 1917 under Dartiguenave) and would not return until elections were again permitted in 1930. During this time, America had a great sphere of control over Haiti which resulted in racial tensions, more pronounced cultural differences, infrastructure improvement and at the end of their term, civil displeasure. Most of the taxes collected were used toward foreign debts and not the native peoples of Haiti. The legislature would eventually elect mulatto Sténio Vincent to the Presidency. By 1930, following a December 1929 incident in Les Cayes in which U.S. Marines killed at least ten Haitian peasants during a protest of local economic conditions, President Herbert Hoover began to grow concerned about the effects of the occupation. Hoover would appoint two commissions to study the situation; a former Governor, and General of the Philippines, W. Cameron Forbes, headed the more prominent of the two. The Forbes Commission praised the attempts and specific improvements that the United States administration had achieved, but criticized the exclusion of Haitians from authority positions in the government.

1932-1934: America's Withdrawal

Eventually, the commission would assert that "The social forces that created [instability] still remain--poverty, ignorance, and the lack of a tradition or desire for orderly free government." The United States withdrawal was well under way by 1932, when Hoover lost the presidency to Roosevelt, the presumed author of the most recent Haitian constitution. On a visit to Cap Haïtien in July 1934, Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement, nervous that the Americans were spending too much time in Haiti and ignoring the internal problems of the Great Depression. The last contingent of marines left a Haitian port on August 1, 1934, after a formal transfer of authority to the new Haitian government. After 19 years of occupation, American Troops were finally out of Haiti.

Haitian Point of View

The Haitian people felt belittled and undermined during the occupation. They were not able to cope with the power of the United States or the racial segregation thrust upon them by northerners. As the occupation period grew longer, the people were unable to abide by the rules put in place by foreigners. They felt that every new issue dealt with race, either the whites believing they were superior or the whites not recognizing the difference between the multitude of races in Haiti. The Haitian people were furious with the terrible treatment and the power of the United States Marines. It was a time of troubles and hardship, which they seem to blame on the Marienes control.

United States Point of View

Believing they were entering into this as a way to protect themselves, some Americans see this brutal occupation as an act of kindness. They look at the occupation as a time of helofulness and compassion, that is the United States offering it superior economic skills to jum start Haiti. Though they did help build roads and help to create more jobs while present, the Marines also murdured thousands of innocent civilians. There are some people crazy enough to believe that they occupation was not actually selfish but selfless, going so far as to say there never was an occupation but a helpful period for the Haitians. The US today is again entering Haiti to help them with their problems, hopefully this time for the right reasons.


Antoine, Guy S., ed. "Windows on Haiti and the World." Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://haitiforever.com/>.
This source provided information on the revolution in Haiti. It described the impact that the revolution had on the people and the country as a whole. It also explained Haiti’s struggle for independence and quest for identity.

Minster, Christopher. Haiti: The U.S. Occupation, 1915-34. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://latinamericanhistory.com/od/historyofthecaribbean/p/08haiti1915.htm>.
This source describes the U.S. occupation in Haiti, and the crippling state of the country before the U.S. entered the situation. It goes on to explain how the U.S. intervention caused unrest and anger among the people of Haiti and how this led to tensions, and the eventual exit of the U.S in Haiti.

Mont-Reynaud, Marie-Josee. "The Failure of the American Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934." http://haitiforever.com/windowsonhaiti/am-occup.htm
This article described the United States’ occupation strategies, and what went wrong in the country of Haiti. It also touched on the struggles the Haitian people endured when under the control of the United States, feeling again like a colony as they had been to France.

Occupation of Haiti (1915-34). Global Security, 6 May 2005. Web. 3 Feb. 2010. <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/haiti19.htm>.
This source explains the controversy over the United States occupation of Haiti, and how the Haitian people were unjustly treated. It also highlighted the focus of intervention by the U.S., and their reasons behind taking control of Haiti.

Struck, Ben. The American Occupation of Haiti: The Causes of Intervention. 11 Mar. 2007. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://modern-us-history.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_american_occupation_of_haiti>.
This online site explained the United States’ reasoning for deciding to intervene in Haiti. Although the U.S. did have some good intentions to back up why they wanted to invade Haiti, the actions they took when they got there did not express these good intentions.

U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-34. U.S. Department of State. Web. 2 Feb. 2010. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/time/wwi/88275.htm>.
This source describes the U.S. invasion of Haiti, and mentions the faults taken by the U.S. when occupying the country. It describes attempts made by the U.S. that in the end angered the American people for the mistreatment of the Haitian people. The source explains how the citizens of the United States came together to pressure their own forces to leave the country of Haiti to become its own independent state again.