The Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Navy (Daniels)

My Dear Mr. Secretary: The increasing agitation among the Dominicans during the last two years for the right of self-government, and the anxiety expressed by the governments of other American republics as to our intentions in Santo Domingo, have caused the Department of State to give very thoughtful consideration to the question of whether the United States might not now well take the first steps in returning to the Dominicans the Government of their Republic.

Provision can and should, of course, be made before the Government of their Republic is turned back to the Dominicans whereby the obligations assumed by the United States under the Convention of 1907 are safeguarded, and whereby this Government retains for a term of years the essential measure of control over the Dominican finances, as well as over the native constabulary. The question therefore arises whether, in view of the assurances contained in the Proclamation of Occupation issued by Admiral Knapp on November 29, 1916,8 the internal condition of the country is such that we would not be justified in taking steps to give back to the Dominican people the right of self-government. After a very careful review of the situation, this Department reached the conclusion that by reason of the tranquillity now existing in the Dominican Republic, the people of Santo Domingo may now be entrusted with at least partial control of their Government and that this Government would be justified in taking the first steps to turn back to the Dominican people the Government which we have held for them as trustees for four years.

When this Department reached this decision I submitted the question to the consideration of the President in a letter dated November 13,9 stating at the same time that in my opinion it must be assumed that we would make our final withdrawal conditioned upon the substantial accomplishment of the main objects that we had in mind in undertaking the direction of Dominican affairs, and that we could hardly justify, even to the Dominicans, the abrupt and irresponsible cessation of our control, which in its larger aspects has undoubtedly been beneficial to the Dominican Republic. It is evident that the time which the process of withdrawal will entail is difficult to estimate.

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With my letter to the President, above referred to, I transmitted a memorandum upon our position in Santo Domingo in which was contained the recommendation that the following steps should be taken immediately with the understanding that they would mark the first of the stages necessary in the reestablishment of local self-government in Santo Domingo:

The announcement by Proclamation by the Military Governor that the Government of the United States intends now to begin to return to the Dominican people the government of their country.
The appointment by the Military Governor of a Commission of Dominicans to which shall be attached an American Technical Advisor. This Commission will be entrusted with the general revision of the laws of the Republic, in particular the drafting of a new Election Law and the formulation of such amendments to the Constitution as may be deemed necessary. In order that the Dominican people may not feel that this Commission is composed of Dominicans who do not represent public opinion, it is suggested that the Commission to be appointed by the Military Governor be composed of the eleven members of the Dominican Senate elected by popular suffrage in 1914. Their term of office has not yet expired.
All suggested amendments to the Constitution and the initial revision of the laws after acceptance by the Dominican Commission to be submitted to the approval of the Military Governor. After this fair start is achieved, it is hoped that there will be no occasion to restrict further the free exercise by the Dominican people of the Legislative power.

In reply to my letter of November 13, I received a letter from the President dated November 15, a copy of which I am sending you herewith,10 in which the President stated that he agreed that the steps suggested should now be taken looking towards a gradual withdrawal of our interference with the self-government of Santo Domingo, and instructing me to make the necessary announcements and prepare the necessary methods for the fulfillment of our assurances.

In accordance with the President’s direction, I have had prepared and am sending you herewith the draft of a Proclamation to be issued by the Military Governor at an early date.11 You will note that the issuance of this Proclamation will mark the first of the suggested steps approved by the President, If you see no objection, I should be glad if you would direct the Military Governor to issue the Proclamation proposed as soon as possible. I believe that it is important that the Commission which is suggested should be composed of the members of the Dominican Senate elected in 1914, in order that the Dominican people may feel that the citizens appointed by the Military Governor to form this Commission are truly representative [Page 138]and not selected merely by the Military Governor to carry out the proposals which he desires to make.

I assume that the officials in your Department directly concerned with the conduct of Dominican affairs will be pleased to cooperate with this Department, and to give us the benefit of their advice and recommendations in the carrying out of this policy of gradual withdrawal from control of the Government of Santo Domingo.

The announcement of our policy will, I feel certain, have a most beneficial effect upon our relations with all the Latin American Republics, and will do much to dispel the misunderstandings and suspicions which have been largely occasioned by the unexpectedly protracted period of our occupation of the Dominican Republic.

Believe me [etc.]

Bainbridge Colby
  1. Proclamation quoted in full in letter of Nov. 29, from the Secretary of the Navy, infra.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Copy of enclosure not found in Department files.