Volume No. 2 Issue No. 64 - Monday, January 5, 2009|
Dominica: The Push for Annexation with the United States
By Thomson Fontaine
The year was 1898 and the population of Dominica was buzzing with news of the country desiring and pushing to be annexed to the United States. The fight for annexation was led by many among the mulatto class who were simply fed up with British rule.
At the turn of the twentieth century a debate raged within Dominica for annexation to the United States.
Indeed, there was growing restlessness with British rule, which had seen Dominica becoming a unit of the federal colony under the Leeward Island Federation in 1871. This meant that Dominica was governed from Antigua with two elected members of the legislature representing the island. Many on the island felt forgotten by the British.
Needless to say, this did not sit well with the growing mulatto class in Dominica, including several local legislators and administrators of the country’ s leading newspaper the Dominican, which was once edited by Charles Falconer, himself a leading voice against British rule.
At the time, Dominica appeared to be largely neglected by the British. In Roseau the capital, where about one fifth of the population resided, there was little commercial activity and communication with the rest of the island was extremely difficult.
There was a sense that people were fed-up with the British, and were willing to look elsewhere, particularly to the United States, the rich and imposing country to the North, for their salvation. It was felt among some that the country could offer the United States its rich, fertile lands and agricultural products that was being grown in sufficiently large quantities including sugar, cocoa, limes and rum, all of which could be traded.
During that same year, Joseph Chamberlain the erstwhile Imperial Secretary of State for the colonies offered to extend imperial financial assistance to Dominica on condition of a change in the local constitution, by which the island should become a Crown Colony.
On July 13, 1898 when the legislation came before the local Legislature for approval, anti-crown colony proponents added an amendment declaring that the government was trying to deprive the inhabitants of their just rights and liberties and proposing that the British government barter Dominica to the United States or some other countries.
A few days later newspapers in the United States and elsewhere were reporting on the brave stance of the anti-crown colony legislatures and the desire of the population to become part of the United States. A headline in the New York Times newspaper screamed: ‘Dominica Wants to Annex: British Colony would like to become part of the US.’
However, despite the best efforts of William Davies (owner of Bath Estate), Alex Ramsey Lockhart, DO Riviere, Jabez Bellot and Henry Hamilton, the amendment was defeated and Crown Colony ruled was accepted by a vote of eight to six.
The vote however did not bring an end to calls for Dominica to become part of the United States and for more than two years, both the local and international press was filled with letters and articles both in support and against annexation.
In August 1899 an article appeared in the Dominican titled: ‘Dominica Loyal to Britain: An emphatic denial of reports that sentiments favor annexation to the United States of America .’ It was later reprinted in full in the New York Times newspaper.
The article was in response to several newspaper reports on the matter but in particular to a letter reprinted in the New York Herald by Andrew Munro a member of the legislative council in Antigua. In his letter, he chastised the British government for denying the popular will of the people of the colonies and observed, “ The British West Indies is ready to accept the United States flag in the absence of England failing to abolish the sugar bounties.”
According to the unnamed writer of the article in the Dominican, “For over a year or so we find that at different times many newspapers of the United States and elsewhere have been indulging in the pastime of publishing news to the effect that the West Indies are to, or should, be annexed to the United States.”
The writer went on, “ these are a few of the many canards (we cannot designate them otherwise) that are published ad libitum from time to time to in the United States and elsewhere about the British West Indies in order to hoodwink the ignorant but which only afford amusement to those who are able to accurately gauge the correct opinion bearing on this question.”
As far as the writer was concerned, Dominica would never become part of the United States emphatically stating “we point blank refuse to be associated with him (Munro) in any intrigue or conspiracy by which our good name as loyal subjects of her most gracious majesty Queen Victoria may be in any way endangered.”
While this view hardly seemed to represent that of the majority of Dominicans, the writer was keen to point out that: “we are certain that we voice the opinion of the most intelligent, and also the most numerous, sections of this community when we now record our solemn protest against Mr. Munro’s officious letter.” To the writer Mr, Munro’s cackling was extremely disagreeable to some of his neighbors.
Clearly, the writer believed to belong to the ruling British government was anxious to prevent talk of annexation for gaining any added momentum within Dominica if it could be seen within the broader Caribbean context.
In the end, such forceful arguments and a determination by the British, who after all held political sway, to not seed further ground to the United States, ensured that the cause for annexation was lost.
In 1917 the United States would go on to annex the Danish countries of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas but Dominica never succeeded in becoming part of the United States, remaining firmly under British rule and eventually gaining its independence in 1978.
Editor’s Note: In this special series of articles, we will revisit press coverage of historical events in Dominica to give our readers a glimpse of what life was like in the country and the issues faced many years ago.
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