VI. 1874 to 1895

When Salnave’s War was over, Haiti was in a dire state. President Jean-Nicolas Nissage-Saget’s successor, Michel Domingue, and his nephew, Septimus Rameau, wanted to build the nation anew, with railways and a new palace. But they were unable to obtain the funds they needed. By 1876, Haiti was divided between Domingue’s successor, Pierre Théoma Boisrond-Canal, and Senator Jean-Pierre Boyer-Bazelais, whose partisans constituted the Liberal Party. This divide provided an opportunity for Lysius Salomon, Emperor Faustin Soulouque’s former minister of finance, to return to Haiti and seize power. Backed by the National Party, Salomon created Haiti’s national bank and completed payments on the French indemnity. In 1883, however, the nationalists and the liberals went to war. So vehement were Salomon’s supporters in Port-au-Prince that many of Boyer-Bazelais’s partisans in the merchant houses were killed. Over the next several decades, German entrepreneurs and Lebanese Christian merchants would enter the void in Haiti’s economy and settle permanently on the island.

The events in 1883 undermined Salomon’s popularity. In 1888, he was forced to step down and was succeeded by his own subordinate, François Légitime. Unable to hold back the liberals, Légitime was overthrown by Florvil Hyppolite the very next year. Hyppolite and his brilliant minister of finance and foreign affairs, Anténor Firmin, were determined to advance the nation. Under Hyppolite, the state renovated urban spaces. Firmin helped to rewrite Haiti’s constitution. Also, while Hyppolite made peace with the Dominican Republic, Firmin upheld Haitian sovereignty over Môle Saint-Nicolas, a port on Haiti’s northern peninsular that the United States wanted to lease. All the while, Firmin hoped to demonstrate Haiti’s potential to the world. Inequality within Haiti, however, was never resolved. As the new century approached, Haiti was a very unequal place. The merchant houses in Haiti’s port cities continued to amass small fortunes as they purchased the coffee cultivated by peasants and sold it to Europe. Elites were more likely to identify with French culture than with the peasants whose work sustained the nation.