VII. 1896 to 1914

When Florvil Hyppolite died of a stroke in 1896, his minister of war, Simon Sam, became president. When Sam’s term ended, his ally, Cincinnatus Leconte, was about to take power. That was until Haiti’s most prominent intellectual, Anténor Firmin, and its most experienced soldier, Nord Alexis, united to pursue power. They eventually turned on each other, however. When Alexis won the war, Firmin went into exile. Under Alexis, Haiti celebrated 100 years of independence, but low coffee prices weakened the economy. Alexis could not convince European overseers at the national bank to lend money to develop other industries. As the economy worsened over the next several decades, many Haitians went to work in Cuba, where Haitian culture has since taken root. Meanwhile, back in Haiti, Lebanese Christians—already disliked because they sold American imports—became the scapegoats. Alexis directed his own wrath at Firmin, who returned in 1908, but was vanquished once more. Alexis held power until later that year when he was overthrown by Antoine Simon, the military commander in the south.

As president, Simon looked overseas to obtain the funds needed to improve the economy. Haiti’s bank reopened with European and American capital, while Simon awarded concessions to Americans and Germans to build railroads and open businesses. The more concessions he made, however, the more he provoked nationalist ire. Backed by provincial leaders, Cincinnatus Leconte overthrew Simon in 1911. As president, Leconte appointed statesmen to improve schools and install telegraphs. Cars were imported, too. Leconte extolled technology. He saw Vodou as primitive, and let the Catholic Church condemn its practitioners. A year later Leconte was killed by an accidental explosion in the palace. His successors rebuilt the palace and resumed work to improve education, over which there was extensive debate. In 1914, however, rival provincial leaders battled over the presidency. When France and Germany sent warships to Haiti to protect their investments, the United States president, Woodrow Wilson, worried that Europe would breach American security in waters near in the Panama Canal.