The history of the country has been unusually turbulent and has been closely linked with that of the neighboring republic of Haiti. After Spain by the Treaty of Basel (1795) ceded the colony of Santo Domingo to France, the area now known as the Dominican Republic was conquered by Haitians under Toussaint L'Ouverture. Toussaint was defeated by the French, who invaded Haiti under General Leclerc. The resident French commander was able to fend off the attacks of Jean Jacques Dessalines, but in 1808 the people revolted and in 1809, with the aid of an English squadron, ended French control of the city of Santo Domingo. Spanish rule was reestablished.
In 1821 the inhabitants expelled the Spanish governor, but in 1822 they were reconquered by the Haitians under Jean Pierre Boyer. A revolt broke out in 1844, the Haitians were defeated, a constitution was promulgated, and a republic was established under Pedro Santana. Frequent revolts as well as continued Haitian attacks led Santana to make his country a province of Spain in 1861, but opposition under Buenaventura Báez was so severe that Spain withdrew in 1865.
Unable to preserve order, Báez himself negotiated a treaty of annexation with the United States, which the Dominicans approved but which the U.S. Senate failed to ratify. All semblance of order vanished. There were kaleidoscopic changes in the presidency and a long (1882–99), ruthless dictatorship under Ulíses Heureaux, ended by his assassination and followed by more revolutions.
The republic was hopelessly bankrupt by 1905 and faced intervention by European powers. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt arranged a U.S. customs receivership. Although there was a marked improvement in finances, fiscal control brought virtual political domination by the United States. Disorder continued, however, and the country was occupied by U.S. marines in 1916. They were withdrawn in 1924 and the customs receivership terminated in 1941.
After the overthrow of Horacio Vásquez in 1930, Rafael Trujillo Molina became dictator. Border clashes with Haiti occurred, and in 1937, Dominican troops massacred thousands of immigrant Haitians. War was narrowly averted. Trujillo suppressed domestic opposition, and he and his retinue gradually turned the country into a private fiefdom. Material improvements in roads, agriculture, sanitation, and education contributed to the prolongation of the regime. Feuds with other Caribbean nations developed. In 1961, Trujillo was assassinated.
Joaquín Balaguer, who had been named president by Trujillo in 1960, initiated democratization measures and withstood attempts by the Trujillo family to regain power. Balaguer was deposed (Jan., 1962), but the governing council, after surviving a military coup, promulgated (Sept., 1962) a new constitution. In Dec., 1962, in their first free election since 1924, the Dominicans elected Juan Bosch president by a substantial majority. Bosch committed himself to an ambitious program of reforms, but right-wing opposition led to his overthrow in Sept., 1963. A civilian triumvirate was installed by the military leaders, and Donald Reid Cabral emerged as its chief member.
In 1965 civil war broke out again after military supporters of Bosch toppled the government. A cease-fire was negotiated by the Organization of American States (OAS) and in 1965 a compromise agreement was reached. In 1966, with Bosch and Balaguer the leading candidates, an election was held. Balaguer, the Social Christian Reform party (PRSC) candidate, won and took office on July 1. The authoritarianism of the Trujillo period continued under Balaguer, who enjoyed the support of the right, the military, and the Church.
Balaguer was reelected in 1970 and 1974. The political climate, however, remained uneasy, with the economy stagnant, and from 1978 to 1986 the Dominican Revolutionary party (PRD) held power. Rising prices resulting from a program of economic austerity cost the PRD its ruling position, and the aging Balaguer again won the presidency in 1986, in 1990, and (for a two-year term) in 1994, but he was barred from running again 1996.
Elections in 1996 led to a runoff that was won by the Dominican Liberation party (PLD) candidate, Leonel Fernández Reyna. A protégé of Bosch, Fernández was a lawyer who had been raised in New York City and had not previously held political office. Although the country enjoyed steady economic growth under Fernández, farmers and poorer Dominicans saw little improvement in their well-being, and his term was marred by corruption scandals.
In 2000, Hipólito Mejía Dominguez, an agronomist and businessman who was the PRD candidate, won the presidential election; he promised to aid those who had not benefited from the years of growth. The economy worsened, however, under Mejía, and he failed to win a second term in 2004, as voters elected his predecessor, Leonel Fernández, to the presidency. Also in 2004 the country agreed to join in a free-trade area with the United States and most Central American nations.
Improved economic conditions benefited Fernández's PLD in 2006, when the party secured a majority in the congressional elections, and Ferńndez himself was reelected in 2008. In 2010 the PLD again won the congressional elections. Danilo Medina Sánchez, the PLD candidate, was elected president in 2012, defeating former president Mejía.