The republic of Haiti, unlike the Dominican Republic, its companion on the island of Hispaniola, had maintained its independence continuously since the time of Toussaint Louverture in the late eighteenth century. It had also been more successful than its neighbors in meeting the interest payments on its rather large foreign debt; but in the prevalence of corrupt tyranny complicated by frequent revolution, it surpassed the Dominican Republic. In the early twentieth century, corruption grew more flagrant and revolution more frequent, and bankruptcy, default, and the menace of European intervention loomed on the horizon.
Under these circumstances the United States began urging upon Haitian presidents measures designed to bring some order out of the chaos into which the country had fallen and to guard against European intervention. Bryan asked for the United States the right to appoint a customs receiver, as in Santo Domingo, and a financial adviser. He asked for the right to supervise Haitian elections and for a nonalienation pledge regarding Môle St. Nicolas, a potential naval base at the northwest corner of the island. Negotiations along these lines proceeded, but so kaleidoscopic were the changes in Haitian administrations that no results had been achieved by July 1915, when President Guillaume Sam, following the cold-blooded massacre of 170 political prisoners in the government jail, was pulled by an angry mob from his sanctuary in the French legation, thrown into the street, and assassinated. On the same afternoon (28 July), the USS Washington, flagship of Rear Admiral Caperton, dropped anchor in Port-au-Prince harbor, and before nightfall the U.S. marines occupied the town.
Exasperated at the long reign of anarchy in Haiti and at the failure of treaty negotiations, Washington was resolved to use the new crisis to enforce its demands upon the Haitian government. By taking control of the customhouses and impounding the revenue, and by the threat of continued military government if its wishes were not obeyed, the United States was able to dictate the choice of a president as successor to Guillaume Sam and to prevail upon the new president and the National Assembly to accept a treaty embodying all the American demands.
The Treaty of 1915 with Haiti went further in establishing U.S. control and supervision than the Platt Amendment treaty with Cuba or the Dominican treaty of 1907 combined. It provided that the top officials should be appointed by the president of Haiti upon nomination by the president of the United States. Moreover, all Haitian governmental debts were to be classified, arranged, and serviced from funds collected by the general receiver, and Haiti was not to increase its debt without the consent of the United States, nor do anything to alienate any of its territory or impair its independence. The treaty was to remain in force for ten years, but a clause permitting its extension for another ten-year period upon either party's showing sufficient cause was invoked by the United States in 1917, thus prolonging to 1936 the prospective life of the treaty.