Events in Haiti followed a familiar path. When Wilson became president, political and economic instability and threats of foreign intervention existed there. United States citizens owned perhaps 40 percent of the stock in the National Bank of Haiti, half the stock in the national railroad, and a smaller portion of the German-dominated Central Railroad. Loans from foreign sources contributed to the financial crisis and increased the threat of intervention. By 1915, Haiti's public debt stood at $32 million.
In January 1914 a revolution brought Oreste Zamor to power. The United States recognized him as president on 1 March 1914, even though he declined to accept a customs receivership and to pledge that no foreign power other than the United States would secure a naval station at Môle St. Nicholas. President Zamor later rejected a similar proposal, strengthened perhaps by German and French demands to share in the customs receivership; President Wilson objected, in effect invoking the Monroe Doctrine.
In October 1914, when Davilmar Theodore ousted Zamor, Secretary of State Bryan notified him that recognition would be extended only after agreement on a customs convention, settlement of disputes between the government and the railroads and the national bank, and guarantees against leases of coaling or naval stations to any European country. Theodore rejected these demands. Domestically, he became involved in a serious controversy with the national bank. His government printed a large quantity of paper currency and seized $65,000 of the bank's gold supply. To prevent further raids, the bank transferred $500,000 in gold to New York aboard the USS Machias. Although Bryan denied Haitian claims that armed intervention on behalf of U.S. business interests had taken place, U.S. investment in the national bank was extensive.
Theodore resigned in February 1915, and General Vilbrun Guillaume Sam assumed the presidency. Wilson sent a special agent to Haiti to press a treaty upon Sam's government as a condition for recognition. Failing to achieve his mission, the agent suggested that U.S. marines be used to impose a settlement. Although the State Department did not overtly accept this recommendation, the revolutionary situation in Haiti made its implementation possible. President Sam apparently ordered the murder of 167 political opponents at the prison in Port-au-Prince on 27 July. Although he took asylum in the French legation, he was dragged out by a mob that dismembered him in the streets. As these events occurred, the USS Washington, under Admiral Caperton, landed forces in Port-au-Prince. Caperton occupied the major coastal towns and took charge of customs collections.
After some confusion, the Haitian congress designated Caperton's choice, Sudre Dartiguenave, as the new president. The State Department soon presented Dartiguenave with a draft treaty providing for United States control of Haiti's finances, creation of a U.S.-officered constabulary, appointment of U.S. engineers to supervise sanitation and public improvement, a pledge not to transfer territory to any power other than the United States, and an article giving the United States the right to intervene to enforce the treaty and preserve Haitian independence. Dartiguenave's government signed the treaty after the United States refused to discuss substantive changes and threatened to establish a full military government. To implement the pact, the signatories set up five treaty services—a customs receivership, the financial adviser, the public works service, the public health service, and the constabulary. Although each except customs was subordinate to the Haitian government, the president of the United States nominated the top officials, who at first were all naval officers.
Late in 1917, the State Department proposed a draft constitution for Haiti (this was the document that Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt later claimed he had written). The Haitian congress resisted, but President Dartiguenave proclaimed it after a plebiscite (with a low vote and opponents abstaining) endorsed it. The constitution incorporated the 1915 treaty and validated acts of the military government. As in the Dominican Republic, there were improvements in Haiti under U.S. occupation. The constabulary, a well-trained force, maintained peace in the country; prisons improved; and the road-building program greatly extended the internal transportation and communications system. The courts and public schools did not receive the attention they needed, however, and Haiti's financial problems remained unsolved. When President Wilson left office, resentment against continued military occupation and the financial adviser's complete control of government expenditures was high.