Social justice


The paper will test your ability to analyze theoretical arguments. You will turn in a short, roughly two-to-three-page response paper that addresses the readings of that theme. With regard to paper questions, I would like you to ask and answer a question about what you see as the most important ideas in the readings. Understanding the readings well enough to ask a good question about them is part of the assignment.
Those texts are:
Gateway Reading
Lindner, Emmett. “Investigating Haiti’s ‘Double Debt’.” New York Times, 22 May 2022, 2.
Apuzzo, Matt, Constant Méheut, Selam Gebrekidan, and Catherine Porter. “A Bank Created for Haiti Funneled Wealth to France.” New York Times, 23 May 2022, 1.
Gebrekidan, Selam, Matt Apuzzo, Catherine Porter, and Constant Méheut. “Calculating Haiti’s Payments to France.” New York Times, 24 May 2022, 1.
Méheut, Constant, Catherine Porter, Selam Gebrekidan, and Matt Apuzzo. “A Haitian President Demands Reparations and Ends up in Exile.” New York Times, 25 May 2022, 1.
Méheut, Constant. “Calculating Haiti’s Payments to France.” New York Times, 25 May 2022, 2.
Lustgarten, Abrahm. “Barbados Resists Climate Colonialism in an Effort to Survive the Costs of Global Warming.” ProPublica and The New York Times, 27 July 2022, 1-28.
April 12
Theoretical Reading
Blackburn, Robin. “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution.” The William and Mary Quarterly 63, no. 4 (2006): 643-74.Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution
Author(s): Robin Blackburn
Source: The William and Mary Quarterly , Oct., 2006, Third Series, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Oct.,
2006), pp. 643-674
Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
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Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the
Democratic Revolution
Robin Blackburn
N the sequence of revolutions that remade the Atlantic world from
1776 to 1825, the Haitian Revolution is rarely given its due, yet with-
out it there is much that cannot be accounted for. The revolutions-
American, French, Haitian, and Spanish-American-should be seen as
interconnected, with each helping to radicalize the next. The American
Revolution launched an idea of popular sovereignty that, together with
the cost of the war, helped to provoke the downfall of the French
monarchy. The French Revolution, dramatic as was its influence on the
Old World, also became a fundamental event in the New World because
it was eventually to challenge slavery as well as royal power. This challenge did not come from the French National Constituent Assembly’s
resounding “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens 1789,”
since neither the assembly nor its successor, the National Convention,
moved on its own initiative to confront slavery in the French plantation
colonies. Indeed the issue was not to be addressed for another five years,
by which time the French Caribbean colonies were engulfed in slave
revolts and threatened by British occupation.
The first major breach in the hugely important systems of slavery in
the Americas was opened not by English or American abolitionists but
by Jacobin revolutionaries and the black peasantry of Saint Domingue
(later Haiti). This fact has not been a comfortable one for the traditional
Robin Blackburn teaches at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom and
the New School for Social Research in New York. The present article grew from participation in a conference on the bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution organized by
the Africana Studies Center and History Department at Cornell University in April
2004, a conference on the same topic organized by the John Carter Brown Library
in June 2004, and the Byrne Lecture and Seminar at the History Department of
Vanderbilt University in October 2004. He thanks the organizers of and participants
in these events for stimulating discussions that helped to shape these reflections. He
is grateful to Adam Shatz of The Nation for requesting a review of two new books on
Haiti and the French Caribbean by Laurent Dubois. He would also like to thank
Laurent Dubois, Eric Foner, Oz Frankel, Frangois Furstenberg, Claudio Lomnitz,
Ashli White, and anonymous readers for the William and Mary Quarterly for helpful
comments on an earlier draft.
William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Series, Volume LXIII, Number 4, October 2006
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national historiography in the United States or Britain and has
awkward even in France as the Jacobin period has been view
increasing distaste and embarrassment. In 1959 R. R. Palmer publ
brilliant and influential study of the age of the democratic rev
giving detailed attention to the American and French revolution
lesser upheavals in the Low Countries, Switzerland, and elsewhe
entirely neglecting the struggles that led to the proclamation o
Haitian republic.1 The notion of an age of the democratic rev
was problematic because it imparted a ready-made, seemingly pre
character to political acts that sought to exclude some while freeing o
and that were often contradictory, provoking counterrevolution as w
democracy. Ignoring the Haitian Revolution made matters much
eliminating an event that pitted momentous progressive and reac
impulses against one another. To ignore Haiti was also to dimini
the other revolutions.
Outside the world of academe, C. L. R. James, the Trinid
political activist and journalist, had already made the case for the
tance of the Haitian Revolution in his vigorous and well-rese
book, The Black Jacobins, first published in 1938. Decoloniza
Africa and elsewhere helped to attract some attention to the Ha
Revolution in the I96os, and historians have begun to study the r
tion as an event in the history of the moral imagination as well a
matic political episode with a wide influence. Haitian his
Michel-Rolph Trouillot has argued that the events leading to th
dation of Haiti have suffered from either “erasure” or “banalization” in
general histories of the Americas and the West because they were seen as
I R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of
Europe and America, I76o-i8oo, 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1959, 1964). Classical historians of the French Revolution such as Jean Jaurits and Georges Lefevbre included
substantial discussions of the momentous events in the Caribbean, but Frangois
Furet had little to say on this topic. Simon Schama’s best-selling Citizens: A
Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York, 1989) also omitted reference to events
in Saint Domingue. Yet the appearance of a U.S. paperback edition of C. L. R.
James’s, The Black Jacobins (New York, 1963), and the retreat of European colonialism rekindled interest in Haiti in the English-speaking world. The publication of
Eugene D. Genovese’s From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in
the Making of the Modern World, Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern
History (Baton Rouge, La., 1979), and Eric Foner’s Nothing but Freedom:
Emancipation and Its Legacy, Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History
(Baton Rouge, La., 1983), were important attempts to integrate Haiti into the wider
history of slavery and emancipation in the Americas. Garry Wills foregrounded
Haiti’s influence on U.S. politics (Wills, “Negro President'” Jefferson and the Slave
Power [Boston, zoo31], 33-46), and David Brion Davis devotes a chapter to the
French and Haitian revolutions in his new book, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and
Fall of Slavery in the New World (Oxford, Eng., 20o6), 157-74.
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lacking sufficient coherence and meaning. They were only a confused
disorder that did not rise to the level of a national or social revolution.
Just as Haiti was diplomatically shunned by the Great Powers-the
United States did not recognize it until I862-so scholars paid it little or
no attention for at least another century. Spanish-American historiography acknowledged Haiti’s assistance to Sim6n Bolivar, but general histories of the age of revolution often dealt briefly with these liberation
struggles themselves. Yet the fate of Saint Domingue was a strategic
stake in the statecraft of William Pitt, John Adams, Timothy Pickering,
Thomas Jefferson, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Napoleon
Bonaparte, and Bolivar. The survival of Haiti had implications for the
future of slavery in the Americas and tested and tempered the outlook of
the abolition movement. Though faint-hearted abolitionists recoiled in
horror at the bloody consequences of slave revolt, others saw no reason to
tolerate a slave regime that was intrinsically violent. Certain intellectual
and moral conclusions seemed to flow from these momentous and tragic
events that captured the imagination of writers and artists from William
Wordsworth, Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist, and Alphonse Marie Louise
Prat de Lamartine to Alejo Carpentier and David Blake. Finally, whatever
view is taken of Haiti’s achievement, the revolution that established it is a
vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle of Atlantic politics in this period without
which no good picture can be produced, a fact known to Henry Adams
yet neglected by his successors. Without that revolution scholars miss
something essential in the Quasi War, the Louisiana Purchase, the trade
embargo, the Monroe doctrine, antebellum U.S. politics, and the entire
reshaping of the slave order in the early nineteenth century. Since the
publication of Trouillot’s book, historians have been far more ready to
explore the issues he raised, yet there remains a lingering reserve. This
reserve has been encouraged not only by the much-bruited skepticism
about grand narratives but also by disappointment with decolonization
and, in some quarters, a reborn belief in Anglo-American destiny.2
2 C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo
Revolution (London, 1938); Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the
Production of History (Boston, 1995), 88-107 (quotations, 96). A survey by Joyce E.
Chaplin finds that studies of the early U.S. Republic still generally fail to insert this
topic in the wider Atlantic framework and display “tentativeness” in reaching outside the traditional bounds of national historiography. See Chaplin, “Expansion and
Exceptionalism in Early American History,” Journal of American History 89, no. 4
(March 2003): 1431-55 (“tentativeness,” 1445). E. J. Hobsbawm, in his masterful but
avowedly Eurocentric work, excludes the American Revolution as well as the Haitian
from detailed attention; however, his brief passages on Haiti and South America
make several essential points (Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848
[London, 1964], 69, iio). A late entrant to the age of revolution literature is Lester
D. Langley, who takes the other approach, focusing on the New World and giving
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In mid-1791 Saint Domingue, the richest slave colony of
Americas, was torn apart by struggles between supporters and op
of extending citizenship to free-colored proprietors. This strife
scene for a massive slave uprising in August 1791 in the colony’s n
plain, involving about twenty thousand slaves and leading to the
tion of large bands of rebels. Several of the main black comm
were subsequently enticed to join the Spanish army. Saint Do
shared the island of Hispaniola with the Spanish colony of
Domingo, and relations between revolutionary France and royalis
were deteriorating. With other black chiefs retreating to the h
mountains, French colonial authorities lost control of importan
Influential planters invited the British to intervene. On August 2
rival decrees of emancipation were issued by the revolutionary co
sioner in northern Saint Domingue and one of the black ge
Toussaint-Louverture. The National Convention in Paris was even
brought to issue the decree of 16 Pluv6se An II (February 4,
which abolished slavery throughout the French colonies. The Na
Convention was spurred to action by delegates from Saint Do
who argued that, in the face of a British invasion of the colonies
defection of many royalist planters, only such a radical step co
the republic by rallying more black insurgents to its side.
The National Convention struck down slave property at a
when the pressure of the sansculottes on that body was at its h
Perhaps only the Jacobins at their most radical could have embra
policy but, following Maximilien de Robespierre’s overthro
Thermidor, it was sustained by the French Directory until the end
1790s. An expedition of fifteen hundred men led by Victor
ejected the British from Guadeloupe with the help of several th
local colored troops, including former slaves. Among those sent p
was Benedict Arnold, who had joined the British expedition a
contractor. Hugues, the Robespierre of the islands, encourag
revolts in neighboring islands and converted Guadeloupe and its
dencies into a privateering base.
little attention to Europe (Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 7
[New Haven, Conn., 1996]). For Henry Adams’s view on Haiti’s contrib
Jefferson’s Louisiana coup, see Adams, The History of the United States of
during the First Administration of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1889), 1: 377
language used by Adams when writing about Toussaint-Louverture is pat
and inaccurate (“the sensitiveness of a wild animal,” “the unhappy negro fou
self face to face with destruction,” “he was like a rat defying a ferret” [ibid.,
388], and so forth). For a critique of today’s imperial revisionism, see
Blackburn, “Imperial Margarine,” New Left Review, 2d ser., 35 (September-
2005): 124-36.
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In Saint Domingue the black army led by Toussaint-Louverture, a
former slave, deserted its royal Spanish patron in April 1794 and joined
the republican ranks. French commander General Laveaux supported
the emancipation policy and promotion of Toussaint-Louverture. In
1796 Toussaint-Louverture was appointed lieutenant governor and in the
following year commander in chief. With materiel sent from France,
Toussaint-Louverture created a well-armed and disciplined force that
drove the Spanish and the British from the colony by 1798. Overall the
British, who had to fight hard to regain Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, and
Grenada, lost eighty thousand men in the Caribbean, with heavier losses
in the eastern islands than in Saint Domingue and more in this theater
than in Europe.
Toussaint-Louverture insisted that Saint Domingue remained
French, yet he dealt with Britain and the United States as a sovereign
power. His army included white and mulatto as well as black commanders. He invited dmigrd planters to return. In 18oi0 he drew up a constitution for the colony that declared in the first article that it was part of
the French Empire but subject to “special laws.” The third article
declared: “In this territory slaves cannot exist; servitude is permanently
abolished. All men within it are born, live, and die free and French.”
Another clause insisted that all residents, “no matter their color,” could
pursue any employment and that the only distinctions would be those
based on “virtues and talents.”3
In 1802 Napoleon, with British and U.S. encouragement, sought to
reassert metropolitan power and to reestablish slavery and white
supremacy in Saint Domingue. He sent a large expeditionary force
under the command of General Charles-Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc, his
brother-in-law, to accomplish this mission. Toussaint-Louverture
resisted but was eventually captured and died in France. The expeditionary force encountered escalating resistance, however, and lost some
fifty thousand men, including Leclerc himself.
In January 1804 the victorious black generals declared the new
Republic of Haiti. A constitution adopted in the following year outlawed slavery and declared that all citizens were legally black, probably
an attempt to forestall conflicts between black and mulatto groupings.4
The French Republic’s antislavery stance had delayed the onset of
national consciousness in Saint Domingue by tapping into the titanic
forces of revolt in the most extreme and concentrated slave system that
3 Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution
(Cambridge, Mass., 2004), 240-46 (“special laws,” 241; other quotations, 243).
4 For Haiti’s 1805 constitution with a commentary, see Sibylle Fischer,
Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution
(Durham, N.C., 2004), 227-44, 275-8I.
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had ever existed. But with the overthrow of the French Directo
Napoleon’s dispatch of a large and threatening expedition, the on
to defend the liberty of the former slaves and the social equality
was to proclaim a new state. The name Haiti was an homage
island’s precolonial inhabitants, signaling the break with empire
republic’s flag was the tricolor with the white band removed. Co
tinctions, especially between black and mulatto, continued to be i
tant yet had no legal force, and citizenship extended to all, incl
some Poles and Germans who had defected from the French arm
term blanc (white), as employed in Haiti, does not describe peop
reference to the color of their skin. Instead it became, as it rema
the present day, the vernacular term for any foreigners, even if they
Jamaicans or Brazilians of dark complexion.
In 1816 Haiti’s President Alexandre Sabes Pdtion helped B
mount the invasion that ultimately defeated the Spanish Empire
Americas by giving him arms and ammunition and allowing hund
Haitian fighters, known as “franceses,” to sail with him. In return
promised to adopt measures to extinguish slavery in the lands he
free. Bolivar had already freed his own slaves. He was only able
suade the Congress of Angostura in 1819 of limited measures: an
the slave trade and the release of male slaves who were enrolled in the
liberation forces. Against continuing opposition from many of his fellow
planters, Bolivar persuaded the Congress of Ciicuta in 1821 to go further
and decree that all children born to slave mothers would be free when
they reached eighteen years. Though the terms of this decree were no
more radical than Pennsylvania’s emancipation law of 1780, it applied to
the whole of Great Colombia with estates and mines worked by around
eighty thousand slaves. Former slaves and free men of color were to
comprise a high proportion of the main liberation armies, usually
between one-third and one-half. They were also strategically vital
because they were more willing to serve outside their native regions. All
the Spanish-American republics decreed an end to the slave trade, and
all except Paraguay adopted a free-womb law. In I829 Mexico, where
there were no more than ten thousand slaves, became the second state in
the Americas simply to free all slaves immediately. Venezuela, Colombia,
and Peru, which did not go beyond free-womb laws until the I85os, all
had significant slave-worked plantations or placer gold mines. But by
1853 all these states had peacefully abolished slavery, whereas the slave
power still had the great northern republic in its grip.5
5 Nfiria Sales de Bohigas, Sobre Esclavos, Reclutas y Mercaderes de Quintos
(Barcelona, Spain, 1974), 85 (“franceses”). I supply a far more detailed account of the
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The American Declaration of Independence, one of the finest expressions of the patriot creed, famously described as “self-evident” truths the
claims that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their
Creator with certain inalienable Rights,” among which are “Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness.” This assertion was easier to reconcile
with the enslavement of blacks than might be thought, since the rights it
asserted could only be claimed by members of a people with their own
properly organized government. Natural-rights doctrines had traditionally declared that all men were born free but qualified this notion imme-
diately by insisting that liberty could only be realized in specific
communities organized by the law of peoples (jus gentium). Slaves lacked
a community that would recognize their freedom. There is here an echo
of the idea that Christian freedom is open to all but can only be attained
by becoming a servant of Christ and a faithful member of his church.
Slaves of African descent were part of their owner’s household yet not
members of the political community. The revolt of the thirteen colonies
was the collective act of their assemblies and not the action of isolated
individuals. Even Thomas Paine in Common Sense saw the New World as
a haven for persecuted Europeans, not Native Americans or African
Americans. The chief author of the American Declaration later con-
cluded that neither the slaves nor their descendants could ever become
part of the American people and that they would need to find their own
liberty somewhere else, perhaps in Africa.6 In the more conservative
postrevolutionary moment when the Constitution was drawn up, the
presence of slaves and Indians was indirectly but explicitly acknowledged
in the clauses that awarded slaveholding states representation in
sequence in Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848
(London, 1988). Here I extend this account in the light of new research.
6 Richard Tuck, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origins and Development
(Cambridge, 1979), 18, 34-35, 37, 42. A strand of republican thinking held that,
since slaves lived and toiled under the direction of their owner, they displayed a
degree of acquiescence in their condition. Frangois Furstenberg argues that
American patriots characteristically believed that their liberties were the product of
their own virtuous resistance to tyranny and that any slave community not heaving
with revolt could be deemed to have condoned the slave regime. The living slave
could thus be seen, in this view, as having refused the test of the patriot cry of “liberty or death.” He argues that this line of thought furnished a justification of slavery
that was internal to liberal-republican ideology, not, as standard references to para-
doxes, ironies, and contradictions in the Founders’ standpoint suppose, in opposition to it. Furstenberg suggests that even those who deprecated or opposed slavery
implicitly subscribed to this reasoning, as in a remark attributed to Samuel Adams
by Benjamin Rush: “Nations were as free as they deserved to be.” See Furstenberg,
“Beyond Freedom and Slavery: Autonomy, Virtue, and Resistance in Early
American Political Discourse,” Journal ofAmerican History 89, no. 4 (March 2003):
1295-1330 (Adams quotation, 1295).
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proportion to their white population plus three-fifths of t
their slaves, with untaxed Indians not counted at all.
As slavery became more entrenched, some prominent s
still promised that, if left to their own devices, they wou
find voluntary ways to redeem their bondsmen. Such sent
some French writers, such as the Abbd Mably, to mistakenl
Americans were embarking on an abolitionist path.7 Th
British observers shared this view, others believed that the
cern for liberty had been very narrow and used antislavery the
credit the rebellion. Both reactions helped antislavery in Br
the American Revolution, carried out in the name of defen
liberties, dealt a heavy blow to the legitimacy of the Hano
and persuaded many Britons of the need for thoroughgoing
imperial reform. British abolitionism was born of defeat i
The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was found
in 1787 and was soon able to demonstrate impressive popula
mentary support.
The French Revolution at first presented barriers to slave emancipation
as strong as those present in North America. The discourse of 1789-92
made liberty conditional on public utility, property, and membership in
the community. Only propertied French men could be “active” citizens
(with a vote and the right to stand as a candidate); French women and
children were “passive” citizens (with no vote or right to represent others). The enslaved were treated as both minors and aliens. The first
clause of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man stated: “Men are
born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights. Civil
distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on public utility.” The last
clause of the declaration reinforced public utility as a potential qualification of freedom by insisting: “The right to property being inviolable and
sacred, no one ought to be deprived of it, except in cases of evident public necessity, legally ascertained, and on condition of a previous just
indemnity.”8 Since slaves were indubitably a sort of property as well as
arguably a prop of public utility, the qualification of natural liberty
7 See [Abbe Mably], Observations on the Government and Laws of the United
States ofAmerica, Translated from the French … (Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1784).
8 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens 1789,” in Merryn Williams,
ed., Revolutions, 1775-183o (Harmondsworth, Eng., 1971), 97-99 (quotations, 97, 99).
The limits of the French revolutionary concept of citizenship so far as slavery is concerned are explored in Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Les citoyennetis en Rdvolution
(1789-94), Recherches Politiques (Paris, France, 1992), esp. 191-237.
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seemed robust enough to reassure the many colonial proprietors in the
French assembly.
By this time slaveholders were on the alert. In 1788 a French abolitionist society, the Socidtd des Amis des Noirs, had formed; though its
demands were moderate, it was patronized by prominent philosophers,
financiers, and political leaders. In Britain, the Society for the Abolition
of the Slave Trade, which enjoyed cordial relations with the Socidtd des
Amis des Noirs, had aroused great controversy and collected hundreds of
thousands of signatures in support of banning slave trafficking. The
Socidtd des Amis des Noirs also opposed the slave trade but came to
focus mainly on defending the civic rights of free men of color. When
the slaves of Saint Domingue launched their historic uprising in August
1791, the Socidtd des Amis des Noirs had yet to propose the ending of
slavery. Its energies had been concentrated on attacking racial exclusion
within the free population. When Camille Desmoulins, summarizing
Maximilien de Robespierre, declared: “Let the colonies perish rather
than a principle,” the National Convention was debating a decree that
extended full civic rights to free-colored proprietors whose parents had
both been born on French soil. It was believed that only four hundred
qualified. Eventually, in April 1792, full recognition of the civic rights of
free men of color was accepted by many Girondists-the political network that spread out from Bordeaux, France’s premier colonial port-as
well as Jacobins because it promised to attach the loyalties of the thirty
thousand free blacks in Saint Domingue at a time when many colonial
whites were leaning toward royalism and a flouting of all ties to the
metropolis. The 1794 French decree of emancipation certainly reflected
the pressure of slave revolt and war yet also demonstrated a surge of
republican and national sentiment by imposing a new egalitarian order,
denouncing privilege (including that of the “aristocracy of the skin”),
and neutralizing the claims of property and of intermediary bodies such
as colonial assemblies.9 The resulting French revolutionary emancipation
9 Yves Bdnot, La rdvolution franfaise et la fin des colonies, Textes a l’appui (Paris,
France, 1988), 57-88 (quotation, 76). For the evolution and wider significance of the
French revolutionary debate on the colonies, see also Florence Gauthier, Triomphe et
mort du droit naturel en Revolution, 1789-1795-802, Pratiques Thdoriques (Paris,
France, 1992), 155-239; Lynn Hunt, “The Paradoxical Origins of Human Rights,” in
Human Rights and Revolutions, ed. Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Hunt, and Marilyn B.
Young (Lanham, Md., 2ooo), 3-17. The rejection of racial limits on citizenship in
French republicanism can also be seen as echoing the French monarchy’s universal
claim to recognize and protect all subjects, including the free people of color. The
radicalism of the Jacobins was thus much more profound than the radicalism of the
American Revolution because, though affirming the family, it put other institutions
of civil society in question. See William H. Sewell Jr., “The French Revolution and
the Emergence of the Nation Form,” in Revolutionary Currents: Nation Building in
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of 1793-94 proved strong enough to survive Robespierre’s dow
endured until nearly the end of the decade.
Meanwhile the republic in North America distanced itself fr
were seen as excesses of the French Revolution, and the British
ment, led by William Pitt, who had spoken in support of
turned to seizing slave colonies in the Caribbean. Widespread sl
and revolutionary turmoil provoked such a panic after 1792 that it
cut British abolitionism. But eventually the consolidation of T
Louverture’s regime and the emergence of a black state filled the g
yawned in the discourse of liberty and set the scene for a rebirth o
tionist politics.
Haiti’s bicentennial was marked by publication of works by
Dubois, Sibylle Fischer, Frederic Regent, and David Patrick Ge
give scholars a richer knowledge of the French Caribbean during th
lutionary epoch. They also help readers grasp the contending n
freedom at stake in the age of revolution and the ways in which th
eventually redeemed and pushed further by the former slave
Domingue. Dubois insists that the events in the former Frenc
mark a watershed. “They were,” he writes in Avengers of the N
“the most concrete expression of the idea that the rights procl
France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man were indeed un
They could not be quarantined in Europe or prevented from l
the ports of the colonies, as many had argued they should be. T
insurrection of Saint-Domingue led to the expansion of ci
beyond racial barriers despite the massive political and economi
ment in the slave system at the time.” He sees the revolution i
an intellectual and cultural as well as a political event, holding
ideal of a society in which, in principle, “all people, of all colo
granted social freedom and citizenship. Though this ideal was di
live up to, the Haitian Revolution also had a very tangible s
struck a mighty blow against slavery where it was strongest, in th
tion zone. “If we live in a world in which democracy is meant t
no one, it is in no small part because of the actions of those slaves i
Domingue who insisted that human rights were theirs too.”10
the Transatlantic World, ed. Michael A. Morrison and Melinda Zook (Lan
2oo004), 91-125. Sewell explores the racial fantasies at work in a key think
Sewell, A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution: The Abbe’ Sieyes and What Is
Estate? (Durham, N.C., 1994). For “aristocracy of the skin,” see Mim
Democracy after Slavery: Black Publics and Peasant Radicalism in Haiti an
(Gainesville, Fla., 2000), 112.
10 Dubois, Avengers of the New World (quotations, 6, 3); Laurent
Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French
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These judgments challenge the exclusions of many traditional
Western histories of liberty, including accounts of Anglo-American abolitionism that have little or no space for black antislavery and the effect
of black resistance and witness on the maturing of the abolitionist
movement. They also challenge the pessimistic conclusion that the
Haitian Revolution, despite freeing half a million slaves, was a setback
rather than a victory because its bloodshed and racial violence appeared
to belie the claims of abolitionists.” Dubois’ reflections also challenge
British and American myths of national self-sufficiency: the idea that an
original national virtue was bound to prevail over slavery with no need
for foreign examples or help.
Though a pacific emancipation, whether in Saint Domingue or the
United States, would undoubtedly have been desirable, it would have
been formidably difficult to engineer. The slavery of this epoch was
1787-18o4 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2oo004); Fischer, Modernity Disavowed; David Patrick
Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington, Ind., zoo2); Frederic Regent,
Esclavage, mdtissage, liberte: La Revolution franfaise en Guadeloupe, 178P9-802 (Paris,
France, 2004). Dubois’ salute to Haiti’s achievement is the more deserved because of
the limited and compromised character of French Enlightenment pronouncements
on slavery. See the occasionally overwritten but still effective critique in Louis SalaMorins, Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment, trans. John
Conteh-Morgan (Minneapolis, Minn., 20o6).
11 An extended and important exchange on abolitionism took place in the pages
of the American Historical Review in the mid-I980s in articles that together must
have referred to more than a thousand articles and books. Not one of them con-
cerned slave revolt, black abolitionism, or the role of black testimony in the abolitionist movement. See Thomas Bender, ed., The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and
Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation (Berkeley, Calif., 1992).
Curiously, this debate was initiated by a critique of a brilliant and innovative book,
David Brion Davis’s The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 177o-1823
(Ithaca, N.Y., 1975), which was marked by no such exclusion. Seymour Drescher has
argued that the Haitian Revolution was a setback for abolitionism and that its racial
violence was a harbinger of twentieth-century genocide. See Drescher, “The Limits
of Example,” in The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, ed. David
P. Geggus, Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World (Columbia, S.C., 2001),
10-14. It is to the credit of the key abolitionist leaders-William Wilberforce,
Thomas Clarkson, William Lloyd Garrison, Victor Schoelcher-that atrocities committed by insurgent slaves in Saint Domingue or elsewhere did not lead them to
lessen their hostility to slavery or to scorn the leaders of the Haitian Revolution. It
would be a false antithesis to pit Haiti against abolitionism. A recent account,
though paying tribute to Drescher’s valuable studies, recognizes that the British abolitionist narrative becomes more intelligible if Saint Domingue and Haiti are firmly
inserted within it, whether seen as a warning or as a source of encouragement or
inspiration. See Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight
to Free an Empire’s Slaves (New York, 2005), 280-308. And Drescher is too good a
historian to have missed the link between Haiti and the emancipationist turn in
British abolitionism in 1823 (to be discussed later).
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buttressed by worship of private property and derogatory con
race. Planters were well represented in ruling institutions throug
Atlantic world. Their power was based on racial fears and phob
patronage and appeals to national or imperial interest, on p
alliances, and, last but not least, on whips, cutlasses, and gu
were deaf to appeals to their better nature and unlikely to yield
a struggle. Wherever slavery was a pillar of national prosperity,
ful challenge to it invariably required a profound crisis usually
by war, revolution, and slave revolt. Such crises could neutrali
powerful supports of the slave system and lead to a redefinition
national community.
The tendency to take British abolitionism as normative cele
the largely peaceful emancipation in the British West Indies in
But the British planters were absentees, received generous comp
and had just been reminded by a large-scale slave revolt of the
tive. Moreover the triumphs of British abolition occurred at t
exceptional national crisis and danger, in 1807 and 1832-33. A s
favorable conjuncture led to the freeing of the slaves in Martin
Guadeloupe in 1848, with planters seeking compensation for w
really a fait accompli. These relatively peaceful emancipations w
dence of what Barrington Moore Jr. once called the contribution
olution to gradual reform.12 Quite simply, the events in Saint D
had shown that the slave order was highly vulnerable in pl
colonies where 8o percent of the population was enslaved. Whe
were a minority-on the large island of Cuba and in the mainla
territories of the United States and Brazil-the effect of Haiti was to
show the slaveholders and their allies the need for better defenses.
The awesome scale of the events in Saint Domingue instilled a sort
of permanent panic in the minds of New World slave owners, leading
them to redouble their security and to fortify their links to potential
allies. Plantation output in Saint Domingue plummeted after 1791 and
never really recovered, raising prices and opening large opportunities to
rival producers. Emigrds from Saint Domingue also brought their expertise to these rivals. The planters of the United States, Cuba, and Brazil
were the main beneficiaries, partly because they had huge areas that
could be brought into cultivation and because they proved capable of
12 An argument I make in Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 293-330, 419-72, but
see also Davis, Slavery in the Age of Revolution; Robert William Fogel, Without
Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall ofAmerican Slavery (New York, 1989). For the
revolutionary contribution to gradualism and democracy, see Barrington Moore Jr.,
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the
Modern World (Boston, 1966).
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maintaining slave subjection. The slaves were a large minority, not a
majority. Slave owners needed to be sure of the support of the state and
of the great majority of free citizens. In Brazil and Cuba, the big
planters and merchants reduced the danger of conflict by cleaving loyally to the reigning monarchy while seeking to give the slave order a
broader social basis and persuading the authorities to encourage the
export economy. Small proprietors were given some recognition. Free
people of color, a few of them slaveholders, had civil liberty but few
privileges and no access to political power. In the United States, the
southern slaveholders, who were a minority even in their own states,
needed support in the North as well as the South from white, nonslave-
holding, and nonpatrician fellow citizens. The formation of the
Democratic-Republican party helped to achieve this vital goal.
Thomas Jefferson’s anti-Federalist campaign of the 179os expressed
his deep republican convictions and his concern that the Jay Treaty with
Britain had been far too accommodating. But it also furnished a bold
response to the plumes of smoke rising from the plantations in Saint
Domingue, the effect being to prevent a repetition of such events by
extending support for the planters among the most radicalized sections
of the population. Democratic-Republicanism offered enhanced rights
and status to white citizens and in so doing helped to adapt the colonial
patronage complex linking American slavery and American freedom to
the new formula of a “white republic.”’13
As Secretary of State, Jefferson at first had little sympathy for the
planters of the French Caribbean and opposed their plots to secede with
British help. The event that “upset all calculations” and necessitated “an
entirely new policy” was neither the uprising of August 1791 nor the
emancipation decree of 1794. It was instead the rallying of insurgent
blacks in July 1793 to defend Ldger Fdlicitd Sonthonax, the commissioner in Saint Domingue, from a white colonists’ revolt that marked a
new revolutionary type of threat to the slave order.’4
As a Jacobin and member of the Socidtd des Amis des Noirs,
Sonthonax had been appointed as someone likely to vigorously promote
13 Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of
Colonial Virginia (New York, 1975); Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White
Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, Haymarket
Series (London, 1990o).
14 Michael Zuckerman, “The Color of Counterrevolution: Thomas Jefferson
and the Rebellion in San Domingo,” in The Languages of Revolution, ed. Loretta
Valtz Mannucci, Quaderno Series (Milan, Italy, 1989), 83-10o7 (quotations, 91).
Winthrop D. Jordan also draws attention to Saint Domingue’s effect on Jefferson
but does not pinpoint this particular event (Jordan, White over Black: American
Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812 [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968], 375).
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the revolutionary National Convention’s strategy of allying
people of color against the treachery of white colonists w
spiring with the British. Sonthonax formed new colored b
cracked down on counterrevolutionary conspiracies. Never
white colonists managed to win over General Frangois
newly appointed governor-general of Saint Domingue, and
he ordered the arrest of the commissioner. Sonthonax only
Galbaud’s clutches thanks to the initiative of black republ
commanded by Jean-Baptiste Belley. Later elected to
Convention, this man has become the iconic black Jacobin
his French deputy’s uniform and proudly gazing out from
Girodet de Roussy-Trioson’s 1797 painting. The commission
his assailants by taking three fateful steps. He promoted bl
including Belley and Colonel Pierre Michel, to key comm
Haitien, the port of the northern plain. He formed an
Louis Pierrot, one of the chiefs of the black insurgency wh
lied to the Spanish forces but maintained an independent co
hills and mountains beyond the northern plain. And
assembly of fifteen thousand new and old citizens in Cap
for general emancipation on August 24, 1793, Sonthonax re
days later with a decree of general emancipation throughout
At a desperate moment for the republic, Sonthonax
beyond his instructions and powers. The Girondists who h
were rather moderate abolitionists; the Atlantic merchants
save the colonies from slave revolt as well as treason and free trade.
Indeed the Girondists conferred full citizenship on all free colonial men
in an April 1792 decree in response to the emergency created by slave
revolt and the doubtful loyalty of many colonial whites. It was hoped
that the free people of color, who included many slave owners, would be
a source of stability as well as loyalty.16 But when Galbaud’s revolt
obliged Sonthonax to choose, he decided the best way to save Saint
Domingue for France was to call on the black rebels and commit the
republic to emancipation. Jefferson was still close enough to the spirit of
revolution to grasp what was happening.
Jefferson distrusted the first refugees from Saint Domingue and pri-
vately opined that if these royalists and aristocrats were sent to live
among the Indians, they might learn something about liberty and equal15 Dubois, Avengers of the New World, 156-63; Florence Gauthier,
“Conclusion-Richebourg: Comment abolir l’esclavage ‘ Saint Domingue? 1793,” in
Pirissent les colonies plut t qu’un principe!: Contributions a l’histoire de l’abolition de
l’esclavage, 1789-1804 (Paris, France, 2oo002), Io8.
16 A point made by Regent, Esclavage, mntissage, libert4, 436.
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ity. In 1792 and the first months of 1793, it also seemed that the rebellious blacks had become instruments of the royalist cause. Yet everything
changed in July 1793 with the defeat of Galbaud. About six thousand
colonists together with several thousand of their colored servants or
slaves set sail from Saint Domingue and sought haven in North
American ports. They brought stories of atrocities and of narrow escapes
from rampaging blacks. Like other white North Americans, Jefferson
was affected by the plight of the refugees, many of whom, being destitute, threw themselves on the charity of American authorities. Jefferson
did not see how the federal government could help, but he urged the
governor of Virginia to do what he could to offer succour.17
The events of the summer of 1793 in Saint Domingue prompted
Jefferson to take the measure of new threats and new opportunities. The
juncture between black revolt, colored rights, and the policy of a major
power greatly alarmed the Virginian without leading him to abandon his
public stance in favor of the French Republic. He had justified slavery
by insisting that the slaves were too wild and unruly to ever be good citizens. The uprising of August 1791 and the subsequent decision of many
black chiefs to enlist under the banner of the Spanish Bourbon king did
not challenge this view. But July 1793, when black Jacobins foiled a royalist plot, was the beginning of a powerful challenge to Jefferson’s line of
argument. With the rise of Toussaint-Louverture, who became lieutenant governor of the French colony in 1795, it became clear that, so
long as the republican power based itself on the former slaves’ aversion
to bondage, it could count on the support and discipline of most blacks.
Indeed the good order of Toussaint-Louverture’s demibrigades was noted
by many observers. Jefferson evidently found the discipline and republicanism of free blacks more disturbing than the unruliness of slaves.
Whatever his high-minded protestations about republican liberty and
some future emancipation of slaves, Jefferson’s determinate allegiance
was to the slave order.18
On July 14, 1793, Jefferson wrote to James Monroe: “I become daily
more and more convinced that all the West India islands will remain in
the hands of the people of colour, and a total expulsion of the whites
17 The effect of the refugees is brought out vividly in Ashli White, “‘A Flood of
Impure Lava’: Saint Dominguan Refugees in the United States, 1791-1820” (Ph.D.
diss., Columbia University, 2003).
18 Wills, “Negro President,” gives many examples. Haiti and Louisiana furnished
critical tests of the sincerity of Jefferson’s claim that he would act against slavery if
the right opportunity presented itself. For the major role of the French and Haitian
revolutions in shaping the outlook of Southern planters, see Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
and Eugene D. Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the
Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview (Cambridge, 2005), I1-68.
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sooner or later take place. It is high time we should foresee the
scenes which our children certainly, and possibly ourselves (Sou
Patowmac) have to wade through, and try to avert them.”‘9 Jef
was now writing about the people of color as protagonists of hist
identifying a need for a counterstrategy. Unlike President John
and the Federalists, Jefferson did not think that the answer was
prochement with Britain. Rather Jefferson believed that Franc
certainly be persuaded to abandon its unworthy represent
Toussaint-Louverture as well as the inept and provocative e
Edmond-Charles-Edouard Genet-and to give up its emancipa
policy. But joining the former colonial power in fighting the F
Republic, as President Adams was to do during the Quasi W
1797-1801, Jefferson thought a great betrayal and a great error, wha
the provocations offered.
The two U.S. parties had somewhat different positions on sla
The northern Federalist leaders patronized manumission societie
were more likely to support “free womb” laws in the North. The
administration favored business with the new leader of Saint Dom
so long as he welcomed U.S. traders and abandoned French attem
export slave insurrection. Toussaint-Louverture, alarmed by sig
the colons were regaining influence in Paris, was happy to
American help. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering sent a secre
to the black general in 1798 offering support. Subsequently, U.S
ships helped Toussaint-Louverture to overpower an opponent, m
general Andrd Rigaud, who was closer politically to France. Tou
Louverture, for his part, undertook to end attempts to export
insurrection, though he could not speak for the remaining Frenc
missioners. The significant help extended to Toussaint-Louvertu
the Adams administration could have been a source of national p
either then or later, but, as David Brion Davis observes, it has ins
usually gone unnoticed.20
When Jefferson became president in 80oi, he offered Na
Bonaparte every assistance in isolating Saint Domingue and prom
as the French envoy reported, to “reduce Toussaint to starvatio
stance was quite consistent with Jefferson’s willingness to d
19 “To James Monroe,” July 14, 1793, in John Catanzariti, ed., The P
Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, N.J., I995), 26: 503.
20 Sometimes the Federalists’ moderate antislavery initiatives served to u
or divide the Republicans. The tentative nationalism of the Federalists was le
fortable with slaveholding than the fierce patriotism of the Republicans.
policy differences were to dramatize this different emphasis. See Marie
Rossignol, The Nationalist Ferment: The Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy, 17
trans. Lillian A. Parrott (Columbus, Ohio, 2oo004), 25-44. Davis, Inhuman
7. See, however, David McCullough, John Adams (New York, 2oo1), 519-21.
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Toussaint-Louverture and his supporters as “Cannibals of the terrible
republic” in a letter to Aaron Burr in 1799. When writing to James
Monroe in November i8OI, however, he made a significant admission
during a discussion about where it would be best to deport unruly
blacks: “The most promising . . . is the island of St. Domingo, where
the blacks are established into a sovereignty de facto & have organized
themselves under regular laws & government.”21 Notwithstanding this
judgment Jefferson was happy to deny Toussaint-Louverture any recognition and to support a return to slavery and French rule.
Napoleon was drawn into his attempt to restore slavery by Britain
and the United States. Dubois cites a note from Henry Addington, the
British prime minister, on peace negotiations with France, in which he
explains: “The interest of the two governments [the British and the
French] is absolutely the same: the destruction of Jacobinism and above
all that of the Blacks.” It is easy to see why Britain, the United States, and
Spain, with their valuable slave plantations, would welcome the destruction of the new black power yet more difficult to see why Napoleon
allowed himself to be led into this disastrous enterprise. The revolutionary
policy in the Caribbean had inflicted huge losses on his main enemy, the
British. Some, such as Mississippi’s territorial governor Winthrop Sargent,
feared that Napoleon would ally himself with Toussaint-Louverture and
use Saint Domingue as a base from which to launch a new antislavery
offensive in the Caribbean with the help of colored troops. Charles
Maurice de Talleyrand-Pdrigord, the French foreign minister, reported to
the French ambassador in London in November 18oi that Napoleon was of
two minds. If the British did not allow a large French expedition to sail for
the Caribbean unmolested, then it might be necessary to “recognize
Toussaint” and the new “black Frenchmen,” since this recognition would
create “a formidable base for the Republic in the New World.”22 Talleyrand
21 Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President, First Term, I8o0-I80o (Boston, 1970),
4: 252-53; Charles Callan Tansill, The United States and Santo Domingo, 1798-1873: A
Chapter in Caribbean Diplomacy (Baltimore, 1938), 87. For Jefferson’s evolving policy
toward Toussaint-Louverture and Napoleon, see Tim Matthewson, “Jefferson and
Haiti,” Journal of Southern History 61, no. 2 (May 1995): 209-48; Matthewson, A
Proslavery Foreign Policy: Haitian-American Relations during the Early Republic
(Westport, Conn., 2003). Matthewson generously credits Jefferson with distaste for
slavery, but his own research demonstrates the hollowness of the Virginia planter’s
occasional wistful expressions of a commitment to emancipation. See also Thomas
Jefferson to Aaron Burr, Feb. 11, 1799, in Mary-Jo Kline and Joanne Wood Ryan,
eds., Political Correspondence and Public Papers ofAaron Burr (Princeton, N.J., 1983),
I: 390 (“Cannibals”); Jefferson to James Monroe, Nov. 24, i8oi, published as an
appendix to Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. Frank Shuffelton (New
York, 1999), 276-79 (quotation, 278).
22 Dubois, Colony of Citizens, 366-67 (quotation, 367). For the metropolitan
context following Napoleon’s seizure of power, see the contributions by Yves B¬,
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counted on the French envoy’s using this threat to bring t
accede to French demands.
The First Consul actually was loath to recognize black leaders he
thought of as “gilded negroes.” Instead of simultaneously alienating the
rulers of Britain, Spain, and the United States, he counted on pleasing
them all. Since “the Spanish, the English, and the Americans also are
dismayed by the existence of this black Republic,” he noted, they would
see the “common advantage” to the “Europeans” of “destroying this
rebellion of the blacks.”23 The attempt to restore slavery was bound to
make it far more difficult to regain control in Saint Domingue. The
British had protected and maintained slavery following their occupation
of the French island of Martinique in 1794, so their 18oi offer to return
the island to France was as compromising as it was tempting. Jefferson
was happy to encourage Napoleon in a course of action that would yield
advantage whatever the outcome-weakening or destroying either
Toussaint-Louverture or Napoleon, or both-and perhaps facilitate a
deal for Louisiana.
Given the French undertaking to destroy black government in Saint
Domingue, neither the British nor the Americans objected to the dispatch
of the Charles-Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc expedition. Napoleon later complained that imigrd colonists and merchants and their suborning of his
ministers led him into the trap. But to him the plantations of the New
World were a glittering prize, and he saw the vulnerability of Spain and
Portugal with their valuable colonies. The secret treaty with Spain for the
retrocession of Louisiana was part of this grand vision, and in 18o2 he
gave orders for a large French force to sail for New Orleans. At this point
he clearly meant Louisiana to again become a French colony, but events
conspired to frustrate him. Freak weather prevented the expedition from
sailing. Even more ominously, Leclerc, after an encouraging start, came up
against mounting resistance and needed all the troops that could be
spared. In these difficult circumstances, the option instead of selling
Louisiana came under consideration. From his recent sojourn in
Philadelphia, Talleyrand was well aware that members of the American
elite-his own friends-took an acute interest in Western lands.24
Marcel Dorigny, Bernard Gainot, Thomas Pronier, and Sabine Manigat in Benot
and Dorigny, eds., Rdtablissement de l’esclavage dans les colonies franfaises, 1802:
Ruptures et continuitis de la politique coloniale francaise (18oo-z83o) (Paris, France,
2oo003), 7-28, 51-68, 109-28. Dubois, Avengers of the New World, 26o (“recognize
23 Dubois, Avengers of the New World, 255 (“gilded negroes”), 256 (“this black
24 See Robert L. Paquette, “Revolutionary Saint Domingue in the Making of
Territorial Louisiana,” in A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater
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Jefferson, who distrusted Napoleon, had been concerned about the
size of the Leclerc expedition and worried that Louisiana might be its
real aim. Even if it restored slavery, this expedition was an alarming
prospect. Preventing France from taking possession of Saint Domingu
by military means would have been extraordinarily hazardous.25 So U.S
policy tilted back to black resistance. The American authorities denied
French forces the supplies they had been expecting and allowed their
merchants to supply the insurgents. Later, as Leclerc became bogge
down in an increasingly hopeless struggle, Jefferson was made aware th
he might acquire Louisiana if he offered a large sum to the cash-strappe
Consul along with the hope of U.S. support in the likely event o
renewed conflict with Britain. Napoleon accepted the deal. Though
apparently a huge sacrifice of territory, Louisiana, the French knew,
would be difficult to defend from British attack. Moreover such a hand-
some bargain would earn American goodwill and give French commanders in Saint Domingue a last hope of retrieving the situation.
The United States thus acquired vast new territories suitable for
plantations. Congress and President Jefferson ratified the treaty, and the
Louisiana Territory was to be permitted to import slaves from other
states, thus boosting demand for and prices of slaves from Virginia.
Given a buoyant slave population, Virginia planters did not need
Atlantic slave imports, and the transatlantic slave trade’s ending helped
to increase the value of slaveholdings.26
The more reckless planters and merchants of South Carolina worried those outside their state by reopening international slave traffic in
1803, thus unintentionally assisting the case for banning it. Jefferson had
nearly doubled the land area of the United States thanks to the tenacious
resistance of the freedom fighters of Haiti. Yet the black state remained
the target of unremitting hostility. It not only was denied recognition
but also became the object of a proposed embargo. Jefferson was alarmed
at reports that Britain was helping Haiti. He proposed to the British
Caribbean, ed. David Barry Gaspar and David Patrick Geggus, Blacks in the
Diaspora (Bloomington, Ind., 2oo003), 204-25. Franqois Furstenberg supplies a fascinating account of the French emigre milieu in Philadelphia in an unpublished seminar paper.
25 Gordon S. Brown, Toussaint’s Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian
Revolution (Jackson, Miss., 2005), 210-12, 221-22.
26 I discuss the reasons for the rapid increase in Virginia’s slave population in
Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the
Modern, r492-I80o (London, 1997), 465-71, and the motives that prompted most
planters to support the ending of the Atlantic slave trade in Blackburn, Overthrow of
Colonial Slavery, 286-87. As famously argued by Adams, History of the United States
(see footnote 2), Alexander Hamilton made essentially the same point. See Paquette,
“Revolutionary Saint Domingue,” 211.
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minister in March 1804 that “the Governments who have Col
the West Indies” should negotiate “an Agreement not to suffer
mer [slaves] to have any Kind of Navigation whatsoever or to
them with any Species of Arms and or Ammunition.” Jefferson’s m
quarantine Haiti elicited a remarkable letter of protest from P
the former secretary of State, now a senator from Massachuse
wretched Haitians (‘guilty’ indeed of skin not colored like
emancipated by a great national act and declared free–are the
enjoying freedom many years, having maintained it in arms, r
live free or die; are these men not merely to be abandoned to t
efforts but to be deprived of those necessary supplies which f
of years, they have been accustomed to receive from the Unite
and without which they cannot subsist?”27 The U.S. embar
black republic was formally adopted in 1807, shortly before sim
sures were applied to Britain.
The Haitian resistance to Napoleon encouraged abolitioni
ment in Britain and the northern United States. In Britain the
against the Atlantic slave trade revived after 1804, helped by event
French Caribbean. On hearing of Toussaint-Louverture’s death
Wordsworth published an eloquent tribute in the London Morn
James Stephen, shortly to become a member of Parliament, u
alliance with Saint Domingue against the French dictator and
strategy that successfully persuaded Parliament to accept a par
trade ban. Lord Henry Brougham, another abolition strategist,
an influential pamphlet urging that it was folly to import large
of captive Africans to the British plantation colonies at a tim
revolt was flaming nearby. Following the British victory at Tr
I8o5, he saw abolition of the Atlantic slave traffic as a fitting
the Pax Britannica. In 1807 Britain and the United States ended
ticipation in the Atlantic slave trade. So far as the United States
cerned, the formula of the white man’s republic was quite com
with setting limits on slavery and ending the slave trade, just
with establishing a cordon sanitaire (quarantine) around Hai
thousand more slaves arrived in New Orleans and were allowed
when their masters were forced to flee Cuba in r8o8.28
27 Matthewson, Journal of Southern History 6I: 233. Jefferson quoted
“Negro President,” 44. See also Donald R. Hickey, “Timothy Pickerin
Haitian Slave Revolt: A Letter to Thomas Jefferson in i8o6,” Essex Institut
Collections i2o, no. 3 (July 1984): 149-63.
28 Abolitionism was weaker in the United States than Great Britain in
but recovered a little around the turn of the century. In the 1780s em
measures had been voted down in New York and New Jersey. A gradua
tion measure passed in New York in 1799; it was sponsored by a Fed
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It is not possible here to furnish a proper account of the Haitian Revolution
itself or to supply the missing chapter from The Age of the Democratic
Revolution, but its originality and interdependence on other links in the
revolutionary sequence can be signaled. The waves of revolt that swept
Saint Domingue after August 1791 wrought great damage on slave own-
ers, yet their emancipationist outcome was not preordained. The
Haitian Revolution appealed to the romantic imagination but cannot be
understood by reference to the seductive and romantic idea that slaves
were bound to rebel, bound to champion a general emancipation, and
bound to triumph or fail. Resistance has been ubiquitous in slave systems but has usually been particularistic, seeking freedom for a given
person or group, and frustrated. In fact the Haitian Revolution is the
only successful large-scale and generalized slave revolt known in history.
The slavery encountered in Saint Domingue and throughout the
New World had been invented by planters and colonial officials using
European legal notions. Rather than dispute a legal concept, slaves often
sought to extend concessions they had already won. Much slave resistance in Saint Domingue in the early 1790s took the form of demands
for land and for three free days a week instead of one. Though the slaves
on some plantations freed themselves simply by running away, those on
others remained, unwilling to leave provision grounds that they saw as
rightfully theirs. David Patrick Geggus has observed that the decision to
abandon a plantation was usually taken collectively, with the disposition
of the slave elite playing a key role.29 The phrase slave community had a
reality notwithstanding the hierarchy and heterogeneity between Creole
and African-born slaves or between those from a variety of African
nations. The racialized structure of exploitation fostered a countervailing solidarity, since only those of African descent were enslaved. This
racial logic was complicated because free-colored masters owned about a
attracted Democratic-Republican support as well. In 1804 New Jersey followed suit.
These measures freed the sons of slave mothers when they reached twenty-eight
years of age in New York and twenty-five in New Jersey, with their daughters freed at
age twenty-one. To those with no stake in the slave system, such a moderate
approach agreed with the spirit of the times and would remove a source of conflict.
For the role of Haiti and renewed war with France in the resurgence of British abolitionism in 1804 and after, see Chester W. New, The Life of Henry Brougham to 183o
(Oxford, Eng., i961), 21-31; Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British
Abolition, z76o-i8-o (London, 1975), 344-46; Davis, Slavery in the Age of Revolution;
Blackburn, Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 300-316. For the introduction of slaves in
Louisiana, see White, “‘Flood of Impure Lava,'” chap. 6. In an earlier chapter, she
explains that “French negroes” (210) were widely regarded as unreliable and subversive.
29 David Patrick Geggus, Slavery, War, and Revolution: The British Occupation of
Saint Domingue, 1793-1798 (Oxford, Eng., 1982), 3II.
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fifth of the slaves in the colony. The colored proprietors, unlik
whites, lived in the colony. Though some threw in their lot wit
white proprietors, most of the ancien libres came to oppose slav
Toussaint-Louverture himself had been a freedman and his wife a slave
To take the measure of the Haitian achievement, sc
beneath ready-made notions-whether of purely he
implacable caste hatreds-to bring to light the forging
and new ideals in a colony where they already spok
(Kre’yol) and practiced a new religion (voudou). The
James’s classic study, The Black Jacobins, challenged th
cipation had been a gift bestowed by the republic and
was its own program. The black Jacobins found someth
ogy of the French Revolution that helped them to elev
their struggle. Yet at the same time they brought exp
society and memories from Africa that radicalized the
priated from and eventually defended against France
of Africa’s sons and daughters in the New World gave
meaning to the freedom they claimed. Enumerating t
black revolutionary inspiration, Laurent Dubois cite
one captured and killed insurgent who was found in po
phlets about the rights of man, a packet of tinder, ph
and a sack of herbs, bone, and hair (a fetish in the Hai
gion). Dubois comments: “The law of liberty, ingredie
gun, and a powerful amulet to call on the help of the
potent combination.”30
Whereas the well-known leaders of the revolution in Saint
Domingue, whether nouveaux or ancien libres, were mainly born
Americas, the same was not true of the mass of soldiers and midlevel
leaders. Because of heavy imports in the 1770os and 1780s, more than half
the slaves in the French colonies were African born by 1789. They
brought with them African ideas and methods of struggle. The slave
rebels often employed guerrilla tactics that they may well have practiced
as soldiers in Africa prior to capture. The failure of well-armed British,
French, and Spanish forces in Saint Domingue testified to the deep aver30 For Laurent Dubois’ comment, see Avengers of the New World, 102-3.
Dubois’ new studies are a great help here. Whereas Avengers of the New World concentrates on the tangle of events that ended in the founding of Haiti, sifting reality
from myth yet allowing myth its due as well, Colony of Citizens focuses on the
Atlantic sweep of revolution in France and the French Caribbean, with special attention to the role of the less well-known but crucial events in Guadeloupe. Another
historian focuses more exclusively on Guadeloupe itself. See Regent, Esclavage, mntissage, libertd.
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sion of the former African and Creole slaves to slavery, whatever the disappointments of freedom.
But at what point did the mass of rebels adopt the ideal of a generalized liberty? In November 1791 the main black leaders negotiated a deal
with the republican commissioners that would have freed only themselves and four hundred followers. C. L. R. James branded this deal an
abominable betrayal. Maroon leaders had often reached similar agreements and even helped to suppress other revolts, so this judgment is
harsh. Yet perhaps a new standard was being established and James was
right to judge the leaders by it: French documents quoted by French historian Pierre Pluchon report the black leaders as demanding “liberty” as
early as September 1791. Carolyn Fick has drawn attention to a widespread revolt around Les Platons in the south, animated by comprehensive hostility to the planters, that preceded the rising on the northern
plain by nearly eight months. She conveys the rebel attitude by quoting
a soldier’s letter: “They come and treat us as if we were the brigands and
tell us: ‘nous apres tande zaute,’ which is to say, ‘we had expected you,
and we will cut off your heads to the last man; this land is not for you; it
is for us.”’31
Not until two years later, on August 29, 1793, did rival leaders Liger
Filicite Sonthonax, the republican commissioner, and Toussaint-
Louverture, still a Spanish general, issue unambiguous decrees freeing all
slaves within their jurisdiction, their timing no doubt explained by the
August 24 call for such a general emancipation by the gathering at Cap
Haitien. Sonthonax’s decision to issue official decrees not only in French
but also in Kre’yol, the language spoken by the great mass of the slaves,
was a highly significant mark of his seriousness. Scholars do not know
whether Toussaint-Louverture knew of the emancipation decree of
Pluviose (February 1794) when he deserted the Spanish and joined the
French republicans at the end of April 1794. He was near the port of
Gonai’ves, so he may have heard about it. Whether he had firm news of
31 Dubois explains that the first written account of the Bois-Calman ceremony
that launched the 1791 revolt dates from 1814 and the now generally received version
stems from an account published in 1824 by Herard Dumesle, a Haitain writer
steeped in classical authorities. Herodotus put suitable eve-of-battle speeches into
the mouths of barbarian chiefs-“let us die fighting rather than live on our knees”just as he did with Roman generals. So was the commitment to liberty cited by
Pluchon a faithful record of the oral tradition or a classical trope? Historians cannot
know for sure, but Dubois argues that the widespread adoption of the Bois-Caiman
legend in Haitian voudou is itself historically significant. See Dubois, Colony of
Citizens, 432-33. For the invocation of “liberty” by a rebel chief, see Pierre Pluchon,
Toussaint Louverture de l’eslavage au pouvoir (Paris, France, 1979), 26. For the quota-
tion from a soldier’s letter, see Carolyn E. Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint
Domingue Revolutionfrom Below (Knoxville, Tenn., 1990), 156.
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the emancipation decree, he knew the strength of Spanish resis
such a move and would have had a tangible hope that the French
would be more welcoming to him and the cause of emancipation.32
The former slaves of Saint Domingue and Guadeloupe aba
plantation toil wherever they could, instead devoting them
subsistence cultivation. They appreciated the luxury of free ti
convenience of meeting their own needs through their own ef
and, in many cases, the security of a parcel of land they were p
to defend. Saint Domingue had been the richest New World co
part because of the elaborate irrigation works and roadworks
French engineers with slave labor. This infrastructure had fal
ruin, and finding the labor, skills, and materials to mainta
another critical challenge. Without proper irrigation little mo
subsistence cultivation was possible, which severely constra
possibilities of revolutionary Saint Domingue and later Haiti. B
force, not unreliable offers of pay, kept some of the former
Toussaint-Louverture in Saint Domingue and Victor Hu
Guadeloupe sought to impose heavy labor obligations on the
slaves with uneven success. When Toussaint-Louverture’s
annexed Spanish Santo Domingo in I8oi, he did not immediately
the slaves. His draconian attempt to restore plantation labo
same year met with widespread resistance. In Saint Domingue
peasants preferred to clear some space in the forest than to re
the harsh and ill-paid work of the plantations. Guadeloupe’s sm
and the special role of Hugues’ expedition in bringing eman
made it easier for the authorities to keep the former slaves wor
later to return many of them to slavery. The 1802 reimposition
ery in Guadeloupe by the French authorities, however, w
32 The issue is discussed by David Patrick Geggus in an informative co
Haitian Revolutionary Studies. During two decades Geggus has made a hug
bution to researching the revolution in Saint Domingue; the introducti
collection supplies a valuable overview.
33 See Blackburn, Making of New World Slavery, 434-37. In my vie
Fischer goes too far in denying the heavy weight of such economic facto
straining the outcome of the Haitian Revolution in her valuable study,
Disavowed. Some of Haiti’s new rulers later tried to use militarized labor to w
plantations. Henry Christophe, ruler of the short-lived northern kingdom
limited success, but after his overthrow in 1820 such efforts were deemed un
The peasants of Haiti simply refused to be dragooned, and armed irregula
times came to their aid. The revolution persisted, thanks to their tenac
struggle for the control of time, land, and movement, through several ch
formal jurisdiction, whatever the stance of the famous leaders.
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achieved after a bitter struggle. In 1802 the heroic stand of Guadeloupe’s
colored commanders and soldiers at Matouba helped to raise the alarm
in Saint Domingue as to Napoleon Bonaparte’s true intentions. Dubois
notes that several whites took part in what became a protracted war of
Napoleon’s attempt to reintroduce slavery in Saint Domingue
should not be allowed to obscure the earlier contribution to emancipa-
tion made by Maximilien de Robespierre and the French Directory.
Revolutionary France would not have embarked on the emancipation
policy without the pressure of the slave revolt, as Fick and others have
rightly argued. Equally, however, the emancipationist regime in Saint
Domingue would probably not have survived without the French
Republic’s backing during the years from 1794 to 1799. In 1792 the revolutionary authorities had sent a man of known radical antislavery convictions to be its commissioner. His actions ensured that emancipation
would become the policy of a major power. The February 1794 decree
was backed up by the arrival of large quantities of weapons and ammunition and the fostering of several dozen slave revolts, the most formidable being those in the eastern Caribbean in Saint Lucia, Grenada, and
Saint Vincent. Heavy British losses in the eastern Caribbean had helped
persuade them to negotiate with Toussaint-Louverture in 1798. In a
study of the Guerre des Bois, or Brigand’s War, which inflicted such
heavy casualties on the British, David Barry Gaspar quotes celebrated
commander General John Moore, directing operations in Saint Lucia,
as declaring: “The Negroes in the island are to a man attached to the
French cause; neither hanging, threats or money would obtain for me
any intelligence from them. Those upon the estates are in league with
and connected with those in the woods.” He later added: “Their attach-
ment and fidelity to the cause is great; they go to death with indifference. One man the other day denied, and persevered in doing so, that
he had ever been with them or knew anything of them. The instant
before he was shot he called out ‘Vive la rdpublique!”’35 This antislavery
34 Dubois, Colony of Citizens, 415-16. For some reason the planters never suc-
ceeded in restoring night work in the sugar mills on Guadeloupe. See Regent,
Esclavage, mitissage, liberti, 347.
35 Carolyn E. Fick, “The French Revolution in Saint Domingue: A Triumph or
a Failure?” in Gaspar and Geggus, Turbulent Time, 51-77. Sonthonax’s antislavery
convictions are well documented in Robert Stein, Ldger Filicit6 Sonthonax: The Lost
Sentinel of the Republic (Cranbury, N.J., 1965). But see also Benot, La Rivolution
francaise. General Moore is quoted in David Barry Gaspar, “La Guerre des Bois:
Revolution, War, and Slavery in Saint Lucia, 1793-1838,” in Gaspar and Geggus,
Turbulent Time, I02-3o, esp. 115-17.
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rdpublique may have lasted barely a half dozen years and the co
tions that animated it may often have been opportunistic or e
did, but without it and the breathing space it allowe
emancipation regime in Saint Domingue, Haiti might never ha
into existence.
Victor Hugues as commissioner in Guadeloupe in the years
1794-98 fostered slave revolt and sent out more than thirty privateering
vessels to prey on enemy shipping. The effectiveness of his privateering
policy and the stream of prize goods he sent back to France may help to
explain why the Thermidorian regime pursued such a bold policy in
the Caribbean. The Sociedt des Amis des Noirs was reconstituted, and
support for slave emancipation throughout the Caribbean signaled the
influence of a neo-Jacobin movement to which Sonthonax, the former
commissioner, and Laveaux, the general who had welcomed and supported Toussaint-Louverture, both belonged.36 But with Napoleon’s
rise, all these men were removed from official posts with the exception
of Hugues, who helped to restore slavery as governor of Guienne.
At one moment or another, the American and British authorities
found it convenient to side with Toussaint-Louverture against France.
The help given by Robespierre, the French Directory, and the neoJacobins was less tactical, being intended to weaken slavery. When
France sought to regain control of Saint Domingue, a moment came
when all the famous leaders had capitulated or been defeated. At this
moment, as James emphasizes in The Black Jacobins, the fate of the rev-
olution was sustained by myriad largely anonymous black freedom
fighters. Though African and French revolutionary ideas no doubt
helped to inspire them, so did their common experience of the New
World’s intense, oppressive, and racialized system of slavery.
The revolution that founded the Haitian state was marked by great loss
of life, much destruction, and many violations of the rules of war. Slave
uprisings, war to the death against the British, Spanish, and French,
and the struggle for power between black and mulatto leaders led to
36 Bernard Gainot, “La Socidtd des Amis des Noirs et des colonies, 1796-1799,”
in La Socidte des Amis des Noirs, 1788-1799, ed. Marcel Dorigny and Bernard Gainot,
La Route de l’esclave (Paris, France, 1998), 299-396. Admiral Laurent Jean Frangois
Truguet, the colonial minister, was also linked to this neo-Jacobin group. He fostered an alliance with the colored peoples of the Caribbean against the various slave
orders. Laurent Dubois quotes him as writing to Bonaparte in 1799, defending the
emancipation policy and denouncing those who “dared call themselves French”
while supporting slavery (Dubois, Colony of Citizens, 352).
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atrocities and bloodshed. New World slavery was a violent, arbitrary,
and racialized institution imposed on a diverse population of captives.
Attempts to escape, overthrow, or restore it thawed the frozen race war
that it represented. Slave owners and their henchmen fought to keep
their slaves in subjection, and their actions were backed by the
strongest Atlantic states.
Toussaint-Louverture’s rise reflected not only his prowess as a commander but also his awareness of the political and moral factors at stake
in the conflicts engulfing Saint Domingue. As a black general, he was
known sometimes to urge a policy of clemency toward prisoners, and
his staff numbered several key white and mulatto aides. He was said to
have conducted his former owner and his family to safety in August
1791 before joining the rebels. On one occasion he addressed a magisterial rebuke to a British officer, General John White, whose troops had
executed prisoners: “I feel that though I am a Negro, though I have not
received as fine an education as you and the officers of His Britannic
Majesty, I feel, I say, that such infamy on my part would reflect on my
country and tarnish its glory.”37
Toussaint-Louverture’s willingness to join forces with the French
Republic was also consistent with this approach. He explained his con-
duct to the French Directory in terms of a stern new moral order:
“Whatever their color, only one distinction must exist between men,
that of good and evil. When blacks, men of color, and whites are under
the same laws, they must be equally protected and they must be equally
repressed when they deviate from them.” With some exceptions (mainly
the war against Andrd Rigaud), Toussaint-Louverture generally sought
to frame broad alliances, to abstain from race war, to concentrate over-
whelming force, and to reduce violence not needed to prevail. Other
leaders were less deliberate and strategic. The wives of Henri Christophe
and Jean-Jacques Dessalines appealed for clemency, yet their husbands
routinely practiced extraordinary violence, often racially targeted. The
first declaration of independence issued by these generals acknowledged
and apologized for “the cruelty of a few soldiers or cultivators, too much
blinded by the remembrance of their past sufferings.”38 Allowing that it
was not just a few, any such admission and apology is nevertheless
37 James, Black acobins [1938 ed.], 201.
38 Toussaint L’Ouverture to the French Directory, “Letter to the Directory, 28
October 1797,” in George F. Tyson Jr., Toussaint L’Ouverture, Great Lives Observed
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1973), 43; “Declaration of the Independence of the Blacks
of St. Domingo,” Nov. 29, 1803, repr. in Malick W. Ghachem, ed., The Haitian
Revolution, 1789-1804: An Exhibition at the John Carter Brown Library (May to
September 2004) (Providence, R.I., 2004), 26-27 (quotation, 26).
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highly unusual in documents of this type. Colonial wars and civ
have been notoriously pitiless, and the fighting in Saint Domin
took of both types of conflict. Dessalines was killed in I8o6, Ch
ruled a northern kingdom until overthrown in 1820, and Ale
Sabes P&tion ruled the Republic of Haiti in the south from 18o6
when he was succeeded by Jean Pierre Boyer. Petion and Boy
mulattoes, but their republican ideology sought to assert the un
equality of all Haitians. Though military action determined
successions, they were not characterized by generalized killing an
The British and French leaders bear full responsibili
lence that stemmed from their own attempts to return
ery, for which they never apologized. The racial strife
bloodletting that attended the collapse of the old o
Domingue were not accompanied by the racial myths a
were to disfigure the colonialism and wars of the next t
The constitution of 1805 was prefaced by its signatories
they stood “in the presence of the Supreme Being, befor
39 Seymour Drescher’s verdict is harsh: “In . . . late twentieth
spective, the age of the democratic revolution was also recognize
and genocidal conflict. In that respect . . . the Haitian Revolution
of the world’s future than Frederick Douglass could have imagi
(Drescher, “Limits of Example,” 10-14 [quotation, 13]). Dresch
would be on the mark as an observation aimed at attempts to sup
tion but, as formulated, it is too generalized. Though it is entirely
the often-bloody record of the democratic revolutions, the ol
responsibility. The prior existence of a flourishing system of raci
ery set the scene for racial conflict. Napoleon’s attempt to reim
other colonial wars, did indeed acquire a genocidal quality, and H
were resisting a system of white supremacy, often portrayed the
terms and were responsible for terrible acts (though some trope
tionary propaganda, such as the famous dead white baby impaled
edly used by the rebels as a standard, lack credible authentication
should be balanced by recognition that, in their better momen
Haitians of the revolutionary epoch had written indispensable and
ments of slavery and racial oppression. The language that mode
reject racism has its roots in such indictments. Without Condo
Belley, Toussaint-Louverture, Louis Pierrot, Magloire Pelage, A
Alexandre P&tion, and so many anonymous black picquets, th
Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Sim6n Bolivar, Vicente Guerre
Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Victor Schoelcher, and Joaquin N
had a quite different and even more daunting starting point. In
Gettysburg Address or the Emancipation Proclamation, historian
not forget the carnage of the Civil War or that slavery was soon
Crowism, but ignoring or discounting these momentous word
would surely be wrong.
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tals are equal, and who has scattered so many species of beings over the
surface of the earth, with the sole goal of manifesting his glory and his
might through the diversity of his works.” While forswearing wars
against their neighbors, the leaders of Haiti later offered their territory
as a haven to the oppressed. In i816 Petion issued a constitution that
included an article proclaiming: “All Africans and Indians, and those of
their blood, born in the colonies or in foreign countries, who come to
reside in the Republic will be recognized as Haitians, but will not enjoy
the right of citizenship until after one year of residence.”40
Christophe and Petion eventually established rival concepts of a
new order based on the suppression of slavery and mayhem. African and
Creole, ancien libres and nouveaux libres, black and mulatto could all
unite against projects to reimpose slavery and could also discover that
they needed one another. As a Haitian saying explains, Chak nwa gen
mulat li, chack mulat gen nwa li (Each black has his mulatto and each
mulatto has his black).41 As a result of the revolution, Haitians had a
species of citizenship as well as social freedom, and from 1821 this citizenship was rooted in a unified state. The relative ineffectiveness of the
Haitian state was not a matter of great concern to many peasants and
town dwellers who used their new freedom to elaborate a rich folk cul-
ture. The weakness of the Haitian state limited civic participation, but it
also limited the state’s capacity to interfere in the lives of the peasantry.
Whereas the population of Saint Domingue had only been maintained
by huge annual imports of captive Africans, Haiti’s population roughly
doubled by 1830.
British abolitionists corresponded with Haitian leaders and were
gratified when the Haitian warship William Wilberforce apprehended a
Spanish slave-trading vessel in 1819. Seymour Drescher points out that
40 “Imperial Constitution of Haiti, 1805,” in Fischer, Modernity Disavowed,
275-81 (quotation, 275). Article 12 declared that whites would not be able to own
land, Article 13 that this stipulation did not apply to already-naturalized white
women or to naturalized Germans and Poles, and Article 14 that “all distinctions of
color will by necessity disappear . . . Haitians shall be known from now on by the
generic denomination of blacks” (ibid., 276). Though Haiti was an empire, succession was to be “elective and non-hereditary.” Any ruler who departed from the constitution was to “be considered to be in a state of war against society” and the
Council of State was to remove him (ibid., 277, 238). This constitution limited
white access to citizenship to those whites already covered in the 180 clauses, but
since this coverage encompassed all the whites in the country, it should not be
equated with the restrictions on black citizenship in the United States. See David
Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour, and National Independence in
Haiti (Cambridge, I979).
41 It is beyond the scope of this article to give an account of postindependence
Haiti, but see Sheller, Democracy after Slavery.
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Haiti’s achievement and survival were saluted by British abolition
1823 when Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and others announced the
paign for slave emancipation. Awareness of Toussaint-Louvertur
struggle grew slowly but steadily until it became a major abolit
theme, inspiring the work of Victor Schoelcher and Alphons
Louise Prat de Lamartine in France as well as William Lloyd Gar
and Wendell Phillips in the United States. The governments of
and Boyer offered a haven to people of color, something appreci
African American sailors and vexing to U.S. officials. The very e
of Haiti emboldened African Americans to reach for freedom, as
Denmark Vesey, William Wells Brown, and Frederick Douglass
testified.42 For their part Southern slaveholders eventually became so
alarmed that in 1861 they opted for the huge gamble of secession. The
fear of slave violence had always been a fundamental ingredient of the
slave order, helping to cement solidarity among those not enslaved. Yet
with the Haitian Revolution came a new fear of emancipation as a state
policy, which slaveholders found much more difficult to live with.
Haiti had saved the honor of the New World revolutions. Americans
declared a new ideal of popular sovereignty but only succeeded in
founding a white man’s republic, according power and honor to white
slaveholders, none to enslaved African Americans, and precious little to
free blacks. The French Revolution first ignored slavery, then accorded
civic rights to colored proprietors. Only in 1793-94, at a time when the
wealth and patriotism of the planters was suspect, did it forge an
alliance with insurgent blacks and strike down what remained of slavery
in the colonies it still controlled. The slaves had taken advantage of the
turmoil to reach for freedom by myriad revolts, escapes, and demands
for the control of land and time. A small group of black and white military and political leaders committed themselves to an emancipationist
policy in mid-1793 and eventually, under the leadership of ToussaintLouverture, defeated the British. When France under Napoleon changed
its mind, the new citizens fought tenaciously to defeat him, eventually
establishing the first state in the world to be founded on the rejection of
42 James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture,
Community, and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 177o-186o (New York, 1997),
262-63; W. Jeffrey Bolster, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail
(Cambridge, Mass., 1998); Alfred N. Hunt, Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America:
Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean (Baton Rouge, La., 1988); Seymour Drescher,
The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation (Oxford,
Eng., 2002), Ioo-105. Hunt’s work gives many examples of Haiti’s double influence,
as warning to some and inspiration to others.
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slavery and citizenship for all. This protracted and bloody struggle set
off a wave of alarm in all those parts of the Americas where slavery was
to be found, prompting slaveholders and public authorities to look to
extra guarantees and new political alignments. The failure of all
attempts to crush the new black power also encouraged opponents of
slavery and supplied an urgent reason for Britain and the United States
to finally achieve the long-contemplated ending of the Atlantic slave
trade in 1807. In 1816 the president of the Haitian republic helped
Sim6n Bolivar to radicalize the Spanish-American revolutionary strug-
gle and to ensure that none of the new Spanish-American republics
would be based, as were colonial Cuba, imperial Brazil, and the antebellum United States, on a slave economy. The Haitian revolt showed
the great vulnerability of slave colonies where slaves comprised more
than four-fifths of the population and encouraged American, Cuban,
and Brazilian planters to establish a broader social basis. On many
occasions, not just in 1803, U.S. foreign policy was shaped by Haiti or
what it was believed to stand for.
A pan-American and transatlantic perspective is required to really
make sense of these events or what they portended, whether one considers attempts to shore up the slave systems, reactions against the new
slave power, or the outlook of the now-more-numerous free people of
color. The blinkers of national historiography are always a problem but
never more so than in an epoch where nations were still in formation or
unstable, and there was a many-sided intercourse between them. This
instability is perhaps obvious enough in South and Central America or
on the island of Santo Domingo. It also applies to the fluctuating and
uncertain borders, indeed the fluctuating and uncertain identity, of
“these United States,” which some preferred to think of as “Columbia”
at this time.
Though new expedients had secured an extra term for slavery in the
United States, Cuba, and Brazil, the institution was still haunted by
what had happened in Saint Domingue. The sequence of revolutions
meant that there were narrower limits to the New World slave system in
North and South America and a growing free-colored population that
was to agitate for equal rights and against slavery. Antislavery laws in
Mexico and South America encouraged abolitionist movements in
Europe. These movements only achieved major breakthroughs at times
of great crisis: in the British West Indies in 1833 after the 1831-32 slave
uprising in Jamaica and the Reform Act of 1832 and in the French
Caribbean in the early weeks of the revolution of 1848, coinciding with a
mass desertion of plantations. In turn these events helped to encourage
the embattled ranks of abolitionists, white and black, male and female,
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in the United States. The torch of freedom and citizenship in t
crisscrossed the Atlantic no less vigorously than the trade in slav
duce, sustaining new communities and new values and eventuall
quishing slavery in the New World.
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8/7/22, 10:43 AM
Barbados Resists Climate Colonialism in an Effort to Survive the Costs of Global Warming — ProPublica
Barbados Resists Climate Colonialism in
an Effort to Survive the Costs of Global
Across the Caribbean, soaring national debt is a hidden but decisive
aspect of the climate crisis, hobbling countries’ ability to protect
themselves from disaster. One island’s leader is fighting to find a way
by Abrahm Lustgarten
July 27, 5 a.m. EDT
Posters from Mia Mottley’s 2022 reelection campaign Erika Larsen/Redux, for The New York Times
Co-published with The New York Times Magazine
ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive
our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.
This article is a partnership between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, and it
is exempt from our Creative Commons license until Aug. 26.
Late on May 31, 2018, five days after she was sworn in as prime minister of
Barbados, Mia Mottley and her top advisers gathered in the windowless
8/7/22, 10:43 AM
Barbados Resists Climate Colonialism in an Effort to Survive the Costs of Global Warming — ProPublica
anteroom of her administrative office in Bridgetown, the capital, for a call
that could determine the fate of her island nation. The group settled into
uncomfortable straight-backed chairs around a small mahogany table,
staring at framed posters of Barbados’ windmills and sugar cane fields.
Mottley, who was then 52, can appear mischievous in the moments before
her bluntest declarations, but on this evening her steely side showed. She
placed her personal cellphone on speaker and dialed a number in
Washington for the International Monetary Fund. As arranged, Christine
Lagarde, the managing director, answered.
Mottley got to the point: Barbados was out of money. It was so broke that it
was taking out new loans just to pay the interest on the old ones, even as
its infrastructure was coming undone. Soon the nation would have no
choice but to declare itself insolvent, instigating a battle with the dozens
of banks and creditors that held its $8 billion in debt and triggering
austerity measures that would spiral the island into further poverty. There
was another way, Mot…
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