Five-thousand day war
The struggle for Haiti's independence, 1789-1804
By David A. Granger
January 4, 2004
On January 1, 2004, Haiti celebrated two hundred years of independence. Today we reprint a feature by David Granger tracing the course of events which eventuated in Haiti becoming the only colony where former slaves succeeded in taking over the state, subsequently creating the region's first republic.
(Reprinted courtesy of the Free Press)
Roots of the revolution
The revolution which erupted in the French colony of Saint Domingue in 1791 was a watershed in Caribbean colonial history because it fractured the slave-owning, sugar-growing, planter-dominated economic and political structures and systems which hitherto existed in the islands.
The revolution in Saint Domingue was not a single event that broke on the colony like a sudden storm. It was, rather, a series of revolts occurring one after the other, the consequence of the one being the cause of the next. It constituted an almost continuous pattern of insurrection, invasion and warfare which, taken as a whole, lasted over fourteen years, or over five thousand days of ceaseless conflict. Nor was the revolution a rare or isolated incident. It was the last of several serious revolts which had taken place during the earlier part of the century in 1700, 1724,1730, 1734,1740 and 1758.
When disorder started in September 1789, Saint Domingue was France's richest colony and, probably, the single richest colony in the world. The senseless savagery of the struggles, which ended in the creation of the new state of Haiti in January 1804, caused such widespread death, destruction and disorganisation, that the new state became, and remained, one of the poorest places in the world. At different times during this revolutionary period, the three most powerful empires in the Western World - Britain, France and Spain - sent some of their finest armies into Saint Domingue in attempts to suppress or reverse the revolts. They all failed, but left a trail of death and devastation when they departed.
Within the country itself, a distinguishing feature of the conflicts was the uncompromising cruelty with which all parties strove to annihilate their adversaries. To understand this phenomenon, it will be necessary to examine the complex historical, geographical, demographic, economic, social, and constitutional factors which formed the fabric of that French colonial society. These factors were all at work throughout the approximately one hundred years that Saint Domingue was a colony; they all influenced the tortuous course of the Revolution.
Historically, the creation of the French colony on Spanish territory on the island of Hispaniola was largely the work of Bertrand d' Ogeron, French Governor of the island 'La Tortue.' By the time of his death (1675), he had succeeded in welding the unruly resident boucaniers and flibustiers into a reasonably homogeneous group, willing to accept French rule and to adopt a more settled mode of existence.
Many individuals and families were brought to encourage the development of a stable population. They remained when the territory was ceded to France by Spain at the Treaty of Rijswick (1697), which ended the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697). Some of the settlers in the early days were prostitutes, poor peasants and engages or indentured servants, from the lowest levels of French society. Their outlook on life was rather rough and ready, and this remained a characteristic of their class.
Geographically, the colony could be divided into three natural regions which roughly coincided with the political provinces and economic zones. The characteristics of these divisions were of great historical significance.
The Nord (North) was the first area to be seriously settled and developed, being closest to La Tortue, the buccaneer base. Although it occupied less than one quarter of the area of the colony, it had the densest population, with the greatest number of European colonists and African slaves. There were many large and flourishing plantations. Its principal port and town was at Le Cap Francais, and it was the most prosperous province.
The Ouest (West) possessed fewer plantations, scattered over wide areas, occupying the great, fertile Artibonite valley. Many of these were owned by mulatre proprietors of great wealth and, in fact, contained the greatest concentration of mulatres in the colony. Its principal town was Port-au-Prince on the West Coast.
The Sud (South) was the smallest. It was the last to be developed and, owing to its difficult, more mountainous terrain, both agriculture and communications were retarded. There was, therefore, greater emphasis on maritime commerce. Its principal port and town was Les Cayes on the Southern Coast. It had the smallest population but was regarded as the stronghold of the mulatres.
This geographic arrangement meant that in an upheaval, the people and plantations in the North, in closer proximity to each other, would be aware sooner of changes in the political situation, and therefore more ready to react. Le Cap Francais was the chief port and centre of the colony's commercial, cultural and political life. It could be expected that the planters, merchants, officials and attorneys living there would be deeply involved in any turbulence. Additionally, these divisions formed ethnic frontiers between the predominantly blanc and noir North and West and the mulatre controlled South.
Demographically, a combination of racial, ethnic, social, occupational and political differences created a rigid 'caste' system in the colony. There were three main groups: the blancs ('white' Europeans), the mulatres (mixed European and African blood) and the noirs ('black' Africans). But each of these groups was further sub-divided.
The blancs were divided into the French-born bureaucrats, who held the highest positions in government, and were regarded as the cream of society. The grands blancs were wealthy planters and merchants of European blood, but locally-born. The petits blancs, mainly overseers, clerks, artisans, grocers, barbers and the like, were also European but locally-born. The grands blancs were, most likely, the descendants of the boucaniers but some were certainly members of the lesser French nobility who had come to the colony to seek their fortune. They were described as an "indolent and indulgent" set, in which the practice of absentee proprietorship was rife. The petits blancs were probably descended from the engages and may have included debtors and fugitives from the law.
Next were the mulatres who were also called gens de couleur - people of colour - or jaunes, yellow - from their light complexions). Most were affranchis (freemen) and it was rare for mulatres to be involved in servile labour. By 1789, the mulatres had come to constitute a substantial economic sector, owning one third of the land and one quarter of the slaves. They were generally more affluent and better educated than the petits blancs. However, they were oppressed by diverse discriminatory practices. Several professions were closed to them; penalties under the law were harsher; their clothing was prescribed by regulation and they were obliged to serve in the marechaussee (a sort of constabulary force) in which they were employed to pursue runaway slaves and fight the marrons who, of course, were noirs.
The noirs comprised the last and lowest social group and were almost all slaves. There were three sections among them. The creoles were slaves born in the colony and were therefore influenced by European ways of life. The bossals were African-born and still retained their African customs and religion. By 1787, about two-thirds of the slaves were classified as bossals. The third section were maroons, slaves who had escaped from the plantations and lived an independent existence in the jungle away from European restrictions. They did not generally cooperate with, or contribute to, revolutionary action and frequently collaborated with the Europeans to hunt down slaves who had escaped.
Each group, and even each section of each group, had a mutual antipathy to the next. The bureaucrats felt that they were the finest of all. They were thoroughly disliked by the local-born grands blancs who, under the French system of administration, were denied a voice in running the colony. The poor petits blancs in turn disliked the rich grands blancs. All the blancs despised the mulatres and shackled them with discriminatory laws. The mulatres included among their numbers many rich slave-owners and sought equality with the blancs while keeping the noirs in servitude.
Among the slaves, the creoles looked down on the bossals.
The entire social and ethnic structure therefore was riddled with prejudice. Ethnic contempt was endemic in the colonial system.
Altogether, these groups numbered about 519,000 persons in 1789. There about 40,000 blancs, about 513 of whom were bureaucrats, the remainder being grands and petits blancs. In the colony as a whole, the average ratio of blancs to noirs was therefore less than 1:10. Since many of the planters, merchants, officials attorneys and artisans lived in the towns near to the ports, the actual proportion of blancs to noirs on the estates in the countryside was much smaller.
Despite its chequered history, differentiated geography and ethnic antipathies, Saint Domingue rapidly rose to become the most successful sugar colony in the world, reaching its 'golden age' between 1763 and 1791. Before the revolution broke out in 1789, the value of its exports was 193,000,000 livres (nearly 8,000,000 pounds sterling), which was one-third more than those of all the British West Indies combined. The colony contained 800 sugar, 3,000 coffee, nearly 800 cotton and 2,950 indigo plantations, and its commerce employed over 1,000 ships and 15,000 seamen.
This had a profound effect on the economy of metropolitan France which re-exported colonial produce to the Baltics, Europe, Levant and America to a value of 152,000,000 livres (1789). France was able to preserve its profitable exploitation of Saint Domingue, as with all its other colonies, by means of the exclusif. This was the practice of the economic doctrine developed under Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French Minister of Marine under Louis XlV, whereby the colonies were seen solely as sources of supply and profit to metropolitan France. Production was limited to those tropical goods needed in Europe; manufacture was severely restricted and commerce was confined to carriage by French vessels.
The colonists chafed under these impediments which they felt made France rich at their expense. They wanted to run their own affairs in order to make economic decisions in their own interests. They wanted freedom to sell their goods for the highest, and to buy their needs at the lowest, prices. Frequently, this meant trade with America, England or the Netherlands which were prohibited by the exclusif.
Constitutionally, administration was as exclusive as the economy. The colony was administered by a governor, who was always a military officer, and by an intendant, who was a civil official, charged with public administration, finance and justice. There was no trace of the representative principle, or of local government within the provinces or districts, such as existed in English or Spanish colonies.
The colony was subject to central and direct rule by the crown, through military officers and civil officials, who had no responsibility to the people they governed. When, in 1789, colonial assemblies were eventually allowed, they were weak and powerless and came too late to deal with the endemic and deep-rooted problems of Saint Domingue. Blanc planters and mulatres affranchis alike had to articulate their grievances by proxy, through pressure groups, in Paris.
This rigid, unrepresentative regime was reinforced by the Code Noir which had been promulgated since 1685 during the reign of Louis XIV. It purported to regulate the relations and obligations of owners and slaves, blancs and noirs and protected the rights of freemen and slaves. In reality, however, the protective aspects of the Code were ignored, and the punitive parts enforced, with the result that mulatres and noirs were arbitrarily and badly treated without redress.
One effect of such treatment was a high rate of mortality among the slaves, necessitating their continuous replenishment from Africa by means of the Atlantic slave trade. It was reckoned that from 1787, the colony was taking over 40,000 slaves a year, augmenting the number of native Africans who were "... more resentful, more intractable and more ready for rebellion than the creole negro."
The people in Saint Domingue occupied positions in society defined by law and custom. Individuals were born into a caste and mobility was difficult to achieve. The colony was dominated by an 'aristocracy of the skin.' There was no recourse to the courts of law or to the departments of government for the redress of injustice or grievances by people of any colour. Violent action seemed to be the only solution to the problems which the people faced.
The roots of resentment and discord went deep into the society of Saint Domingue. In all strata of the social structure, in all aspects of life, in all areas of the colony and at all stages of the brief history of French rule, even though there was material progress, there was also conflict, disunity among the blancs, discrimination against the mulatres and exploitation of the noirs.
Into this combustive situation flew the sparks of the ideas of the British abolition movement and the ideals of the French revolutionary process. When they ignited, the heterogeneous people of Saint Domingue were hurled headlong along the road to revolution.
Roads to the revolution
In May 1789, King Louis XVI of France convened the Estates General, a consultative body of the nobility, clergy and representatives of the common people or 'third estate.' They had not met since 1614, one hundred and seventy-five years previously. Once assembled, however, they initiated a process which was to culminate in the creation of a radicalised 'National Assembly,' the precipitation of violent revolution and the destruction of the ancien regime.
Before selecting their delegates, the electors of these three estates draw up a l ist of grievances and suggestions for reform known as cahiers de doleances. These cahiers were virtually unanimous in their condemnation of royal absolutism, and in their determination for individual liberty.
The idea of a representative assembly, and the opportunity for airing grievances, had an electric effect in Saint Domingue. Each group perceived the revolutionary institution as an instrument to satisfy its own self-interests, without thinking of the others. The grands blancs sought the abolition of military justice, the introduction of a civil judiciary, control over legislation and taxation and the selection of its own representatives. The mulatres sought equality with the blancs by virtue of their liberty and their property. The noirs listened to the careless conversation of their masters and dreamt of the 'liberte, egalite et fraternite.' which were the watchwords of revolutionary France.
The grands blancs took the first fatal step along the road to revolution by seeking to secure exclusive representation for their own group in the Estates General. A colonial committee was constituted, cahiers de doleances were drafted, thirty-one (and later thirty-seven) delegates were elected, and Guy d' Arcy was selected to lead the group in the Estates General. Thereafter, each group pursued its own interests blindly.
A significant feature of the early period of the revolution in St Domingue which created a bridge between Saint Domingue and France was the emergence and existence of various Parisian pressure groups. They represented all colours of people and shades of opinion. Three were most prominent.
The Societe des Amis des Noirs was founded in February 1788 and was made up of liberal intellectuals. Despite its name, greater use was made of the influence of its members by the mulatres, who could travel to France and speak for themselves, than by the noirs, who could not.
The Societe Correspondante des Colons Francais was organised in August 1789 and represented exclusively the blanc colonists' interests, It later became known popularly as the 'Massiac Club.'
The Societe des Colons Americains was established specially by the mulatres to look after their own interests. It was led at one time by Julien Ramond and Vincent Oge.
It was through these societies that the diverse interests of St Domingue came to be represented to, and through, the French National Assembly. It could be said that they had a direct influence on the subsequent course of events. To some extent, they had their intellectual origins in the Enlightenment and in the cultural ferment taking place in France more or less during the second half of the eighteenth century.
Through the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Denis Diderot (1713-1784), Francois Marie Arouet (1694-1778) (who was better known as Voltaire), and other philosophes, a critical and irreverent attitude toward all existing institutions was fostered, and the liberty of the individual asserted. The influence of ideas of the Enlightenment profoundly inspired the blancs and the mulatres who read and discussed the writings and speeches of the philosophes. Their significance was not lost on the unfree noirs in whose presence some of these subjects were openly discussed by free persons.
Both the ideas of the Enlightenment and the ideals of the abolition movement had a direct influence on contemporary thought. The English movement owed certain of its ideals to evangelical Protestantism and its belief that all men were the 'children of God.' The French movement was of a more secular character. It received some of its most eloquent testaments in the writings of Abbe Raynal and Hilliard d' Auberteuil which embodied three key ideas: the invalidity of slavery; freedom of the will; and sympathy for violent emancipation.
When it was created, the National Assembly in France became a forum for the contradictory ideas of the rival castes in Saint Domingue and a mouthpiece for the propaganda of the diverse pressure groups. Spokesmen arose on behalf of the Amis des Noirs, the Colons Francais and the Colons Americains. Depending on which faction of French society gained the ascendancy in the Assembly, the tide of opinion ebbed and flowed in Saint Domingue.
The international situation had a direct influence on the internal course of the Revolution. The collapse of the monarchy, the destruction of the aristocracy, the spread of anarchy and the rise of autocracy in France under Napoleon Bonaparte had two major effects. First, they unleashed nearly two decades of international warfare on the continent of Europe and in its colonial appendages around the globe. Second, they rocked the old established dynasties, alliances and political systems all over Europe.
The ideological influence of libertarian ideas and the military impact of the revolutionary armies which burst forth from France startled the old dynasties of the continent which seemed unable to resist their double effect. In America and the Caribbean, the plantation societies which like Saint Domingue had large African slave populations and small European bureaucracies and plutocracies, were thrown into a state of alarm. They tried to insulate their own slaves from revolutionary propaganda, prevent French (colonial) planters and their slaves from entering their territories and, where possible, actively assist in the attempts to suppress the noir regime which inexorably was arising in Saint Domingue.
The fact was that Western European countries and the United States of America still gained considerable commercial and agricultural wealth from the slave labour of their own plantation societies. Thus, their only consistent policy seemed to be to prevent the Revolution from succeeding, thereby setting an example to their own restive slaves.
On the part of America and England, the greater desire to hurt France occasionally expressed itself in help for the rebels. But such help was hardly intentional and never disinterested. Foreign interference and intervention in the internal affairs of Saint Domingue were generally hostile, leading to outright invasion on three occasions. It was a significant fact that each invader - England, France and Spain - had as one of its principal objectives, the restoration of slavery and the re-introduction of the plantation system. Each invader was motivated by self-interest.
England feared that its West Indian colonies would rise in revolt, inspired by the ideas of liberty and the initiative of the slaves who freed themselves by force of arms. Jamaica, which had 300,000 slaves and was geographically closest to Saint Domingue, was the most valuable English Caribbean colony, but also the most vulnerable. Its Governor, Lord Effingham, sent arms and ammunition to the besieged French planters and, from l793-1798, English armies actually invaded and attempted to occupy Saint Domingue.
Spain possessed the eastern portion of the island and longed to regain the territory it had lost to France at the Treaty of Rijswick. At one stage, Spain actively encouraged the insurgents in order to achieve this objective, decorating the noir leaders Jean Francois, Biassou and Toussaint L' Ouverture with high ranks as officers of the Spanish army. It invaded Saint Domingue hoping to seize the rich northern province for itself and re-introduce slavery.
The United States of America developed a double policy with distinctly different lines. The first line was in support of the slave societies in its own South which feared revolt, sought to suppress it and prevent the entry of French planters and their slaves. Thus at one stage, America loaned France 1,500,000 livres for the relief of the beleaguered blancs of the colony.
The second line derived from the desire for commercial profit and was supported by the mercantile interests of New England which wanted to maintain Saint Domingue as a trading base. Such a policy meant dealing with whatever government existed at the time and was prepared to protect American commercial activities. Thus, when the blancs were removed from power, the Americans had no qualms about doing business with the noirs under L'Ouverture.
France's policies seemed to change like a weathercock with the winds of the French Revolution. It swung from the radical Jacobin ascendancy when slavery was abolished (August 1794), to the reactionary dictatorship of the Consulate when slavery was restored (April 1802) and the colony invaded and occupied. In the course of the Revolution, bourgeois interests in the Chambers of Commerce and the mercantile communities of ports such as Le Havre, Bordeaux, Marseilles and Nantes, who used to profit from the slave trade and colonial shipping were for a time able to reassert their economic interests above the humanitarian efforts of the Amis des Noirs.
These were the foreign countries which interfered in Saint Domingue and influenced the revolutionary process there. By their hostile policies and aggressive actions, they succeeded in exacerbating the conflict, intensifying the warfare and radicalising the belligerents by committing their enormous military resources in pursuit of their self-interests. These forces came from so many quarters, with such varied objectives, assisting or alienating different groups at different times, that the revolution could not follow a single, simple or smooth path; rather, there were reversals and advances, twists and turns, spurts and stops. In fact, it is impossible to speak of one revolution; there were several revolutions within the revolution.
Revolutions in the Revolution
The complex society, polity and economy that constituted the colony of Saint Domingue created an equally complex pattern of conflict and revolutionary turmoil. The international community was already in a state of alarm and apprehension in reaction to the Revolution raging in France. When Revolution broke out in Saint Domingue as well, there was intrigue and intervention by foreign powers. Hostilities and natural disasters interrupted economic activity. Diseases, such as yellow fever, and death from the fighting, caused heavy attrition of the population.
The inherent antagonisms among the various ethnic groups were complicated further by internal power struggles, ephemeral alliances and the capricious actions of the principal personalities involved. Great leaders such as the noir general Pierre Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture and the mulatre general Andre Rigaud arose to direct the course of events and dominate the revolutionary process by their decisions and actions.
It was apparent, from the outset, that each ethnic group and each foreign country had its own interests to safeguard. It so happened that each belligerent entered the process at different times and in different circumstances. Thus, it is possible to comprehend the whole revolutionary process only by examining separately each of the ten main revolts and conflicts which took place in the fifteen years from 1789 to 1804.
The initial revolt was that of the grands blancs which erupted in Le Cap Francais and the North, and took place roughly from September 1789 to October 1790. The grands blancs sought representation first in the Estates General and then in the National Assembly. However, they faced strong opposition from the Amis des Noirs and the Colons Americains, pressure groups which, more or less, spoke for the mulatres.
With the fall of the Bastille (14 July 1789), much of the moral authority of the crown of France also collapsed. With the adoption of the 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen' (26 August 1789), the grands blancs became very apprehensive of the direction the revolution was taking. On that day, the Club Massiac was inaugurated.
The next month (20 September 1789), a delegation of mulatres appeared before the National Assembly, demanding full citizenship to which they were entitled under the Code Noir. When the news of these events reached Saint Domingue, the grands and petits blancs forged a temporary alliance. They immediately pounced on their old adversaries, the French-born bureaucrats, who represented the royalist regime. They formed a National Guard, drove out the Intendant Francois Barbe de Marbois, installed one of their own number as Captain General, and set up provincial assemblies. The mobs then turned their murderous attention to the mulatres. By this stage, control of events passed into the hands of the propertyless petits blancs who wanted to exterminate the mulatres and confiscate their plantations. Among the ringleaders were the managers and stewards of the plantations, followed by the bulk of the blanc townsmen, such as the grocers and barbers who adopted the revolutionary pompons rouges (red cockades) of Paris.
For a time, the revolt won some constitutional concessions such as the right to set up their own assemblies. However, the aggressiveness of the petits blancs alarmed both the grands blancs and the royalist bureaucrats. The temporary alliance of the blancs broke down; they turned on each other and the revolt of the blancs seemed poised to degenerate into an internecine war.
The next revolt was that of the mulatres. It had its epicentre at Grand Riviere in the North and was launched on 29 October 1790 by Vincent Oge, Jean-Baptiste Chavannes and other dissident mulatres. They were frustrated by the failure of the National Assembly in Paris to grant them full citizenship and were fearful of the terror unleashed against them by the blancs in Saint Domingue.
Oge had gone secretly to London where he met Clarkson, the British Abolitionist, from whom he received money and a letter of credit to buy arms and ammunition in the United States of America, which he apparently did. The mulatres assembled a small force, but timidly launched their campaign with a volley of letters stating their demands for equality. The blancs, thus alerted, lost no time in responding with force and quickly suppressed the revolt, although a few insurgents stubbornly held out in the mountainous areas. The leaders - Oge and Chavannes - fled to (Spanish) Santo Domingo, whence they were extradited, tortured and executed.
The third revolt was that of the noirs which broke out in the Plaine de Nord in the North of the colony. It started on 22 August 1791 and was led at first by Boukman, a papaloi or high-priest of the vodun rites. The noir slaves were driven both by a love of liberty which had been stimulated by the contemporary propaganda of the abolitionists and revolutionists as well as by their hatred of their blanc and mulatre masters who kept them in servitude and treated them cruelly. They wanted to smash the system of slavery but retained an abiding reverence for the king of France which they shared with their own rebel chieftains and leaders.
From the start, about 100,000 slaves were involved, indicating the extent of the slaves' organisation and mobilisation. The conflict quickly enveloped the entire colony and, after Boukman was killed, other leaders such as Jean Francois and Biassou emerged. The mulatres revolted again, this time under the better leadership of Andre Rigaud, Louis Beauvois and Pierre Panchinat.
The marrons were incorporated in a force called the 'Swiss' (in loyal mimickry of the bodyguard of Louis XVI). The blancs in the Assembly sent envoys to the English in Jamaica, to the Spanish in Santo Domingo, and to the Americans, seeking assistance to suppress the slave revolt.
In France, the Assembly under the influence of bourgeois interests, repealed the May Decrees giving mulatres citizenship, sent a commission comprising Mirbeck, Saint-Leger and Roume to administer the colony, and despatched 6,000 troops to restore order. Mutual distrust between the blanc colonists and the Commission aggravated the conflict, which degenerated into civil war with all belligerents determined to fight to the finish. In this confusion, effective government in the colony completely collapsed.
The fourth event occurred in May 1792. It was an invasion from Spanish Santo Domingo which longed to repossess the territory it had lost to France and took the opportunity of its neighbour's disturbances to recapture that Western portion of Hispaniola. When, on 7 March 1793, revolutionary France declared war on Royalist Spain, the noirs had already rebelled and Spain tried to employ the rebels to fight against their former masters, the French.
Prominent noir leaders succumbed to the blandishments of the Spanish and were appointed lieutenant generals in the Royal Army. L'Ouverture was among them but received a lower rank. With the support of the noir generals and their troops, the Spanish invaded Saint Domingue.
At that time, the main struggle was still that between the forces loyal to the Jacobin Commissioner Sonthonax and those loyal to the royalist Governor Galbaud. By early 1794, the invaders had taken most of the North excluding Le Cap Francais. L'Ouverture used this experience to build up a reasonably well-trained army and to attract competent commanders such as Jean Jacques Dessalines and Moyse. This made the force a decisive factor in the future course of the Revolution.
The fifth event was a blanc revolt which erupted in June 1793. It was, in effect, a royalist reaction against republicanism. The revolt was led by the governor, General Galbaud and supported by most of the French sailors and soldiers in the colony at the time. It was directed against the new commissioners, especially the Jacobin Felicite Leger Sonthonax who himself was supported by the bulk of the mulatres and some noirs. The blanc colonists hoped to seek a protective alliance with England, to regain their plantations and slaves, and to restore their hegemony in the colony.
On 29 August 1793, the Commissioners declared the total abolition of slavery in Saint Domingue, thereby enlisting the sympathy and support of the rebel noirs. The blancs thereupon signed an agreement of capitulation with General Williamson, Governor of Jamaica, seeking the protection of England until peace was restored. The Jacobin Commissioners whose hands were strengthened by their timely emancipation of the noirs, recruited the rebel leaders Macaya and Pierrot to their cause and succeeded in crushing the revolt.
The sixth conflict was the English invasion and occupation of Saint Domingue for a period of five years from September 1793 to August 1798. There were five reasons for the English action. First was the desire to protect Jamaica from the danger of servile insurrection or revolutionary invasion. Second was in response to the request of blanc colonists to place themselves under English rule until peace was restored. Third, was to thwart the Spanish threat to conquer the entire colony. Fourth was to hold on to French territory to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations when the war inevitably came to an end. Finally was the English policy to use its maritime superiority to capture the overseas colonies of its enemies, while leaving the land fighting in Europe to its allies, such as Russia, and to weaken France, with which war had broken out earlier that year, in February l793.
Because the invasion of the English had several aims, it also had several enemies, and passed through several distinct phases. From September 1793 to September 1794, the English fought mainly against French troops. But the invaders' cause was weakened by dissension with the blancs, by disease which decimated their ranks and by widespread hostility among the noirs arising out of the English policy of re-enslavement and their excessive executions and cruel conduct. The noir leader Toussaint L'Ouverture who, with Jean Francois and Biassou had joined the Spanish side, decided to switch loyalties and join with the French side under General Laveaux, ostensibly to prevent the re-enslavement of the noirs.
The campaign then entered its second phase from September 1794 to July 1796, which took on the appearance of a 'patriotic war' against the aggressors. The forces of the noirs under L'Ouverture, combined with the forces of the mulatres under Rigaud and the forces of the French under Laveaux to confront the English. In the final phase from July 1796 to August 1798, the Spanish withdrew from the colony and made a separate peace with France in the Treaty of Basle (5 March 1795) ceding the rest of the island (i.e., Santo Domingo proper) to France.
An abortive 'coup' was attempted by the mulatre Villate against the French Laveaux on 20 March 1796. As a result, the noir L'Ouverture, who foiled the coup and rescued the grateful Laveaux, was appointed Lieutenant Governor and the following year, on 2 May 1797, became Governor General of Saint Domingue.
The English army was thoroughly broken by wastage, by disease and warfare, and their Commanding General sued for peace. Agreement was reached in August and the defeated English withdrew by October 1798.
Triumph of the Revolution
The seventh conflict was known as the 'War of the Knives.' It took the form of a civil war between the anciens libres (mulatres) and the nouveaux libres (noirs). The opposing forces were led respectively by L'Ouverture in the North and Rigaud in the South, who had so recently been allies to drive out the English.
War of the Knives
This civil war was an ethnic struggle for control of the colony and had been precipitated by the attempt by the mulatres under Villate in 1796 to seize power by arresting the French Governor Laveaux. Their plans went awry, and resulted in the rapid rise and entrenchment of the noir General L'Ouverture in office.
The French, even anxious to reassert economic and political control over their once prosperous colony, sent a special agent, Theodore Hedouville, who arrived on 29 March 1798 with that purpose in mind. He set out to counterbalance the growing strength of L'Ouverture with the power of Rigaud, in order to provoke a conflict between the two. He succeeded and the mulatres made the first move on 16 June 1799.
By that time, however, it was to America's advantage to support the government of L'Ouverture with which favourable trade relations had developed. The Americans therefore provided naval gunnery support and troop transport to the noir side. In the end, mulatre resistance was broken, and by 1 August 1800, the noirs were triumphant. The noir general Jean Jacques Dessalines, who had earned a reputation for ruthless efficiency, was appointed to pacify the South, which he proceeded to do with lethal zeal.
The eighth conflict was a short campaign undertaken against the eastern portion of the island - Santo Domingo. The territory was nominally French, having been ceded in 1795; slavery still prevailed under the hegemony of a predominantly European and mulatto ruling class. Earlier in the Revolution, it had been used as a Spanish base to invade Saint Domingue and to restore slavery.
L'Ouverture seized Santo Domingo in short, swift, almost bloodless battles and captured the capital. When the danger of resistance ceased, slavery was abolished. The historical significance of this action was far-reaching. In the short-term, it protected the West of the island from hostile action from the East, but in the long run, it left a legacy of ethnic hatred which has never been eradicated.
War of resistance
The ninth major conflict in the revolutionary process, took the form of another war of resistance, this time against the French forces. General Napoleon Bonaparte had seized power in France in a coup d'etat on 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire). He quickly established himself as a dictator and had become alarmed at the appearance of another dictator - General Toussaint L'Ouverture - in Saint Domingue, which was still regarded as a French colony.
There were several reasons for this apprehension. L'Ouverture's crushing of the mulatre forces (August 1800), seizure of Santo Domingo (January 1801); adoption of a new constitution (July 1801), expulsion of the French special agent, Roume (September 1801), and the growth of commercial relations with America, all served to convince Bonaparte that France was losing its grip on its once most precious colony. At the same time, Bonaparte decided to tighten the French mercantile system to compete with English economic strength, to re-create a French Empire in the West, and thereby restore French prestige and power which had been damaged by over a decade of turmoil. To achieve all these aims, he felt that he needed to remove L'Ouverture and his cadre of noir generals and restore French rule in Saint Domingue, by military means.
A French force made up of 12,000 soldiers under General Charles Victor Emmanuel Le Clerc landed on 29 January 1802. It turned out to be a veritable European effort since it was supported by all the major Western European powers. Spain and the Netherlands agreed to provide ships to transport the troops; Spain promised to provide supplies (via Cuba); England promised to provide supplies (via Jamaica). The United States also agreed to help.
The specific objectives of the campaign were to be achieved in four phases. First, strategic military positions would be occupied. Second, "dangerous" persons would be outlawed and deported. Third, the noir population would be disarmed and the colony returned to blanc and French rulership. And, fourthly, slavery would be restored and the plantation economy resuscitated.
The French were able to occupy strategic positions and secure the surrender of the key noir generals - L'Ouverture, Christophe, Dessalines and others. In addition, in fulfilment of his mandate, Le Clerc had L'Ouverture arrested and deported to France where he met his death. However, the French were unable to exploit these advantages and, as with the Spanish and English before them, became bogged down in the military morass of Saint Domingue. By mid-July 1802, over 10,000 troops had already died, the noir masses could not be disarmed, the weakened French army lost momentum and the campaign failed to achieve its ultimate aim of imposing armed peace and restoring French hegemony.
War of Independence
The final stage of the Revolution was made by the noir masses themselves. It started as a true 'people's war' waged by the leaderless masses, who refused to give up their arms, and refused to submit to French rule.
This final war of independence was caused by severa1 factors. First, the Jacobin decree of 1794 which abolished slavery was nullified, and the slave trade reopened on 27 April 1802. Second, the noir general L'Ouverture, who had earned the affection of his troops and the noirs in general, was arrested and deported to France on 7 June 1802. Third, daily executions of noirs took place and there were numerous cold-blooded massacres; in one instance, the French executed the entire 7th Colonial (noir) Brigade which had mutinied and, altogether, these acts aroused the anger of the masses. Fourth, the mulatres realized that the reactionary policy of Bonaparte would place their own hard-won freedom in jeopardy, as much as the noirs. Apparently, the noir generals who along with L'Ouverture has gone over to the French side, came to a similar conclusion at about the same time.
Thus, in October 1803 when the mass uprising was well under way, the mulatre generals - Petion and Clatriveaux - mutinied with their regiments. They were followed within hours by the noir generals - Christophe and Dessalines. Once again, noir and mulatre forces combined to form a patriotic front to drive out the invader. The revolutionaries adopted a new flag of red and blue, recognised J.J. Dessa1ines as supreme commander, and resolved to fight until they won complete independence from France.
The war then entered a phase of racial extermination, characterized by extreme cruelty on both sides. On 18 May 1803, war had broken out again between England and France and England readily provided naval and logistical help, blockades and bombardment of the French positions, more to hurt France than to help the revolutionaries. The French forces were quickly crushed and finally expelled on 30 November 1803.
These ten major conflicts show how difficult and diverse were the routes followed by the Revolution. To speak of a single Revolution would therefore be a misnomer. There were, rather, several revolutions in the revolution. After nearly fifteen years of fighting, Saint Domingue adopted a new name - Haiti - and declared itself independent, on 1 January 1804. However, despite the victory of the patriotic forces, they could not escape the consequences of so much death and destruction over such a long period of time.
Consequences of the Revolution
No other wars in the Western Hemisphere had been so completely destructive as those leading to independence, and which could now be termed the Haitian Revolution.
Certainly, this Revolution must rank alongside seven other revolutions which occurred during the last quarter of the eighteenth century in Switzerland (1768-1789), America (1775-1783), the Netherlands (1784-1787), France (1789-1793), Belgium (1789-1792), Italy (1796-1799) and Ireland (1798). The Haitian Revolution (1789-1804) was one of these great 'Atlantic Revolutions' of that epoch because its consequences were not confined to a single country but were universal.
This is so because the Revolution shook the foundation of the Atlantic slave trade and of the enslavement of Africans which had supported the growth of the 'Atlantic economy' of Western Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean for over three hundred years. It marked the watershed of the slave system in the New World.
In addition, because of its historical, political and philosophical links with France, Saint Domingue had become the vehicle for the transmission of revolutionary ideas from the Old World to the New World.
Because of its geographical proximity to the islands of the Caribbean and the mainland of South America, the long duration and the genocidal character of the conflict, it created racial stirrings among the colonies of the three major European empires (England, France and Spain) which tried to destroy the Revolution in order to neutralise its powerful impact among their own oppressed people.
After all, it was the Haitian Revolution, far more than the American Revolution, which was the immediate intellectual and ideological antecedent of the Latin American independence movement which broke out a mere four years after the declaration of Haitian independence in 1804.
The Haitian Revolution infused an intense feeling of nationalism into the noirs and mulatres who, on the one hand, could not return to Africa, and on the other, had been rejected by Europe. They had been deracinated by the experiences of the middle-passage and the servile conditions in the colonies.
The notion of 'nationalism' in the Caribbean was entirely new and was implanted by the Haitian revolutionaries. The doctrine that the principle of sovereignty rested essentially in the nation-state, and not in the acts of a few emigre colonists or in the diktat of a governor sent out from Europe, marked the beginning of modern ideas of nationhood in the Caribbean. The Revolution was the first concrete challenge to European colonialism which, in 2004, remains a problem.
At the individual level, although personal life and liberty were still insecure in the new state of Haiti, the Revolution succeeded in abolishing slavery decades before the Americans, English, French, Spanish and Dutch found it fit to do so.
But servile emancipation and national liberation were bought at a high price by the Haitian Revolution. Five thousand days of warfare had touched every part of the countryside and the populace. The economic system was in ruins. The population fell from over 500,000 to fewer than 250,000 and the workforce was drastically reduced by the deaths of so many young men. Labour was dislocated. Planters who had not been killed had either fled, or had been expelled. Cultivation was carried on by women, children and old men. Plantations were paralysed; sugar works and distilleries were destroyed.
In the short-run, the result was starvation and famine. In the long-run, the plantation pattern was never fully restored; small peasant plots were created and large-scale agriculture went into permanent decline. In other Caribbean colonies, the collapse of Haiti's economy had the effect of removing their major competitor in the world's sugar and coffee markets. The emigration of French planters led to the successful implantation of coffee in Cuba and Jamaica and cleared the way for the rise of Cuba as the greatest sugar-producing country in the Caribbean.
The social system became permanently polarised between the noirs and mulatres. The solidarity which flourished during the anti-English and anti-French wars did not survive into the new era of statehood. An ethno-centric paranoia pervaded the thinking of Haitians. Within weeks of independence, genocidal campaigns were launched against the mulatres (1804) and against the remaining blancs (1805). Haiti had been plunged into serious ethnic wars leading at one stage to the effective partitioning of the country into a noir North and a mulatre South. The deliberate actions of the English, French and Spanish to exploit ethnic differences among the blancs, mulatres and noirs in order to advance their imperial interests and ambitions left a legacy of intolerance and strife.
The political system became entirely despotic. After such protracted warfare, military men possessed a strong grip on the reins of power. Neither independence nor the libertarian ideals of the Revolution could alter the power structure which had been forged in the foundry of warfare. The distinctive consequences of the political system were authoritarianism and militarism. In the very year of independence, J.J. Dessalines had himself declared Emperor Jacques I (8 October 1804), two months before another military dictator ù Bonaparte ù had himself crowned Emperor Napoleon 1 (2 December 1804).
The international system was affected in several ways in the wake of the Revolution. Its most direct military consequence was reflected in the wars being waged in Europe. The utter destruction of the English, French and Spanish armies in Saint Domingue had severely impaired their military capability. The English lost 12,695 troops killed. The French losses were set at about 40,000 troops, including veterans of the victorious armies which had conquered Italy and Germany.
The appearance of an independent noir Republic amidst the European-dominated community of nations posed a diplomatic dilemma for many of the Western states which still participated in the African slave trade and whose economies depended in some degree on slave labour. France refused to recognize the Haitian Republic until 1825; England, until 1833; and the United States, until 1862. Even though Simon Bolivar and Francisco Miranda had gone to Haiti and received help in their independence struggle against Spain, the new Latin Republics steadfastly refused to recognise their benefactor's independence and Bolivar refused to invite Haiti to attend the celebrated Panama Congress (1826).
It is the inescapable conclusion that Haiti was treated as a pariah even by its neighbours in the Western Hemisphere partly out of racial prejudice.
The system of slavery, embracing both the slave trade and the use of enslaved labour, was irreversibly fractured by the Revolution. The immediate consequences of the upheavals in Saint Domingue were manifested in the agitation of slaves and the anxieties of slave-owners in the other French colonies and all over the New World. Despite the efforts of the colonial governments, news of the slaves' struggle and success filtered into the plantations of the region.
Rebellions of slaves and uprisings of maroons erupted in several English, French and Spanish colonies during this period. The turmoil in Saint Domingue contributed to the postponement of the British campaign for the abolition of the slave trade and progress resumed only after Haitian independence became a fait accompli. It also helped to retard the movement for independence from Spain in Cuba and Puerto Rico, where European colonists feared that a bid for freedom on their part could inspire similar insurrections by slaves as had occurred in Saint Domingue.
The Haitian Revolution did produce Toussaint L'Ouverture, one of the most outstanding personalities in the entire history of the Caribbean. Although he and the other revolutionary leaders did not seek to export revolution, it did have a seminal effect on the entire region.
Haiti set a successful example of the organisation and mobilisation of slaves and the destruction of powerful European armies by an African people. It held out the promise of liberty and national independence to every people and every colony in the Caribbean.