Revolution and Abolition in Haiti, 1791-1865

case study: The haitian revolution and american attitudes toward black insurrection, 1791-1865

The Haitian Revolution substantially and irreversibly heightened American sensitivity to the risk of black insurrection(1), whether in the form of localized slave uprising or widespread revolution against black oppression.  Published accusations of connections between the Revolution and slave uprisings - such as the Gabriel Prosser Conspiracy of 1800, the Denmark Vesey Conspiracy of 1822 and the Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831 - exacerbated this causal effect.(2)  For the many writers and orators involved in the American slavery debate, the Haitian Revolution served as a case study through which the causes of black insurrection could be analyzed.(3)  Not surprisingly, conflicting interpretations arose.  The documents included in this collection reflect three general viewpoints.  The first is that abolitionism incites violence by exhorting slaves to reclaim their natural rights at any cost, a perspective most often put forth by slavery's defenders and apologists.  See, for example, "'Preface to the First Edition' of An Historical Survey" (1806) by Bryan Edwards and The Present State of Hayti (1828) by James Franklin.  This perspective was also voiced by certain antislavery conservatives who criticized abolitionists for promoting the antislavery cause without regard for their actions' potentially incendiary effects:  see, for example, "Chapter 2 of An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti" (1805) by Marcus Rainsford and John Taylor's Arator: Being a Series of Agricultural Essays, Practical and Political (1814).

The second is that emancipation enables former slaves to seek retributive violence against their former masters, a viewpoint also favored by slavery's defenders and apologists.  See, for example, "Excerpt from An Historical Survey" (1806) by Bryan Edwards, "Remarks Delivered in the House of Representatives" (1848) by T.H. Bayly and "Refuge of Oppression.  Massacre the Natural Result of the 'Proclamation'" (1863). 

The third is that slavery's cruel and dehumanizing nature inevitably provokes violent insurrection, a perspective typically put forth by antislavery advocates.  According to this interpretation, slaves come to see revolt or suicide as the only means of ending their suffering.  Antislavery leaders and institutions advanced various formulations of this argument in order to counter the two previously described viewpoints.(4)  For defenses of abolitionism, see, for example, Elizur Wright's "The Horrors of St. Domingo" (1836), Wilson Armistead's "A Glance at the Subsequent History of St Domingo, or Hayti" (1848) and "On Which Side is Mercy" (1863).  For documents aimed at diminishing societal fears of emancipation, see, for example, Oration in Honor of Universal Emancipation (1834) by David Lee Child, "St. Domingo. The Misrepresentation" (1848) and the "Second Excerpt from The Rejected Stone" (1862) written by Moncure Conway.  Antislavery advocates also used this argument as an offensive weapon by portraying slavery as a large and growing threat to the safety of American citizens.  In documents such as  "Speech of a Pastor from Potsdam, NY" (1827), "Immediate Emancipation" (1838), "The Danger to the South" (1855) and "The Lesson of the Hour" (1859), antislavery advocates invoked memories of the "horrors of St. Domingo" in an attempt to present emancipation as an urgent necessity.

Quick Links to Documents:

THE ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT AS A CAUSE OF BLACK INSURRECTION, 1791-1865

EMANCIPATION AS A CAUSE OF BLACK INSURRECTION, 1791-1865

DEFENSES OF THE ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT AND EMANCIPATION, 1791-1865

THE CRUELTY OF SLAVERY AS A CAUSE OF BLACK INSURRECTION, 1791-1865

 

Documents with Historical Context

THE ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT AS A CAUSE OF BLACK INSURRECTION, 1791-1865

This collection documents the antebellum belief that the Haitian Revolution was caused by French abolitionism and the belief's corollary that the American antislavery movement represented a comparable national threat.  Both of these points are made, to some degree, in "Article in The Liberator: Letter from the Postmaster General" (1835),  "Excerpt from The South Vindicated from the...Northern Abolitionists" by William Drayton (1836), "Remarks Delivered in the House of Representatives" by T.H. Bayly, Joshua Giddings, et al (1848) and "Article in The National Era: 'The American Organ'" (1855). The first two documents are of particular interest in that each references the history of the Haitian Revolution in order to add strength and credibility to its criticism of the American Anti-Slavery Society's controversial Southern mass mailing of antislavery propaganda.  The final two documents indicate the persistence of these beliefs and demonstrate the role that they played in pre-Civil War politics and in the emergence of the Republican Party.  Several general histories of the Haitian Revolution that were available in the United States during the antebellum era supported these ideas and were sometimes referenced directly.  Included in this collection are: "Chapter 2 of An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti" by Marcus Rainsford (1805), "'Preface to the First Edition' of An Historical Survey by Bryan Edwards" (1806), "Chapter 3 from The Present State of Hayti" by James Franklin (1828) and "Excerpt from History of Europe" by Archibald Alison (1842).  All of these publications portray the Haitian Revolution as a product of the French antislavery movement.  The final document in this collection - "Excerpt from Arator: Being a Series of Agricultural Essays, Practical and Political:  'Number 28:  Labour'" by John Taylor (1814) - shows that fear of a second Haitian Revolution, at times, informed the rhetoric of those who ideologically opposed slavery but also strongly disapproved of radical abolitionist methods.  

Chapter 2 of An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti by Marcus Rainsford (British) - 1805; acknowledges French abolitionism's causal role in the Haitian Revolution but does not criticize it

Preface to the First Edition of An Historical Survey by Bryan Edwards (British) - 1806; asserts the rhetoric and actions of "reformers" (e.g. abolitionists) as the causes of the Haitian Revolution

Excerpt from Arator: Being a Series of Agricultural Essays, Practical and Political: "Number 28: Labour" by John Taylor - 1814; opposes slavery but cites the Haitian Revolution in his criticism of the dangerous and divisive actions of certain abolitionists

Chapter 3 from The Present State of Hayti by James Franklin - 1828; asserts that French abolitionism caused the black insurrection and that the severity of pre-Revolutionary slavery has been overestimated

Article in The Liberator: Letter from the Postmaster General - 1835; cites the imperative of avoiding the "horrors of Saint Domingo" as justification for censoring abolitionist mail

Chapter 21 from The South Vindicated from the...Northern Abolitionists by William Drayton - 1836; asserts French abolitionism as the cause of the Haitian Revolution and contends that emancipation has negatively affected Haiti

Excerpt from History of Europe by Archibald Alison (British) - 1842; begins with “The second catastrophe...” - describes the Haitian Revolution as a product of abolitionism and a case study of the problems caused by "precipitate emancipation"

Remarks Delivered in the House of Representatives by T.H. Bayly, Joshua Giddings, et al – 1848; Bayly asserts that the events of the Haitian Revolution demonstrate that abolitionist agitation and emancipation provoke slave violence

Article in The National Era: "The American Organ" - 1855; reprint of an article that accuses the Republican Party of seeking to incite "murder and destruction" like that which took place in Haiti


EMANCIPATION AS A CAUSE OF BLACK INSURRECTION, 1791-1865

The three documents in this collection illustrate how, for some, the history of the Haitian Revolution and the associated slave emancipation affirmed the fear that the abolition of slavery in the United States would lead to retributive violence against slaveholders and/or broad-based black insurrection.  The prevalence of this fear in the south and the north is suggested more by the abundance of rebuttals to this causal argument than by the number of documents included here.  These rebuttals appear in the next collection: Defenses of the Abolitionist Movement and Emancipation, 1791-1865.

Excerpt from An Historical Survey by Bryan Edwards (British) - 1806; begins "I might here expatiate…" - expresses a pessimistic view of Haiti's future and predicts that emancipated slaves will be "savages in the midst of society"

Remarks Delivered in the House of Representatives by T.H. Bayly, Joshua Giddings, et al – 1848; Bayly asserts that the events of the Haitian Revolution demonstrate that abolitionist agitation and emancipation provoke slave violence

Article in The Liberator: "Refuge of Oppression. Massacre the Natural Result of the 'Proclamation'" - 1863; reprint of a negative editorial response in the Boston Pilot to the Emancipation Proclamation


DEFENSES OF THE ABOLITIONIST MOVEMENT AND EMANCIPATION, 1791-1865

In general, the documents in this collection argue against the two causal relationships asserted in the first two collections.  Antislavery leaders and institutions persistently contested the notions that either abolitionism or emancipation had caused the violence in Haiti that had left such an enduring impression on the American psyche.   One of the central tenets of their rebuttals was that Napoleon's attempted reconquest of Haiti and his associated efforts to reinstitute slavery had precipitated the violent actions of free blacks and slaves against the French military and white colonists.  See, for example, "Two Articles in The Genius of Universal Emancipation:  'Immediate Emancipation' and 'Fanatics and Incendiaries'" (1833), "Rebuttal to Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832" (1833), "The Horrors of St. Domingo" by Elizur Wright (1836), "Article in The Liberator:  'Our National Visitation'" by William Lloyd Garrison  (1862) and "Excerpt from The Rejected Stone:  Chapter 19:  'The Great Method of Peace'" by Moncure Conway (1862).  The rebuttals' other main tenet was that slavery contained the seeds of its own destruction:  cruelty, violence and dehumanization.   See, for example, "Excerpt from Serious Remonstrances" by Thomas Branagan (1805), "Article in The Liberator: 'To the Editors of the National Intelligencer'" by William Lloyd Garrison (1831) and "A Glance at the Subsequent History of St Domingo, or Hayti" by Wilson Armistead (1848).  This same idea undergirds all of the documents in the next collection as well, even if only implicitly in some instances. 

Chapter 6 of An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti by Marcus Rainsford (British) - 1805; expresses guarded optimism regarding the future of post-Revolutionary Haiti

Chapter 2 of An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti by Marcus Rainsford (British) - 1805; acknowledges French abolitionism's causal role in the Haitian Revolution but does not criticize it

Discussion of Causes of Revolution in St. Domingo from Serious Remonstrances by Thomas Branagan - 1805; asserts the slave trade and black resentment of mistreatment as causes of the Haitian Revolution, rather than abolitionism

Article in The Liberator: "To the Editors of the National Intelligencer" by William Lloyd Garrison - 1831; defensively asserts that slavery, not abolitionist rhetoric, causes insurrections like that witnessed in Haiti

Excerpt from An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans called Africans by Lydia Maria Child - 1833; excerpt begins with “An impartial and careful examination…” - asserts that conditions in Haiti during the Revolution and after endorse emancipation

Two Articles in The Genius of Universal Emancipation: "Immediate Emancipation" and "Fanatics and Incendiaries" - 1833; asserts that slave violence in Haiti was caused by Napoleon's attempt to reinstate slavery and not by emancipation

Rebuttal to “Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832, by Thomas R. Dew" - 1833; asserts that slave violence in Haiti was caused by Napoleon's attempt to reinstate slavery and not by emancipation

Excerpt from Oration in Honor of Universal Emancipation by David Lee Child - 1834; excerpt begins: “But, says the slaveholder and his parasites" - asserts the illogic of causal connections between emancipation and retributive violence

"The Horrors of St. Domingo" by Elizur Wright - 1836; detailed rebuttal of interpretations of the Haitian Revolution that connect abolitionism and emancipation with violence and that connect emancipation with societal decline

Article in The Colored American: "Speech of Monsieur D'Isambert [Haitian]" - 1840; characterizes the Haitian Revolution as defensive rather than rebellious - speech occurred at the 1840 London antislavery convention

A Lecture on the Haytien Revolutions; with a Sketch of the Character of Toussaint L'Ouverture by James McCune Smith - 1841; offers a clarifying history of the causes and events of the Haitian Revolution

Article in The North Star: "Letter to Henry Clay" - 1847; refutes the assumption that emancipation caused the violence of the Haitian Revolution

“A Glance at the Subsequent History of St Domingo, or Hayti” by Wilson Armistead - 1848; asserts the justifiability of violent resistance during the Haitian Revolution and describes Haiti's favorable progress following emancipation

Article in The National Era: "St. Domingo: The Misrepresentation" - 1848; lengthy account of the Haitian Revolution that attempts to dispel the associations between emancipation and violence

The Lesson of St. Domingo by Elizur Wright - 1861; a detailed antislavery-oriented narrative of the Haitian Revolution that asserts direct parallels between the event and the Civil War and recommends slave emancipation

Article in The Liberator: "No Union with Slaveholders!...Representing Slave Insurrections" - 1861; criticizes Governor Butler for basing his recommendation to incite slave insurrection in the South on a misinterpretation of the Haitian Revolution

Article in The Liberator: "Our National Visitation" by William Lloyd Garrison - 1862; argues that Napoleon's attempt to reinstitute slavery in Haiti was the cause of violent resistance, not emancipation

Excerpt from The Rejected Stone: Chapter 19: "The Great Method of Peace" by Moncure Conway - 1862; asserts that the attempt to reenact slavery in Haiti, not emancipation, precipitated violent resistance

Article in The Liberator: "On Which Side is Mercy?" - 1863; references the Haitian Revolution in a defense of abolitionists against charges of inciting slave insurrection


THE CRUELTY OF SLAVERY AS A CAUSE OF BLACK INSURRECTION, 1791-1865

The final collection in this case study contains documents that cited the Haitian Revolution in published warnings regarding the threat of violence embedded in American slavery.  In general, antislavery advocates invoked memories of the "horrors of St. Domingo" in an attempt to assert the abolition of slavery as urgent and imperative.   As early as 1792, one year after the slave insurrection began in Haiti, David Rice articulated this logic in Slavery Inconsistent with Justice and Good Policy (1792).  The remaining documents demonstrate that this point was made recurrently during the antebellum period in antislavery periodicals and, to some degree, in The New York Times and in historical works such as History of the Island of St. Domingo by James Barskett (1824). 

Slavery Inconsistent with Justice and Good Policy by David Rice - 1792 (1812 publication); cites contemporary violence in Haiti (see p 6) as evidence of the need for emancipation (from the Kentucky constitutional convention)

History of the Island of St. Domingo by James Barskett (British) - 1824; the prefatory advertisement suggests the cruelties of Haitian slavery precipitated the violence and that post-Revolutionary Haiti has exceeded the expectations of many

Article in Freedom's Journal: Speech of a Pastor from Potsdam, NY - 1827; predicts that allowing slavery to persist in the United States will lead to slave violence comparable to that of the Haitian Revolution

Article in The Colored American: "Immediate Emancipation" - 1838; references the Haitian Revolution in its warning to Southern slaveholders of the dangers of perpetuating slavery

Article in The Liberator: "The Insurrection at St. Domingo" by William Lloyd Garrison - 1841; a brief poem by Garrison

Article in The New York Times: "The Danger to the South" - 1855; warns Southern slaveholders that despite how well they think they know their slaves, the Haitian Revolution demonstrates that they don’t know “what fearful convulsions may be preparing beneath”

Article in Douglass' Monthly: "'The Lesson of the Hour" by Wendell Phillips - 1859; blames Southern slavery for sowing the seeds of violence that manifested in the Haitian Revolution and at Harper's Ferry

Article in The Liberator: "The Lesson of St. Domingo" by Captain Tate? - 1861; a reaction by a Haitian soldier to Elizur Wright's book entitled The Lesson of St. Domingo

Footnotes

1 Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution, 13-19, 33-35; Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, chapter 8; Hunt, Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean, chapter 4; Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War, chapters 2-4.

2 Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution, 13-19, 33-35; Jackson and Bacon, "Fever and Fret: The Haitian Revolution and African American Responses," 13-15.

3 Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution, chapters 1-3, 5; Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, chapter 8; Hunt, Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean, chapters 4-5; Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War, chapters 2-4.

4 Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution, chapters 1-3, 5; Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, chapter 8; Hunt, Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean, chapters 4-5; Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War, chapters 2-4.