Revolution and Abolition in Haiti, 1791-1865
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON HAITI AND THE ANTEBELLUM UNITED STATES
The Haitian Revolution strongly influenced American attitudes toward slavery during the period that stretched from the American Revolution to the Civil War. The event began during the French Revolution in 1791, when Haiti was still a French colony and was typically referred to as St. Domingue, St. Domingo or, in some cases, Hispaniola, the name given to the entire island during the earlier period of Spanish colonization. From an American perspective, the three most salient elements of the Revolution's thirteen-year span were the violent acts of slaves and free blacks, the abolition of slavery and the establishment of an independent black republic. The fact that this event began with a violent slave insurrection and ended in 1804 with a massacre of white slaveholders - it's unclear what portion of the white population this represented, but it is believed that some whites were spared (1) - raised questions about the security of an American nation where slavery was deeply entrenched. That the Haitian Revolution led to the formal abolition of slavery by the French National Convention in 1794 raised further questions about the legitimacy of allowing slavery to persist in an "enlightened republic." Finally, the establishment of an independent nation in 1801 by Toussaint Louverture and again in 1804 following Jean-Jacques Dessalines's defeat of Napoleon called into question traditional American assumptions about black dependence and inferiority and suggested ideological connections between the Haitian Revolution and the American Revolution that troubled some Americans while inspiring others.(2)
Contemporary information regarding the Haitian Revolution flowed into the United States through many media, including personal and diplomatic correspondence, stories and rumors carried to American shores by sailors, merchants and Haitian refugees, American newspaper and magazine articles and published histories written by British and French authors. This library begins with a collection of the last two document types. It includes firsthand accounts published in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Literary Magazine and American Register. It also contains two published histories that shaped and influenced American attitudes throughout the antebellum period: Bryan Edward's An Historical Survey of the French Colony in the Island of St. Domingo (1806) and Marcus Rainsford's An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti (1805).(3)
The stories of violence recorded in these varied documents irreversibly heightened American fear of slave uprisings and, to some degree, fear of broad-based black insurrection.(4) From the early 1790s until the early 1830s, these fears had a formative effect on the nascent and evolving antislavery movement, as both defenders and opponents of slavery looked to the Haitian Revolution as a case study of the causes of racial violence.(5) The inherent variability of historical interpretations and the complexity of the Haitian Revolution's chronology facilitated the development of a broad range of inferences and applications. Slavery's defenders and apologists tended to see the French abolitionist movement, which had begun during the 1780s, as the primary catalyst. They used this argument to support published criticisms of the American antislavery movement, asserting that antislavery rhetoric and tactics divided the American people and threatened to bring a Haiti-like storm of violence down on American society. Accusations of causal connections between the Haitian Revolution and major American slave uprisings - such as the Gabriel Prosser Conspiracy of 1800, the Denmark Vesey Conspiracy of 1822 and the Nat Turner Rebellion of 1831 - added weight to these warnings.(6) In certain cases, opponents of the antislavery movement argued that slave emancipation had precipitated and exacerbated the violence in Haiti, thus offering a cautionary tale to the United States regarding the wisdom and practicability of abolition. Antislavery advocates defended their movement by presenting accounts of the Haitian Revolution that laid the blame for insurrection at the feet of the island's slaveholders. In their accounts, slavery's cruel and dehumanizing effects had left Haiti's slaves with no choice but to rebel. They warned that the United States risked a similar fate by allowing slavery to thrive and expand in the South.
During this time period, stories and analyses of the Haitian Revolution also influenced attitudes toward black emigration movements. For those who saw the violence committed by Haitian slaves and free blacks as evidence of the tensions and dangers inherent in a biracial society, the Revolution promoted the notion that emancipation and emigration must be pursed in tandem. This idea was fairly widespread in white antislavery circles prior to 1833 when the newly-formed American Anti-Slavery Society proclaimed its opposition to black emigration. As early as 1797, it manifested in the thinking of government leaders like Thomas Jefferson, who opposed slavery in theory but had great concerns about the effects of abolition. In 1816, it helped to motivate the formation of one of the most influential and controversial institutions involved in the American slavery debate: the American Colonization Society (ACS). The explicit purpose of this organization was to facilitate the voluntary emigration of free blacks and emancipated slaves back to their "homeland;" its ulterior motive, most likely supported by only a portion of ACS members, was to utilize its emigration program to promote gradual emancipation. This dual agenda reflected white concerns regarding the effects on American progress of both slavery and the country's free black population, concerns that accounts of the Haitian Revolution had exacerbated.
Just as the Haitian Revolution supplied a relevant and useful case study of black insurrection, it also established an important reference point regarding the effects of emancipation on society. This was an issue of paramount concern for those on both sides of the slavery debate. From the years immediately following the Haitian Revolution through 1865, slavery's defenders, apologists and opponents looked to post-Revolutionary Haiti for answers to the following question: Could emancipated slaves be smoothly and productively integrated into American society?(7) Again, each group found justification for its particular stance on emancipation. Defenders of slavery tended to see failure in all corners of Haiti - economic decline, increased poverty and oppressive government - and to attribute these effects to emancipation and black inferiority. Apologists for slavery and moderate antislavery advocates saw Haiti's degraded condition as justification for proceeding carefully, or not at all, with emancipation. In general, opponents of slavery identified instances of Haiti's social, economic and political progress as evidence of emancipation's salutary effects and as proof of the practicability of integrating ex-slaves into American society.
The final dimension of the Haitian Revolution's influence was prompted by Haiti's definitive declaration of independence in 1804. This event created a highly volatile political question for the United States government: Should it formally recognize Haiti as a nation? This issue had great implications for the American slavery debate and was debated recurrently throughout the antebellum era, both in government and in print media.(8) The most significant implication was that recognition could be seen as a negative public judgment regarding the propriety and justifiability of American slavery. If the United States acknowledged the capacity of blacks to self-govern, how could it maintain that several million blacks enslaved in the South lacked the capacity to survive outside of the circumscribed bounds of plantation paternalism? Furthermore, what would be the political and sectional implications of recognizing a nation that had abolished slavery and that had established its independence through the violent overthrow of a white government?(9) That the United States did not formally recognize Haiti's national status until 1862 indicates how vexing this issue was for the country and how ingrained it was in the American slavery debate.
Quick Links to Documents:
Firsthand Accounts of Revolution (August and September 1791) printed in The Pennsylvania Gazette - 1791; describes the brutal violence and pleads for help based on the notion that American slavery may precipitate a comparable future event
Article in The Pennsylvania Gazette: “Agreement between the White Citizens of Port-au-Prince and the Citizens of Color...” - 1791; expands civil rights for free blacks in Port-au-Prince and foreshadows the 1792 act which expands civil rights throughout the colony
Accounts from Cape Francois regarding the Revolution (May 1792) printed in The Pennsylvania Gazette - 1792; indicates that though the colonial government has entertained various emancipation proposals, it remains committed to slavery
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)
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to the U.S. Minister to Great Britain (Rufus King), July 13 1802 - 1802; connects the instability in the West Indies, an implicit reference to the Haitian Revolution, with the Gabriel Prosser Conspiracy and the need for black emigration (colonization)
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
An Historical Survey of the French Colony in the Island of St. Domingo by Bryan Edwards (British) - 1806 (1807 London edition; believed to be the same as the 1806 Philadelphia edition); influential account of the Haitian Revolution (Clavin, p11-12; Rugemer, p43)
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”
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
Haytian Papers edited by Prince Saunders - 1816; British pamphlet later published in revised form in Boston (Fanning, p45), the stated intent of which was to demonstrate Haiti's significant progress and prosperity since emancipation
Article in Niles' Weekly Register: “Hayti” - 1823; praises Haiti's post-Revolutionary progress but asserts that near-term recognition of Haiti as a nation by the United States is unlikely and impractical
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
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
Two Articles from the African Repository: "By Delaware" and "Memorial of the Kentucky Colonization Society" - 1830; both argue for utilizing free black emigration to avoid the violence of the Haitian Revolution
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 Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature by Thomas Dew - 1832 (1853 reprint); excerpt begins "So far we have adduced…" - describes Haiti's post-emancipation decline and the virtual reenslavement of its citizens
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
Article in Niles' Weekly Register: “Free Negroes and Slaves” - 1833; brief editorial that suggests the positive effects of emancipation in the United States by asserting that the free blacks in post-emancipation Haiti are better off than Jamaican slaves
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
Article from Niles' Weekly Register: Reprint from a New York Newspaper - 1834; begins “The following, describing the present condition of Hayti…” - cites Haiti's deteriorating condition as evidence of the importance of colonization
Article in Niles' Weekly Register: Reprint from the New York Commercial Advertiser - 1834; article begins "On the project now being made..." - offers Haiti as evidence of the negative effects of emancipation
Chapters 7-8 from An Inquiry into the...American Colonization, and American Anti-Slavery Societies by William Jay - 1835; argues against the notion that Haiti provides proof that immediate emancipation is unsafe
"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
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
Article in The Colored American: "Resolutions Adopted by the A.A.S. Society" - 1837; asserts the United States's unwillingness to recognize Haiti as evidence of the dominance of slaveholding interests in American government
Article in The Liberator: "Haiti and the British West Indies" - 1838; acknowledges the "degradation" of Haiti's current condition but argues that this does not prove that emancipation should not be pursued or that it cannot produce favorable results
Article in The Colored American: "Celebration of the 1st of August in Hayti" - 1838; celebrates the importance of Emancipation Day in Haiti and describes the role played by the French and English ambassadors
Article in The Colored American: "Haiti" - 1838; asserts that not recognizing Haiti has damaged the United States's international reputation and recounts the Haitian government's willingness to accept any slaves who become unruly in the wake of recognition
Article in The Liberator: "Mr. Grennell's Speech, in the U.S. House..." - 1839; argues that recognition is a question of economic and humanitarian principles, not an antislavery ploy, and rebuts the notion that recognition would foment slave insurrection
Article in The Liberator: "Hayti" - 1839; reprint of an editorial from the Evening News that corrects and rebuts historical interpretations of the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath that are used to justify opposing recognition
Article in The Liberator: "Recognition of Hayti" - 1839; quotes a Congressional speech that characterizes recognition as an abolitionist objective and argues against recognizing a "government of insurrectionists"
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
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"
Second Excerpt from History of Europe by Archibald Alison (British) - 1842; begins with “Since the expulsion...” - describes Haiti as a failed society; lengthy footnote argues that the black race is inferior and that the success of the Haitian Revolution was an anomaly
Article in The Liberator: "From the Glasgow Argus. The American Union and Slavery" - 1845; a British editorial that cites the American government’s intransigence on the subject of Haitian recognition as evidence of slaveholders’ political ascendancy
Excerpt from A Defence of Slavery by Matthew Estes - 1846; begins “But let us now proceed…” - argues that the “idleness” of emancipated blacks in Haiti suggests an “insuperable obstacle” to emancipation in the United States
“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
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 North Star: "Selections. Recognition of the Liberian Republic" - 1849; two articles, reprinted from other newspapers, that criticize the failure to recognize Haiti and Liberia, blaming slaveholding influence in American government
Article in The National Era: "The Colored Population of the United States" - 1851; argues that the lack of progress in post-emancipation Haiti is not suggestive of the effects of emancipation in the United States - asserts that Haitians, unlike American blacks, are "barbarous"
Article in The Liberator: "Selections from the N.Y. Tribune. Hayti" - 1851; presents a negative view of post-emancipation Haiti but criticizes Americans for being overly critical of its condition and for impeding its progress
Article in De Bow's Review: Excerpt from a Letter from Mr. Walsh to Secretary of State Webster - 1853; begins "But the most fairly tried experiment..." - disparages the condition of post-emancipation Haiti
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 Frederick Douglass' Paper: Letter to the Editor regarding Haitian Independence - 1855; negatively contrasts the United States's quick recognition of Texas with its longstanding unwillingness to recognize Haiti
Article in Frederick Douglass' Paper: "The Slave Oligarchy" - 1855; excerpt from Charles Sumner's speech in Fanueil Hall in which he cites the United States's failure to recognize Haiti as one piece of evidence, among many, of a "Slave Oligarchy" in the United States
Chapter 12 from Cotton is King by David Christy - 1856; asserts the degraded conditions of post-emancipation Haiti and the post-emancipation West Indies as evidence of the need to combine emancipation with a white-led colonization program
Excerpt from An Essay on Liberty and Slavery by Albert Bledsoe - 1857; asserts the violence of the Haitian Revolution and Haiti's poor subsequent condition as evidence of emancipation's negative effects
Article in De Bow's Review: “Experiment of the Independence of the Negroes in Hayti” - 1858; provides an analysis of the events that led to the slave insurrection in Haiti and of the degraded state of post-emancipation Haiti
Article in De Bow's Review: “Free Negroes in Hayti” - 1859; lengthy, detailed analysis of Haiti's historical and current condition that asserts that the decline of Haiti's social, economic and political institutions has left its free blacks in a worse state than American slaves
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
“Slavery in the Light of Ethnology: on the Caucasians and the Africans” by Samuel? Cartwright - 1860; presents Haiti as evidence that black men lack the will to be productive without compulsion and that they lack the capacity to overthrow a white class
Article in The New York Times: "News from Hayti; Ovation to an American Abolitionist, Highfalutin Speeches and Resolutions..." - 1860; records Haitian approval of John Brown and Harper's Ferry; the headline suggests the newspaper staff’s disdain
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 African Repository: “Notices of Liberian Commissioners” – 1862; cites the African Methodist Episcopal Church's positive reaction to the recognition of Haiti and Liberia by the United States
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: "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
2 The core idea of this module, the influence of Haiti's revolution and slave emancipation on the American slavery debate, derives from the following important scholarly works: Matthew J. Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (Oxford, England; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); David Patrick Geggus, The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, The Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina, 2001); Alfred N. Hunt, Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988); Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon, eds., African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents (New York: Routledge, 2009); Edward Bartlett Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War, Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008).
3 The importance of these two accounts is discussed in Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution, especially 11-13, chapters 2-3. The significant and persistent influence of Edwards's account, in particular, is asserted in Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War, especially chapters 2-3.
4 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.
5 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.
6 Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution, 13-19, 33-35; Hunt, Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean, 115-21; Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon, "Fever and Fret: The Haitian Revolution and African American Responses," in African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents, ed. Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon (New York: Routledge, 2009), 13-15.
7 Leslie M. Alexander, "'The Black Republic': The Influence of the Haitian Revolution on Northern Black Political Consciousness, 1816-1862," in African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents, ed. Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon (New York: Routledge, 2009); Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution, chapter 5; Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, chapters 8, 14; Sara C. Fanning, "The Roots of Early Black Nationalism: Northern African Americans' Invocations of Haiti in the Early Nineteenth Century," in African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents, ed. Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon (New York: Routledge, 2009); 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 5, 8. Rugemer provides a comparable analysis of the British West Indies as a post-emancipation reference point in the American slavery debate.
8 Alexander, "'The Black Republic': The Influence of the Haitian Revolution on Northern Black Political Consciousness, 1816-1862; Hunt, Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean, 184-87.