What if? Debating Alternative Histories of the French and Haitian Revolutions
What is counter-factual history?
Counter-factual history is a type of history that attempts to answer the “what if” questions. It’s the idea of conjecturing on what could have happened if certain circumstances had changed. The goal of counter-factual history is to estimate the importance of a specific event or person.
What would have happened if Toussaint would have stayed in power?
A free man with his own plantation, L’ouverture initially fought for slave insurgents and then switched to fighting for the Spanish after he saw that he could improve his military skills and kick out the French. After an agreement that France would grant freedom to all slaves, L’ouverture rallied fellow blacks to fight in favor of France. After all slaves were given freedom, Toussaint ruled the island as an autonomous entity. In 1801, thanks in part to France’s instability from its own revolutions, L’ouverture issued a constitution for Saint-Domingue which called for individual freedom and safety and that all men can work for any employment no matter their skin color. Napoleon, wishing to reclaim the territory, dispatched an expedition to the island in response to the constitution. During the Saint-Domingue Expedition L’ouverture defeated a French force of 31,000 (the force was led by General Charles Leclerc, Napoleon’s brother-in-law). Toussaint would see some of his closest allies defect to join Leclerc during continuing battles, leading to L’ouverture’s eventual arrest. Toussaint L’ouverture died at Fort-de-Joux on April 7, 1803.
If the Spanish and the British would have pulled out of Saint Domingue sooner, would it have changed the outcome of the Haitian Revolution?
During the Saint Domingue slave revolts of 1791, the British feared that the slaves would take over and the revolts would spread to other Caribbean islands that the British controlled at the time. In 1792 slave rebellions had controlled nearly 1/3 of the island. In order to protect the economic status of France, the Assembly granted both political and civil rights to free people of color. France also sent 6,000 troops to Saint Domingue to stop the revolts. In 1793, France declared war and Brittan because they refused to give up their conquests on Saint Domingue. The white planters of Saint Domingue had also made a deal with British to declare British sovereignty over the islands. Eventually, the Spanish would join the war with Great Britain because they controlled Hispaniola at the time. The slaves would go on and join the war with the Spanish. By late 1793, there were only about 3,500 French troops left in Saint Domingue. To avoid a disaster the French freed the slaves in Saint Domingue. (Proclamation of Emancipation of 1793.)