Emancipation in Saint Domingue (Modern Day Haiti): The Rule of Toussaint Louverture
The events leading up to Haitian Independence in 1804 were full of deception, corruption, loyalty and disloyalty, the mass murder of peoples, and above all, a undeniable motivation to take control of the island by both sides. While some argue that the cause and success of the war in Haiti was due partly to the war between European powers, the war was essentially one between two peoples: the oppressors and the oppressed. Within this war, there were two prominent Haitian leaders, known as black insurgents, who fought for the emancipation of their nation, and eventually independence – Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. While Toussaint is more widely known to the world as the leader of the Haitian revolution, Dessalines arguably equally, if not more, contributed to revolution; and, after Toussaint’s capture, Dessalines is the leader that ultimately led Haiti into independence. Although Dessalines’ path to independence was full of highly questionable and controversial tactics, he, and the indigenous army of St. Domingue, won back their full freedom and took control of their own nation. However, leading up to Dessalines’ takeover, Toussaint ran the colony in the most efficient way he thought possible during the years of emancipation.
In August 29 1793, Sonthonax, civil commissioner and advocate for emancipation, used his assumed power to free the enslaved stating, “The French Republic wants all men without distinction of color to be free and equal” (Geggus 107) . He did this largely to gain the support of the colony to defeat the Spanish army, which was also rallying black insurgents promising freedom. However, once the proclamation was enforced, the major black insurgents joined the French side of the army, defeating both the Spanish and the rebellious within the colony. During the eight year period that followed, the battle between the black insurgents, such as Toussaint and Dessalines, and the French army lessened. This was largely due to the combined forces of some black insurgents and the French army, working together to keep peace within the colony. After Sonthonax left the colony in 1797, Toussaint took the opportunity to run the colony as he saw fit, holding moderate power in 1798-1801. Toussaint took control as the official representative of France’s power within the colonies, while also continually advocating for the rights of the now emancipated people; he was more of a mediator between France and the colonies, making sure to stay loyal to both France and the colony.
Moreover, Toussaint used his power to enforce a strict system within the colony, following the details of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1793. Additionally, because of his loyalty to France and French policies, he despised the voodoo that some Haitians practiced and made Catholicism the colony’s only legal religion. Also, Toussaint enforced strict morality rules onto the citizens, both of color and not. Additionally, within the emancipation proclamation, Sonthonax made it clear that emancipation did not necessarily equate to the end of the current agricultural system in place. In Article 9 of the proclamation, it sates, “Slaves currently attached to the plantations of their former masters will be obliged to remain there and work the land” (Geggus 108) . Within this system, however, the workers will have minor benefits and the laws laid out in the Code Noir would also be enforced, meaning the workers would now have certain days off and more legal rights.
Lastly, even though the colony was now ruled by one of its own natives, Toussaint still ran into major issues during his authoritarian rule of the colony. Jeremy Popkin, author of A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution, states, “As [Toussaint] tried to create a powerful government capable of protecting the freedom of the black population, he found himself caught up in a series of conflicts with opponents who resented his authority” (Popkin 90) . Popkin goes on to cite Toussaint’s conflicts domestically; however, internationally, Toussaint would soon be facing larger issues with the French government, specifically Napoleon Bonaparte.
“The Emancipation Proclamation of August 29 1793.” In The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History, edited by David Geggus, 107-108. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2014.
“Toussaint Louverture in Power, 1798-1801.” In A Concise History of Haitian Revolution , by Jeremy D. Popkin, 90-113. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, 2012.