Author: kazed01

Bargaining With Freedom

Emancipation in Saint Domingue was not a simple, or even consistent, process.  Throughout the tumultuous Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) promises of emancipation were offered from numerous angles.  Haitians were considered a valuable ally from a colonial perspective as the British, French, and Spanish all tried to increase their influence in the Caribbean.  Toussaint L’ouverture and Andre Rigaud, among other leaders, were forced to consider multiple offers of emancipation.  Ultimately, the path to emancipation proved more difficult than any could have imagined.

France’s own revolution must be addressed when examining the course of emancipation in Saint Domingue.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen sparked conversations about whether free men of color were privy to the same rights as free white men.  Vincent Oge, a prominent leader of the Society of the Friends of Blacks in France, incited a revolt through  mobilizing the gens de couleur.  Although the revolt was quickly put down the conversation could not be quenched; did the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen apply to free men in Saint Domingue, a French colony?

Saint Domingue first experienced emancipation when Civil Commissioner Sonthonax proclaimed freedom for slaves in the northern province of the island in 1793.  This “freedom” entailed severe restrictions, but it was nevertheless a beginning.  However, the conversation on freedom took an immediate turn when the French National Convention abolished slavery in France and all of its colonies.  Interestingly, some of the main opponents to the abolishment of slavery were gens de couleur.  Due to a caste mentality that had been enforced on the colony for decades, the free men of color likely did not appreciate watching blacks become their instant equals.  French emancipation swayed the armies of Toussaint L’ouverture, Jean-Jaques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe to join on the side of the French Republic against outside forces.  While Toussaint desired to maintain a relationship with France, the loyalties of former slaves were not sold on the French.

Prior to the National Convention’s emancipation of all slavery, a black rebellion had already begun.  Toussaint, who was quickly emerging as the unanimous leader of the rebellion, became engaged in negotiations with the Spanish.  The Spanish, who at the time held Santo Domingo, realized the fighting potential of Saint Domingue’s black population.  Emancipation was offered to Toussaint and his fighters if the black rebellion sided with the Spanish against their colonial enemies.  Emancipation became a bargaining chip to the colonial powers.  While some leaders wished to side with any power that would hurt the French, Toussaint was only interested in pursuing freedom for his fellow former slaves.  The Spanish realized that if Toussaint could be convinced of their desire to enact change, Toussaint’s disciplined forces would be on their side.

Toussaint remained committed to full abolition of slavery.  Following this paradigm he adopted the language of the French Revolution, specifically in striving for Liberty and Equality within Saint Domingue.  When word came that the French had officially decreed emancipation, and it was not merely a ruse by Sonthonax, Toussaint and his followers were quick to switch allegiance to the French.

The Island of Hispaniola. Home to present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The Island of Hispaniola. 

With the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France, many feared that emancipation in the colonies would be revoked.  Initially this was not the case.  Napoleon continued the trend of using emancipation as a bargaining tool by agreeing to not re-introduce slavery if Toussaint would not invade Santo Domingo (If Toussaint were able to claim Santo Domingo and rally the slave there he would possess the entire island.  This would enable Toussaint and his followers to have incredible bargaining power with the European powers).

Emancipation proved to be the most powerful issue through the revolution.  In addition to instigating action, concern over emancipation also reigned in the radical ideas of black leaders.  Toussaint’s constitution of 1801 established an autonomous, nearly sovereign nation.  However, Toussaint would not go far enough to declare independence, fearing such an action would cause a French response that may re-introduce slavery; to prevent misunderstanding, Article 1 of Toussaint’s constitution declared Saint Domingue as just a single colony of the French Empire.

Napoleon’s subsequent response and writings indicate his desire to regain control of the blacks in Saint Domingue.  Whether by force or negotiation, it is clear that all interactions between Napoleon and the island would have been self-serving.  Emancipation in Saint Domingue was constantly used as a bargaining tool to win the favor of blacks on the island.


Popkin, Jeremy D. A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.

Geggus, David, ed. The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2014. Print.

The Religious Question

With an impending constitutional republic, the National Assembly of revolutionary France was charged with determining which minorities were entitled to equal rights.  Some minorities had a significantly more difficult time than others.  One area of particular debate was religion.

Should these religious minorities, many of whom were unable to freely worship in pre-revolutionary France, be permitted full citizenship?

Non-Catholics (Protestants)

Initially Protestants were denied equal rights and freedom to worship as they saw fit.  Prior to France’s Revolution, each province of France had been ruled differently, with one similarity.  Wherever one went, Protestants were discriminated against.

This discrimination extended to elections and public posts, effectively making Protestants a second class citizen.  It’s important to remember that Protestant inequality was not from a formal constitution, but rather from a monarchical decree.   Protestant’s experience with legal rights boiled down to a cycle of gaining rights through different edicts, to ultimately losing said rights, to regaining rights again from the National Assembly.

Francis I (r. 1515-1547) The King of France during the Protestant Reformation, Francis I began the persecution of Protestant minorities in France.

Francis I (r. 1515-1547) The King of France during the Protestant Reformation, Francis I began the persecution of Protestant minorities in France.

A strong argument for extending legal rights to Protestants was that, unlike Jews, practitioners of Protestant faiths were still French.  The individual still spoke French and adhered to the same social customs as other French natives.  Additionally, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen sought to provide liberty to all men, not exclusively Catholics.

Pierre Brunet de Latuque, a lawyer from the Bordeaux region of France, argued strongly in favor of incorporating rights for Protestants.  Brunet challenged, “If private interests were not constantly distorting the sovereign principles of justice, those who seek by such criminal grounds to exclude Protestants from public positions would better enter, Sirs, into the spirit and even the text of your decrees…”  Brunet continued to state that following prior decrees to the letter would severely hinder France as many qualified men were Protestant.


Separate from other Protestants, Calvinists faced unique challenges on their road to equality. Calvinists first gained the right to worship freely with the Edict of Nantes.  King Henry IV issued the Edict as an end to the war of religion between Catholics and Calvinists in 1598. This freedom lasted only until 1685 when Louis XIV initiated a campaign to convert all Calvinists. After 100 years of their worship being illegal, Calvinists found reprieve in 1787 through Louis XVI’s Edict of Toleration.

While Calvinists experienced a victory with the Edict of Toleration, no political rights were granted.  Furthermore, years of economic dominance in the textile industry led many French citizens to be critical of Calvinists.  Yet if the Declaration of the Rights of Man and citizens were truly the inspiration for change, then Calvinists were due rights.  Count de Clermont Tonnerre gave an impassioned speech in 1789 in defense of incorporating Calvinists (and all Protestants) into political equality.  The argument stated, “either you admit a national religion, subject all your laws to it, arm it with temporal power, exclude from your society the men who profess another creed and then, erase the article in your declaration of rights; or you permit everyone to have his own religious opinion and do not exclude from public office those who make use of this permission.”


The Jewish question in France lasted until 1791; it was then that Jews were able to celebrate freedoms guaranteed under a new constitution.  Discussions surrounding what to do with the Jewish population had persisted as remarks concerning non-Catholics did not apply to Jews, but were strictly applied to Protestants.  Struggles faced by Jews prior to 1791 were countless as the French populace sought to virtually exclude Jews from society.

Having already lived for hundreds of years as a persecuted group, the Jews in pre-revolution France were restricted from holding respectable labor positions, buying land or property, or even living among the regular population.  This created a self perpetuating issue; the lack of labor opportunities forced the Jewish people to rely on usury (money lending) as a means of providing for themselves.  Usury practices caused disdain towards the Jews.  Just as with the Protestant struggle for rights, Jews faced a battle against a Catholic majority that, for the most part, did not want Jews at all.

Unlike the Protestant (and Calvinist) minorities, the Jewish people were not viewed as French.  Judaism provided its own rules, customs, and even language that many Jews were loyal to.  The common belief stated Jews attempted to be a separate people, therefore the French constitution should allow them to be separate people.  Count de Clermont Tonnerre again made a case in defense of the persecuted minority.  According to the Count, Jews should be treated as individuals and not as a community; naturally, each individual was due the same rights as any other free man in France.



Hunt, Lynn, ed. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.

Relative Deprivation: Worth the Revolution?

Relative deprivation, that is when inequality or class differences grow unbearable, or when people’s expectations for further progress are dashed, is arguably one of the causes that lead to revolutions. It is essential to note, relative deprivation is different than poverty. While poverty only directly negatively affects one class, Goldstone argues that relative deprivation affects all classes, causing them to unite. The extremely impoverished do not have the resources to rise against the powerful regime fasting them to their poverty-stricken lives; however, when those from the middle-class and most elite of the society become aware of the faults within the regime that leads to such extreme class differences among other issues, a revolution, Goldstone argues, will thus form.

Relative deprivation may also be defined as being deprived of something that one feels entitled to.  This is interesting in that it is different from absolute deprivation–actually having nothing.  From the readings, it seems it is not how much a certain class or individual possesses, but rather how much one possesses in comparison to other classes or individuals in a society.  Relative deprivation can be recognized in the United States through the classic idiom of “keeping up with the Joneses.”  It is not a matter of how much any individual citizen of the United States has; the measure of status is how much one has accumulated relative to one’s neighbor.

Illustration by Allan Sanders

Keep Up With the Joneses

Relative deprivation varies based on the individual, however; when enough people feel the ramifications of relative deprivation it motivates classes to join together for a greater cause.  Few elites would be willing to die to protect the rights of peasants, meaning whatever uniting cause is prevalent must be immensely important. In the Skocpol reading, it is said that a peasant class can not win a revolution on their own; the peasant class can win if they are joined with the elites of a community and their resources, however.

Class struggles are often a driving factor of any revolution, as seen through the class readings. It is the severity, length of time, and lack of significant change in the class struggle that ultimately deprives a certain class. The economic, political, social or overall freedoms a class is felt denied upon can gain momentum for a revolution. Yes, the deprivation unites the struggling class in a powerful way. The momentum towards a revolution must be combined with other forces, however. It is clear to say that relative deprivation is not the only cause of revolutions; political upheaval or religious fervor have motivated revolutions in the past and may do so again in the future.

From the readings it can be determined that revolutions have a better chance of being successful when there is cross class participation. On the surface it generally would appear as though different classes have nothing to unite over, but in practice the classes generally agree upon the fact that someone else has something they want. For the lower classes this may be better living conditions or representation by the government; for higher classes it may be a desire for more power. Either way the biggest motivating factor for the classes to unite is a desire for something more. An effective example of this can be seen in the American Revolution. While divided over loyalties to the crown, class divisions essentially disappeared as the rebels fought against Great Britain.

It is essential to recognize that extreme inequality can lead to despair among subjugated classes just as easily as it can lead to revolution. The poor are left without resources or means of creating an effective revolutionary force, severely hindering the possibility or likelihood of a revolution. Revolutions being rare, an idea supported by numerous thinkers and scholars must somehow be reconciled with the fact that for nearly all of human history there has been inequality and poverty. The mere presence of relative depravity is not enough, on its own merit, to bring forth a revolution.