Author: swicma24

The Long Fight For Emancipation

Emancipation in Saint Domingue

Picture of Saint-Domingue

In August of 1793, Sonthonax granted Gens de couleur and the Slaves emancipation in Saint- Domingue.

This is a picture of the Emancipation Proclamation

This decree was a very radical and pivotal moment in history, especially in the Americas. It was important because it was the first colony to abolish slavery, causing many other slave holding colonies to fear that it would put the idea of freedom into their slaves’ heads, possibly leading them to rebel. The road to emancipation started in 1792 when the King of France backed Jacques Pierre Brissot and signed a decree issuing the free gens de couleur full political and civil rights.  Not long after, Sonthonax and Polverel arrived in Saint- Domingue. Their job was to help enforce the decree granting these people their rights, deal with counter revolutionaries, and defeat the uprising. Both of these men were advocates of giving the gens de couleur their rights.

In 1793 Sonthonax and Polverel took steps to ally with the gens de couleur. Elizabeth Cowill states in ‘Fetes de L’ Hymen, Fetes de la Liberte, ‘Marriage, Manhood, and Emancipation in Revolutionary Saint- Domingue’, “discovering the ways in which the process of emancipation in Saint-Domingue involved a ritual struggle in which the rights and duties of man were fought and secured through military service and, equally important, republican marriage” (Conwill, pg. 126). It was a struggle to gain emancipation because it did not come free. The two commissioners attempted to appeal to the slaves by upholding the code noir and then later promising, through the June 1793 decree, that if they joined the military and fought with the French, they would be free and if they married a slave woman she also would be free. The two commissioners were worried about completely losing the colony, so they also decreed that if one married according to French law, the entire family would be freed. The two commissioners in return expected the newly emancipated slaves to fight for France and defend the colony of Saint Domingue from the insurgents.

Later in June of 1793 Spain invaded Saint- Domingue. Sonthonax reacted to this by abolishing slavery in the North Province and Polverel followed suit not long after by abolishing slavery in the Southern and Western Provinces. According to Jeremy D. Popkin, the author of, “A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution”, Sonthonax and Polverel used this as an attempt to, “preserve the colony of Saint- Domingue for the French Republic” (Chapter 3, A Republican Colony of Free Men). The two civil commissioners were trying to save the colony from the Spanish invaders. The emancipation occurred when it did, because Britain and Spain both entered in a war with France in February of 1793 and were welcomed by the white French settlers. The commissioners, seeing this threat and needing to crush it, allied with the gens de couleur and slaves by offering them emancipation if they joined the army. Once the threat became more significant, Sonthonax reacted by granting emancipation to the Northern Provinces knowing full well he needed their help to crush the invasion.

Through the emancipation, Sonthonax hoped to “preserve the plantation economy… proposed to replace slavery and the whip with remunerated forced labor and lighter forms of corporal punishment” (Geggus, Slave Emancipation Introduction). Sonthonax knew that France relied heavily on the Haitian economy and knew that France would be greatly impacted by the loss of it. Document 48) The Emancipation Proclamation of 29 August 1793, article 9 declared that, “ Slaves currently attached to the plantations of their masters will be obliged to remain there and to work the land..” (Geggus). So even though the gens de couleur were now citizens and could participate in politics, they were still attached to the land of their old masters and were more now like a serf rather than a slave. The proclamation was enforced through the new uses of punishment. Article 27 states,

“Punishment by whipping is absolutely forbidden and will be replaced, for problems of disobedience, by one to three days in the stocks as necessary. The strongest punishment will be the loss of a part or the entirety of the salary. It will be imposed by the justice of the peace and assessors” (Geggus).

The gens de couleur would be punished if they disobeyed the owner or the over seers. They were also punished by being put in jail if they did not own land, were not in the military, or employed. Using these punishments helped the leaders enforce the proclamation because the gens de courleur did not want to risk losing their new found freedom.

The Emancipation however, was very limited. Emancipation was only offered to those in the Southern, Western, and Northern provinces under Sonthonax and Polverel. The areas occupied by Spain and Britain were not freed either because the two countries still supported slavery. The decree was also only limited to men and not to the women unless they married a man who was free or in the army. The gens de couleur were still made to live on plantations and still followed the slavery like system.

Even though Saint-Domingue was emancipated, it didn’t come without a price. The gens de couleur and ex-slaves still had to deal with the slavery like system and the insurgents who did not side with Sonthona and Polverel. Over the next couple years the people of Saint-Domingue had to continuously fight to keep their new found citizenship and protect the emancipation.


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

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

Colwill, Elizabeth. “‘Fetes de L’ Hymen, Fetes de la Liberte, ‘Marriage, Manhood, and Emancipation in Revolutionary Saint- Domingue” in Geggus nd Fiering, eds., The World of the Haitian Revolution (Bloomington: Indiana Uni. Press, 2009), 125-153



Women’s Rights and the French Revolution

Women’s Rights and the French Revolution

A faut esperer qu'eu se jeu la finira bentot

A faut esperer qu’eu se jeu la finira bentot

“For this exclusion to not be tyranny one would have to prove that the natural rights of women are not absolutely the same as those of men or show that they are not capable of exercising them” (120).

In France around 1790 there was a massive movement for the recognition of freedom for all people. The French Revolution was an incredibly important time for not only France, but also for Europe and European colonies. Incredibly important actions were being implemented in the drive towards the rights of citizens. Not only were the rights of the common man being discussed, but also the rights of the colonial slaves, religious minorities, and even women.

The discussions of women’s rights was, perhaps for the first time, being brought to the discussion table with a view that women deserve the same rights and opportunities that would be given to men. Up until this time women were treated as second-class citizens and often viewed as the property or a commodity of a husband, father, or society in general. Women had a very difficult time arguing their points but there are still sources today that help establish how these women were treated and how they were doing their best to end the tyrannical oppression forced upon them by men in their society. “The prejudices with which our sex has been surrounded – supported by unjust laws which only accord us a secondary existence in society and which often force us into humiliating necessity of winning over the cantankerous and ferocious character of a man, who, by the greed of those close to us has become our master – those prejudices have changed what was for us the sweetest and most saintly of duties, those of wife and mother, into a painful and terrible slavery” (123).

Lynn Hunt, the author of The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, stated that, “women were not considered a persecuted group in the same way as slaves, Calvinists, or Jews” (11). Women did however, face many prejudices before and during the French Revolution. One such prejudice was that women were defined by their sex and marriage and not by their occupations. So, because they were defined by their sex, wom</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Represents the suppression of women during the French Revolutionen were seen as physically weaker than men. More importantly men believed that do to the woman’s nature she was unsuited for a political life and that women did not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend political issues Enlightenment thinkers also strongly believed that a woman’s role was located in the “private sphere of the home” and because of this the women did not have time for the political sphere (11). Men also believed that if women involved themselves with the political sphere, they would neglect their own sphere in the home and their ultimate role as women.

Women were attempting to make a point as to what they deemed should be explicitly any citizens right and what they should have access to which included: the right to become educated, equal rights in marriage, the right to hold public office and to be treated with the same respects as their male counterparts. Not only did women want access to these rights, but women were also willing to take the responsibilities that would come along with the rights. “Either no individual in mankind has true rights, or all have the same ones; and whoever votes against the right of another, whatever his religion, his color, or his sex, has from that moment abjured his own rights” (120).

Despite the fact that women did not overall benefit from the French Revolution, certain individuals rose up to assist in the battle for women’s rights. One of the individuals was a man named Condorcet, a newspaper journalist. Condorcet strongly believed that men and women were equal and that women deserved to have the same rights. Even though Condorcet does see the difference between men and women, he still argues that the biological and educational differences do not make women more weak or less than men. Another key player was a woman named Etta Palm D’Aelders. Etta Palm D’Aelders was a member of the Cercle Social and the Confederation of the Friends of Truth. D’Aelders fought for the rights of women through the means of public speaking and believed that women can only be happy about the constitution if it also includes them, not just favoring the men at the expense of women(123). D’Aelders main focus was concentrated on injustices that many women faced by having to dedicate their lives to men that did not treat them as equals but as prey and slaves. “Our life, our liberty, our fortune are no longer ours; leaving childhood, turned over to a despot whom often the heart finds repulsive, the most beautiful days of our life slip away in moans and tears, while our fortune becomes prey to fraud and debauchery… From now on we should be your voluntary companions and not your slaves” (123).

Olympe De Gouges was one of the most important key players for women’s rights. De Gouges was a woman writer who supported women’s right through the use of pamphlets. Her most famous pamphlet was the The Declaration of the Rights of Woman which was addressed to Marie Antoinette. De Gouges uses this pamphlet to recreate the Declaration of the Natural Rights and changes it to include women as equals to men. Articles one through seventeen is an entire list of rights that she believes women should have (125). Ultimately in the end De Gouges ended up being sent to the guillotine for her beliefs and was condemned for being an “Unnatural” woman and a counter revolutionist (124). The last key player is a man by the name of Prudhomme. Prudhomme was a bookseller and published numerous underground pamphlets throughout the course of the Revolution. He supported women’s rights through the publication of his newspapers. Prudhomme writes that, “Long ago, in the time of the Gauls, our good ancestors, women had a deliberative vote in the Estates of the nation; they voted just like men and things did not go so badly” (130) this statement attempts to distinguish the fact that historically women did have the same rights as their male counterparts and were able to participate freely in their society.

The Revolution was about exploitation and wanting to change the makeup of society since the First and Second Estates had all the power. The women did not get anything out of the Revolution, their voices held little sway in what was happening in their beloved country, the Revolution called for a change for the better which women did not receive. Most importantly, why were the lives of the women not changed whatsoever during the French Revolution? Was it because women lacked certain physical abilities compared to men or because men did not view women as intellectually smart enough to have certain rights? For whatever the reason, de Gouges stated it best: “Oh women! Women, when will you cease to be blind? What advantages have you gathered in the revolution?” (127) Women may have not been given the rights that they well deserved after the French Revolution, but the thinkers who strongly believed in rights for women can be credited for planting the idea in people’s minds, in turn making the rights of women something to be questioned.

Works Cited:
Hunt, Lynn. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History. Boston:
Bedford of St. Martin’s, 1996. 119-131. Print.
“French Revolution Digital Archive.” : A Faut Esperer Qu’eu Se Jeu La Finira Bentot [estampe].
Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <>.

Tilly, Theories and Modern Revolutions Oh My

The way one structures the concept of revolutions will ultimately determine how many revolutions have actually occurred throughout history. Therefore, broader definitions will not only lead one to recognize more events that qualify as a revolution, but they are important in identifying the issues within a society that deserve attention- especially in the context of oppression.

Charles Tilly argues this point enthusiastically. He claims that there is a deficiency of “grounded analysis of revolutionary process that connect them [revolutions] firmly to our accumulating knowledge of state formation and routine political contention” (Tilly, 5).

Why is this important?  Tilly focuses on connecting factors, similarities, shifts of power and the outcomes of revolutions in order to connect the past, present and future. He asks “how forcible transfers of state power have changed in character as a function of transformations in European social structure, especially the organization of states and relations among states,” “how changes in revolution connect with alterations in non-revolutionary conflict and collective action,” and “how revolutions work, and whether the regularizes within revolutions have changed systematically over the five centuries under review” (Tilly, 5). These questions connect factors, which show that revolutions all involve forced transfer of power over states so this must involve how states use force because they vary in time, space and social setting. This is valuable when as a society, we wonder about our own fates, triumphs and outcomes.

Tilly’s objective of analysis however, does not base itself on solely violence because he believes that certain incidents of collective violence is actually “collective action. He believes this because the collective violence is just a typical part of competition between groups over power and numerous conflicting goals. (Skocpol,10). Whereas collective action, “defined as ‘People’s acting together in pursuit of common interests.” (Skocpol, 10). Collective action in revolutions according to Tilly involve all the contenders fighting for “Ultimate political sovereignty over a population” where all the challenging contenders succeed in at some point over throwing the already existing power holders. Revolutionary situations involving “multiple sovereignty” contain two main parts we need to consider according to Tilly. The first part we need to consider is all the long-term shift of social trends from one group to another in society. (Skocpol, 11). The second part we must take into consideration is the importance of examining any “medium-term occurrences, such as the proliferation of revolutionary ideologies and the increase of the popular discontent, that make revolutionary contenders for sovereignty likely to emerge and large elements of the population likely to support their claims.” The revolutionary moment arrives when an alternative government, body, or some kind of group is being followed more favorably than the actual government. This means there are where there is two “sovereign” states ruling over the people, although the second one is illegitimate. Because of the multiple sovereignty, the original government is more likely to collapse because there is less support. But in order for multiple sovereignty in a revolution to be successful there has to be force, In short, multiple sovereignty can only be successful with a force against the standing government (Skocpol, pg.11).  The idea of multiple sovereignty can be applied to the Egyptian and Libyan protests

This picture is of a protest taking place in Libya

This picture is of a protest taking place in Libya

because they started to follow groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. With people paying more attention on these other groups, the political governments in place could not stand alone. Eventually, there were new political officials because of the collective action in Arab Spring, classifying them as revolutions.

Another thing that could potentially cause a revolution would be a war, along with multiple sovereignty. The outcomes of wars correlate to revolutions and wars are involved in multiple states- how the other states react to internal conflict will strongly affect the outcomes. In order to identify which states might have revolutions, it is crucial to inspect domestic and the relationships among states. War, is an event that has affected nearly every generation, including our own can act as an indicator or a correlation of revolutionary events to come.

However, collective action and multiple sovereignty are not the only things that cause revolutions. Tilly also claims that social perceptions act as a corresponding factor to revolutions. If we want to examine the parallels between our modern day predictors of revolution, it is crucial to examine past attitude shifts. A personality of a revolution will be shaped by the causes and common mindsets. In order to provide examples of this, Tilly states that “1. By shaping the state’s structure and its relation to the subject populations; 2. By determining who are the major actors within any particular polity as well as how they approach political struggle; and 3. By affecting how much pressure example of the transition between an agrarian to an industrial economy; which eliminated the power of the caste like landlord/peasant relationship, bears upon the state and from which directions”(Tilly, 6).  These social perceptions are all indeed possible factors to cause a revolution. People are more likely to rebel if they are being oppressed, whether in a social structure of classes, or economically.

There is never just one thing that can be picked out and determined as the cause of a revolution.  Many theorists believe that there are multiple things that factor into the cause of an event.  Tilly believes that collective action, multiple sovereignty, and social perceptions are all significant factors when trying to determine an event as a revolution. His ideas on collective action help show that no sole event can cause a revolution singlehandedly. He also believed that multiple sovereign groups with some sort of force against the standing government would be required to cause revolution. Lastly, he believed that many social perceptions, such as economic and social class struggles had to be in place in order to incite a revolution. Looking at revolutions in various ways is the only way to truly identify their cause.



Works Cited


Skocpol, Theda. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and

China. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1979. 3-42. Print.


Tilly, Charles. European Revolutions, 1492-1992. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993. Print.