Category: Revolutions

Emancipation in Saint Domingue

Emancipation in Saint Domingue was a rocky road, with many decrees being said, then revoked later on. However, eventually the enslaved were freed, though what they could and could not do was limited. They could participate in civil society, but the former enslaved had to stay on the plantations that they worked during their time as a slave. They also were no longer allowed to be violently punished. But why 29 August 1793, after so long?
In 1793, the French were facing maBy [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commonsny issues both continentally and on the island. There was a deadlock in the legislative assembly, as well as a looming threat of invasion from Britain and Spain. In August 1793, Spain also proceeded with their plans for invasion of the island. There was also an increasing rate of rebellions on the island against the institution of slavery. Strong leaders such as Toussaint Louverture were emerging, and winning rebellions.
Because of the tensions France was facing with the other powerful Empires of the time, the French thought one way to limit the tensions in Saint Domingue would be to grant emancipation to enslaved men that joined their army, as well as their families (Colwill, 131). This was a great incentive for many enslaved, because though Britain and Spain were promising emancipation for the slave themselves, it did not include their families. However, though many did join the French Army, many were also weary to trust the French.
The French had to do something to broker some sort of peace and resolution, so before emancipation, they tried a few other strategies, such as the Second Civil Commission on 20 September 1792. The commission sent Sonothax and Etienne Polverel with 6,000 troops to San Domingue in hopes that they could enforce the April Decree, and end agitation for colonial autonomy. However, Sonothax was a known abolitionist, and because of Frances preoccupations, Sonothax and Polverel were able to overstep their bounds in governing the island. One of the ways that they did this was through their 11 July 1793 proclamation that stated any enslaved woman that married a freed man was free, and a few months later, on 29 August, emancipated everyone in the Northern part of the province (Colwill, 143).
However, one of the reasons that Sonothax may have emancipated the enslaved was to try and broker a sort of peace with them.

Burning of La Cap

There had been many uprising that were getting more extreme over the summer of 1793. In that June, the city of La Cap was burned by the rebellion, and forced many white colonists to flee to the United States (Gueggs, ch. 43). The increasing violence of the rebellion was not unsuspected. As Robespierre suggested, by the colony continually hindering rights of freed blacks, and grouping them more so with the enslaved, it would only cause violence and disruption (Gueggs, ch. 25). In fact, freed black men were often blamed for the slave revolts, further driving them away from the side of the white colonists, and towards the sympathy of the enslaved.
This could be seen a few years prior in the 16 August 1791 attack on plantations in the Northern part of Saint Domingue. Because white slaveholders did not think that the enslaved had the capacity to plan such an event, they blamed the freed blacks, and became fearful of them (Popkin, 36). This fear led to a lot of discrimination, and the whites began to strip free blacks of their rights. Because of this, even more insurrection spread throughout the colony.
Because of the growing disillusionment of both the freed blacks and the enslaved, by the end of August 1793, Sonothax felt that he had no choice other than emancipation to keep the support of the blacks in the colony (Popkin 59). He did so to try and preserve the plantation society that so many people in the world relied on while trying to keep peace. Because of this, the formerly enslaved were made to stay on their plantations while they would be given compensation for their work, and their masters were no longer allowed to torture or abuse them.


Colwill, Elizabeth. “‘Fetes de L’Hymen, Fetes de la Liberte,’ Marriage, Manhood, and Emancipation in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue.” Journal of Haitian Studies 17.1 (2011): 125-53. PDF file.
Geggus, David, ed. The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2014. Print.
“La Cap.” Wikipedia Commons. Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. <,_ou_Histoire_de_Ses_R%C3%A9volutions._ca._1815.jpg>.
“Map.” Wikimedia Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. <By [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons>.
Popkin, Jeremy D. A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.

Emancipation in Saint Domingue (Modern Day Haiti): The Rule of Toussaint Louverture

Emancipation in Saint Domingue (Modern Day Haiti): The Rule of Toussaint Louverture

File:Toussaint louverture.jpg

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.


Weeding the Field








“I told you to weed the field,” wrote Toussaint Louverture, “but you tore everything out by the roots”(Popkin, 97). With the brutality of the ‘war of the knives, the deaths of thousands of people, with divided support two men survive and direct a war; both are the champions of emancipation but with ideologically different interpretations. This is an evident indicator of the magnitude and complexity lingering in the air of St. Domingue in 1799. The bubbling of rumors, changing leadership, the constant presence of a military state, a constant threat of colonial power and the conflicting legislation had all lead to a turbulent environment for the people of St. Domingue.

As an incredibly fertile and productive region for resources such as sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo, St. Domingue was considered very valuable which created multiple layers of hostility and envy among the hierarchy of civilians, an influx of those who were continually trafficked into the country as slaves and even those outside governments. Considering the demographics of the slave population when compared to the colonialists, the demand for freedom and equality was unavoidable. Fear of revolt loomed in the air and legitimate paranoia consumed the French population for nearly forty years, after all, as demand for goods increased, they had more than tripled the amount of peoples trafficked by repulsive methods into St. Domingue, mainly Congolese. As a response to the imbalance of slaves, mixed race people and white French people, a colony that was once considered somewhat mildly oppressive, began to enact disturbingly prejudicial laws in attempt to maintain control as the mistrust swelled. But the inhabitants had become intolerant of these violent ways and as generations passed and became more interracial, these measures were even more difficult to enact and more adamantly condemned by the general populous.

Although the debate for and against exploitation had been occurring since the arrival of colonists on the island of what is now Haiti, it’s debatable what exactly fortified the action on the part of the slave population to start demanding an end to slavery. Perhaps the repeated rejection of proposals of inclusion and basic rights that free black men such as Vincent Oge and Sonthonax’s had continually advocated for. Increased violence and loss of French control may have played a role in the eventual uprisings. Revolts in 1970 that were a response to vicious treatment of slaves and mixed race people lead to the extermination of many activists of emancipation, and action which was meant to enforce distress and generate compliance in the slave population may have lead to the unintended outcome of more vehement arguments and actions for civil liberties for the people of St. Domingue.

While we have indicators of the growing dissatisfied attitudes on multiple sides, we know that the first move towards lawful emancipation was through the Decree of May 15th, which granted rights to those who were born to free black individuals. Unfortunately, this may have not been a step into the direction of liberation for the individuals on the island of St. Domingue. This proclamation of emancipation was debatably a farce, considering that is was not truly enacted, possibly out of misinformation or intentionality on the part of leadership. Additionally, this decree was reversed within months. By September 1791, these back and fourth events generated even more suspicion and division across the entire colony.

After more instability across the islands, it seemed like every resurrection movement had different goals. In spite of the desires of the slave population, many military leaders such as Jean-Francois opted to negotiate with the French for amnesty and improved conditions for slaves, but this notion was again, rejected. After this point, some insurgents begin to partner with Britain and/or, another invading colonial power, in hopes that they would be granted emancipation.
With the realization that France may lose territory to their British and Spanish rivals through their unwillingness, the National Convention finally contends to abolish slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1793. Sonthonax, out of desperation chose to grant freedom to those in the North Province, however, “the freedom offered the slaves was only sharing quasi-serfdom that kept most of them attached to the plantations and denied their own aspirations to become independent small farmer” (Greggus, pp. 107)

I think that fundamentally, the arguments that supported liberation of the slave population and those, which forewarned the fall of the economy took too long. Simply put, this process of providing half rights, creating proclamations and then rescinding, civil rights in disguise, rights for some and not others created too heavily a divide to satiate the people of St. Dominque. Colonialism from all of the European countries played games through lies and rumors to gain power, leaving the slave population in a state of confusion of who to trust and what direction to move, with the ever present trepidation of making a wrong decision with something as important as freedom on the line. Arguably, it’s even a contentious topic to attempt to understand the desires of those in leadership.
By the 1801 Proclamation, slavery was forever abolished, yet the hierarchy remained which still prevented true freedom and even this declaration was sparsely enforced and continually under attack. Again, in 1804, Dessaline’s Proclamation promised the same liberties, but this time, he abolished European presence on the island, yet while the nationalist language of this proclamation declared, “the declaration was meant to both evoke the horrors that French control had wrought on the colony and to exorcise them. It proclaimed a new Haitian national identity by focusing on the need to erase and avenge, the past of French colonialism.” (Dubois, pp.121)




  1. Photo from;
  2. Popkin, J. (2012) A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution; Wiley-Blackwell
  3. Greggus, D. (2014) The Haitian Revolution; Hackett Publishing Company
  4. Dubois, L. (2011) Haiti: The Aftershocks of History; Metropolitan Books


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.

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.



Revolutions…What is the cause?


King Louis XVI helped triggered the French Revolution by attempting to avoid bankruptcy.

What is a revolution? Most people see revolutions as a forcible overthrow of a government or social system in favor of a new set up.  The big question that ponders most theorists is “What causes these revolutions?” Theorists such as Theda Skocpol sees revolutions as a rapid transformation of a society’s class and structure while political scientist Jack Goldstone sees revolution as a state breakdown which only happens when a government becomes weak. Sure, there’s numerous causes revolution; but out of all of those causes, which ones matter the most?

It is very important to point out all the possible causes of the various revolutions that have happened throughout history. Although it may be difficult to find a common factor between the varieties of revolutions, it becomes increasingly important to point out that revolutions are not always caused by class struggle. Class struggle can be one of the causes of a revolution, but in most cases class struggle is not the only causing factor. As stated above, both Skocpol and Goldstone see beyond class struggle as the primary causes of revolutions, because class struggle comes from something much deeper than a supposed alienation or unhappiness of lower classes in compared to the hierd9f3e6ec37cf9e5b292719bd4a43db40.jpgarchy. Both Skocpol and Goldstone see politics as a major cause of revolutions.

Skocpol theorizes that political crises are the trigger points to launch revolutions, and the political groups in turn become the social forces of a revolution. She makes this point with this quote “The political-conflict groups that have figured in social-revolutionary struggles have not merely represented social interests and forces. Rather they have formed as interest groups within and fought about the forms of state structures. The vanguard parties that have emerged during the radical phases of social revolutions have been uniquely responsible for building centralized armis and administrations without which revolutionary transformations could not have been consolidated (29).” This part of Skocpol’s revolution theory is important to examine because it does speak about social forces, because even Skocpol can agree with that there are more causes of revolutions than just class, or social, problems but class struggles can be added to the formula of what makes up a revolution. Goldstone also sees political aspects of being some major causes of revolutions. Goldstone theorizes that revolutions are because of forcible political change because of elites of attacking a weakened ruler or government instead of aiding the situation. Goldstone also sees politics partaking in the causes of revolutions because rulers spreading new ideologies, such as enforcing beliefs to justify that person’s rule and heavily forcing it upon the common population. This is also another scenario where another theorist states that although class struggle may not always be a primary cause, it is more certainly an underlying factor of the formula of what makes up a revolution.

With all the changes that come within a state such a political: change in power from one person to the next, or change in economics: people losing jobs or inflation, these changes will almost always effect the social aspects of a state. From the problems that are created, and the unrest of a state, class struggle will likely come out of the problems because those with the least will be the most impacted. It is important to discuss that class struggle is not the only cause of revolutions because class struggle usually is a result of a much bigger problem; there are many more contributing factors to revolutions than just unhappy citizens, because there is always something to make the citizens unhappy.

The media image of the graphic organizer web of the causes of the French Revolution clearly states what has been said all along, that there are several causes of revolutions much bigger than just class struggle. This organizer describes that the French Revolution was a product of five major problems: the age of Enlightenment, France was an absolute monarchy with a weak monarch, France sent troops and supplies to aid the revolutionaries in America, financial difficulties in France, and lastly, the population being divided into three states. All these causes of the French Revolution were all equally important and all had equally important impacts to the creating of this revolution, much more than just a problem of class struggle within France. Revolutions are much more complicated than citizens unhappy with the way they are being treated, revolutions are a result of citizens doing something about both the economic and political state of their country.


Work Cited:

Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China (Cambridge: CUP, 1979), 29.