The Haitian Revolution was a time of war, celebrations, sacrifices, and heroism. It marked a pivotal moment in the history of the Americas. This revolution was the first time slavery became abolished in a society made primarily of slaves. Not only was slavery abolished, but it was a result of a slave rebellion. There was a great amount of focus and debate on this colony because there were large sums of money involved. With the amount of exports the colony could produce, there was the potential of great wealth. The colonial system allowed the wealth to be accumulated, but only by the white plantation and slave owners, which were the minority of the colony. Slavery was in affect for that purpose, and worked well, until the end of the eighteenth century. As Geggus points out in article 46, Abolitionist Reaction to the Slave Insurrection, “White colonists…who have large properties and who owe little because they control their expenditure…love France; they are loyal and obedient to its laws, because they feel they need it to keep order and to protect their property.” (Geggus 103)
In 1791, the white population held most of the power politically and militarily. They may have not been the majority of the population, but they had control. After outbreaks of war and dramatic events for two years, the emancipation of Saint-Domingue’s slaves happened in August of 1793. By this time, most of the white population left, or even fled, the island due to it being so unstable and unsafe. As Jeremy D. Popkin states, “Between 1793 and 1798, the violence in Saint-Domingue gradually subsided and a new society, from which slavery had been officially banished and in which people of all colors enjoyed the same legal rights, started to take shape.” (Popkin 62) With the lack of white presence, free men of color now rose to high positions in the French army. These new roles in the military allowed them to also have political power.
Now that all men had equal legal rights in Saint-Domingue, regardless of color, more problems arose. The colony was not only going through a period of internal struggles and conflict, but was now a hot spot for international conflict. Saint-Domingue was ruled primarily by men of color. France’s government seemed to be content with allowing people, other than white people, to govern its most valuable colony. It was now other countries who weren’t as accepting of this idea. Primarily Britain, Spain, and the Americas struggled with this concept. They feared that the news and outcomes of Saint-Domingue’s revolts would spread to their own territories and cause similar issues. France, in the midst of a revolution, was still protecting its colony from these other countries. “An army largely composed of soldiers of African descent, fighting under the French colors, defeated the foes – the forces of the black insurrection, the Spanish and the British – who had nearly overrun the colony in 1793.” (Popkin 62-63)
After the emancipation in 1793, the new order that took place seemed to be a shaky one at best. The new governing elite that had come about in Saint-Domingue were military officers from the insurrections and movements against white rule. They all agreed and supported the abolition of slavery. However, they still believed that the success of the colony depended on the fundamentals of the plantation system that created the colony’s wealth in the first place. The French government was also determined to return the colony back to its original function of growing valuable crops for them. To most of the people of color, reinstating plantation systems seemed too much like slavery. Both the new military officers as well as the French government struggled in gaining support of the perks of the plantation system. As Popkin points out, the tides began to turn in Saint-Domingue. “Desperate as the situation in Saint-Domingue appeared in late 1793, events gradually began to turn in favor of the French cause and the implementation of emancipation.” (Popkin 65)
Popkin, Jeremy D. A Concise History of the French Revolution. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012
Geggus, David. The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2014
Picture from: thelouvertureproject.org/index.php?title=File:Sonthonax_proclamation.gif