The Fight for Emancipation

The Haitian emancipation of enslaved black was both a political and violent upheaval. Free black, robbed of their civil rights that were seemingly granted on French mainland and slaves, collectively, came together to instill new principles into Haitian legislature. Africans in Saint- Domingue largely wanted civil and political rights, fair treatment from their white counterpart and compliance from plantation owners. However admirable intentions may have seemed they were grotesquely filled with vengeful spite and violence. Laurent Dubois illustrates a scene in November of 1791 as rebels approached the Gallifet plantations as “they had as their standard “the body of a white child impaled upon a stake.”[1] Serving as a symbol of what emancipation looked like in Saint Dominque, a white child on a stake was the terrible beginning of a worthwhile struggle.

After slaves had initiated violent revolts against white, the revolutionary transformation displayed social and political violence daily. Terror was a key component at the forefront of the revolution because many whites fled to Cap- Francicais, given the blacks an advantage. Whites who fled to Le Cap were angry and therefore, believed that all blacks and men of color should be killed. Popkin told the story of an anonymous individual that exposed the vengeance white men acted upon. He said that black men and women would be chained up and killed even if they were blameless. [2]Blacks sought revenge in comparable or worse way to the treatment they had received from white plantation owners. Even after the Code Noir was enacted, it was weakly enforced. Its purpose was to ensure that unnecessary physical violence was not put upon slaves. Masters did not comply to the terms of the Code Noir because the slaves were seen as their property to be dealt with as they saw fit. In addition, there was nearly no corrective action from France if a slave holder disobeyed the new policy. Therefore, when the slave revolt began in 1791, the unspoken purpose for many was to kill and torture the white and completely destroy their plantations.

The emancipation came in a timelier manner then it may have otherwise because of a quest from Great Britain and Spain to take over the colonies. This sparked conflict as Great Britain and Spain declared war on France. Since many of the black slaves had believed that the royalists held their best interests in higher regard, when Britain invaded Saint Domingue through Hispaniola an alliance was made. The combined forces enabled the insurgents to commit further acts of violence. France recognized that it make supplemental changes to its legislation in order to restore peace to Saint Domingue and solidify France’s claim to it once more.

DuBois stated that Bryan Edwards, who went to Saint Dominque after the uprising, detail his experience as a ‘“picture of human misery” that “no other country, no former age, has exhibited”’[3]. The nearly 100,000 black had been reduced to half and 24,000 of the previously standing 40,000 were left. However, the 50,000 blacks that survived the revolution were finally emancipated.[4] The cost of freedom in Saint Domingue was detrimental but without brute force change would not have been readily granted. They could cast off a lifetime of white oppression and begin to rebuild themselves as men with civil liberties the same as any other man.

“If, because some blacks have committed cruelties, it can be deduced that all blacks are cruel”  stated Toussaint Louverture in 1797, “then it would be right to accuse of barbarity the European French and all that nation of the world”(5).Revolution looks different in every nation that has experienced it. Racism that was deeply imbedded in white culture had to be eradicated before progress could be made. In Saint Domingue violence illustrated the approach to emancipation after other hope failed.

[1] Dubois, L. (2011) Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. 1

[2] Popkin, J. (2012). Facing Racial Revolution. 50

[3] Dubois, L. (2011) Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. 3

[4] HAITIAN REVOLUTION. (2010)  HAITIAN REVOLUTION. Union for National Reconciliation and Defense of Human Rights




  1. Savannah Ortiz

    April 27, 2015 at 4:17 am

    I like that you also talk about the free people of color in your post and the role they played. There were so many different elements contributing to what was happening in Saint Domingue at the time and the way you look at a few of those is really helpful. Your point about violence and how it came to be used to inspire terror was really good especially since it was used by both sides.

  2. I really like your post and you really did good job for overall. In the beginning, you mention that how Haiti emancipation of enslaved black was both a political and violent upheaval. I think that a large number of African Slaves want to be free and have equality as whites. So that even of the process of emancipation might be brutal and violence against whites, they did not have another choice to lead to emancipation.

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