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Starting in 1791, the Haitian revolution was a series of disagreements between colonists, Haitian slaves and the armies of the French, the British and Spanish. After struggling for over a decade from gaining independence from France, they eventually won and became the first country to be founded by former slaves.
Back in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the “Ocean Blue” and landed on the island of North Hispaniola and established the first European settlement. Columbus was a selfish, greedy man who enslaved the Tainos and forced them to mine for gold until they became extinct. Then in 1502, the first African slaves were brought to Hispaniola and by 1546 there were 12,000 slaves. France then created permanent settlements in the 1670’s that consisted of plantations which produced tobacco, sugar and coffee = slave labor. The left-hand side of Hispaniola then became the wealthiest colony in the Caribbean belonging to France named Saint-Domingue.
When King Louis XIV created the Code Noir in 1685 it was a set of codes that explained France’s position on slavery in the colonies. It consisted of the following:- slaves were the personal property of their masters, slaves could not assemble for marriage ceremonies or dances, fugitive slaves who were caught could have their ears cut off or be killed and The Code gave white planters the right to shoot anyone they thought was a fugitive. Between 1700 and 1791, 700,000 slaves were brought to Saint-Domingue.
There was a specific Social Structure in S-D, there were four “classes”. The most superior with complete freedom were the Grands Blancs who were the plantation owners, the second class was known as Affranchis who were the free people of color. The free people of color were mixed-race children usually with white fathers and they were known as mulattos. Even though mulattos were mixed race, it was not uncommon for Affranchis to have their own plantations and slaves. Then, there was the Petits Blancs who was the white working class: teachers, artisans, laborers etc. Finally, the people making up most of the population; slaves. By 1791, there were 32,000 whites, 28,000 Affranchis, and 500,000 slaves.
When the French Revolution occurred, it had a huge impact on the slaves in Saint-Domingue. In 1789, the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen did not give the colonies rights the same way it did to those in France. However, many slaves believed that they were freed but their white masters refused to give them the freedom they thought they had. Then it happened. August 1791 was the beginning of months of planning with Boukman Dutty: the rebellions lead organizer. A month later, the rebels killed hundreds of white and burnt more than 1,000 plantations.
Boukman Dutty was not the only person associated with the rebellion, Toussaint L’Ouverture was too. L’Ouverture was a former slave who was taught how to read and write by his progressive master who later freed him in the 1770’s. Similar to Napoleon, he was well-known for his military and strategic brilliance which led his army to grow to several thousand troops under the Spanish. He essentially freed the slaves of S-D and negotiated for the French colony in Hispaniola.
Since the slaves and rebels had enough power, white planters allied with the British because they believed that this was the only way they could conserve slavery in S-D. However, those beliefs were not fulfilled because the National Convention abolished slavery in 1794 in order to win the rebels. This plan worked as this led to L’Ouverture abandoning the Spanish and joining the French.
The Spanish knew that they had no chance of beating the French, therefore they signed the Treaty of Basel in 1795 which removed troops from the island and gave up Santo Domingo to France. This specific event marked L’ouverture’s volte-face as the turning point in the Haitian Revolution. This is because Louverture’s support allowed France to have control over the colony whilst his power and influence proceeded to grow. March 1796, Louverture was named Lieutenant Governor of Saint-Domingue.
Slavery still existed in the British settlements and plantations were still in business so, in 1797 Affranchis leader Andre Rigaud and Louverture kicked Britain out of Saint-Domingue. Rigaud and Louverture made a good team but not for long, soon selfishness came into place when the two of them had to determine who had control of the colony. War broke out between the two in 1799 known as The War of the Knives. Louverture’s black forces were against Rigaud’s Affranchis and it worried them that if the Affranchis won slavery and inequality would return again. Louverture was so powerful that he commanded the north and west of Saint-Domingue which allowed him to blockade Rigaud’s forces for five months, therefore, no food and supplies could reach them. Louverture knew that it was already a win for him so, in July 1800, he sent his top general Jean-Jacques Dessalines to defeat Rigaud’s army.
January 1800 was when Louverture gained control of all of Hispaniola as the governor of Santo Domingo ceded control of the territory. His first act was to abolish slavery on the island and later he called an assembly to draft a constitution known as the Constitution of 1801. Firstly, Louverture proclaimed himself Governor-general for Life then he created five laws that everyone must follow. Under his constitution he; abolished slavery and declared all citizens had equal rights, outlawed Voodoo in favor of Catholicism (he was Catholic), all people of S-D were French citizens, land to be concentrated to large estates, citizens were required to work a mandatory amount of hours on plantations in order to keep the economy going and they received daily wages. Although the people of Hispaniola wanted Louverture to have full control, his constitution made them second guess themselves on whether Louverture was the best candidate for the job. Most people couldn’t own land due to the large concentration and Dessalines and many other officers encouraged soldiers to use violence if workers didn’t cooperate. Those weren’t the only things that pissed the slaves off; Louverture welcomed back exiled white planter’s to the island and he assumed absolute power as Governor-General for Life. Many former slaves believed that life was almost the same as when they were slaves just with a different name.
Back in France, Napoleon was the one ruling and he considered the Constitution of 1801 an aggressive move for independence so in October 1801 he sent 20,000 troops along with General Leclerc to reimpose order and stability as well as retake Saint Domingue. When his troops arrived in February 1802, nearly half of Louverture’s officers joined the French army as they didn’t know that Napoleon wanted to reimpose slavery and they were unhappy with Louverture’s rules. 2 months later, Louverture agreed to negotiate with Leclerc and a month later he retired and reunited with his family. Jean-Jacques Dessalines allied with France a while after then Leclerc betrayed his agreement with Louverture where he tricked him and imprisoned him in a secluded jail in the French Alps where he ended up dying less than a year later.
In July 1802, Napoleon brought slavery back which led to many soldiers to leave the French army and joined the insurrection. France’s reaction to the soldiers betraying them was very brutal, they imported man-eating dogs, had hangings, drownings, burnings etc. Then, Dessalines and other generals also abandoned the French Army and began their own rebellion called the scorched earth campaign where they burnt many plantations and towns to the ground. Unfortunately, November of that year Leclerc died of yellow fever but Dessalines kept fighting and defeated thousands of Napoleon’s troops which made France weak. In May 1803, Dessalines created the Haitian flag by keeping the red and blue to represent the unity of blacks and mulattoes against the whites and ripping out the white. Napoleon then accepted his failure and focused on Europe.
The colony was proclaimed independent by Dessalines and published a Declaration of Independence abolishing the colony of Saint-Domingue forever and restoring the original Taino name Hayti. Dessalines then ordered the remaining 4,000 French residence to be slaughtered. Dessalines was named Emperor Jacques I of Haiti in October 1804 and ratified the constitution in May 1804 proclaiming all citizens of Haiti including mulattoes and whites as Blacks. On the other hand, Napoleon didn’t let go of his failure so easily and he isolated Haiti from being able to trade with England, Spain and the US. This means that Haiti’s economy was basically destroyed not only because of Napoleon’s strategy but because the scorched-earth campaign burnt down the plantations which were their main source of money. Haiti was not recognized as independent by France until 1825 and King Charles X forced Haiti to pay the ‘damages’ created during the Haitian revolution.
When France forced Haiti to agree to pay the debts, this forced them to take high interests loans which made it even harder for them to develop economically. The amount of money that Haiti had to pay was equivalent to $22 billion and nowadays, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world.
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