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200 Years of Forgetting: Hushing up the Haitian Revolution

Author(s): Thomas Reinhardt


Source: Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Mar., 2005), pp. 246-261
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40027220
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200 YEARS OF FORGETTING


Hushing up the Haitian Revolution
THOMAS REINHARDT
FrobeniusInstitut

Formanyyears,the islandof Hispaniolaservedas a prototypefor the European conquest of the New World. It also gave home to the world's first
Black Republic. Between 1791 and 1804, an army of former slaves successfully overthrewthe colonial regime. This event, however (despite its
enormous effect on future developmentsin the Westernhemisphere),is
almostforgottenin the Westtoday.This articleexploresthe reasonsfor the
deletion of the HaitianRevolutionfrom the West's historicalmap.
Keywords: Haitian Revolution; ToussaintLouverture;historical discourse; memorypolitics

A hermeneutic tradition maintains that to understandmeans to


understanddifferently.1Although originally intendedto describe
ourunderstandingof texts, the premiseprovesespecially truein the
realm of history.Historiographyis necessarily selective. And it is
neverfree of twists anddistortions,/fan event is remembered(and
how it is remembered)is not up to its actors and witnesses. For
those who have to live it, historyis a mess. It is only futuregenerations that- in a complex interplayof memorizingandforgettinggive the past a meaningfuland well orderedappearance.2
It is not surprising,therefore,thatcontemporariesof the revolution, which took place from 1791 to 1804 in the Frenchcolony of
Saint Domingue on the very island where Columbushad built the
firstEuropeansettlementin the New World,failed to recognizethe

AUTHOR'SNOTE:This article is based on a talk presentedat the 15th Cheikh


Anta Diop Conferencein Philadelphia,October 10-11, 2003.
JOURNALOF BLACKSTUDIES, Vol. 35 No. 4, March2005 246-261
DOI: 10.1177/0021934704263816
2005 Sage Publications

246

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Reinhardt/ HUSHINGUP THE HAITIANREVOLUTION 247

enormous effect that revolution would have on future developments in the Westernhemisphere.
And enormousindeed it was: It not only resultedin the creation
of the independentstate of Haiti- a nationled by Blacks, the second republicin the Americas,and the first modernstate to abolish
slavery- but without the Haitian Revolution, the United States
today quite likely would be little morethana small stripof land on
the easterncoast of NorthAmerica.Thatis, if therewere a country
called the United States of America at all.3
Prospectsfor the 164states in the Union didn't look too good
duringthe firstyears of the 19thcentury.The Britishhad anything
but given up their plans to reconquertheir former colonies, and
with Napoleonic France, a new powerful enemy had enteredthe
stage.
Napoleon's objectives were as clear as they were ambitious:
Having acquiredthe vast LouisianaTerritoryfrom Spain in 1800,
he aimedat nothingless thanan empirestretchingfrom the Rocky
Mountainsto India,from northernRussia to the Sahara.And with
Europe'smostpowerfularmyathis disposal,who shouldstophim?
Certainlynot the UnitedStates,with their"pathetic3,000-manregular army"(Fleming, 2001, p. 144).
Napoleon decided, however, to let his troops make a small
detourto end a tiresomelittle slaverevoltin one of the Frenchcolonies in the Caribbean, Saint Domingue. Nothing serious. Six
weeks, by his estimate, certainly should be more than enough to
end the insurrection,restore French rule, and move on to North
America (Fleming, 2001, p. 141).
Or so he thought. Two years and almost 60,000 dead French
troops later, a disillusioned Napoleon, fed up with reportsabout
losses and defeats in the colony, abandonedhis plans for a transatlantic France.
The U.S. emissaries Monroe and Livingston, sent to Paris in a
desperateattemptof the Jeffersonadministrationto at least sign an
agreementthat allowed U.S. citizens to navigate the Mississippi
andstoretheirexportgoods in New Orleans,5musthavebeen quite
surprisedwhen they were offeredto buy the whole Louisianaterri-

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248 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ MARCH 2005

tory instead.And for a ridiculouslysmall amountof money.A real


bargain6that in one strokedoubledthe size of the United States.
Eight months later, on January1, 1804, the former colony of
Saint Domingue underits new leaderJacquesDessalines became
independent and took on the ancient Amerindian name Haiti.7
Whatnobodywould have anticipatedcould no longerbe denied:A
motley crowd of formerslaves had somehow defeated "la grande
armee"- the great army that in the precedingyears had marched
almost effortlessly throughthe whole of Europe.
Thereis no controversyaboutthese facts. And no matterwhich
standardswe apply,the HaitianRevolutiondoubtlesslyshouldrate
among the majorhistoricalevents of the late 18th and early 19th
centuries.The factmay havegone unnoticedby its contemporaries,
but it should on no accounthave escaped futurehistorians.
Yet, somehow it did. It did in the United States, and it did even
more so in Europe.When I startedworkingon this article,I was a
realpainin the neck for everybodyI happenedto meet. I have asked
people sittingon a parkbenchnext to me, cashiersin stores,waiters
andteachers,as well asjanitorsand studentsif they knew anything
aboutthe HaitianRevolutionand its leaders.Many of them didon one condition: They had to be Black. Blacks in the United
States, it seems, have always kept the memory of the revolution
alive.8They did in speeches andpamphlets,in books andfestivals.
Thus,the anniversaryof Haiti'sindependencewas commemorated
throughoutthe first quarterof the 19th centuryas an alternativeto
the 4th of Julythatofferedlittle to celebratefor the Black portionof
the nation (Bethel, 1997, p. 6).
WithWhiteAmericansandEuropeans,however,the picturewas
different.Even if folks didn't confuse Haiti with Tahitifor a start,
thenamesToussaintLouvertureorJacquesDessalinesusuallydidn't
ring a bell. "Waita minute,"people kept askingme, "you'retelling
me they really had a revolutiondown there?Interesting."
Interesting,indeed. Now please don't get me wrong. I don't
wantto blameanybodyfor his ignorance.It was only last yearthatI
myself firstheardaboutthe HaitianRevolution.9If someoneis to be
blamed, it is Westernhistoriography.

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Reinhardt/ HUSHINGUP THE HAITIANREVOLUTION 249

Justopen an averagehistorytextbookdealing with the "revolutionaryperiod."Whatareyou likely to find?Pages andpages dedicatedto the Boston TeaPartyandthe stormingof the Bastille. But if
you check the index for Haiti- nothing. Toussaint Louverture,
Jacques Dessalines, Andre Rigaud, or Henri Christophe?Dead
loss. As if therehadneverbeen such a thing as a revolutionin Haiti.
Its leadersburiedin the depthsof historicalinsignificance.Its economic, political, and social effects in the Caribbeanand abroad
hushedup, hiddenundermultiplelayersof silence. The questionof
course is, why is this so?
True,the political situationon the island was extremelycomplicated. But does this really entitle historiographyto say, "Oh,that
Of coursenot. History
topic is just too difficult.Webetterskip it."10
to
be
And
it
is
tends
complicated.
historiography'stask to
always
understandit nevertheless.Or at least to try.
One mightfurtherarguethathistoryis writtenby the winners.If
you lose (and France,England,and Spain definitely lost in Haiti),
you won't make a big fuss over it. Thattoo, however,can't explain
the joint silence of almost all Westernhistoriography.The United
States, without any doubt, had profitedfrom the revolution.Yet,
theynot only activelytriedto preventthe spreadingof news aboutit
by prohibitingall trade with Haiti; they wouldn't even acknowledge the very existence of the independentrepublicuntil well into
the Civil War.11
And what'smore,even if it made some sense for slave ownersto
hushup the revolution,why shouldthe UnitedStatescontinueto do
so, once slaverywas abolished?It would be easy to just blameit on
the malevolenceof racisthistorians.I think,however,thatthereis
moreto it thanjust malice. I believe thattherewere (andare) structuralfeaturesof Westernhistoricaldiscoursethatcan (andmust)be
held responsiblefor it.
To be more precise, I shall argue that the main difference
between the Haitianand the French and Americanrevolutionsis
that the former was utterly incomprehensible for its White
contemporaries.And by incomprehensibleI don't just mean that
they didn'tunderstandits details- what I want to say is that there

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250 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ MARCH 2005

was no way they could possibly have understood it. Not only
becausehistoryis such a mess for those who live it, butbecausethe
very fact of a Black revolutionwas in itself unthinkable(Trouillot,
1995, p. 73) at the time it happenedand for many years to come.
Why is that? Knowledge (be it scientific or philosophical)
doesn't evolve in steady progression.It doesn't follow a straight
path from past to future.It takes detours,makes wrong turns,gets
stuckin deadends, andstartsover again.At anymomentin history,
there are ideas that can be thought and others that simply can't.
Well, of course they can. But they won't make any sense in the
opinion of most contemporaries.To think them, one has to break
with the very foundationsof contemporaryknowledge. An earth
orbitingthe sun?That'snotjust an astronomicalstatement.It shatters fundamentaltruthsof theology andphilosophyas well. If you
happen to live in, say, 16th-centuryEurope, it is definitely not a
thoughtthatyou would come up with easily.
The confines of reasonablethinking are defined by discourse.
One mightcall these discursivelimits worldviews.Otherscall them
paradigmsor commonsense. But whatevernametag we give them,
it is they that determinewhat is right and wrong, true and false,
thinkableand unthinkable.12
They determinewhat is and what is
not, whatcan be andwhatcan't. And for Westernhistoriographyin
the 19thandearly 20th centuries,a revolutionby Blacks definitely
was somethingthatcould not be.
Slaves could run away, alright.They could kill their overseers
(not nice, but it had happenedbefore). They could even gang up
against their mastersand burndown whole plantationsand cities
(very unpleasantbutpossible). But they were certainlynot capable
of organizingthemselves and combating(let alone successfully) a
well-trainedEuropeanarmy.
Yet, they did. Here was the West, equippedwith a whole ontology basedon the notionthatBlacks areinferiorto Whites,unableto
take care of themselves, naturallydesigned for slavery,the bottom
rungof the ladderof humanevolution- andthese Blacks keptwinning battleafterbattle.They defeatedthe French,they defeatedthe
British, they defeated the Spanish. This simply could not be.
Impossible.

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Reinhardt/ HUSHINGUP THE HAITIANREVOLUTION 25 1

Quite obviously, the West had a problem.Somethinghad gone


terriblywrong in Saint Domingue. But what? It sure looked like
therewere Blacks fighting for theirfreedom.But thatdidn't make
any sense. Those Africansdidn't even have a word for freedomin
theirlanguages!13Why wouldthey die in thousandsin its pursuit?
At this critical moment, the West had two options: modify its
ontology and admit that Blacks are not inferior to Whites, or
trivializethe facts. Historiographyquite successfully opted for the
latter, either by ignoring the revolution completely or by
downplayingits significance and at the same time overemphasizing aspects thatfit into Westernontology.
To be sure, if any revolutionever deservedto be called revolution, it was Haiti's. The Latin verb revolvereliterally means "roll
over."And in Haiti,for once in a way, we don'tjust see the replacement of one rulerthroughanother- a king througha president,a
monarchythrougha republic,capitalismthroughsocialism, or the
like. It's been a transformationat all levels. A slave-holdingsociety
became a society of free Blacks. Peasantrywas substitutedfor
plantationeconomy, Kreyolefor French,religious syncretismsfor
Catholicism.If this isn't a revolution,what is?
Yet, White contemporaries,historians, scholars, and novelists
have all too often hesitated to apply the term. They speak of an
insurrectioninstead(Henty,n.d.), a rebellion,an uprising,a revolt,
ruthlessmurders,disturbances,riots, a madness(Dew, 1849, p. 4),
outburstsof the Negro's violent character(Maurer,1950, p. 69), or
simply the time "whenthe blacks killed the whites"(Kleist, 1811,
p. I).14Ironically,it seems that the one majorexception from this
rule was precisely the South of the United States. Here, slaveholders were well awareof whathappenedto theirFrenchcolleagues in
Saint Domingue. Here too, however, the revolution was not to
become an issue of extensive debate. Rather,it served as a public
spectre,a warningexampleof whatthe consequencesof emancipation would doubtlesslybe (Hunt, 1988, p. 124ff).
It is astonishingthatin the two centuriessince the revolution,the
patternof ignoring or belittling facts never really came to a complete stop. Even today,in most publications,one can easily spot the
two majortropesthatserve the purposeof silencing the disturbing

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252 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MARCH 2005

voices thattry to reach us from the Caribbean(Trouillot,1995, p.


96ff). The first class may be labeled "erasingtropes."By denying
the veryfact of the revolution,these tropesareusuallyemployedby
textbookauthors.The simplestway to applyerasingtropesis tojust
shutthe hell up. If you can avoidit, don't writeaboutit. The second
class of rhetorical strategies is more complex. They silence by
buryingthe eventsunderlayersof backgroundnoise. Onemay term
them "trivializingtropes."15
They can roughlybe dividedinto three
subcategories.
First, many texts concentrateon isolated persons or events and
emptythem of theirrevolutionarycontent.Whateverthey aretalking aboutthus becomes a trivialdetail in a trivialchain of events.
Typicalexamplesfor this strategyarethe numerousbiographiesof
ToussaintLouverture.His life and(perhapseven more)his sad and
lonely deathin a cold dungeonof the Chateaude Joux, close to the
city of Pontarlierin the FrenchJuramountains,served as an ideal
screenfor romanticizingtales of chivalryand treason.16
Ironically,
it's exactly the practiceof presentingToussaintas so outstandinga
Black person that obliteratesthe fact that he was Black. In most
17
biographies,he acts likea Europeanandsucceedsas a European.
Second, in most texts publishedon the HaitianRevolution,one
finds a strongtendencytowardbiophysical explanationsand conspiracytheories.The revolutionis explainedas an overreactionto
individuallysufferedatrocities,combinedwith a thoroughmisunderstandingof Frenchrevolutionarytheorythat somehowjust got
out of hand. Its success is put down to the interferenceof other
Europeanforces in the conflict and furtherexplainedby overemphasizing Europeanlosses throughyellow fever and tropicalclimate.18True, these authors concede, the Europeanarmies were
defeated- not by a superior Black army, however, but by an
unhappycoincidence of bad weather,mean bugs, and competing
Europeanpowers. Within this line of thinking, even one of the
strangestdetails of the Frenchcampaignsuddenly seems to make
sense: When, in November 1803, the leader of the French army,
GeneralRochambeau,finally gave up fighting,he negotiateda 10day armistice with Dessalines and then surrenderedto a British
fleet cruisingoffshore.19At this time, Rochambeauhadbeen fight-

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Reinhardt/ HUSHINGUP THE HAITIANREVOLUTION 253

ing against a Black army for about 2 years. One might think that
this shouldhavebeen time enoughto somehowrealizethathis enemies had neither White faces nor were they fighting under the
Union Jack.But havingbeen beatenby Blacks, very obviously,was
not somethingthathe considereda possibility.
Finally and third, the events are judged from an exclusively
Westernvantagepoint. This, too, was a powerfulsilencer.According to Westernstandards,the revolutionhad been a failure.It had
been a failureon the economic level, andit hadbeen a failureon the
politicalandsocial levels. No matterhow muchdamage 13 yearsof
civil warandthe subsequentembargoesby France,Britain,andthe
United States had done to the local economy, the fact is that
althoughFrenchSaint Domingue once was the richest colony the
world had ever seen, the independentstate of Haiti soon was to
become the poorestcountryin the Westernhemisphere.And freedom?Sure,the countrywas now ruledby Black dictators.But does
the absence of a White ruling class alreadyqualify as freedom?
Dealing with the Haitian Revolution, the critical question for
historiographyusually was, Did it improvethe living conditionsof
the people accordingto Westernstandards?And the verdict was
almostunanimous:No, it didn't.Thingschanged,butthey changed
for the worse. This assessmentis certainlytruefor largepartsof the
20th century.The situationwas, however, less clear in the years
immediately following the revolution. The enormous death toll
amongthe slaves, which requiredconstantimportationof Africans
to keep the laborforce at least to some extentstable,droppeddown
to a level thatcould be evened out by births.And comparedto the
living conditions of working class people in Europe,the Haitians
wereprobablyratherbetteroff thanmanyof theirWesterncontemporaries(notto mentionthe slavesin the southernUnitedStates).
The underlying principle of the latter argument makes no
attemptto disguise its teleological nature. It is deeply rooted in
an understandingof history as evolution. Revolution, in this
worldview,is seen as nothingmore thana shortcutof evolution- a
greatleap towarda brightfutureinsteadof many small steps. And
this brightfuture,of course,is one accordingto Westernstandards.
It leaves no space for alternative value systems or lifestyles.

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254 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES / MARCH 2005

Accordingly, when historiansdealt with the Haitian Revolution,


they usually describedit as devolution- as a reversionto African
barbarismin the absence of White control.20It took more than 130
yearsafterthe revolutionfor the firstcouple of books breakingwith
this view to reacha largeraudiencein the West.21Since then,atleast
some scholarshave changedtheirperceptionof the events in Haiti,
even thoughthe wide public still remainslargelyunaffectedby this
new approach.
Thereis, however,atleast some hope thatthingsmightchangein
the future.Last April, it was 200 years since ToussaintLouverture
was founddeadin his chairat the Chateaude Joux.The anniversary
did not go unnoticed.In Pontarlier,it was commemoratedwith a
calendar,prestampedenvelopes andpostcards,exhibitions,theater
productions,concerts, a Haitianfilm festival, and numeroustalks
andspeeches.None of themtriedto denythe atrocitiesFrancecommittedduringits colonial period and the Haitianwar of independence, none of them triedto belittle the role of Blacks in the revolution, none of them fell into the trap of equating revolutionwith
evolution or devolution,and therewere quite a numberof Haitian
artistsinvolved in the planningand realizationof the events.
It is probablycorrectto say thatEuropehas startedappropriating the HaitianRevolutionby making it partof her own history.I
think, however, that this is a good move. It signals the longneeded breakwith the Eurocentricassumptionthat everythingof
historical importance must have been done by Whites. And it
might eventually open the path to a less-biased view of history.It
is only a small step, butone in the rightdirection.It is hoped thatit
is a beginning- the beginning of substitutingEurocentricityfor
Eurocentrism.

NOTES
1. The idea is generallyascribedto Schleiermacher,who definedthe goal of hermeneutics as "to understandan authorbetterthanhe understoodhimself."This betterunderstanding, of course,does not referto the objectof the textbutto the text itself, not to the referentof
the text but to the text as referent(Gadamer,1990, p. 195f).

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Reinhardt/ HUSHINGUP THE HAITIANREVOLUTION 255

2. As Napoleonis said to haveputit, "Historyis the mythmen choose to believe,"cited in


Robinson(2000, p. 33).
3. For this estimate, see De Witt Talmage in ChristianHerald, November 28, 1906
(quotedin Du Bois, 1915, p. 103). See also Du Bois (1939, p. 176) and Egerton(1993, p.
170).
4. By the time of the HaitianRevolution,the original 13 states had been joined by Vermont (1791), Kentucky(1792), and Tennessee (1796). Dependingon the year in consideration, one might furtheradd Ohio (1803). I didn't include it here because it only joined the
Union at aboutthe time when Napoleonhadalreadydecidedto give up his plansfor a transatlantic empire.
5. This was one of the minimalaims of theirmission.The mainintentionwas to buy New
Orleansand Florida.ShouldNapoleon neglect to sell Florida,then Livingstonand Monroe
shouldsettle for the purchaseof New Orleans.And if thatfailed too, they shouldacquirethe
navigationandstoragerightsmentionedin the text. In case they failed to accomplishthis, the
emissaries should move on to London to build a coalition with Britain against France
(Blumberg,1998, p. 87).
6. The pricein 1803 was US $ 15 millionforroughly868,000 squaremiles (oran approximateof 4 centsperacre).The equivalentsin today'smoneywouldbe US $750 million(orUS
$2 per acre). The figuresare projectedfrom Fleming (2001, pp. 134, 141).
7. This choice of nameis quite surprising.One mighthave expectedDessalines to come
upwith somethinga little more'African."However,almostall of the leadersof the revolution
hadin fact been locally born.Geggus (2002, p. 35) points out thatthis includesfiguresoften
identifiedas Africans,such as Biassou, Moise, Dessalines, and (very probably)Boukman.
Manyof them hadbeen fightingin the war of independenceof the United States (Aptheker,
1940; Bullock, n.d.;Kaplan,1973). The thesis thatthe Haitianrevolutionariesdidn'tthinkof
themselvesas Africansis furthersupportedby Dessalines's proclamationof April 28, 1804.
In it, he didn'tsay anythinglike, "Justicehas been done to Africa."Instead,he boasted,"j'ai
vengel'Amerique"[I haveavengedAmerica](Barskett,1818, p. 308;Madiou, 1922, p. 128;
Rainsford,1805, p. 448).
Takinginto accountthat more than half of the island's populationwas actuallyborn in
Africa, Dessalines's anchoringof the revolutionin an Amerindianpast still has to be analyzed. He certainlychose the name Haiti to marka breakwith Europe.Still, the questionis
legitimate,if he mighthavewantedto markan equallydecisive breakwith Africa,too, adopting the skepticalview on the continent'spresentthathad been typical for AfricanAmerican
authorsthroughoutthe 18th and 19th centuries(Reinhardt,2002).
8. Despite the attemptsto preventthe news aboutthe revolutionfrom spreading,African
Americanslaves were only too aware of what had happenedonly 600 miles south of the
United States. GabrielProsserandDenmarkVesey were only two leadersof slave insurrections said to have been inspired by the deeds of Louverture,Dessalines, Rigaud, and
Christophe(Du Bois, 1903/1997, p. 636; Egerton, 1993, p. 46; Robertson, 1999, p. 118).
Among the moreinfluentialtexts dealingwith the HaitianRevolutionwere Holly ( 1857)
andSmith( 184 1). Forfurtherevidencefor the vivid imageof the revolutionin the memoryof
Black America,see Foner(1975). Apartfromnonfictionaltexts dealingwith Haiti,the revolution has found its way into numerous novels and dramas (e.g., Shange, 1977):
"TOUSSAINT/myfirst blk man/ . . . TOUSSAINTL'OUVERTURE/wazthe biginninuv
realityfor me" (p. 26). See also Gillespie (1998).
9. Actually,I had read aboutit before. There are some taint echoes of the revolutionin
Germanliterature(e.g., Buch, 1986;Kleist, 1811). These echoes, however,did little to make

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256 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ MARCH 2005

me believe thatanythingimportanthadhappenedin SaintDomingueafter 1791. My history


books did even less. It was only when I startedto studyAfricanAmericanauthorsof the 19th
and early 20th centuriesthat I startedto understandthe significanceof the events.
10. And complicatedit was indeed. Not just two partiesor threebut multiple:enslaved
Africansandlocally bornslaves, free Blacks andMulattos(or ancienslibres),Frenchplantation owners and merchants(the grandsblancs or big Whites) and their overseers,peasants
andartisans(thepetitsblancsor little Whites),RoyalistsandJacobins,the British,the Spanish, andthe United States.Each of these groupsfightingthe othersin varyingcoalitionsand
with varyingpolitical agendas.And complicationsdidn'tstop here.It seems hardlypossible
to only fit the majorleadersof the revolutioninto handycategories.They certainlywere not
just a bunchof "gildedAfricans,"a contemptuousNapoleononce called them,swearingthat
he would not rest until he had tornthe epaulettesfrom their shoulders(Parkinson,1978, p.
155). But who were they?
The best known of the leaders,withoutany doubt,is ToussaintLouverture.His parents
were broughtfromAfrica(his grandfathergenerallyis believedto havebeen king amongthe
Arada).Toussaintwas borninto slaveryas FrancoisDominiqueToussaintBreda.Sometime
aroundthe year 1773, he was set free or boughthis freedom.He acquireda smallcoffee plantationand became himself a slave owner- at least for some time (see Debien, Fouchard,&
Menier, 1977; Geggus, 2002, p. 37; Pluchon, 1989, p. 57). The parishof Borgnes mentions
Toussaint1776 as "ToussaintBreda,negrelibre,"addingthathe hadset one of his slaves free
(Lambalot,1989, p. 9).
Whetheror not at this time Toussainthad a view on slaveryas morallywrong is open to
speculation.However,when the revolutionstartedin 179 1, he committedhimself to the fight
for abolition.Not the most naturalthingin the worldto do for a free Black in SaintDomingue.
Quite on the contrary,most of Toussaint'sfellow anciens libres were fighting to preserve
theirprivilegesas slave owners.Yet,determinedas he was to end slaveryin SaintDomingue,
when the Frenchand mulattoestried to foment a slave rebellion in Jamaicato weaken the
British,he betrayedthe plot to the Jamaicanadministration(Geggus,2002, p. 24).
In fact, Toussaintseems to have done everythingin his power to preventthe revolution
from spreadingto the neighboringislands and the NorthAmericancontinent.So, whatever
his interestsin Black liberationmay have been, when it came to the conditionof Blacks outside of Haiti,he practiceda realpolitikthatallowedhimto keep on good termswith his neighborsto preservehis autonomy- notindependence,buta certainautonomyas Frenchcolony.
Toussaint'scase is interestingon yet anotherlevel: When he acquiredhis freedom,he
became, althoughof "purelyAfricanstock,"nominallya mulatto.Originally,of course, the
termdesignateda personof mixed ancestry.In the Frenchcolonies, however,over the years
the expressionbecame synonymouswith "freepersonof color"(negrelibre),whereasBlack
(noir) basically meant "slave"(Buch, 1976, p. 39; Geggus, 2002, p. 6; Saint-Mery,1797/
1985).
11. When,in 1825, PresidentJohnQuincyAdamsonly vaguely andhesitantlysuggested
takingup diplomaticrelationswith Haiti,the capitolrangwith Southerncries of indignation.
One Senator Benton from Missouri declared categorically,"We receive no mulatto consuls, or blackambassadorsfrom [Haiti]. Because the peace of eleven states [thatis, the slaveholding statesof the Union] will not permitthe fruitsof a successful negroinsurrectionto be
exhibitedamongthem.It will not permitblackambassadorsandconsuls to ... give theirfellow blacksin the United Statesproofin the handof the honorsthatawaitthemfor a like successful efforton theirpart.It will not permitthe fact to be seen andtold, thatfor the murderof
theirmastersandmistresses,they areto find friendsamongthe white people of these United

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Reinhardt/ HUSHINGUP THE HAITIANREVOLUTION 257

States" (Senator Thomas Hart Benton, 1825, Register of Debates in Congress, cited in
Montague,1940, p. 53). SenatorRobertY. Hayneof SouthCarolinachimed in: "Ourpolicy
with regardto Hayti is plain. We never can acknowledgeher independence. . . which the
peace and safety of a largeportionof our Union forbidsus to even discuss" (Benton, 1825,
cited in Montague, 1940, pp. 47, 53).
Whenthe U.S. Senatefinally decidedto acknowledgethe existence of its southernneighbor,the seats from which over the past six decades Southernplantershad pronouncedtheir
vetoes were mostly vacant,due to the secession of the confederatestatesprecedingthe civil
war.The Senatepasseda bill recognizingHaition April4, 1862, by a decisive vote of 32 to 7.
The House of Representativesvoted 86 to 37, andthe presidentgave his assenton the 5th of
June {CongressionalGlobe, cited in Montague, 1940, p. 86).
Europeangovernmentswere a little faster.France,England,anda numberof otherstates
formallyacknowledgedHaiti'sindependencein 1825. A final satisfactorysettlement(thatis,
satisfactoryfor France) was eventually reached in 1838, when the Haitian government
agreedto pay reparationsto France,thus de facto buying its independencevery much as a
slave might have boughthis freedombefore (Montague, 1940, pp. 13-14, 52-53).
12. The literatureon paradigmchangesis abundant.Among the most importantthinkers
that(independently)developedthe conceptareKuhn(1962), Bourdieu(1980), andFoucault
(1968).
13. In the absence of a word foxfreedom in most non-Westernlanguages,see Patterson
(1982, p. 27), Miers and Kopytoff(1977, pp. 17, 54), and Geggus (2002, pp. 42, 232).
14. Therearefew exceptionsto this rule, notablyRainsford(1805), Lundy(1847), Buch
(1976, 1986), and Geggus (2001, 2002).
15. Both termsareborrowedfromTrouillot(1995, p. 96). AlthoughI thinkthatTrouillot
is too pessimistic in his conclusions, he is certainlycorrectin identifyingthe rhetoricalelements in the strategiesof silencing.
16. The earliestexample of this theme is Loverture(1804). Since then, however,it has
been adoptedby almost everybodywritingon Haiti (e.g., Barskett,1818; Parkinson,1978;
Phillips, 1954, to name only three). A very skeptical view of Toussaint'scharacterand
actions is first elaboratedin Carruthers(1985).
17. Perhapsthe most strikingexample for the "Europeanization"
of Toussaintcan be
found in a quite successful youth novel, publishedin Englandin the last decade of the 19th
century.In it, we encountera ToussaintLouverturemakingthe following remarkablestatement:"We[the Blacks] have had no trainingfor self-government.We shall have destroyed
the civilization that reigned here, and shall have nothingto take its place, and I dreadthat
insteadof progressingwe may retrogradeuntil we sink back into the conditionin which we
lived in Africa. . . . When I say equal rightsI do not mean thatthey [the Blacks] shall have
votes. We are at presentabsolutelyunfitto have votes or to exercise political power.I only
mean thatthe law shall be the same for us as for the whites" (Henty,n.d., p. 313).
18. Fleming(2001), for example,succeedsin puttingdownthe outcomeof the revolution
completely to the workof a tiny insect, Aedes aegypti,thatdecimatedthe Frenchtroopsby
infectingthemwith yellow fever.True,his essay is apiece of "counterfactualhistory,"trying
to determinewhat could have been. Still, it is astonishinghow (at the beginningof the 21st
century)Fleming managesto presentthe Black leaders of the revolution- withoutexception- as mere playthingsof the (White) actorsin the Haitiandrama.
19. Aurora General Advertiser,January 14, 1804. Rochambeau'snegotiations with
Dessalines andthe commanderof the Britishfleet, a CaptainLoring,arewell documentedin

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258 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ MARCH 2005

Rainsford(1805, pp. 431-438), Barskett(1824, pp. 170-171), andMadiou(1922, pp. 83-92).


An alternativeeyewitnessaccountof the capitulationcanbe foundin Laujon( 1805, p. 224).
20. This view was firstexpressedby Brown(1837): "Thepopulation[of Haiti]is ... not
manyremovesfromthe tribesuponthe Niger in pointof civilization.The fact is indisputable,
thatas a nationthe blacksof St. Domingoarein a retrogrademovementas regardsintellectual
improvement,andno obstacle seems to exist to preventthis descent to barbarism"(pp. 288289, italics added;it might furtherbe noted that 33 years after Haiti's declarationof independence,Brown still writes about "St. Domingo").
It has been furtherpopularizedby Spencer St. John (1880), formerBritish ministerat
Port-au-Prince,in his bookHayti,or theBlackRepublic,firstpublishedin 1880. As anexample for its adoptionin populardiscourse, see Henty (n.d.) or Maurer(1950).
21. It was not until 1937 that this view was distortedby the publicationof Mellville
Herskovitz'sLife in a Haitian Valley.Herskovitzshowed that the Haitianhinterlandwas
indeedpredominantly"African"butthatit was by no meansdegenerate.In the field of historiography,it was C.L.R.James's(1938) classic, BlackJacobins, 1 year laterthatbrokewith
the dominantapproach.

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Reinhardt/ HUSHINGUP THE HAITIANREVOLUTION 26 1

ThomasReinhardt,Ph.D., is currentlyaffiliatedwiththe FrobeniusInstitut,Frankfurt/


Main, Germany.He is doing research on Afrocentricityfunded by the Stiftung
Volkswagenwerk.

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