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Dialogue of Cultures

The U.S. Debt to Haiti

by Carlos Wesley

January 2004

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This past New Year's Day marked the bicentennial of the founding of the Republic of Haiti. That event, on Jan. 1, 1804, established in the former French colonial possession of St. Domingo (the island that today includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic), the second independent republic in the Americas, after the United States, as well as the first modern nation to be governed by blacks. It also marked the consolidation of the only successful slave insurrection in known history.

Those accomplishments were due to the intervention of one man, Toussaint L'Ouverture, who, through his leadership achieved what Spartacus of Rome did not: the self-liberation of a slave population.

Toussaint L'Ouverture

He also stopped the British, and later Napoleon, from reconquering the colony and re-establishing slavery; and struck an alliance with America's Founding Fathers, notably Alexander Hamilton, that made Haiti flourish.

The Haitians also made a significant contribution to the United States War of Independence, most notably at the battle of Savannah, but also at Yorktown and elsewhere; and through their struggle, forced Napoleon to give up the Louisiana Territory, thereby doubling the territory of the United States, and preventing the new-born American republic from again falling under the domination of the British, an outcome that was assured, as Thomas Jefferson noted, if New Orleans remained in Napoleon's hands.

The Slaves Rise Up

The story that culminated in Haiti's Declaration of Independence in 1804, had begun more than 12 years earlier, on the night of Aug. 21, 1791, when the slaves at Le Cap rose up, massacred their masters, and set fire to the plantations. White colonists fled the island, mostly to the U.S.

The uprising, however, was not spontaneous; it was largely instigated by Great Britain: “It was not the strong and irresistible impulse of human nature, groaning under oppression, that excited either of these classes to plunge their daggers into the bosoms of unoffending women and helpless infants,” wrote the British intelligence operative Brian Edwards—whose main loyalties were to the slave-owning planters of British Jamaica—in a book published in 1801.

“They were driven into those excesses—reluctantly driven—by the machinations of men calling themselves philosophers (the proselytizers and imitators in France, of the Old Jewry Associates in London),” added Edwards, referring to the “Amis de Noir,” the French counterpart of the British Abolitionist Society —the “Old Jewry Associates”—set up in Great Britain by William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson on orders from William Pitt, who took over the anti-slavery organization founded by the Marquis de Lafayette and his friends.

Edwards' charges are supported by Gouverneur Morris, the American envoy who reported to President George Washington in March of 1792, that Pitt was plotting to bring about the independence of St. Domingo, and that Clarkson, the abolitionist, had gone to Paris in connection with the plan. Then, there is the Ogé affair.

In 1790, Vincent Ogé landed in St. Domingo to lead an uprising. When he arrived, he found the French colonial authorities, who had his complete description, together with his portrait, waiting for him. It was established that he had been recruited in Paris by the circles of the Amis de Noirs, which by now, had been infiltrated by the British agent Robespierre and other Jacobins. The Amis sent Ogé to London where he received instructions and money from Clarkson, who then shipped him off to the U.S. to buy weapons for the failed uprising.

Britain had no interest in liberating Haiti's slaves, nor in ending slavery as such—the British had their own slave-labor plantations in their West Indian colonies, including in Haiti's neighbor, Jamaica. What Pitt intended was that Clarkson and the abolitionists would end the slave trade.

France, Britain's main rival, was heavily dependent on slave labor. Two-thirds of French overseas trade was with its Caribbean possessions, mainly St. Domingo; by some estimates, as much as one-fifth of France's gross national product came from the sugar, coffee, indigo, and other commodities produced by the slaves on the plantations.

End the slave trade, and you wipe out France's economy, reasoned Pitt, whose plan was to launch the insurrection, and then offer the distraught French colonists British protection, in exchange for their breaking with their mother country, and then, to re-enslave the blacks.

“The deplorable situation of the French West Indies seem loudly to crave the protection of Great Britain,” stated a memorandum sent by Lt. Col. John Chalmers to Prime Minister Pitt in December of 1794: “The advantages of San Domingo to Great Britain are innumerable and would give her a monopoly of sugar, indigo, cotton and coffee.” More compelling yet, “this island for ages would give such aid and force to industry as would be most happily felt in every part of the empire. It would prevent all migration from all three kingdoms to America” (emphasis added). Chalmers proposed to Pitt that England ally with Spain in order to keep France and the U.S. out of the West Indies.

Haitians Fight for U.S. Independence

It might have worked too, had it not being for Toussaint. Of course, the flames of liberty had been burning in Haiti long before the British began their machinations.

St. Domingo played a large role in the American War of Independence. Much of the weapons, ammunitions, and men France contributed to that cause went through St. Domingo. The Marquis de Lafayette himself travelled to America through St. Domingo. And many St. Domingans of all races and classes fought on the side of the American patriots throughout the Revolution, through the concluding battle at Yorktown.

Perhaps the most celebrated of these were the 500-800 free blacks and mulattoes who fought under the Vicomte Françoise de Fontages in the battle of Savannah, Georgia, in October of 1779, whose ranks reportedly included the then 17-year-old sergeant Henri Christophe, who later became one of Toussaint's generals, and later still King Christophe.

These veterans returned to Haiti imbued with the ideals of the American Revolution. After the fall of the Bastille in Paris in 1789, Haiti was also filled with plantation owners and “petit blancs” (white tradesmen, soldiers, minor officials, etc.) alike talking about “liberty, equality, fraternity.” These concepts struck a responsive chord, in particular, among the free blacks and mulattoes, many of whom owned slaves themselves, but whose rights were otherwise severely restricted.

All these ideas had an impact on the coachman from the Bréda plantation, Toussaint, whose job would have brought him often to town, where he would have been exposed to them. A frail child, he had the good fortune of belonging to relatively enlightened masters who did not force him to work the fields, and allowed him to learn to read and write; among his readings there was Julius Caesar's Commentaries, and other military writings, from which he learned the rudiments of strategy and tactics.

He also acquired a smattering of Church Latin, became an avid naturalist, concentrating on learning the medicinal properties of plants, and, despite his infirmities, he became such a superb horseman that he was called the “Centaur of the Savannah.”

Toussaint did not participate in the 1791 uprising. When hostilities broke out, he led his master to safety. Not one to act without all deliberate thought, he did not marry until he was about 40. “I chose my wife myself,” he said. “My masters wished me to marry a dashing young negress, but in matters of this kind I always managed to resist pressure contrary to my own idea of what constituted a happy union.”

In the same manner, he did not join the rebels until weeks after the insurrection had started. He was 48 years of age at the time.

Predictably, once the slaves had vented their rage, they had no idea of what to do next; they were ready to surrender and return to the plantations in exchange for amnesty for their leaders. Toussaint was chosen to conduct the negotiations. But the local whites refused to accept the slaves offer to capitulate, turning a deaf hear to the pleas from the three commissioners—Sonthonax, Polverel, and Ailhaud—sent by the National Assembly in Paris. The commissioners were aware of the planned British invasion, and knew that if St. Domingo fell it would spell disaster for the metropolis.

With the collapse of negotiations, Toussaint went over to the Spanish, who controlled the other two-thirds of Hispaniola, on the eastern side of the island, and who were allied with the British. Toussaint and the other leaders were commissioned as generals in the Spanish army, and began to fight the French forces on the western side.

But, on Aug. 29, 1793, “on the first estimation of an attack from the English,” writes Edwards, the French commissioners “resorted to the most desperate expedient to strengthen their party that imagination can conceive. They declared by proclamation all manner of slavery abolished, and pronounced the negro slaves to be thenceforward, free people, on condition of resorting to their standard.”

That same day Toussaint issued his own proclamation:

“Brothers and friends:

“I am Toussaint L'Ouverture. My name is perhaps known to you. I have undertaken to avenge you. I want liberty and equality to reign throughout St. Domingo. I am working towards that end. Come and join me, brothers, and combat by our side for the same cause.”

The British invaders, who also attacked Martinique, Guadeloupe, and other French colonies in the West Indies, found little effective opposition in Haiti—save from the forces led by the mulatto general Andre@ee Rigaud—until the French National Assembly officially abolished slavery, on Feb. 4, 1792. When he got the news, Toussaint broke with Spain and went over to the French side with 4,000 crack troops.

“The Spanish offered their protection to me and to all those who would fight for the cause of the kings, and having always fought in order to have liberty I accepted their offers, seeing myself abandoned by my brothers the French,” Toussaint would later explain. “But a later experience opened my eyes to those perfidious protectors, and having understood their villainous deceit, I saw clearly that they intended to make us slaughter one another in order to diminish our numbers so as to overwhelm the survivors and re-enslave them.”

By then it was known that the British had re-established slavery wherever the Union Jack had been raised in the West Indies.

Between Toussaint and Rigaud, the tide began to change. The Spanish army was defeated first, by 1795, largely by Toussaint. It took longer for the British, who kept pouring in reinforcements. But, by May of 1798, they too were largely defeated, having suffered between 20,000 dead, according to Edwards, and 60,000 dead, according to other chroniclers.

Having failed to win by military might, the British resorted to guile. As his surrender was being negotiated, Gen. Thomas Maitland, the British commander, offered Toussaint a secret treaty whereby Britain would open trade with Haiti. Toussaint, who had been appointed Lt. Governor of the island by France, knew that Haiti could not long survive without trading with the outside, so he accepted the offer.

Whereupon the so-called “Secret Conventions” were blared all over the pages of the British press: “By this treaty, the independence of that most valuable island is in fact recognized and will be secured against all efforts which the French can now make to recover it,” announced the Dec. 12 London Gazette—branding Toussaint as a “British agent,” and sowing distrust in the French government, and among his allies in Haiti.

Alliance with Hamilton

Toussaint then turned to the United States, were he found a great ally in Alexander Hamilton, and in Hamilton's friends in the John Adams Administration, especially Secretary of State Timothy Pickering.

At that time, the U.S. was facing increasing hostilities from France, its former ally. During the later half of the 1790s, France began efforts to take Louisiana back from Spain, to use it as a supply base for St. Domingo, instead of having to depend on the U.S.

It also began to attack American shipping. The U.S. responded by slapping an embargo on all French ports, including those in Haiti.

In November of 1798, Toussaint wrote to President Adams: “It is with great surprise and much pain that I see your nation's ships abandon, after so many years, the ports of St. Domingo, renouncing in that way, all commercial relations between us.” What has prompted the U.S. to take such steps, I do not know, wrote Toussaint. “I will limit myself only to reaching an understanding with you so that navigation can resume and the American flag can return to our ports. It is in your interest, as much as it is in ours, that this commerce be expanded.”

Later that same month, Secretary of State Pickering sent a letter to Jacob Meyer, the U.S. consul in St. Domingo, saying that if Toussaint no longer recognized France as the sovereign, the U.S. would resume trading. Right away Toussaint sent Joseph Bunuel to negotiate. Bunuel arrived in Philadelphia with Meyer in December of 1798, and Congress soon approved an amendment granting the President power to lift the embargo for any French port he deemed safe.

“I suppose everybody understands the main object of this provision is to open the commercial intercourse with St. Domingo,” wrote Pickering, in a letter dated Feb. 9, 1799, to Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury. “The President sees the immense advantage of the commerce of that island, and will undoubtedly give the act as liberal a construction as will be politically expedient,” Pickering continued. “Toussaint, if certain of our commerce, will, Meyer assures me, declare the whole island independent; confident in his power to defend it, provided we will allow of a free commercial intercourse by which the islanders may exchange their production for the supplies of our vessels will carry to them.”

Pickering went on to ask Hamilton to draft for Toussaint “a practicable and efficient plan for administering the island.” However, “it cannot be a republic,” he added. “Favor me with your ideas of the most eligible schemes.... [T]o what we advise Toussaint will listen.”

Hamilton wrote a letter to Pickering the same day, saying: “The United States must not be committed on the independence of St. Domingo—no guarantee, no formal treaties—nothing that can rise up in Judgment. It will be enough to let Toussaint be assured verbally but explicitly that upon his declaration of independence a commercial intercourse will be opened and continue while he maintains and gives due protection to our vessels and property. I incline to think the Declaration of Independence ought to precede.”

Hamilton, who also come from the West Indies (he was born on the island of Nevis, and grew up in St. Croix, in what are today the U.S. Virgin Islands), had a hand in setting U.S. policy towards the Caribbean, from the very founding of the Republic. He was instrumental in the naming of nearly every U.S. consul to St. Domingo starting with the first one, Sylvanus Bourne, appointed soon after the U.S. adopted its Constitution in 1789.

Hamilton Drafts Haiti's Constitution

Hamilton, like Benjamin Franklin, abhorred slavery and truly believed in the equality of man, would have wanted the St. Domingo experiment to succeed. In 1785, he co-founded the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, which played a key role in assisting those slaves brought to the U.S. by their white masters following the 1791 slave rebellion in St. Domingo, to gain their freedom. During the Revolutionary War he supported the plan put forward by the South Carolinian John Laurens, to free those slaves who joined the fight against the British.

“Their natural faculties are probably as good as ours,” wrote Hamilton in 1799 to John Jay, with whom he would later co-found the Manumission Society. “I foresee that this project will have to combat much opposition from prejudice and self-interest. The contempt we have been taught to entertain for blacks, make us fear many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience.” An essential part of Lauren plan, wrote Hamilton, “is to give them their freedom with their muskets,” adding: “This circumstance, I confess, has no small weight in inducing me to wish the success of the project; for the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favour of this unfortunate class of men.” Lauren's plan was rejected.

At the same time that Pickering was corresponding with Hamilton, he was also exchanging messages with Rufus King, the U.S. envoy to London. King approached the British Foreign Minister Lord Greenville, to find out what the British were intending, following the leak of the agreement between Maitland and Toussaint.

Greenville extended an unprecedented invitation to King—who had a personal stake in the St. Domingo trade—to attend a meeting of the British Cabinet. The British proposed to establish an exclusive joint company with the U.S. Such a company would run counter to American sentiment against monopolies, said King, and it would also be in violation of the Constitution. Pitt responded that while “it would be presumptuous in a stranger to give an opinion on the powers given to Congress by our Constitution,” St. Domingo warranted taking extraordinary measures. As King reported, Pitt said first, “our Southern States were open to emissaries of St. Domingo” coming to incite slave rebellions, and, second, it could become “the Resort and Refuge of Buccaneers and Pirates.”

Pitt added that, “if the proposed project affords a fair probability of preventing those Evils, it would be unfortunate that it should fail from a defect of Power in Congress; and perhaps we should think it expedient in that case to refer the plan to the respective states for the confirmation,” reported King. In other words, the British Prime Minister proposed to amend the U.S. Constitution, or violate it by bypassing Congress and going directly to the states!

King warned that Britain would cooperate with the U.S. if it went along with her plans, “but she will act without us in case we disagree as to the terms of a joint cooperation.”

Pickering replied to King on March 12, 1799: “We meddle not with the politics of the Island.... Toussaint will pursue what he deems in the interest of himself and his country men.” Added Pickering: “We fear no rivals. Toussaint respects the British; he is attached to us; he knows our position, but a few days sail from St. Domingo, and the promptitude with which we can supply his wants.”

Pickering also named Hamilton's boyhood friend and personal physician, Dr. Edward Stevens, as the new consul general to St. Domingo, with full diplomatic powers, in effect recognizing Toussaint's government, as Thomas Jefferson commented unfavorably.

After repeated entreaties from Pickering that he draft a “Constitutional plan so that Stevens can take it to Toussaint,” Hamilton sent the following, dated Feb. 21, 1799:

“No regular system of liberty will at present suit St. Domingo. The government if independent must be military.... Let there then be: A single executive to hold his place for life. The person to succeed on a vacancy to be either the officer next in command in the island at the time of death of his predecessor, or the person who by plurality of voices shall be designated within a certain time. ...

“All males within a certain age to be arranged in military corps and to be compellable to military service. ...

“Let the supreme judiciary authority be vested in twelve judges to be chosen for life by the generals or chief military officers.

“Trial by Jury in all criminal cases not military to be established.

“Every law inflicting capital or other corporal punishment or levying a tax or contribution in any shape to be proposed by the executive to an assembly composed of the Generals and commandants of Regiments for their sanction or rejection.

“The powers of war and treaty to be in the executive.

“The executive to be obliged to have three ministers: Finance, war and foreign affairs. ...”

There were a few other provisions in this draft, which Hamilton described as “thoughts that are very crude but perhaps they may afford some hints.”

Hamilton's draft became the core of the Constitution proclaimed by Toussaint in 1801, establishing St. Domingo as an independent nation in all but name—the first nation in modern history governed by blacks. Toussaint was named Governor-for-Life.

Stevens took off for St. Domingo in March of 1799 with instructions from Pickering and Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, also a member of Hamilton's circles, not to make any sort of arrangements with Britain. Those instructions soon had to be changed. General Maitland himself travelled to the U.S. to negotiate a joint approach for St. Domingo. When the U.S. balked, he hinted, not too subtly, that Britain would blockade the island. “Since the continuation and protection” of trade with St. Domingo rests “chiefly on the naval superiority of Great Britain,” Pickering wrote Stevens, the U.S. has no choice but to “act in perfect concert with the British.”

But Toussaint wanted nothing to do with the British. “Col. Grant will not be permitted to exercise his functions as British agent in St. Domingo, and Gen. Maitland ... has warmly solicited me to superintend the English commerce with this colony, until some resolution can be formed with Lord Balcarres on the subject,” Stevens reported to Pickering on May 23, 1799.

In another report, dated June 24, 1799, Stevens noted that the new agent from France, Philippe Roume, had gotten the mulatto General Rigaud to commence hostilities against Toussaint. “I hinted to you some time ago, my suspicion that Rigaud was privately supported by the French Government from the cruel Policy of weakening both Mulattoes and Negroes, by fomenting and keeping up a Contest between them. Every Day confirms me more in this Opinions, and I have now no doubt that the Agent [Roume] is the secret and diabolical Instrument employed by them for this purpose.”

Stevens noted that although the differences between Rigaud and Toussaint predated Roume's arrival, “I do not imagine that the Explosion would have taken place so soon, had it not been for the Circumstances that have recently occurred. The Publication of Gen. Maitland Treaty of the Môle, the many injudicious Paragraphs that were inserted in the english Papers gave an Air of Plausibility to a Tale, which Rigaud studiously propagated, that the Colony of St. Domingo was to be sold to the british Government and once more brought under the Yoke of Slavery. But when the Camilla [Maitland's ship] appeared off the Cape and British Officers were seen landing in their uniform, even the Friends of Toussaint were stagger'd. ...”*

Brits Try To Undermine Toussaint

By Jan. 16, 1800, Stevens was reporting that the British had captured a naval squadron sent by Toussaint against Rigaud. “I loath to impute the capture of the Squadron to the cruel policy on the Part of the English, of continuing the Contest between Genl. Toussaint and Rigaud, and of preventing either from gaining the Ascendancy, that, by this means, both may be ultimately be weakened” (emphasis in the original).

Toussaint still refused to deal with the British. “In regards to the trade of this Island, which is not inconsiderable, I have to observe that the Americans, it appears to me, have acquired a degree of ascendancy that perhaps it was not originally intended that they should enjoy, and while it not only militates against the fair pretensions and interest of the British traders, it give [the Americans] a degree of political influence which I do not hold it altogether proper they should posses, conceiving my Lord, that while we permit an intercourse with the peculiar description of government that exists on this island, we should be the principals in the business, and they should feel that they are solely indebted to [the] British connection for the benefits they received from a certain freedom of commerce,” wrote Edward Corbert, Great Britain's agent in St. Domingo, to Lord Balcarres, the Governor of Jamaica, in March of 1801 (emphasis added).

By July of 1800, Rigaud was defeated, and U.S. collaboration with Toussaint now extended beyond trade: the fledgling U.S. Navy was now deploying “Ships of War,” as Steven's referred to them, to help Toussaint consolidate his power. Toussaint had implemented the tax policy designed by Hamilton, which greatly streamlined collection, and increased the amount of revenue gathered by the state, beside stimulating trade and production. White planters who had gone into exile, were asked to return, and their property rights fully restored, except to their slaves, of course. Even during the rule of slavery, agricultural production in St. Domingo required more than a whip; among other things, there was an extensive irrigation system built, which explained why an acre of land in St. Domingo yielded two-thirds more sugar than the same area in British-run Jamaica. But to maintain that system required the skills of the white planters, as well as their capacity for organizing production.

For the blacks, slavery had meant back-breaking labor on the plantations. Emancipation meant, above all, no longer having to work on the plantations. Were that to continue, the economy would have collapsed, and the country re-enslaved. Toussaint forced them back to the land. “In order to secure our liberties, which are indispensable to our happiness, every individual must be usefully employed, so as to contribute to the public good and general tranquility,” explained Toussaint. “You will easily conceive, Citizens, that Agriculture is the support of the government; since it is the foundation of Commerce and Wealth, the source of Arts and Industry, it keeps everybody employed, as being the mechanism of all Trades.”

One-fourth of all revenues from the plantation now went to the workers; corporal punishment was forbidden; and the work day was fixed at nine hours, probably for the first time ever in history. Another share of the earnings went to the state, and with this revenue Toussaint built roads, schools (although Napoleon refused to send him teachers, of which there was great need); bridges, even whole cities; and paid for the defense of the country. As much as 6 million francs to purchase arms that he deposited with the banker Stephen Girard in Philadelphia, were misappropriated by Girard, according to one of Girard's former employees.

Hamilton's program paid off. Under Toussaint's administration, within 18 months, production had been restored to two-thirds the level it had been during the most prosperous times before the Revolution, this, despite the ravages of a decade of nearly uninterrupted warfare.

But while providing for the material well-being of his fellow citizens, he did not neglect their moral uplifting.

“In all of his proclamations, laws and decrees,” the historian C.L. R. James tells us, Toussaint “insisted on moral principle, the necessity for work, respect for law and order, pride in San Domingo, veneration of France. ...

“To lift the people to some understanding of the duties and responsibilities of freedom and citizenship.”

Everything began to change once the U.S. Federalists broke up into factions. Pickering and other Hamilton allies quit Adams' Cabinet. The split in the Federalist ranks led to Adams' defeat in his bid for a second term as President, leaving Congress to break the tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr in the 1800 Presidential elections.

Jefferson Opposes Haiti

As soon as President Jefferson came into office, on March 4, 1801, he adopted a policy against the government of the former slaves.

Stevens was replaced by Tobias Lear, who, unlike his predecessor, was given no diplomatic powers.

Jefferson suggested that once France and Great Britain again made peace, the U.S. should act in concert with them “to confine the pest to the island.” St. Domingo, he said, would be a suitable “receptacle” in which to confine blacks transplanted to the Western Hemisphere who were no longer wanted in civilized society. Toussaint “might be willing,” said Jefferson, “to receive even that description which would be exiled for acts deemed criminal by us, but meritorious perhaps to him.”

Jefferson also let Napoleon's Foreign Minister Talleyrand, know that the U.S. was willing to furnish the French army and navy with everything they needed if they decided to reconquer the island.

On Oct. 1, 1801, Britain and France agreed to the Peace of Amiens, and France asked the British if they would object to their reconquering St. Domingo. The British had no objection; they even offered to provide supplies from Jamaica; they did ask to send an observer fleet along for the invasion.

Assured of American and British support, Napoleon fitted out a massive invasion fleet despite the objections of his wife, Josephine, who received regular remittances from Toussaint from a plantation in which she had an interest in St. Domingo.

“All the whites have been handed over to the ferociousness of the blacks,” Napoleon once said. “If I had been in Martinique, I would have been for the English.... I am for the whites, because I am white. I have no other reason, for that one is a good one.”

Accompanying the commander of the expedition, Victor-Emmanuel Lecrec, was his wife Pauline, who was Napoleon's sister, and two of Toussaint's children who had been studying in France. The French forces, numbering some 20,000 men, landed in February 1802. Napoleon's instructions to Lecrec was to proceed by stages: First, convince the Haitians he was there only to restore French authority; nothing would be taken away from them. Second, disarm the blacks and disband their armies. Third, deport Toussaint and his key aides. Fourth and last: restore slavery.

At first Lecrec met stiff resistance, but it soon collapsed. Toussaint's generals started surrendering one after the other, even his own brother Paul Louverture, and by May of 1802, Toussaint himself surrendered to Lecrec, who let him retire to his farm.

The crumbling of the resistance was due to several factors, key among them was the Moyse affair, in the estimation of French intelligence, and also later to King Christophe. A few months before Lecrec's invasion, Moyse, one of Toussaint's bravest generals had incited the blacks to rebel against the white planters and Toussaint's 1801 Constitution. Toussaint responded by having Moyse court-martialed and executed, an action many St. Domingans interpreted as Toussaint siding with the whites against the blacks.

But, perhaps even more important was the withdrawal of the support of the U.S., which joined with the British and the French against St. Domingo.

One month after his surrender, Lecrec ordered Toussaint arrested, along with his wife and children and members of his staff, all of whom were put on a boat to France. In Brest, the children and their mother were separated from one another, and Toussaint was locked up at the Fort de Joux, in the Alps, on the Swiss border.

“If I were to record the various services which I have rendered the Government I would need many volumes, and even then should not finish them; and as a reward for all these services, I have been arbitrarily arrested at St. Domingo, bound, put on board ship like a criminal, without regard for my rank, without the least consideration. Is this the reward for my labors?”

In his Memoir Toussaint writes: “My liberty is taken from me; I am separated from all that I hold dearest in the world, from a venerable father, a hundred and five years old, who needs my assistance, from a dearly loved wife, who, I fear, separated from me, cannot endure the afflictions which overwhelm her, and from my cherished family, who made the happiness in my life.

“On my arrival in France, I wrote to the First Consul and to the Minister of Marine, giving them an account of my situation, and asking their assistance for my family and myself.... [I]nstead of this, I have received the half-worn dress of a soldier and shoes in the same condition. Did I need this humiliation added to my misfortunes?”

Denied visitors, kept in rigid isolation, his supplies carefully restricted, and provided with only threadbare clothes for mid-winter in the Alps, after having spent all his life in the tropics, Toussaint died of pneumonia on April 7, 1803.

Haiti's Resistance Triumphs

In Haiti, Gen. Charles Belair was organizing the resistance anew, but Toussaint's General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who had gone over to Lecrec, captured and executed Belair. That summer Napoleon restored slavery in Martinique and Guadeloupe, and it became clear to Toussaint's former generals that it was only a matter of time before slavery was reimposed on St. Domingo. On Oct. 10, 1802 the mulatto General Clairvaux joined the black rebels in the plains, and within days, he was followed by the mulatto General Alexandre Pétion (who later became President of Haiti), Christophe, and Dessalines.

Lecrec died of yellow fever soon after. He was succeeded by the Vicomte de Rochambeau, son of the general who led the French forces at Yorktown. Unlike his father, who went to prison and into exile for his opposition to the bloody excesses of the Jacobin Terror, the Vicomte was a sadistic butcher. “No ration or allowance will be allowed for the maintenance of these dogs,” he once instructed one of his officers. “You are to feed Negroes to them.”

But his brutality could not prevent his defeat at the hands of the former slaves, and Rochambeau surrendered to the British—with whom France had renewed hostilities—in November of 1803, rather than capitulate to the St. Domingans.

In all, some 60,000 Frenchmen died in the reconquest attempt.

“I ought to have been satisfied with governing it through the medium of Toussaint,” Napoleon was to say years later in prison at St. Helena. He explained that he attacked St. Domingo because he had been induced to believe that Toussaint was a British agent, and he had yielded to his ministers, notably Talleyrand, “hurried along, as it were, by the clamors of the colonists, who formed a considerable party at Paris, and were, besides ... either nearly all royalists, or in the pay of the English faction.”

In a manifesto issued in 1814, ten years after Haiti's Declaration of Independence, King Christophe said that the white colonists “had the impudence to claim as their slaves men who had made themselves eminent by the most brilliant services to their country, in both the civil and military department.” This “liberty-hating faction of the colonists, of those traffickers in human flesh ... had not ceased to impregnate the successive Governments of France with their projects,” said the manifesto.

“In favor of independence under the Constitutional Assembly, terrorist under the Jacobins, and finally zealous Bonapartists, they knew how to assume the mask of any party, in order to obtain place and favor. It was thus, by their insidious counsels, [that] they urged Bonaparte to undertake this iniquitous expedition to Hayti.”

Before Rochambeau's surrender, Napoleon had realized that the cause was lost, and that he no longer needed Louisiana, which Spain had agreed to return to French sovereignty. New Orleans is “the one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy,” Jefferson wrote in 1802 to his Ambassador in France, and expressed his fear of a French presence on the American continent: “The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within our low water mark,” he added. “From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.”

But with the St. Domingans about to achieve victory, and the renewal of hostilities with England, Napoleon had no use for Louisiana, and decided to sell it to the U.S., which doubled its territory in one fell swoop.

“To the deadly climate of St. Domingo and to the courage and obstinate resistance of its black inhabitants, are we indebted for the obstacles which delayed the colonization of Louisiana until the auspicious moment when a rupture between England and France? gave a new turn to the projects of the latter,” wrote Alexander Hamilton in a editorial published in the New York Evening Post of July 5, 1803.

Jefferson thanked the Haitians by ceasing all trade with them in 1804, as demanded by Talleyrand, giving the British a monopoly.

The historian C.L.R. James relates that Dessalines, who crowned himself emperor of Haiti soon after independence, ordered the massacre of all whites, except the British and Americans, early in 1805. The act has been labelled a “typical example of black savagery.” The truth, says James, is that when the Congress that proclaimed Haiti's independence met at Gonaives, there were three Englishmen present, one of them being Cathcart, an agent of the British government. They told Dessalines that England would trade with Haiti only “when the last of the whites had fallen under the axe,” writes James.

“Those civilized cannibals wanted to drive a wedge between Haiti and France to break all possibilities of unity.... This is one of the most infamous and unjustifiable crimes in this wretched history.”


It was not until 1862, that Sen. Charles Sumner, a disciple of John Quincy Adams, managed to get a resolution extending diplomatic recognition to Haiti approved by the Senate. It was promptly signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 5.

That act, and the naming some years later of Frederick Douglass as U.S. envoy, mark the high-points of U.S. Haitian-relations since the Administration of John Adams.

Since then, it has been downhill. There was the invasion under Woodrow Wilson, and the occupation which followed, during which hordes of anthropologists were let loose to brainwash Haitians into believing that voodoo was their true religion. It was those same anthropologists cum ethnographers that picked up an obscure physician, François Duvallier, sent him to the U.S. for training, and returned him to Haiti as the grand priest of that religion.

The indignities have not stopped: USAID spends millions to promote Haitian Creole, a language spoken nowhere else in the world, which insures Haiti's isolation; but nearly nothing is spent to eradicate the illiteracy that afflicts the overwhelming majority of Haitians. U.S. bayonets reimposed the misrule of the modern-day Jacobin, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on the Haitian people, who now suffer from one of the lowest standards of living in the world; are plagued by one of the highest levels of HIV-AIDS; and see their country blockaded by U.S. warships, which “confine the pest to the island,” as Jefferson desired.

By undoing these wrongs, Americans today have the opportunity to repay Haiti for the Louisiana territory, and for the blood that Haitians shed for the U.S. at Savannah and Yorktown.

*Spelling and capitalization in quotes, throughout, are retained from the original.

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