The middle period of the Haitian Revolution is the story of Leger Felicite Sonthonax, French Commissioner to San Domingue, and the rise ofToussaint Louverture.
Sonthonax worked tirelessly to save the colony for France. Toussaint worked tirelessly to free the slaves. Each was jealous ofhis power. It was inevitable that they would be in conflict, andToussaint ultimately won this confrontation, shipping Sonthonax back toFrance. However, before he left Sonthonax assured his position inHaitian history by abolishing slavery from San Domingue. Toussaint,after initially fighting against the French and for the Spanish, cameback over to the French defeating not on the Spanish, but also drivingthe British out of San Domingue.
The French, fearing Toussaint's growing power and suspectingthat he had sentiments toward independence, sent special agent ThomasHedouville to save the colony for France. douville managed to hammerhome the fatal wedge between Toussaint and mulatto general, AndreRigaud. Hedouville, safely back in France, could watch the unfoldingcivil war between Toussaint and Rigaud.
TOUSSAINT AND INDEPENDENCE
Thomas Hedouville fled Haiti on Oct. 22, 1798. Toussaint wasthe leading figure in the colony and playing both ends of his spectrum-- apparent loyalty to France; apparent sympathy to the United States'pushing San Domingue toward independence. Not only was the U.S.,herself a newly free nation, a model that Toussaint might follow, butSecretary of State Timothy Pickering was presenting a very friendly andsupportive position. Finally, Toussaint felt much more comfortable withthe small, fledgling United States than with either Britain or France. The primary interest which Toussaint felt toward the United States wasthe better deal San Domingue could get in trade. France imposed theexclusif on San Domingue. Under this law of colony to metropole, SanDomingue could only trade with France, who then had the power to setthe prices. Further, manufacturing of finished goods from the raw farmproducts was forbidden by France. All manufacturing of San Domingangoods was reserved for France. The United States, on the other hand,paid a more competitive price for San Domingan goods and placed norestrictions on their form. Even the landowners supported trade with theUnited States. At first it would seem that this was not in theireconomic interests. Sonthonax had freed the slaves and Toussaint wouldcertainly uphold this emancipation. This meant that the former slavesbecame paid field hands, and the landowners would lose approximately50% of their income to the government and to farm labor. Nonetheless,the 50% that they could earn on the free market was more than 100% ofwhat France was willing to pay under the exclusif.
Nonetheless, Toussaint kept up the appearance of loyalty toFrance and appointed Philippe Roume, French agent in Santo Domingo, toreplace Hedouville as France's representative in San Domingue. Toussaint's loyalty to France was not all posturing. There was a verystrong call of culture from France. This was especially true among theaffranchais, the blacks and mulattos freed before the generalemancipation. They wanted to separate themselves from the slaves. They had adopted French culture and customs as their identity, scorninganything African. They spoke French, dressed in European fashion,practiced the Catholic religion and, in general, idealized France andFrench culture. Even Toussaint was pulled in this direction and had astrong bond to France.
ROUME, TOUSSAINT AND RIGAUD
Roume continued the work of Hedouville, fostering the growingconflict between Toussaint and Rigaud. Rigaud, an extreme mulattochauvinist, worried France because of his readiness to kill the whitesand blacks. Toussaint's independence tendencies frightened the Frenchtoo, so they sought the safety of keeping either Rigaud or Toussaintfrom having complete power. However, by pushing Rigaud and Toussaintinto civil war, France assured itself that one or the other was likelyto emerge a stronger person from his victory.
In January, 1799 the formal break came in a dispute over whoruled Petit and Grand Goave. Roume had included the towns inToussaint's authority, but Rigaud walked out of the meeting and civilwar was inevitable. By June, Toussaint pressured Roume into declaringRigaud in rebellion.
THE WAR OF KNIVES
On June 16, 1799 Rigaud attackedPetit Goave, putting many people to death with the sword. It was fromRigaud's violence with the sword that this civil war got it's name --The War of Knives.
The first five months of war were characterized by gruesomeexcesses on both sides. Finally, by mid-November, the war centered onRigaud's stronghold at Jacmel, defended by Alexander Petion. Jean-Jacques Dessalines was the besieging general for Toussaint. Dessalines was to become the first president, then emperor of freeHaiti in 1804, and Petion was to become the president of The Republicof Haiti in 1807. On March 11, 1800 Jacmel fell, virtually endingRigaud's resistance. Nonetheless, he hung on until July, finallyfleeing to France until he returned as part of Napoleon's invasionforce in 1802.
Toussaint had a reputation for clemency and avoiding unnecessary bloodshed. But, he appointed the blood thirsty and violent Dessalinesas pacifier of the south. Dessalines butchered many mulattos (theestimates range from 200 to 10,000!). When Toussaint finally haltedthe massacre he reportedly said: I did not want this! I told him toprune the tree, not to uproot it.
THE CONQUEST OF SANTO DOMINGO
By August, 1800 Toussaintwas ruler of all San Domingue and no foreign power was on San Domingansoil. He was governor general of the whole colony. However, SantoDomingo, present day Dominican Republic, was an intolerable situationto him. The Spanish had ceded Santo Domingo to the French in theTreaty of Bale on July 22, 1795. Nonetheless, the Spanish never turnedthe colony over to the French, and the French, unsure of Toussaint'sloyalties, never pressed the issue. Spain's presence in Santo Domingowas in France's interest. They could keep an eye on Toussaint. Buthe now set out to claim France's (and his own) authority over theentire island of Hispaniola.
After initial resistance on the part of Roume, who, recall, hadbeen the French agent in Santo Domingo before Toussaint appointed himto the San Domingue post, Roume was pressured into approving the unification movement. However, Spanish Captain-General Don Joaquin Garcia y Moreno was unwilling to turn over command to black Haitians. He prepared to resist, and his resistance gave Roume the courage to rescind his order. This gave Toussaint a pretext to charge Roume withdisloyalty to France -- after all, France owned Santo Domingo by treaty-- and Roume was held prisoner for nearly a year. Meanwhile Toussaintmassed his troops for the invasion of Santo Domingo. He encounteredonly tentative resistance and entered the capital, Santo Domingo Cityon Jan. 26, 1801. He quickly consolidated his power and emerged as thegovernor-general of Hispaniola.
TOUSSAINT'S CONSTITUTION: THE DOCUMENT THAT TWEAKED NAPOLEON
On July 26, 1801 Toussaint published and promulgated a new constitution for San Domingue which abolished slavery, but did allow the importation of free blacks to work the plantations. The constitution recognized the centrality of sugar plantations to the SanDomingue economy, and accepted Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Perhaps two of the most significant items were that Toussaint wasgovernor-general for life and that all men from 14 to 55 years of agewere in the state militia. Nonetheless, the constitution professedloyalty and subservience to France. The most galling thing forNapoleon was that Toussaint published and proclaimed the constitutionwithout prior approval from France and the First Consul.
Thus by July of 1801 Toussaint had emerged as the leading figurein San Domingue, and seemed headed toward declaring an independent republic. He had defeated the Spanish and British, maneuvered the French Commissioners out of the colony, defeated Andre Rigaud in a Civil War, taken possession of the eastern portion of the island, eradicated slavery on the entire island and promulgated a constitutionin which he was declared governor general for life.
Both Britain and the United States treated with Toussaint asthough he were the head of an independent state, though Toussaint's constitution and public demeanor claimed that he was a loyal Frenchcitizen who had saved the colony for France.
Virtually no one believed Toussaint's claims of loyalty toFrance. Britain and the United States wanted to deal with Toussaint toensure an end of French privateering from San Dominguan waters. Bothnations hoped to contain the slave rebellion to San Domingue alone. Both nations strove to out do one another in establishing traderelations with Toussaint's government, in defiance of France'sregulations for the colony. Thus Napoleon might well be excused if hetook with a healthy dose of salt Toussaint's claims of being a loyalson and protector of French rights in San Domingue.
For Napoleon, the die was cast. This gilded African, as hecalled Toussaint, would have to go. Bonaparte chafed at the power ofthe black first consul, but there was little he could do while Francewas at war with Britain. However, on Oct. 1, 1801 France and Britainsigned a peace treaty and Napoleon's hands were free to deal withToussaint.
It is important to note that Bonaparte's personal detestation of Toussaint was only one factor in his decision to retake San Domingue to more trustworthy French rule. The French Directory, before Napoleon's coup d'etat of Nov. 9, 1799, had already set a West Indian policy in which San Domingue was the center piece. Napoleon inherited thisforeign policy and inherited the constant political pressure of theFrench planters who had been disenfranchised by the liberation of theslaves. Bonaparte needed the wealth of San Domingue and there seemed agrave danger that Toussaint would lead the colony toward independence. All of these issues, and others, weighed in Bonaparte's decision tolaunch an invasion against his own governor-general of San Domingue.
THE LACLERC INVASION
Once committed, Napoleon sent a well-outfitted troop of 12,000soldiers under the leadership of his brother-in-law, General CharlesLaclerc. In Laclerc's invasion force Toussaint was going to have todeal with many old enemies including Alexander Petion and Andre Rigaud.
Napoleon gave Laclerc a set of secret instructions whichdemanded Laclerc give his word of honor about many things and thenviolate it. The general plan was to first promise the black leadershipplaces of authority in a French-dominated government. Then, oncehaving established control, to move to the second stage of arrestingand deporting any black leaders who seemed troublesome, especiallyToussaint Louverture. The third and final stage was not only to disarmall the blacks, but to return the colony to slavery and thepre-revolutionary colonial state. Virtually no one in San Domingue wasfooled by Laclerc's protestations of benevolent purpose.
On Feb. 2, 1802 Laclerc arrived in the bay of Cap Francois, thecity governed and defended by Henri Christophe, one of Toussaint's mostimportant generals, and later on Haiti's second president and first andonly king. Christophe would not allow the French to disembark, and prepared to burn the city to the ground if they tried. Laclerc pressed the issue and, true to his word, Christophe torched this Paris of the Americas. The black armies retreated to the interior to fight aguerilla war and Laclerc took over a huge pile of ashes. The finalstage of the Haitian Revolution had begun.
THE LACLERC CAMPAIGN
Phase 1: Crete-a-Pierrot
Laclerc's forces quickly took most of the costal towns, thoughHaitians burned many of them before they retreated. Eventually adecisive moment came as Dessalines and his second in command,Lamartiniere, were asked to hold the small former British fort,Crete-a-Pierrot, an arsenal of the Haitians.
Both sides claimed victory. It sort of depends on what measureone uses. The French ended up with the fort, but they lost twice asmany men as the Haitians, and were shocked to discover how well theblacks could fight in a pitched battle. The Haitians took great solacein their ability to hold off the French for so long. For the rest ofthe war they used Crete-a-Pierrot as a rallying cry. After abandoningthe fort, the Haitians retreated into the Cahos mountains and fought aguerrilla war from then on.
Phase 2: Surrender
By April 26 Christophe and his troops surrendered to Laclerc. Toussaint followed on May 1st. Even though things had not gone asNapoleon planned, within two months Laclerc had achieved Napoleon'sfirst goal--pacification of the leaders. Now Laclerc was free toimplement phase 2 -- the arrest and deportation of trouble makers.
THE ARREST AND DEPORTATION OF TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE
After Toussaint's surrendered, he ostensibly retired to hisplantation at Ennery to live out his days. However, there is a gooddeal of historical controversy about this. Some argue that Toussaintimmediately began to plot anew against the French. I really don't knowwhich way the factual evidence leans, but the logic of the situationleads me to suspect that these charges against Toussaint were true. First of all it is not like Toussaint to simply walk away and abandonthe struggle of the past 10 years. Further, he had to have suspectedthat the French would reinstate slavery and the old colonial system. Again, it's not like Toussaint to quietly acquiesce in such aturnabout. Finally, he must have known how weakened the French werebecoming from the ravages of yellow fever. How long and how seriouslycould the French fight with only a fraction of their men?
But all of this is mere logical speculation, not factual knowledge. What we do know are the details of Laclerc's dishonorable subterfuge to arrest and deport Toussaint. On June 7 Toussaintreceived a message from French General Brunet to meet with him at a plantation near Gonaives. Brunet assured Toussaint that he'd beperfectly safe with the French, who were, after all, gentlemen!
Shortly after arriving at the plantation he was arrested andshipped off to prison in France. Toussaint was taken to Fort de Joux,a cold, damp prison near the Swiss border. Toussaint soon witheredaway and died on April, 7, 1803. So much for French honor!
THE FINAL UP-RISING AND FRENCH DEFEAT
The dishonorabletreatment of the aging Toussaint was not only a moral outrage, but apractical error of irreversible scope. The Haitians were so incensed,and recognized that if Toussaint could be so treated, so could anyoneelse. The masses realized the French must be defeated once and forall.
Laclerc made a second tactical blunder upon the heels ofToussaint's arrest. He immediately began a disarmament campaign,planning to disarm all the blacks. The net effect was to open the eyesof many and drive thousands back under the banner of the revolution. From June to October, 1802 Laclerc's soldiers carried on this mainly unsuccessful campaign.
During this period both Dessalines and Christophe were workingwith the French. Dessalines was a particularly vicious warrior againstthe rebels. However, there is a strong case to be made that he wasmore interested in his own position of power than anything else.
Working with the French he could have it both ways. On the onehand, if the French prevailed he was becoming increasinglyindispensable to whatever order prevailed, thus assuring his positionthere. On the other hand, he was capturing and killing rebel leaders. Thus if the revolution were to once again catch fire, he was in aposition to bolt the French and take up leadership of the rebels, whichis exactly what he did. Haitian independence and black rule seem tohave been honestly desired by Dessalines. But, first and foremost hewanted Jean-Jacques Dessalines to be an important power in whatevergovernment prevailed in San Domingue.
As the situation deteriorated for the French, Dessalines,Christophe, Petion and Clairveaux all conspired with rebel leaders. OnOct. 13, 1802, Petion and Clairveaux deserted to the rebels. Christophe and Dessalines followed and within days only Cap Francois,Port-au-Prince and Le Cayes were fully in French hands. The finalbattle had begun.
THE ARCAHAYE CONFERENCE AND THE DEATH OF LACLERC
Nov. 2, 1802 the rebel leaders met at Arcahaye, a small villagesouth of St. Marc. The leaders elected Dessalines as rebelcommander-in-chief and chose the red and blue flag as their banner. The story is that Dessalines took the tricolored French flag -- a bandeach of red, blue and white, and tore out the white, announcing to thecheering assembled mass that Haiti, too, would drive out the whites. Certainly such a dramatic symbol, if it actually occurred, would havebeen an inspiring and motivating gesture.
On the same day as the Arcahaye conference, Laclerc died ofyellow fever. General Rochambeau took command. He was an able andfearless commander, and reinforced by another 10,000 troops inmid-November, carried on the French defense for another year.
By the time of the Arcahaye conference most of the maroons hadalso come to see that the French were the true enemy. Prior to thisthe maroons had been separated and vacillating, not really joining therevolution, but fighting an independent war of self-interest whereverand whenever it served their purposes. But now they joined in unifiedfashion with the rest of the Haitians to drive the French from theisland for once and for all, and to preserve the nation as a free,non-slave entity.
DESSALINES AND ROCHAMBEAU
Each side was under the leadership of a capable and ruthlessleader. Each side traded atrocity with atrocity, the particular description of which are sickening and defy credulity of even those used to human inhumanity to humans. Torture, rape, brutal murders,mass murders of non-combatants, mutilation, forcing families to watch the torture, rape and death of loved onces and on and on. The last year of the Haitian Revolution was as savage as any conflict one can read of in human history. Thomas Ott says this had become a war of racial extermination on both sides.
Despite the ravages of yellow fever and the increasing numbers of Haitians joining the revolution, Rochambeau's forces made considerable gains in early 1803. Napoleon, heartened by the return ofslavery to Guadeloupe, sent a further reinforcement of 15,000 troops. Rochambeau seized the moment to launch a vigorous attack on the rebels.
A NEW EUROPEAN WAR HELPS SHIFT THE BALANCE
On May 18, 1803 Europe was again plunged into war, and Britaindeclared war on France. Dessalines was now a welcomed ally of Britainwho provided arms and naval support. At the same time this Europeanwar announced the end of reinforcements and supplies for the French. The conditions were set for a reversal of the fortunes of therevolutionaries.
By the end of October the French were reduced to holding only LeCap and were besieged and in danger of starvation. Finally on November19, 1803 Rochambeau begged for a 10 day truce to allow the evacuationof Le Cap, thus giving Haiti to the Haitians.
INDEPENDENCEDAY, JANUARY 1, 1804
After 13 years of revolutionary activity France was formallyremoved from the island and Haitian independence declared, only thesecond republic in the Americas. The country was in ruins, the massesmainly uneducated and struggling for survival. The western world'slarge and interested nations, the United States, Britain, Spain and, ofcourse, France, were all skeptical and nervous about an all-blackrepublic. After all, the large nations were all slave-owning states.
Born in dire straights and struggling, nonetheless the nationcame to be through the efforts of the revolutionaries.