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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bonapartism and Haiti

Haiti, started as a paradise of indigenous Arawak people's. Christopher Columbus admired the Island of "Hispaniola" so much he had it conquered. It also was known as "Santa Dominica" by the Spaniards. But apparently the Indiginous Arawaks called it the "Land of Mountains" or Haiti (also Taino Hayiti) []. The land was enslaved by Spaniards, whose violent methods of land management over-worked, starved and enabled epidemics which killed their tenants both workers and rebels alike. To replace the dead the Spaniards brought in African Slaves. Even so the Spaniards, not being able to find a productive long term crop and keep their slaves alive wound up abandoning much of the Island to local herdsmen (Buccaneers), escaped slaves, pirates, foreigners and escaped sailors since many sailors were essentially treated as slaves. This led to the Western Part of the Island being dominated by French and Dutch Pirates and eventually to the Western part becoming a French Colony. The Eastern Part remained a Spanish Colony, but the Western part became a massive slave state producing Tobacco, Indigo, Cotton and Cacao. Prompting massive importation of African slaves to replace systematically killed by disease, overwork, hunger and oppression. Over time the French added Sugar Cane and Coffee. Haiti became a French powerhouse for producing valuable goods for it's slave owners. And a hell for the slaves.

Inspired by the principles and actions of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Slaves all over the world heard of the principles of the American Revolution despite laws banning reading, education or conversation on the subject. After all a slave owner, Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence to include this line:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

It doesn't matter if they weren't thinking of poor whites, much less women or black folks. They were think of rallying the troops to fight the British, but one has to be careful in uttering mighty words. They are arrows that go where they will go and usually can't be retrieved until they do so. Maybe Jefferson did mean it. Certainly many of the Elites trying to take over from British Elites wanted those codicils and provisos. But the rest of us can, and do, take those words on their face value. "All Men" means "all men", not "all free men" or "all white males with property." There is good reason why folks think the Declaration of Independence should be part of the constitution and some cretins think it already is. Universal declarations do apply universally, no matter how much greedy people, politicians or lawyers want to add codicils and catch 22s to them. The slaves of Haiti revolted. They had a right to. Slavery is unjust. The Wikipedia article quotes:

"Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat excretement? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man-eating dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?" [Taken from History of Haiti

What happened to the Indians (near extermination/holocaust) was nearly being repeated with black slaves. Slavery demanded an ever flowing replenishment of slaves from Africa as long as the plantations were going. In the USA when they abolished the slave trade greedy small scale slavers took to "breeding" slaves like cattle to be sold to the plantations. Plantations were farming factories that depended on slave labor to be profitable, yet were constantly in debt to banks due to the avariciousness of their owners, vagaries of climate, and extractive agricultural methods. They picked on Black people because they were the best at agriculture and could endure the harsh climates. And eventually those people revolted in Haiti, and would have revolted in the United States had not our local Governments used militia and private troops to hold them down.

The George Mason Article notes that before the revolt:

"The Caribbean colonies were quick to respond to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. The white planters of Saint Domingue sent delegates to France to demand representation at the new National Assembly, as did the mulattos. Several prominent deputies in the National Assembly belonged to the Society of the Friends of Blacks, which put forth proposals for the abolition of the slave trade and the amelioration of the lot of slaves in the colonies. When these proposals fell on deaf ears, some deputies sympathetic to blacks turned to arguing that full civil and political rights should be granted to free blacks in the colonies. Before long, radical journalists in Paris began to take up the cause of black slaves, pushing for the abolition of slavery, or at least for a more positive view of the Africans. The pioneering feminist and playwright, Olympe de Gouges, also wrote a pamphlet challenging the colonial pro-slavery lobby to improve the lot of the blacks." []

The slave owners of Haiti foolishly thought they could revolt against their masters and not expect their own slaves to revolt against them:

"the white planters mounted their own counter attack and even contemplated demanding independence from France....In October 1789 [the royal governor of Saint Domingue] reported that the slaves considered the new revolutionary cockade (a decoration made up of red, white, and blue ribbons worn by supporters of the Revolution) a "signal of the manumission of the whites . . . the blacks all share an idea that struck them spontaneously: that the white slaves kill their masters and now free they govern themselves and regain possession of the land." In other words, the black slaves hoped to follow in the footsteps of their white predecessors, freeing themselves, killing their masters, and taking over the land." [chap8a.html]

They weren't about to "do the right thing" because:

" Fabulous wealth depended on slavery, as did shipbuilding, sugar-refining, and a host of subsidiary industries. Slaveowners and shippers did not intend to give up their prospects without a fight. The U.S. refusal to give up slavery or the slave trade provided added ammunition to support their position." [chap8a.html]

And the planters didn't even want to extend those rights to free blacks and "mulattos" (mixed race)

"The March 1790 decree said nothing about the political rights of free blacks, who continued to press their demands both in Paris and back home, but to no avail. In October 1790, 350 mulattos rebelled in Saint Domingue. French army troops cooperated with local planter militias to disperse and arrest them. In February 1791 the mulatto leaders, including James Ogé, were publicly executed. Nevertheless, on 15 May 1791, under renewed pressure from the abbé Grégoire and others, the National Assembly granted political rights to all free blacks and mulattos who were born of free mothers and fathers. Though this proviso limited rights to a few hundred free blacks, the white colonists furiously pledged to resist the application of the law." []

The result was that free blacks and mulattos united with their unfree brethren:

"Just a few months later, on 22 August 1791, the slaves of Saint Domingue rose up in rebellion, initiating what was to become over the next several years the first successful slave revolt in history. In response, the National Assembly rescinded the rights of free blacks and mulattos on 24 September 1791, prompting them once again to take up arms against the whites. Slaves burned down plantations, murdered their white masters, and even attacked the towns. Fighting continued as the new Legislative Assembly (it replaced the National Assembly in October 1791) considered free black rights again at the end of March 1792. On 28 March, the assembly voted to reinstate the political rights of free blacks and mulattos. Nothing was done about slavery." [Chap8b]

Toussaint L'Ouverture

In Haiti the 1791 revolt was quelled but in 1793 the slave revolts started to be more successful, partly because capable leadership emerged along with the usual Social Dominators. Toussaint L'Ouverture was among those "free blacks" who had taught himself to read and right and acquired his liberty. And he was a natural leader and a smart general:

"Out of the fighting emerged one of the most remarkable figures of the era, Toussaint L'Ouverture, a slave who learned to read and write and in the uprising rose to become the leading general of the slave rebels. Toussaint faced incredible obstacles in creating a coherent resistance." [chap8b]

Toussaint L'Ouverture understood the importance of strategy:

"He soon discerned the ineptitude of the rebel leaders and scorned their willingness to compromise with European radicals. Collecting an army of his own, Toussaint trained his followers in the tactics of guerrilla warfare. In 1793 he added to his original name the name of Louverture." [Britannica article]

Toussaint L'ouverture understood the importance of Training, tactics, strategy, provisioning, and selecting the right temporary allies from one's enemies:

"When France and Spain went to war in 1793, the black commanders joined the Spaniards of Santo Domingo, the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola. Knighted and recognized as a general, Toussaint demonstrated extraordinary military ability and attracted such renowned warriors as his nephew Moïse and two future monarchs of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe. Toussaint’s victories in the north, together with mulatto successes in the south and British occupation of the coasts, brought the French close to disaster. []

However, the French were also fighting the British and their leader Légere-Félicité_Sonthonax [égere-Félicité_Sonthonax] who was the political head of the French Revolutionary forces took "the radical step of proclaiming the freedom of the slaves in the north province" on 29 August 1793.

This seems to have won over Toussaint, in May 1794 he:

"went over to the French, giving as his reasons that the French National Convention had recently freed all slaves, while Spain and Britain refused, and that he had become a republican." []

The Haitian Slaves and some of the Free Blacks and Mulattos now had an ally from France who could be relied on a bit more than the Aristocratic British or French. And the combination of his victories in battle and his willingness to turn on the opportunist English and Spanish gave him recognition and power. The Britannica article continues:

"He has been criticized for the duplicity of his dealings with his onetime allies and for a slaughter of Spaniards at a mass. His switch was decisive; the governor of Saint-Domingue, Étienne Laveaux, made Toussaint lieutenant governor, the British suffered severe reverses, and the Spaniards were expelled." []

This doesn't seem to be that duplicitous to me. Laveaux and Légere-Félicité_Sonthonax had an Army of French Soldiers, were fighting the Royalist oriented White Colonists and if the Mulattos had gone over the Spanish they still weren't on the side of freeing the slaves. If he had he not switched sides to the side willing to recognize manumission it's likely that the Spaniards and the Brits would have turned on him, just as they did on other temporary allies around the world once they were done using them to defeat an enemy. The Spanish refused to abolish slavery and the Brits had every intention of subjugating everybody.

So Toussaint was Lieutenant Governor from 1794, and effectively governor over the entire country. In 1795 the French and Spanish signed a treaty which took out the impetus for continued fighting with the Spanish. By 1796 Toussaint was essentially more powerful than either Laveaux or Légere-Félicité_Sonthonax, and he tried to get them elected to be representatives of Haiti in France. By 1797 both were out of the country. . By 1798 the Brits were forced out.

Sadly from 1798 on the French "Empire" began to strike back. The French sent a duplicitous "commissioner" Hédouville to try to bring Toussaint down by dividing him against other leaders, disbanding black troops from the Haitian Army, and in the process restarting the slave revolts. Hédouville especially worked to divide Toussaint, who was the supreme leader of blacks and slaves and André Rigaud. In his resistance to Hédouville Toussaint made a secret treaty with the Brits and Americans in that same year. Toussaint knew that slavery couldn't be ended by simple emancipation and so had simply imposed limits on the tyranny of the plantations, not eliminated them. They had to pay workers and could not whip them. But they still were under compulsion to work the plantation. So he didn't directly eliminate slavery. Meanwhile from 1798 to 1802 the French lost their spirit of "universal rights." And Haitian Mulattos were seduced into stepping into the hierarchy of power (Plantation ownership, bourgeoisie and police powers the pure whites had been forced out of.[haitihistory/8.html]

So sadly by 1799 the conflict that Hédouville (and others) had sought to instigate broke out:

"Civil war between Louverture and Rigaud breaks out: Rigaud takes over command of Léogâne and Jacmel while Louverture take over Petit-Goâve. This power struggle, fraught with issues of race and class, ultimately benefits the economic interests of the Americans and British, who seek to maximize their trade to the detriment of the French." [haitihisotry/8.html]

Haiti was in the process of transitioning from Colonialism to neo-colonialism, where local elites could be counted on to benefit the power and perquisites of a worldwide network of giant companies and banks. And key to this in Hispanola would be a class structure based on race and education. Toussaint defeated Rigaud, and he drove him out of the country. But he was quick to pardon Rigaud's officers. And in 1800 he reimposes the mandates first pioneered by Légere Félicité Sonthonax which by that time were seen as a reimposition of slavery. In response Toussaint brought about a Constitutional Convention and setup a representative government, including abolishing slavery forever in 1801. This causes a rare alliance between Brits, Americans and French. Probably their first. Sadly resistance to his work mandates leads to his own former lieutenants (including Moïse) revolting over the perceived oppression. A revolt breaks out which Toussaint suppresses in 1801, executing his own nephew in the process.

It looks like Toussaint was too willing to support the rights of land owners. But I think he was just trying to toe a fine line between some very powerful external forces and his own people's desire for freedom. The Timeline Article explicitly shows what he was up against by 1801.

In October 1801:

"Leclerc sails from France for Saint-Domingue. He is Commander-in-Chief of France’s largest expeditionary army ever with 20,000 European troops, who are called “the elite of the French army.” Rochambeau is named second in command. Bonaparte gives Leclerc very specific instructions on the stages of the expedition, which he expects will take three months." []

There is no mistaking the mission and purpose. Toussaint may have understood what he was up against. But Napoleon was not someone who could be trusted or negotiated with and his General LeClerk was the same. It was the same strategy that Hédouville had employed but with 20,000 troops and veteran generals to reinforce veteran French troops who were already in Haiti.

First stage,
15-20 days: Leclerc is to convince Saint-Domingue residents of France’s good will and peaceful intentions. Leclerc is to claim the troops are there to protect the colony and preserve its peace, allowing the troops to land and take control of the major port cities. []
Second stage:
"wage war against the rebel army generals to break the masses’ moral and leave them leaderless." []
Third stage:
"disarm all the blacks and mulattoes and force them back onto plantations to reinstate slavery. Bonaparte’s commands to Leclerc include “Do not allow any blacks having held a rank above that of a captain to remain on the island.”[]

3 Months was over-optimistic. 3 Years, however, was accurate. Toussaint was waiting for him. On the 4th of February 1802, "General Christophe sets fire to Le Cap, burning it to the ground in anticipation of the European troops’ arrival." When LeClerk arrives he demands Louverture's surrender. Seeing that the Haitians are not going to Surrender Napoleon sends an additional 80,000 troops in 1803 along with support and military ships. For perspective, the British expeditionary force dealing with the American Revolutionaries in the 1770's had 36,000 troops. This was more than 100,000 troops to put down Haiti's independence and reinstate slavery in a country the size of Maryland. All sent by Napoleon with the moral support of Jefferson and property Owners around the American colonies who saw their aristocratic plantation life threatened. Stage One was completed despite the burning of Le Cap.

In 1802 Toussaint faced an obstacle. Most of the Mulatto Generals including Alexandre Pétion, Jean-Pierre Boyer and other former Rigaud followers defected to the French promises. Toussaint's warnings of what the French were up to were intercepted. His loyal followers found themselves isolated and betrayed. Stage 2 was already in motion before the 80,000 troops even had arrived. The article notes:

"Louverture hastily sends instructions to his leaders throughout the colony, warning that the French intend to restore slavery. All of his letters are intercepted and one by one his generals defect to fight for the French. Dessalines and Christophe are trapped in the North. By mid-February nearly half of Louverture’s army is fighting under Leclerc, who gains entire control of the South." [9.html]

Even so in March 1802 in the battle of Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot Toussaint's loyal General Dessalines beat off 12,000 European soldiers and Colonial Militia with 1,500 black troops. Dessalines also managed to withdraw his troops safely after the holding action marking a turning point in the war, But meanwhile Louverture's other General Henri Christophe was sent to talk to Leclerk, And deserted!

After that Toussaint realized his own position was pretty much untenable. Leclerc made a cynical offer that would "allow him to retire with his staff, retain his army ranks and functions, and retire to a place of his choosing." In the process Dessalines is forced to stop resisting the French (temporarily) as well. Leclerk promptly betrays his promise as instructed by Napoleon in the first instance!

"Leclerc lures Louverture into a conference, arrests him, binds him “as a common criminal,” and ships him to France with his family and manservant. He is incarcerated and left “tragically, to die of consumption in an isolated prison cell high in the French Alps.”" [9.html]

With Toussaint out of the way the French still faced resistance. It soon became obvious what they were up to and even the Mulatto's who had betrayed Toussaint joined together in a final revolt which threw off the French. By November 1803 Leclerc was dead of Yellow Fever and Rochambeau was defeated. The Haitians had thrown off the French. Though the seeds of years of struggle between Mulattos and blacks, Spanish speaking Islanders and French speaking ones had been sowed. And the reinslavement project of the European powers would lead to years of forced payments, oppression, interventions and invasions. Eventually that project would be taken over by the USA/Americans. Many of the Generals who had alternatively supported and betrayed Toussaint L'ouverture would alternatively support, betray and rule Haiti.

Economic Royalism had taken a new form. No longer were the Aristocrats "Kings" but they were Capitalists and "Emperors" creating merchant empires with troops and modern weapons; and the support of local rulers willing to betray each other and their own ideals. Dessalines would be Hait's first Emperor. Henri Christophe would be his successor. Alexandre Pétion would be his competitor and the "first President" in 1806-1818. He'd be replaced with Jean-Pierre Boyer who would also try to be a "President for Life" and be succeeded by Charles Rivière-Hérard who overthrew him in a revolution.... etc, etc, etc...

Further Reading:
Declaration of Independence
Online Sources & Further reading for Haiti:

*Note, reading these histories is fascinating because they all parse the story differently. I have my own memories of actual physical books I've read and so the online accounts, in the way they contradict each other or support one another, helped me recall the histories I already knew from talking to a variety of people and reading a variety of physical books. But most are abysmally bad and gloss over details.

Actual book: Robert Heinl (1996). Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1995. Lantham, Maryland: University Press of America.
The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below By Carolyn E. Fick

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