The Colonial Slavery as the Reason for Haitian Revolution
To understand the motives and interests of the people who rebelled in Saint-Domingue, it is important to first acknowledge the events that led up to a rebellion. In 1789, the French Revolution had just begun and their colony of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, was one of their largest colonies and accounted for two-thirds of their overseas trade (Overview Essay: Haitian Revolution, William E. Brown, Jr.). This made the colony valuable to the French, and maintaining control over it a priority. With over 500,000 of the 556,000 people being African slaves, maintaining control would be difficult (Haitian History, Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica). From 1492, when the first African slaves were transported to the colony, to 1791 there existed a general resistance from the African slaves toward the European colonists.
One event that influenced many African slaves in the colony to have hope for a better future was the creation of the Declaration of Rights of Man in August of 1789 (Hogsbjerg, Christian, paragraph 7). This document changed the perception of the black masses and encouraged the fighting spirit they would need to restore their rights as people. In August of 1791, the first organized slave revolt occurred and marked a starting point for the twelve yearlong rebellion now known as the Haitian Revolution. This revolt was a pivotal point of inspiration for the African slaves working in this colony, and its success demonstrated to everyone the military strength and organization the African slaves possessed. Years of violence and resistance followed, and many died during the quest for an end to their slavery.
Then in 1793, Commissioner Sonthonax abolished slavery in the colony. This meant that the goal of ending slavery was achieved, but a new threat came quickly. British forces recognized what had occurred, and decided to work with Spain to attack the French and reinstitute slavery. Now the people of the rebellion were positioned to defend their land from an invading British and Spanish army (William E. Brown, Jr.). Toussaint, a major leader of the rebellion, decided to pledge his support of the French in May of 1794. Originally fighting against the French, the people of the rebellion now found themselves fighting alongside their previous enemy.
By 1802, Toussaint found himself to be the head of a semi-independent San Domingo, and this worried Napoleon. He decided to send 20,000 troops to capture Toussaint and re-establish slavery in the colony. Toussaint ended up being captured and shipped to France, where he eventually died in prison. Even with one of their leaders gone, the people of Saint-Domingue continued their fight for independence and in late 1803, Dessalines proclaimed the independence of the country of Haiti while also declaring himself to be Emperor (Shen, Kona, paragraph 4). Throughout the course of the Haitian Revolution, the goals of the people resisting the European powers changed along with the circumstances. From fighting the French, to fighting with the French against the British and Spanish, to fighting the French again, it was evident that the Haitian Revolution resulted in a complex fight for the African slaves and their quest for independence. In the end, the ultimate driving force stayed the same: an oppressed people’s desire to bring balance to their society and create a better life for themselves and their future generations.
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