In enslaved women. These individuals were often wealthy planters

In the eighteenth century,
Saint Domingue became France’s wealthiest colony due to its production of
sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Saint Domingue produced more sugar than the Britain’s
West Indies colonies combined. This value of production came from Saint-Domingue’s
economy of slave labor. Saint-Domingue also hosted a population of free persons
of color, children of white masters and enslaved women. These individuals were
often wealthy planters and slave owners as well but weren’t active citizens in
comparison to their white counterparts. The origin of the free persons of
color’s part in the Haitian Revolution is in their quest for active citizenship.
The denial by white colonists to grant free persons of color their grant of
full citizenship given by the National Assembly led to an armed protest by the
free persons of color. As emancipation was expanded throughout the colonies
these free persons of color joined with slave insurgents to promote the end of
slavery and racial inequality from the British and its allies of white
colonists and poor whites.

            The calling of the Estates-General by King Louis XVI in
1789 led to various groups in the French Caribbean to participate in the
revolutionary changes taking place in France. White colonists also formed
assemblies in Saint Domingue, these assemblies wrote suggestions for reforms
and chose representatives to be sent to France to participate in the
Estates-General. Six representatives of the white colonists were admitted into
Versailles in July 1789, representatives of the colonies Martinique and Guadeloupe
were allowed as well.

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            The Estates-General transformation into the National
Assembly on June 13, 1789 led to the shift of debates on tax reform to those on
citizenship and rights in the new vision of French government. White planters,
pro abolitionists, and free persons of color participated in the debate on what
rights should be listed in the Declaration. Many figures argued to grant the
free people of color active citizenship in the Declaration. Abbé Grégoire was
one of the representatives of the free people of color. Grégoire’s “Memoir in Favor of the People of Color
or Mixed-Race of Saint Domingue”  argued that, “if you fill the gap that separates
the people of color from whites you cement the mutual attachment of these two
classes, their reunion will create a mass of forces that is more effective for
containing the slaves. The people of color being equal in everything to the
whites, one will surely not ask if they should be active in legislation.”1 Anti-abolitionists
like Antoine Barnave took the same position as many white planters of
Saint-Domingue, arguing that the Declaration shouldn’t apply to the colonies
since they are self ruled provinces.

            The National Assembly approved the Declaration as a
preamble to the French Constitution on August 26, 1789. White planters from the
colonies and their representatives in France saw the Declaration as a potential
threat to slavery and racial division. In comparison, Saint-Domingue’s free
persons of color approved the direction of the French Revolution with its
approval of the Declaration. The approval of the Declaration led to more
demands by the free persons of color to end racial discrimination and the grant
of active citizenship. Vincent Ogé, a wealthy free person of color from Cap Français,
was essential on representing free persons of color and their demands for
racial equality. Similar to other free persons of color, Ogé did not want to
end the institution of slavery but ally with the white planters against the
threat of slave revolts. Ogé argued, “If we do not take the most prompt
and efficacious measures; if we do not quickly bring together all our
intelligence, all our means, we will see blood flowing, the objects of our
industry ravaged. The slave will raise the standard of revolt and commerce will
be ruined.”2
Despite Ogé’s call for alliance with the white planters and call for active
citizenship for free persons of color, white planters resisted out of fear that
an alliance would encourage slaves to demand full citizenship as well.

            Free persons of color continued to demand for active citizenship.
Grégoire continued his support on behalf of the free persons of color. Grégoire
published his “Letter to Those Who Love Mankind” on October 1790. The
letter was a response to the white planters of Saint-Domingue that believed
racism was essential to the safety of the white colonists. It was also a
response to the National Assembly’s choice to put the power to reform racial
laws to the white majority Colonial Assemblies. In response, Grégoire stated
that, “the National Assembly will not stamp out injustice except at the
request of those who feed on the situation and want to prolong it! If people of
mixed race and whites could be brought together by their common interest and
advantages, the size of their combined forces would more efficiently ensure the
colonies’ tranquility.”3

formation of the Colonial Committee by the now Constituent Assembly to debate
colonial representation on March 4, 1790 would lead to further chaos in the
colonies. The deputies of the committee
featured those who favored the interest of white planters, the maintenance of
slavery in the colonies and the prevention of active citizenship to free
persons of color. The committee began creating constitutions for the colonies
on March 8.  In response, the Parisian
free colored group and its allies demanded to know if they could participate as
well. The committee responded with the “Instructions of March 28”
which didn’t address the free persons of color desires to vote. Ogé believed
that since the instructions didn’t list race as one of the criteria for voting
then free persons of color could participate in the elections of a new Colonial
Assembly. Vincent Ogé then returned to Saint-Domingue to try to participate in
the local elections, after denial by the governor of Saint-Domingue, Ogé
gathered armed supporters to pressure the governor. Ogé’s rebellion of nearly three
hundred free persons of color resulted in his execution in Cap Français in
February 1791.

            While Ogé’s rebellion to gain active citizenship for free
persons of color was taking place in Saint-Domingue, poor whites were restless
after the approval of the Declaration of Rights. The poor whites who envied
established white planters and wealthy mixed families, decided to meet in Saint
Marc to protest from the Colonial Assembly. These whites, “criticized the
royal governor, threatened to abolish high interest rates that French merchants
charged colonists and demanded a strict application of the laws discriminating
against free people of color.”4 Royal
troops and free colored militia went to shut down the poor whites in Saint-Marc.
The Parisian legislature also ruled against the radical whites and their
Colonial Assembly, they also refused to pass legislature on colonial civil
rights unless the colonists demanded it.

            The chaos of the radical whites in Saint Marc and the
attempt at rebellion by Ogé worried the deputies in Paris. The stability of the
colonies was important to maintaining France’s economy. Simultaneously, poor
whites in Port-au-Prince, took over the city with the help of French troops
resulting in the displacement of the royal government to Cap Francais. On May
15, 1791, the National Assembly voted to grant full citizenship to free persons
of color whose parents were both free and who owned property. The passage of
citizenship to the free persons of color only sparked more chaos in the
colonies. The poor whites in Port-au-Prince stated that they wouldn’t accept
the new decree. White colonists also resisted the passage of citizenship, which
led to the free persons of color arming themselves in retaliation. The result
was the first organized uprising of free persons of color against the whites in

            Following the May 1791 uprising of the free persons of
color, a massive planned slave revolt began in north Saint-Domingue on August
1791. The revolt was designed to capture Le Cap and prevent the colonial
assembly, which was made up of white planters, from succeeding from France to
maintain slavery and racial discrimination. Within several days, some free
blacks also joined the insurrection, but enslaved Africans made up a bulk of
the rebellion. The free people of color remained divided on what cause they
would support, some joined the white colonists to end the rebellion and
maintain their slaves, while free blacks like the former slave Toussaint Louverture
fought for the slave insurgents.

            While insurrection and chaos moved throughout
Saint-Domingue, the Constituent Assembly, with the Constitution already
approved, decided to respond to the revolts in Saint-Domingue. The Assembly
attempted to separate the free persons of color from slaves, to preserve
slavery. The logic of the Assembly was to use the free men of color against the
growing slave revolt. To do this the Legislative Assembly granted full
citizenship to all free men of color on April 4, 1792, to convince free peoples
to join colonists and repress the slave rebels. France also sent two commissioners,
Sonthonax and Polverel, to Saint Domingue Assembly to enforce the new decree,
only further angering the white slave owners.

            In France, the execution of King Louis XVI on January 21,
1793 and the declaration of France as a Republic on August 10, 1792 led to war
with England and Spain. Both countries would become involved with
Saint-Domingue. Spain, in support of the slave rebels, awarded leaders of the
rebellion with land and liberty. Louverture became a Spanish officer in June
1793. Britain’s navy of Jamaican troops invaded the colony on September 1793
with no coercion from the counterrevolutionary white colonists who allied with
Britain in hopes of succeeding from France. Commissioner Sonthonax relied on
free men of color, making them citizens and granting them military positions,
to fight against Spain and its allies of slave rebels. As Jamaican troops
continued to pour into Saint-Domingue, Sonthonax and Polverel, desperate for
more support against the British and Spanish, issued the “Decree of
General Liberty” granting emancipation to the entire colony. The decree
stated, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. It is high time
that it be proclaimed in all areas of the republic. The French Republic wants
all men to be free and equal with no color distinctions.”5 On
February 4, 1794, The National Convention abolished slavery throughout all
France and its colonies.

            The emancipation of France and all its territories drew
several black leaders to desert Spain and ally with France. Louverture, one of
the key military members for Spain, originally fought against France for the
end of slavery. The ratification of emancipation by the National Convention
resulted in Louverture joining France. The emancipation merged the free persons
of color and the slave rebels to fight against Britain and Spain for France.  Louverture, now allied with France, transformed
into one of France’s most important officers fighting against the Spanish and
British, who continued to use their troops in hope of capturing the colony.
Louverture’s efforts resulted in Spain signing a peace treaty with France in
1795 and the control over the north and west provinces of Saint Domingue. General
Andre Riguad, the commander of southern Saint Domingue and a free person of
color, helped Louverture remove the British from the colony. By 1797, Louveture
became the top ranking officer of Saint-Domingue and controlled the colony to
such an extent that he negotiated trade deals with the British and America. Saint-Domingue
was still a colony of France but Louverture became the de facto rulers of the

            The Directory government now overthrown by Napoleon’s
coup d’état in 1799, established Napoleon as the dictator of France and led to
his constitution of 1799. The constitution of 1799 pronounced that special laws
that differed from those in Paris would govern the colonies. This led to
paranoia among the French colonies that France would reintroduce slavery
because, “planters had long argued that the colonies needed particular
laws as a way of defending slavery.”6 In
response, Louverture created an assembly to begin drafting a constitution for
Saint-Domingue in March 1801 without Bonaparte’s approval. It declared Louverture
governor indefinitely, required former slaves to continue working on the plantation,
and recognized Saint Domingue as racially neutral. It did not declare the
colonies independence. Title 1 Article 1 stated, “Saint Domingue, and
other adjacent islands, forms the territory of a single colony, which is part
of the French empire, but submitted to particular laws.”7 Napoleon,
now enraged by Louverture’s attack to his authority, sent soldiers to the
various colonies to re-establish slavery and disarm the powers in Saint

            A campaign for the Napoleon’s return of slavery in
Saint-Domingue began on February 1802. The leader of the expedition was Charles-Victor-Emmanuel
Leclerc, brother in law of Bonaparte. Louverture’s policy of requiring former
slaves to work on the plantations resulted in a decrease in popularity for the
governor. As a result, some of his officers insisted on his arrest and joined
French forces, and other former slaves resented the governor, which led to
several revolts. Once French troops landed on the island, Saint Domingue wasn’t
universally supportive of Louverture. Leclerc had Louverture arrested during a
meeting, then deported to France where Louverture died while in prison in April

            Following Louverture’s deportation, Leclerc attempted to
disarm the former slaves of Saint Domingue. Many of the former slaves joined
guerrilla groups in the forest of the colony in resistance to Leclerc. Leclerc
utilized free persons and black soldiers to repress the guerrilla groups. As
the war continued, Leclerc’s black officers revolted as well, leading their own
revolts, and others joined the existing former slave fighters. Leclerc, after
months of warfare on the colony, grew ill with yellow fever. The virus led
Leclerc to believe that it was impossible to reinstate slavery onto the colony
due to yellow fever lessening his European numbers. Leclerc died on November 1,
1802 and was succeeded by Donatien Rochambeau. Rochambeau increased the cruelty
of the war with the execution of women, children, and men.

            Britain’s reinstatement into the war with the creation of
the third coalition made Bonaparte reverse his plans of extending France to the
U.S. Bonaparte decided to cede Louisiana to the U.S. Bonaparte understood that Louisiana
held no importance without the capture of Saint Domingue. Bonaparte sold Louisiana
in 1803 to keep the island and its resources out of the hands of the British. The
free black Lieutenant Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who initially hunted down
guerrilla groups for France, made an alliance with the free person of color Alexandre
Petition. The union cemented the unification of free blacks and those of color in
Saint Domingue against Napoleon’s white troops. The new flag created by
Dessalines the removal of the white panel and the combination of the red and
blue symbolized the unity of blacks and men of color for liberty. On January 1,
1804, after many French troops retreated to France, Dessalines declared the independence
of Saint-Domingue. A new drafted constitution gave the colony the name Haiti
and deemed the country as a refuge for enslaved people.

            The Haitian Revolution had several important legacies.
The revolution becomes arguably the most important because it forced France
previous principle that “men are born and remain free and equal in
rights” to live up to its proclamation. The Haitian Revolution challenged
France’s declaration of equality that built the French Revolution of 1789. Haiti’s
revolt also leads to the expansion of slavery in some areas, notably the United
States. The actions of the ex slave soldiers and free persons of color and
their officers in protecting Saint Domingue from Napoleon’s French forces led
to Napoleon selling Louisiana to the U.S. The purchase of Louisiana by the U.S.
opened a expansion of the U.S. and its slave system. Ironically, Saint Domingue
revolting against slavery and racial discrimination led to the expansion of
slavery and racial discrimination in the United States. Despite this, the
Haitian Revolution became the standard for the fight against slavery and racism
that continued after its independence.

1 Abbé
Grégoire, “Memoir in Favor of the People of Color or Mixed-Race of Saint
Domingue,” (1789)”,  in The French Revolution and Human Rights: A
Brief Documentary History, ed. Lynn Hunt (Bedford/ St Martin’s 1st Edition,
1996) 106

Vincent Ogé, “Motion Made by Vincent Oge the Younger to the Assembly of
Colonists (1789)”, in The French
Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History, ed. Lynn Hunt
(Bedford/ St Martin’s 1st Edition, 1996) 104

3 Abbé
Grégoire, “Letter to Those Who Love Mankind (October 1790”, in Slave Revolution in The Carribean 1789-1804 A
Brief History with Documents, ed. Lynn Hunt (Bedford/ St Martin’s 1st
Edition, 2006) 73

Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus, Slave
Revolution in the Caribbean 1789-1804 A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/
St. Martin’s, 2006), 21.

5 Léger-Félicité
Sonthonax, “Decree of General Liberty (August 29, 1793),  in Slave
Revolution in the Caribbean 1789-1804 A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/
St. Martin’s, 2006), 121.

6 Laurent
Dubois and John D. Garrigus, Slave
Revolution in the Caribbean 1789-1804 A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/
St. Martin’s, 2006), 167.

7 Toussaint
Louverture, “From Constiution of the French Colony of Saint-Domingue
(1801),” in Slave Revolution in the
Caribbean 1789-1804 A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/ St. Martin’s,
2006), 168