The Haitian RevolutionThe Haitian Revolution was a majorturning point in the history of Haiti. It took place from 1791 – 1804 in theFrench colony of Saint Domingue and was the first successful slave rebellionthat led to an independent republic ruled by people of African descent. Therewere two main leaders in this revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture, andJean-Jacques Dessalines.
L’Ouverture led forces of slaves and mulattoes, andmade alliances with the British and the Spanish so they could fight off theFrench. After L’Ouverture died, Dessalines became the leader of the Revolution,was named governor general, and eventually led Haiti to independence. TheHaitian Revolution strengthened the abolitionist movement and inspired othernations to ban slavery. It was a pivotal event in history that transformed Haiti’ssocial, economic, and political structures, as well as inspiring otherantislavery movements.This Revolution transformed social,economic, and political structures in Haiti and introduced new ideas throughoutthe world. In 1793, the rights ofslaves were codified in the Proclamation of Emancipation. This suggested thatslaves had a universal right to freedom.
Despite its significant theoreticaladvances, the principles in the Proclamation were not always followed initially:it was disregarded by whites and slaves were still bound to the land and had toget permission from white planters if they wanted to leave. Nonetheless, itstill represented a significant advance from the status quo. Before the revolution,social status was based on inherited position rather than merit, with thewhites (grands blancs) on top. After, the social order was reversed: slaves,who used to be at the bottom now were at the top of the social hierarchy.
Therewere also economic effects: slaves in Saint Domingue and other colonies whogrew sugar, indigo, cotton, cocoa, coffee, and tobacco were a main source ofincome to France. Haiti was known as “an inexhaustible cash cow, floating muchof its economy” (Danner). This was economically impacted by the revolutionbecause when slaves, the backbone of the region, stopped working, theagricultural industry had a decline, “destroying the capital andinfrastructure of the economy” (McKey). Haitians revolutionized theirtraditional tropical plantation agriculture, moving from large estates to smallscale self-sufficient producers. As well as the economic effects, there werepolitical ones.
A new independent state was formed, “challenging the oldEuropean colonial order” and putting the mulattoes and slaves on top, much tothe dismay of the “grands and petits blancs” (free whites) (The HaitianRevolution). This new autocratic government that was formed consisted of asystem of forced labor which did not appeal to the mulatto elites, resulting inthe killing of Dessalines. This government was different in the way thatmulattoes were put into key positions in authority. At the end of therevolution, slavery was abolished, and equality became a key principle of thenew society. The Haitian Revolution had a profound effect on Haitian societyand even the rest of the world.
As well as the changes in Haiti, the HaitianRevolution paved the way for future revolutions throughout the world, about anumber of issues. It was the only successful slave revolt resulting in anindependent nation; an advancement in the movement to abolish slavery. InHaiti, Delafosse, an observer, recalled that he saw an imprisonednineteen-year-old Black youth, who had seen two Blacks burned alive in front ofhim, shout, “You do not know how to die,” and proceed, in front of a crowd ofwhites, to free himself and put his own feet into the fire” (Smith).
Slaves allaround the world were inspired by the Haitians and their unity and perseverance,fighting till their dying breath. John Green, creator of Crash Course,emphasizes that “Haiti stood up for the weak when the rest of the world failedto” (Green). In the future, abolitionists used the example of Haiti to persuadeslave owners that free labor was a more beneficial method that avoided a bloodyrevolution. This revolution was one of the first times that people insistedthat human rights were for everybody, no matter the skin color. The Haitian Revolution also inspiredrevolts outside of Haiti.
The British voted to abolish the slave trade as theywere fearful of “importing restive African labor to their colonies”. (Smith). Southernstates in the US enacted a law called the “Act Prohibiting Importation ofSlaves”, this was implemented by Thomas Jefferson, an abolitionist. Slaves ranto Cuba, Brazil, and other Latin American countries and talked aboutemancipation and new ideas about human rights. Julius Scott, a historyprofessor talks about Cuba and says that “local rulers were no more able tocontrol the rapid spread of information than were able to control the movementsof the ships or the paperless people with which this information travelled”(Sydney). In Brazil, chants praising Henry Christophe, a hero of therevolution, were shouted. In 1811, word spread to Havana that Christophe wasliberating slaves on ships headed to Cuba and bringing them back to Haiti. Africanson at least three ships were liberated by Henry.
This spread of information ledto slave revolts in Havana (1812), Charleston, South Carolina (1822), and manyother places. Slave revolts all over the world were inspired by the HaitianRevolution.In conclusion, The Haitian Revolutionabolished slavery, established the first black republic, changed the society ofHaiti, and inspired revolutions all around the world. Haiti gave independenceto the people and created a society where every man was equal. The HaitianRevolution helped the enslaved free themselves from French rule.
It changed thesocial, economic, and political structure of Haiti. Even though there were manybenefits, the Haitian economy was drastically affected. Haiti became very poorbecause they lost the backbone to their economy. However, this revolutioninspired others to emancipate. The Haitian Revolution showed the world that everyonecan be equal and became a universal symbol for freedom and equality.