Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Haitian Revolution and the USA

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The Slave rebellion in Haiti (San Domingo) had an enormous impact on the USA in two very important  and distinct respects.

First, the success of a slave rebellion that actually did emancipate some 1/2 million black slaves in North America not far from America shores terrified the slave owning white population of the southern states.  Thomas Jefferson was an extraordinary man who was, at the same time not atypical of his place and time.  He denounced a slave-ruled Haiti as "the Cannibals of the terrible republic".

Jefferson Memorial, Washington D.C.

In 1776 Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence had proclaimed to the world that, "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."  Yet Jefferson was a slave owner and Sally Hemmings was his mistress.  Jefferson, after the Missouri compromise of 1820 wrote that freeing of slaves in itself "would not cost me a second thought if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected; and, gradually, and with the due sacrifices, I think it might be.  But as it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go (Commander's italics).  Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other...I regret that I am now to die in the belief, that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it."   In a separate letter to Adams he wrote further, "Are our slaves to be presented with freedom and a dagger?"  In a letter to Albert Gallatin, "All whites south of the Potomac and Ohio must evacuate their states; and most fortunate those who can do it first."  (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, Chistopher Hitchens, 2005)

A just God...?

Jefferson also said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

It was the fearful example of the Haitian Revolution, led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, that put the fear of God into southern whites and made them so resistant to any reform of their "peculiar institution".  The legend of Toussaint L'Ouverture grew to almost mythical proportions among the American slaves who learned of his life and a "free" Haiti.  Northern abolitionists cited Toussaint as a heartening example of black self-rule.

Second, the destruction of the army that Napoleon dispatched to put down the rebellion in San Domingo would have fateful and wide-reaching implications for the United States; indeed it would be the making of many states.

The reconquest of San Domingo was just the first stage of Napoleon's orders to his brother-in-law LeClerc.  After putting down the slave rebellion he was then to proceed to New Orleans and solidify France's position on the North American continent that had been acquired recently from Spain.  The destruction of the French army and the death of Leclerc made this impossible.  Napoleon was forced to revise his plans and consider the sale of the Louisiana territory to the United States as it could no longer be defended.

Jefferson negotiated the greatest real estate deal in history, doubling the size of the US at a price of 4 cents an acre.  "Overnight the upstart nation acquired land physically larger that France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, and the British Isles combined.  Crowning the vast territory was the magnificent city of New Orleans, which gave western farmers a much-needed water outlet to world markets." (Financial Founding Fathers, Robert E. Wright and David J. Cowen, 2006).

The bold treaty affirming the Louisiana purchase was swiftly approved by the US senate.  On its signing, Robert Livingston said "From this day, the United States take their place among the powers of first rank."
French Soldier Dispensing Equality?

Jefferson displayed the elasticity of his principles with the Louisiana purchase (see earlier post, Ambrose Bierce's Very short Story 2/1/12).  He was a a devotee of limited government and a strict constructionist, but nowhere does the US Constitution authorise  the purchase of territory from foreign powers by the Executive or any other branch of government.  John Quincy Adams pointed out that the president would now dispose of "an assumption of implied power greater...than all of the assumptions of implied power in the years of the Washington and Adams administrations put together."  (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, Chistopher Hitchens, 2005)

Ironically, Jefferson's Louisiana purchase also owed a great deal to his archival Alexander Hamilton;  it was Hamilton's astute management of the Treasury during the Washington administration that had repaired the US government's creditworthiness.  The United States was able to easily borrow $15 million to pay off Napoleon (Albert Gallatin, Jefferson's Treasury secretary "floated a bond issue through the Dutch banking house of Hope and Company, which promptly sold it to Baring Brothers, a British investment bank." (Financial Founding Fathers, Robert E. Wright and David J. Cowen, 2006).

The United States of America is much indebted to Toussaint l'Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution.  Jefferson's Louisiana purchase, made possible by the Haitian revolution, gave the United States an expansionist future.  This also meant that a divided nation would quarrel over the issue of "slave" or "free" in the new territories to be added to the Union.  Thus we can argue that while the Haitian revolution was, in some ways the making of the United States, it also sowed the seeds of our tragic Civil war.


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Unknown said...

Yes, it is very factual and obvious that Tousaint Louverture was a God's sent prophet just like in Moses and Jesus times.
Please help support and donate to Toussaint's global ministry by clicking on this ministry's website.

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