Haitian Revolution Discussion Question

What techniques were used in the Haitian Constitution (1805) to ensure that slavery could not, and would not, be reinstated?

There are four major ways in which the Haitian Constitution codifies the eradication of slavery and creates structural barriers that would prevent it from later developing. These are through outright prohibition, redefinition of race, clearly defining who the law applies to, and through the definition of citizens. Firstly, and most bluntly, the Haitian Constitution bans slavery in Article 2, “Slavery is abolished forever” (192). As this is one of the very first articles of the Constitution, it is clear that this principle was one of the most important to the Haitians as they wrote their Constitution.

Secondly, Haitians created a constitutional barrier by redefining race in order to prevent the radicalized system of slavery which they had just abolished. This is achieved in Articles 12-14. In these three articles, Haitians a) ban white people from living in Haiti b) make a new key exceptions for white women who have become Haitian citizens, and for the German and Polish citizens of the state, and c) declare that all Haitians will just more broadly be known as black. These have a few key implications. Firstly, in explicitly making exceptions for Haiti’s German and Polish white naturalized citizens, the new Haitian government is able to underscore that they are protecting themselves mores from the French rather than from Europeans at large. Further, by redefining every Haitian as black in the following point, Haitians are able to prevent social distinctions based on skin shade from re-arising, and are able to unite the country (including the aforementioned Polish and German citizens) racially.

Thirdly, the Haitian Constitution is very clear as to who ┬ácounts as a citizen. In the section prior to the Preliminary Declaration, the Constitution states “In the presence of the Supreme Being before whom all mortals are equal,” which highlights that rather than a certain sub-sect of humans, all humans are citizens of Haiti. Therefore, prior power structures which disempowered slaves for not being citizens are prevented from forming again. Further, as Article 7 states, those who have emigrated to other states lose their citizenship–and may even be killed. This is meant to reinforce a sense of unity.

Finally, this Constitution creates a further barrier to a later reimplementation of slavery by clearly defining how the laws apply to its citizens. This is achieved in Articles 4 and 5. Article 4 codifies that there is one law for every citizen, meaning that specific codes, such as slave codes, could not again be reinstated as they would rule different groups with different laws. Article 5 states that the law cannot be retroactive, meaning that Haitians are able to ensure that should a tyrant ever attempt to reinstate slavery, they could not create a new law that would reinstate the population.

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