Category Archives: Haitian Revolution

Blog Post 11/20

Q: How does the Haitian Constitution reconcile its ideals of liberty and freedom with the formation of an Empire led by a singular monarch?

The Haitian constitution unsurprisingly emphasizes freedom and individual liberty, but interestingly creates a system of monarchy accordant with the norm of the time period rather than a republican government akin to the United States or revolutionary France. However, it does take measures to avoid a tyrannical system of government. Some of these measures include a system of elective monarchy, through which the issues inherent in hereditary monarchies and the potential resulting tyranny can be avoided. The constitution also states clearly that the children of the Emperor will be treated the same as any other citizen and can’t be placed into high military or political ranks without achieving that honor of their own merit, showing that the writers were very conscious of nepotism, possibly in part due to Napoleon’s habit of putting his relatives on conquered thrones. However, the emperor’s children and wife do have the favor of being given a ‘stipend’, so there are some issues of wealth inequality. Another article provides that the Emperor will not be allowed to surround himself with a group such as an Honor Guard, and that he will not be allowed to undertake wars of conquest or infringe on the rights of foreign people or countries, thus avoiding colonial entanglements or unjust wars. All together, the constitution is pretty decent about keeping the individual freedoms of the people provided for and avoiding hereditary monarchy or nepotism, but it does have a lot of issues in terms of making the Emperor all-powerful and wealthy.

Haitian Revolution Discussion Question

What kind of rhetoric was used by those who opposed the slave rebellion and how do you think it effected the perception of the revolution?

The rhetoric surrounding the revolution on the opposing side is very critical. In Dalmas account he portrays the leaders of the revolution as greedy and violent. Similarly, Mossut makes the leaders of the revolution look foolish and weak and elevates the slave masters as heroes who beat the odds despite there being a lot more slaves. Gros also negatively portrays the slaves that captured him as mean and unreasonable. Even Olympe De Gouges who seems to support the revolution still describes their actions as savage and barbaric believing that they took it too far and hurt the wrong people. These perceptions of the revolution as a cruel and unnecessary event work to de legitimize the rebellions and paint the masters of the slaves as the victims instead of the other way around. A good portion of the descriptions use language that seeks to make the slaves look like animals by calling them barbaric and savage they are using language that has been used for centuries by Europeans to describe those that they do not feel are “civilized”, this is another way in which they seek to undermine the revolution by saying that is is lead by people who do not know what they are doing and are uncivilized.

Haitian Revolution Discussion Questions

Compare similarities and differences between the Haitian and United States Constitutions

*The Haitian Constitution found on pages 191-196*

The United States Constitution was established in 1787 and the Haitian Constitution was established about 20 years after in 1805. The organization of the two are somewhat the same, but the United States Constitution has the defined sections for different government bodies in the articles and then the ammendments whereas the Haitian Constitution has four main sections named Preliminary Declaration, About the Empire, On Religion, and General Measure with many articles underneath each. In general, the Haitian Constitution seems to focus much more on the present and much less on the plans for the future of the nation by naming many peoples current roles. One interesting and specific example of the unique facets of the Haitian Constitution is Article 8 under Preliminary Declaration. This states “In cases of bankruptcy or business failure, Haitian citizenship is suspended” (Page 192). This is surprising because in the United States today, it is often that one hears of a person or business going into bankruptcy and it was surprising to see it mentioned and the punishment being so harsh. The Haitian Constitution also differs from the United States because it directly states in article 2 of Preliminary Declaration “Slavery is abolished forever” (Page 192). In general, there seems to be establishment of more than just government with various other random little things thrown in such as the national colors as a part of the founding document.


Haitian Revolution Question

How well was the plan for the revolt executed in Dalmas’ History of the Revolution of Saint-Domingue?


Firstly, the efforts to keep the plan a secret was executed well. The whites were caught off guard by the revolt, and many fled for their lives. The murder of M. Mossut did not go as planned, as he was able to avoid death and send people to other plantations to warn them. The rebel leader was able to break the lock at the Galliffet plantation and fires began to spread. These fires were crucial to the success, as it delayed white resistance at Petite Anse and Acul. Chaos ensued as Boukman wreaked havoc on the whites. The slaves then attacked Petite Anse. They fought valiantly and fearlessly as the flames engulfed plantations.

Discussion question 11/19

What are some themes or ideas in The Haitian Constitution that stick out to you? What biases do they reveal?

Some themes in The Haitian Constitution that stick out to me are the importance of freedom: of self and property. Also, the hatred of all French/ white men, but not women. It surprised me how much the preliminary declaration focused on the role of men/fathers. With the intense focus on men’s roles in society, it’s intriguing that there is no mention of women as they do not relate to marriage or families.

It is clear that the themes of The Haitian Constitution reveal racial and gender bias. After more thought, I suppose that article 13, naturalizing white women reveals that the men writing this Constitution saw white women as having no power or say in the enslavement of blacks. Which would likely mean that they dis not believe that the women in their new Haitian society should not have power or say in the laws.


Blog Post

What is the focus of the Preliminary Declaration in the Haitian Constitution?  Give examples to support your answer.


The main focus of the Preliminary Declaration in the Haitian Constitution is what it means to be Haitian.  The document focuses on attaining and revoking of Haitian citizenship as well as what being Haitian means.  Some examples are, “Persons who emigrate and become citizens in a foreign country forfeit their Haitian citizenship.”  Another example is, “No one is worthy of being a Haitian if he is not a good father, a good husband, and, above all, a good soldier.


Preliminary Declaration in Haitian Constitution pp. 192-193 in the older version

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  counts 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.

Discussion Question

What is the internal bias that is prevalent in the Philidelphia General Advertiser and how is it shown?

While reading the reports that were printed in the Philidelphia General Advertiser about the slave revolution, it becomes clear that this article attempts to paint the slaves in a bad light. Through phrases like, “a horrid carnage ensued, as they had orders to give no quarter to men, women, or children; the slaughter finished at two, and the troops began to plunder” (98) and “They fight under a bloody flag, having on it a motto, denouncing death to all whites!” (98) are used to illustrate the slaves as violent, horrific people who are murdering white landowners. What the article fails to acknowledge, however, are the horrific conditions that these slaves were under. Instead, it uses fearmongering to further its motive.

Discussion Question

In Pierre Mossut’s letter to Marquis de Gallifet, he mentions that there is a driver behind the actions of the slaves that he does not understand, “There is a motor that powers them and that keeps powering them and that we cannot come to know.” (pg 94) What do you think this driver is and why do you think that Mossut doesn’t understand it?

The driver behind this revolution was how badly slaves were being treated and how they didn’t want to be in slavery anymore. The fact that this revolution is being driven by the experiences of the slaves is one reason that Mossut can’t seem to understand the revolt. He does not understand the experiences and the lives of slaves as he is a free white man. Being added to the lack of understanding is the previous ideas and notions that Mossut and other white people have about slaves and colored people. Mossut states “All experienced planters know that this class of men have neither the energy nor the combination of ideas necessary for the execution of this project” (pg94). So not only do they know that these slaves are being worked so hard they shouldn’t have extra energy, but they also think that slaves do not have the intelligence to organize a revolt like this. Mossut’s lack of understanding of what it means to be a slave as well as slaves themselves is what prevents him from knowing what is driving the revolts.

Discussion questions for 11/20

What role, if any, did religion play in the uprisings? How do the descriptions of religious rituals in the excerpts from Herard Dumesle’s Voyage to the North of Haiti and Antoine Dalmas’ History of the Revolution of Saint-Domingue demonstrate their authors’ perceptions of the Haitian Revolution?

In the primary source documents for Wednesday, religion is mostly prominent in the first two documents by Dumesle and Dalmas, which focus on the uprising in August 1791. Overall, it does not play a substantial role in the debates and situations that follow, which primarily emphasize the concept of liberty without mentioning religious ideas or themes. Dumesle’s excerpt (despite its fictional elements) highlights the importance of the Bois-Caiman ceremony, noting its centrality to the entire uprising when he writes that the slaves “formed a plan for a vast insurrection, which they sanctified through a religious ceremony” (Dumesle 87). In the speech that was supposedly given by one of the slaves, the influence of religion is especially clear. God is explicitly referenced toward the end of the speech, referred to as a supporter of the slave revolt: “‘But that God who is so good orders us to vengeance; / He will direct our hands, and give us help, / Throw away the image of the God of the whites who thirsts for our tears, / Listen to the liberty that speaks in all our hearts'” (Dumesle 88). Ultimately, Dumesle portrays the uprising as being motivated by a sort of religious fervor, associated with God as well as the concepts of liberty and vengeance (Dumesle 88). Describing the insurrection as “the most sad of spectacles,” Dumesle ultimately casts it in a negative light (Dumesle 88).

Dalmas describes the August 1791 rebellion and, more specifically, the Bois-Caiman ceremony, in an even worse light than Dumesle. For example, he states that “a black pig… was offered as a sacrifice to the all-powerful spirit of the black race. The religious ceremony in which the negres slit its throat, the greed with which they drank its blood, the importance they attached to owning some of its bristles which they believed would make them invincible reveal the characteristics of the Africans. It is natural that a caste this ignorant and stupid would begin the most horrible attacks with the superstitious rites of an absurd and bloodthirsty religion” (Dalmas 90). He condemns the entire revolt and its religious aspects, viewing the slaves as inferior while also associating their religious rituals with the violent nature of the rebellion.