Napoléon Bonaparte

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Napoléon Bonaparte and his horse Vizir.
Napoléon Bonaparte (born Napoleone di Buonaparte) (August 15, 1769 Ajaccio, Corsica - May 5, 1821 St. Helena) became Toussaint Louverture's main enemy after he came to power in 1799. The French emperor tried to re-establish slavery in the Caribbean colony Saint-Domingue (later renamed Haiti) through his brother in law General Leclerc. He had Toussaint Louverture captured by deceit and transferred to a dungeon in the French Alps where the Haitian revolutionary leader later died.

The First Consul

Napoléon Bonaparte was a general of the French Revolution, and the ruler of France as First Consul (Premier Consul) of the First French Republic from November 11, 1799 to May 18, 1804, then as Emperor of the French (Empereur des Français) and King of Italy under the name Napoleon I (French: Napoléon Ier) from May 18, 1804 to April 6, 1814, and again briefly from March 22, to June 22, 1815.
Napoléon first came to power on November 9, 1799 (the "18th Brumaire") through a coup d'état, thus ending the French Revolution.

Re-establishing slavery in the colonies

Napoléon Bonaparte's signature.
In late 1801 Bonaparte dispatched the generals Antoine Richepanse to Guadeloupe and Leclerc to Saint-Domingue with the goals to massacre Africans living in the colonies and to once again establish slavery.

"On the 20th of May, 1801, Bonaparte published the infamous decree which placed the French colonies in the state in which they were before the year 1789, and which, authorizing the slave-trade, abrogated all laws to the contrary. This execrable 1 measure marks the real character of the Corsican adventurer, and hands his name down to posterity covered with disgrace. Soon, however, did he find that in an evil hour he had overstepped the limits of prudence; and therefore he put forth another decree which hypocritically excepted Saint Domingo and Guadeloupe, "because these islands are free, not only by right, but in fact, whilst the other colonies are actually in slavery, and it would be dangerous to put an end to that state of things." (Beard p. 154)

Napoléon's Caribbean Genocide

Napoléon's lagacy in the Caribbean is one of great violence, genocide and destruction. The French historian Claude Ribbe states: "...Napoleon ordered the killing of as many blacks as possible in Haiti and Guadeloupe to be replaced by new, docile slaves from Africa," (Randall)

Late in the war against the Haitian revolutionary forces, Napoléon Bonaparte's troops resorted to outright genocidal tactics. In 1803, General "Rochambeau [Napoléon's supreme commander and under his direct orders], accompanied by the French Generals Pageot and Lavalette, undertook to subdue [the Haitian troops]''. His arrival at Jacmel was signalized by a horrible crime: by his orders, about 100 natives, who were only suspected of having little zeal for France, were thrown into the hold of a man-of-war 2, the hatchways of which were tightly closed; the men were then suffocated by the fumes of the ignited sulphur, their corpses being afterward thrown into the sea." {Léger p. 130)

The Louisiana Purchase

In 1803, Bonaparte faced a major setback when an army he sent in 1801 under the command of General Leclerc (After Leclercs death in 1802 this force was led by General Rochambeau) to reconquer Saint-Domingue and re-establish slavery, was destroyed by a fierce resistance of the Haitian fighters led by Toussaint Louverture and after Toussaint had been deported to France, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Recognizing that the French possessions on the mainland of North America would now be indefensible, and facing imminent war with Britain, he sold them to the United States —the Louisiana Purchase—for less than three cents per acre ($7.40/km²).

The loss of Saint-Dominque

Napoléon Bonaparte
Although Napoléon Bonaparte had given orders to his brother in law General Leclerc to capture the leader of the Haitian Revolution Toussaint Louverture, the Haitians regrouped. Under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines the disparate forces fighting against the French attempt to regain control in Saint-Dominque - and Napoléon's attempt re-establish slavery - were united. The French troops, over 30.000 of which had arrived in the colony in 1802, could not stand up to Dessalines, who had turned the conflict into a guerilla war. The fighting culminated in the Battle of Vertières, hours after which the French military leader General Rochambeau capitulated. While Leclerc had been unable to contain the Haitian forces, Rochambeau's cruel actions served to further unite Napoléon's Haitian enemies.

The loss of the colony of Saint-Domingue was a major blow to the French empire. While the fighting in Saint-Domingue, beginning with the Boukman Rebellion in 1791 had cut down the profits of the slave system, Napoléon had intended to restore the colonial economy of Saint-Domingue, which had been the worlds richest and most productive colony. Napoléon had given up Louisiana in an attempt to keep control of the possessions in the Caribbean Sea. Whereas the French had re-installed slavery in Guadeloupe through Richepanse, news of which installed great fear in Saint-Domingue, they had lost the revenue from slavery in what became Haiti in 1804 and received their first major defeat in their global conquest.

Napoleon and Racism

In recent years efforts to reevaluate French history from a African perspective have gained ground and are increasing part of the national dialogue.

Note 1: Execrable: adj.

1. Deserving of execration; hateful.
2. Extremely inferior; very bad: an execrable meal.

Note 2: A man-of-war refers to an armed naval vessel.

See also

Correspondence between Toussaint Louverture and Napoléon Bonaparte

Letters by Napoléon Bonaparte to Toussaint Louverture

Napoléon's Generals in Saint-Domingue


Further reading

  • Ribbe, Claude. (2005) Le Crime de Napoléon. Editions Privé. ISBN 235076012X (French language)
    • Ribbe, Claude. (2007) Napoleon's Crimes: A Blueprint for Hitler. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1851685332


  • Beard, J. R. (John Relly) (1863). Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography. Chapel Hill, NC: Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH. Online Publication
  • Execrable. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved January, 13, 2006, from Web site: [1].
  • James, C.L.R. (1989). The Black Jacobins. Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. (2nd Ed., Revised) New York: Vintage Press. ISBN 0-679-72467-2.
  • Léger, Jacques Nicolas. Haiti Her History And Her Detractors. (1907). The Neale Publishing Company. New York. available online - Accessed on August 16, 2007
  • Randall, Colin. (2005). Napoleon's genocide 'on a par with Hitler'. London: Telegraph (newspaper) Retrieved 17:34, July 19, 2006 Available online (originally published on November 26, 2005)
  • Napoleon I of France. (2005, December 7). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:21, December 7, 2005 [2].

External links