RWBF:Chapter Four Section 1
In the period leading up to and during the Haitian Revolution for independence, France was experiencing an extraordinarily turbulent time. The French economy was unstable. There was widespread resistance to the monarchy and to the longstanding control by the Church. In addition, there was great debate regarding human rights and in the establishment of a democratic republic. In 1789, the French interest in human rights resulted in the adoption of The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen by the National Assembly. The Declaration expressed universal human rights, not only for citizens, but for ‘all men without exception’; it became a lightening rod for the issue of slavery and the basis of the French colonial empire particularly in Haiti. The Society of the Friends of Blacks (Societe des Amis des Noirs) and others used the Declaration of the Rights of Man as a basis for pushing the Estates General and the National Assembly to end the slave trade and abolish of slavery.
Delegates from Saint-Domingue attended the Estates General in 1789 in order to discuss the treatment of the colonies and of slavery. This meeting (including these Haitian colonial delegates) led to the naming of the National Assembly, which was the beginning of the French Revolution.
There is a direct correspondence between the revolutionary activities in France and the rising slave revolt in Saint-Domingue. The French revolutionaries disagreed not only in their positions on slavery and abolition but also the ways in which the new laws would apply in the colonies. For some in France the surging uprisings in Saint-Dominigue advanced their beliefs of the revolution. For others, however, it represented further threats to economic stability in threatening close ties between France and planters in Saint-Dominigue. In addition, fear of other colonial slave insurrections raised hesitation regarding France’s relationship to its colonies.
The complicated and divided loyalties was a system France enforced on Saint-Domingue called the "exclusive." This system required that Saint-Domingue sell 100% of its exports to France alone, and purchase 100% of its imports from France alone. The French merchants and the monarchy set the prices for both imports and exports and so the prices were extremely favorable to France as international markets were disregarded. The Americans wanted molasses from Saint-Domingue for their rum distilleries, and Saint-Domingue imported huge quantities of low quality dried fish to feed the slaves. The planters hated the oppression of France's exclusif. With growing independence, the white planters united with the free people of color. Even though the whites continued to oppress the free people of color in their society, the two groups agreed on these economic issues.
For some in Saint-Dominigue, the French Revolution offered the hope of emancipation; for others it created rifts between free people of color, slaves and people of mixed races; and for others it felt like it sealed the fate of the slaves as slaves. For those in France and in the colony, the correspondence of the beginning of the slave insurrection in Saint-Domingue to the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man to beginning of the French Revolution pressured all sides as there was much debate.
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