RWBF:Chapter Four Section 2

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France was aware of the events in its Caribbean colony as both the French Revolution and the slave insurrection in [[Saint-Dominigue progressed. Despite French sentiments towards abolition, France’s official response was to send a French force to subdue the uprisings in Haiti. The war fought in Haiti was a difficult experience for the French troops, who were unprepared for the physical conditions such as yellow fever and sustenance of food.

Strategies organized by Napoleon were met with both success and failure. One force, led by Charles-Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc won several victories after severe fighting and an agreement was reached, which was ultimately broken by Leclerc. The natives, led by Dessalines and Henri Christophe, rose in revolt and expelled the French. Leger Felicite Sonthonax, son of a prosperous French merchant, had risen through the ranks during the French Revolution and was sent in 1792 to Saint-Domingue as a Commissioner of the Second Civil Commission. The three men heading this Commission oversaw the interests of France in Saint-Domingue and to enforced the new French law of April 4, 1792, which gave full rights of French citizenship to free men of color. Military leaders, troops – an entire French colonial army - ships, supplies and strategies all had to be transported, deployed and supported through several waves of fighting over the years.

These efforts reflected France’s hope to keep Haiti within the colonial empire as a slave holding, productive economic profit. Groups in France organized and advocated to maintain this status quo. Club Massiac consisting of French revolutionaries, many of whom had money invested in the colonial economy, was a well-funded lobbying group backed by the plantation-owners. This Club spread pro-slavery propaganda and convinced the National Assembly to guarantee that no changes would be made in the slave system without the consent of the whites in the colonies. The Société des Amis des Noirs- (Society of Friends of Blacks) hoped to extend to France the growing abolitionist movement that had swept into Europe. The Société backed the free blacks as it pressed the French government to extend the Declaration of the Rights of Man at least to freed blacks in France and in its colonies. The Society also campaigned for an end to the slave trade. Its membership believed that this approach would be more successful than demanding an end to slavery altogether. The Estates-General responded half-heartedly to the Society's urgings. Freedom was officially granted to only already-freed slaves rather than to those who remained enslaved. Even that was met with fierce resistance from the slave-holders of Saint-Domingue.

In 1791, the National Assembly in France granted full civil rights to all people of color (gens de couleur) born of free parents. This coincided with the beginning slave uprisings in Saint-Dominigue as it represented the uncertainty of the French revolutionaries on religious freedom, women’s rights and on slavery. The constitution in France would not be applied to the colonies thereby undermining the integrity of the revolution’s goals. The inconsistency between the revolution’s intentions and results (maintenance of slavery) of the revolution in the colonies weakened France and strengthened the insurrection in Saint-Dominigue, helping the ultimate cause of Haiti’s independence.


  • Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois
  • Slave Revolution in the Caribbean 1789-1804 by Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus