The Struggle for the Recognition of Haiti and Liberia as Independent Republics
The Journal of Negro History was founded on January 1, 1916 as a quarterly research journal. The publisher was the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and in 2002, the Journal of Negro History was renamed The Journal of African American History.
by Charles H. Wesley
The doctrine of recognition as a principle of International law appeared in definite form at the close of the American Revolution. New states had arisen and successful revolutions had given birth to new governments.411 In Washington's Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, the French Republic was recognized and the neutral position of America was announced. 412 These principles, developed later by Adams and Jefferson through application to the South American colonies which had declared their independence of Spain, marked the beginning of the well-defined international principle of recognition. 413
Between 1810 and 1825, the Spanish colonies of Mexico, New Granada (Columbia), Venezuela, Peru, Buenos Ayres [Buenos Aires], Chile, Ecuador and Upper Peru (Bolivia) had revolted and rejected Spanish dominion.  In 1824, England recognized the independence of Buenos Ayres, Mexico and Columbia, and gave no heed to the assertion that this "tended to encourage the revolutionary spirit which it had been found so difficult to restrain in Europe." 2 
But before the Spanish colonies had gained their independence, and the spirit of democracy had begun to diffuse its light, movements were on foot to secure the recognition of Haiti. After its discovery by Columbus in 1492, Haitian soil was drenched with the blood of the Spaniard and the native. Civil wars were begun and bloody scenes were enacted. In 1533, peace came between the natives and the Spaniards. Soon thereafter, other Europeans began to arrive. The French and the English were attracted by the stories of riches and their chances for gain. The bloody struggles between these nations and the natives fill many pages of Haitian history.  The inhabitants took now the one side, now the other.
Led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, the cause of the French was championed. Finding the French yoke as heavy as the Spanish yoke, Toussaint struck for absolute liberty. He was not, in a real sense, the liberator of the Haitians, as commonly supposed, but he was the precursor of their liberty.  His deportation aroused them to struggle with new vigor. Under Dessalines, one of the generals in the army of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the rebellion grew more successful, and on January 1, 1804, the army swore to abjure their allegiance to France forever, and thereupon declared the independence of Haiti.  Dessalines was chosen Governor-General and upon abolishing the name "Santo Domingo," the aboriginal name "Haiti" was reestablished.
The history of Haiti after 1804 is concerned with internal dissensions, and contentions with foreign powers. Haiti was not immediately recognized nor was she welcomed into the family of nations. Retaliatory measures were taken by her government to compel the powers to see the advantage in this recognition. Christophe, a contender for power with Pétion, one of the founders of the republic, issued in 1816 the proclamation that no negotiation would be entered upon with France unless the independence of the kingdom of Haiti,  political as well as commercial, be previously recognized. 
In 1823, the independence of Mexico, Columbia, and others was recognized by Great Britain, but Haiti after nineteen years of independence was not given this consideration. As a result the British trade privileges were abolished and the import tax of 12 per cent. was levied on the products of all nations. 
Early indications of American commercial relations with Haiti and of an unsatisfactory condition may be discerned in the following resolutions, the first of which was submitted in the Senate, January 11, 1819:
On December 31, 1822, the following resolution was submitted in the House:
As a matter of fact, the trade with Haiti was very important during this period. By the report of the Register's Office, 1825, Haiti ranked twenty-ninth in the list of countries trading with the United States. 
The actual presentation of the question to the country as a whole grew out of an invitation to attend the Panama Congress. In 1825, General Bolivar, leader of the South American revolutionists, invited the states north and south of the Isthmus to send delegates to a congress which would assemble at Panama. Formal invitations to attend the congress were received from Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia and others. The following suggestions were made as to questions to be considered: the interference of European powers in America, the recognition of Haiti, the slave trade and the formation of an American league.  That the recognition of Haiti was one of the objects of consideration is so stated among the lists of subjects in the Official Gazette of Columbia. The congress was to determine on what footing should be placed the political and commercial relations of those portions of our hemisphere, which had obtained their independence, but whose independence had not been recognized by any American or European power, as was for many years the case with Haiti.  Other evidence is found in a letter of the Columbian minister, Salazar: "On what basis the relations of Haiti, and of other parts of our Hemisphere that shall hereafter be in like circumstances, are to be placed," said he, "is a question simple at first view, but attended with serious difficulties when closely examined. These arise from the different manner of regarding Africans, and from their different rights in Haiti, the United States and in other American states. This question will be determined at the Isthmus, and if possible, an uniform rule of conduct adopted in regard to it, or those modifications that may be demanded by circumstances." 
A special message was sent to Congress by President Adams on December 26, naming the delegates to this congress, and asking for an appropriation for expenses. Both Clay, then Secretary of State, and President Adams wished to extend the commercial power of the United States over the Americas, and they welcomed this opportunity. They disclaimed any desire to enter any league, but left poorly defined the objects which would be considered. 
The southern point of view, as expressed in the debates on this question, was that disaster awaited the Southern States, if the United States should send delegates to a congress in which Haitian representatives would sit, and which would consider the separation of Cuba and Porto Rico from Spain and the cessation of slavery. This viewpoint was expressed by Benton of Missouri, saying: "We buy coffee from her, and pay for it; but we interchange no consuls or ministers. We receive no mulatto consuls or black ambassadors. And why? Because the peace of eleven states in this Union will not permit the fruits of a successful Negro insurrection to be exhibited among them.... Who are to advise and sit in judgment upon it? Five nations who have already put the black man upon an equality with the white, not only in their constitutions but in real life; five nations who have at this moment (at least some of them) black generals in their armies and mulatto Senators in their Congresses."
The same attitude was expressed by Hayne of South Carolina. "With nothing connected with slavery," said he, "can we consent to treat with other nations, and least of all, ought we to touch the question of the independence of Haiti, in conjunction with revolutionary governments.... You find men of color at the head of their armies, in their legislative halls, and in their executive departments. They are looking to Hayti, even now, with feelings of the strongest fraternity and show, by the very documents before us, that they acknowledge her to be independent." So far as the mission itself was concerned, these arguments were farfetched and served rather to delay the time of departure than to hinder it. The Senate confirmed the nomination and the House voted the expenses. The delegates arrived after the close of the sessions of the congress. Another session was to be held at Tacubaya, but because of dissensions this congress did not assemble. Therefore, the Panama Congress served only to excite debate on the slavery issue and the recognition question, and this last became a rallying cry for the opponents of the administration.
During the intervening years between 1825 and 1860, many memorials, petitions and recommendations were made to Congress respecting the recognition of Haiti. In June, 1838, a petition was received by the Senate from "certain citizens of the United States praying that a diplomatic representative be sent and commercial regulations be entered into with the Republic."  This, as others, was laid on the table. While this session continued, petitions were repeatedly presented. John Quincy Adams was the champion of this cause, as of that against the Gag Resolutions, and, again and again, it was through him that the memorials were presented.
Objections were frequently made to the presentation of these memorials. On December 19, Legaré of South Carolina said: "As sure as you live, Sir, if this course is permitted to go on, the sun of this Union will go down—it will go down in blood and go down to rise no more. I will vote unhesitatingly against nefarious designs like these. They are treason."  In 1839, while the House was considering an outfit for a chargé d'affaires to Holland, Slade of Vermont began a speech in favor of appointing a diplomatic agent to Haiti. He spoke until the House refused to hear the continuation of his remarks.  A resolution was offered later to appoint a commercial agent to Haiti, but it was ruled out of order.  In the same year, the Committee on Foreign Affairs asked to be discharged from the "further consideration of sundry memorials asking for the opening of international relations with Haiti."  In spite of this request, the next year, 1840, petitions urging the recognition were continued.  That Garrison was active in this agitation of the abolition period is shown by the statement of Wise, of Virginia: "it is but part and parcel of the English scheme set on foot by Garrison, and to bring abolition as near as possible...." 
In 1844, the Committee on Foreign Affairs made a report on the subject of commercial intercourse with the republic of Haiti. Ten thousand copies were ordered to be printed.  As a result of this report, and the agitation of years back, a commission was appointed to Haiti in 1844 and again in 1851. In the latter year, an invitation was made to the United States Government to join France and England in an offensive interference in Haiti. The correspondence and the reports of one of the American Commissioners, Robert Walsh, was made public in 1852, and they were widely discussed.  The reports were unjust and unfair estimations even of the Haitian commercial situation. A reliable estimate of the trade of Haiti with the United States, at this time, places the trade as equal to the total trade of Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, the Cisalpine Republics and Peru with the United States. Mexico, with more than sixteen times as large a population as Haiti, exported from the United States in 1851, $330,000 less than Haiti and used for the purpose 26,000 tons less of shipping. And yet these countries were recognized as independent republics, while Haiti was denied that right.
European countries were not as slow as the United States in granting recognition to Haiti. England formally acknowledged the Republic in 1825, and sent a Consul-General.  An imperfect recognition was granted by Charles X of France, by sending Baron Mackau as his representative.  Its independence was recognized fully in 1838, after thirty-four years of independence. Two treaties were negotiated, one of them political, by which the independence of the republic was recognized; the other financial, by which the claims of the French colonists were reduced to sixty million francs.  This debt made Haiti almost a dependency of France for over sixty years. Before 1860, all important countries had representatives in Haiti. Great Britain, Spain, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden, Hanover and Austria were all duly chronicled in the Almanach de Gotha.  In the language of Frederick Douglass: "After Haiti had shaken off the fetters of bondage, and long after her freedom and independence had been recognized by all other civilized nations, we continued to refuse to acknowledge the fact and treated her as outside the sisterhood of nations."
By act of Congress in 1819, the colony of Liberia was established. During the years following, groups of colonists left America for this shore.  The decade after 1832 was marked by the action of the independent State colonization societies. In 1847, the people of Liberia undertook self-government, which was adopted by popular vote. A later convention drew up a declaration of independence, and a new constitution modeled on that of the United States was adopted, July 26, 1847. In September, it was ratified by the people, and President Roberts took office, January 3, 1848. 
President Roberts set out on a voyage to the foreign countries with the intention of seeking favor for his country. In many countries, he was welcomed and his efforts were successful. In England, for example, not only was recognition secured, but also an armed vessel of small tonnage and a few guns were given him.  In the United States, not even the formal recognition of Liberia was obtained. This was due, in some measure, to the slavery question and the contention which was always aroused when any subject even remotely related thereto was presented. 
When Liberia declared its independence in 1848, the second Negro republic entered its demand for the recognition of its sovereignty by the United States. Henry Clay, one of the early officers of the American Colonization Society, wrote in a letter dated Ashland, October 18, 1851: "I have thought for years that the independence of Liberia ought to be recognized by our government, and I have frequently urged it upon persons connected with the administration and I shall continue to do so if I have suitable opportunity."
England recognized the independence of Liberia in 1848 and France in 1852.  In 1855 treaties were formed with the Hanseatic Republics, Lubeck [Lübeck], Bremen and Hamburg, with Belgium in 1858, with Denmark in 1861, with Italy and the Netherlands in 1862, with Holland, Sweden, Norway and Haiti in 1864, with Portugal and Denmark in 1865 and Austria in 1867.  For a period of years the United States had maintained a commercial agent at Monrovia and at Gaboon.  It was evident to those acquainted with the commercial situation that recognition was desirable, for both of these Republics. 
In 1859, the leading northern newspapers carried advertisements from the Haitian government, offering homes with land and free passage to those unable to provide the same. A reply was published in the Tribune addressed especially to the free people of color of Missouri and the North. A significant clause in this reply said: "Remember that when you pass beyond the limits of the United States, the government and laws of this country cease to protect you."  A circular was sent out in 1860, addressed to the "Blacks, Men of color, and Indians in the United States and British North American Provinces," and after calling attention to the prosperous condition of the country, added "that our relations with the powers represented in Haiti are on a footing of perfect harmony." 
The triumph of the Republican party in 1860 foreshadowed the exclusion of slavery from the territories, and the ultimate ruin of the institution. Six weeks after Lincoln's election, South Carolina had adopted the Ordinance of Secession, and the Gulf States soon followed. There were only four slave-holding States with representatives in Congress, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. At the opening of the 37th Congress, 1861, the President's message contained the following: "If any good reason exists why we should persevere longer in withholding our recognition of the independence and sovereignty of Haiti and Liberia, I am unable to discern it. Unwilling, however, to inaugurate a novel policy in regard to them without the approbation of Congress, I submit to your consideration the expediency of an appropriation for maintaining a Chargé d'Affaires near each of these states. It does not admit of doubt that important commercial advantages might be secured by favorable treaties with them."  Commenting on Lincoln's message, Garrison terms it "feeble and rambling" and he "could find nothing in it to praise except the recommendation that Congress should recognize the independence and sovereignty of Haiti and Liberia." 
The 45th annual report, January 21, 1862, of the American Colonization Society contained a section calling attention to the message. The board of managers of the Pennsylvania Colonization Society took note of the same, May, 1862. Newspapers and magazines took up the agitation. The Philadelphia North American said: "It is high time that Congress should recognize Liberia as an independent, self-sustaining government. Such a measure would be perfectly comformable to the principles, policy and direct interests of our country." 
On February 4, 1862, Charles Sumner from the Committee on Foreign Relations, introduced a bill "authorizing the President to appoint Diplomatic Representatives to the Republics of Haiti and Liberia respectively. Each Representative so appointed is to be accredited as Commissioner and Consul-General and is to receive, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, the compensation of commissioners provided for by Act of Congress, approved August 18, 1856; but the compensation of the Representative at Liberia is not to exceed $4,000."  With the introduction of the bill, Sumner spoke at some length, favoring the passage of the bill.  Following the speech of Sumner, the opposition arose. Davis, of Kentucky, said: "If after such a measure should take effect, the Republic of Haiti and the Republic of Liberia were to send their Ministers Plenipotentiary or their Chargé d'Affaires to our government, they would have to be received by the President and by all the functionaries of the government upon the same terms of equality with similar representatives from other powers. If a full-blooded Negro were sent in that capacity from either of the two countries, by the laws of nations he could demand that he be received precisely on the same terms of equality with the white representative from the powers on the earth composed of white people."  This sentiment of the opposition, however, was expressed in harsher terms in some instances. Through Saulsbury, of Maryland, this sentiment again was: "How fine it will look, after emancipating the slaves in this District, to welcome here at the White House an African, full-blooded, all gilded and belaced, dressed in court style, with wig and sword and tights and shoe-buckles and ribbons and spangles and many other adornments which African vanity will suggest;" and "If this bill should pass the Houses of Congress and become a law, I predict that in twelve months, some Negro will walk upon the floor of the Senate and carry his family into that which is apart for foreign Ministers. If that is agreeable to the tastes and feelings of the people of this country, it is not to mine...." 
To these attacks, Sumner replied: "I content myself with a single remark. I have more than once had the opportunity of meeting citizens of those republics and I say nothing more than truth when I add that I have found them so refined, and so full of self-respect that I am led to believe no one of them charged with a mission from his government will seek any society where he will not be entirely welcome." A letter from the Commercial Agent at Port au Prince was read, urging immediate recognition in order to counteract "the schemes of foreign powers"; adding further that "the Haitians believed that when the present administration came into power in the United States, our former coldness and neglect would cease; and they feel and do not hesitate to express a bitter disappointment that nothing has yet been done."  The bill was passed by the Senate, by a vote of 32 yeas to 7 nays. In the House, it was championed by Gooch of Massachusetts and passed by a vote of 86 yeas to 37 nays, and with the President's signature became a law. In November, 1864, a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation was signed between the United States and Haiti.  A similar treaty was signed with Liberia. 
Both of the Republics have felt deeply indebted to Charles Sumner for the passage of this bill. The Liberian Commissioners, Alexander Crummell, Edward Blyden, and J. D. Johnson, expressed thanks for his discretion in securing its passage. The republic of Haiti as late as 1871 manifested its gratitude for his continued interest in its welfare by presenting him with a medal and by an order that his portrait be placed in its capitol.  The A. M. E. Church, representing thousands of Negroes in the United States, expressed the sentiment of this people in a resolution adopted in August, 1862, to the effect "that, in the noble act of the United States Senate in passing a law recognizing the independence of Haiti and Liberia, we see the hand of God in a movement which we regard as ominous of good for the race." 
Thus after Haiti had been an independent power for sixty years and Liberia for fifteen years, the government of the United States granted recognition to them as independent republics, on the eve of the death of the slave system. Under the average circumstances, prompt recognition may have come as the result of the efforts of the nations themselves, as in the case of the republic of Texas.  But because of the unusual circumstance which the adoption of recognition for Negro republics would produce—holding some as slaves and recognizing others as equals—these republics were forced to ally themselves with the opponents of slavery and to encourage the presentation of their case through the champions of anti-slavery in the legislative halls. Without regard to their more recent internal politics and modern difficulties, the recognition of these republics as independent powers forms one of the great landmarks in the Negro's progress toward democracy, and justice.
America was subjected to these taxes as shown by: "While the citizens of France are scarcely affected in their importations to Haiti, the Americans here import and our merchants at home export scarcely any article that is free."—"Commercial Relations," Vol. 1, p. 560.
John L. Wilson, commercial agent at Cape Haytien, wrote, June 5, 1854: "By a recognition of the Independence of Hayti, our commerce would be likely to advance still more. Our citizens trading there would enjoy more privileges, besides standing on a better footing. Many decided advantages might be obtained through treaty and our own government would exercise a wholesome influence over theirs, of which it stands much in need."—"Commercial Relations," Vol. 4, p. 509.
Seth Webb, commercial agent at Port au Prince, wrote, December 12, 1861: "I must say with frankness to the Department, that I find my position much embarrassed by the failure of our government to take any steps toward acknowledging the nationality of Haiti, or entering into the usual relations of country, which exist between neighboring peoples."—To Hon. Wm. H. Seward, Sec. of State, U. S. Commercial Agency, Port au Prince.
"The Executive Committee of the American Colonization Society observe with deep interest that the President of the United States has in his late message recommended that the Republic of Liberia should be acknowledged as independent. They also notice his recommendation of some plan of colonization for free people of color in some clime congenial to them."