Amis des Noirs
Société des Amis des Noirs (Society of Friends of the Blacks)
The French Revolution was an ideal vehicle for the humanitarian and revolutionary ideas of French lawyer Jacques (Jean) Pierre Brissot. In 1788 he and Etienne Clavière founded the Société des Amis des Noirs in Paris to extend to France the growing abolitionist movement that had swept into Europe.
Through turbulent years, the Société backed the gens de couleur libre (free blacks) as they pressed the French government to extend its recently-proclaimed Declaration of the Rights of Man at least to freed blacks both in France and in its colonies, including in Saint-Domingue. 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, given the nearly inconceivable impact that such a fundamental change to the nation's (indeed, the world's) economic underpinnings would have.
The Estates-General responded half-heartedly to the society's urgings, officially granting freedom only to already-freed slaves rather than to those who remained enslaved. But even that met with fierce resistance from the slave-holders of Saint-Domingue (and elsewhere).
Many of les Amis' members in addition to Brissot were well-known. One of the key people wakening the French national conscience regarding slavery was Julien Raimond, a mulatto from Saint-Domingue who used his status as a wealthy planter to speak out the colony's parent country for the cause of abolition. Subsequently, he was twice sent as a civil commissioner to Saint-Domingue.
Legér Sonthonax, who also was sent twice to Saint-Domingue as a commissioner, was affiliated with les Amis. So was Jacques Vincent Ogé, the mulatto born in France and educated in Paris who would instigate the rebellion that marked the beginning of the end of slavery on Saint-Domingue. Ogé was one of many who urged the group to keep stepping up their efforts to stop slavery in the vibrant French colony. Many other French notables lent their names and influence to the cause. Among them, the noble/politician Count Honoré Gabriel Riqueti Mirabeau, the Enlightenment philosopher/mathematician Marquis de Condorcet, the Bishop Henri Grégoire and the nobleman/soldier Marquis de Lafayette. Even Dr Joseph Guillotin, inventor of the guillotine, joined Les Amis.
Some others who might have joined chose not to for various reasons. One such key person was Thomas Jefferson, who spent time in Paris during these years as the U.S. emissary to the court of Louix XIV. While in that capacity he could not have joined les Amis without having such an action taken as a demonstration of U.S. policy, thus compromising his post as a diplomat.
Predictably, les Amis did not lack for detractors, people who felt that the organization's championing of black rights was misplaced at best. Charles Etienne Thevenau among the most notable of its critics. Born a West Indian, he went to Paris as a journalist and was jailed there for his virulent opposition to les Amis.
Abolitionist groups such as les Amis were radical organizations in a time of significant political and economic upheaval particularly in Europe and the still-young United States. What they achieved ultimately -- provoking an end to the then-accepted nearly-global concept of enslaving people, particularly enslaving masses for use as manufacturing fodder -- created havoc in the short term, but in the long term unleashed a new energy that made possible the next level of human endeavor. The fact that slavery still exists in various countries and in various guises does not diminish the powerful impact of les Amis and its ilk in their day and time. If anything, it underscores how much can be achieved by dedicated people who, despite the odds, work togther diligently for a cause that matters.
- Declaration of the Rights of Man - An important document of the French Revolution.
- Letter to the Citizens of Color and Free Negroes of Saint-Domingue - 1791 letter by Henri Grégoire.
- Straker, D. Augustus. "Reflections on the Life and Times of Toussaint L'Overture, the Negro Haytien, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Ruler under the Dominion of France, and Author of the Independence of Hayti." Charles A. Calvo, Jr., Printer and Bookbinder, Columbia, S.C., 1886. Published online by the University of North Carolina's 'Documenting the American South' project. http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/straker/straker.html
- Garrigus, John D. "The Free Colored Elite of Saint-Domingue: The Case of Julien Raimond, 1744-1801." Jacksonville University. Original draft finished on August 17, 1989. Revised in the early 1990s for Gad Heuman/ Barry Gaspar book on free men of color in the Caribbean. Published as a PDF file on May 7, 2003 on http://users.ju.edu/jgarrig.
- Jenkinson, Clay S. Book Review Essay, The Ordeal of Thomas Jefferson/Whirl Is King - reviewing Mr. Jefferson's Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase, by Roger G. Kennedy. Oxford University Press, New York, 2003. Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, index. 368 pages. $30.00 cloth, $16.95 paper. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ohq/105.3/jenkinson.html
- Encyclopedia Brittanical online. Mirabeau, Honoré-Gabriel Riqueti, comte de (count of). http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9052919
- Iridis Encyclopedia. Marquis de Lafayette. http://www.iridis.com/glivar/Marquis_de_la_Fayette
- Williamsburg Sculpture: Lafayette. http://www.williamsburgsculpture.com/Laf%20Marb%20FNT%20chest%20POR%20PG.htm
- School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat Condorcet. http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/%7Ehistory/Mathematicians/Condorcet.html
- Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de. http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0002359.html
- Center for History and New Media (George Mason University) and American Social History Project (City University of New York) - Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution: Society of the Friends of Blacks, Address to the National Assembly in Favor of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (5 February 1790)