The Haitian Revolution – The Long Fuse – Extra History – #2

The Haitian Revolution – The Long Fuse – Extra History – #2


Paris, – August 26th, 1789. The revolutionary National Assembly in France takes the vote. At issue, is a new document, drafted by Marquis de Lafayette in consultation with his friend, Thomas Jefferson. But in truth, many statesmen have given input to this: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It borrows from the Magna Carta, The American Declaration of Independence, and both the English and American Bill of Rights. It begins: Article One – “Men are born and remain free and in equal rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.” Though they do not know it, these words will light a fuse that will burn all the way across the Atlantic, and blow the slave society of Saint-Domingue to smithereens. Like the American Revolution, slavery was always lurking under the table in revolutionary France. It did not go unnoticed, that the revolutions rallying cry of liberty, equality, and fraternity was directly at odds with slave-owning society. But there were also no illusions about the French dependency on the sugar economy of Saint-Domingue. And though abolition was discussed from the mid 1700s, even the most radical favored a gradual emancipation with slave owners being paid compensation. Many warned that if nothing changed, a major Caribbean slave revolt was inevitable. Then when the revolution came, representatives from the Big Whites, the Saint-Domingue plantation owners, and the free people of color, both decided that the time had come to take their goals to Paris. The Big Whites pushed for the colonies to have seats in the newly created National Assembly, so they could argue for more autonomy in the colony’s affairs and for the freedom to trade with the British Caribbean and the United States. And the free people of color, for their part, were well ahead of them. For years, representatives from Saint-Domingue had been petitioning the government to grant the free people of color full rights. And they too, saw the revolution as an opportunity to further that goal. Originally, they had tried to get the Big Whites on their side, arguing that as fellow slaveholders, the two groups had interests in common. So give the free people of color rights, especially voting rights, and then the two groups together could form a political bloc to defend slavery. The big whites though, weren’t having it. They opposed any reform to the colony’s racial caste system. So instead, the free people of color made an alliance with an abolitionist society called “The Friends of the Blacks”. And they argued that granting full rights to free people of color would be a major step on the road to gradual abolition. And here’s where I’d like to pause for just a second, because this is the last time in this series where things will be relatively simple. Yeah, all of that stuff before, was the simple part. Right after this point, both Saint-Domingue and France are going to, to use a technical, historical term… g o n u t s. Everyone is going to ally with everyone else, and then change sides 15 minutes later. Legislators are going to vote for reforms, dispatch messengers, dissolve, reform, and then reverse those reforms before the initial messengers even arrive. Revolutionary politics, in other words, is about to resemble a bag full of cats on espresso. In fact, to even fit all of it into this series, we’re going to have to gloss over the specifics of French Revolutionary Politics. Who’s in, who’s out, who’s making policy, unless it has direct impact on Saint-Domingue. And we’re also going to have to focus on important trends, rather than the specifics of who’s allied with whom. And here’s our first big trend – White colonials, utterly refusing to implement moderate reforms. Both the big and small whites were so committed, not just to the structure, but the principle of their racist status quo, that even a proposal, like rights for free people of color, which affected roughly 5% of colonial society and essentially had no impact on them, was unacceptable! The second big trend to remember, is the ideological flexibility of the free people of color. Their ability to court different power blocks, and their sense that they had little in common with the enslaved. Both these dynamics are going to come
up again and again. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was almost perfectly calculated to tear Saint-Domingue apart. Depending on how you read it, it could be used to either argue full rights for the people of color as well as the abolition of slavery, or you could claim, as the white colonials did, that it didn’t mention slavery at all. But the Big Whites knew how explosive this was. They sent word back to the colony to prevent word from spreading. It didn’t work. Revolutionary politics was all anyone talked about at the dinner table. Meanwhile, the enslaved people, holding the trays, and pouring the wine, started to understand that cracks were forming in the system of oppression that bound them. In 1790, Vincent Ogé, one of the free people of color’s strongest advocates, returned to Saint-Domingue determined to cast a ballot in the new colonial elections. He believed, that a piece of legislation passed earlier that year giving all property owners a vote, made his case clear. He was a full citizen. When the governor refused, Ogé sourced arms, and staged an uprising. Now, the free people of color had long been the backbone of the colonial militia. An arduous and expensive duty, many whites avoided. Some had even fought in the American Revolution. So drawing on this experience, Ogé’s force initially routed the local militias, but their success was short-lived. He only had 300 men, and a counter attack by regular troops sent him fleeing across the border into Spanish Santo-Domingo. He was extradited, tried, and broken on the wheel. But Ogé’s example inspired other revolts. Not just among free people of color, but also isolated slave uprisings. The Big Whites refused to compromise. Even though the rebels, were not even demanding full emancipation. They wanted their leaders freed, an extra day off per week, and the abolition of whipping. Meanwhile in France, Ogé’s death provided the Friends of the Blacks with new ammunition in the National Assembly. Here was a true revolutionary, martyred in pursuit of the vote. As the political winds shifted, the Big Whites still refused to make concessions. Even forcing the Assembly to referred to the enslaved using the euphemism, “unfree-persons”. These hard-lined tactics backfired. Support for the free people of color, even emancipation, was increasingly held up as a test of a member’s revolutionary ideals. And on May 15th, The National Assembly declared that free men of color born to free parents, could both vote and be seated in assemblies. The Big Whites responded by going home and starting their own revolt. In June, Big and Small Whites organized militias. And by July, they were seizing power centers, coming into violent conflict with government authorities, and organizing all-white assemblies that issued decrees that all but declared themselves “independent”. They essentially decided that if they were to preserve white supremacy, they must govern themselves. That summer, the colonial Whites fought government forces. And then they fought militias formed by the free people of color, who were furious about the all-white assemblies. Then the colonial whites, along with government troops, engaged scattered slave uprisings. And in all of that internecine conflict, they were unable to see what was coming. Because the long fuse of revolution was about to hit the powder keg. Now, one issue with studying the Haitian Revolution, is that the enslaved, the faction that would eventually win, were largely illiterate and left few records. So, piecing together the specifics of the uprising, particularly its clandestine origins, takes a bit of detective work. What we do know, is there had to have been months, if not years of preparation. Likely those enslaved in houses, largely born in the colony and French-speaking, overheard conversations about the Revolution and carried the news to others. Enslaved drivers and overseers, those with leadership roles, started organizing squads. In fact, the predominance of carriage drivers in revolutionary leadership suggest that they performed a major communication and intelligence role, passing messages between plantations. Then, the night came. August 14th, 1791. Dutty Boukman, voodoo priest, carriage driver, and rebel leader, holds a meeting at night on an open plane. Fires burn bright, a tropical storm rages in
the distance, a good omen. Religious ceremonies like this are permitted on most plantations, and considered a healthy release valve, keeping insurrection at bay. Ironically however, this summer, the enslaved have done the exact opposite, using the unsupervised gatherings to plan an uprising. And voodoo is the perfect medium of exchange, containing elements of various West African religions. It’s one of the few cultural overlaps that the enslaved have, no matter where they were captured. But, this meeting is an emergency. A cell has triggered the uprising early. And upon capture, confessed everything. The plantation owners, thankfully, had not believed that the enslaved could organize on the level their captives described. According to tradition, Boukman and several priestesses extracted oaths, and drank animal blood to seal a pact with the Goddess of Love. They swear to free themselves, and free the land. Then, they take up their cane knives and steady their souls. Special thanks to our Educational Tier Patrons, – Ahmed Zia Turk, Joseph Blaim, and Dominic Valencia.

100 thoughts on “The Haitian Revolution – The Long Fuse – Extra History – #2

  1. This period of history seriously needs a flow chart to keep track of all of the alliances that are made and broken and in a really short period of time.

  2. It's really sad to me that the real inciting incident here is that the white people started to organize against some people of color getting the same rights as them. There are so many better possible reasons for this thing to spiral out of control, but somehow that had to be it.

    Why can we not be better as humans?

  3. "Revolutionary Politics, in other words, is about to resemble a bag full of cats on espresso."

    This line is the magnum opus of the entire Extra History series.

  4. History of Abolition in a nutshell

    Britain:Gradual Abolition
    Brazil:Gradual Abolition
    USA: Team Death Match
    Haiti:Free For All

  5. i really, really love the history of the haitian revolution so I'm not trying to be a dick or smth when I say this: It would be an amazing musical
    lin-manuel miranda, get on it

  6. You guys should definitely make one or more episodes on the Peaky Blinders, a real historical gang in England of which the show is based on.

  7. Once again, the French screw themselves because of their stubborn idea that they are superior than everyone else.

  8. Did you guys listen to Mike Duncan's Revolution series, the Haitian Revolution to influence the narrative for this series? Seems at least you guys were using similar sources. Fascinating to say the least. I'm always down for some Haitian Revolution, its such a fascinating topic.

  9. Names to remember for later:
    Andre Rigaud
    Petion
    Dessalines
    Boyer
    Henri Christophe
    Leclerc
    Napoleon
    Toussaint
    Pretty sure that you guys aren't even going to have enough time to dedicate portraits for all of these people.

  10. "They borrowed from the American Declaration"

    All men are created equal*
    TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY

  11. Looked up the Wikipedia article on Haitian revolution specifically to look how much of a mess is the war template.
    It didn't disappoint.

  12. I just started reading "The Effluent Engine" around the time you started putting this out, so your timing was impeccable. By the way, go read the Effluent Engine.

  13. Your videos are the best! I’ve learned so much more from them then during school dedicated history classes or history covered as part of non history classes for context and background such for art, and French courses!

    You have a talent (and extreme research skills) needed to tease out narratives that make sense, even from convoluted messes!! Which makes the history come alive!

    You probably have an eternity of ideas in mind to cover in future video series, but maybe someday you can look into doing a few ( more? Wendigo and Iroquois were fantastic!) videos on the native Americans vs The US government, in confrontations like Wounded Knee, or the many (many, many) treaties formed and subsequently ignored? The history of natives and whites is long and tangled, and could easily be divided by events ( like big battles, or movements like the ghost dance), or focus by region and describe the conflict with settlers, and retreating march into smaller territories. Their hero’s and chiefs, like Crazy Horse, Red Jacket, and Sitting Bull are other topics to focus on !

    Again, just a direction to head in if you ever need inspiration!

    Thanks again for all your videos!!

  14. Out of curiosity, are there any countries with significant slave populations that managed to peacefully institute reforms, pay off slaveowners, and not have a terrible civil war to abolish slavery?
    Because between this and the American Civil War, slavery and its proponents sound like they were really hard to shake off.

  15. I'm noticing (and I'm guessing I'm not the only one) that, since they didn't feel below the big whites, the free blacks probably weren't racist: they were classist . This is probably possible with whites, but it would be more difficult to tell.

  16. I’ve Listened to a podcast about a Book Called “Good night stories For rebel girls”, it has an episode on the Maroons and Queen Nanny, what about a series on her?

  17. I'm surprised more of the slaves used Voodoo as a symbol for their commonality and revolution rather than Islam. After all, the majority of people in "French Africa", and West Africa in general, were Muslims centuries before Europeans even set foot on their land.

  18. If anyone watching this doesn't have a bit of background on the French Revolution and rise of Napoleon, I strongly advise you learn a bit about it before finishing this series. The Haitian Revolution is very complicated, as he says in this video, and is also very closely linked with the French one throughout.

  19. Ok,so let me try to get this right. The big whites and the small whites are for the most part are against everyone expect them selfs. (The reason I say that is there might be a few that support the slaves and the free people of colour and the government,idk. Same for everyone else) The free people of colour for the most part are for them selfs too,yes they support the government but that’s most likely because they want rights for them selfs. The government I think is just following what is supported by politics at the time and the slaves are also pretty much against everyone but them selfs. It that right?

  20. From what little I understand of it, the French Revolution was a scattered mess. Jesus Christ be with you friends.😊

  21. Guys. Can you make an episode about the war of Arauco? Ia a really good topic and is one of the few times my country appears in old history

  22. Here from Barbados again but this was anything left than straightforward but hard fought and it had great leadership and a strong strategic advantage.

  23. Our history is awesome! First free black people 🇭🇹🇭🇹🇭🇹🇭🇹 By the way, we speak a wonderful language as well: Haitian Creole (I teach it on my channel). Anyways, glad you guys decided to narrate our story I’m such a fun and precise way. Thanks!!!

  24. Thanks for the disclaimer on inability to cover depth due to time restrictions! It encourages me to do my own research and not to assume I've 'done' this subject and know most of what I should about it.

  25. The fact that the big whites didn't come to the compromise that would've saved their asses is hilarious, and satisfying.

  26. I would argue that the rebellious slaves were not the faction that won; rather, it was the free people of colour, who would come to run Haiti after the Revolution and essentially reinstate the plantation system, just with more steps.

  27. Haiti Revolutionaries: "All Men are Created Equal"
    Independent Haiti
    "who shall lead our land of equals?"

    Oliver Toyssaint
    "I call EMPEROR"

    🇭🇹. "SHIT 🙁"

  28. The phrasing around 6:30 just… makes me feel nauseous.

    The idea that "white supremacy" is something that needs to be "protected" just… makes my skin crawl.

    Yeaugh.

  29. “We want to be equal and free, like all people should”
    “What about the coloured and slaves in Saint-Domingue?”
    “No, no. We are better than them. They don’t need any rights. I don’t think you understand.”

  30. You should do the arsony explosions of the (american) civil war. This is just a suggestion but i want to learn more about it

  31. Great video but the way you pronounced voodo left me confused on what you were saying till I turned on the captions. The correct pronunciation is "vuu-do".

  32. 8:30 the goddess of love they refer to is most likely Erzulie Freda or any loa of the Erzulie family. Also We don't have gods in Voodoo we have Loa.

  33. The French Revolution is an example of what happens when a revolution goes sideways and then some. Arguably, the French are still trying to figure things out.

  34. Why do they always forget the Dutch Acte van Verlatignhe when discussing the bill of rights and such. It is the first such bill.

  35. “All men are created equal” was put down to deny the divine right of Kings, it wasn’t meant to mean literally all people in the world are equal.

  36. If you want some specifics on the reforms (who's-who) and how things happened in France, check out oversimplified. They did a French revolution series that was very good!

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