|Tomorrow is a mystery,|
but yesterday is
|Secrets of times gone by|
François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (1743–1803), the best-known and perhaps most important participant in the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, was almost single-handedly responsible for transforming the French colonial empire's slave colony of Saint-Domingue into the independent republic of Haiti. Though born into slavery, Toussaint was relatively privileged among slaves, even for the time, and became a free man in the 1770s. When the Haitian Revolution erupted in August 1791 (a direct consequence of the French Revolution, by the way), his political and military acumen prevented the nascent slave insurrection from going the way of so many other slave rebellions. The Haitian Revolution, due to ultimately becoming part of the Napoleonic Wars, led to the involvement of the British and the Spanish, and Toussaint played all three big heavy-weight colonial powers like a fiddle, pitting them all against each other. For a while the Haitians aligned themselves with Spain, but ultimately Revolutionary France made a better deal, offering to abolish slavery entirely in return for Toussaint's allegiance to Paris.
Toussaint was able to make Saint Domingue a fully autonomous colony, and even declared himself "Governor-for-Life" in 1801 - much to Napoleon's consternation. Before the most violent stage of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint was betrayed by the French and shipped off (1802) to a military prison in France, wherein he died in squalor mere months after having arrived. However his martyrdom enabled his successor Jean-Jacques Dessalines to achieve success after a year-and-a-half long bloody campaign of warfare and to successfully declare the independence of the new sovereign state of Haiti. Indeed, Toussaint's genius and accomplishments have won him much admiration over the centuries from both friend and foe alike.[notes 1]
The Revolution itself
After the initial rebellion arose as a result of Boukman's machinations, Toussaint did not join it for a few weeks until he sent his family to relative safety in the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo and helped the white overseers of the plantation he stayed at to flee the island. From then on Toussaint enlisted with the rebels, joining Georges Biassou's army as a doctor and commanding a small unit of rebel soldiers. He quickly rose through the ranks to become de facto head of the rebelling slave army at the time; he notably kept his men disciplined and drilled them in the arts of guerrilla warfare and the so-called "European style of war". The opposing French armies quickly recognized his military prowess and learned to begrudgingly respect him as an opponent. Toussaint and his fellow revolutionary leaders had been engaging in talks with the Spaniards for backing of the revolution, and ultimately the slave army declared its allegiance to Spain.
The Spaniards provided military backing in exchange for the eventual handover of Saint Domingue to the Spanish Crown. Toussaint at the same time was engaged in secret talks with the French Revolutionary government, and it decided to outlaw slavery throughout the French Empire. This won over the vast bulk of the Haitian rebels to Revolutionary France, leading Toussaint to betray his former ally Biassou, who remained allied with the Spaniards, and led to Toussaint defeating Biassou in battle. Toussaint's army was now formally a part of the French Revolutionary Army, and Saint Domingue was once more nominally a part of France, although all the real power remained with the rebels.
Toussaint and a freed man named Andreas Rigaud came to butt heads over which direction Revolutionary Haiti should take, leading to a mini civil war in Haiti as the two men struggled for power. Eventually Toussaint overcame Rigaud's tough opposition and sent him packing to the French homeland. In 1801 Toussaint declared Haiti to be a completely autonomous colony of France and crowned himself "Governor for Life". He proceeded to revitalize the ruined Haitian economy by restarting the plantation systems, this time run by paid laborers, and he negotiated trade treaties with the US and the UK. Toussaint continued to maintain his standing and well-disciplined army.
Napoleon didn't like that, and sent his army over to Haiti in 1803 for "talks" with Toussaint, in which Toussaint was betrayed and shipped off to a military prison in France where he would die of illness later that year. However, that didn't crush the rebels' spirit as Napoleon had hoped, and instead pushed them to become even more steadfast in their resistance, with Toussaint's old second-in-command, the aforementioned Jean-Jacques Dessalines, taking charge. The French were utterly annihilated both by the Haitians' tactics and a yellow fever epidemic which was plaguing the French ranks at the time. In 1803 the Haitians sent the French packing and declared Haiti to be an independent nation, the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere and the only nation to ever to be founded as a result of a slave rebellion. In this way, Toussaint's legacy lives on to this very day.
- The success of the Haitian Revolution inspired a number of slave revolts across the Western Hemisphere that ultimately led to a crackdown on the very few rights slaves had even then. It also somewhat discouraged Thomas Jefferson from recognizing the independence of Haiti, even though Jefferson, despite being a slave-owner himself, was initially somewhat vocal against slavery. He even fielded out an entire fleet to retake Haiti, and when that failed, he threw a hissy fit and declared an international embargo against Haiti instead. So much for "all men are created equal".
- Popkin, Jeremy D. (2012). A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 114. ISBN 9781405198219.
- Matthewson; "Abraham Bishop, "The Rights of Black Men", and the American Reaction to the Haitian Revolution"; The Journal of Negro History, Vol 67, No 2, Summer 1982, pp.148–154
- Elliott, Charles Wyllys (1855). St. Domingo, its revolution and its hero, Toussaint. New York: J.A. Dix. pp. 38.
- Bell, Madison Smartt. Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography, New York: Pantheon, 2007 (Vintage Books, 2008). ISBN 1-4000-7935-7