There Are No Slaves in France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Regime

By Sue Peabody | Go to book overview
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Conclusion

The 1780s were very much like the preceding decades in the sense that the government moved the issue of blacks in France to the back burner only to return to it when it occasionally boiled over. Nobody found a way to remove the pot from the stove.

Sartine was replaced by the Marquis de Castries as minister of the marine in 1780. Shortly thereafter, he became embroiled in a conflict between the Countess of Bethune and one Mme Lafarge Paquot regarding a young black woman named Henriette Lucille. Henriette had been brought to France by Paquot's husband to care for their two small children. 74 Paquot twice attained orders from the king to send Henriette back to Saint Domingue, but the young woman resisted. 75 Henriette was assisted by the Countess of Bethune who intervened on her behalf. 76 Ultimately Paquot had Henriette arrested and their case ended up in the Parisian Admiralty Court. 77

This case and several others prompted Castries to try and clamp down once again on blacks in France. 78 First, the king issued a new arrêt du conseil that prohibited people of color from adopting the titles of Sieur and Dame. 79 Then, in 1782 De Castries appointed a legislative committee to answer two questions: "What is the present condition of blacks and mulattoes living in France? and "What action should the government take relative to these people?" 80 To these questions he received two contrary responses. The first, apparently by Chardon, insisted that slaves could be legally kept in France if they met two conditions: if they had arrived prior to the August 9, 1777, Police des Noirs, and if they had been registered with the Admiralty in accordance with that law. He advised that blacks in France be required to renew their declarations every month and that those who did not do so be confiscated and returned to the colonies. He also recommended that all Admiralty tribunals be directed to refuse all petitions for freedom. 81

The second response to De Castries's questions came from a legislative committee appointed to review Chardon's suggestions. Although they disagreed with Chardon strongly over whether slavery could be recognized in France, members of the committee agreed on the ultimate goal of ridding France of blacks. The committee refuted Chardon's assertion that French laws recognized instances of slavery, concluding that all blacks presently in France were free. Yet it also recommended that all blacks in France be sent back to the colonies. While committee

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