Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution

Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution

Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution

Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution

Synopsis

On January 1, 1804, Haiti shocked the world by declaring independence. Historians have long portrayed Haiti's postrevolutionary period as one during which the international community rejected Haiti's Declaration of Independence and adopted a policy of isolation designed to contain the impact of the world's only successful slave revolution. Julia Gaffield, however, anchors a fresh vision of Haiti's first tentative years of independence to its relationships with other nations and empires and reveals the surprising limits of the country's supposed isolation. Gaffield frames Haitian independence as both a practical and an intellectual challenge to powerful ideologies of racial hierarchy and slavery, national sovereignty, and trade practice. Yet that very independence offered a new arena in which imperial powers competed for advantages with respect to military strategy, economic expansion, and international law. In dealing with such concerns, foreign governments, merchants, abolitionists, and others provided openings that were seized by early Haitian leaders who were eager to negotiate new economic and political relationships. Although full political acceptance was slow to come, economic recognition was extended by degrees to Haiti--and this had diplomatic implications. Gaffield's account of Haitian history highlights how this layered recognition sustained Haitian independence.

Excerpt

On 1 January 1804, General-in-Chief Jean-Jacques Dessalines, leader of the Armée Indigène (Indigenous Army) in the French colony of Saint Domingue, announced the founding of Haiti by proclaiming the world’s second successful Declaration of Independence The Acte de l’Indépendance (Act of Independence) was the culmination of the thirteen-year Haitian Revolution and brought to an end the two-year war for independence. But this ending was also the beginning of a whole new array of challenges for Haiti. As the country’s first leader, Dessalines now faced the monumental work of establishing Haitian sovereignty and making the new nation a part of the community of empires and nations in the Atlantic World. It was a hostile world, one in which slaveholding powers dominated the seas and the political landscape, and, unlike in the American and French Revolutions, the successful slave revolution in Haiti overturned the racial hierarchy of the colonial slave system. The basis of the economic system of the Atlantic was under attack.

The first leaders of this radical project of abolitionism and nationhood—particularly Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion, and Henry Christophe—employed innovative means to negotiate new economic and political relationships with the surrounding empires and nations. Their strategies reflect an international context in which ongoing warfare among European empires informed the actions of these governments and created openings for the new nation of Haiti. The early rulers recognized such opportunities amid the serious challenges, and they exploited them by pursing the ambitions laid out in the Declaration of Independence and other proclamations that circulated widely in the Atlantic World. In response, the international community’s reactions to events in Haiti were both diverse and constantly changing. The distinct and competing interests of empires and nations, as well as the layers of governance within the dominant empires, created a shifting geopolitical landscape upon which Haitian leaders were able to build a viable . . .

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