Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

The Success of Toussaint Louverture: Dependence by Design

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

The Success of Toussaint Louverture: Dependence by Design

Article excerpt

As the dust of the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue settled, the most adept and proficient black leader to emerge from the colonial system swept himself off and began his ascent to the apex of international statecraft. Toussaint Louverture, the slave leader of Saint-Domingue, was thrust into a global political order that was predatory and uncompromising, one that would require his budding political wit to rapidly adjust or else face certain peril and see his people return to the horrors of bonded servitude. Not only was this ex-slave faced with a French Directory bent on retaining its most valuable colonial possession, but Toussaint would eventually have to satisfy the demands of other imperial sharks, namely Great Britain and the United States, who both viewed the black liberator as an impending threat to their commercial and political interests.

By 1797 Toussaint Louverture 's authority over the island was essentially uncontested. He had expulsed the French agent General Hédouville without a fight, was independently negotiating the withdrawal of the British occupation, had instituted his own agrarian policies and was well on his way to restoring Saint-Domingue's commercial prestige under his own terms. Why then did Toussaint not, as the symbolic culmination of his victory over colonialism and slavery, declare the independence of Saint-Domingue at that time? Doing so would have certainly gratified his support base by legitimizing the brutality of their usurpation and sending a clear message that slavery would never return to his island. It would have galvanized further support and zeal in his eventual clash with the remaining defender of French authority André Rigaud. And further, it would have given him added legitimacy and authority in the diplomatic arena where Saint-Domingue's role cannot be understated. All this added together causes one to consider why Toussaint Louverture decided not to declare independence at a time when it could have been the last feather in his cap. By close examination of the political and commercial interests, along with the shifting of alliances between France, Great Britain and the United States this essay will aim to demonstrate that Toussaint Louverture deliberately annulled his declaration of independence in order to strengthen Saint-Domingue's unspoken sovereignty and lay the foundation for the eventual independence of the Haitian state.

If there is any question as to the absolute authority that Toussaint Louverture enjoyed over Saint-Domingue during the period leading up to his capture in 1802, it is there where this essay must begin. One of the first signs of Toussaint's level of control and defiance to the French Directory emerged when he commanded the expulsion of the second and last agent sent under military authority to "observe and restrain the ambitions of Toussaint".1 Despite the February 4th Decree that declared the abolition of slavery in the colony, pro slavery elements were regaining influence over the Directory in France. It was under this pretext that Toussaint Louverture issued an audacious letter to the Directory in 1797 warning of the consequences of a French attempt to restore slavery and would later force French agent General Gabriel Hédouville "the pacifier of the Vendée," out of Saint-Domingue in 1798.2

Not only did he expel General Hédouville from Saint-Domingue but while Hédouville was still on the island Toussaint openly defied his orders and refused to impose trade conditions and naval restrictions over British General Thomas Maitland's fleet which had been occupying parts of SaintDomingue since 1793.3 In so doing, Toussaint had essentially taken control of Saint-Domingue's diplomatic negotiations between France and Great Britain and began acting out of the best interest of Saint-Domingue as an independent State and not as a colonial possession. Refusing to follow Hédouville 's orders was a powerful statement of defiance as much as it was a diplomatic act of independence. …

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