In July 1800, Toussaint Louverture, one of the founding fathers of Haitian independence, had marched and conquered the Spanish port of the island. Then, with all of his enemies presumably vanquished, Toussaint turned his attention to reorganising the island according to the principles of equality under black dominion. Now, with the blessing of the French government which had installed him as commanding general of the armies of Saint Domingue, Toussaint was finally free to set up a constitution "of which justice and equality (of right only, not property) should be the basis".
The constitution, however, abolished slavery and declared all people born in Saint Domingue to be French citizens. The composition of Toussaint's government reflected this principle. While his army was controlled by black generals (there were a few mulattoes), his civil administration was notable for white and mulatto dominance. Thus, one aspect of Toussaint's concept of equality was based upon merit (and competence) rather than race. And many European observers were very impressed with his efficient administration.
His own management of the military and civilian bureaucracies was masterful. He confided in no one, used advice for purposes he designed, and changed advisors when his ends required. He separated those to whom he delegated authority, and demanded absolute loyalty from all. Infractions were dealt with firmly and consistently. Indeed, Toussaint mastered his colony.
While English and American men of affairs thought Toussaint's actions were tantamount to independence (indeed many encouraged him to so declare), there is no indication that he intended to do so, and his later actions suggest that he really strove to be part of a French dominion of "liberty and equality".
Toussaint's labour organisation went into full effect in October 1800, and his constitution was published in July 1801, but four months later (in late November 1801), due to widespread rebellion to his enforced labour system, he was forced to publish what is called "Toussaint's Dictatorial Decree".
Finally, within the army, discontent and disobedience began to spread so much that General Moise, one of Toussaint's long-time top lieutenants, openly defied Toussaint's forced labour system. Moise had often argued with Toussaint about his (Toussaint's) policy of protecting whites.
Toussaint's repressive retaliation against this rebellion culminated in the execution of Moise, who had become a popular symbol of the rising rebellion. Jean Jacques Dessalines, the most powerful and indispensable of Toussaint's aides, watched all of this in silence and surely he would have soon led a coup attempt against Toussaint had not other drastic events brought an abrupt end to Toussaint's brief rule.
The fall of Toussaint
Toussaint's hobnobbing with the French had led to a prolonged, unnecessary and dangerous detour from the revolutionary path. The time had now arrived when he would have to pay for some of the costs of this disaster.
His troubles began with the simultaneous rejection of his colony by the black masses and the French Republic under Napoleon's leadership. Both the defeated mulattoes and disaffected whites had converged on the government of France which by now was headed by the European hero, Napoleon Bonaparte.
While Toussaint's reaction to the black rebellion on the island was severe repression, his reaction to the rebellion of disgruntled whites and mulattoes who were politicking in Paris was more tactful and deliberate.
He cultivated goodwill ambassadors among his white advisors and sent them with messages about his love and loyalty to France. He wrote letters of protest against overt expressions of racism in Paris. He played the colonial officials off against each other. He also proffered veiled intimidation.
Finally, he refused to obey an order from Napoleon requiring him to display on his official banners words to the effect that the blacks owed their freedom to the French people. …