On August 22, 1791, the slaves on the island of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) revolted. The revolt was concentrated in Santo Domingue, the French colony on the western end of the island. The rule of the mother country had weakened in the two years since the beginning of the French Revolution. The blacks on the island greatly outnumbered the whites. Over the next decade, turmoil dominated on the island as one group after another tried to gain control. Finally, in 1800, Francois Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture managed to gain control and bring peace to the island (at least for a while).
Americans were in a quandary because they did not know what to do concerning this revolution in the Caribbean. On the one hand, they saw the uprising against the colonial rule of France growing out of their own successful revolt against Great Britain fifteen years earlier. The revolutionaries on Hispaniola preached the rights of man and called for a government that ensured freedom and liberty for its citizens. Toussaint L’Ouverture was hailed as a revolutionary leader for his people in the same way George Washington had been for the Americans.
But Americans also had concerns about the revolt in Santo Domingue. It was, after all, a slave uprising. Most Americans in the 1790s did not have major problems with the institution of slavery (that would come later). Blacks, as a group, were generally seen as uncivilized and unable to successfully control and govern themselves. Hence, the revolution in Hispaniola could not succeed. Furthermore, many Americans, particularly in the South, worried that the Revolution in Santo Domingue would set a bad example for their own slaves and encourage insurrections at home.
The newspapers reflected this division of opinion. Some writers praised the calls for liberty in the Caribbean and urged Americans to support the revolutionaries in their fight for freedom. Others could not bring them-