Toussaint's Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution

By Gordon S. Brown | Go to book overview

was mixed with economic interest, forming a most powerful combination. Three of the presidents who dealt with the Haitian revolution— Washington, Jefferson, and Madison—were slaveowners, and that was an economic and social fact that certainly influenced their personal approaches to the issue. Yet there is little room for generalization, and less (at least for this author) for psycho-political analysis about the role of racism in their decisions. Jefferson, whose views on slavery we know to have been famously complex and contradictory, seems to have been equally ambiguous in his attitude toward the Haitian revolution, at times accepting it and yet always apprehensive. But there was no way that he, the champion of republicanism, could see the Haitian rebels as fellow liberals. Nor did they, in all honesty, deserve to be so identified. It was, after all, a defense of republican ideals, not rebellion per se, that Jefferson had in mind when he addressed the good citizens of Alexandria (as quoted above) in 1790.1

The few Americans who did defend the Haitian revolution on ethical grounds came, surprisingly, from the ranks of the Federalists, who otherwise gave few indications of much dedication to democratic principles. As a matter of fact, those occasional defenses of the Haitian rebels (like the one quoted above), when looked at closely, look remarkably like rhetorical exercises, designed by their authors more to embarrass their Democratic-Republican adversaries than to champion black liberation. The authors' objectives in defending the Haitians, indeed, stemmed more from economic than political factors, as it was the highly lucrative commerce with the island that led them to take up Toussaint's cause to begin with.

Economic interests, in the author's view, determined the main lines of the debate over America's Haitian policy. Specifically, it was a clash between the shipping and merchant interests, largely from the North, and the slaveholding interests in the South, and it was an exemplar of the fundamental North-South divide that characterized the nation's politics at the time. Oversimplified, the maritime centers wanted to trade with the Haitian rebels, while the plantation owners

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Toussaint's Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 3
  • July 1790 8
  • St. Domingue 23
  • White Cockade, Red Cockade 45
  • The Cost of Neutrality 66
  • Trouble with Britain 89
  • Trouble with France 106
  • Toussaint's Clause 126
  • Creating a Quarantine 144
  • The St. Domingo Station 162
  • Jefferson Equivocates 179
  • The Leclerc Expedition 199
  • St. Domingo and Louisiana 213
  • A Risky Trade 229
  • The Clearance Act Debate 245
  • The Trade Suspended 263
  • Embargo and Neglect 279
  • Epilogue 292
  • Notes 296
  • Bibliography 310
  • Index 317
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