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(en) France, UCL AL #318 - August 1793-May 1796, File Haitian Revolution: The irresistible rise of Toussaint Louverture (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Mon, 20 Sep 2021 11:06:46 +0300

Slavery abolished, the republican authorities initiate a transition to wage labor. But workers are resisting the new conditions of exploitation. Allied to the French Republic, Toussaint Louverture will fly from success to success, until becoming the strongman of the colony. ---- In a desperate situation, in August 1793, the civil commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel therefore resigned themselves to proclaiming the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue. The implementation, from North to South, will be done in a few weeks. No longer being considered as an animal but as a human being, no longer being the property of others, no longer having their children torn off, reconstituting their lineage [1]... For the hundreds of thousands of people who have suffered it, the abolition of the status of slave corresponds to a fundamental change, hence the dazzling and immense popularity of Sonthonax in Santo Domingo during the decade of 1790.

"Whoever takes that gun away from you will want to make you a slave."According to legend, it was with these words that Sonthonax distributed 20,000 rifles to the black population of Santo Domingo in 1796.
Engraving by Miss Rollet, after Fougea (1794) / Musée d'Aquitaine.
This popularity of Republican commissioners does not, however, prevent a constant insubordination of workers vis-à-vis paid work supposed to replace bonded labor.

The fact is that the multitude of "new freemen" aspires to an independent life that had hitherto been forbidden: a piece of land to cultivate, an individual house, a reunited family. A model that does not fit at all with the collective and disciplined labor of the large plantation. But the authorities want to resuscitate this goose that lays golden eggs that is the plantation and export economy. To overcome the reluctance of "cultivators" - the new established term - the authorities set very interventionist "cultivation regulations".

The contract of employment on a plantation is fixed at a minimum of one year, during which the cultivators are bound to six days of labor per week. In exchange for what, they and they share a quarter of the income of the domain. They can choose to spend only five days, but their salary is then halved [2]. A hierarchy of salaries is established according to trade, age and sex [3]. It is authorized to operate a personal plot (0.6 hectare maximum) in his free time.

To these regulations which will be renewed by Toussaint Louverture and his successors, the farmers will oppose a constant resistance: strikes, machine breakdown, destruction of canes, and especially marronnage (renamed "vagrancy") ... Faced with this, coercive measures (fines , prison, expulsions) will only harden over the years.

Despite everything, the abolition fulfilled its primary objective: to unite the mass of the "new free" with the French Republic against the Spanish, British or royalist slavers. On the strength of this foundation, Sonthonax and Laveaux sought to rally the black insurgent leaders. In vain. Halaou is keen on his independence; Jean-François, Biassou and Makaya prefer their lucrative alliance with the Spaniards; Hyacinthe is seduced by the British ...

Over the course of his success, Toussaint was promoted to brigadier general, then to division general, then to deputy governor, before proclaiming himself "governor for life".
Burning Ch. Dietrich, XIX th century.
A spectacular change of alliance
Finally, an important black leader - not the best known, but the most brilliant - ends up seizing the outstretched hand: it is Toussaint Bréda, says Louverture, the nom de guerre he chose for himself. Since the fall of 1793, he has been at odds with Jean-François and Biassou who, jealous of his popularity, have tried to assassinate him. The Spanish general staff also took a grudge against him because of his commitment to "general freedom" [4].

Faced with these threats, it is time for Toussaint Louverture to change allegiance. He did so on May 6, 1794, in a spectacular and bloody fashion: by surprise, he had 150 Spanish soldiers and French royalists arrested and executed in Gonaïves, then hoisted the tricolor over the city. With him, it is 4,000 seasoned fighters and a third of the North Province who fall into the Republican purse. Euphoria of the French command which finally sees the tide turning.

A month later, Toussaint was reassured in his choice when the news arrived that in Paris, the Convention approved the abolition of slavery, and extended it to all the French colonies.

The rallying of Toussaint Louverture kicks off the reconquest. It is the beginning of an epic which, by powder, but also by cunning and by the pen, will truly found the legend of Louvertur. A formidable strategist, indefatigable horseman, he appears where one does not expect him, thrusting Jean-François and Biassou here, putting down a royalist sedition there, deceiving the Spanish staff, taking cities, maintaining an abundant correspondence with his allies. , but also with his enemies and with the black leaders who remained independent, whom he endeavored to rally to the republic.

Where he settled, he put an end to arbitrariness and looting, and was celebrated by populations of all colors. In its wake, former slaves became competent officers, such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Moyse, Charles Bélair or Henry Christophe. The army of the "new free" gained in cohesion, in efficiency, and became essential to the French.

The autumn of 1795 marks an important stage: Spain, defeated in Europe, signs peace and cedes Santo Domingo to France. The Spanish troops and their auxiliaries Jean-François and Biassou weigh anchor.

The French forces in Saint-Domingue have, in three years, completely changed face: in the fall of 1792, it was an expeditionary corps of white soldiers who came to put down a revolt of black slaves with the help of the free Mulattoes; in the fall of 1795, it was an army of all colors, from the base to the top, which made "general liberty" its standard.

Toussaint took care of his image, as evidenced by this equestrian portrait produced when he was the strong man of Santo Domingo.
"Toussaint Louverture, leader of the black insurgents of Saint-Domingue", print (between 1796 and 1799). BnF
The "savior of the constituted authorities"

Etienne Laveaux (1751-1828)
Commander-in-chief of the French forces in Saint-Domingue, sincerely rallied to the abolition of slavery, he was Toussaint Louverture's best ally in 1794-1796. It is he who appoints him deputy governor. Then elected deputy of the island, he will support his policy in Paris.
It is however at this time when the Spanish threat is removed, and when the war effort must be deferred against the Anglo-Royalists, that "colored" dissensions emerge within the Republican staff. Generals Rigaud, Villatte and Beauvais who, as Mulattoes, see themselves as the future of the colony, whisperly accuse Governor Laveaux of being subjugated by the glorious Toussaint Louverture, and of promoting the rise of blacks to the best. posts. Villatte, the most determined to act, will attempt a putsch. Failed, it will have the opposite effect from that expected.

The occasion arose in March 1796. Following a revolt in Cap-Français, Villatte had Laveaux arrested. Not long. Toussaint's troops come to his aid and have him released. The benefit of this turnaround will be immense. The 1 stApril at a ceremony that will become mythical, Governor Laveaux was acclaimed by Toussaint Cape population, exalting him as the "savior of the constituted authorities, a black Spartacus, the negro predicted by Raynal to avenge the insults made to his race" [5]. In the process, he appointed him deputy governor of the colony.

When he returned from Paris in May 1796, after almost two years of absence, Commissioner Sonthonax immediately understood the new balance of power in Saint-Domingue. Holding the Mulatto generals in suspicion, he distributed to Toussaint's troops most of the 20,000 rifles he brought back, and strove to seduce the "black Spartacus", thinking he could maneuver him [6]. But it is too late for that. It is now Louverture the master of the game.

Guillaume Davranche (UCL Montreuil)

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